Sunday 22 December 2019

Twiddle Storm .dec

Historically there have always been three main camps of storm deck you can do in most formats, certainly the singleton ones. You have ritual storm, you have artifact based storm, and then there are the Heartbeat, High Tide, or Mana Flare variants of storm. Now we seem to have a fourth option open to us. With lands that tap for a lot of mana by themselves we can forgo the need to play a Mana Flare effect and replace high cost cards with big untap effects for low cost ones with minor untapping ability. A Twiddle storm deck sits somewhere between a Heartbeat of Spring list and a Ritual list in that your Twiddles are all somewhat like a Ritual card while you are also untapping land that tap for more than usual as your source of mana generation. I have been impressed with this new option on storm thus far. The caveat to that is I have so few games under my belt with this variant when compared to all the others.

The basic plan is simple enough. Get a Lotus land into play either naturally on turn three if possible or "for free" after a Blood Sun. While the latter is typically a turn slower it is a whole lot more powerful. You get the bonus two mana from not needing to untap the Field or having to sac untapped lands for the Value. You also then get much more value back from cards like Frantic Search and Snap. Once you have your Lotus land in play you aim to tap and untap it generating mana as you do so which you use for dig and draw until you have enough storm to win with. Going off is always a little different and not uncomplicated at all. You can easily throw a game without any help from the opponent but as far as uninteractive combo goes it is about as interesting and fun as it gets. As with many other storm builds at least to some extent this list utilizes the power of big draw 7 effects, mass graveyard reuses, and Gifts Ungiven to set those things up.

Past in FlamesThis build has a lot of strengths over the alternatives in an objective sense. The lower curve compared to Heartbeat decks is much safer and more consistent. Not having to potentially give your opponent a turn with double mana before you can go off is also a big deal too! Compared to the ritual lists the Twiddle version has the big advantage of being all in house and having a greater redundancy. All the playable Rakdos Rituals combined do not come close to outnumbering just the blue options for untapping on or more lands in the same CMC range. Having Rituals in two colours is also pretty awkward when trying to go off.

This was my first real go at the deck and I can think of plenty of ways to tweak it already and yet it was powerful feeling, like top tier powerful. While it rarely goes off before turn four and cannot before turn three it still likely averages a sub four turn clock goldfishing. Consistency is what this list has in spades. There are plenty of cards I would happily play in this list too so it is not thin by any means. This was my first go at the build;

Lotus Vale

25 Spells

Expedition Map
Dreams Grip
Reach Through Mists

Faithless Looting
Sleight of Hand

Peer Through Depths
Psychic Puppetry
Blood SunIdeas Unbound
Hidden Strings

Helm of Awakening
Cloud of Faeries
Merchant Scroll

Eye of Nowhere
Brain Freeze

Vizier of Tumbling Sands
Blood Sun
Aria of Flame
Frantic Search

Gift's Ungiven
Past in Flames
Ideas UnboundFatestitcher

Echo of Eons

15 lands

Lotus Field
Lotus Vale
Tolaria West
Thespian Stage

Scalding Tarn
Volcanic Island
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef

Cascade Bluffs
Spirebluff Canal
4 Islands

Thespian's StageThe mana base was reasonable but even with all the looting I still felt a little land heavy. Next time round I would drop a land and go up a cantrip card, ideally Ponder. The land I would cut would be Thespian Stage. While it is nice to cheat out a second tap for three land the payoffs are few in number and it means you are slowing yourself down a bit to setup. Being a colourless land also cost me in one game. It is just a bit win more for no real need. It is noteworthy that sac lands are dodgy in a deck running Blood Sun. It didn't get me, the risk is a lot lower than with Stage and the upsides far greater but still, I would be wary of playing lots of sac lands.

The arcane package was cute but it wasn't actually all that relevant. When you got it then you went off a bit better but it really didn't seem important. Peer Through Depths is really annoying for not finding your land half of the combo or the things that find them. Eye of Nowhere is also a fairly uninteresting out card and would likely just be better as a Repeal, Cryptic Command or Blink of an Eye. Something with some more utility and ability to be found with Merchant Scroll. I would keep at least three of the arcane cards, probably four, as they are all just decent for what you are trying to do but you really don't need to lean on it heavily as the modern build of this archetype seems to.

