Sunday 13 October 2019

Top 16 Green Card Quality Cards

Sylvan TutorGreen card quality is something that has only really started to get a proper degree of depth to it in the last few years. For a very long time it was limited to Sylvan Library and the odd Tutor for lands or creatures. Then we started to see cards like Commune with the Wild that was not in the tutor camp exactly but neither did it offer quite the right kind of selection to appeal for most general uses. Fast forward quite some time and we start to see cards like Seek the Wilds, a tool that would find action or lands and bam, green was on the map for card quality spells. While Seek itself has never really done much in cube it marked the point at which we started to get a fairly steady flow of playable green card quality cards with some degree of power creep as well. Many of which support well enough such that new archetypes have arisen based on the power and consistency these new green tools offer.

For the purposes of this list I am only looking at the cards that are purely supporting cards. There are bigger and more powerful cards that also offer some card quality but I lump them into a different sort of camp. I want to look at the cards green uses early to help set  themselves up and increase consistency. We are looking for the equivalent Ponder and Impulse cards in green and not the Jace, the Mind Sculptor offerings. These cards are just about the card quality, they are not so interested in value or other utility. I am also really only interested in the general purpose ones. Green has a lot of creature tutor effects and land tutor effects, the best in the game on both accounts I would say. While a lot of these are great they are much narrower than cards like Ponder which can go in any old deck. Most of the green tutors are too narrow for a drafting cube. What I want to look at are the cards that can find at least two distinct types of card, ideally for two or less mana.

Gather the Pack
A big part of what makes some of the cards on this list potent is to do with their self mill elements which empower the many graveyard themes and synergies in cube. Due to recursion a card like Satyr Wayfinder frequently is a card that offers card selection on multiple types of card despite only finding lands by itself. The planeswalker you milled with it becomes the target of Eternal Witness next turn and your Satyr was effectively responsible for making that happen. While cards that self mill as part of being a broad multi-target card quality spell will be marked up for doing so in most cases just having mill as per the Satyr without options on types selection is not enough to qualify for this list either even if it is a more played card than most of these in cube.

Here is a list of some of the potent green card quality effects that I consider too narrow for general  (de-powered, non-combo) drafting use and as such not able to qualify for this list. There is also a bunch of cards that you could argue a case for being card quality effects even if they are a little unconventional in how they operate and offer such things to you. Most of the cards on this first list see a lot more play than the bottom half of the list proper but they only do so in constructed and combo settings.

Worldly Tutor
Time of NeedGreen Sun's Zenith
Chord of Calling
Natural Order
Survival of the Fittest
Season of Growth
Trail of Crumbs
Treefolk Harbinger
Time of Need
Evolution Charm
Edge of Autumn
Mirri's Guile
Evolutionary Leap
Vivien's Arcbow
Sylvan Scrying
Crop Rotation
Summoner's Pact
Satyr Wayfinder
Gather the Pack
Tracker's Instincts

(even without access to blue this is still quite playable, if you have other spells you Gather, if you might have blue you Instincts and if you are super keen you pack both!)

Seek the Wilds16. Seek the Wilds

As mentioned this was the first "blue" like card quality spell green got. It mirrors Impulse while also being worse on almost all fronts. Limited range, revealed information, and sorcery speed. Seek is the mark by which I compare other green card quality effects to. Worse is unplayable, better is where you want to be. Seek is about as tame as a card that is playable can be but it is simple and clean. It has been rendered unplayable by the number of better options to it now in cube, not specifically due to being a weaker card. Unlike many blue card quality effects Seek does not scale with itself in that the more copies of it or cards like it you run in a deck the weaker they all make each other. When Seek first came out two mana was still something green decks could manage to spend on a zero tempo play and not suffer for it. These days tempo is just so important that this is a much more real cost to you. Green does have access to more mana than the other colours but due to other attributes of the colour it does tend to need to use that mana to best leverage tempo proactively. A blue mage is usually more than happy to stall and when stalling you are far more able to blow your mana on things like Impulse. This means that despite Seek seeming like it might be relatively cheaper than Impulse it actually winds up as a greater cost most of the time. At least green cares a lot less about the difference between instant and sorcery on this type of an effect.

