Friday 29 March 2019

Riot Fires .dec

Rhythm of the WildFires of Yavimaya was an infamous deck back in the day that brought impressive curving, tempo and high power to the table. It dominated standard (or type II at the time) and was considered oppressive. It is why a lot of the older player base filled with fear at the sights of Rhythm of the Wild. They recalled the oppressive unstoppable nature of the original version of the deck. The thing is, much has changed since then. The way in which creatures, removal, value and tempo work have all changed. Yes, creatures are much more powerful but then so are strategies that compete against them. Things are lower to the ground than before and a three mana do nothing is a much harder sell. I built this deck as a nostalgic nod to old times, not because I thought it would be a premium cube deck. I also got a little distracted with new cards and minor synergies and wound up with a fairly niche looking deck. Basically Rhythm of the Wild wants you to play high curve dorks with huge benefits from gaining haste or perhaps a +1/+1 counter. It does not want you to play token generating cards particularly. That sent me down a line where Goreclaw started to look amazing with all these four and five drop dorks with four or more power in my list of potentials. Between Goreclaw and Rhythm you do not have much wiggle room but both seems to work nicely with the new Nikya of the Old Ways. I couldn't resist the rare opportunity and so went fully into the rabbit hole. As such I stripped out all the burn that the old Fires decks played and just played creatures, lands and the two Fires cards. A little bit cute and gimmicky but not really compromising on the deck to include these narrower strategies.

23 Spells
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Birds of Paradise
Elvish Mystic
Fires of YavimayaLlanowar Elf
Fyndhorn Elf
Noble Hierarch

Goblin Cratermaker
Scavenging Ooze
Silhana Wayfinder

Fires of Yavimaya
Rhythm of the Wild
Rhonas, the Indomitable
Yasova Dragonclaw
Thrasing Brontodon

Ghor-Clan Rampager
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
Surrak, the Hunt Caller
Polukranos, World Eater
Rekindling Phoenix

Wolfir Silverheart
Vurdurous Gearhulk
Skargan Hellkite
Nikya of the Old Ways

17 Lands

Kessig Wolfrun
Rampaging Ravine
Wooded Foothills
7 Duals that are mostly or always untapped
6 Forrest
1 Mountain

Nikya of the Old WaysThe reason this is not tier one is not the narrower cards used but the style of deck. They are fine, the loss of a few all round good cards and the odd cheap burn spell is very minor while the synergy gains probably do more than than just offset that. The reason this deck and those like it are no longer tier one in cube is just that they don't have quite enough in the way of positive meaningful choices. You want options and this deck doesn't provide as many as most other cube decks and that lets it get outplayed. Most decks have plans to deal with dorks and plans to deal with aggression. This just has one plan. This steamrolls some things but it is vulnerable to a number of control builds. It is vulnerable to decks with options. Decks that can react to a situation or win via several different styles of play. This deck and those like it make dorks and send them at face. If that isn't getting it done then they lose. Certainly the deck has choices and can totally throw a game due to making the wrong ones. Bad attacks, over extensions and that sort of thing. What it cannot do is make dynamic choices that win a game. You winning is the result of your opponent not having the right cards or not making the right choices. You have the power to throw and so does your opponent but all things being equal and noone misplaying RNG and matchups are going to decide your game. That lack of agency over winning is both unsatisfying and undesirable in a deck for most people unless the deck has such good percentages that it doesn't matter. The only time I want to be playing a cube deck without instants or interaction is when I have a combo deck. I almost always want card selection too. This kind of stompy zoo deck has a reasonable power level in cube and reasonable win percentages, just looking at those things you could argue a case for it being tier one. What it lacks is that upper range or ceiling where you can extend beyond the average performance and win an event. A lot of where a deck like this will pick up those win percentages is in how well it punishes a misstep. Miss a land drop and this kind of deck is capitalizing on that hard and fast. That is a perk that helps keep it viable but it certainly doesn't help the deck feel strong or provide those satisfying wins.

Goblin CratermakerI got all excited by riot when it was spoiled because it is such a clean and useful ability to have on an aggressive tempo card but that critically provided options. While riot is a great mechanic it is a long way off being enough options to pull this archetype to where it needs to be. It is an infrequent choice and for the most part your choice is going to be pretty predetermined and fairly obvious when not. While that doesn't reduce the power of the ability it does reduce the capacity with which you can use it to outplay people. I initially ran Zhur-Tar Goblin in this list but cut it almost immediately. While the card is high powered it is not what the deck needs. You are trying to win with big haymakers and so little ones just don't do enough to be worth it. You want utility or ramp from 1 to 3 on the curve in a deck like this. I would play another land or another 4+ drop over a generic efficient low drop beater. A burn spell would be far better too, even with Nikya.

Despite that long section of me hating on this style of deck I did really like the build of this one. I love building these decks and I just get a little sad when playing them isn't as fun as I want it to be! A lot of it is my turns taking an average of a few seconds compared to my opponents legitimately needing far longer. Great for those days when you feel a little drained and want a less demanding game. Great as an archetype to go into when new to a cube so as to get a feel for what is going on and how the format plays as a whole. The same applies to newer players in general, a deck like this is a very good starting point. For old farts like me I look to get a lot more magic done when I play and so I tend to steer away from things like this a lot of the time. This list performed a little above average but nothing to get excited about. All the cool new cards used worked well and did their thing but they didn't solve the main problem this archetype has. I did discover some potential new ways to go about achieving such ends. Green has good card quality effects if you are mostly into creatures, and it has good mana production. This fails in this list with Nikya being the main source of mana and not working at all well with most card quality cards. It also doesn't assist all that much with the instant speed interaction. I think there is still a long way to go but this list at least shows some good ground work for potential places to start.

Skarrgan HellkiteWithout compromise on tempo this list contains the following effects on creatures; combat tricks, graveyard exile, Threaten effects, power and trample buffs, direct damage, fighting, naturalize effects and it could have run more of such things. Perhaps it needs to go into blue or black to find creatures with casting and hand disruption effects? Sounds ugly, low tempo and inconsistent but I should at least try it. The reason this deck contains so many effects on creatures is heavily due to Nikya prohibiting non-creature spells and providing a lot of mana to do stuff with. Part is for the simple desire to have a high creature count for scaling with the haste and riot providers. While the creatures themselves are not instant many of the effects they bring can be done at instant speed. You lose the surprise factor but not the option density. Indeed, on board tricks can be even harder to play around than the unknown ones. There are plenty of ways of making creatures instant too if you were desperate! One could move away from Nikya and build in more card quality effects and other mana ramp and do a decent job of providing enough interaction, disruption and options to become competitive again.

Wolfir SilverheartThe other mild downer about this deck is that all the cool new stuff is at the top end. The bottom end is sparse and mostly just about getting to the top end in good shape. You want to make a mana dork into a three drop. Ideally one of the enchantments and then make four and five drops for the next couple of turns resulting in a swift win. Do that without significant disruption and nothing is going toe to toe with you. What that ultimately means is that you could run any old reasonable top end and forgo the minor synergies. You win if your top end sticks and you lose if it doesn't or never arrives. Having a bit more power when your top end is out does't offer value if you were winning anyway. That basically condemns the really cool big cards like Goreclaw and Nikya from performing well in a drafting cube where space is tight and narrow cards bear a big cost on the format. Despite their good power they do not offer it all in a useful way. It is like a badly built car with loads of horsepower but an inability to win a race or even produce a good top speed. Power is all well and good but how it is able to be utilized is what is important. This can be the result of the way the card itself is designed or it can be due to the way that it fits into the archetypes that would want it. These cards are also that bit narrower in application than other high powered four and five drops in cube and that hurts them again. Both Niyka and Goreclaw were great but then you should expect that of a potent card when built around. I did do the god opener of turn three Goreclaw post Fires and attack, turn four Nikya for three mana and follow it with another dork. It won but so would a vanilla 4/4 for 4 followed by a 5/5 for 5 I expect.

Silhana WayfinderCurving is so important for this deck it is worth aggressively mulliganing more than you would with most other aggressive decks. You don't need many threats to win, you just need to have the tempo. This means that Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger would be good includes. Rix Maadi Reveler, Battlefield Scavenger, and even Borderland's Explorer all help towards these ends without significant tempo costs and would all make reasonable inclusions (not all at once!).

