Tuesday 2 April 2019

War of the Spark: Preliminary Review Part II

Vraska, Swarm's Eminence 2

Loving the many new takes on planeswalkers from the non-loyalty based abilities, to the more diverse mana costs, the varied rarity, the many with no loyalty gain effects themselves and so forth. Exciting to see this permanent type start to properly evolve as a design space. Much as I love many things about this card it is not going to be a big deal in cube. It is simply too slow and too tame I fear. When you can play things like Ophiomancer this seems less impressive. A 1/1 deathtouch is worth about a mana. A pair of 1/1 deathtouchers is worth more like 3 mana due to the two for one nature of such things. Getting the static +1/+1 counters effect for just one mana and no extra card costs seems acceptable too. Overall this card is costed reasonably. The static ability is narrow and unexciting but it does help make the overall package much more interesting and relevant. You get a bit of scaling potential with any other deathtouch creatures you might have but you also get to be more relevantly aggressive with your tokens. Normally the issue with low powered deathtouch dorks is that they just don't get blocked which negates the ability when on offence. A pair of 1/1 dorks without deathtouch are worth significantly less! Vraska actually goldfishes faster than most other planeswalkers with just four turns needed attacking with the tokens to deal 20 damage. The static ability forces blocks and thus trades on the tokens which somewhat forces value regardless of being ahead or beinhd. This is super cool but it is just not quite there for cube. The issue is simply that it is all too easily disrupted. I can simply ping away your 1/1 and attack Vraska for 3 damage and that is all she wrote. No second token, no +1/+1 counters. We probably went 1 for 1 and you gained 3 life but you also spend a lot of mana to do this. Revitalize does the same but for half the price! Another example of a pretty horrific outcome is when then ping down the one loyalty Vraska while both deathtouch tokens are attacking. Then they won't get the counters and will be wide open to a swing back. If you are ever in a situation where you rely on the trigger to get something done you are entering a high risk situation. So much as I love the design in multiple ways I fear the card is just too linear and too vulnerable to disruption for the price. As an enchantment that had the same static effect and made a pair of 1/1 tokens as an EtB effect I would be much more impressed.

Ajani, the Greathearted 1

I love this walker too but it is looking worse for this Ajani than it is for Vraska. Firstly we cannot escape the higher barrier to entry of a true gold card. Secondly, why are we playing this over one of the many better Ajani options? Ajani Steadfast is just much better if you don't care about lifegain which is the norm for Selesnya decks. If for some reason you do care about lifegain then I suspect Ajani Goldmane is superior, or indeed a lifegain card rather than a planesalker ranging from Revitalize all the way to Righteous Confluence. The effects on Greathearted are a little at odds with each other making him hard to use fully. A fried recently did a great troll deck which contained all seven of the Oath of Planeswalker cards and a lot of planeswalkers to take advantage of them with. He ran Steadfast for the loyalty gimmick and he may well have run this as well. When the only deck I can think of that would play a card is a troll deck it does not bode all that well for this new offering. Static vigilance is nice but it is boring, done by other walkers that are better in other ways, and not all that important in cube. It absolutely is a help and a good thing but it is one of the milder key words in terms of value. This needed to be more abusive to get over the big hurdles of being so disjointed and narrow.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General 7.5

A very impressive looking planeswalker indeed. This is just dripping in power. It does seem as if black is allergic to having a playable four mana planeswalker... I think this gives Grave Titan a real run for it's money and that is both impressive and where you need to be as a black six drop. Vraska, Relic Seeker came very close but being gold scuppered her long term prospects in cube. Dreadhorde General is obviously not the same kind of card as Grave Titan. She affords far less tempo and clock but she makes up for that with value, options and control. Titan is quite an all in play and is pretty vulnerable in control matches where Wrath of God cards cleanly answer it. Liliana is the much more rounded card. She should beat most creature heavy decks but it will take time and careful use of her abilities. She does not have the same swing potential as Grave Titan and will sometimes be too little too late against aggression. Titan tends to immediately generate a stalemate in creature matches while Liliana looks like she breaks stalemates fast. There is simply no way fair decks can handle the ongoing card draw plus steady flow of 2/2 tokens and as such they will be forced into trying to take out the substantial loyalty of Liliana or ending the game quickly.

