Sunday 20 December 2020

Supreme Draft: Vintage Cube


Supreme draft has arrived on MODO and is an interesting format, if utterly foolish in a powered cube. For those unfamiliar with the format you take 18 boosters total and take two cards from each discarding the rest. This leaves you with 36 cards all of which are first and second pick quality. The resulting decks are stupidly good. Not helped at all by the fact that the MODO iteration doesn't track boosters as if from one cube pool and lets you have duplicates as a result. The format has some advantages in that you don't need other people to be involved in the draft as well as some nice logistical ones for doing it online with others. It also has some disadvantages as you can see from this turn one screen shot below. To describe it as an RNG fest would be an understatement. I have had decks with effectively no power and others with double figures, the latter being much more common. Much as vintage supreme draft is very silly it is quite novel and fun and shouldn't detract from the fact that the format is probably quite good for normal cube play, either unpowered or even just not having duplicates possible. 

For those wishing to play the format I have some advice but mostly it is about having fun. Obviously pick power almost always. Be in blue in order to facilitate picking up Ancestral and Time Walk and indeed most of the other coloured bombs. Archetypes are not really a thing, just do broken stuff as quickly as possible. A lot of cards are utterly unplayable as are a lot of archetypes including most  conventional aggro and all midrange ones. 

It is such a fast format that even some powerful cards don't really cut it if they are too costly or too slow to take effect. You mostly want game breaking stuff, cheap disruption, fast mana, and card draw. Things outside these categories are just not much help. Some typical high picks fall off a lot in value. Strip Mine for example is unimpressive as people have so many Mox. Library of Alexandria is also less good than usual as games are over before you have time to really milk it. Holding all your Mox and such back in hand to keep a hand size of seven is just asking to get them all Wheeled or Time Twisted away. Other cards like Ugin which are typically bombs are of less use than normal what with not answering all that much and not ending a game all that fast. Sure, all these cards are still decent but they are far less good than usual and should wind up in decks less often. 

Aggro is viable if you have the kind of disruptive dorks but without them you are just going to get mauled by broken and unfair things. Eidolon of the Great Revel is on of the very best here. Thalia is quite good too but she typically hurts you too and white aggro is a little dodgier than red being that much slower and less interactive typically. It is worth noting Direfleet Daredevil is a pretty sweet card as it will usually have Recall and Time Walk to cast.... Even fairer seeming cards like Tireless Tracker and Bomat Courier are surprisingly good and playable what with having cute artifact synergies for the likes of Urza and Tolarian Academy and just being card draw tools. That Courier in the first picture drew us four cards that game and could have drawn more (with Emry recursion) if it hadn't already drawn us into better things to win with. I think we went on to cast a 10/10 walking Ballista on turn four or five (another great card when you have big mana tools) to clear a path for our sizeable Urza construct through an opposing Wurmcoil Engine.

Draw seven effects are amazing due to how many fast mana effects most decks typically have. This in turn makes card draw disruption one of the very best things in the pool to include Hullbreacher, Narset and Leovold if you can play him. Steal artifact effects are also great as they always have decent targets. Dack Fayden in particular as he is also a draw tool. Thieving Skydiver is the other card in this camp that jumps a lot in value. Here is the pool we had for that draft, it was one of our best but we have seen numerous better decks and had plenty of pools very close to this one in power. We basically played everything bar the costlier red cards plus a few basics. This list could have done with a couple of draw seven and a Force of Will but we made up for it with good ways to spend mana, good threats for the meta, and a bunch of more unconventional draw tools. Nissa was pretty comfortably the worst card in our final list and she was hardly bad...

Here is one of the packs we were offered midway through, what would you take?

The gut reaction is to take the power but we went with Urza (and Lotus although I would have been more than happy with the Mox instead) as we had the synergy to support him properly and he just does everything. This blew my mind a bit that a four mana dork is a card I would pick over power. It wasn't wrong either, Urza is a joke of a Magic card. Far too pushed really. It is a sign that power creep has hit a limit and if it goes any further things are going to go off the rails a little. Here are a few more pools that help to paint a picture of what a good deck should look like in this format.

Happy hunting! 

