Tuesday 9 February 2021

Top 8 One Man Armies

Creature cards that bring token armies with them are great. They lower risk and increase your options. They also scale really well with a wide selection of things. They afford pseudo evasion in that they go wide making it harder to stop all the damage coming through. You often get a reasonable return for stats on your mana spent too as they don't have that single big stat that trumps the board effect. While more bodies is a good thing, being the biggest thing is worth something. This is increasingly less relevant given the context of modern magic and cube but back in the day, if you had the biggest dork no one could really attack into you sensibly and you could often attack with impunity. The bigger reason however that you get a discount on stats is that a lot of your stats will be on tokens and tokens are inherently less valuable than actual cards for loads of reasons. One man army cards have some of the highest success rate in cube. The first proper such cards is still viable to this day - the classic Deranged Hermit. Almost all of these types of cards within reason are viable for cube and the better ones account for some of the best cards in the cube.

I am not going to look at non-creature cards that act like one man armies. There are plenty of token producing things that do a load right away from Wraths to planeswalkers to lands. They often have merit but they also typically gain value indirectly from synergies not applicable to creatures. Straying too far in scope for these lists reduces objectivity quickly and so we are just looking at dorks, specifically ones that produce at least two token creatures immediately. This is a rare list in that all the cards in it are in my cube presently. Not only that but they are all strong cards that get a lot of action as well.

8. Cloudgoat Ranger

This last slot could have gone to a number of cards including Angel of Invention (vulnerable), Trostani Discordant (gold), Ishkanah, Grafwidow (needs support), Mezmermizing Benthid (mostly defensive), Deep-Forest Hermit (not as good as Biogenic Ooze but that didn't qualify for this list), Sling-Gang Leutenant (low stats), or Mry Battlesphere (more of a card you cheat with than play fairly). They are all strong cards and all share a similar power level but all had a foible warding me of chosing them. Ultimately I went with the Ranger as it is one of the oldest and has thus seen some of the most action. It was premium back in it's day and still holds up well. It is less powerful of a card than Angel of Invention but it is rather safer in the face of removal. A Forked Bolt can typically deal with most of an Angel while it does fairly little against Ranger. Four bodies is nicer than three as well thanks to better scaling with the abundant Anthem effects in white. Cloudgoat goes wide and tall which is great. The evasion is outstanding too. Being able to trade into a 5/5 flier and still have three 1/1 dorks left over is impressive too. The card is by no means oppressive by current standards but it remains a solid card without any real drawbacks and that in itself is a big achievement for an uncommon over a decade old. Cards like Baneslayer Angel came after it, rose to the top of the pile and then faded out of relevance in that time. Five years ago the idea of playing Cloudgoat over Baneslayer in any deck was laughable, now it is pretty much the reverse. 

7. Avenger of Zendikar

The most expensive army in a can card on this list by a decent margin but well worth that price tag. Green has relatively little trouble reaching 7 mana quicker that most other colours can get to five. Avenger then goes a lot wider and affords a far greater total stats than all the rest in fairly short order. You need to answer Avenger before any landfall triggers can take place or have a suitable mass removal spell else the game is pretty over. A fairly typical Avenger makes five plants and gets them to 2/3 pretty sharply. That is 15/20 worth of stats for seven mana with the promise of more. Pretty devastating. A premium top end payoff finisher for green.

6. Seige-Gang Commander

This is the oldest tempo or board presence based creature (as opposed to a utility creature like Llanowar Elves or Mother of Runes) still in my cube. The power creep on dorks has made basically all older threats near worthless but the Gang is holding up well. It has all the usual trimmings of a nice EtB effect, reasonable total stats, good board coverage etc that you expect from a one man army card. It then goes above and beyond with the sac a goblin to Shock giving the card loads of reach, utility, synergy, threat level, and option density. It often means that the 2/2 body is a high priority to remove and will often eat a removal spell on sight. If you Vindicate my Gang I have gained a two mana Hordeling Outburst at no card cost which is a pretty big win. If you don't I can apply a huge amount of pressure to either blockers, walkers or just your face. A Gang against no blockers and just six mana is 11 damage after one attack. Eight mana and an Anthem and that is 17 damage. The Gang put in a lot of direct work.