FatestitcherBoth Fatestitcher and even the Vizier felt a little luxury. While I certainly wouldn't cut the latter it was not as good as I was expecting. Sure, it is a card and a mana when you are going off which is amazing but it doesn't actually help out in any other way, it is not a target you can find with much, it doesn't get reduced in cost or count towards storm. It felt a bit like it clogged up opening hands and then drew me into lands when going off! Stitcher was great with looting and a dud otherwise. Like a Vizier in that he is pretty free gas when going off but also fails to trigger most of the things that win and fails to do much early. Due to needing more setup Stitcher is the obvious cut of the two.

Aria of Flame was a fine win condition but it could really have been anything, a Sentinel Tower, an Aetherflux Reservior, some other storm spell. None will really compare to Brain Freeze, being cheap, low setup, and a target for Scroll, but you do typically want a backup. Perhaps if permissible a Wish would be the best option as a backup win condition.

Echo of EonsThe rest of the list was all pretty much spot on. I would probably have liked another big draw or value effect which could have been a Yawgmoth's Will, a Time Twister, a Time Spiral, a Wheel of Fortune etc. Echo of Eons was outstanding however and would be my first choice again. Great with Gifts and great with the looting cards.

If I were to do this again I would try and run some green land ramp cards to see how that works out, ideally Growth Spiral and Explore. You go off rather more powerfully with at least two lands in play even if only one of them taps for more than one. Including some land ramp would make winning on turn three far more consistent. Also finding these ramp cards mid going off would be a big assist in a lot of cases. There are a lot of general things you can toss into a deck like this to include most cheap blue cantrips but these are some of the more specific cards I considered for the list;

Noxious Revival
Simian Spirit Guide
Trickster Mage
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer
Nightscape Familiar
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
Empowered Autogenerator
Precognition Field
Izzet Boilerworks

Sunday 15 December 2019

Theros: Beyond Death Preliminary Review Part III

Skola Grovedancer 1

Very low powered but does do a fair number of things and is unique in a number of ways. Having a trigger as it does is open to abuse too as much as one can abuse a life point! I can see this being a nice role filling support card in some weird decks but that is all it has hope of doing in cube. The kind of deck that runs Nyx Weaver and Crop Sigil!

Warbriar Blessing 2

This is basically Epic Confrontation reworked. You lose a power on the fight but you gain being an aura and having the toughness boost permanently. Overall I would call that is a win for Blessing but I am well against sorcery speed fight cards. They are risky, and adding risk on to card already a little situational for comfort is unpleasant. This might be cheap but it is still expensive for a sorcery speed fight card in my books. I might play this in a Boggles style deck to power up synergies, and because my hexproof dorks are less liable to getting blown out! Not touching it outside of that sort of setting.

Karametra's Blessing 1

I think probably too narrow even for an enchantment themed aggro deck. You need to have enough auras and enchantment dorks in your deck to give this a reasonable chance of being more than a bad Giant Growth. You also then need to want the buff and protection this offers in that deck, what with this not being an enchantment. Seems high implausible but if it does happen this will be a decent enough card. It is a lot of effect for the mana.

Daybreak Chimera

This is probably pretty good in cube where devotion to white is easy to get in the places you would want a 3/3 flier. Assuming it is no more than one white in the cost and that it is no more than six generic mana then this seems like it has a good shot. At 4W cost I think it will be really really good. With a double white cost it  might still have a chance too but if so a whole lot fairer, mostly a bad take on Serra Avenger. I guess lets wait and see what the cost is! 6WW and we can pretty safely rule it out!

Leonin of the Lost Pride 0.5

Tribal filler at best and probably not. The disruption is too inconvenient and minor to make this an enticing option.

Nylea's Huntmaster 1

Might be used as another Aspect of Hydra effect in some green stompy devotion affair, otherwise too fair and narrow.

Naiad of the Hidden Coves 2

I think the cost of this is too high and the body is too uninteresting. Either this gets easily dealt with or it fails to do all that much as is very low powered. I like it a lot but you can't just run this in some control deck at which point where are you playing it? You really need most of your spells to be instant before this looks like an option and then you kind of also need a generic body or enchantment to be at least on theme.