Barter in Blood is a lovely -4 ability to have, especially when you get a card refund on any of your own things you wind up sacrificing. There will be plenty of situations where that just ends the game. I suspect that people will start to play around being vulnerable to Barter in Blood when approaching six mana against black decks fairly soon if this is as good for cube as it looks. I think it is quite like Elspeth, Sun's Champions -3 ability. Powerful but infrequently used. The threat of it is almost more impact than the actual ability. It is just so hard to recover when a powerful planeswalker comes down and deals with all the threats you had. The ultimate is utterly savage as well. It does not take too long to get there and should end almost every game on the spot. Control can't handle going to one land, aggro can't handle going down to one dork, and midrange probably can't handle either! Liliana might not have an especially impressive clock for a planeswalker but she does seem like she is quite a reliable and effective finisher that is able to battle through most game states. On face value a six drop that only adds a 2/2 to the board seems very low impact but her static ability gives her so much more presence. Imagine you had a couple of crap dorks in play already. Even if your opponent has an overlap of two dorks it is unlikely they will be able to one shot Liliana and her seven loyalty. If they have to run in they probably lose at least one dork themselves in combat and you get to draw 3 cards! Even if you start your next turn with just Liliana in play the influx of cards is just going to be so huge. You get to +1 again and spend at least six mana on the things you had left in hand or just drew. Even if they do manage to finish her off in their next attack you have absorbed at least 12 damage with the Lili and gained at least a two for one, likely at least a four for one and easily far more than that. Lili looks near impossible to beat in combat efficiently and really looks like beating her is going to take planeswalker removal or disruption that stops her ever making it to the battlefield.

Tibalt's Rager 1

A cute little all round card that doesn't pack enough punch for cube. You don't want your aggressive cheap threats to need mana investments in order to be threatening. This is a far better midrange and control card than it is an aggressive one. It is annoying to get into combat against and scales well compared to a lot of two drops. In the early game it is a far better blocker than attacker and it isn't exactly steller at that. Just play a Forked Bolt if you want this for the defensive capabilities!

Bolas's Citadel 5

My my my. This is a big and dangerous card and no mistake. I dread to think how good this will be in EDH with 40 starting life. Ban worthy good I suspect. As it is there are plenty of abuses for other formats too. A deck with Divining Top and more total lifegain than mana costs can go off with ease. This card is doubly dangerous as it has elements of the two dangerous things in magic, cards and mana! This is part Yawgmoth's Bargain and part Channel. It might even be good enough for vintage. Tinker or fast mana can actually get this into play quickly. With so much cheap card manipulation and mana sources land counts are super low in vintage. Citadel doesn't play well with countermagic and so it is probably only the Workshop decks that would consider this in vintage. Either way, it is not often we see a new card that is even a consideration for those kinds of format and often the cards that are considerations are themselves pretty unplayable outside of those formats which this very much is. Most such other cards are only made playable at all by the interactions they have with the utter bombs in the eternal formats while this appears to stand alone quite well. It is also super rare a medium high mana cost card has so much potential. This is potent enough that I can see it rivaling Ad Nauseum in legacy storm decks. It is not unreasonable to Ritual this into play at which point you are in a great position to go off. There are certainly going to be plenty of ways you can build around this in cube but I think it has basically no chance in a limited cube. Both tempo and converted mana costs are too high for this to really shine. Cheap aggressive decks that could abuse this simply won't get to six mana in time to take advantage of it and slower decks that could play it wont have the spare life or cheap cards for it. I have not even touched on the tap effect which is not really needed to make this good. Seemingly hard to use but given the potential of this card I can actually see it also being a win condition. Make a load of artifact tokens with Sai, Master Thopterist. Sac some for an extra turn with a Time Sieve. Sac some more to deal 10. Carry on doing abusive stuff. Perhaps even attacking with some of these many tokens! Absolutely one of the most extreme cards I have seen printed. While not inherently broken that is a very different thing to whether or not this gets abused. One to watch for sure. Plenty of application in plenty of places with more power than you can shake a stick at.

Ob Nixilis's Cruelty 1

For what it is worth this is a fine removal card. Exile is lovely and -5/-5 is significant. Instant and low black mana requirements all help make this a great card and a big name for limited. For cube this is just too slow and too narrow. You can kill any creature or planesalker for the same mana. In much the same way that No Escape fails to compete with Dissolve I fear this fails too. With role fillers like this either you are good enough or you are not. This comes very close but despite how close it comes I still expect it to see zero cube play. It got a 1/10 rather than 0/10 because it feels wrong giving such a solid card such a damning rating.

Time Wipe 2

Five is not the price you want to pay for a Wrath in cube. Four is often too late. Gold is not ideal either but it transpires that on white Wraths adding blue is more of a buff than a drawback... As such we can probably just ignore the gold aspect of this card and simply consider if the option to save one of your own dorks is worth the extra mana. The answer is still probably not. Answer cards want to be the most effective at the job as possible. The job of a Wrath is clearing the board, not generating value through giving you a dork in hand. You play Wraths so you don't die to overwhelming boards and because you are not expecting to be able to compete on the board with creatures. Slapping extra mana onto a card while in no way empowering the elements of the card for which you are playing it sounds like a fail. In the way that No Escape should see no cube play I expect this to see little as well. I think some people will experiment with it in midrange (myself included) as a sort of meta tool. Presently the go wide decks are so powerful they are forcing midrange decks into playing mass removal effects, often things like Engineered Explosives. The slight extra freedom to play Time Wipe alongside your own dorks might temp people into playing it in midrange decks.

Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 2.5

Two Torch Fiends from one card is comfortably worth three mana. The lifegain prevention is probably more of an inconvenience than much else but it certainly has extra value. On paper this is a decent amount of card but I fear this has much the same problem that the Vraska has. It is just too easy to clear the token out of the way and attack Tibalt to prevent the second token and turn a reasonable value potential into a terrible value deal. The floor for Tibalt is low but he doesn't get to offset that with a high ceiling as per planeswalkers with + loyalty abilities. A bit slow, a bit vulnerable and a bit fair is my thoughts on this. I will likely still wind up playing this a bit as it is interesting and works nicely with the many potent red token strategies.

Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted 3

Impressive design for such a simple card. This does a lot of things and it does them quite well. If this had a +loyalty ability, even if it was a bad one that did nothing or even cost life to use I would expect it to do reasonably well in cube. As it stands I suspect it is a little narrow. As an aggressive tool this is great. It threatens life totals, does some direct damage and clears a path for attackers. It also has the utility of cashing in useless little dorks for cards. You opponents will have to deal with Ob at some point as the damage he deals when they draw will get out of control but that is going to be hard to do as their creatures are getting killed and are likely under pressure. Ob is a relevant threat and has good board control. Not many planeswalkers have the loyalty to kill something two turns running, fewer still can do that and still be in play, and none can do that to creatures with a decent toughness with the arguable exceptions of some costly Bolas cards. Some midrange decks are going to really struggling playing through this even with four extra cards. If you just have fairly big dorks and not much in play Ob is going to feel a little bit like a Time Stretch.

Paradise Druid 3

Part of me is all over this card and the other part of me is scared. Basically all the cheap token control cards like Chainwhirler, Plague Mare, Pyroclasm, Golgari Charm and likely many more all still kill this regardless of how tapped it is. Many of those will kill it on curve on the play and some even on the draw. If you are playing a card specifically because it is hexproof and makes your ramp to 4 mana that much more likely you really don't want it to die easily. I think the present cube meta makes this dodgy in cube. The one toughness two CMC mana dorks are slowly getting cut from the cube and I fear this card has missed its window to shine. I am just going to play cards like Tribe Elder, Rampant Growth and Sylvan Caryatid before playing a card like this. The perks of attacking with a 2/1 are diminishing all the time it would seem in cube. It is fine utiltiy to have but it is a lot less good than blocking with a 2/1 hexproof and in turn all probably just being worse than having a Sylvan Caryatid. In less token, ping and -1/-1 effect heavy formats this could shine but for my cube I am not even sure I am going to bother testing this.

Jace, Weilder of Mysteries 4

Linear but interesting and potentially potent. All this does is cast Thoughtscour over and over again while having a Laboratory Maniac effect on the go. This makes it just good as a source of ongoing card advantage and good as a threat. It also means it has great synergies with loads of cards that like full graveyards. You can even just turn the mill on your opponent if they are in risk of decking first. Jace has a fairly impressive goldfish kill. You will be over 75% of the way through your deck if you just cast Jace as soon as you can, +1 four times and then -8. With your own draws and starting hand taken into account that will be 33ish cards. You can very easily do away with those other 7 in that space of time. This might make him oppressive in 40 card settings. While he feels very good in control mirrors and decent against midrange I suspect he falls pretty flat against aggro. While Jace is both a threat and a source of card advantage he is not in any way able to affect the board. He offers no protection to himself or you and is just a big vulnerable tempo sink. Paying four mana to slowly draw cards and give your opponent the option to give you five life to remove the Jace is a bad deal. It will make you yearn for Architect of Thought. Luckily this seems too polar for limited cube play as I suspect it would be Ashiok levels of tedium if it were good enough in the aggro matches. Nice to have as a backup to pair with Lab Maniac for constructed brews so a welcome card at this power level I think. If this is better than I think then it might jump right into the oppressive camp and become unwelcome!

Arlin, Voice of the Pack 0

Yuk, narrow, pricey and painfully linear. Pay six mana to have a 3/3 token and this bag of arse planeswalker. A lot of stats for the mana in a limited game but perhaps even too slow there. Certainly not doing anything in any kind of cube deck, not even a tribal one...

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