Some more protection against disruption would be nice but that is quite hard to achieve in this kind of deck. Xenagos, God of Revels and Hazoret, the Fervent both add to your indestructible card count but that isn't protecting you against exile removal. Nor are undying cards and the best of those isn't at all what you want in this deck. The Strangleroot Geist is about the nut low dork for scaling with Rhythm of the Wild! Vorapede would be the card of choice for that form of protection. Thrun and Vinemare can help a bit against spot removal but neither are premium threats and they still fail against most mass removal too. Usually aggressive decks will evade removal by spreading their threats out. A couple of planeswalkers, a vehicle, a Sulphuric Vortex and that sort of thing. This wide array of threats dodge a lot of mass removal and put a lot of strain on spot removal and trying to line it up effectively. Sadly this list loses value from a load of the synergy cards for each non-creature card you play. The best it really does is the land threats, which to be fair, are excellent! I would strongly consider tossing in a Treetop Village to bolster this complement of extra threats and to take advantage of Nikya. Here is the relatively short list of other dorks I considered for this deck;

Whisperwood Elemental
Combat Celebrant
Flinthoof Boar
Rampaging Ferocidon
Boon Satyr
Flametongue Kavu
Bloodbraid Elf
Shaman of the Great Hunt
Prowling Serpopard
Captivating Crew

Sunday 24 March 2019

Arcades Defender .dec

Arcades, the StrategistThis is a deck like a Doran deck but blue in place of where you would normally find black. It also specifically works with creatures with defender rather than simply the toughness of creatures. This extends your options in one direction by opening up the many walls but it closes off other cards to you as well if trying to maximize the synergies. You can run creatures with high toughness without the defender key word and they will be supported by some of your deck but not all of it. There are only a couple of cards like this I would entertain playing but more on that later. Arcades decks have been the thing of commander until the recent printing of High Alert. This extra piece of redundancy vaults the deck in potenty and makes it a strong cube build. Likely even stronger than Doran builds which have only two enablers and lean on black Tutors to find them at either tempo or card costs. Black does have better tools to force through and protect their enablers however. Redundancy in enablers is not the only thing Arcades decks have over Doran ones though. Creatures with defender are typically over tuned. This is especially the case with those having little or no power. Compare Wall of Blossoms to Elvish Visionary. For the same cost and effect the Blossoms comes with twice as many total stats. The Doran list certainly gets to take advantage of some 0 power dorks without defender that have high total stats but there are not so many options on such dorks and they are not quite so potent as the defenders.

Wall of BlossomsSo what makes a deck like this good? Mostly it is that it has all the perks of an extreme aggro deck like affinity while also hard countering most other creature based strategies. If left alone to do your thing you will goldfish rapidly and overwhelmingly. Often in a one shot, just spend the first few turns making walls and then drop something that lets you attack and swing for 30 or so! Decks that try to beat you down struggle against your vast array of walls. It is just hard getting damage through this decks defenses using just dorks, certainly early damage. Being a deck that can outpace combo and crushes most aggro and midrange makes this deck sound like a monster but it is not without weaknesses. Mainly it is to control. This list relies on one of three cards to allow it to win. Without one of the three in play it is just a deck full of walls. Well placed disruption and removal is savage and renders this deck fairly useless. Not that many decks can instantly deal with enchantments and you are at least blue giving you some control over spells. This is another big part of why this plan works best in commander. Arcades is cheap enough that you can simply recast him a bunch of times thus making you that more robust in the face of disruption. There are enough good cards with defender that you can easily scale up your 40 cards to 100 without hurting the power level of your deck too much. Well worth it for that key card in the command zone! We are here to do cube things and so the most important element of this archetype becomes how do we protect, find and recur our three key enablers? What balance of those effects do you have, which enablers to you lean on more and how much of your total deck do you dedicate to these things? Each card you run as your own disruption or protection reduces your defender count and lowers the synergy power of the list. As I always do with new builds I focused on synergy and went with a minimal interactive package. In practice I think you want to do the complete reverse. I shall cover the options after the list I ran found below.

Wall of Mulch
25 Spells

Shield Sphere

Jaddi Offshoot
Portcullis Vine
Resolute Watchdog
Saruli Caretaker

Swords to Plowshares
Incubation // Incongruity
Adventurous Impulse

Assault Formation
Wall of Omens
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Mulch
High Alert
Overgrown Battlement
Wall of Roots
Sunscape Familiar

Sylvan Caryatid

Door Keeper
Orator of Ojutai
Archer's Parapet

High Alert
Axebane Guardian
Carven Caryatid
Drift of Phantasms

Arcades the Strategist
Cast Out

15 Lands

SpellskiteAs you can see, there are only 4 cards not directly related to defenders in some way in this list. I should look to at least double that number. I have only run removal and dig, there is no protection or countermagic at all and that is just making yourself a bye in some control matchups. Ideally I would like some countermagic of my own like Negate, Arcane Denial, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce, or Dispel so as to protect against removal and countermagic. The issue with that is having the mana up and being that much more committed to blue. My list was mostly green with a splash of white and an even lighter dash of blue. Adding in countermagic as your main protection slows you down a lot and reduces your consistency. There are cheap white cards like Abeyance that you can use to force things through and protect your stuff for a while. This might be a better direction to go for mana base reasons. You generally only need one turn to finish people off! Protection cards are probably best as proactive creatures rather than spells like Blossoming Defense. Spellskite is the obvious choice as it has a good shot of protecting all of your enabler cards for no mana cost while also benefiting from +4 attack from two of them. Mother of Runes, Selfless Spirit and the other usual suspects are likely fine as well. These cards will make you a lot better against midrange decks and tap out control decks. They will be a lot less helpful against decks with mass removal and countermagic. As such you likely need to go lightly on these things and just play the one, ideally Spellskite.

Bant CharmRemoval is actually the supplementary tool this deck seems to need the least. It  can handle most attackers and get around a lot of annoying permanent cards. More removal is a good thing but the best kind of removal for this deck is the kind I am playing already. The modal nature of Cast Out and Incubation // Incongruity means you hurt the game plan of your deck little while keeping it robust. There is not loads of removal  and utility options like that but they are the ones you are looking for. The Swords performed less well than the other two modal removal cards in this list. It might well be better as Bant Charm or even Treva's Charm!

Dig and Tutor cards are nice but a little awkward in this deck due to the spread of your stuff. Most of your deck is made up of walls, your enablers are mainly enchantments and your interaction more instant flavoured. You can use green card quality but that is usually finding only lands or dorks. You can't use it to find your disruption and only a couple will be able to find the High Alert or Assault Formation. Commune with the Gods is great for finding walls and things that let them attack but it is no help with finding lands. You can go more direct and play things like Green Sun's Zenith, Worldly Tutor or Eladamri's Call but this makes you so dependent on Arcades. One exile effect and it is all pretty disastrous. A nice compromise is probably to run the shallower digging but broader range blue card quality effects. Sleight of Hand is not quite Adventurous Impulse in digging potential but it will find you anything you need in the deck. I didn't do this initially as I was so heavily green but if you are forced into running a smattering of countermagic anyway you might as well and simply up the blue mana support. It is nice to be able to have your card selection effects costing one mana as well as that is the spot on the curve in which you are most sparse. You don't always have a good turn one wall while you always have a two drop wall to throw down.

Assault FormationWith all that in mind I am probably looking to cut the Swords and the Adventurous Impulse and add in Bant Charm, Arcane Denial, Spell Pierce, Spellskite, Abeyance and a pair of good stand alone one mana blue card quality effects. That means we will need to cut five walls from this list to make space for all those changes. I shall discuss the merits of the rest of the deck, the synergy part, and point out the cuts as we go along.