Setessan Training 1

Draw a card is nice and the overall rate on this is very acceptable. My concern is that it is just a little situational and easily disrupted for general use. If this were not an aura and afforded a counter and a card on EtB then I would be a lot more interested. As it stands I suspect I would only play it in aura or hexproof lists which are already spoiled for choice.

Funeral Rites 2

In decks looking for self mill this is probably too slow. Beyond that it is just not as good as Read the Bones. This is certainly playable and has useful things going on in a direct way so I expect it will wind up at least in EDH.

Irreverrent Revelers 5

This is the most playable maindeck artifact hate dork in red to date. Sadly I am still not sure I want this as the power level is just so low. Three mana is a potent place in red and so weaker 2 cmc options appeal rather more if I were desperate to play a red Viridian Shaman/Zealot type of card. Sure, a 2/2 haste for 3 is better than a 2/1 for 2 or a 2/2 for 3 but it is still so much worse than all the things in cube you can do with three mana that it is still much the same kind of hindrance as the other cards and their low power. The other issue is that it is not proactive if you want it as removal. At least with a Hearth Kami style card you can flop it out and do something with it before you need it as removal. So yeah, this is a good card that likely makes the cut in most cubes. For mine however it is lacking enough targets and a little too much tempo to last I think. A long way off challenging Cratermaker that is for sure.

Underworld Ragehound 2.5

Nice design but I don't hold out too much hope for this. I will give it a test as it does a couple of things quite nicely. Sadly it is just a little unreliable as it is so easily killed. A token on defense does it as do ALL the removal spells. The cost to recur it is also fairly significant. I think any one random buff would make this pretty strong but as it stands it is just a little bit underwhelming. It is value rather than tempo on a card that wants to be more tempo.

Satyr's Cunning 6

This is very interesting despite being fairly low power. Mostly this is interesting because of spells matters cards in red. This works with all the token things and all the prowess things. It even works with looting and self mill style things. The token is about as bad as it can be while remaining relevant. If your cube pushed red (and blue) spells matters themes then this is worth a try despite seeming so fair. Low cost cards that can also work from the bin like Lava Dart are amazing with a lot of the things red has going on from Hazoret to Bomat Courier. Ideally you use this for some bonus value with a spare mana after turn one, ideally an elemental token with Young Pyromancer. Then you get to using it late game from the bin to empower your Porphorus, Firebrand Archer, and Goblin Bombardment cards. I think this has a real chance of making it in my cube and will crop up in an array of themed red aggro builds.

Fruit of Tizerus 1

Too much of a cost on the escape, both in mana and cards, to have any real hope as a finisher style card. Too low effect on the front end to be used in any other capacity. I will run this in one deck I have in mind but this will be a meme card in a meme deck. It just so happens that black has enough direct damage (life loss) cards that you can make a burn style deck! Obviously worse than a red version but still, nice to do things for the novelty.

Pious Wayfarer 4

This looks innocuous enough but I think it has a lot of potential. I am not expecting it to perform all that well in most cubes as it lacks the enchantment support. It is however a 1/2 prowess dork for enchantments at worst and a terrifying combat trick machine at best. The ability to pump any dork and the vast array of cheap flash enchants on offer makes this something that can dominate a board in the right kind of deck. White already has a lot of decent enchantment dorks as well as removal and buffs all on enchantments. In the enchantment themed white weenie where at least a third of the deck trigger this then it is one of the best possible one drops. A specific card for sure but certainly not one to overlook.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Top 8 Mana Sinks

Staff of DominationMana sinks have always been a good thing to have for most archetypes. We have a lot more now at a higher power level than ever before but at the same time they need to be more powerful as the bar for such things has risen too. Games tend to be games for longer and tempo is of greater importance. You tend to find mana sink cards used only out of necessity prior to resources running out and you tend to find most games over before resources run out. Partly this is because of all the various mana sinks getting used a little before the hand is empty all just spreading the game duration out a bit. Mostly it is due to there being much more value generally, much in part due to planeswalkers. More value means more cards to play with meaning your resources run out slower and you need dedicated mana sinks less. Any card with varied or repeatable costs is a mana sink of sorts and with such things being generally good for a number of reasons there are a lot of these cards in cube decks! This amplifies the effect of making the purer or more dedicated mana sinks less valuable.

