Wednesday 30 September 2020

Secret Lair: Walking Dead

The short summary of this article is simply that I am unimpressed with the precedent this product sets and intend to boycott it in all ways possible in a vague attempt to push a disincentive on repeats. Specifically the issue I have is unique black border cards printed as premium singles. Read on should you need more detailed thoughts, otherwise save yourself some time and do something else!

I don't love the flavour of the Walking Dead as it pertains to Magic, I think the series has a much shorter shelf life and will not age all that well. Something like a Tolkien crossover would have been a better fit in terms of theme and cultural half life and might well have been a more suitable place to test the waters. I am sure there are plenty of behind the scenes legal and marketing reasons this didn't happen but still, the Walking Dead remains a fairly long way down the list of good fits as far as fictional franchises go. The modern era setting of the Walking Dead doesn't play all that well with Magic, even something like Star Wars feels like it would work better. This however could all have been fine. I have no issue with the printing of cards in which I dislike the aesthetic when there are more conventional alternatives. The mecha-Godzilla stuff wasn't for me but it seemed to make a lot of other people happy and so that was a win all round. If the people at Hasbro marketing think that a Walking Dead link up will bring in a load of new people to Magic then great, get it done. Just not like this. 

Some people have issue with the names as part of the aesthetic concern, I am less bothered by this but for those who are, the mecha-Gozilla cards provide a good solution to that issue. It is something that should have been put in place initially so as to avoid awkward issues later down the line even if it can still be remedied retrospectively. 

I am long enough in the tooth to recall the introduction of foils. I thought it was a corporate money grab at the time. Just a silly new gimmick of a way to sell packs. To this day I think it is why I purport that I don't like foils when actually I clearly must just because of how much time I spend looking at them. Then over a decade later I thought mythics were a bit of a piss take. Another attempt at increasing sales but not even with the promise of shiny cards as reward. Another decade on still and I think foils are a core part of any collectable card series and accept mythics. 

The next thing to annoy me was the pricing on Masters sets. It felt like a price gouge, just using high values on the secondary market to scale up pack price with expected values from cracking them. In practice the increased pack price was fine as it at least helps keep some stability and confidence in the second hand market. Reprints need to happen so that formats are accessible to as many players as possible but they also need to be done in such a way as to not crush the value of both trading companies and personal collections. 

The next blow was Modern Horizons. This is one that still annoys me and rather than just leaving a bad taste as some of the others did it felt like a dangerous direction. Reprint sets had no new cards in them and so managing cost and expected value is fine. More powerful cards are more valuable cards and more valuable cards come in more expensive boosters. Fine. This precedent however let them get away with their first proper gouge in Modern Horizons. By targetting the set at modern, a significantly more powerful bar they could print more powerful cards and thus charge more for those packs by the same logic. A dirty trick but I wanted the exciting and powerful new cards. Modern Horizons was the biggest windfall of new juice and biggest shakeup to the cube meta that has ever happened. I didn't want to miss out and so I cracked some packs and got the stuff I wanted on the secondary market. All of which supported the product and helped to make it profitable and thus support more things like that happening in future. 

Secret lairs and collectors boxes and all sorts of full art bling and alternate framework jazz followed and I am fine with it all. It seems like it is bleeding people as much as possible but it is doing so in a fine way. Companies are expected to maximize sales after all. Due to there being conventional and normal versions of the cards and product there really is little to complain about as far as Wizards printing exotic stuff and charging whatever they like for it. Magic is an expressive game in many ways and being able to customize your preferred aesthetic is great. 

The problem is that it all falls apart as soon as you take away the basic or budget version of a card. Secret Lair product should never contain mechanically unique cards short of making them silver bordered cards. Some people are calling it the new reserve list which I think is a little extreme but it isn't wrong in sentiment. It is going to awkward to reprint these cards and if they are legal and seeing play they will need to do so due to both initial cost and scarcity. Due to the awkwardness in doing so and a preceding price increase it is a pretty fair bet that these cards are not going down in value and will always be an expensive pickup. I suspect most people will have a similar expectation and as such sales will likely be good despite the apparent ire. If you don't expect to lose value on something it tends to incentivize a purchase. 