Commune with Dinosaurs15. Commune with Dinosaurs

While in reality this is too narrow for most general uses and is really just a tribal card it is still a lot more playable than Seek the Wilds. It is one mana less and looks a card deeper, the only drawback being that it needs to hit dinosaurs rather than creatures! While there are not many such cards there are a surprisingly large number of good and great ones, both in green and in other colours. Five cards deep in 40 card decks is really big as well so it is totally viable running this as a card just to find lands in a deck that is very keen on finding specific non-basics. Narrow but not as narrow as it might seem at first glance. A couple of good dinos and this can be a useful little tool you can replace a bad card with to give you better ratios and and a bit of an extra edge.

Silhana Wayfinder14. Silhana Wayfinder

This is just a Seek the Wilds that replaces the drawing of the card with a 2/1 body. In some ways that is good as it lets you increase your consistency without costing you tempo. It even has some nice synergies with things like Courser of Kruphix. Broadly however a two mana 2/1 is a bad deal. No slower decks want a card of that low power and relevance and neither do aggressive decks. That means the only time Silhana is a viable option for a card quality card is when your deck specifically scales with and utilizes creatures. Something like an Aristocrates Blood Artist deck for example. This makes it far too narrow and low powered for the drafting cube but not a card without it's uses.

Commune with the Gods13.   Commune with the Gods

Here we have both powerful self mill elements and some actual selection. Most of the self mill cards in green hit your library for just four and only select for one card type. While not offering the most desired choice of lands or action Commune with the Gods does offer the rare ability to find enchantments which makes it just the ticket now and again. It is the most unique of the cards on this list in terms of what it offers to do. It also digs deep and fills up the bin which both help it to see a lot of play. Narrow but none the less a useful and surprisingly powerful tool. Played both when you have a lot of the targets as well as when you want the self mill.

Merfolk Branchwalker
12. Merfolk Branchwalker

This is the other end of the spectrum to Silhana Wayfinder. You get very little card quality with Branchwalker but you get generally better returns, either much more value or much more presence. A 3/2 is a lot lot more of a two drop than a 2/1. A 3/2 with scry 1 is worthwhile in some places and a 2/1 that drew you a random land from your deck is great anywhere. Scry one, or surveil one, as explore more reasonably is when not hitting a land is a low amount of card quality. It doesn't increase your consistency enough compared to other cards of the same cost and as such does not get much love for that sort of role. To want this you need to want it in 2/1 or 3/2 mode and while everyone loves the former far too few want the latter and so this card wound up really under performing in cube.

Vessel of Nascency11.   Vessel of Nascency

High nominal power but low power to cost ratio. In terms of effect this is about as it gets for green. This has the widest selection range by a long way missing only instants and sorceries. It mills. It is effectively instant. It digs fairly deep. It is also a less common type itself and can assist with enchantment synergies, devotion synergies, delirium synergies and likely some more I forget. All in all the card does a lot of work but then it would have to for a total of three mana. It is the only pure card quality spell I really ever run in cube that costs more than two, I don't even have many that cost more than one. Being able to split the cost is a big help to take the edge off the high cost of Vessel but it is still a big investment. Being able to find lands and action isn't anywhere near as important when you already have three mana. If you are stuck at two however that third land is really important. Spending all of turn one and two just to find the third land however is still a long way from optimal.

Adventurous Impulse10. Adventurous Impulse

 Adventurous Impulse is exactly on point. In the deck with only lands and creatures it is generally better than most one mana blue card quality spells. It looks three deep, lets you see all those cards right away and disposes of the rest without need of self mill or a shuffle to help with doing so. Adventurous Impulse is 50% more choice and information than Sleight of Hand and Sleight is a great little card. All round that is top notch potency for Adventurous Impulse however not many decks are only creatures and lands and so the Impulse is less potent than the blue stuff in the general case. Even with the 50% more effect than Sleight you will find that Adventurous Impulse is less good sooner than the maths would suggest (ie when your deck is a third non-creature, non-land cards). Even though on average you will see two targets when you Impulse with a deck of 2/3rds targets and thus have the same selection potential as Sleight there are several reasons why that is worse. Things like the potential to miss and the potential to put cards you need at the bottom of your deck. Ideally you want a good 75% of your deck or more as targets for Impulse. When you hit that mark you will have a good card on your hands. This worked out getting surprisingly little play in the drafting cube despite the power it has simply due to missing planeswalkers. It turns out that only hitting lands and creatures when you only go three into the deck leads to a fairly limiting card. Absolutely still a great card but not one that is able to do what you want it to quite as often as you would like. It feels really bad seeing a mana dork, a land and the planeswalker you wanted. As such this wound up getting a little less play than utility one mana cantrips in green like Abundant Growth.

