Monday 29 April 2019
So what do you need to make a sensible looking God-Pharaoh's Gift deck in cube? Well, the two artifacts of course. After that it is really just ways of finding, playing and protecting your God-Pharaoh's Gift and ways to fill up the graveyard with creatures. You want self mill or looting and discard effects so as to fill up the bin with dorks as well as a high creature count. Gate to the Afterlife is one of your best ways to get the God-Pharaoh's Gift into play and so you want to be able to hit that six creatures in the bin mark. It is also nice to have some dorks that benefit from being made into 4/4 zombie tokens! I had a crack at a Simic build. I don't think it is the best colour combination, that is probably something red and blue so that you can abuse cards like Tinker and Goblin Welder. The thing is, when you are doing that sort of thing it is super unlikely that your God-Pharaoh's Gift is the best of targets and you might as well stick to Inkwell, Battlesphere, Wurmcoil, and that sort of thing. Simic is at least an uncommonly used pairing and the cards this list uses are not the most contested either giving it a different set of perks. Here was my list;
Gate to the Afterlife
Champion of Wits
So the plan is pretty simple, simultaneously fill your bin with dorks while getting the God-Pharaoh's Gift into play. You have a smattering of things that dig and tutor for creatures as well as the Treasure Mage to get the God-Pharaoh's Gift itself. You have Witness to help get it back if it gets milled and the Reclamation and the Academy Ruins which might be a little overkill. You also obviously have the Gate which can find and play the Gift as well from anywhere bar exile. I strongly considered Triskelion for this list. It works nicely with Treasure Mage and God-Pharaoh's Gift and aids Simic in the removal that it sucks at. This list is one of the only times you will find Triskelion with anything at all over Walking Ballista! Triskelion also works nicely with the blue artifact ramp creatures we are running.
Grand Architect and Chief Engineer are your best way of powering out a 7 mana artifact it seems. It turns out they are the thing that makes the deck work and not just be a joke deck in cube. I started out with more green ramp creatures and found myself moving towards blue effects. They might be artifact specific but they are more bang for your buck and the rest of the deck is super cheap and not overly needing of the green ramp. Without them I suspect I would have gone for Trophy Mage instead of Treasure so I could breakup the cost and get a discount on the God-Pharaoh's Gift by going via the Gate to the Afterlife as my main method of getting it out. As both Engineer and Architect scale with the many (blue) creatures you are running you can fairly easily just cast the God-Pharaoh's Gift and so you don't need to phaff around taking the scenic Afterlife route!
I ran the combo of Wonder and Kraul Harpooner for that one shot potential and it did rather help the deck. While Harpooner was rarely more than a hit of 12 when Gifted into play as a 4/4 with haste that was usually enough to close out the game. I would do some chip damage to my opponents as would they! You can afford a few do nothing cards like Wonder and Krosan Reclamation with all the looting effects the deck runs. They are generally a bit slow however and so there is a real argument for running Survival of the Fittest. It makes the Wonder Harpooner combo better and helps set up the other bits of the deck.
Hapless Researcher and Sidisi's Faithfull are quirky support cards. Both are cheap blue dorks to empower the artifact mana ramp. Both also allow you to put dorks in the bin so as to empower Gate to the Afterlife. I very nearly played a mini energy package of Minister of Inquiries plus Rogue Refiner but felt I was well enough covered on the self mill elements of the deck. Indeed, with all the undergrowth, discard, creature and artifact synergies going on in the deck it strongly feels like I must have missed several tricks. There are loads of cool and powerful cards you can abuse with those kinds of synergy on offer. There is almost certainly space to trim away, I am about as redundant as you can be on looters and recursion and could skim off the top of those. I could also lose the one shot combo and free up another two spaces. I would like to use one for something like a Venser, Shaper Savant or Reclamation Sage. This deck is painfully uninteractive and the ability to remove a problem permanent out of the way would go a long way.
You could cut the green all together while retaining the style of this build. You could use blue recursive effects like Argivian Restoration and Rootwater Diver. I am not entirely sure what the other builds would look like. I suspect they would all be rather lighter on creatures and as such the Gate to the Afterlife would be less impressive. Black feels like it would be used for tutors and hand disruption as it is in most combo decks. Other than Stitcher's Supplier no black dorks jump out at me as obvious includes. Red brings quality artifact recursion but it would also entail playing a good number of supporting artifacts. Doing that and keeping up the dork count is going to be trickier. Red has some great looting (mostly rummaging but comparable enough here) but given that we didn't dip into instants and sorcercies for looting and self mill in blue, which has an even wider range I am not sure that is a huge deal. I will probably try a black red version next simply to force myself to use an entirely new set of cards and thus likely a new approach. I am sure if I do a blue something or green something build that I will wind up with something much closer to this than I would like. I feel like there might be a Combustible Gearhulk in the Rakdos God-Pharaoh's Gift build which makes me want to build it sooner!
Thursday 25 April 2019
War of the Spark is on of the most hyped sets I have witnessed. The hype even got me, I was excited to see what was going to be done with it. The trailer was a win despite it's first airing having technical issues resulting in no sound. It was exciting to see Wizard's pushing the boat out and trying new things. Unbelievably War of the Spark seems to be living up to the hype. The cards are fascinating. The power level is impressive yet even more impressively the cards are also well designed. Nothing seems degenerate or tedious. I think it looks amazing for booster draft, the limited cards are particularly pushed with loads of lovely removal to support it all too.
The most clear measure for the quality of this set for me is how much more time it took to review than normal, both in volume of cards worthy of consideration and how difficult so many cards were to unpack. I normally do a set review of this size in about 13 installments while this one took me 18. I normally drop the ball once-ish per set review on an obvious bomb I disregard or a card I fail to read properly in a critical way. I have already hit at least three misreads alone! I am less confidant than usual about my assessments based on this initial ball dropping trend...