Kaldheim Preliminary Review Part I

Pathways 8

These have been great thus far and sit roughly at the power level of pain lands in cube, which is to say above all other pure fixing lands except sac, shock and original duals. Certainly there are decks that prefer a quick land but on average these perform better. Horizon lands and most of the dual manlands are also better too but they are good for utility reasons. I advocate for great fixing and so I think most cubes at 540 size or bigger should look to include these but if 70ish (including the Triomes) lands is too much then I guess these are going to among the first cuts. Rounding out the cycle will be most welcome in my cube.

Showdown of the Skalds 6

This is very powerful indeed. It is comparable to Escape to the Wilds which was apparently ban worthy as far as standard goes! Much as Showdown is arguably better than Escape I doubt it makes many cubes as it is narrow being gold and really only suitable for Boros aggro. It is not that desirable as far as what it offers at that point on the curve. Four drops and up tend to want to be threatening. Sure, this is more value more quickly and safely than planeswalkers but it isn't a game winning card. You can only play so many four drops and so the ones you do play you typically want to get a lot out of. Probably this is like a land or two and a couple of small dorks. That isn't punching through and winning the game in the way that a planeswalker or an Assemble the Legion or an Aurelia the Warleader is able to. Red has plenty of card advantage four drops that are more playable and appropriate even if they are not exactly more powerful. I do very much like the idea of flickering Showdown and getting repeat draws and counters however. Certainly a card I will build with but not one for drafting with. 

Pyre of Heroes 4

Tribal Birthing Pod. Much as Pod is very potent it is also very narrow even without any sort of type restriction. It is just super hard to build, let alone draft, a 40 card deck with a smooth curve of targets such that your Pod gives options or even just functions across your curve. This adds type to the mix massively increasing how narrow it is. There will be some tribal decks where this is a great addition. Tribal cubes may even be able to make this work but most normal cubes should avoid including this. Absolutely a card heavily rooted in the constructed world. Interesting, fun, and powerful but not a limited card. 

Magda, Brazen Outlaw 6.5

To call this pushed would be an understatement. This is a lord so powerful I would strongly consider it for cube inclusion despite a real lack of other dwarves. Presently I have 3 dwarf cards in my cube including changelings. Magda will not be pumping or extracting treasure from other dorks often at all. What she will be doing is creating cheap treasure herself with relative ease. Captain Lannery Storm was nearly good enough for cube and Magda does most of what she did but better. Magda doesn't need to attack to create treasure, she can crew or find some other way to get tapped down. She is also a two drop meaning her potential ramp is that much more meaningful being able to speed out a four drop. Just a 2/1 for two that makes treasure when tapped is quite possibly good enough for cube. Add to that the ability to tutor a dragon or artifact of your choice into play and she jumps up in the excitement as well. Sure, this won't happen often at all but it is game breaking when it does and not at all out of the question. Magda makes other dwarf cards, things that can tap down your dorks (Springleaf Drum, Opposition, vehicles etc), and other treasure producers all significantly better. She also obviously singlehandedly turns dwarf from a meme tribe into a potentially serious one. 

Realmwalker 4

Vizier of the Managerie was surprisingly underwhelming and this looks like it will be much the same. Certainly a three drop is better than a four drop with is kind of effect however limiting it to just one type of dork guts the potency of this effect and pretty much limits it to a tribal tool. The changeling aspect of Realmwalker is interesting and increases the potential applications for this card but not really in any sort of draft or limited setting. Ultimately this is a low threat dork with little impact on the board with low, slow, and unreliable value returns. Even if you are lucky and see a couple of dorks of the chosen type you have your hand forced into playing them if you want that value which is often not the optimal line. A good elf card but not many other archetypes jump out as a home for this one. 