 You could argue that commander products have been doing a similar sort of thing for quite a while now as they print new unique cards for sale in predetermined way. Both are essentially selling new singles. There are so many differences beyond that however that I would say the comparison breaks down. Firstly you get 100 cards for your $30 rather than 5, not to mention a functioning deck. The value is spread far more significantly and makes it comparable to normal product pricing rather than premium product pricing. Secondly, commander product cards are normal magic cards not fancy bling ones with unusual art styles etc. Thirdly, the commander products are targetted at a specific market that was under supported. Having an avenue to support that community without negatively impacting on other products is well worthwhile and the commander product format seems like one of the best ways to do this. The power level is generally pretty sensible too ensuring that the eternal formats don't get shaken up much with the early exception of True-Name Nemesis. Commander products are well priced, well designed, and well targetted and this gives them a big pass on the issues with selling new singles directly. 

Looking back with a long lense it seems inevitable we would get to this point eventually. As I suspect the Walking Dead Secret Lair will sell well I expect we will get more of the same. Regular Modern Horizons style sets at hiked power level and price. Mechanically unique premium products. And I am sure some other bleeding schemes we are yet to see that up the bar even further on the gouging. 

I hope the EDH community collectively ban this product, ideally before release. That would be a huge win for the community at large and send a strong message to Wizards to stop milking us. All this printing of product by Wizards feels like governments printing money. In the latter case you can get scary inflation, in the case of Wizards you potentially get wallet fatigue and will weaken secondary markets which in turn damages confidence. The thing is that despite how it looks the people at Hasbro are not stupid. They know all this already and are simply executing a business strategy. Most choices have positive and negative consequences or trade offs. Hasbro has simply decided that this grievance is not as valuable as the upside whatever that might be. There are some obvious reasons this could be the case as well as plenty I am oblivious to I am sure. On the face of it the appearance is of a company looking to sell off in some way. Flood the market with product and cash in for the short term at the cost of long term confidence and customer loyalty so as to seem better to an outsider and thus command a higher company value. Makes good business sense. Alternatively they could be looking to migrate competitive play to digital and have paper Magic more of a casual and collectable thing. Given the uncertainty on face to face gatherings at present that would also make some sense. Perhaps they are just desperately trying to keep their head above water as the current social circumstances are hurting them more than we realize. They could even just be testing the waters to see if this is something they can get away with. Ultimately the reason matters little, it is all about the result as far as would be Magic consumers going forwards. I have little agency in the matter but I feel strongly enough to use it in this instance. I will cast my vote with my wallet and boycott this product on primary and secondary markets. I can only hope my predictions are wrong and that the majority of people do the same! 

Thursday 17 September 2020

Zendikar Rising: Conclusions and Additions

A little sad that both the inscription cycle and pathway cycle are incomplete even if the latter has been promised soon. Hopefully the pathway completion will have a similar aesthetic vibe and be available in both full art and normal styles.

There is a lot of card on this list of cards I have interest in but none of them look very broken, oppressive, or poorly and dangerously designed from a cube perspective. There are some cards that raise the eye for modern and the lands mix it up for constructed but compared to companions and Oko/Uro it is all pretty small fry stuff. Much as this set is low powered compared to almost everything we have seen since Dominaria I expect it to change the cube meta more than anything other than Theros and the escape cards. This is because the cards from this set that are good are all option rich cards that help increase consistency and provide an array of uses both early and late game. The spell lands are the biggest part of this but it is clear in most of the cards that I have rated highly. 

Cards with an * are spell lands.

Additions to the Limited Cube (plus top 8 cards for cube)

1.   6x Pathway lands
2.   Bloodchief's Thirst
3.   Magmatic Channeler
4.   Inscription of Abundance
5.   Hagra Mauling *
6.   Shatterskull Smashing*
7.   Master of Winds
8.   Jwari Disruption *

Jace, Mirror Mage
Agadeem's Awakening*
Turntimber Symbiosis*
Emeria's Call*
Kazandu Mammoth *
Luminarch Aspirant
Ondu Inversion*
Soul Shatter
Skyclave Apparition
Fireblade Charger
Kabira Takedown*