This set has so much on offer for so many different people and places. It is great how they are clearly designing with EDH in mind as well now, some clear juice for there. I have not bothered to list all the cards I want for my constructed singleton reserves, it would be quicker listing the cards I have no interest in for anything at all from the set. Just listing the things that have some potential in the drafting cube and not the more extensive list of singleton constructed cards is still about as big as the total number of interesting cards from any prior sets. So much so that I am planning on buying my first ever box as it seems like it will be more economical than buying singles, certainly any time soon. Turns out good product design and high quality density is all Wizards needed to do to make me finally buy a box, none of this lottery card shenanigans.
One noteworthy thing is that there is not all that much that will change my drafting cube meta by that much. Certainly there will be shifts but nothing dramatic. Most of the additions are midgame and top end stuff. The cheaper cards getting added are all support cards. While things like Fblthp the Lost and Lazotep Reaver will be some of the most played cards from this set in my cube they are far from the most powerful cards. Cheap cards are what bring about bring changes in the cube meta and we have relatively few of those. Even if the meta doesn't change the games will simply by virtue of so many new cards. At the start of the testing process it will all be a bit chaotic and messy with over 75 cards going in. I might have to stagger or feather it in some way so as to get meaningful feedback from my drafts and sealeds. Even if only 10% of the potential cards make it in that will still be over 25 WAR cards in my cube, between 4 and 5% of the total. With most of those being spells not lands you will have a lot of new interactions which should help freshen things up a lot.
Another unrelated comment I have on War of the Spark is that it was spoiled in a really well thought out way. The sequencing of the cards, the art and the flavour text all gave a really enticing hint of the storyline and made me want to read up on that as well. So far I can't think of a criticism other than I want more one drops. We shall have to see how the limited and standard formats are with it before we can call it a success story but so far so good. Here are my additions and potentials to test. Anything not on this list that I rated above 1/10 will be something I am looking to pickup for my constructed singleton affairs!
Drafting Cube Lock In Cards (with a top 5 in set)
1. Dreadhorde Arcanist
2. Massacre Girl
3. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
4. Fblthp the Lost
5. Lazotep Reaver
Return to Nature
Finale of Devastation
Bond of Flourishing
Nissa, Who Shakes the World
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
Teferi, Time Raveler
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Cards To Test With High Expectations
Casualties of War
Ugin, the Ineffable
Oath of Kaya
Commence the Endgame
Finale of Promise
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
Ral, Storm Conduit
Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
Cards To Test With Low Expectations
Wall of Runes
Sarkhan the Masterless
Narset, Parter of Veils
Price of Betrayal
Toll of the Invasion
Enter the God-Eternals
Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi
Topple the Statue
Chandra, Fire Artisan
Feather, the Redeemed
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
Tuesday 23 April 2019
God-Eternal Oketra 5
An inverse prowess trigger card here that generates 4/4 dorks for you. Oketra seems like an impressive threat that offers reach, security and reliability. I am not without my concerns. This is a top end card that wants creature support which makes it a little narrow. A lot of the creature heavy aggressive white decks don't even bother with five drops. It also makes it a bit win more, it is a creature and it makes more creatures when you do. To get value with this you need to play a dork and thus have three things in play. When you have at least a 4/4 and a 3/6 doublestrike you are absolutely in a position to eat a Wrath. It is basically a little hard not to over extend with Oketra. She does come back but at a time and card cost. An aggro deck will have low value one drops it can stockpile and power up Oketra with but a midrange deck will have far less disposable dorks. Both fewer creatures and fewer still it can afford to risk or hold just to get Oketra triggers. Oketra is not weak by herself as a 3/6 doublestrike dork packs a big punch and is savage to tackle in combat. Double strike scales nicely with buffs and a few other bits and bobs as well which are fairly common in white. Much as I like this I fear it is just a little too narrow and a bit too much of an all the eggs in one basket card. The god recursion mechanic is nice on this as it is with the other gods but sadly it is not solving the issue facing white creature decks of card advantage. While this is a little slow to get going and a little vulnerable to removal as such it will pretty much steamroll anything not answering it. This will break apart board stalls fairly quickly and generally just be a big impact card. Decks without consistently immediate answers or mass removal cards are going to ultimately lose to Oketra. Test worthy but expecting it to not make the cut much as I might want it to.
Rubblebelt Rioters 1
Too reliant on having another attacker. As long as this has at least three power it is very potent. The scaling potential of it will likely draw some people in for abuses. It certainly isn't playable in a limited cube setting and is still probably just bad in a constructed on even if it does have an impressive and more likely ceiling there.
Prison Realm 4
A target restricted Banishing Light that makes up for it with a scry. Mostly you want to deal with creatures and walkers and white loves to scry. Overall this probably is better than Banishing Light in a cube setting but only by the slightest of margins. That is probably only true for unpowered cubes as well, all power and combo tends to power up the value of the Disenchant effects. With much better cards like Conclave Tribunal and Cast Out on offer I don't see this breaking into the drafting cube. Too many more interesting and powerful alternatives despite this being a decent and fit for purpose card.
