Tuesday 21 January 2020

Theros: Beyond Death Conclusions and Additions

I like the set and the cards and the flavour and really most things here. It is not my favourite or anything like that, I just quite like it. There are some interesting cards and some really impressive flavour wins. What there is not is anything oppressive or bonkers, at least not in a limited format. Plenty of cards just at or above the drafting cube threshold but just none above that. My thoughts on the power level of this set rather depend. I would like to see sets a little more powerful but only on the condition that there is less new product released each year. Given how much product is coming out the power level of this set seems pretty spot on. We could afford a couple more cards in the 8/10 rating region for which this set gave us none. Plenty more sets to get such things in. Certainly Throne of Eldraine proved you don't want too many bombs all at once and probably did for our 8/10+ cards for the time being! A card too powerful for a format is a bad thing but it is made even worse by there being many.

This set will not have a huge impact on cube compared to other recent sets but it does give us some nice support cards and a load of welcome depth. The biggest impact to cube I think will be due to just one card - Thassa's Oracle. I feel like it will be in the same sort of camp as Emrakul the Promised End or Recurring Nightmare. A kind of inevitability that you can rely on and build around. The icing that will go on to finish off a lot of differing archetypes. I think it will make draw spells a lot more powerful and playable. I might even consider reinstating Fact or Fiction just to see how that works out. The next biggest deal will likely be from Shadowspear just slightly taking the edge off some otherwise pretty tedious cards. Welcome but very minor.

To Add

Elspeth Conquers Death
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis
Thassa's Oracle
Woe Strider
Anax, Hardened by the Forge
Omen of the Sea
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

To Test (High Hopes)

Ox of Agonas
Heliod, Sun-Crowned
Tymaret Calls the Dead
The First Ironian Games
Thassa's Intervention
Phoenix of Ash
Eat to Extinction
Storm's Wrath
Nightmare Shepherd
Shatter the Sky
Thryx, The Sudden Storm
Tectonic Giant
The Birth of Meletis
Medomai's Prohpecy
Elspeth's Nightmare
Mire Triton
Mogis's Favour
Cling to Dust
Klothys, God of Destiny
Kunuros, Hound of Athreos
Dream Trawler
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

To Test (low expectations)

Erebos, Bleak-Harted
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths
Kiora Bests the Sea God
Nadir Kraken
Eidolon of Obstruction
Lampad of Death's Vigil
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
Tymaret, Chosen from Death
Omen of the Sun
Omen of the Forge
Chainweb Aracnir
Blood Aspirant
Alirios Enraptured
Agonizing Remorse
Drag to the Underworld
Threnody Singer
Whirlwind Denial
Reverent Hoplite
Daybreak Chimera
Stern Dismissal
Satyr's Cunning
Gallia, of the Endless Dance
Sentinel's Eyes
Bronzehide Lion
Polukranos Unchained
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Careless Celebrant

For the Constructed Things

Aphemia, the Cacophony
Arasta of the Endless Web
Storm Herald
Destiny Spinner
Treacherous Blessing
Setessan Champion
Underworld Breach
Alseid of Life's Bounty
Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea
Renata, Called to the Hunt
The Binding of the Titans
Omen of the Dead
Omen of the Hunt
Sage of Mysteries
Mystic Repeal
Hateful Eidolon
Pious Wayfarer
Pharika's Libation
Relentless Pursuit
Thirst for Meaning
Soul-Guide Lantern
Nyx Lotus
Staggering Insight
Siona, Captain of the Pyleas
Mischievous Chimera
Hero of the Nyxborn
Enigmatic Incarnation
Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders
Archon of Sun's Grace
Wavebreak Hippocamp
Discordant Piper
Hero of the Pride
Acolyte of Affliction
Slaughter Priest of Mogis
Wolfwillow Haven

Monday 20 January 2020

Theros: Beyond Death Preliminary Review Part XIII

Hateful Eidolon 3

I don't rate this as having much chance in cube of drawing all that many cards for you, well not until they print some Skullclamp like aura... Being a one drop with OK stats, keywords and an enchantment tag however I can absolutely see this being filler in some decks. Really nice for use with cards like Dead Weight.