9.   Living Wish
Living Wish
This is a bit of a funny one as it entirely depends on how you chose to play this in cube, which can vary further as you change the cube format. Living Wish is typically poor in booster draft and sealed events but the more you move towards constructed decks the more powerful Wish becomes. When you can pack a load of narrow tools into your sideboard and have access to them game one without any risk of drawing them and having dead cards Living Wish is a little oppressive and outclasses Demonic Tutor. It lets you find the niche things for any situation without having to fill up your deck with bad cards. Generally you will have land and some general purpose action to find with Wish and then it is decent as a card quality effect. I have done a lot of Wishing for Bone Shredder and for Uktabi Orangutan in my time! Having access to a cheap thing and late game thing is great too. Generally Wishes are a bit of a phaff including in cubes as you need to do so much admin for them. Living Wish is one of the best of the Wishes on average in the cube being so helpful for finding lands or action as required.

Bond of Flourishing8.   Bond of Flourishing

A bit of an oddball card. It is not a powerful card quality spell in that it only sees three deep and costs two mana for the privilege. Where this picks up a bit is that it is broader than most green options and comes with some free life. The life just helps to mitigate some of the tempo costs. It makes it very good against aggro decks where spending time on card quality hurts you. As such you don't really care that it is of little help in the slower matchups. It is still not worthless either in those matches, sometimes you can spend the life and sometimes that extra turn is all you need, even when it is the 15th! Mostly this outperforms a lot of the alternatives in cube specifically because it hits so many things. It gets land and action but it gets action regardless of your deck makeup. This finds the vehicles, the planeswalkers, the Pernicious Deeds where Seek the Wilds does not.

Ancient Stirrings7.   Ancient Stirrings

Only narrowness in application keeps this from being a bomb in cube. The card is so good that even at fairly sub par support levels the card remains impressive. Whenever you have an artifact, or even Eldrazi theme in your deck Stirrings instantly becomes the premium card quality card. It is self contained needing no shuffle to perform. It is card neutral. It is one mana. Mostly it is about how deep this goes into the deck. On that front it trumps Impulse. It probably should have only dug four deep, five is just so many for a one mana card. The only other cards that go that deep for one mana are much more heavily restricted like Commune with Nature. Due to lands being colourles Stirrings has that key quality of selecting between mana sources and things to spend mana on. Going five deep and hitting lands means that even with minimal targets in your deck Stirrings is still very unlikely to miss. Given that Renegade Map and other things that just find land see a bunch of play Stirrings with that as a floor is in a great position. Find a random Karn for the win is always nice too. If we were just talking constructed Stirrings would be top three on this list easily but given I am focusing on limited settings Stirrings takes a bit of a hit.

Traverse the Ulvenwald6.   Traverse the Ulvenwald

A lovely card design that winds up seeing play in a lot of builds. Baseline Lay of the Land is fine, it is a bit of fixing, a shuffle, a way of filling up the yard a bit, just a nice cheap way of thinning the deck and tinkering with your land ratios. Lay of the Land is a fine card, highly playable but not super exiting, it is never powerful or able to offer a big payoff. That is where Traverse shines. It has all the good low end playability and consistency benefits but it transforms into a it of a Demonic Tutor at some point in the game and puts  in some really good work. One mana to find any dork and put it into your hand is well below the going rate for such things. Lots of non-basic lands are well worth tutoring up too. Green makes delirium fairly easily and is typically creature heavy with a great deal of its action and utility in creature form. I am a huge fan of this card, the design of the card and how it influences deck building choices.

Grapple with the Past5.   Grapple with the Past

A bit of a cube gem. This card does an awful lot for most decks. As the first play it is near an Anticipate being able to find land or action as required to curve well. It is also a Mental Note in those cases filling up the yard by three cards including one instant. That can represent one of the easiest and cleanest ways to help turn on delirium early in the game. Grapple as an early play sets up your hand to curve well and have the right tools and it also primes your graveyard for however you wish to use that resource at the same time. That isn't all Grapple does by a long shot. It is one of very few card quality spells that also scales as the game goes on. Late game there is a significant Regrowth feel about Grapple. You just get back your best dork and that is lovely. It builds in some redundancy to decks which is especially desirable for synergy based ones that can lean a little harder on specific dorks than others. This is bits of all of Mental Note, Regrowth and Anticipate. It is interesting and versatile and yet still reasonably fair.