This is a useful addition to the suite of removal on offer in cube. It is the mirror image of Abrupt Decay killing all the things it does not. Despark trades uncounterable for exile which is a perfect swap given the targets. Abrupt Decay kills cheap things which are often things that can be played with countermagic protection. Despark kills big things that often have their own form of protection and recursion but are less likely to have countermagic backup. Abrupt Decay affords low value and small tempo swings but it does cover you very well in the early game. Despark affords huge value and massive tempo but it is dead until the midgame. About 29% of the non-land permanents in my cube are targets for this which is pretty low considering. It is about 85 total cards from a 540ish sized cube so overall a fairly small set of cards. The bar I set for spot removal % targets is well over double what Despark offers. The only reason this gets such a big pass on that front is that it hits almost all the real threats and game winning cards. Most lists rely on a few such cards to win and being able to so easily and cheaply deal with them is going to swing a lot of games. Answers to planeswalkers, Hazoret, The Scarab God, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Purphoros, Wurmcoil and all that sort of shenanigans, not to mention just putting big cards like Inferno Titan out of reach of recursion, are welcome cards. This feels a bit like a polar Anguished Unmaking. It is a lot better than Unmaking against the things you want to use it on but it is dead on the things than Anguished Unmaking is poor removal against. This certainly needs some testing, it may well have too few targets in too many decks and spend too much time idle in hands to be a good drafting cube card.
Arboreal Grazer 1.5
Elvish Pioneer does not get much love and this is unlikely to see more play than the elf. Mostly due to type and the fact that when you really want an effect this niche you are likely to play both. The reason this gets a low rating is because you don't much want this effect on such low returns cards. Probably a more useful body than the Pioneers in most non-tribal settings at least.
Heartwarming Redemption 3.5
Well this might be the first magic card to be moving. Lovely art and sendoff for Gideon. A useful tool as well that will see play in a couple of the more exotic builds. Nice to have a utility enabler like this crop up in Boros, a historically inflexible pair of colours. Too narrow for the drafting cube by a long way but a card that has a place.
Bleeding Edge 5.5
This is a mini Skinrender. You lop a mana off the cost, get 2/2 instead of 3/3 stats and the same swap on the removal effect. Overall I think this is actually worse. The colour intensity is greater as a result of the cost reduction. The effect also only lasts till end of turn making this a poor way to mitigate a threat when you can't outright kill it. Tokens are less easily abused than creature cards in general too. As a red or blue card the sorcery type over creature would be a perk but in black it feels like a drawback. This is very close to great and is still very playable. It is easily good enough when you have zombie synergies or amass synergies or just reason to want sorcery cards in the bin. Useful little spell to have in the pool but not one I see having a big impact on the drfating cube.
Elite Guardmage 4
Much better than it looks. While I don't think this quite has the raw power to make it in a drafting cube I can see this doing impressive work in a number of places more tailored to such things. This is what you want to be doing with Oketra's Monument. It is quite pleasant with Heartless Summoning or any sort of flicker cards. This is one of the closest things Azorius has to Baleful Strix! It is 2 more life and 1 more toughness than a Krasis of the same cost! Just a nice useful card that has minimal risks and is generally well rounded.
Return to Nature 7
The death of yet more classic reference cards. We lost Diabolic Edict this set already and now Naturalize is directly bettered too. The exile clause might seem relatively minor but it isn't at all. It adds a huge degree of disruptive potential to the card which in turn makes it way more playable. The exile element appears to add about 20-25% to the number of decent things it hits over a Naturalize which is a fairly significant jump. Naturalize was already reasonably playable and so this looks set to do very well in drafting cubes. This is legitimately one of the top answers green has in cube for a Scarab God. Exile things from the bin is usually not going to be a full cards worth of value but green players will take what they can get. Dealing with half a Lingering Souls or turning Snapcaster Mage into just a 2/1 are still very big wins!
Seems like you might play this in some kind of infinite mana deck that wants to make coloured mana. I don't really see it though, there feels like there are far better ways of fixing with artifacts. The "perks" this card offers don't really line up well with the ability. A 2/1 body for 2 is mostly a drawback and compares horribly to the card you get from Prophetic Prism or Chromatic Star in almost all cases. The only other perk this card has is that it can filter as much as you need but I can't see why you would need as much as this can do. It is not hard to win with a lot of mana even if it is colourless.
Guild Globe 6
Speaking of good colourless fixing her we have it. This is lovely. In many respects it is better than Chromatic Star. You get to play this and get your card back immediately and then hold onto it until you actually need the fixing. With Star and the rest you need to use the fixing to get the card which can often mean you blow them early to dig into the deck. This can in turn lead to you later being colour screwed. The downside of Globe is that two is actually a significant upfront cost and cannot so easily just be tossed into a deck to help smooth it out. I expect this to be outstanding in artifact synergy decks like Breya good stuff. In more standard Esper control lists I don't think this will get anywhere near the play of the one drops. Great overall addition to the greater pool of magic cards at least. This will see play all over the place. It is most comparable to Prophetic Prism and so probably winds up just being too underplayed to have a slot in the drafting cube.
Wall of Runes 4
Impressively well statted for one so cheap. This will see play in wall decks if nothing else. I suspect, as with Sigiled Starfish, that this is simply too low powered to be worth playing in a limited setting but I still like it a lot! I will test this just to give it that chance to make it.
Aven Eternal 2
Low powered but has mild potential for synergy builds being relatively cheap and having things going for it like zombie types and two in one bodies.
Sky Theater Strix 2.5
I just prefer Elusive Spellfist to this. It doesn't block in the sky but it blocks better on the ground and does a better job of both living and getting damage through. Spellfist is a great build around card but too narrow for the drafting cube, this will be an OK build around card and also too narrow for the drafting cube. Really all these cards are just sad Stormchaser Mages!
