Tuesday 15 December 2020

Top 14 Rabblemasters

Rabblemaster style cards are somewhat of a cornerstone card type in my cube. They are great at closing out a game quickly if uncontested. They are solid against removal too as they often leave behind some kind of residual value. Further to that the value, rather than being in card form as per a Sea Gate Oracle style card, is in the form of bodies on the ground. This is surprisingly important in  most cubes where tempo and planeswalkers typically define the meta. Rabblemaster cards are high tempo and high threat while being low risk and low cost. Most high threat cards in cube cost four or more mana or are high risk cards that set you back a lot more when at their floor performance. With all this taken into account it is no surprise that this group of cards are among the most played in my cube and back up this high incidence of play with results. 

For this list to work I need to define what a Rabblemaster card is and I need to be a little looser with the parameters than I would like as we would be short on candidates otherwise. Essentially it is any creature with converted mana cost three or less that is able to create creature tokens in an ongoing capacity without any need of further support, be that further mana investment or triggers from other cards. This lets us rule out things like Monastery Mentor. It also rules out cards like Pia Nalaar who only ever makes the one token and does not have that snowball potential. Certainly Pia is good for a lot of the same reason the Rabblemaster cards are good but she is more on the value, safety and utility fronts and less heavily weighted on the threat side of things. Mentor on the other hand is much heavier on the threat scale but requires you to build and play around somewhat in order to achieve and is not therefore a standalone card you can just toss into a deck or throw down on turn three and have it be good. I also don't count dorks that make tokens which remove themselves from play like Kari Zev or Geist of Saint Traft as they do not snowball either and are more comparable to the Pia Nalaar style cards that make tokens just on the EtB trigger. 

14. Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle

Bringing up the rear we have Mavren. As a stand alone he is slow, vulnerable and generally quite bad. The odds on you getting to attack with your 2/2 and survive to make more tokens is very low and you really need to be making more than one token without any chump attacks for Mavren to be at all above curve. Certainly if you have a significant number of other vampires in your deck such that they can reliably trigger Mavren the turn you play him then he gets a lot better but this is too narrow for cube and keeps him restricted to constructed tribal decks. In those he is pretty strong but mostly because vampires love extra bodies and have few good ways to generate them. 

13. Thraben Doomsayer

A safer way to make dorks than Mavren but not a good way. As this is rarely getting involved in combat itself you need 3+ tokens before it has been a worthwhile investment and that is slow and a little hopeful. Mass and spot removal both take quite the dump on this guy. I don't even rate this guy if you are building a humans tribal deck. The only time I would consider Doomsayer is when I have a reasonable chance of triggering the Fateful hour at which point he becomes very potent. Such decks are rarely white and super tough to make at the best of times. A token a turn drip feed cards are best off when not on a dork to remove the mass removal vulnerability. Felidar Retreat, Elspeths, Castle Ardenvale etc. 

12. Steward of Solidarity 

This is the least Rabblemaster like card on this list and is only really getting mentioned as it isn't precluded by my stated criteria. While this has a reasonable price tag it is so slow to generate value that it never really snowballs or represents that much of a threat. You can usually just ignore it and either answer it with mass removal or win through it. Steward is simply too low impact to be much of a threat and too slow to get by just on being cheap. As soon as you start to mix in synergies with Steward however the value goes up quickly, be that untap effects, Anthems, tribal perks, or even just giving it vigilance. I have used this card in plenty of places but never because it is a good stand alone card. I would not recommend this for drafting cubes.

11. Skyknight Vanguard

This little dork looks better than he actually is although he is still quite a jump up in playability from the previous cards on the list. There are two main issues with this card. The first is simply being gold which greatly reduces the playability in draft cube. The second is that the tokens created are attacking and as such frequently do nothing and die. At that point this is just a 1/2 flyer which is no kind of threat. It is fairly hard to snowball this out of control. Certainly this has a decent ceiling when you follow it with an Anthem but such things align too infrequently for this to be worth running in cubes. If both the body and the tokens shared creature types this would be an all star in that tribal build but being split it is less abusive there too even if it can be played in humans, knights or soldiers as it is. 

10. Najeela, the Blade Blossom

This one shares a lot of the issues Mavren. Warriors are more abundant than vampires in cubes, especially in the card's respective colours but still not abundant enough to take Najeela out of the narrow camp. The extra power and the token coming in attacking do make Najeela much more punchy than Mavren. Although I marked down the Skyknight for putting in tokens attacking it is less of a concern here as their priority will be to block and kill Najeela herself and not the token which is not so often an option against the flier. The activated ability is actually something that is relevant in cube and while rare to come up it is powerful and turns this into the most snowballing card on the list. Ultimately being a three mana 2 toughness dork you need to survive attacking with keeps this out of contention for drafting cube but not by much as the ceiling is so high and the synergies are out there. As a build around this is one of the better cards on the list but as a standalone draft card she falls off a lot compared to the others. 