Hydra's Growth 1

Slow and gimmicky but potential for abuse. You would need a lot of protection for your stuff if your plan involves this. Fun but a fairly long way from good.

Daybreak Chimera 6

Glad to see this costed this way, it makes it interesting without any chance of being oppressive or broken. The ceiling is easy to reach and good but not extreme. All told I think this is worse than Serra Avenger although it certainly can be better. I think this is likely a bit fair, narrow and boring for the cube although it would also be good in most white weenie builds. Force of Virtue does make playing this turn two incredibly likely. I didn't think it was possible to make "countering" a Shock on your Giver of Runes with Force of Virtue any more filthy but it turns out this Chimera does exactly that as a good follow up play to rub hart hitting salt in the wounds!

Nessian Hornbeetle 2

This can be a 3/3 on the turn you make it and attack the following turn as a 4/4. Now that won't happen on curve but still, this card gets quite big, quite quickly and quite easily in the right place. Sadly, the right place isn't a very good place at present in cube. Just making a lot of big dorks is vulnerable to most other plans. If it were just a touch better then Hornbeetle would be a potent two drop option. It needs no mana to grow it which is important for cheaper cards as you want to curve out. Not having to invest in your two drop so it doesn't suck is where you not to be. It is also relevant which is another important factor in a two drop. All told it probably outclasses Tarmogoyf in the zoo and stompy sort of decks as they are so poor at populating the graveyards. So despite all it's qualities the beetle just doesn't have a place presently because it has no homes worth supporting.

Underworld Fires 2

Dull and narrow but not without a use. Certainly not a drafting cube card but this has sideboard potential for dealing with aggro black decks and their recursive low end stuff. It has some OK synergy with things like Torbran, Flame of Keld, Soul-Scar Mage and so forth too so might get a little love with those things some place too.

Final Flare 1

This is only getting mention as a means of sacrificing enchantments in red. Even in that role it is expensive and situational. Despotic Scepter is likely just superior...

Soulreaper of Mogis 1

Both potentially useful types/subtype, plus a sac outlet! Shame this card is just hot garbage. Even 1/10 feels generous. I hope never to play this but it is unique and might just get there due to synergy overlap. Does my constellation aristocrat tribal minotaur deck sound good?!

Pharika's Libation 3

Bad card but enchantment removal in black. Mire in Misery has not gained traction but this is a better removal spell and specifically a much more reliable enchantment removal spell and so at the very least we will see this in some sideboards in mono black decks.

Mogis's Favour 6.5

Versatile little card. A buff, a removal spell, a Darkblast of sorts. Just as a removal spell this is too low powered but combined with the buff potential I think this has a small shot at making the cube. This will make it more of an aggressive tool but that sounds fine. It is very cheap to recur and supports things like delirium in addition to devotion. I expect a lot of Kitesail Freebooters hitting for 3 in the near future! Good news for Hateful Eidolon as well.

Grim Physician 2

Shambling Goblin without the goblin. This is fine. There are places you want these kinds of thing although we probably just have more than we need now. I can't see where this would ever be better than Festering Mummy for example? Against a Solemnity deck....

Lampad of Death's Vigil 5

I thought Gnawing Zombie would be good back when it was spoiled. I was bigly wrong. Despite that I hold out some hope for this. Half the cost and colour restrictions removed on the sac ability and we have a much more interesting card. This is both a Blood Artist effect and a sac outlet to trigger the other Blood Artists you have. This is probably a little low powered to be found outside an aristocrats deck but I do give this a decent chance still. The statline is pretty spot on for what you want to be doing early with those sorts of deck.

Stern Dismissal 5

Broader range Unsummon but that cannot save/reuse your own stuff. Mostly an upgrade but not always. Some reasonable and comparable power on the options on the few Unsummon slots you have in your cube (I have just the room for one in my cube, it was Vapor Snag for ages and String of Disappearances presently) or decks meaning this will have to share the limelight and likely see little action as a result.

Starlight Mantle 1

Dull protection spell. Probably a bit expensive for what it does but cheap generally and with aura synergy potential.