A different take on Carrion Feeder. This is a better starting body being able to block and with some decent evasive capabilities. It retains the useful zombie type and adds in the less useful cat type! The sacrifice is broader with the ability to consume walkers and it affords twice the returns in terms of counters. This is a long list of perks for what might seem like a fairly minor downside on Carrion Feeder. The cost of sacrificing goes from nothing to three mana. That is as it happens a vast nerf. It removes most of the convenience, combo potential and utility from the card. While both remain good they serve very different roles. Dreadmalkin is a much more grindy card. It will be even more annoying in combat than Feeder but it will be almost irrelevant in terms of utility a lot of the rest of the time and afford the opponent opportunities for counterplay. I think the synergy and utility this offers is great. I think the threat level and reach it has are also impressive given how low cost the card initially is. It feels more like a Figure of Destiny than anything else. The threat of the "level up" and the general returns for investment. Overall I think this is a less polar, less potent, but more playable sidegrade on Carrion Feeder. I think it will help out black a lot in cube play being a key support tool, thematic, option dense, and a one drop.
Monday 22 April 2019
Callous Dismissal 5
Sarkhan's Catharsis 0
Well this is the best Lava Axe to date but that isn't impressive. I can't see either the upgrade in power or the extra redundancy having much baring on the playability of this. It is just high enough up the curve that X spells start to appeal more.
Sarkhan, the Masterless 3
Now isn't this a curious walker. It has potential scaling in multiple places. You can become untouchable with enough dragons or you can one shot people with enough planewalkers! That is all very win more. More than one dragon is rarely a losing position and it certainly isn't one that last very long. The same is true of multiple walkers although you do get games that go on for along time with active walkers. They are often some of the most interesting games. Under most normal circumstances Sarkhan is limited in what he does. You can only reasonably expect to make a 4/4 dragon token and have a 2 loyalty planeswalker left over. You can just +1 and do nothing for the loyalty buffer but it seems like a bad play. If you need the loyalty buffer then it is better off forcing the issue by making the token. All told a 4/4 blocker and a ping at anything coming in is about as good a defense as you can get from a single planeswalker activation. The issue is how easy it is to pick apart and that you get not real options with your play. One of the strengths of walkers is their utility and Sarkan has basically none right away and limited utility there after. The ability to easily counter Sarkhan is a real concern as well. All you need to do is get in with any 2 power dork, after dealing with a token or just chump attacking. Bounce or flicker is amazing but even just burning down a 4/4 and then sending in one extra attacker at Sarkhan feels fine. Dealing with the token completely negates the passive and leaves Sarkhan in a bad way. Sarkhan will end a game fairly quickly all by himself and he will be able to lock out a load of things should they happen to not have the right answers. This makes him on the polar side of things which is rarely a plus for game play. He will be an easily answered waste of five mana and a card in the cases where he isn't dominating. I don't think we will see this getting much love in drafting events where you need consistency from your top end. The power is such that I will be playing a bunch of this when the opportunity arises at least. He would be more appealing if you could make a smaller dragon and remain on higher loyalty.
Narset's Reversal 1
Deceptively good looking card that I think many will over rate. This is the Remand of Deflection. That makes it narrow, situational and not even an answer to the problem card at hand. This fails to stop a targetless card like a Wrath. It is only effective against spot removal if they also have a valid target as well. It only delays the removal effect as well and given that most removal is on the cheap side odds on they are just playing it again. Narset's Reversal might be a brutal tempo play in some specific settings and matchups. I can see it doing some good work in a standard midrange mirror and earning sideboard slots as a result. This has an outside shot at cube sideboard play in the same way but it seems about as corner case as it gets.
Narset, Parter of Veils 4
I rather like this. It is fairly tame but I think it has a place. It seems pretty comparable to Jace Beleren. Even if both of similar power level Beleren is less narrow and a bit more option dense and so is very unlikely to be supplanted. Even so, Narset offers some impressive perks over Beleren that will absolutely see her outclassing him in the right setting. The passive is pretty savage to some deck and will make Narset a high value target. Those decks are most commonly the ones least able to deal with planeswalkers. Narset is also one of the least profitable to use spot removal on. By her self all she does is a pair of restricted Impulses and one of those is almost always getting used. Narset will be disruption and a two or three for one against control with the potential to be game winning. Against more aggressive decks she is either some reasonable card draw and quality or she is a bit of tempo and slightly less of the card stuff. Both fine outcomes. Compared to Jace Beleren she can draw a card and remain on 3 loyalty making her a little bit safer against aggression. Overall I think being unable to find lands, not having the threat level of a planeswalker that can grow in loyalty (except against card draw heavy lists), or the options of a walker with a more typical number of abilities all likely doom Narset to seeing little play. I do still like her, I want to play a pair of Impulse for 3 mana and one card, that sounds great.
Finale of Glory 0
This is a silly card. Martial Coup seems like it wins more effectively and with a lower value of X. Secure the Wastes or even Decree of Justice feel like nicer utility mana dumps with tempo that can win the game. I just don't see where this fits in to any sort of deck. It is powerful but it isn't reliable or desirable. It is either clunky and bad or complete overkill and fails to ever hit a good middle ground.
Gideon Blackblade 7.5
This could well be a bit better than a 7.5/10 rating as well. It seems to be the more tempo version of Gideon of the Trials. I prefer Trials in a control deck but as soon as I have dorks and want to attack this seems a lot more appealing. The +1 supplements my attack, provides a lot of options in how it does this, and threatens the -6. The static ability gives you a very powerful and under cost beater, that unlike Trials, does other things at the same time. The -6 is fairly easy to get to but should only really get to be used once per Blackblade cast. It affords a nice amount of control, answers, tempo. and incentive to deal with Gideon. The package is nice, it applies pressure and works towards something. Blackblade is fairly sturdy, especially if you have any sort of dork in play. He evades all the sorcery speed creature removal and much of the instant stuff too what with being indestructible. A Hero's Downfall might as well be a sorcery against him which is annoying at the very least. Gideon seems powerful and versatile enough that it is not just aggro decks that will play him, most midrange ones will as well and I wouldn't even be shocked to see him rock up in some control lists too. Strong card, a tiny bit narrow but I expect he is more than potent enough to power past such setbacks.
