Saturday 20 April 2019
War of the Spark: Preliminary Review Part XVI
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.