5. Pia and Kiran Nalaar

The budget Siege-Gang. Pay one less mana and get one less token. The tokens fly which is great but they cost more to use as Shock fuel which is less great. Overall this is reasonably balanced and evens out however there is more at play that increases the value of the Nalaar parents over Siege Gang. The increase in power to mana cost is not linear when it comes to creatures and so if you scale back a creature in power by the same ratio as you scale back the cost you get a better card at the end of it. Further to this there are lots of artifact synergies on the go where by having more in play to empower things like Galvanic Blast or Daretti is a win. This works both ways as well and Pia and Kiran can throw servo tokens, Talisman past their usefulness, or best of all a Chromatic Star instead or as well as the Thopters. The existence of Retrofitter Foundry makes the Thopters rather more valuable than basically any other type of token too. Getting a free chump blocker that turns into a 4/4 at no extra mana cost is pretty filthy and happens a fair old amount. Overall Pia and Kiran cover a lot of bases with high synergies, high utility, decent power level, good board control, and lots of options. 

4. Breya, Etherium Shaper

A card powerful enough not only to get away with being horrendously gold but also have a namesake archetype. Breya good stuff just runs a pile of Signets and Talisman along with a lot of premium other gold cards within her colours. It is a decent cube archetype that was significantly improved when Fires of Invention and Kenrith joined the fray. Breya is a lot of stats for the mana with a huge pile of utility slapped on top. Flying tokens makes for a better token than most other keywords allowing all parts of her to shine. She is a bit like a Jitte too in that her utility covers such a wide range of tempo based elements of the game. It might not charge up in combat as a Jitte does but it is certainly a much safer way of having access to those kinds of abilities. Breya also has strong artifact synergies and is great at turning no longer needed Chromatic Star / Talisman / Signet types of cards into more useful things. What makes Breya so good is that she manages to go wide with her EtB but also generally go tall as well all by herself thanks to the impressive stat line.  

3. Whirler Rogue 

A bit of a surprise card here but absolutely deserving of this high ranking. A lot of that is down to this being a blue card and blue dorks generally being so bad at controlling the board. Rogue has good stats, provides air cover, offers artifact synergy, and can break a stalemate or force through damage with ease. One of the really big wins this has other than it's colour is that it has an immediate effect on the game. So often my opponents play a planeswalker with sufficient defences to keep it safe from my attack only to have it fall to the evasion this grants by tapping down thopters. Usually you get your immediate effect on the game from one man army cards thanks to the board presence of the token generating EtB effect. Rogue goes one better and lets you punch with an unblockable right away too if the situation calls for it. 

2. Seasoned Pyromancer

The cheapest card on the list and probably the most played. There is no red deck that doesn't want this as it just does everything at such a good rate. The tempo is good, the utility is great, the options are top notch. It has graveyard synergy both as a recipient and a provider. It can be card draw too, There is nothing to dislike about this card except perhaps that it is too good. Maybe not in terms of nominal power but just in terms of having no downside and thus just being an auto include in every deck that is decently red. 

1. Grave Titan

A pretty comfortable top spot here for the Titan. He brings a lot of stats and threatens rather more to come. A very quick clock. None of the drawbacks of not having the biggest dork in play. Grave Titan has ended more cube games than most and recovered even more. Comfortably one of the most played top end cards and with good reason. He is cheap enough to be the top end in most decks yet still powerful enough to get used in combination with cheat out effects like Sneak Attack or Reanimate. Just an incredibly high quantity of tempo, threat, and value all in one card without much in the way of risk or downside. There are very few top end threats you are happy to just throw away in combat because they have done enough. While you can't really chump attack with Grave Titan thanks to the deathtouch you can easily trade down by attacking into a couple of 3/3 tokens or other low value and relevance stuff. Almost any trade with Titan is bad in that the Titan is better than what it traded for but it is still good in that you have four 2/2 zombies while they have six power less stuff! 

Here are the cards that missed off making the list, all of which are decent in their own way. 

Angel of Invention

Trostani Discordant


Mezmerizing Benthid

Deep-Forest Hermit

Sling-Gang Leuitenant

Drowner of Hope

Mry Battlesphere

Hornet Queen

Regal Caracal

Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Captain of the Watch

Geist-Honored Monk

Maverick Thopterist

Patagia Viper

Phylath, World Sculptor

Precursor Golem

Squad Commander


Master of the Waves

Marsh Flitter

Beetleback Chief

1 comment:

  1. Very good list :)

    (I don't have any deeper thoughts at the moment, but glad that you are still writing in your blog)