Finale of Devastation 4
Green is the colour most able to get to 10 for the X but I am not sure the payoff is exciting enough. I imagine I won already if I just pay 8 for X and find a Craterhoof! The graveyard utility is nice, especially in 40 card decks where big cards that find threats rather than being threats can often make a list too thin and fail to perform in the late game. The ability to find any type of creature is nice but I still think I prefer the cheaper Green Sun's Zenith to this. This has some Tutor applications all over the shop but it isn't a better tutor than the alternatives, just a bit different. I suspect on occasion it will be well suited to lists but it isn't getting loads of play out of it. EDH more so than elsewhere what with tutors scaling in power with larger decks and deck diversity. We might well have enough creature tutors to satisfy 40 card decks but we are well off on 100 card lists! This has applications but mostly as a tutor that is library and bin and not really at all as a win condition, source of value or threat. It is nice that is is a fairly reliable threat if you want it to be but I don't see combo decks that want tutors making it to the late game with 12 mana spare very often. Nice for piecing together an infinite mana combo with as it is then also a relevant win condition.
Command the Dreadhorde 2
Another EDH winner simply due to lower aggression and higher life totals. This should afford some pretty swingy plays! In heads up play however a six drop that is going to batter your life total is risky. You really want at least 6 mana worth of stuff, ideally more, to get the sort of swing, presence and power to make playing this worth it. I think most decks will simply be too low on life or have to pay too much life in order to get what they want/need back and as such this will just be dead weight a lot of the time. I think you need lots of protection, graveyard filling and perhaps even lifegain before you can think about running this in most cube decks which in turn makes it unsuitable for most cubes.
Ugin's Conjurant 1.5
What an odd card. Not really sure where this fits in other than letting your Celestial Kirin combo to Armageddon! The counter element is mostly a drawback as it effectively gives all other damage sources hurting it wither. This card is unique and so I am sure it will have uses beyond the Kirin silliness but I am not at all sure what they will be. It doesn't seem like you want it in Hardened Scales as the combat potential is so poor.
Price of Betrayal 4
I like this but I don't think it quite does enough. It is killing most planeswalkers but it is not killing that many creatures nor even relevantly resetting many creatures. I think you probably just play the Elder Spell over this if you want to kill walkers and hope to high roll. That extra mana isn't making that much difference when it comes to killing walkers. I like this card a lot, it is cheap and versatile. It will absolutely see play all over the place but the drafting cube shouldn't be one of those. It is just too situational for such things. Too few targets and too often not killing them entirely.
Gideon's Sacrifice 1
There is likely a combo in this somewhere where you mess about with loads of damage and redirect effects but it sounds like it has a lot of parts and will be easily disrupted. Long-hand for bad basically. As a general tool it is also pretty bad as it will two for one you or just prevent a non-meaningful amount of damage. This card is so situational in the general sense that it is comic. I still quite like it but I don't expect to be playing with it.
Tyrant's Scorn 6.5
Gold Smother with an Unsummon mode. Bouncing a dork might be low value but it is massive utility and removes a lot of the potential for Smother to be dead. This is great early removal, and great mid to late game tempo, utility, and trickery. It is a touch on the gold side but it is exactly the sort of thing you want from your removal. This feels comparable power to Terminate and likely more playable as well. At worst you can save a dork of your own from removal or reuse an EtB effect against decks without dorks in them which Terminate cannot! Gold slots are the only real hurdle for this little gem.
Sunday 21 April 2019
Smothering Tithe is clearly an exciting card for commander where you stand to get a Black Lotus worth of treasure each round of turns. In heads up it is a Lotus Petal generator at base line which is far less impressive. Also being heads up it is more likely that opponents will pay 2 to prevent your treasure, although still reasonably infrequently. After four turns in heads up with your four mana do nothing enchantment you have broken even on mana and are merely a card down! That sounds pretty awful. I guess you can halve that time you are down mana if they pay 2 instead of letting you have your treasure... It is also noteworthy that in cube the average cards drawn per turn exceeds one. While the archetype has a big impact on expected cards drawn per turn with aggro decks being much closer to the baseline one per turn and the slower decks being nearer the two mark. Even so, this baseline average isn't enough to make Tithe good in heads up, we need to empower it directly. While being significantly better than just making a Lotus Petal every turn it is still a way off being a good stand alone card. If however you build around Smothering Tithe it starts to pickup pace in effectiveness rapidly. Big symmetrical draw spells are how to best empower the card. If I fire off a Wheel of Fortune with a Smothering Tithe in play I have come pretty close to a Time Spiral. Sure, it only nets you four mana at most but it does only cost three up front. So that is great and everything but what are we doing with our two card combo that emulates an existing card? How do we turn that into something worth doing? Simply put we cast more Wheel effects. The main difference between the red draw seven and the blue ones is that the red ones don't reshuffle hand and bin into the library. It does not take many casts of a draw seven card to exhaust a forty card deck. Your combo can actually work as a win condition all by itself. As it is a combo that also draws your whole deck you can rely on drawing other supplementary pieces such as an Elixir of Immortality to prevent your own decking death. This means despite being a combo that needs many parts to win with it is still essentially a two card combo of Tithe plus a Wheel effect and then it becomes an engine combo deck that generates mana as it draws through its library.