Sleep of the Dead 1

Would instant speed have been too much? I would have tested it had it had it. As it stands I doubt it will get any action. Lop a third off all the escape costs instead of instant speed and it might still have got there too.

Chain to Memory 2

This is a lot of card and a very nicely presented one at that. Power creep on Lost in a Labyrinth has done well recently. I still don't expect to see this in cube just yet, blue is just not so interested in combat. If that changes much or we continue to see power creep in this form of card then it may well one day be a thing.

Riptide Turtle 1

Fine card for the High Alert archetypes out there. Passable card in general but too low powered and narrow to bother testing. It is pretty clear how this will play! Complex is what it is not.

Sage of Mysteries 4

A new offering on Hedron Crab. Certainly both weaker and narrower but never the less a card with lots of potential. Self mill is great and the best kind is cheap. Scaling potential also helps this out. I can imagine this in some kind of Replenish deck and I am sure it will enable many other interesting and quirky things.

Transcendent Envoy 2.5

Much as I love a cost reducer this is a little bit unexciting. Auras are weak, narrow and not something you can over do. The best ones basically all miss out on this helping them as they all cost 1 already! This is too compact and useful not to see play somewhere but I can't see this coming out often in a singleton setting.

Sentinel's Eyes 3

Useful and cheap. I can almost see just running this in a white aggro deck. A lot of things make it appeal more than most cheap equipment like Leonin Scimitar. Probably this is a little low powered for general use and not abusable enough for aura decks. Probably the best place for this is where you want to sacrifice loads of things.

Friday 17 January 2020

Theros: Beyond Death Preliminary Review Part XII

Agonizing Remorse 6.5

Probably the best two mana Thoughtsieze option although very close. Exile is powerful. Being able to take a card out of the bin can be handy. Losing a life is not a big deal even if it is not close to making up for the mana cost difference to Thoughtsieze! If black wants a two mana hand pure hitter in cube this will be it but I expect the more versatile offerings of Collective Brutality and Kitesail Freebooter will appeal more. Certainly worth a test though. Probably a big deal for standard and pioneer as it stands.

Elspeth Conquers Death 7.5

This seems outstanding. The Eldest Reborn is a big deal in cube and this is highly comparable. Phase I here is just exceptional. It deals with any serious problem card as effectively as possible. Almost any planeswalker is gone forever! Of the things you want an Utter End quality card to hit 95+% of them have CMC three or more. Phase II is no value but it does calm things down nicely. It gives you a window to get past counter magic, it makes it hard for your opponent to deploy more walkers or deal with the saga. The final phase is big value, or should be. While not as versatile as the final stage of Eldest Reborn as it only hits things in your bin the extra counters help make up for that a bit. Overall this is far better removal and control than Eldest Reborn at the cost of being slightly less value and having a slightly lower ceiling.

Elspeth's Nightmare 6.5

In my cube this hits just over 70% of dorks with the phase I removal, in the average cube that is around 3% lower at just over 67% of the things. This is likely to be reduced in practice with plenty of buffs and things putting dorks out of reach. I wouldn't be shocked if this was aimed at a token a lot of the time. Ultimately how playable this card is comes down to if that figure is enough. If deployed early you should hit reasonably well with phase 1 and that is a big plus for the card. Duress in Phase II is nice but a turns delay on a three mana play is quite slow. It can be played around or simply outpaced much of the time. Phase III is just a little sweetener, it is OK but nothing too exciting. It hurts a few things a bunch and is pretty irrelevant to everything else.

On individual cards you could do more for the mana than this saga however that would set you back a few more cards. This should be a two for one and could be argued as more when phase III is also a hit. When you take that into account you are getting a much better deal. Duress for a mana, removal spell for a mana, and draw a card for a mana. All quite reasonable. It is not even a disaster of a card if one of the first two modes miss assuming the other hits good which is pretty plausible. All told I expect this to do OK in cube, perhaps even well. It is going to sit somewhere around Doomfall with a ceiling much nearer that of Kolaghan's Command.