Tangled Florahedron *
Acquisitions Expert
Roil Eruption
Crawling Barrens

Test with High Hopes

Inscription of Ruin
Seagate Stormcaller
Scourge of the Skyclaves
Skyclave Shade
Valakut Exploration
Maul of the Skyclaves
Nighthawk Scavenger
Bala Ged Recovery *
Selundi Vision*
Lithoform Blight
Khalni Ambush*
Fearless Fledgling
Kazuul's Fury*
Pelakka Predation *
Spikefield Hazard *
Cleansing Wildfire
Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

Test with Low Expectations

Leyline Tyrant
Felidar Retreat
Charix, the Raging Isle
Nullpriest of Oblivion
Shatterskull Charger
Oran-Rief Ooze
Shadow's Verdict
Scute Swarm
Kargan Intimidator
Inscription of Insight
Thieving Skydiver
Vastwood Fortification*
Valakut Awakening *
Taborax, Hope's Demise
Beyeen Veil*
Blackbloom Rogue *
Thundering Rebuke
Malakir Rebirth *
Kitesail Cleric
Umara Wizard *
Song-Mad Treachery*
Makindi Stampede *
Thwart the Grave
Akoum Warrior*
Sejiri Shelter *
Skyclave Cleric *
Zof Consumption *
Feed the Swarm
Akoum Hellhound
Omnath, Losuc of Creation
Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate
Yasharn, Implacable Earth
Skyclave Relic
Spare Supplies

Stuff for Singleton Constructed (grouped somewhat accordingly where likely played together)

Archpriest of Iona
Squad Commander
Tazri, Beacon of Unity
Coveted Prize
Tajuru Paragon
Journey to Oblivion
Veteran Adventurer
Deadly Alliance
Base Camp
Zagrath, Thief of Hearbeats
Spoils of Adventure

Coralhelm Chronicler
Verazol, the Split Current
Vine Gecko
Roost of Drakes
Throne of Makindi

Merfolk Windrobber
Zulaport Duelist
Zareth San, the Trickster
Soaring Thought Thief

Maddening Cacophony
Ruin Crab

Canyon Jerboa
Brushfire Elemental
Skyclave Pickaxe
Wayward Guide-Beast

Swarm Shambler
Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients
Akiri, Fearless Voyager

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
Cleric of Life's Bond
Relic Vial

Umra Mystic
Roiling Vortex
Confounding Conundrum
Moraug, Fury of Akoum
Seagate Restoration*
Nihiri's Lithoforming
Scion of the Swarm
Iridescent Hornbeetle
Demon's Disciple
Roiling Regrowth
Kor Blademaster
Phylath, World Sculptor
Vastwood Surge
Adventure Awaits
Marauding Blight-Priest
Bubble Snare
Kazandu Nectarpot
Farsight Adept
Fissure Wizard
Field Research
Kazra, Roil Chaser
Scale the Heights
Nahiri's Binding
Resolute Strike
Kargan Warleader
Forsaken Monument
Relic Amulet
Utility Knife

I am a fan of this set. It has nice lands and I like lands. It has things that increase consistency and options by the bucket load and I am a massive fan of that. The power level is good without seeming too dangerous or mental.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Zendikar Rising Preliminary Review Part XI

Relic Vial 1

The card draw bit is very expensive. You can only really afford to play this is you can reliably have the cleric trigger active so as to have a bonus Zulaport Cutthroat / Bastion of Remembrance effect. That makes this both low powered and narrow although not to the point of being totally unplayable.

Relic Golem 1

A Millstone on legs for fairly little extra cost! Likely too low powered and working at cross purposes but still, unique and thus potentially useful.

Deliberate 6

Not as much value as Omen of the Sea and likely less in the way of quirky synergy support from Yorion and the like. That being said, there are a lot of cards that look for instant and sorcery cards in cube, certainly compared to devotion and flicker effects, so this is not so down on the synergy front. This is a fairly bad Impulse, more comparable to Anticipate for power level. Certainly very playable but neither unique, nor busted enough to push past the other two mana options.

Skyclave Squid 0

Big by blue standards but dull and not something any archetype is looking for. How many years before squid tribal is a thing and I regret not getting one of these?! Hopefully never.

Kor Celebrant 0

A big Soul Sister. Probably good in 100 card singleton decks but I'll stick to the cheaper options, of which there are enough for 40 card singleton decks and all the non-singleton ones.

Tazeem Roilmage 0

This has the same issue as Nullpriest of Oblivion except it also has much lower power. The two drop mode is just so weak that it doesn't add much to the card.