Elixir of Immortality
Swords to Plowshares
Wall of Omens
Wheel of Fortune
Captain Lannery Storm
Magus of the Wheel (should be Incendiary Command)
Wrath of God
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Reforge the Soul
Fall of Thran
So the plan of playing Smothering Tithe and then playing a lot of Wheel of Fortune cards sounds fairly simple and it is. The difficult part is getting there in time to not be dead against aggro decks or getting it past disruption for the slower lists. Neither white nor red are potent at card selection, hand disruption, spell disruption or really any of the things needed for the latter. Dealing with aggressive strategies is what white does best and red does well too and so that wasn't an issue. If I were at all concerned about that I could have packed more mass and spot removal. The options atop my list of nearlys were Pyroclasm, Lightning Helix, Galvanic Blast, Abrade, Council's Judgement and that sort of thing. It didn't feel like a problem at all and I would likely trim out creature control elements in favour of those that handle disruption if revisiting this build. I also tried using cards that would be effective against both kinds of deck. A Wildfire for example will be a Wrath against the aggressive decks and it will also either devastate a control deck and their mana or it will at least draw out a counterspell. I was strongly looking at Cataclysm for this role as well.
Just as big of a problem, if not more so, as countermagic is enchantment removal. I directly lost one game to an Anguished Unmaking on my Smothering Tithe. Gone with no way to get it back I had a deck full of crap and no way of really winning. Rebuff the Wicked is another heavy handed solution to this. Spellskite is an easier one to stomach but is not without issue. Neither of these help against hand disruption either. While most don't exile it is still a long route to getting your parts back and a massive blow. Also, some do exile and that can be game! Scroll Rack is likely the best solution to this and it isn't a great one. Fortunately we are playing it for a selection of other reasons as well so it is just a nice help. Mostly it is a good way to dig for key parts of the deck but it also helps with decking prevention, card advantage (with the Land Tax combo), card immediacy (handy for use with Tutor), miracle cost reduction, and of course the hand protection.
As mentioned, Boros is not a colour renown for its tutoring. Luckily we have redundancy in Wheel effects and they find more when cast. That just leaves the Smothering Tithe and white can do enchantments. I only used Enlightened and Rector and didn't bother with Idyllic or Wild Research. Idyllic might well have been better than Rector, especially with no good ways to sac off the Rector myself. I could also have gone down the looting route a bit harder with red spells such as Cathartic Reunion, Tormenting Voice and of course the Looting itself! I was fairly happy with the amount of looting, cantrip, scrying, cycling and other general card draw (Scroll Rack) and didn't struggle to have my Tithe in good time. The Rector encouraged me to play bigger enchantments which meant Cast Out as the preferred cover all removal tool and The Fall of Thran over Armageddon. While very cute I should have really combined it with some graveyard hosing from Tormod's Crypt or Remorseful Cleric. Without such things it is rather less brutal, although still potent.
The worst card in the deck was Magus of the Wheel. Mostly I used him as a 3/3 or he was dealt with in some way. I absolutely should have been playing an Incendiary Command in it's place. Khorvath's Fury or even Chandra Ablaze would have been better too. The latter would probably need me to play Burning Inquiry as well to really add up to a full Wheel. The thing all these cards have that Magus does not is that they work right away. Magus only helps you combo kill in one turn if he starts that turn in play. Far too inconvenient and vulnerable to be a viable Wheel option. I knew Wheel of Fate wouldn't cut it for those reasons but somehow didn't use that same logic to rule out Magus....
I played Swords over Path because I didn't want to give my opponents excess lands to pay for my Tithe and survive a Wildfire. I also care nothing about life totals. It might have been nice to have a way of turning on my Land Tax but I can't see that outweighing the perks of Swords. Nahiri was great, she absorbed a lot of attention and gave me a lot of control over the game. Captain Lannery Storm was cute and could be a good alternate win condition with a massive treasure hit. While she had some synergy ultimately she was an off theme card and likely just worse than the cards that directly help your main game plan. If you cut both her and the Magus you effectively render all opponent's creature removal dead. This does mean not adding Spellskite in but that is fine I think. You are probably better off trying to use mana denial plans to play around cards like Anguished Unmaking due to how they cover more ground generally.
You could cut more cards if you wanted to, you could lose the land destruction tools and risk being even more linear. I don't rate this highly, they work very nicely with your Land Tax, your artifact ramp and your Smothering Tithe. They let you play the pace of game you want to play. You could trim down on the aggression control, perhaps lose the Swords, perhaps the Wrath and then try and hide behind a Ghostly Prison or a fiendish Moat if you were so inclined! Riskier but also space saving. You could also just cut down on the luxury cards if you wished. Nahiri is great, loads of power and loads of utility but she is a luxury. Treasure Map is also somewhat in this group. It is quite expensive and slow for the dig it offers. You don't really need the card draw or treasure burst in most games, it is the setup phase of the game you care most about. After the three drop dorks Map is probably the next cut but it isn't one I am keen to make.
Overall I would call this a fairly low powered combo deck. Mostly that comes down to how easy it is to disrupt. It is actually pretty reliable and effective at a goldfish. Where this deck makes up for being a poor combo deck is that it is very able to play a longer game. With all the strong removal cards and the mana disruption it can keep most opposing strategies down for a very long time. It came very close to milling out opponents without the endless mana from Smothering Tithe on multiple occasions. Sadly without any real alternative win conditions the survivability of this combo deck is of limited value. Losing slowly is still losing. I am not sure what threats would make the best inclusions in this deck. Cataclysmic Gearhulk has some all round perks but it is hardly something you can rely on to close out a game. Sigil of the Empty Throne sounds like a better plan and it is not exactly well supported in this list! Brightling might be the most persistent of threats but I think I prefer some kind of land based threat to a creature. Westvale Abbey sadly feels too slow even for this deck and the same is going to be true of Urza's Factory. Emissary of Grudges might be the best creature option but planeswalkers probably do the best job. Karn will make some very large constructs for you but he might exile key cards and die! The same is true of the good Chandra. I think I would go with a token producing Elspeth as a planeswalker win condition as they are the most survivable and put up a good clock when allowed to go aggressive. Ideally I want an enchantment win condition to work with the tutors. I am sure there are plenty of cool and obscure options I haven't thought of that could work. Certainly better than some of my rambling suggestions here! Approach of the Second Sun is usually the cleanest white win condition and it works rather well with Wheels.