Obviously Arcades, High Alert and Formation are your most key cards and cannot entertain being cut. Formation is the weakest but it does have a mana sink mode and it is cheap. Arcades is the most powerful but also the costliest and most vulnerable. It is pretty hard to milk card advantage with him, mostly you play him and win through attacking right away if he resolves/survives. You could also play with Rolling Stones to increase your enablers to four. Sadly it would mean playing walls with power (as it doesn't allow damage to be done according to toughness) to be of any real use and as such your pool of playable walls becomes prohibitive. Using Rolling Stones would result in a wholly different looking deck and I am pretty confidant it would be a lot worse. Unsurprisingly the most important walls are the ones that produce mana and that draw cards. There are more mana producing ones than you need so only the best are core cards. There are five card draw walls and four mana producing ones I wouldn't consider cutting as listed below;

Saruli Caretaker

Wall of Omens
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Mulch
Portcullis Vine
Carven Caryatid

Saruli Caretaker
Overgrown Battlement
Sylvan Caryatid
Axebane Guardian

Axebane GuardianThe three walls that draw when they come into play are lovely ways to freely develop your board and dig through your deck. They are so good even the four mana Jungle Barrier is a reasonable consideration. The pair of walls that sac walls to draw cards are less busted (but compared to a two mana 4/4 that cantrips being less busted is not saying much) but surprisingly important. They just dig you through your deck and help find those key cards. It is not free draw but it is repeatable. It is like how Elvish Visionary and Merfolk Looter compare, except 4/4s and not 1/1 gimps! Vine is the worst card drawing wall being the slowest, but on theme one drops are too good to pass up on. There are not that many useful walls at one mana and so we pounce on those few that are. This is why Caretaker is such a big deal for this deck. It is not far off a 3/3 birds of Paradise! The fixing is great, the ramp is great and the being a useful one drop wall is great. Caretaker is massive for this deck and arguably the best wall, certainly is the card you most want to see in your opener. Sylvan Caryatid is a nice safe card that also brings good fixing. It is the most cuttable of all 9 of these core cards but I think that would be a mistake. It is your best turn two play even if it is one of your smallest walls per mana cost. Battlement and Axebane Guardian are your other defender synergy payoff cards both giving you a pretty immense mana payoff. Axebane is an infinite mana combo with High Alert and either are just pretty nutty without the Alert. They make cards like Walking Ballista really appealing, especially if you have tutors like Eladamri's Call in your list.

Archers' ParapetIt is always nice to have an infinite mana combo in your deck but this list is not amazing at taking advantage of it. There are a couple of walls you can win with if you have them active in play or you can make all your attackers lethal with Formation but that is about it. You can draw a lot of the way through your deck with infinite mana too but not reliably enough to include on the spot win cards like the Ballista on that basis alone. The thing is you are usually just winning through attacking, you don't much need the backup plan. Both Door Keeper and Archer's Parapet will allow you to win if you have 5 total defenders in play including Axebane and the High Alert. This is cute but one of the easiest places to start making cuts. You are far better off improving your primary plan than you are supporting unlikely secondary plans. You really need something like Lightning Greaves to speed up a combo like this for it to be that impressive of a win condition. Greaves would help to protect some other key cards like Arcades but it is such a blank on its own that I am not sure you can afford it. I even looked at Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs as a way to win with infinite mana and untap effects but fitting deserts into this three colour mix is not a wise plan.

Wall of TanglecordNext up we have the more cuttable mana walls in Wall of Roots and Sunscape Familiar. I don't wish to cut either as they are both great cards and can lead to some impressive burst starts. These are absolutely outstanding cards in the deck but they are not essentials and so not immune to being replaced. Of the things you can cut I would certainly be trying to leave these two until last. On the chopping block before these two would be Orator of Ojutai for sure. You are rarely drawing a card with it, that is for sure. Flying (or reach) is much more valuable than you might expect though. Given you are so safe to aggression on the ground thanks to all your walls it would seem a shame to die to random fliers. Walls that can block such things have more value than normal. Wall of Tanglecord is an excellent option for this reason. It is huge, easy to cast and helps stop flying aggression. Angelic Wall is another option in this camp. I would even look at wall of Vines and Taproot Kami as they have the added bonus of being one drop walls. To properly support Taproot would require some serious mana base concessions I suspect. Wall of Denial is an impressive defender you can run in this list. It looks amazing on paper and covers you in the air but it is actually a bit overkill. You are far better off making more small and useful walls lower down the curve than clogging up your deck with clunky cards. When you can attack you will have the biggest board by a mile anyway and so having that 8/8 flying shroud is just a bit win more. The card is certainly good but it is less on theme than it might seem. Drift of Phantasms is certainly the better option. It keeps you nearly as safe from fliers, supports all your defender synergies equally and can find you High Alert if desperate as well. It can even find the Axebane so as to help setup your backup win but as discussed already, that isn't worth supporting directly. No harm in the indirect support from Drift though I guess. Even with all these qualities I think Drift is still cuttable. It is pretty slow going the transmute route. A more streamlined deck is usually the best way to build both synergy and aggressive lists for which this is both.

Resolute WatchdogLastly to cover in the main we have three cheap walls. Resolute Watchdog is a triple hit with being a one drop, being a wall and offering some protection utility. It isn't the most exciting of cards but I think it ticks too many boxes to ignore. Jaddi Offshoot is relatively low power but like the walls with flying or reach it does help sure up another mild weakness. While we are great at stopping attacking damage we are pretty soft to direct damage. It is not impossible for a burn deck to get 20 damage through before we can kill them. Offshoot is one of those meta calls. If you expect a deck which does direct damage in a finite capacity for the win then Offshoot is going to be a good include. Wall of Hope and Perimeter Captain do this a bit as well but they are in a secondary colour and can be more easily played around. Finally there is Shield Sphere. The old 0 mana 6/6 is a little hard to turn down but it adds less to the deck than you might imagine. Rarely are you holding it back for that free Arcades card, you are making it the turn before so you can attack with it for six! The low cost is nice certainly but it comes at the cost of a utility wall. I like the Sphere, it is certainly efficient but it is also a non-essential and something I may well cut prior to the good mana walls. So we have 3 easy cuts, 2 potential cuts and 3 hard but possible cuts we can make to our wall complement.

Shield SphereMost of the cards I want to add I have discussed at the start and very few of those are defenders. I would love a good recursive card but none feel all that suitable. Regrowth and Eternal Witness are just low tempo, off theme and poor early. If I could have some wall that recurred the right sort of thing then I would be all ears but with the options on offer I think you are better off just trying to avoid losing your key enablers. The only other defender cards I looked at for this list are below.

Steel Wall
Stalwart Sheild-Bearers
Vine Trellis
Jeskai Barricade
Bonded Fetch

Stalwart Shield-BearersSteel Wall is just easy to cast and fairly big. Vine Trellis is the next best mana producing wall not played. Bonded Fetch is the best card quality defender I could find but it is still only a Grey Ogre in size when given the High Alert etc treatment. Stalwart Shield-Bearers seems amazing as a lord effect but much like Wall of Denial it is a bit of a win more card. It helps you be powerful when you are in a position to win, it doesn't help get you to the position where you can win and that is why it is a luxury card not an auto include. The Barricade is probably my favourite of these extra options. It has some protection abilities but it also acts a little bit like another Wall of Omens assuming you have something like that in play already.

There is probably a build of this list that focuses more on High Alert and comboing off with the untap effect on that. Such lists are going to run more tutors and more protection effects. They will also run far more mana sink cards like Duskwatch Recruiter and generally resemble Vizier decks more than they do Doran decks. I think this archetype is probably the better use of High Alert and would class it as a fairly high tier deck with the caveat that it is properly tuned for the meta. If you use your non-synergy deck spots and sideboard well you will be well placed to handle disruption you might encounter and can ride the naturally favourable matchups the rest of the way with your impressively powerful synergies. You can attack for 20 on turn three with this list (Turn one Caretaker, turn two Familiar, Wall of Roots, Wall of Blossoms, Shield Sphere, Turn three High Alert or Arcades and swing). This deck has burst, is has a lot of card draw potential, lots of mana production, lots of board presence and safety. It does a lot of things all at once and it seems to do them quite well. If the holes in the plan are suitably plugged it is a highly impressive list.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Rampage of the Clans .dec

Rampage of the ClansRampage of the Clans jumped out at me on recent spoilers as a very easily abused combo card. Not since Paradoxical Outcome have I seen a combo card with such potential in eternal formats. They even both have some scary things they can do in modern. Outcome has proven to be an abusive card in multiple places and so I do have some reasonable expectations for Rampage, both in and out of the cube. After my first go at a cube list for the card I am even more confidant of this outcome. My list was unrefined and utterly brutal. It could win quickly and out of nowhere. It was surprisingly hard to interact with and despite minimal interactive spells itself it seems to be able to handle most situations effectively. Being a first build and having many new toys to play with I made a number of obvious misbuilds such as ramming in a Wilderness Reclamation! Below is the list I ran with a couple of changes remedying the glaring mistakes. I expect it can still be further refined and will discuss that after;

Urza's Bauble27 Spells

Mox Opal
Mishra's Bauble
Urza's Buable

Utopia Sprawl
Wild Growth
Abundant Growth
Mystical Tutor

Elixir of Immortality
Retrofitter Foundry
Aether Spellbomb
Conjorer's Bauble

Chromatic Star
Fountain of Renewal
Renegade Map

Ichor Wellspring
Prophetic Prismatic
Simic Signet
Etherium Sculptor
Simic Signet
Spreading Sea
Search for Azcanta

Sai, Master Thopterist
Oath of Jace

Cryptic Command
Rampage of the Clans
Paradoxical Outcome

13 Lands

3 Forest
2 Island
Seat of the Synod
Misty Rainforest
Breeding Pool
Tropical Island
Yavimaya Coast
Flooded Grove
Hinterland Harbor
Botanical Sanctum

Search for AzcantaThe game plan is pretty straight forward. Make a lot of artifacts and enchantments, cast a big EoT Rampage and swing with a sufficiently lethal army of 3/3 dorks. While relying on 3/3 tokens as a win condition feels a little thin it turns out to be pretty reliable. Being instant speed they dodge a lot of the mass removal. Being so decently sized and numerous they punch through creature based defenses with ease. And coming on the back of a mass Naturalize means that any sort of cheesy defensive crap like Moat, Ensnaring Bridge and the like get blown up before you attack. Giving away a couple of 3/3s is no big deal at all. You have many more! Against aggressive decks you will tend to make a combat phase Rampage rather than an EoT one so as to mess up their board with lots of blocks. If they play around the rampage in this regard you will often have to win over two attacks but that is fine, they rarely have swingback potential after you send double figures worth of 3/3s at their face.