Kaya the Inexorable 7.5

This is a very solid planeswalker indeed that I would rate comparably to Ashiok, Nightmare Muse. Kaya is very powerful when there is stuff going on but does suffer more compared to other walkers when there is a clear board. The -3 is obviously exceptional and a big part of the draw to this card. She is just a good answer to most things. Lots of five mana walkers can answer stuff pretty well but either not all stuff or not so effectively or permanently. The ultimate is cute too and encourages you to use it as soon as you hit seven loyalty so that you can replay her for free in your next upkeep. With just Kaya to recur it is decent and will win in the long run but you should be able to find some other legends to recur or cheat out and win with in a comparable time frame to most other decent walker ultimates. The +1 is most unusual and while good it is not always useful and has no direct effect on board or to card advantage immediately. It is still quite versatile being a means to protect against removal, a way to generate tokens for sac outlet fuelling, or indeed to prevent your opponent flickering things in and out for value. It looks as if you always get the token regardless of who controls the ghostform counter target. While not always useful it does have a reasonably high ceiling for a +1 ability. Lots of cube dorks have EtB effects and cost relatively little mana and so giving the ghostform treatment might well make you want the thing to die. This in turn could act as a way of forcing through some damage. You could block my Thraben Inspector would rather take the hit than give a 1/1 flier and another clue etc. It is also noteworthy that presently the options on black or white walkers in the five slot is not all that impressive or deep and that pushes this Kaya a little. Still, mostly you are playing this as a removal spell and black and white really do not lack in that department. The competition for this card is more like Anguished Unmaking, Elspeth Conquers Death and The Eldest Reborn than it is other walkers. The other Kaya options are also a little more interesting than this and so it might be tough finding room to fit this one in on top of the many juicy Orzhov offerings. 

Halvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms 6

Halvar doesn't seem very godlike to me but then apparently Norse mythology suggests that gods are not immortal and gain much of their power through their weapons. Halvar himself is pretty weak. A 4/4 for four with no protection or evasion or anything much going on baseline. He fails a Doom Blade test hard and is not able to tangle all that effectively in combat. If he comes down and gives something you have in play already doublestrike then he is rather better but that is going to be fairly rare in cube. The moving about of buffs is also pretty narrow, you cannot really cheap on equip costs as you need them to already be equipped to qualify. 

Sword of the Realms is more interesting as far as cube goes. It makes things significantly more threatening and a pain to try and ignore with the vigilance. It is very slow and grindy being an equip to start with and having a fairly hefty cost for the buff it offers. It should win eventually but it certainly isn't in the same league as other cube equipment as far as power, tempo, value, or threat goes. 

I wouldn't play either of these cards in cube on their own but wrapped up together in this nice convenient MDFC package I am a lot more tempted. A card that buffs dorks when you have them or is a dork when you don't is a good place to be. White aggro decks want both those things and does not have much in the way of selection to ensure the right mix. I will certainly be testing this out quite extensively. I imagine he will do OK in cube and perform acceptably but ultimately need cutting for more playable and powerful cards. Occasionally his high ceiling will come into play and make him look good but this will just distract from his rather mediocre average performance. Really he is pretty narrow as you are only playing him in aggro white decks and they have plenty of more streamlined options, typically in planeswalker form. Halvar will shine in equipment themed decks where his ceiling will be hit far more often and he will allow you to load up on equipment for things like Puresteel Paladin without overdoing it on equipment cards that do nothing when you have no dorks in play. Halvar is certainly more punchy and exciting than Ancestral Blade...

Sarulf, Realm Eater 3

What an odd little card. Too fiddly, aimless and gold for the cube is my bet but there is a lot of potential power and synergy on offer. If you can manipulate counters in some way you have a kind of Pernicious Deed that sticks in play and gets to smash face. Too often this is just Gnarled Mass and needs a bit too much hand holding to get beyond that. Sometimes he will utterly dominate a game either as an out of control fatty or a sweeper but I don't need to test this one to know that it will not be enough. 

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. 

Friday 11 December 2020

YouTube: Core Cube Draft Round 1

 Well, it only took a few weeks for me to sus out editing... Here is the video for the first round of our draft;

Having re-watched it several times I noticed an interesting thing I do. I talk a lot about couterspells and Control Magic effects, far more so than is actually warranted. This is mostly a tilt prevention mechanism that I have. If you anticipate the worst things that your opponent can do to you it prepares you much better for having them happen. Sometimes it is sensible to play around such things but mostly you just have to play into them and you feel a lot better about that when you do so with your eyes open. You feel good about your predictions should they happen even if the result of them is bad and this helps keep you positive and in the right frame of mind to win. 