Wilderness ReclamationWith that being said mana sinks are still great tools to have access too. With the arrival of things like Wilderness Reclamation, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Fires of Invention a discussion regarding the best mana sink cards seems fairly pertinent. I wish to look at the purer end of the spectrum for these types of cards. This means being both repeatable from turn to turn and it means being able to consume effectively endless mana. An X spell will use all the mana up in one turn but fails to help you out next turn and so fails on the first requirement. You don't need your mana sinks to fulfill these requirements by any means. If that is the only reason you are playing the card then you probably want it to do that job the best and so these things are more important. Mostly however you are just looking to make a rounded deck with the most powerful cards. For those you don't need pure mana sinks and you can just get happily by on some flashback cards, a level up dork, a bit of card draw, some variable cost cards and the odd activated ability on things.

Sensei's Divining TopIdeally a purer mana sink wants to be both useful and reliable as well as ongoing and unrestricted. By useful I mean that the spending of mana does something helpful towards winning the game. You can dump all the mana you like into an equipment or Divining Top for example but it doesn't do all that much! By reliable I simply mean how easily you are able to turn mana into advantage with the card. Some need things in play or other resources or conditions. The fewer of these the better. The Scarab God is a great card and decent mana sink but it does need targets to recur. Pack Rat needs cards in hand to ditch etc. Good cards but less reliable as pure mana sinks You could argue that you needs card in library in order to continue abusing cards that draw but in practice if you have drawn all your cards and have spare mana and cannot win the game that is not the fault of your mana sinks!

A lot of the best mana sinks are found on lands. The new Castle cycle in Throne of Eldraine is a great example of this. These are great because they cost so little to include and as such are the most commonly used form of mana sink in my singleton and cube builds. Mana sink cards are a little polar in that they often do little to nothing but the times that they do get put to use they are game winning. Being able to minimize the cost of including these mana sinks is where you want to be. Most of the commonly used mana sink lands however fail to qualify for this list as they can only sink a certain amount of mana each turn. For this list I will be taking strength of card heavily into account once they have sufficiently qualified on the other metrics. Much like using lands as mana sinks, using cards that are entirely powerful and playable outside their capacity as a mana sink means you are effectively adding in an extra dimension to your deck for free.

Pia Nalaar8.   Pia Nalaar

Hardly a bomb nor really even a card you would consider a mana sink but it does qualify on all the metrics. You can dump as much mana as you have turn after turn into making a really high powered thopter token. You don't need any other cards and it is pretty direct and valuable work. It is not the most efficient mana dump but it is highly versatile and on a card that is a great stand alone in a wide array of lists. Basically any Firebreathing effect is a qualifying attribute and this is one of the best in cube. Inferno Titan might be more powerful but you typically are not in need of mana sinks when you have a rampant Titan! Pia is just a card that does a lot of work early and still puts in the work late where other three drops can become lackluster.

Lavaclaw Reaches

7.   Lavaclaw Reaches

Another Firebreathing card. This is correctly regarded as the worst of the cycle of dual manlands but it is still a fine card. Where this shines is exactly where a mana sink shines, where both players have lands and nothing else and are in a top deck war. Lavaclaw Reaches can close a game really fast and represents a pretty lethal threat. It is still good in all the ways the rest of the cycle are good in that it is fixing and a highly resilient threat you get for nearly free. Yes, it is worse in the early and mid game but it does have one of the highest ceilings.

Recurring Nightmare6.   Recurring Nightmare

For a long time this was the premium card when it came to mana sinks. It was infinite value and loads of utility and it still is all those things. Nightmare has just slipped over the years for all the reasons I stated in the intro as to why mana sinks have had the bar raised. Unless you are cheating out really powerful EtB effects and massive dorks Nightmare is just a mana sink. Paying three mana for the EtB effect of most things in the cube is pretty fair and reasonable. On average you are below the curve on tempo using Recurring Nightmare. It is still more efficient returns than most mana sinks as a mana sink but not more so than playing other stuff. Recurring Nightmare is basically just a mana sink with a bit of utility thrown in. Unlike Pia you do not want to make this on turn three in a midrange deck, it wants to be one of the last things you get to doing. The card has lost a lot of ground to alternatives that are good in their own right prior to their end game potential. Further to that Nightmare is less reliable than many other cards on this list as it needs things in the bin and things in play and as such is a bit more easily disrupted than some alternatives. It might be the most efficient card in returns for sinking (non-infinite) mana on this list but it is one of the worst for initial investment hence being so low.