Abundant GrowthThe deck is highly streamlined with the vast bulk made up of fuel for the Rampage. The best of these are the cheap ones that are useful or cantrip. The cantrip on entering play is preferable, with on death being preferable to the ones requiring you sacrifice them. Artifacts are a little better than enchantments for synergy as they can be recast more explosively, provide metalcraft and empower Sai. As such only the premium enchantments earned a slot. It was lovely being able to play both from a build perspective and made it feel like a whole new build experience despite significant overlap with other artifact combo decks. I suspect you could really push one type synergy and broadly forgo the other. This is certainly a heavy lean in the artifact direction but you could easily go further that way. The full lean towards enchantments would likely look a lot more like an Enchantress deck and would be slower than artifact heavier builds but rather safer.

Of the support cards the mana stuff was nice and the main area that enchantments outclass the artifacts. This is of course only because the most bonkers artifacts all need banning to allow other decks to get a look in. If you play this deck in a vintage setting with a full complement of Mox, Sol Ring, blue power and all that jazz then thins combo deck, as with most Paradoxical Outcome archetypes, gets very silly indeed. Certainly Rampage of the Clans is a much more dangerous card in a powered cube setting. The card draw enchantments also tend to outclass the artifact offerings. Being able to effectively dig, draw and ramp while also setting yourself up is a huge win and pretty hard to pass up on. Other cards in this group of draw, dig and ramp on cards of the right type include Mind Stone, Sylvan Library, Courser of Kruphix, Sensei's Divining Top, Shrine of Piercing Vision, Oath of Nissa, Exploration, Everflowing Challice and Treasure Map. Many of these I strongly considered or wanted to play but didn't quite have the other support.

Elixir of ImmortalityAfter the support cards that ramp, dig and draw we just have those that are suitably themed. This is just the mildly useful cheap stuff. A lot helps fix out mana and lets us play lots of Forests for Utopia Sprawl and Cryptic in the same deck. A couple put things in our bin back into our deck which is a big deal given how much we rely on Rampage to win games. Some of the support options simply put multiple artifacts into play thus empowering the Rampage. Some are defensive like Propaganda and Spellbomb. There are a wide range of cards you can cram into these slots depending on what you want to sure up, what issues you don't want to face and for those you expect to face. You have specific disruption in Pithing Needle, lifegain in Zuran Orb, some general but risky removal in Engineered Explosives, general defense with Gleaming Barrier and Servo Schematic as well as more X+1 in 1 cheap cards. Even Spellbook has some merits! There are also just some more two drop artifacts and enchantments that draw cards when they come into play if you want to pad out that side of the deck.

Sai, Master ThopteristThere are not many non-land, non-artifact/enchantment (producing) cards in the deck and they all serve a pretty clear role. Rampage is the win condition and Mystical Tutor finds it or the Cryptic Command which is your generic answer card, Fog and Counterspell. Paradoxical Outcome is the only other I ran and it is just too much raw power to not run! It doesn't assist the combo in any real manner and it generally slows the deck down a bit when used but it is such a vast one sided card draw spell that it feels like a must. You get to double dip on all your EtB card draw effects as well as getting some mild protection against removal. Outcome doesn't generate mana in this deck and we don't care about storm although it will sometimes help out Sai, our final card in this group. Although not a Naturalize target himself he does produce artifact tokens. As such Sai doubles up the value of artifacts going into a Rampage and facilitates going off with less resources. The sac outlet is relevant allowing you to dig into action and trigger things like Ichor Wellspring. Sai offers impressive defensive board control and he is your backup win condition should your Rampage get exiled away. As with most artifact decks in cube, Sai is basically your best card. The golden pig of the deck to quote The Commander's Quarters! Sai is so good I considered Efficient Construction but in contrast to Sai the Construction does not live up to its name.

Shardless AgentOther non-artifcat/enchantment cards I considered running are all the usual suspects. Preordain and other cheap card quality to setup the combo. Arcane Denial to protect and force it through. Thoughtcast to cheaply refill on gas and other cards in these groups that do that sort of thing. A bit more disruption certainly wouldn't go amiss in this list. The other direction I nearly went in was a creature based one which would have had a more midrange feel about it. Mostly it was wanting to play Oath of Nissa that was pushing me in that direction! Midrange combo decks are not the greatest matchup in most cases although probably a lot more fun to play against. The sorts of card I would have added in would include Glint Nest Crane, Courser of Kruphix, Hangarback Walker, Tireless Tracker, Shardless Agent, and Springleaf Drum. All quite good cards with decent on theme elements. Broadly they would slow you down but increase your safety against aggressive decks with their defense and give you a bit more game against control due to a broader range of potential win conditions.

PropagandaThere are plenty of cuts you can make to this list with so many just being filler. You are not going to miss that Prophetic Prism or Abundant Growth much. Both are nice and pretty decent in the deck but they are not essential. I would need a lot more testing to know roughly how much you hurt the deck or help it at all the different ratios of support cards added or taken away. There will be an optimal number and it is probably lower than what I palyed but not by much. Obviously in goldfishing the optimal number is basically as many as you can with zero interactive or protective cards but that is not what we are making our deck for! If you are not expecting aggression the Propaganda can become a cheaper card with positive returns. Fountain of Renewal is very minor in what it does for this list and is an easy cut. Oath of Jace is a bit pricey and might just be better as things like Serum Visions. Spreading Sea is fairly low key as well. I feel like these enchants are getting a bad appraisal due to my deck leaning on the artifact side of things. They were all good, it just feels like they could have been better.

It would seem as if there are many directions to take this deck, the creature heavy build I just mentioned. The enchantment heavy and the artifact heavy of which the latter is most like this build. I also think you can combine this plan into a Sram / Puresteel equipment based deck. Even just splashing for the Rampage sounds pretty strong. That deck is already a very powerful aggro/combo deck so adding in yet another powerful on theme way to win sounds great. Below is a link to a minibreakdown of that archetype;

I look forward to seeing what other people come up with in other formats for Rampage uses. I suspect I will find a few more in cube beyond those considered in this essay. As I might have mentioned, this deck and the namesake of it seems very powerful!