Hopefully I will get rounds two and three done soon. We have them recorded but a third mate joined us for the games and as such the debate is likely going to be more chaotic and less useful. If I cannot sort that out with editing I might try and simply do a separate narration audio outlining what we were doing and why. While this would be an interesting exercise it does not sound like it will speed up the uploading process! 

Friday 27 November 2020


So, branching out and trying to learn this youtube malarkey. This is my first attempt at a video and calling it my attempt is grossly misrepresenting who has done the lion's share of the work and made this happen. It is a core cube draft with my mate Nath (the workhorse) on his account and computer, I am merely advising over discord. This link is just the draft. We have round one recorded which I will attempt to edit and upload as well. The other two rounds have not even been played as yet although hopefully I'll get them done at some point too. 

This is just a test. If it works out and is both fun to do and popular I will invest in better equipment and do more to tidy things up and make them look and sound more pleasant. Drafts seem like the obvious thing to do in this format but I suspect if I carry on with youtube other sorts of video will also be on the cards like card reviews and top 10 lists.  

We jump into this draft in the midst of me rambling on about the strengths of the colours in core cube. This was based on a list I found on cube cobra that called itself the core cube. We later learned the lists were different although they did seem very similar. It is our second ever draft of the format so there is a lot of unknowns for us.

Monday 23 November 2020

Naya Landfall .dec

Naya landfall based zoo was the best cube deck after original Zendikar was released. This was the slow beginning of the creature power creep. There were a couple of outliers from recent sets like Kitchen Finks, Wild Nacatl, and Bloodbraid Elf which combined very well with the aggressive landfall dorks. This was coming from an era in cube where running dedicated creature removal was risky as it could easily have no targets, or at least no worthwhile ones for such cards. The quality of threats in the Naya zoo deck of the time just blew the socks off the opposition. If they were playing dorks they would be crushed for tempo and utterly outclassed. If not they would goldfish at such a rate that control and combo decks simply couldn't keep up. It was the spread of cards Zendikar brought to the table that really gave zoo the consistency. Lotus Cobra was foolish burst. Loam Lion and Goblin Guide bulked out the one drops giving it not only one of the most playable one drop tempo plays but also hands down the best. Other decks were still packing things like Carnophage and Jackal Pup, you were flopping out 2/3s and they were your weakest cards!

Sure, the occasional Wrath would buy a bunch of time but the manlands would generally mop up. It was also the first time we really saw cards that were reasonable tempo also providing value be that in persist or cascade, or just in popping back from the bin like Vengevine. It took a fair while for the meta to adapt and other colours to catch up before Naya zoo was dethroned. Unlike most other archetypes that have had the top spot for a period of time Naya has never got back there.

A new Zendiakar set arrives with new landfall cards and it is very much time to revisit an aggressive Naya landfall based build. I do not think this will be taking Naya back to the top spot in cube by any means but this deck is impressively punchy. It has adapted to the modern cube meta and is far lower to the ground and trying to abuse synergies far more than just having high powered individual cards. I wouldn't even really class this as a zoo deck. It is a landfall aggro deck and is probably closer to a Hardened Scales or Kiln Fiend deck. This is my take on a 2020 Naya landfall list;

23 Spells

Steppe Lynx
Akoum Hellhound
Wild Nacatl
Scythe Leopard

Wayward Guide-Beast
Sakura Tribe Scout
Skyshroud Ranger
Elvish Reclaimer

Skyclave Pickaxe

Brushfire Elemental
Plated Geopede
Fearless Fledgling
Lotus Cobra

Wrenn and Six
Once Upon a Time

Living Twister
Kazandu Mammoth / Valley
Retreat to Valakut
Valakut Exploration

Radha, Heart of Keld
Tireless Tracker / Renegade Rallier 
Wayward Swordtooth
Kazuul's Fury / Cliffs

17 lands

Horizon Canopy
Sunbaked Canyon

Rampaging Ravine
Gruul Turf
KessigWolf Run

Karplusan Forest

Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest / Verdant Catacombs

Stomping Ground
Sacred Foundry
Temple Garden


The core hard hitting one and two drop classics in Steppe Lynx and Geopede doubled up with Akoum Hellhound and Brushfire Elemental. This redundancy in low level synergy payoff makes it worthwhile to really push the landfall side of the deck and even go above and beyond the ideal double hit. To this end I included a variety of cards that allow for extra landfall triggers and of course ways to ensure you have lands to lay consistently. In testing this list was averaging over two landfall triggers a turn for the six or so turns of the game which was pretty impressive. Hitting over four on occasion which is fairly silly but a lot of fun. I really wanted to include Atarka's Command so as to add to the means of getting extra land into play. Sadly it isn't really removal or a threat and in a synergy list this tight it is pretty hard to justify despite being really cute.