Dream Trawler 6.5

Somewhere between Prognostic Sphinx and Dragonlord Ojutai we find this thing. Good as a threat in that it races well, generates value in cards and life, all while being fairly robust itself. Five lifelinking evasive power on offense gets the job done in good order, and safely. I significantly prefer this to either Aetherling or Consecrated Sphinx. It is neither as safe or assured as Aetherling nor as much card advantage as Sphinx but it does everything else better than either. I also prefer it to both Prognostic and Ojutai. It simply does a lot more than the former and works rather better with itself than Ojutai even if they are very close in power. It is rather gold and colour intense but it is also on theme sufficient to at least merit testing.

Acolyte of Affliction 5

This is pretty good. It is a two for one with some other perks. Self mill is usually decent. Sadly this is a bit far up the curve for a bit of value or support. The body is not all that impressive or exciting. Mostly this is a more expensive and less flexible Eternal Witness that is gold. I can't see this cutting it in cube although it is a strong card.

Hero of the Games 0

Much as I gave the white Bear version of this a pass I don't see it here. The body is so limp and the cost is too much. Power wise this lines up so badly to three drops and the synergy potential doesn't make up for it. Especially when you have high power synergy options like Feather the Redeemed competing as well as just conventional powerful three drops.

Mischevious Chimera 6.5

A potent little tempo dork that kind of does everything you want. It is cheap to get down and likely gets a lot done. Flying makes combat good for it and the spell trigger lets you force through some damage even when not attacking. Scry is just also nicely on theme with Izzet tempo builds. Much as this is a lot of card that is impressively on theme I can't see me wanting it in cube drafts. Just a bit too specific. Certainly I would play it in constructed builds of Izzet tempo but this will not improve a drafting cube.

Protean Thaurmaturge 2

Odd little Clone card. Certainly strong in a deck that can consistently trigger it although a little aimless in most cases. Otherwise pretty garbage. That makes it far too narrow for drafting cubes but there is some potential elsewhere for this and people love a Clone so I expect to see this in places it probably shouldn't be.

Slaughter-Priest of Mogis 2

As a sac outlet, even one that deals with enchantments, this is poor. As a combo kill card however it has some mild potential. If you can use something to toss a load of stuff in the bin then this gets pretty big pretty fast. Narrow but also cheap and good potential for scaling. Greater Gargadon seems like a good pairing for this.

Nessian Wanderer 1.5

I like this but it might be a tight fit anywhere looking to run such things. Basically are you ever running this over a card which just draws you a card when you play an enchantment? Or, are you ever playing this in a deck where an Argothian Enchantress isn't better first? This has a higher floor but it is still a low one and so ultimately I think this is unlikely to see much if any cube play despite being a decent a potent little dork. Either you are just about drawing cards or you are not bothering with anything like this. The places you can run things like this are just too tight to afford luxuries such as this. Standard this has some hope where you do not have the option on things like Argothian. EDH might as 100 card singleton and multiplayer set a whole new bar for what is playable.

Shatter the Sky 7

Hmm, a Wrath of God that can be better, can be worse and probably is mostly just the same. Overall when you are using Wrath effects it is much more likely you opponent has a 4 power dork than you do so the average is certainly worse than original Wrath. This is probably still cheap and reliable enough that you are happy to play it, probably over a five mana Wrath too. I think this is just good enough at doing what you want that it will get enough play. Wrath count is a pretty limiting factor on control decks and so more is probably welcome.

Entrancing Lyre 1

Cool but too expensive I think. Somewhere between Icy Manipulator and Vedalken Shackles but sadly lacking the utility on the former and the brutality on the latter.

Relentless Pursuit 3

A decent, if pricey, support card. This is Essentially Divination in that it draws 2 for 3 but it fills up the bin and digs a little deeper at the cost of having the ability to wiff and some build preconditions you want to optimize for it. The stars are unlikely to align all that often for this card in cube settings but it is none the less a support card not to be overlooked.

Heliod's Punishment 1

Mostly this is a bad Journey to Nowhere in that it only lasts 3 to 4 turns. The only upside it boasts is that it will not retrigger EtB effects if things go awry.