Monday 11 March 2019

Modern Horizons Preliminary Reviews: Part I

Cabal Therapist 7/10

One of my all time favourite cards getting a big nod from this new offering. I find the timing trigger on this card rather odd. I am not sure why it doesn't use the upkeep and I don't like not understanding a design choice! If it were a card going into standard I might think it was to do with Arena and making things simpler. Certainly this is a little bit better than an upkeep trigger as you get the extra information from the card drawn. If it is a creature you can flash into play then you might even get that perk as well but that seems like a rarity. Perhaps that is just it, they wanted to push this card as much as possible and this timing was the best they could do without making the card dangerously good. If this was usable just at any time in the main phase or just at the start of combat or end step then it would be a lot better. The fact that you have to wait a turn in almost all cases to use this keeps it calmer. It gives the opponent a chance to react before it starts shredding their plan to bits. It means you have to realistically wait till turn three before you get to use it with something else or two two with itself. There are a lot of parallels between this and Pilfering Imp. Imp is Coercion (Thoughtsieze) rather than the Cabal Therapy effect which is certainly a lot better in singleton and still generally better as a first use discard spell regardless of format. You have to only care about one card or have the very best reads for a turn one Therapy to have higher expected value than a Thoughtsieze! Unless you combo your Therapist with a Peek effect you are going to have fairly poor odds on a hit first time round. Imp is also flying which is a more powerful keyword. While not directly better than menace flying will be better most of the time. The key word is minor, these cards are disruptive cards not threats, they simply have added utility, interactivity and vulnerability as a result of small evasive bodies. It is at this point in the comparison that Therapist starts being better than the Imp. It can sacrifice other cards and stay around in play threatening to take more cards away. A Therapist plus a stream of chumps can devastate a slower deck, or an engine deck, all by itself. Imp is only ever going one for one while Therapist can effectively go ballistic on this front and far exceed a two for one in real terms. This will not be common but the threat of it will force a response a lot of the time. Lastly the Therapist is a one mana card with no further direct costs. You can Therapy someone for one mana, all be it slowly! Imp needs three mana invested in it making it a pretty poor tempo play. You can continue to Therapy your opponent at no extra cost on whatever dorks you are tossing in the bin. Black can put up cheap chumps pretty easily, be it in two bodies in one cards which are plentiful at two mana and up in black, or in one drops you can easily get back from the bin, or in two drops with other value effects like the classic Ravenous Rats. Therapist certainly is at it's best in a black deck full of cheap crappy dorks. This could be black aggro, it could be an Aristocrats tokens deck or it could be most iterations of midrange black decks. Therapist seems to fit reasonably well into most of the things you find black doing in cube. It seems to provide a lot of options and a lot of synergies. It threatens ongoing disruption. It is a high power card at a point in the curve where black is a little lacking, both in disruptive effects and in nice playable all round cards. I think this is demonstrated well in Pilfering Imp. The Imp is clearly very low power but it is seeing lots of play because of how it covers many of blacks deficiencies. Therapist is clearly more potent than the Imp, while not directly better in all cases the average performance I expect will be impressively higher. Therapist may end up booting Imp out of my cube. I like it a lot and I can see why it is being used as one of the early showcase cards. It is a lovely design, it wins on flavour, on what is needed, on power level, on option density and I am sure many more categories for design triumphs. I am greatly looking forward to playing with this little gem. It isn't even all that good in the cube meta where power levels are extreme but variance is high, not forgetting the singleton of course. Therapist will scale with skill more than most. In the hands of a great player it will be a premium one drop even in cube. In the hands of a beginner this probably hurts them rather than helping. This probably makes it unwise to include in some cubes based on who plays with them. I will of course be adding it but then I am a glutton for punishment and apparently like to involve my friends in that. Mostly what I am getting at is that the card is hard to rate as it really depends on who is playing with it. If your play group is all hall of famers then this is easily an 8/10 card but if it has mostly newer players then it is going to be rather less! Just before we move on to the other super early spoiled card I want to paint a picture of a near ceiling opener with this and how scary it would be to face. So lets start with a Gravecrawler, could be a Doomed Traveler or a Thraben Inspector. Could even be the Therapist itself if we play something like a Bloodghast or an Orzhov Enforcer on turn two instead. Ideally we have mana up for a Duress or Inquisition turn two to get the required information. Gitaxian Probe or even Urza's Buable can help out if we don't have the mana spare. We are now very well setup to utterly ruin the day of our opponent from turn three onward with a decent soft lock on them. They will be not far off playing just from the top of their deck if they cannot answer the Therapist. We also get to have our whole turn three to further pull ahead while they are desperately scrambling to find an answer to this one mana 1/1 appropriately typed horror! When you can get that much control over the game that early you can even be trading one for one and be very happy with the situation.

Serra the Benevolent 8/10

I suspect I am going to quickly tire of reviewing walkers with 36 or so of the buggers due in War of the Spark... Serra is an interesting one. I didn't like her at first and then I just kept spotting game states where she would be nuts. A couple of these were the classic turn four after a Lingering Souls or a Spectral Procession. Having a very dangerous 6 loyalty walker after battering someone in the sky is a great place to be. Assuming you did much of much with your first couple of turns that will be all she wrote for many a game. The +1/+1 to fliers retained impressive relevance into the late game for a significant number of white decks. Even pumping just one dork is a big deal if it means it is able to turn a trade into a chump or if it finishes off a planeswalker. White isn't overdone with haste or direct damage so a lot of players will make plays that let planeswalkers get low on the board. Buffs are one of the few punishes white has to offer. What I like about this +2 ability is that it is situational in some regards but still probably good even when you have no fliers due to how dangerous the other abilities are. You can likely make Serra on an empty board of your own, +2 her and force all attacks to come her way for as long as she lives simply to stave off the ultimate. I anticipate seeing Serra force a lot of bad attacks and absorbing a huge amount of damage. In the theme of bad attacks we also have the -3. At first I didn't like it much as I felt it left Serra overly vulnerable. The thing is that a Serra Angel is a reasonable thing to have at just four mana. You don't need much more on top of that for it to be great. If you force a burn spell out to finish off your Serra then you have a net result of a zero card cost two or three mana Serra Angel token. That is a big win. If you force them to attack into your Angel to kill Serra then again, you are a powerful token up so effectively a 2 for 1 as well as gaining mana and life back on the deal. These are all the likely outcomes for your Serra getting killed. If she isn't killed then she is going to churn out more Angels and pump existing ones and likely win the game all by herself. Serra is pretty much the only planeswalker that can die after just one activation and expect to still be ahead on tempo and value and as such I think she will be one of the best in cube. I think she will likely take any slots Gideon, Ally of Zendikar would be getting in modern. In cube Serra is more midrange and Gideon is more aggressive but both are good enough that I think you play them in some less on theme settings. I expect Serra to outclass Gideon in cube as well as modern. Her ultimate is dangerously potent. A lot of decks simply can't beat a Worship emblem. It doesn't win the game but it effectively does. What makes it especially good is that it can be threatened the turn after Serra hits play. This will devastate a stalemated board. It will catch people off guard while curving as well. To effectively play against a Serra if you can't beat a Worship emblem you always have to be in a position to threaten damage and that is hard to do, especially against white. I think it is safe to say this is a pushed card. It looks like it would be oppressive in basically any standard format ever. The potential for the +2 doing nothing initially put me off the card but that was a poor assumption. When you take all the cards abilities and loyalty into account a do nothing +2 is actually just fine because of what it threatens and thus forces. It reads a bit like some of the Gideon abilities that force you to attack him. Serra threatens in far more ways than most planeswalkers. She threatens the game ending Worship, she threatens by being a Favourable Winds, and she threatens by slowly churning out Serra Angel tokens. This wide array of dangers really help make her good but I think the main component of her quality is the really high chance on getting card and tempo advantage from her. It is un-intuitive because of how most other planeswalkers function. If I make an Elspeth or Gideon and toss out a soldier or knight token only to have my opponent Hero's Downfall my walker I feel like I got a fairly bum deal. I might have a token and it might do reasonable work for me but I am down a mana. I certainly don't feel like I got a two for one because of my remaining token. A small vanilla token is absolutely worth something but it is closer to the one mana difference in cost between Downfall and the planeswalker than it is to a card. This feeling of worth changes dramatically when the token is a 4/4 flying vigilance and not a crappy small vanilla dork. I am more than happy to consider the worth of that at least a card. Sure, a token Serra Angel is still worse than a real one but not loads. Silumgar's Command and of course the brutal Glorybringer are the only cards I can think of that clean up a Serra without losing card advantage. Even the Command is a mild tempo loss. So, we have established Serra has a good threat level. We have established that she has a good chance of being value and tempo positive and that she should cope well with varied board states and matchups. All in all I think we can fairly safely say that this is a pretty nifty planeswalker. It has comparable power to other good ones but she has much more immediacy about her and that is the hidden thing that really pushes her into the realms of premium walkers.

Friday 8 March 2019

Unblockable Blue .dec

Mist-Cloaked Herald
So this is more the formation of an archetype rather than a finished version. It also comes with some brief history regarding the conceptualization process! It began three or four years ago with a merfolk tribal deck a friend was mashing me with. One of the standout cards of the deck was Triton Shorestalker and this came as a surprise as the deck had lots of ways of giving islandwalk to things and even making lands into islands. It seemed like a redundant (in the bad sense) effect on an otherwise low power card. That unexpected performance stuck with me and made me take note of Mist-Cloaked Herald when it was spoiled. That is the good kind of redundancy, multiple cheap cards doing the same specific thing. Without both Bogle and Gladecover Scout the modern auras deck wouldn't be viable for example. I was wondering how I was going to try and abuse this new redundancy in one drops afforded to merfolk. Then that standard deck using Curious Obsession arose and showed us exactly how we should be trying to abuse such cards. The thing is, merfolk are already vulnerable to removal and are not really looking for Curious Obsession effects to increase that particular weakness. I didn't see how I was making a merfolk deck that was enhanced by Curious Obsession.