The one drop dorks that tap to put extra lands into play were very impressive and really carried the deck. All my best and most powerful games involved sticking one of them early and keeping it in play for a while. Sadly Aboreal Grazer isn't the right kind of effect. You are not trying to ramp really, you are just after the triggers. Swordtooth was decent. It wasn't uncommon to get the blessing by turn four or five and he is very big when you do. Dryad of the Illysian Grove is the safer option giving a bit of fixing and always being able to tangle in combat. Three mana 2/4 dorks are not exactly aggressive though so for once I do rather prefer the polar option. They feel pretty comparable overall but you probably don't need both as the one drops are your go to. Exploration is certainly a consideration over the more expensive options. 

A lot of nice Gruul cards that work with lands have been printed since the first Zendikar set and did a lot of work to help power up the deck. Wrenn and Six and Radha are great for helping you hit those lands while also being good high tempo and value threats. The extra Canopy land is great too and lets you effectively run cycling lands that also trigger your landfall and never come into play tapped. The canopy lands effectively wasting land drops to cycle isn't an issue in this deck as you have lots of land, capacity to get more lands, multiple land drops, all on top of a very low curve. This is why Guide-Beast is good, returning lands is often a plus. They are also much better fixing and tempo than any of the cycling land alternatives.

Spell lands are a nice little boost to this list as well. They let you play more lands in the deck without risk of flooding. The Mammoth is obviously great but the Fling Cliffs are perhaps a little cute. 17 lands doesn't sound like that many plus Once Upon a Time is 18/39 as far as opening hands go. A bounce land makes that closer to 19/39. The two spell lands bring it to 21/39 which gives much better odds on having landfall all the time. Nearly 20% more land effectively which ensures you don't dry up on the landfall. On the flip side, with Once Upon a Time, two Horizon lands, a man land, and a utility land, you are looking like you are closer to 13/39 lands and safe on flooding. It is always lovely when you can gain effective card quality in a tempo deck and the utility and function of the lands in this deck really lets you exploit that heavily. 

As ever with these test decks I design them far more towards the goldfish optimal build and neglect interaction. In practice I should have a bunch more things like good old Lightning Bolt. Boros Charm looks good for wrath protection and wiping someone out with a big double striker. Much like Atarka's Command it is just a bit too much of a luxury. Selesnya Charm and Dromoka's Command would be my normal go to for utility removal in these colours. I might be able to get away with Shard Volley in this list if Bolt and other good options are unavailable! Even Scythe Tiger looks viable but I suspect cards like Sylvan Safekeeper would be wiser uses of land sacrifices. I could also just go a bit bigger and play Felidar Retreat or top quality classics like Collected Company, Bloodbraid Elf and Ghor-Clan Rampager.

All in all the deck is just a beatdown deck but it has some impressive early game, some very high roll draws, and it has a good chunk of late game for a deck with such a low curve and high aggression. It is a little too high on the synergy to become something you can find and do in drafting cubes but it was incredibly impressive. It could just pull so far ahead in basically all relevant metrics and do so with incredible speed off the mark. Turn three kills are a very real thing! I wouldn't be shocked if similar looking things appear in modern when the meta is rip for a good old zoo style beatdown. Below are my considerations for the deck that didn't make the cut for one reason or another but easily could with certain tweaks or leanings. I also found myself tempted towards going blue for the power of Omnath and Uro but at that point you should really be going for a midrange deck and that is a whole different sort of thing. 