The deck is fun to play and pleasantly different. It is not only a unique kind of combo but is also a rare example of a Boros combo. Other Boros combos have to go outside the colours for the support cards they need to make it happen. This one can stay in Boros and still operate sufficiently well. I suspect there will be some good overlap with this combo and others, either existing or that see print later. Given that the parts of this combo make mana or draw cards it is an ideal pairing for any other sort of combo really. If it has key artifact or enchantment cards in it too all the better! Sadly there are as yet not enough functional Wheel effects to consider this build for anything above 40 card library size. With three times as many Wheels you could make this a really strong commander deck. As it stands you would have to find another way to win off the back of your going off. At least in commander each Wheel you do fire off generates substantially more mana!
Saturday 20 April 2019
The Elderspell 1
Well this has quite the ceiling on it. A good sign you have lost a game is when more than one planeswalkers simultaneously survive a whole turn against you (thus getting to activate at least twice each). There are few playable cards that let you deal with multiple walkers and so going wide on walkers is a safe way to play. This should win most games in which it hits two targets. It will win them on the spot if you have your own walker to power up. A two mana one for one removal spell with "win the game" as the ceiling is an amazing starting point but it is sadly a pretty unplayable card. Only being able to take out planeswalkers is devastatingly narrow. The average cube deck feels like it is a little under the two mark. Certainly far more decks have 0, 1 or 2 walkers than have 3 or 4 of them. Past that point is not only unlikely but rarely even good. As a type walkers do suffer diminishing returns. This means you are immensely unlikely to get that two for one action and will also be unlikely to grow your own stuff. What is more likely is that you will have a dead card in hand for much of your game. An epic ceiling does not in this case come close to making up for the depths of the floor. This card simply doesn't come close to Vampire Hexmage. Seems like pure evil in EDH at least...
Deliver Unto Evil 1
Mostly this is a Gifts Ungiven from the bin. It costs one less but it sorcery. That is a reasonable switch, especially for a black card rather than a blue card. The issue for this is that it is from the bin. It makes it a terrible setup card which is what Gifts is so good at. We can fairly easily appreciate how much better Gifts is than this by contrasting Demonic Tutor with Regrowth. Deliver isn't even good as a Regrowth as you want specific things back from the bin when you play those kinds of cards and Deliver fails to even do that. I don't much like a Deliver as a value card what with it being a Divination you can't play until your yard is at least four and is vulnerable to graveyard hate. The Bolas perk certainly isn't enough of a push to make this playable even if it is incredibly powerful. Four Regrowths for just a mana more is pretty nutty! It is just win more though because having a Bolas in play is already pretty win more! Deliver feels too powerful and unique to evade getting play somewhere but objectively it does just seem terrible in every way you can try and use it. Absolutely stunning art though, makes me want to play the card despite it blowing.
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God 7.5
A fair amount to unpack here for what is essentially a juiced up Ob Nixilus Reignited. Bolas does more and better things than Ob despite being the same shell of a card. This is offset by the slightly less starting loyalty and the many more colours in the cost and card. Bolas is certainly a lot narrower as a result but is he powerful enough to really pull people into dedicated Grixis decks? Quite possibly. The passive ability is awesome but not actually all that exciting. Most of the time you are just going to use the -3 to kill opposing walkers. Occasionally they will be ones offering better ways to off them themselves. Sad sad Apex Predator... Sometimes they will be low threat and loyalty while offering interesting ways to grow loyalty towards a game winning ultimate or just more -3 uses. This will be incredibly rare, there are few + abilities that are better than what Bolas has and few answers to other walkers better as well. If anything Bolas has a better chance of benefiting from your own planeswalkers because he won't instantly murder them! All told I think the passive is cool but functionally pretty minor. It is cool for options and unusual plays but it doesn't add loads to the power of the card. Mostly we are happy using the -3 to devastate the board and the +1 to gain sickening value quickly. The +1 puts any even game out of reach so fast being an immediate two for one plus some mild disruption. The ultimate is very powerful but given that you will have used the +1 at least four times to get there in most cases you will have already won. The ultimate feels like more of a thing to Doubling Season or proliferate your way to ahead of time. The only gameplay drawback Bolas really has is low loyalty. If you wish to directly protect himself with the -3 he is left on one puny loyalty. This is probably pretty important to the card not being completely obnoxious. If he had the 5 loyalty of Reignited then he is sticking around too long and thus winning too easily. This will certainly see a lot of play to begin with as it is just the kind of card people want to have a go on. I suspect the novelty will take a while to wear off and never will if the card is sufficiently potent which is very plausible!
Huatli, the Sun's Heart 2.5
Narrow and low powered but still likely having a place as yet more redundancy for Arcades / Doran style decks. Big for EDH as well as potential elsewhere. Exclusively a build around. Surprisingly low powered and yet still playable.
Soul Diviner 5.5
Decent stats, good types and nice effect. Tap draw is amazing and there are plenty of cards that you are happy or eager to remove counters from. While all the bits of this look good it seems like it will not be able to hold onto a drafting cube slot. Being a gold card is a bad start and relying on support to be more than a 2/3 is all a bit of an issue. The card will be fine at worst, a 2/3 dork still holds off aggression well and applies some pressure itself. It will threaten to draw cards one day! At best it will be exceptional. It will be a 2/3 for two that taps to draw a card and do something else good, say, reset a persist or undying creature. Perhaps speed up a Thing in the Ice or maybe just some trickery with Ratchet Bomb or Engineered Explosives. The ceiling is so good and the floor is perfectly acceptable that I will need to test this extensively. It will certainly be a most impressive card in a wide array of build around decks.