Slither Blade
Then the final piece of the puzzle slowly slotted into place in a more removed way. It was essentially the unexpected result of an error on my part in reviews. I was getting all excited about Rustwing Falcon and made the claim that it was the first evasive one drop with two toughness. A friend who had been playing limited during Amonkhet pointed me in the direction of Slither Blade to prove me wrong. I had overlooked it entirely when spoiled due to not being a merfolk and it turns out I had done exactly the same with Gudul Lurker a few years before that. Suddenly we had gone from a couple of aimless unblockable merfolk to having an impressive four one drops of redundancy not tribally linked. I could build a Curious Obsession style blue deck and cast off the tribal shackles! This is one of the only times I have come to a deck idea in this way, it more bottom up than top down. Either way, it feels a bit alien to me doing things backwards to usual.

Now I have always loved a mono blue aggro deck but they have always really struggled to compete. They put up a great game against midrange, control and combo but they tend to get battered by the other aggro decks. There are several reasons for this and they have historically spanned all iterations of aggressive blue decks. One is the classic lack of suitable removal that makes cards like Mother of Runes, Deathrite Shaman and Grim Lavamancer a monumental headache. The other was simply lack of playable one drops. You can barely scrape together four decent blue one drop beaters and they typically have poor synergy with each other. A white deck can pack 16 comfortably and still have no cards weaker than those the blue player scraping four together has to run! Well, if you can find a way of empowering the 1/1 unblockable suitably then you vastly increase the quantity of decent one drops blue has on offer which solves the biggest issue it currently has. Especially as this also has a high chance of making all the one power fliers in blue that much more likely to scale up as well.

Walking Ballista
The lack of removal has historically been solved by crutch cards. Umezawa's Jitte and Vedalken Shackles being the main two. These clunky cards would give the blue decks a bit of game against the other aggro decks but it was a very polar strategy. It is both a bit dull to play all the time and it is restrictive on builds. There is more artifact removal floating about now so as to counter these crutches but there is also a bit more in the way of options on such things which at least makes it a bit less polar such as Walking Ballista. Moxes and Aether Vial were often used to counter the lack of one drop situation and these are also rather polar cards. Leaning on all these wildly varied the performance of things and made for a bit of a silly deck. At the very least trying to abuse an unblockable theme is going to greatly increase the consistency of aggro blue even if it doesn't inject a bunch of extra power.

Here is the list I ran with in my attempt to take advantage of the cheap evasive blue dudes. There are loads of subtle direction changes and tweaks you can make and a bunch more you simply should. I will cover those and provide an improved list after.

Gudul Lurker

25 Spells

Triton Shorestalker
Gudul Lurker
Mist-Cloaked Herald

Cloudfin Raptor
Siren Stormtamer
Mausoleum Wanderer
Dive Down

Bloodforged Battle-Axe

Curious Obsession
Sigil of SleepCuriosity
Sigil of Sleep

Invisible Stalker
Surge Mare
Looter il-Kor
Legacy's Alure
Thalakos Seer
Throne of the God-Pharaoh

Jace, Cunning Castaway
Tempest Djinn
Thassa, God of the Sea
Grand Architect
Hall of Triumph

Master of Waves
Bident of Thassa

15 Islands

Hall of TriumphAs you can see from the list there are two ways I have tried to take advantage of the unblockable guys. One is simply to increase their effectiveness through buff effects. Blue is light in this department and so we have had to lean on artifacts a little. I even considered both War Horn and Sunken City! The latter is horrible but it is some devotion at least... The other exploit is with effects that trigger on (combat) damage to players. This includes the aura buffs and a few other exotic permanents.

So the cards I would cut are fairly easy. Bident of Thassa was complete overkill. I don't need the card draw, I am getting that from cheaper things and I am trying to race anyway, I shouldn't be getting card advantage from my top end. Even the force through damage aspect of Bident is useless as my guys are all unblockabe anyway! Bident seems nicely on theme but it just isn't what you need either. Jace is nice in this list but he probably has to go. He is a bit slow and perhaps a bit too fair on the power levels. He forces you to play a game of blockers and protecting and that isn't really what you are good at. I like Jace in this list but I am pretty sure that is a bias, I am sure the best versions of this deck wont run him. Or at least they won't run that Jace if they do!

Thalakos SeerCloudfin Raptor is a potential cut. Judge's Familiar would be better for sure, you could run both but Raptor is certainly wrong if over the Familiar! Raptor isn't able to grow with loads and adds less than you expect.  I kind of autopilot played Raptor as it is the best aggro blue one drop in a general sense. Normally you just need it but this list really doesn't. Dive Down was another potential cut. You just don't need the protection. Sure, they can kill your buffed dork but you are probably still ahead on cards and mana. Spell Pierce would have done more and even that feels like it is going to be annoying having to hold up mana. This is certainly more of a Daze and Force of Will kind of deck in that you really can and want to spend your mana proactively and not be holding it open sat on reactive cards. I think Spellskite would be superior to Dive Down as it is more disruptive, can do so at no mana's cost once in play and has decent defensive application in a race. Mostly though I learned you don't need as much protection for your dorks as you do in the standard version of this deck. Just make stuff and attack and things go pretty well! The other easy cuts would be the UU creatures. You don't need the devotion that badly and they are just a bit awkward and low powered. Surveiling Sprite is likely better than Thalakos Seer as it affords much better defensive capabilities and even Sprite seems a bit meh.

Surge MareI looked at running both Merfolk Trickster and Harbinger of Tides as both are decently high power and high tempo dorks. The usual burden of the UU cost is turned into a perk in this mono blue devotion deck. The issue I have with these cards is that they are not unblockable in any way and thus fail to really act as threats. At that point you should just be playing things like Vapor Snag and Grip of the Roil.

Everything else I was more of a fan of and would have to be well persuaded before cutting. I guess that isn't true, I would fairly happily cut a land from this list, perhaps even two if we are replacing one of them with Gitaxian Probe! The deck operates on few mana fairly well, has a big of dig and draw it gets online cheaply. It also has loads of very cheap low value cards so flooding is pretty devastating. The risk reward balance for this list very much pushes you towards being greedy on the mana base and I didn't really take that into account in my first build. Having the Bident made it better to curve out a bit more and it obscured the problem of too many lands as well by overdrawing. Cutting it and lands is a good plan.

Bloodforged Battle-AxeWhat else is up for consideration to replace these suggested cuts? What directions can we go in? Firstly True-Name Nemesis is probably an auto include although not definitely. He is fairly pricey and doesn't do much to protect you against mass removal which is your biggest concern against slower decks. I didn't bother running him as he is uninteractive tedium that no one enjoys yet everyone is familiar with how it plays. On the too powerful to not include front we probably have both Jitte and Force of Will as well. I can't see either of these being bad in the list. Force will simply help all round in all matchups providing tempo, disruption and protection. Jitte will have a nice high floor while really helping your game against the treacherous aggro matchups. Sword of Fire and Ice would also perform very well in this deck as you can reliably connect with it and thus have it act as removal. Part of the point of making this deck however is to find ways in which I can move away from these blue tools and not have to rely on having them. Certainly I start to get unhappy about playing Bloodforged Battle-Axe in the same list as Jitte or SoFI and I really don't want to have to cut it. Battle-Axe was great and quickly got out of hand. It is exactly the sort of buffing tool this list wants. It is the Pack Rat Bonesplitter! What makes it somewhat preferable to Jitte and Sword is low risk. The cost of the card is sufficiently low that you can use it more easily past disruption and even if you fail it is not quite such a savage blowout. It is especially strong against artifact removal as you can easily ensure you have multiple in play.

Legacy's AllureWhat we ultimately chose to replace the poor cards with depends on what we want to beat, especially when we fail to have the premium blue and artifact things. Beating the control and combo decks is generally just a case of throwing in countermagic, and not even that much. This list is all about cost so high effect one drop cards like Flusterstorm, Spell Peirce and Snare alongside the viable free ones are where you want to be. Cryptic Command is unusually bad in this list, although still a fine inclusion. It is normally so good in aggressive decks because it fogs an attack of theirs while letting you force through some damage of your own and really turn the tide in a race. This list has no need of help forcing through damage. The clear problem with this plan is for the most part it is making your deck worse against the creature matchups. Countermagic isn't great against creature decks, especially ones that don't hit creatures! Also especially against those using cheaper dorks.