Spikefield Hazard
Shatterskull Smashing
Satyr Wayfinder
Harvest Wurm
Vinelasher Kudzu
Life from the Loam
Undergrowth Champion
Territorial Scythecat
Dryad of Illysian Grove
Courser of Kruphix
Knight of the Reliquary
Rhonas the Indomaitable
Renegade Rallier 
Felidar Retreat

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Commander Legends Thoughts and Additions


As far as commander goes this set seems full of wins and only the odd concern. The concerns being the Lotus and perhaps the high power level in partner commanders. I think the power level for this set in how it relates to the 1v1 formats it effects is pretty reasonable too, I want these kinds of sets to have less impact than conventional sets and so while that makes this set a win in my books it does mean fairly little will be changing in cube. I do not expect much out of the test cards and so this will be quite comfortably the least represented of recent sets in the cube. By recent I means several years worth. The interesting stuff is all the synergy things and support cards. There is plenty to brew with, it just wont be high tier or draftable stuff. 

I noticed I was adding in less of the marginal stuff to these lists (which I use as my wish lists from which to procure new cards with) than I usually do. Not because the set is less powerful either. I was just less bothered about picking up the stuff I will likely only play once or twice in some novel setting. This speaks to me as an indication of some personal burnout. There is just so much new product coming out. Either I cannot be bothered to get absolutely everything that might be of use or I don't trust that things will stay even potentially relevant long enough to bother getting. 

Lots of much needed reprints are great for the community although combined with the quantity of new product it does seem to be shifting the value of cards rather towards reserved list ones. It seems as if Wizards should look to release some guidelines regarding their goals with the secondary markets. I actually think they should add more cards to the reserved list slowly and carefully over time. Not format staples or good cards, just some more cards so as to ease the growing pressure on that relatively small and select group of stuff. I also feel as if they should state some rough price aims such as when a (normal version of a) modern/pioneer card goes above a certain dollar value on the secondary market then it will receive reprints until it dips below that threshold. That would give consumers a much greater degree of confidence and security about purchases both in terms of timing and cost. 


Slash the Ranks

War Room



Necrotic Hex

Toggo, Goblin Weaponsmith 

Kamahl, Heart of Krosa 

Court of Ambition

Archon of Coronation 

Emberwild Captain 

Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools

Sphinx of the Second Sun

Opposition Agent 

Constructed Reserves

Impulsive Pilferer

Guildless Commons 

Scholar of the Ages

Juri, Master of the Revue 

Armix, Filigree Thrasher 

Ardenn, Intrepid Archealogist 

Prava of the Steel Legion 

Jeska's Will

Dargo, the Shipwrecked 

Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh

Court of Cunning

Demonic Lore

Blim, Comedic Genius 

Sunday 15 November 2020

Commander Legends Preliminary Review X


Soul of Eternity 0.5

I guess you can put this in the bin and then threaten to one shot anyone foolish enough to have a lower life total and no means to block or remove this. Hard casting this seems very poor and a nine mana ability is getting sufficiently infrequent as to be narrow as well. Not even passable as a Sneak Attack style of card any more compared to the alternatives. 

Body of Knowledge 1

Well this is a lot of fun. Aside from the silly infinite combos with Niv-Mizzet this is still a fairly silly card. It will be a medium sized dork that is unpleasant to get into combat with but incredibly vulnerable to most removal. If you want to play a five drop dork to hold things back you should play something broad and safe and reliable like a Mezmerising Benthid. If you want a dork to draw cards then run something with a better body and more reliable triggers, ideally EtB ones like Cavalier of Gales. This set has a lot of cards I want to play with which is really the best thing a card can be. They are well placed for commander speed and contexts which is good design too. Sadly many of them are too slow and hard work to be viable in any sort of competitive 1v1 cube setting. Perhaps I will do a special event for fun-but-not-quite-there cards or perhaps this is going to pull me into some form of commander play! I think I have given out a lot of 1/10 marks that really should be 0/10 but I am likely to just try and force them at some point making them played and thus meriting a rating. 

Bell Borca, Spectral Sergeant 2

What an unusual card. Play this as a card draw tool if you like. It will be worse than an Outpost Siege or an array of Chandra cards but not drastically. The right support would be enough to shift that. Alternatively try and abuse Bell by finding ways to exile really pricy things and deliver surprise smackdown. Bell is big and dangerous at the front. He can be an 0/5 most of the time and a 8/5 just the once but he will need to be treated a little more as if he is the latter. There are cheaper cards you can abuse to one shot people, or ones with less build requirements. Seems like Bell lacks places that want him but the power level is high and his threat level is strong. 