9.   Mardu Strike Leader

The black iteration of Najeela. This loses all the frills and top end performance and replaces it with a few conveniences which has the affect of giving this a slightly better average performance and floor. The dash isn't all that mana efficient but it is safer against removal and can catch your opponent off guard. It can be a help against taking out planeswalkers or just a good way to play around mass removal and effectively turns this into a modal card. Against players with poor ability to block this is great but otherwise it is fairly hard to get too much out of. 

8.   Hanweir Garrison

Having three toughness rather than two is a big win for a card that needs to attack in order to generate value and indeed survive to that point. Generating a pair of tokens is also a big win and works well with having them enter attacking. Uncontested this is hitting for four the first time round and into blockers it is hard to fully clean up as it is spread over three bodies. Any synergies you might have tend to scale better with this than most other cards on this list as it is typically making twice the tokens that the others do as a baseline. Much as a 2/3 is worlds better than a 2/2 or 3/2 as far as cards on this list go it is still not exactly a substantial body and is quickly outclassed. Play this on curve, on the play, and alongside other relevant cards and it is utterly savage however off the top in the mid to late game it might as well be a Grey Ogre and is easily outclassed. While this card is powerful enough to compete in cubes there are just enough better red cards that do what this offers that it is rarely seen in lists any more. It is probably worse than Mardu Strike Leader but has an easier time of performing being red and having better tempo backup, more abundant removal supporting it, and more synergies with token generation. 

7.   Zurzoth, Chaos Rider

A fraction better than Hanweir Garrison but not always and not by much. Both are essentially 2/3 three drops that generate on the board value when they attack. Zurzoth has the mild perks of occasionally triggering the turn you make him thanks to another devil (realistically a Mutavault!). Occasionally he will annoy your opponent by giving them disincentive to drawing cards on your turn. Sometimes he will disrupt them by randomly discarding a key card for their plan. As a red player you tend to want random loots. You have a lot of redundancies and a lot of things that work from the bin or want fuel in the bin to use. Random loots are also effectively card quality for you as well as you are in control of the timing. Obviously not as much as loots where you choose the discard but better card quality than you might expect given that it is generally a disadvantage for your opponent and at first glance appears to be a symmetrical effect. Zurzoth has a lot going on for sure but most of it is minor and subtle. It is a bit more work to maximise the value than it is with Garrison as well as being a slower card overall. Fuelling the bin is generally a value effect that comes into play in the latter parts of the game. Garrison is a rather quicker clock if left unchecked having done 18 in three hits compared 9 from Zurzoth. 

6.   Brimaz, King of Oreskos

The big draw with Brimaz is his meaty stat line. Brimaz can get stuck in pretty well and even if he isn't making cat tokens that survive he usually lives and makes blocking that bit more awkward. He is also as good defensively as he is offensively and can do both at the same time. Not all that often relevant but an absolute beating when it is. All these cards go well with Anthems as they all threaten to make multiple dorks. Brimaz being good and white is the most likely to actually have that happen. Much as I am making him sound good that is only in comparison to the previous cards, none of which are in my cube (although many have in the past). Brimaz is in fact the weakest Rabblemaster like card in my cube and is dangerously close to being cut for more space. He doesn't really solve the problems white decks have, namely mass removal in the Anthem decks. Control decks tend not to want him either as they want more value or threat on their dorks. Brimaz is fairly slow to do all that much in the way of generating value or closing a game out. He fails the Doom Blade test. He is just a fairly fat vanilla beater in a lot of settings and you can do better than that in cube. 

5.   Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin

Now this is a card that gets out of hand like no other. On the first attack he is representing a Hanweir Garrison level of card. On the second he is like a Brimaz on crack. Two atacks really all you need! Krenko also scales in a disgusting way with any sort of buff effect. He even packs some goblin synergy too. The only real issue with this card is that it is a 1/2 for three mana you need to attack with. Krenko gets killed a lot and fast. Sadly often with relative ease, be that with a Kolaghan's Command, or a Collective Brutality, or just with whatever happens to be lying around. It is about as polar as a modern playable card gets. Either he attacks and wins in short order or he dies easily and you fall behind. It is surprisingly rare to see stalemate situations with Krenko sat in play neither attacking nor being answered. Games are a bit too fast paced and red is able to apply a lot of pressure. Krenko is certainly powerful enough for cubes, especially ones with abundant pump effects. He likes gaining haste too! Despite this he is not essential for them and doesn't feel like he does much to improve them as polar cards do not inherently lead to good games.