Beating the midrange creature decks is very easy and can be done handily with a spot of bounce. This is well aided by a smattering of the more general countermagic too. Pierce, Daze and that sort of thing. Beating the token and weenie decks this way however is a total non-starter. Really you have two options. Either you accept those as likely losses or you directly hose them. Sadly direct hosing trashes your other matchups, isn't all that much fun and is still quite hard to do. Legacy's Allure was a decent way of getting some nice early tempo and disruption on the aggressive decks that wasn't dead in other matchups quite as much as most other hoser cards are. Good though it was it isn't close to enough to help with the go-wide lists out there.

Force of WillWith this being such a new deck concept to me and not one that is really mirrored in other formats I need to do more experimenting and testing to know what directions and balances of stuff are sensible. I think the next step is to build the most powerful (and most boring) all round build with a selection of the crutch cards like Jitte and Force of Will in the list. I think that will give me the information I need in regards future directions I can take the deck. While blue aggro lists might be a little polar in their matchups they do at least have the advantage of being highly tuneable. This comes with many perks but it does make the discovery phase of any sub-archetype that much harder.

Before wrapping this up I want to have a quick look at some of the more interesting cards in the deck that I liked and would try and keep in my various future builds. Throne of the God-Pharaoh was a nice touch and is better than War Horn would have been in several ways. Obviously it is cheaper but it can also work for you when guys are not attacking. Yet another strong synergy card to go with Grand Architect! Throne also works with vehicles nicely but I think I would rather empower it with Mothdust Changeling! It is not that vehicles are bad for this deck, more that they scale poorly with global buffs and equipment and this list is leaning on those things a little hard already. The loss of power on your dorks from Throne versus War Horn matters little as your damage output is the same with both and there isn't blocking going on.

Master of WavesMaster of Waves is another big standout. Obviously the card is well known for being the main payoff for a blue devotion deck but he is that little bit tastier than usual in this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly you have a couple of Anthem effects meaning that even if Waves is dealt with the tokens can remain in play. These anthems also really helped scale up Mausoleum Wanderer, frequently it was at  2 or 3 power thus making it a much harder disruptive tool. Another thing going for Master is simply that this deck has vastly more blue one drops than any other blue deck I have managed to create. This means that this list has the highest chance of curving into a turn four seven devotion Master. Master is just more value more quickly in this deck than others. He goes so wide that you don't care about any lack of evasion. He puts up such a massive wall that you can easily and safely race. Based on how desirable these attributes of Master are I think Rogue Refiner is probably worth a slot in this list. He has some synergy with the unblockable gimmicks but is mostly just a nice reliable way of getting a good amount of stats and bodies onto the board without any phaff. Here is my revised second generation unblockable blue aggro list;

27 Spells

Throne of the God-PharaohChrome Mox
Gitaxian Probe

Triton Shorestalker
Gudul Lurker
Mist-Cloaked Herald

Judge's Familiar
Siren Stormtamer
Mausoleum Wanderer
Bloodforged Battle-Axe

Curious Obsession
Sigil of Sleep

Invisible Stalker
Looter il-Kor
Grand ArchitectLegacy's Allure

Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Umezawa's Jitte
Walking Ballista

Tempest Djinn
Thassa, God of the Sea
Grand Architect
Hall of Triumph

Master of Waves
Whirler Rogue

Force of Will

13 Islands

PteramanderBased on the recent PT (or MC or whatever they are now) win by Autumn there might be better ways to take this build. By lowering the curve and reducing the Anthem cards and other quirky support stuff and just replacing it with good old fashioned permission suddenly this list resembles a cube version of Autumn's deck. Obviously Pteramander should be in and would be improved with the higher spell count too. I first wrote this before Ravnica Allegiance was out and so the card wasn't a consideration at the time. I will certainly retry this archetype in a manner better resembling the standard version and see if that is a better way to take this general plan. It may not be sufficiently different in performance, feel, nor even cards included, to merit another article on the matter so I thought I should at least mention it here. Turns out it is a very hard deck to play and so it might actually be amazing but I am too poor at it to realize that potential and thus deem the deck less noteworthy. It is much more of a control deck than this iteration despite both leaning on Curiosity effects. A rare case of heavy card overlap in two different class of archetype.

Monday 4 March 2019

Winners and Losers from Ravnica Allegiance

Drill BitDrill Bit - big lose

Unlike the red spectacle cards the black ones are generally harder to trigger due to the nature of the decks. With timing and tempo all being so important for hand disruption those difficulties make this a lot weaker than I predicted. The red spectacle cards are far better supported, much more on-theme and typically more naturally tempo positive. The red spectacle cards are also as good, if not better, in the late game as they are in the early game. Hand disruption is best right away and quickly loses value. The awkwardness of casting Drill Bit scales very poorly with needing to cast it promptly. I fear Drill Bit is getting cut from the cube soon never to return.

Dovin, Grand ArbiterDovin, Grand Arbiter - mild lose

Dovin is fine but he isn't anywhere near as exciting as I predicted. I thought Dovin was going to be a really big deal and he is so far being just a good fair card. I think he will improve over time as we learn how best to deploy him and the support for doing that improves. Presently the issue with Dovin is that he is easily killed. To grow quickly him you have to be attacking meaning Dovin is exposed. Ticking him down to make thopters is nice but again, just leaves you quite exposed with a mere two loyalty. Dovin isn't great in control shells as they are rarely in a position to attack and afford large loyalty gains. Blue white aggressive decks are still finding their feet in my cube meta but are certainly the best home for Dovin. Despite preferring the aggro decks Dovin is decent in more midrange and control shells. I peg him a bit above the power level of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, a fair bit infact. That being said however Nissa comes out turn two a lot more often and is less narrow in effect and less narrow due to colours. Nissa is likely the slightly better cube inclusion and will see more play but powerwise Dovin has her beat.

Depose // Deploy
Depose // Deploy - mild lose

Mostly this is a lose because I failed to appreciate how significant the need of a target for Depose would be. I likened this to Fire / Ice because you can always just cycle it for two. The thing is with this is that you can't. More often than not you can but that isn't good enough. When you play cheap cantrips they affect your mana ratios. When you need to cycle a card to curve properly it is super miserable having this in hand and no targets. While this is still a good and versatile card it is not nearly such a free include to a deck than I thought. There are greater risks associated with playing it and the relatively low power it brings doesn't now feel as exciting. Certainly I will still play this when it feels right but it will not get anywhere near the play Fire / Ice gets. It is more of a nice filler all round card than it is a free include. I does at least play very nicely with the Azorius aggro builds that Dovin is helping gain traction.

Light Up the StageLight Up the Stage - huge win

Obviously this is mental. One red, draw two. Obviously very very good. I'm pretty sure I wanked on about how good this would be in previews and it has even outdone that. Huge new card for red in basically all the formats.

Skewer the Critics - lose

I also wanked on about this and how it was going to be top five burn spells etc. On this I was off the mark. It is closer to Rift Bolt than Lightning Bolt and that is for sure. The card is fine but it is a little clunky. In an Izzet prowess deck I rate this highly. It is still a strong card for an aggressive red deck but it quickly falls off in value as you move towards the midrange and then to the control. I am playing Searing Spear over Skewer in those cases if I can. The average mana cost of the two is comparable but it likely favours the Spear in the slower decks. More over it is instant allowing for much more utility, tempo thieving, and other options. Sweker is efficient and on-theme but it is still a bit clunky and awkward.

PteramanderPteramander - big win

This has also cropped up in a lot of formats and been doing good work. While this is a powerful cheap little beater it is still a beater and isn't quite such a universal win as Light the Stage even if both are multiformat all-stars! It certainly seems better than Delver of Secrets already. It was better designed but it also seems to just be a better, more powerful and playable card.

Silhana Wayfiner - win

Silhana WayfinderNot a powerhouse by any means but way nicer than I was expecting. Wayfinder isn't great tempo but it is still getting involved. It blocks and trades or threatens some damage and planeswalker pressure. It is significantly more board and tempo than a 1/1 play like Satyr Wayfinder or Elvish Visionary. I just found whenever I played Silhana Wayfiner I was happy with what I got. On turn two it was amazing. It is just such a good curve card as it gives you such great odds of following it with something potent and appropriate. The way Wayfinder works it kind of lets you see five cards in the way that Ponder lets you see four. If you look at the top four and see nothing you want you just put them all to the bottom and get that extra bit of dig. Usually you want a land or something to play and looking at four cards finds you such a thing in most green decks. Obviously weaker with lower creature count but as I say, that is not an overly green thing to be doing. Also still fine when your creature count drops unlike a lot of cards that become awful. Wayfinder is still perfectly playable when you have a low creature count. Wayfinder also has a lot of pleasant synergy with other green cards. It can setup a Courser of Kruphix or clear some crap away from the top of deck you left there with a Sylvan Library. For your two mana you don't get robbed on tempo and you get to be proactive. You also get an impressively high value card quality effect. It is more than Seek the Wilds and you get a 2/1 into the bargain which is better tempo even if it is less value than having that card in hand and not sat atop the library. While the value for cards on this is on the low side the value for mana is exceptional. This is at least three manas worth of stuff and that really helps makes it good. I am calling this a win because I thought it would be poor like Omen Speaker. Lots of people got really excited about this and so for them it is probably still a lose. For now it seems like a reasonable include in a cube.