Impulsive Pilferer 6

This may look innocent but the card is pretty nuts. This will do plenty of work helping to ramp out goblins and plenty of other fancy stuff. This is just one of those perfect support cards that will randomly fit into loads of builds for one reason or another. It lacks the broad applicability of Thraben Inspector and is more of a high synergy card but it is that sort of thing. Pilferer is the mana neutral body while Inspector is the card neutral one. This ticks so many boxes as far as support cards go. It is a one drop which is always the best place to start out. It is two permanents in one, four when you start the encore. It can be a ritual in combination with other cards or just ramp. It has artifact, creature, and tribal synergy. Graveyard synergy. An outstanding partner for Skirk Prospector or just plain old Phyrexian Altar. It probably isn't packing enough punch in most drafting cube to make the cut as high synergy archetypes are hard to support. Elsewhere expect to see this popping up and doing good work. 

Court of Ire 5

These Court cards are hard to judge. Red is certainly one of the better colours at not getting attacked, both as it is great at killing would be attackers and great at applying sufficient pressure such that blockers are needed. Even so, it is not a lock in by any means and so there is still that risk that you are just giving cards away. The midway mark for Court of Ire is draw one and then Shock every upkeep is good enough but sadly it isn't ever an option. Either you get that but also concede cards which is far from good enough, or you get more cards and nuke for 7 each turn which is pretty insane overkill! This is doubly bad when behind as it is both slow to act and potentially unplayable if giving away a monarch is suicidal. So despite the average power level seeming like enough this shouldn't be a good cube card. You need that consistency from your threats. It wouldn't be out of place in cubes but I don't see it improving any of them. Shame as this art is lovely. 

Jared Carthalion, True Heir 0

Wow, this is comically bad. A 3/3 for 3 that basically just gives your opponent a whole pile of free cards. Best case scenario you still give away one card with this and the payoff isn't impressive. I am pretty confidant any other monarch card is a better play than this. The risks with this are just so silly. 

Guildless Commons 2

This is a colourless bounce land. It might have some applications in Eldrazi decks but for the most part there is little reason in cube to run this over a bounce land that taps for colours. A great addition to commander though were colour identity rules out a lot. 

Hamza, Guardian of the Arashin 1

Cool card but just a bit big for the kinds of things you wind up with in cube-like settings. You can play this easily for three or less mana in a counters deck and that makes it OK but still a long long way from good enough for a deck that focused on synergy. You need it to then significantly reduce the cost of subsequent plays to merit his inclusion. Most of your dorks are cheap and lack generic mana. Hamza gets better in artifact heavier decks abusing Walking Ballista but it still feels like too little too late. 

Volcanic Torrent 0.5

Really this only gets a mention as I will likely build a cascade deck for a laugh at some point. Mass removal isn't a thing you really want to storm up into! Without a storm component this is just dealing two which isn't all that impressive. I want this hitting for four or more before I am interested. 

Azure Fleet Admiral 0

In another colour this would be more appealing but blue doesn't really need the card draw. Much as this is one of the safer monarch card it can still easily be scuppered by a simple attack plus removal spell combo. 

Alharu, Solem Ritualist 0

Too far up the curve and too much work to milk the potential from this card. It looks like it has some infinite loops you can setup but lots of cheaper better cards do that too. 

Triumphant Reckoning 1

Powerful and easily game winning but you should hope so on a nine mana card. The main issue here is that it is so easy to get hosed with graveyard removal. You can play this as a control deck in a list heavy on things this recurs or you can play it in a self mill deck that somehow finds the burst mana to play this ahead of time. Both seem janky and unreliable. Just play a better threat or a better combo. 

Friday 13 November 2020

Commander Legends: Preliminary Review IX


Hullbreacher 7

This is a much more contained iteration of Notion Thief being less mana, fewer colours, and more robust. Sure, you get treasure instead of cards with this but it is mostly about denying the draw, any perk on top of that is just gravy. You can hold this for the got ya moments or you can just flop it out and have it be a bit of a Narset, Parter of Veils that attacks. So a hatebear or a great value Spell Swindle. Both fine lines/modes. You really don't need much out of this for it to be pretty devastating and the floor is decent giving this a pretty reasonable chance in cube. Good tribes too giving it yet more chances of action if it doesn't cut it in drafting cube. 