Finale of Revelation 3
I don't much like this because X is so infrequently going to be 10 or more and that makes the card seem like it is a rare payoff. The thing is that it is still a Braingeyser at worst and that makes it fairly playable. I guess you can't mill people out with it but then equally you cannot have it Misdirected. It is a passable flexible draw spell at X=<10. It is pretty winning when you do go nuts with it being not far off a one sided Time Spiral. Finale of Revelation is far too slow for most drafting cubes but it will be a decent tool in a couple of the more exotic singleton builds floating around.
Casualties of War 6
Well this is a pretty devastating spell. This should be getting a three for one most of the time. That will often not equate to a proper three for one however and even when it does a lot of the time it will be lower value targets than spot removal normally hits. I am assuming this always gets a land. I am also assuming it generally gets a creature. I suspect the next most common will be a planeswalker as at least one of the targets will be something high powered and in urgent need of killing. While killing walkers with Casualties is great it does lower your overall card advantage as planeswalkers usually generate value the turn they come in. Killing a walker that has already killed something or drawn a card is two for oneing yourself. Sometimes the creature you kill when you kill a planeswalker will be a token it has made. Lands at the six mana mark are typically low value and the most commonly seen artifacts are also cheap mana sources. A double Stone Rain is going to fairly devastating for a control deck on curve but not that big of a deal otherwise. So while I think that this should average 3.5 targets per cast (in my cube) I think that in real terms the relevant things it deals with will be much closer to two. I am still inclined to thinking that this is pretty good. Killing anything and potentially getting really big swings is lovely. Getting reliable two for ones and tempo is lovely. I can really see this helping a control Golgari strategy. There is a lot of threat diversification in cube and Casualties of War is the perfect antidote to that. The colour intensity is pretty heavy, it will make it hard to play in three colour decks but certainly not impossible. The main issues this card faces are being a six drop and a gold card. If the card is just decent then these problems will see it culled from most cubes for being too narrow. If the card is as bats as it could be then it might well have that huge meta warping effect Fractured Identity caused. I have given this a conservative six but it could be the kind of card that winds up an 8 which is incredibly rare. I have given so few cards 8/10 ratings over the last few years that even being a potential 8 is a pretty big deal. Certainly a card to watch carefully.
Bioessence Hydra 0
Reasonably powerful but not a cube card at all. This fails the spot removal test pretty hard affording no value if simply Doom Bladed. It fails a bit harder as it is gold and expensive. It fails yet more due to being a card that needs support to shine. Sure, the ceiling is great when you make your cheap 10/10 trample for five and grow it blah blah. Sadly you died three turns before all that because your opponents fielded decks with sensible cards in them.
Oath of Kaya 5
I like this a lot. A three mana sorcery speed Lightning Helix doesn't sound exciting but when you consider all the little nuances of the card it seems far more appealing. Firstly black likes life gain far more than red decks. Secondly this can be flickered, bounced, sacrificed etc for bonus value. Lastly but certainly not least this also punishes the attacking of your planeswalkers. It makes them better control cards and better aggressive cards. Not only are most planeswalkers dealt with in combat most are also dealt with over two turns. My guess is that you will average around a 3 point drain per walker post Oath of Kaya. With Oath of Kaya being a widely playable effect that is great at early board control it actually has a fairly good chance of being followed by walkers, certainly compared to almost any other non-land permanent that affords good scaling with planeswalkers. While it will vary a lot with archetype and composition I think the average triggers per successful cast of Oath of Kaya is going to be around the one mark. Five damage and five life for three mana, with 3 damage going to any target, and with further synergy potential all sounds like a pretty good deal. Oath cards in general have performed well above expectation and this seems like one of the best Oaths. Gold is certainly a turn off. Essence Extraction being a complete no show also doesn't do much to give me confidence for this new card. It will be great in build around decks. I can't see me not playing this when I play Aminatou but the drafting cube is going to be more of a challenge to break into. Vindicate is the bar we a looking at there.
Finale of Eternity 2
This is a curious one. It is very powerful but also both clunky and situational. You can utterly ruin the day of someone making three 2/1 dorks in the first few turns on the cheap but then Plague Mare does that better. Things like Infest do it more reliably. The key wording on this is "upto" as it means you can use it as general creature removal. It is never efficient as single target but it will do the job if you have the mana. As a two for one it is pretty decent and as a three for one it is great. The issue is how often we are getting such things and if we would just be better off playing alternatives. In my cube 40% of the dorks have 1 toughness, 25% have 2, 10% have 3 and about the same for 4. It is a fairly even tail off from that point up. At six total mana Finale of Eternity hits 85% of creatures which gives pretty reasonable odds on killing three if three are available. That is the issue I think though. A lot of the time there simply won't be the targets. Aggressive decks pack sturdy threats and so if you have to wait till turn five to kill a Kari Zev it has probably already dealt you critical damage. Go wide decks will laugh at your non-mass removal spell and retain most of their board! Control will almost never have more than two relevant creatures in play leaving only the midrange decks. If this is good it will be played around. If not then it will be able to surprise steal some games against midrange decks. Control decks will play mass removal, aggro decks will play cheap high tempo spot removal. Again, only midrange can really play this. Good in one kind of deck only and good against one kind of deck only leaves a very narrow card. I like it, it certainly has potential to shine and a vast ceiling. It has that without even needing to hit X = 10 or more really! I will test but expectation is that this sees little to no play in any form of cube. Powerful but just not quite right. It feels a lot like Casualties of War both in style but also in potential to be much better than expectations. It doesn't have any hope of being an 8/10 card but it might at least be viable for drafting cubes.