Skarrgan Hellkite5.   Skargan Hellkite

A surprising new card that has been performing well in cube. This isn't any where near the power of a Glorybringer and it lacks the punch of a Thundermaw or Sarkhan the Masterless. What the Hellkite does really wall is provide options and a mana sink. If it is all about the tempo then you can have yourself a Glorybringer without the exert. You will take out walkers or shoot ahead in a race and that is a great option to have even if it is a little below par. Alternatively you can counter up and Fire things for twice the price for as much as you have mana for. That is a lot of control and a lot of reach. Even just using it once a turn and doing nothing else can be pretty effective so in the extreme late game cases where you have silly mana such that you can fire this off two or more times a turn it is reliably game winning. Just a reasonably high power card with a lot of utility.

Urza, Lord High Artificer4.   Urza, Lord High Artificer

The mana sink ability on Urza is a bit quirky. Sometimes it is a lot better than drawing a card but it can also be worse should you hit reactive things that it is not the time for or lands you can't play. On average it is better than drawing a card for 4 mana but it will have an effect on your deck design and could be considered restrictive. You could certainly build a deck with Urza where the ability was worse than drawing a card for 4 mana. Ultimately it is not this ability that will change your build when it comes to Urza it is the Tolarian Academy effect! Unsurprisingly it is also that which is why Urza is so far up this list. It turns out having one of the best mana producing effects in the game is a pretty good thing to pair with a mana sink! Even in my cube with relatively little artifact support Urza has been most impressive. He pretty much just does everything and he does so very well with surprisingly minimal help.

Kessig Wolf Run

3.   Kessig Wolf Run

One of the best finisher cards in the game. It is so hard to deal with a Wolf Run and it turns every dork into a terrifying threat and all extra mana into more pressure. Wolf Run is a low cost inclusion and ensures you have a really scary late game with inevitability and reach in abundance. The only thing keeping this from being higher on the list is that it is somewhat of a gold card and cannot be used much outside of green decks. It is certainly one of the most splashed for cards in my cube alongside Lingering Souls. Primeval Titan and Wolf Run has become a more scary and infamous combo than Stoneforge and Batterskull. It is Urza like in that it is both an abundance of mana and useful things to do with it.

Retrofitter Foundry
2.   Retrofitter Foundry

This unassuming little card is pretty nuts it turns out. It provides massive armies of fatties on the ground or thopters in the sky as you require. It provides ongoing value and the ability to hold up mana to react to everything. It can perpetually fog lifelink effects or a Jitte charging up. It is super tedious to play into with instant speed creatures entering and leaving play negating so much. It is not just that it is a good mana sink but that it is also quite efficient. Just dumping mana into it every turn winds up being a relatively good deal for your returns. Further to that it is all in pretty small increments allowing you to weave in activations alongside other things. Foundry gives you massive amounts of late game action while also offering plenty in the lead up to it as well. Generally best in more reactive decks but if you have things that happen to generate thopters or servos then Foundry is pretty nutty in any build. It has some added value in being a super low cost card than can win the game allowing you to easily resolve it in a control mirror.

Walking Ballista1.   Walking Ballista

One of the cleanest best all round cube cards. I will happily first pick this and I will happily play it in most decks. It is great on turn two and just gets better the longer the game goes. It is pricier per ping than Skargan Hellkite but then pings is what red does. Ballista gives that effect to all the colours and at a very competitive rate when you consider the ability to charge it up over time and twice as efficiently on cast. Ballista is massively option dense. It offers great board control and has a dominating effect on combat. It is probably a little too good given how universally playable it is but at least it was a very easy choice for the number one spot on this list!

Here is a list of some of the cards I considered for this list that didn't quite make it;

Oketra the TrueLeyline of Abundance
Spectral Sailor
Spikeshot Elder
Theater of Horrors
Duskwatch Recruiter
Oketra the True
Arguel's Blood Fast
Ishkana, the Grafwidow
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Knight of the Ebon Legion
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Firedrinker Satyr
Olivia Voldaren