Sakashima's Will 0

Bad Control Magic or one of the most situational effects of all time. This isn't unplayable without commanders but it is a long way from good. The frequency that the second mode is useful will be so low you might as well play better Control Magic effects instead of this.

Sakashima's Protege 1

This seems doubly random. Cascade itself and then potentially having to copy whatever you get from that or wait until your opponent makes something worth having. The high rolls are obviously high with this but the floor is bad, as is the average performance. Mostly this sits in hand not doing much of anything. 

Sakashima of a Thousand Faces 1

Do I want Mirror Gallery on a Clone? We can break that down into two questions, do I want Mirror Gallery and do I want Clone. When the answer to both of those is no then we have a solid answer for the original question. I am sure this has uses (perhaps even beyond Gyruda) and has a fine power level but not what we are looking for cube wise, especially when we have Spark Double already. 

Coercive Recruiter 2

Another Zealous Conscripts but worse. Playable but hardly desirable. Threaten is situational at best when used conventionally. Used with Kikki Jikki it is fine but not like we are short on things to abuse that way.

Reyav, Master Smith 2

Powerful in the right deck but super narrow and not even all that unique. I can find plenty of good ways to double strike up dorks and so Reyav is deck padding, good padding but still padding.

Kangee, Sky Warden 0

Powerful but narrow and too far up the curve to be the kind of synergy card you are excited about. It needing to attack to aggressively pump takes most of the punch out of this one. 

Gilanra, Caller of Wirewood 1

Nice to have a clean ramping partner commander. In normal 1v1 this is a three mana Llanowar Elf that might draw you a card here and there if you are lucky. Llanowar Visionary is orders of magnitude better. As are Llanowar Elf and Elvish Visionary for that matter. Simply put, your six drops should be getting you most of the way to winning and so you shouldn't need extra cards with them. 

Dawnglade Regent 1

Very pricey card for very little threat. This is more value and protection than it is a win condition and that mostly rules it out for cube uses. 

Ingenuity Engine 1

I like the utility of this card but I do not like the 7 mana price tag regardless of the cascade. I am simply not sure where you could play this usefully. You need things like Divining Top to ensure a good hit and even then the card is only fair rather than good or particularly powerful.

Akroma's Will 1

Without controlling a commander this isn't packing enough punch to merit the high cost and situational nature of the card. Wrath protection is nice but at four mana you can do a lot better. It can force through damage or increase the damage of an attack too but the cost is just too high for the returns. Brave the Elements laughs at this. Assault Formation won't return it's calls. Don't even ask about the Anthems and planeswalkers...

Akroma, Vision of Ixidor 1

Overcost and rather sitiational. Sure, this can be one hell of an Overrun effect backed up by a big scary flier. Without the right kind of dorks in play this is a  hard fail to the Doom Blade test and is just a slow vulnerable fatty. 

Pride of the Perfect 1

Quite a powerful Anthem for elves but elves have Overrun effects a plenty and don't need to step outside of green to access them. Being a little off theme, off colour and not an elf make this look like it isn't getting play despite being perfectly decent on power level. 

Feast of Succession 1

Cool looking card that works well with itself. It helps you keep monarch and does two controlly things simultaneously. Sadly it is a six mana Languish that fails to kill everything and probably loses you the game if they have a haste dork, survivor, or just a manland in order to steal the monarch from you. 

Mira, Thorn of the Glade 2

Cheap and useful but rather undone by costing a mana in order to turn on the trigger. You don't want to be keeping up mana and so this will give your opponent plenty of windows to shut off this value engine. Certainly a playable card but probably more in an aristocrats style deck that happens to have a high elf count rather than a tribal elf build. 

Kwain, Itinerant Meddler 1

I guess this has some potential uses when you are locking people down card draw or trying to force draws for whatever reason. Even so it is a bit of a risk as it isn't helping you all that much when you don't have your other synergy parts.