Oath of Nissa4.   Oath of Nissa

The more potent version of Adventurous Impulse. Oath has an additional type it finds making it a lot more appealing to midrange and control decks. Planeswalkers are high value targets and I would say that green decks average around three per list. That extra 7.5% or so of targets makes Oath quite a bit more playable and potent than Impulse in the average case. When you have a high % targets bar for entry into the playable realms and the powerful non-linear scaling of these cards a small 5% difference in effect results in a large % difference in potency. Oath has some other perks as well although occasionally not all are positive. Obviously fixing for planeswalkers is nice but it has only come up a couple of times with green being so good at fixing to begin with. The main difference of Oath is that it is an enchantment that sits in play. This can make it great to assist in delirium when milled but useless when it never sees the graveyard. Oath is a fantastic devotion enabler. It is great for obtaining the cities blessing and that sort of thing. Most recently it has been really annoying for my Doom Fortold lines on the other side of the board! It is less reliable and more polar however when it comes to helping with graveyard synergies. Mostly you are playing a card like this for options and consistency and in that department Oath is top notch. Between Oath and Adventurous Impulse a selection of green archetypes have had a jump in potency and a few more have passed the viability threshold. Lots of cheap card quality helps enable a lot. The cheaper and better ones like this do so the most and it makes the biggest difference to singleton formats where redundancy is such a tough thing to attain.

Winding Way3.   Winding Way

Another typically green card quality card in that it is a bit different. You need to make your choice before you get to see anything, and then there is no choices left and you just get what you get. Luckily this is still fine, you know when you need lands or when you need action and so all is well in the world. Winding Way is a dodgy Seek the Wilds in some respects but it has two wildly redeeming upsides. The minor one is that it helps to fill up the graveyard. The major upside is that it is frequently a two for one. The average cards it finds are certainly closest to two than anything else. Scry 2 draw 1 is a one mana card while scry 2 draw 2 is a four mana card. Seek is a two mana card and yet this is still a two mana card! All told this is a mediocre card quality spell and a good card advantage card resulting in a very good card overall. You may want to mark in down a little if you exclusively care about card quality effects. The green offerings are all so nuanced it is hard to disregard context like that for them.

Sylvan Library2.   Sylvan Library 

The original Search for Azcanta! I did toy with the idea of having this lower on the list as in terms of card quality the Library is just an over cost Mirri's Guile. It is entirely the ability to pay four life to draw a card that pushes Library into the realms of great cards. It is not that Guile is bad, it is just not enough of a card to be worth it in most cases. Sure, a bunch of decks that really abuse the top of deck synergies will want Guile but beyond that it is not quite there. You need shuffle and/or mill effects to turn Guile into card quality and that is hard to do in an ongoing capacity. Those effects still help to make Library great but you don't have to rely on them. Sylvan Library will let you brute force your way out of a bunch of dud draws. Indeed, against any deck that is not aggressively attacking your life total Library represents a highly efficient card advantage tool on top of the selection. Or indeed just with your own life gain. Suddenly Bond of Flourishing becomes like a powered up Night's Whisper when you have the ability to pay life to draw cards. Library still is a pretty slow card. All the other cards on this list are one shot effects while Library is an ongoing one. You really need several turns with Library in play for it to shine. Further to that you do still ideally want an unthreatened life total, perhaps backed up with life gain, and both library synergy and manipulation effects. At that point it feels rather like cheating! Like having a Jace the Mind Scummer in play but for just two mana and being immune to attacks. This all probably makes it the least well designed card on this list, perhaps Stirrings takes that title. Library is a little polar but it is interesting and reasonably fair as far as good cards go on average.

Once Upon a Time1.   Once Upon a Time

Certainly there will be times where Sylvan Library, Oath of Nissa or any of the top five or so cards on this list are superior to this but on average this is getting it done the best. It is just exactly what you want from your card quality at an impressive price. Before we even consider the free to play bit Once Upon a Time dumps all over Seek the Wilds. It does the same but at instant speed and goes one card deeper into the deck. For a card so cheap that is a pretty huge deal. Doubly so on a card that isn't assured a hit. It makes it a lot more reliable and allows you to be looser in where you can play it. In cube you draw this about a sixth or the time in your opener. This goes up a bit as well based on how much of an improvement having this is to the ability to keep a hand meaning most mulligans will occur on hands without this in them. Also the fact that you will also not make one drops and draw this turn tow or even three sometimes and get to play it for free. All told the average cost of this is closer to 1.5 mana but it is even better than that in real terms! The times it costs two will not often be a big deal but the times it cost nothing are huge. It lets you play to greens strength of gaining tempo while avoiding the weakness of green which is inconsistency. The requisit land or action split with great digging depth at the perfect price.

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