Shatterskull Charger 5

This is a 5/4 trample haste (or bad Charging Monstrosaur) with the option to be a good Viashino Sandstalker prior to then. This lets you have some top end while giving you things to do prior to getting there. It gives you a way to evade sorcery speed removal too like the dash mechanic. Quite good walker control and utility but fairly low power. Red five drops are off the chart and dorks you have to cast repeatedly are painfully low tempo. This is pretty close to cube power level but I fear the ceiling on the card is just too tame for what it offers. Red three drops are already fairly ridiculous. Compare this to Phoenix of Ash and it looks pretty inept. I will still give this a test as it is flexible and refreshingly interesting.

Shatterskull Minotaur 0

A bit double red and lacking evasion to be a big impressive payoff card. It might make 100 card singleton party lists and limited decks with a bit of that theme on the go. Cube lists are not impressed by this though.

Maruading Blight-Priest 1

Very useful cheap synergy support card that was somewhat lacking beforehand. This will only see play in the incremental lifegain Orzhov strategies but it is a nice little threat in those places. EDH will be the predominant home of this dude.

Nimble Trapfinder 0

Rather win more and rather low floor for my liking. Likely worth it in EDH again though. I like the party cards that gradually get better as your party grows rather than the ones that are poo until you get to that full party aim. Low floor plus unlikely ceiling and no middle ground at all basically just reads as bad.

Thundering Sparkmage 0

A bit costly to be there for much outside of limited play. Some potential in EDH but I suspect you can just do way better things with a 4 mana wizard in your party deck.

Verazol, the Split Current 1

Another support card for kicker pushing us towards Simic (or Temur ultimately). Not super exciting but certainly pretty fun and with a nice degree of utility and passable floor. This card has one home and it is a bit of a comedy one much like the next card.

Throne of Makindi 1

Normally lands that tap for two push a joke archetype into the top tiers. This however is not that. Mostly because in order for this to tap for two you have to invest three manas worth or tapping into it (two for the charge and then one on the tap for two which would otherwise just be a normal tap for one). Just play a Jeweled Amulet and don't limit yourself to kicker effects if you want that kind of ramp. I am being a bit harsh, this is still fixing and a land and still absolutely something you run in a kicker deck. It is just a long way off an Eldrazi Temple!

Myriad Construct 0

This would be good if it were not for the vast number of Wraths and planeswalkers and other untargeting spells or abilities that will kill this and laugh it it being do nothing 4/4 for four. This is very far from a Hangarback Walker.

Charix, the Raging Isle 3

Assault Formation and High Alert just got pretty hard. This is massive in those kinds of deck and likely a fine enough card in most island heavy blue decks. This is hard to take down and hard to attack past. Mid game it hits for a relevant amount if you need it to and late it is hitting hard. It is a bit too much of a mana sink to put to use beyond a big wall and a little too dependant on having islands to really bring the power for the limited cube.

Relic Amulet 3

This could be reasonable creature control. It is fairly easy to charge this once a turn on average in a deck well suited to doing so and more in dedicated decks. In longer games this will do a lot of work. Sadly in shorter games this is going to be a really bad Shock. That is too weak for limited cube where things need to happen quickly, reliably and efficiently.

Blood Price 0

This appears to cost one too many mana for the power level of cube.

Chilling Trap 1

Narrow and likely worse than the tribal version but one mana cantrips with effects are hard to ignore. This is decent if you always have a wizard on hand.

Allied Assault 1

Hard hitting combat trick that does start to allow for a more tempo driven party build along with the green sorcery. Still generally not the kind of payoff you get excited about. Best case this is 8 face damage or kills off two blockers while keeping your attackers alive which is good but the worst case is a do nothing that in no way helps to build up a party.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Zendikar Rising Preliminary Review Part X

Kazandu Mammoth / Valley 7.5

This seems very impressive. It is basically a Treetop Village that says right, I'm a land or a dork and not both but my dork mode is vastly better tempo. The main advantage is not having to pay mana to animate each turn. Being a 5/5 for 3 on average seems pretty tasty too! This does a lot for green consistency. It will help green to look like what we expect it to look like more often too with fat dorks kicking about. This is going to be a huge help to curving which is increasingly important in the battle to control walkers. I expect to see a speculative Mammoth on turn two a lot and have it doing a lot of work.