Consecrate // ConsumeConsecrate // Consume - mild win

Where Depose // Deploy was found not meeting expectation this has stepped up and exceeded. It is  rare for neither player to have anything in the bin by the end of their second turn. While still not nearly as online as Ice Consecrate is still more online early than Depose. As such this is a lower risk card to play on the whole. It turns out it is also just rather good. The graveyard disruption is rare in cube and affects a lot of cards and Comsume is powerful. It deals with a lot of serious cards that can be hard to handle and it does so with a big chunk of life back. This is a removal disruption card with an unusual range but surprising potency.

Wilderness ReclamationWilderness Reclamation - win

I massively underrated this. I just thought it was a bit overkill, hard to support and a bit of a do nothing on its own. It is all of those things but it is just so immensely powerful that it is worth jumping through the hoops you need to. Firstly it is free! It costs no mana to lay if you have something you were doing with four mana at instant speed anyway. You can pass the turn with Cryptic Command up having made your Reclamation. Very naughty. As Foretold has been great in cube and Reclamation is basically better in all ways other than suspend cards. Reclamation comes into play with effectively four charge counters on it which is certainly nice even if it only triggers once per turn rather than the twice As Foretold does. The really big difference is that you can spend your mana on things other than spells. This makes things like Walking Ballista and Search for Azcanta all a lot more exciting. X spells also appeal more with Reclamation. While very potent it is not all that well supported in my cube it would seem. It is hard to piece together a solid looking deck that takes advantage of the mana. This is certainly a design thing rather than a lack of power for Wilderness Reclamation! The issue is how many cards do you need to support a Reclamation in cube and whether that is worth it for the overall consistency and playability of the cube.

Theater of HorrorsTheater of Horrors - win

All the perks of Phyrexian Arena without the life loss and with a bonus ping effect. I have seen this work well in midrange and control decks as well as the more predictably good aggressive decks. This is just powerful ongoing card advantage with very little downside or inconvenience. There really are not that many occasions where I would play Phyrexian Arena over this but then that is how gold cards should work!

Unbreakable Formation - win

Unbreakable FormationReally impressed with this. Normally situational aggro cards are not great in cube. This has seen consistent play in aggressive white decks and has performed exceptionally well. Countering removal is nice but the addendum mode is brutal. You just get a free hit without any consequence as well as a team buff. It almost always puts the game out of reach. Any races are just done but it is proving to be critical damage in some way when cast with addendum. Which is most of the time it is drawn it would seem. Very powerful, nicely versatile and surprisingly well suited.

Ministrant of Obligation - mild win

Just seeing play and being annoying. It is just like a static Hangarback Walker or weasly Hallowed Spiritkeeper. It clogs up the board and makes mass removal and planeswalkers far less appealing lines to take. Obligation is one of those cards that helps you extend without over extending. The majority of the value of the card is back loaded but it is still a relevant play at the front end. It scales very well with white anthem cards and is just an OK all round playable card for the numerous token based strategies.

Rampage of the ClansRampage of the Clans - win

Not something you can just toss into a cube and have it be good. You might get away with it in a powered cube but otherwise this will need a lot of supporting. I have a .dec article on this either published or soon to be. That is how it will need supporting roughly but do that and you have a bomb on your hands. This is a filthy good combo finisher style of card. You just cast it and win. It is the instant speed that makes it so effective in this role but regardless you can milk this for a silly amount of value. I was frequently making double figures of 3/3s between turns four and six. It wins out of nowhere and it wins effectively. I expect to see this be a thing in other formats. It is probably a bit narrow for drafting cube but it is absolutely worth paying attention to in the more open or constructed style singleton formats. It has a very Paradoxical Outcome feel about it.

Rhythm of the WildRythm of the Wild - win

Not working with tokens makes this a close call for the drafting cube with so many of the best creatures for cube being ones that come with tokens. It is very powerful but being hard to build with on top of being gold is a big ask. When in play it is fantastic. It turns all your small mana dorks and early plays into much more significant threats and it makes your top end far more dangerous both with potential haste and uncounterable. A truly terrifying card to play against as a blue mage. Just having the option on +1/+1 or haste is huge, options is how you win the good games of magic and big dork decks have lacked them historically.

Mesmerizing Benthid - big win

Mesmerizing BenthidJust the ticket for blue decks. This holds the ground really well. Better than most in fact. It is super hard and low value to remove. Nine toughness , over three bodies, that you have to hit sequentially is a tall order. Not being able to directly interact with Benthid until the 0/2s are dealt with is also a real pain, it can do a lot of work in that time. Turns out a 4/5 hexproof is a massive chore to handle and affords a really strong source of planeswalker control and clock. All the ways to deal with it involve huge exposure to something like a bounce spell. Benthid buys a lot of time and ends of a lot of aggression. This gives blue the window to take control with powerful walkers, permission and card advantage. It also just wins by itself a bunch of the time. The closest thing blue had to this before was Whirler Rogue which saw play all over the shop. Defensively this is vastly preferable and blue tends to be the slowest colour in cube. All told this has seen a lot of play in a short space of time and never failed to impress.

Gutterbones - win

GutterbonesThe Gutterbones itself has not done anything that unexpected what with being so comparable to other well known cards. What makes it a win is the jump from three 2 power one drop recursive dorks to four. Black is getting there for sufficient one drops for the various different build, of which Gutterbones helps multiple. Aggro black has recently jumped in power quite noticeably and I put most of that down to this subtle addition.

Rix Maadi Reveler - win

Rix Maadi RevelerJust a nice playable card. Playable in mono red and a bit better with increasing access to black. It is card quality early and mild to significant card advantage late. There is some potential discard synergies on the go as well. It is enough tempo that you often play it in aggro decks and enough utility that it is desirable elsewhere. This has seen a lot of action since release and has generally performed very well. I think he is very hard to play with well and that has been the cause of not consistently looking good. I expect this to increase in effectiveness and the estimation of others fairly rapidly.

Judith, the Scourge Diva - win

Utterly nutty good card. Judith makes combat a total nightmare for the opponent. It is like giving all your non-token creatures a +2/+0 due to the on-death ping. It means a 2/1 will trade into a 4/4 which is madness! If you have much board at all Judith is a terrifying card to lay. That is her only real downside, she is rather poo all by her self. Broadly that is not an issue as she is well supported without any effort in mine and most other cubes. She can be great on turn three but she is so potent it doesn't seem to matter a jot if you take a couple more turns developing your board so you can flop out a game winning Judith on turn five or six. Judith does die easily but she is able to win or at least put you on that direct path in such short order that it is not a real problem.

Titanic BrawlTitanic Brawl - lose

This may well be the best fight card but obviously that isn't a good measure of how a card should perform. No fight cards are good because broadly speaking it is a poor means of doing removal. If you need removal in your green deck you play a colour that can do it properly rather than sub par cards.

Orzhov Enforcer - mild win

Just a nice tempo defense play. This qualifies well in the two bodies for two mana in one card category that the Aristocrats style of deck like so much. It is also a suitable stand in for a Baleful Strix. While not as good a value play the increase in stats and bodies does a lot more work in trading, holding the fort and taxing removal. Enforcer is annoying to attack into and should crop up both in token decks and in slower decks needing tools against aggression.

Tithe TakerTithe Taker - win

Very annoying card you want to kill but also kind of don't want to kill. This does enough of enough things to be a really good all round cube card. It is enough tempo that you play it in aggressive decks and it 4is enough value and disruption that it also does well in midrange decks as well. Like the Enforcer before it Tithe Taker is also a great inclusion in Aristocrats lists.

Essence Capture - lose

Overall just play Remove Soul and/or Essence Scatter in cubes. Certainly this has the higher ceiling and will do some great work in constructed aggro blue decks there are not nearly enough of those in cube to offset the double blue cost of this card. You cannot take a huge hit in playability for a mild uptick in potential value and keep a good drafting meta.