Monday 1 April 2019

War of the Spark: Preliminary Review Part I

Ignite the Beacon 2

This is interesting on many fronts. It is a tutor which is a great start. It is card advantage which is never bad, and in white in particular it is most desirable. Now five mana is a pretty hefty price tag for a Divination and quite a tempo cost when compared to an alternate tutor like Thalia's Lancers. What saves Beacon here is being instant speed. Being able to hold up your mana to be reactive then play this at end of turn makes it a viable control card. In EDH this is going to be one of the big names going forwards. It is going to be a staple of many white decks. In cube however the card is fraught with issues. To reliably get two planeswalkers with this given how expensive it is you are going to need four planeswalkers in your deck. This is not something that can be relied on in draft and sealed which in turn makes Ignite the Beacon far too narrow for those cubes. Constructed singleton is the place for this card, and the bigger the libraries and slower the format the better. I can't see myself playing this in a 40 card singleton deck without specific reason to find certain planeswalkers. Perhaps I play it in a mono white control deck but even that is questionable when I have things like Treasure Map and Endless Atlas now on offer. I am just going to play a more versatile value spell, or a cheaper one, or indeed an actual planeswalker most of the time! If we get some combos that work with planeswalkers then this will jump up in value but for now I don't see this having a big impact on the 40 card library formats.

Interplanar Beacon 0

Life is nice but this is minimal. I imagine Radiant Fountain is outclassing this as a source of lifegain even in the planeswalker heavy decks. Fixing is even nicer but only fixing for planeswalkers makes this dodgy. Cavern of Souls and Ancient Ziggurat are only played in decks with very high creature counts indeed and you simply can't make a viable deck with those quantities of planeswalkers. You need other spells and mostly they will be cheaper ones and those are the things you need to cast on time. Interplanar Beacon doesn't help you with casting cheap spells early. Play fixing for everything or play a lifegain tool, don't play this. Could be useful for splashing multiple off colour planeswalkers in limited at least. Don't see this being a thing in any sort of cube setting though. Perhaps good for budget EDH decks too.

Vraska's Finisher 0

Cool card but a long way shy of a cube worthy card. The body is vanilla and of minimal value, the effect is overly conditional. It makes it narrow but also bad. Much better at dealing with planeswalkers than creatures, you are generally trading evenly on cards when killing creatures where as you can get a two for one against planeswalkers. This is better than some cards I have rated higher in the past but times change and people learn! Things are a lot more powerful and tight at the top and I am more realistic about these kinds of high roll overly optimistic cards!

Ravnica at War 3

This is dangerously close to being good even in my cube. I think this would have made it into my cube if it had some kind of cycling on it, or even just in a colour more able to put dead cards to use. Given how scathing of gold cards I am in limited formats and thus how few gold cards I run in my cube I suspect there will be plenty of cubes where this is just good given how nearly good it is in mine. The MODO cube for example fails to sufficiently support the aggressive mono decks and as such all the best decks are multiple colours. With most of the most powerful cards relative to their cost being gold ones and with most of those being higher up the curve Ravnica at War is looking to be good value on average when played. I am not at all unhappy to pay for mana and to just go one for one when I am dealing with a Scarab God or a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. If I hit a target like that and something else of my opponents I probably feel like I just won. Where this falls down is that it simply won't have "targets" in some matchups and that makes it the kind of card you should avoid in limited cube events. Absolutely a great hoser and sideboard option. A great answer to a great many problem cards. Lovely that it exiles and doesn't target, if only it were instant and able to catch the dual manlands, then it really would be one of the best problem threats answer out there.

No Escape 1

Do I want to pay an extra mana on my Remove Soul (Essence Scatter for our newer members) for the ability to hit planeswalkers, a scry, and exile? Sounds like a lot of extra gas but I am still skeptical. Counterspells want to be online as much as possible. Instead a better comparison feels like Exclude as they are equally as available. In this case we are trading a card for the increased range, the scry and the exile. That increased range is very tempting indeed. Most threats are one of these two types and so No Escape keeps you very safe. There is little worse than being sat on Exclude with nice clear boards only for your opponent to flop out a planeswalker. Exile is certainly a perk but it doesn't come close to the value it fetches on a removal spell. It has some value but it is the least of the three with the scry sat in the middle. We all love a scry but it isn't a card. A long way from it. You play Exlude because it is a two for one, not because it is the most effective or reliable answer to threats. No Escape doesn't offer that pure value. If you want to play it for the exile then play Dissipate. If you want to play it for the scry then play Sinister Sabbotage or Dissolve. You could argue that the single blue makes No Escape a more appealing option than those I suggest but if you are that light on blue just play Negate style counters and creature removal with your non-blue cards! I like No Escape but I can't see it wiggling into any cube decks over the stiff competition from alternatives. It isn't effective as a card to control the game for limited availability or range when compared to 2 mana soft counters or three mana hard counters and it doesn't fit into another role like the value role Exclude brings.