Heliod's Intervention 1

Probably a nice Wish target but otherwise all a bit too slow and narrow. I guess I might use it in a sideboard in which I was very tight on slots for specific things.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Theros: Beyond Death Preliminary Review Part XI

Thassa's Oracle 7.5

Well this does scale well with small libraries. I can legitimately see this winning a lot of games in my cube and also doing some good work to power up card draw. You actually couldn't go that nuts on draw effects in my cube as you will wind up decking yourself or at the very least being too light on threats and answers total. Often you have to pack reshuffle mechanics just to protect against these things. Well, now you can just pack this instead. I think you could legitimately run this in your cube and throw in Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and have them be yoru primary blue win conditions. Draw all the cards and survive, very blue and on theme. Most control decks either need a high threat density or a really serious card like Ugin8 or The Promised End but now we have this option. Thassa's Oracle is perfectly decent when it is not winning the game too. At worst it is a Sleight of Hand with the card draw bit replaced with a 1/3 body. A 1/3 for a blue is an OK defensive play and Sleight is a nice little way to get setup. Often this will do more than a Wall of Omens as a turn two stall play. I think this might well have more effect on the broad archetype of blue control than most other cards we have seen. I don't think it is broken or anything, power wise it is just fine. It is about what it lets you do with your deck. A lot of the time it is just a slightly weaker Omenspeaker which is a card that is too weak for cube. Luckily the ceiling of winning the game is so far from what Omenspeaker has as a ceiling that even though it is not going to be an abundant event will bring the average performance of the card up pretty significantly. This is so so much better than Laboratory Maniac that it is comic. It costs 1 less, has 1 more toughness, does useful things before being a win condition and is a win condition both sooner in game progress and sooner upon being deployed. Maniac saw play and is pretty bad, this will mostly replace it and incentivize more of such things.

Calix, Destiny's Hand 0

Well then. They finally printed an awful planeswalker! It has been a mad time with walkers recently with mental power creep on the go. Calix doesn't seem just narrow or just a bit fair, he just straight up seems awful. The +1 is super narrow, it sees too few cards and hits far too few things. You certainly can't play this in cube, it is only really viable in decks with like a third enchantments. The second ability needs you to have a target enchantment in play to even work. Horrendous. Like, if it made an Oblivion Ring I would be down with it but turning something you have to have already is comically bad and risky. Just a very narrow, situational and low power card I don't expect to ever play. You could have the +1 find lands and see 5 cards deep. You could make the -3 an Oblivion Ring token maker or make it -2 loyalty and even have him start at 5 at that point. You could basically add on more to this than you need to take away from Oko to make him fair and Calix still wouldn't really get there.

Enigmatic Incarnation 2.5

An interesting take on a Birthing Pod style of card. They both swap out permanents for bigger ones. They both cost around the same to deploy and they both go at a similar pace if unaided. This cannot be abused by untap effects and it is gold and it needs enchantments as fuel rather than dorks. Now you can obviously just go from enchantment creature to enchantment creature but that vastly limits your options and leads to a narrow and low powered affair. Not doing so still leads to a pretty narrow deck as you need a lot of enchantment fuel to make it worthwhile. There are some lovely things like the Oaths and Omen cards that are mostly just about the EtB trigger. I think this is very powerful and could well do some serious work in standard or pioneer. For limited settings it is in need of too much support and for being too narrow. For most singleton constructed settings it is quite a lot of work to build around without anything else much like it. You can toss one into an enchantment deck to dig up the odd support dork like Enchantresses but it will not be the main theme of the deck. I like it and think it will be better with time but for now it is not really a card for me to do much with.

Lagonna-Band Storyteller 1

There are just cheaper and more effective means to get back enchantments or to gain life. The situation where you need both are basically non-existent. EDH might stretch to this just for some deep redundancy on such things, standard might due to lack of alternatives on recursion. Broadly though this is just clunky and weak.