4.   Precinct Captain

This little chap being so high up the list may come as a surprise. He is both lower nominal power and arguably relative power for the mana cost compared to Brimaz. There are a few reasons why this doesn't matter. In terms of relative power there is not a linear relationship between cost and power. If Captain was 1WW for a 3/3 first strike with a trigger that made a 2/1 or whatever 50% more than a 1/1 token is it would be a worse card. As far as dorks go I want more than a linear increase in power as I go up in cost. The other aspect of this is that Brimaz fails the Doom Blade test while Captain does not as they trade evenly on cards and mana. Sure, this is a different matter when we start to look at other removal such as Shock or Fatal Push but we are looking for averages. On average you are not behind when you have your Captain removed with a spot removal spell while you are when it is Brimaz who gets got. The floor is also better for captain as worst case you are down one mana and not two. All the cards on this list are snowball cards too and so the capacity to get them down a turn earlier is a big win. Answering Captain is not hard but it is something that needs to be done and from a two drop that has a decent floor that is ideal. He rarely just wins a game but he does a lot of heavy lifting towards a lot of wins. He is the lowest risk card on the list pretty much being not only the most acceptable to eat removal but also the most acceptable when he fails to generate any tokens. Captain holds equipment well and tangles better than a lot of the others here in combat by himself thanks to the first strike. It also makes him rather more dangerous, especially for double blocks.  

3.   Goblin Rabblemaster

The namesake card for this group and well earned. While not the oldest (playable) card on this list (the usual determinant of giving ones name to an effect or style) Rabblemaster is the first non-white iteration and a significant jump in power to boot. Rabblemaster does this by ticking almost all the boxes you want ticked for these kinds of card and more. The previous high damage output card on this list is Hanweir Garrison which achieves an impressive 18 damage from three attacks with it. In that same time Rabblemaster has done 25 damage. Rabblemaster is far safer too. You are pretty likely to retain at least one token when Rabblemaster is facing spot removal which leaves you feeling ahead. You also have no need to attack with Rabblemaster itself in order to generate tokens which can work well with things like Goblin Bombardment or just attacking into X/1 blockers. Rabblemaster also trades up very nicely indeed. While he doesn't do well against a couple of 2/2 blockers he does rather better against a 4/4 one. I am very happy if I can trade my three drop into your four drop and have a couple of tokens left to show as well. Rabblemaster is just so dangerous opponents often have to make this kind of trade. Rabblemaster plus an Embercleave is a filthy thing to behold! I have seen those two cards and nothing else win several cube games. One of the best things about Rabblemaster is that it does something right away. Sure, it is essentially a Raging Goblin but one extra point of seemingly free damage can be a big deal in a format so driven by planeswalkers. You can finish off a walker while actually making a relevant play for your turn as opposed to many other cards which would mean wasting your turn or leaving the walker in play.

2.   Legion Warboss

This is basically just another Rabblemaster. It is almost identical in power and function. The main reason I have at number two rather than third is that it is a little less awkward if you happen to have other goblins and don't wish to attack with them. It is rare that Rabblemaster hurts you by forcing chump attacks with things beyond the tokens he makes but it does happen. Warboss on the other hand trades up a little worse never himself growing beyond a 2/2 in size. He also does slightly less damage, 22 compared to 25 over our three attacks. This is basically irrelevant as it is still so much damage! The ability to mentor dorks that scale themselves rather than just tokens is a more relevant side of things. Kari Zev gets a lot from a +1/+1 counter, as does a Walking Ballista etc. Overall there are two minor perks compared to just the one downside in the Warboss or Rabblemaster debate and so Warboss gets the second on the list spot. They could however very easily have just both had joint second. Having that redundancy from both is lovely too and really lets red make use of strong but arguably narrower cards like Purphoros and Goblin Bombardment.  

1.   Ophiomancer

This snake charmer is a bit of an oddity in that it is far more a defensive card than anything else. Brimaz is the only other card on the list that works well defensively but he is capable of both and wants to go in aggressive decks. Ophiomancer only winds up in offensive decks when you have a strong sacrifice theme in your deck. In combination with the likes of Yawgmoth or Goblin Bombardment you get two bodies every round of turns without having to do any attacking. A kind of super Bitterblossom that is twice the output without the life cost. Without a sac outlet to burn your tokens with Ophiomancer is just a massive defensive obstacle that is in no way efficient to attack past. The real strength of Ophiomancer is in the deathtouch which turns a 1/1 token into a much more relevant body than any sort of vigilance, haste, or lifelink that the other cards on this list offer. It makes Ophiomancer a reliable and high value two for one. You need to kill the 2/2 else he just churns out more snakes but you also kind of want to deal with the snake as well else it trades with your best dork. It is very hard to find answers that trade efficiently into Ophiomancer, especially ones outside of control decks with mass removal. Arc Trail is one of the few. A removal spell plus a dork, even if that dork was a free one, is still likely to be a tempo set back. Even in the face of instant speed answers like a Shock it is quite easy to deploy the Ophiomancer when the opponent is tapped out so as to ensure at least one snake is made and value is gained. I play this card in almost all midrange and control decks with access to black as well as any more aggressive ones with any sort of sacrificial use for tokens. 

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