Flux Channeler 5

This is a Grey Ogre with prowess that proliferates. That seems incredibly abusive if a little risky. It feels like a card that can be used in a Jeskai Ascendancy combo capacity. Druids Repository, Pentad Prism, cheap cantrips and perhaps some kind of finisher like a planeswalker ultimate or a Walking Ballista. Sounds really fun! I love proliferate, one of the coolest ever keywords for creative deck building. This is one of the most exciting proliferators thus far due to have repeatable it is. It is sadly on the vulnerable side to be an overly reliable combo card but as part of a synergy deck the Channeler will often make for a good addition. Too narrow for limited cubes but a massive winner for the deck builder in me. It has potential in things all the way from Hardened Scales aggro to Paradox Engine combo decks in cube and EDH alike. It would be far better in most of those if it were just an enchantment but it does also get a bit dangerous if you can put a +1/+1 counter on it. Any cube already packing a counters them on their dorks should look to include this.

Emergence Zone 1

The cost of using this is too great for the payoff. You lose the land forever and have to effectively pay two mana on top of that. Nice to have this as an option for those rare occasions that a card like this might be useful but I can't think of a deck that would want this presently. If there isn't one already there one day will be but it will be super fringe I suspect. There are so many nice little colourless utility lands on offer now that you have to really want this effect to play it over 2 life or a scry or the option on turning it into a creature and so on.

Herald of the Dreadhorde 0

These days we need much more than a 3/2 that gives off 2/2 worth of stuff on death for our four mana. We would need some serious amass synergies for this to get a look in so I think we can pretty safely rule this out for cube.

Invade the City 2

A card with some impressive scaling potential but sadly also one that is not providing the right kind of payoff. Tokens are great but big tokens without useful keywords are little better. Tokens die so easily to bounce, flicker and Ratchet Bomb effects that investing a whole card in just one token is a high risk plan. Certainly some colours and archetypes are worse than others at efficiently dealing with tokens and will struggle more against a massive cheap dork but this will be far from the norm. For Invade the City to have any chance of seeing play it will be in a deck tailored to abusing it and such a deck will be able to protect it and force it through. Some kind of self mill deck with cards like Maximize Altitude and Velocity!

Widespread Brutality 2

Interesting mass removal tool. Baseline this is a Pyroclasm and a 2/2 token for four mana. Fairly mediocre all told. If however you have other armies or things that buff your token in some way, say a Bad Moon, then you get to scale your Brutality into a rather more potent card. All told I think it is unlikely that we will see enough amass cards to make this perform significantly above baseline on average. It is only if you build around this somewhat that the payoff is there. I can't see this doing all that much of much in most cube and singleton settings. Interesting and with potential but overly narrow.

Dreadhorde Invasion 6.5

Interesting new take on Bitterblossom. Right off the bat lets be clear, this is worse than it's predecessor. Going wide is far better than going tall with tokens and flying is better than not flying! The lifelink element is going to be rare to say the least. Even when you do wind up with a 6/6 token zombie it is still a long way from actually dealing damage, tokens and lifelink are both easily disrupted things. The more relevant perk this does have over Bitterblossom is a faster clock in a goldfish. All triggers that just make counters rather than also making an army token, which in a goldfish is all bar the first, effectively have haste. Your first attack with Invasion is for two not one as it is with Blossom. That means Dreadhorde Invasion threatens lethal damage in five unopposed attacks from six triggers. Bitterblossom only puts out fifteen damage in that time frame. It is hard to say how good this is as a few more good amass cards will really push this a long way. This is a useful synergy card already with a decent power level. I see it getting play in cube with no extra help so any thing it does get could nudge it over Bitterblossom. Black loves token generation and black loves zombies. This will probably see more play in singleton constructed things than Bitterblossom for the tribal elements even if it is just a poor mans version in the limit cube formats.

Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge 4

While this is certainly a narrow card it is also frighteningly powerful. Being six mana, gold, and in serious need of building around this has no chance in conventional limited cubes. For singleton constructed formats however this card has a lot of potential. You can potentially go pretty nuts off the back of casting Master of the Bridge. In a deck with minimal coloured mana requirements giving everything you have affinity is a big deal. Tezzeret has a very potent and easily abused state based effect but he also has some potent abilities he gets to use as well. I can see you just flopping out Tezz and casting your whole deck and then perhaps just winning with the +2 casually. Even if you are not going nuts combo drawing your whole deck you should be playing Tezz in an artifact heavy deck and the +2 should be a big swing. It should be at least 3 and sometimes pretty silly high. I suspect the average will be between four and five, thus giving a 9 point life swing on top of the 2 loyalty gain and starting 5. That is going to be a tough race to win! The -3 is expensive for what it is but it is no bad thing, it sures up some combo applications and presumably has targets most of the time. The -8 is easy enough to get to but doesn't seem all that important. Mostly the +2 will win games if the static ability doesn't get there first. Certainly the ultimate is a useful way to kickstart a big +2 if you somehow fail to have many artifacts in play. Having more options and abilities you can use is never a bad thing (short of being Mind Slavered). The best cards to pair with Tezzeret seems to be colourless planeswalkers like Karn and artifact creatures so that you benefit fully from the affinity while also empowering it and the +2. This is all making it sound like a pretty impossible build task to optimize the Tezz. I think he is probably potent enough that he is still a good include even when you can only partially build to empower him.

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