Destiny Spinner 6

This sits roughly at the power level of Sylvan Advocate or Thorn Elemental which used to be a great place to be. Sadly for these cards they all became too low impact over the course of the last year. The cards are all great but without an aggressive green archetype that wants them there is little reason to run them. They are too vulnerable to mass removal for midrange decks to get behind them that much. Sure, they are decent against aggro but only marginally. A Wall of Omens is better against aggro and often comically against control too. The Spinner does specifically have anti control abilities but the activated ability is going to scale too poorly in draft to get excited about. If this averaged 3/3 land animations then it would be great. It will be a lot closer to a 2/2 land as things stand in my cube which is not enough at all. I like this card, it will see a bunch of play in a bunch of places but right now in the draft cube is a no go, all be it only just.

Hero of the Pride 2

Some redundancy for heroic decks with a go wide lean. Not exactly powerful but on-theme and cheap with the scaling it needs to perform.

Nightmare Shepherd 6.5

This seems pretty powerful if a little slow. The 4/4 flying body for 4 is a pretty good start. The ability is fine too. The exile aspect is a shame but it is not a disaster and is a may effect overall meaning you are never going to be wreaked by the exile aspect. Mostly this will be dealt with promptly as it is a threat on its own and will generate value over time. It reminds me a little of Kalitas and a little of Shalai, Voice of Plenty. The Shepherd is not as disruptive as either but it can do some naughty things with EtB dorks and sac outlets and all sorts really. This card is probably just too good all round not to do some work in cube. It might be a bit aimless and slow to fully become a mainstay but I suspect it is one of those cards that is only ever cut for space reasons rather than under performing.

Thassa's Intervention 6.5

This is a fascinating card. It reminds me of Supreme Will. It scales up rather better but is significantly worse throughout the early game and into the mid. Supreme Will is the option on one of two good cards for one more mana than they otherwise are. Normally this isn't a great deal but it is the perfect control pairing, countermagic or dig. It is the option you always want and that is what Thassa's Intervention does. Thassa's Intervention is slightly lower power at the more key mana costs. Mana Leak and Impulse are rather better cards than Quench or Divination and remain so with an added mana. Beyond that however Intervention scales towards an increasingly hard counter and towards Drawn from Dreams. All in all this seems to have enough versatility and scaling to make up for the shaky start it has. It is not exact;y powerful but it is what you want and good enough.

Shadowspear 7.5

This seems pretty pushed. The equipment side of things are fine, it is a little Armadillo Cloak. It is some size, some evasion, and some life to make racing hard. It might make the cut with just that, it is a little boring but it is cheap, versatile, and a tried and tested effective combination of stuff. It is the activated ability that pushes this card from the fine to the great. Plenty of really strong and tedious cards have indestructible or hexproof in cube and this does a fine job of handling them. It will not happen super often as there are perhaps 10 or so of each but they are high impact cards. Much as this is great against the gods it does fail rather in the face of The Scarab God.

Bronzehide Lion 4

Certainly a very powerful card. A call back to the Licid dorks of old. Much like Fleecemane Lion this is a very pushed Watchwolf and much like Fleecemane I expect this to see very little cube action. This is mainly a small beater. The ability is expensive just to save a 3/3. The card doesn't really die into value either as you still just have an expensive regenerate type effect. That you need a target in play to use on. I almost just prefer the fact it comes back as an enchantment. I do like to go on about two in one cards on the cheap! Mostly this is Watchwolf and that is exactly the sort of card that is of no interest to anyone in cube these days. Gold, low nominal power, no real value. Lots of power for the mana but just not in a way I want it.

Nyxbloom Ancient 2

This is a little over the top. The body is perhaps just a drawback on this thing too. It is not really a threat, if you play this it is for the effect. Mostly there are just better and more consistent ways to ramp but this is certainly interesting and unique and offers a bunch of infinite mana combos! A little over the top when you need 7 to get this out and then it triples that. The difference between 21 mana and infinite is not all that big in magic....

Mystic Repeal 6

Just a very cheap efficient removal spell that will shine within the block as it were. That means it might be good for standard and will possibly be sideboard tech for pioneer. This is basically just Oxidize for enchantments. Better in some ways as it is more like exile removal. Efficient answers always see action so yeah, not much to it than that. Good, all be it uninteresting and a little narrow for draft cubes.