Skyclave Shade 6.5

A new take on Bloodghast and sadly a rather fairer one. Having to recast this limits synergies and abuses and means you are not able to milk a tempo advantage. What this does do is represent a lot of value as a persistent threat. It hits pretty hard for the mana and the recursive nature limits the downsides of low toughness. Your opponents will need to find a way to hold this off that isn't trading resources. Being a little bit more threatening than Bloodghast makes it less synergy dependant. This means it has a reasonable chance of being good enough for the limited cube even if it is not going to make all the cool constructed synergy decks Bloodghast enjoys. This is somewhat comparable to a Gutterbones or Bloodsoaked Champion early in the game but the kicker allows it to remain more relevant and threatening as the game draws on.

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager 2

Another one that is nice in the synergy decks but a bit too fair for a gold card outside of them. This is a 3/3 that dies into a 3/3 token which is decent but not exciting. Kitchen Finks is broadly better and it was sufficiently tame in cube these days to only really be a sideboard card against red aggro.

Oran-Rief Ooze 6

This seems nutty in a Hardened Scales deck. Basically some kind of extreme persistent Overrun on a Grey Ogre! It has some hope in cube as well. Worst case it is a three mana 3/3 that grows each attack. Not insane but certainly not irrelevant. Then it just has a pile of synergies with other cards that are just good already and make use of counters. My guess is this is a little too narrow and hard to get value from to last in cube but it will do some very cool things before it gets cut and not look out of place prior to then.

Shadow's Verdict 5

Consume the Meek and Ritual of Soot never got it done in cube. They were just too unreliable for the cost. While not bad they were just not quite there. This seems much the same. Had it cost four or been instant I would be more excited but being clunky as well as unreliable I am rather less sold. I will give it a test as it does hit most creatures, is exile quality, and three mana walkers are rather good too! Cards like Phoenix of Ash are getting to be a problem. Consume the Meek and Ritual of Soot always felt like they should be good in cube as they hit most of the dorks and the go wide strategies tend to have the lowest cost dorks too. They have been tested plenty and found wanting. I feel like this should be good enough too but I am marking it down based on the past experiences.

Felidar Retreat 6

Well this is quite the improvement to Retreat to Emeria! Tokens twice the size or persistent buff with lots of synergy potential, and vigilance because why not. In a landfall deck or counters deck this is looking like a solid top end card. Pretty much a planeswalker that is harder to answer. Is it good enough for limited cubes though? Aggro decks are not always making lands past the four mark and control decks have less use of buffing their team up. Even so, this seems very powerful and well worth a test. A free 2/2 every land is going to be a real help to any deck and worth 4 mana pretty fast.

Thundering Rebuke 6

Do I want to pay an extra mana on Flame Slash to have it hit planeswalkers? In most formats the answer is no but in cube it is probably yes. Cube tends to be one of the most planeswalker heavy environments and in a curated limited format having cards with the broadest application is optimal. This is quite and efficient and quite a punchy removal spell. Is it also better than Scorching Dragonfire? Some testing required. Red has had a lot of nice utility burn spells at two mana since Abrade that do not hit face and my cube can only really support about four or them.

Soaring Thought Thief 2

This does a lot and rather heavy handedly informs us of what the rogue tribal archetype is supposed to be doing. There is easily enough of these cards now to make a solid rogue mill deck in singleton. It will be quite cool and different but it will get old very quickly. Mill is a dull way to lose, it has some random pros and cons in a bunch of matchups too. Further to all of that the deck is likely still pretty terrible as you are milling by attacking. Why not just do the latter part of that better and with a greater pool of cards? Or just mill directly and save yourself some of these extra steps? Investing to win on two axis at once is wasted effort and resources. Still, when you do that deck this will be the best card in it. This is good enough that it might sneak into other synergy decks that have some overlap with this guy and what he does.

Scion of the Swarm 0

Oooh look. A big black flying Ajani Pridemate. If only it were small and black and didn't cost five mana. Then it might be at all useful. I guess this is budget filler for life matters decks in EDH and obviously a potential bomb in limited.

Fireblade Charger 7

A double improvement on Goblin Arsonist. When you take a one drop card that was fine already and you slap on a couple of upgrades you usually wind up with an impressive card. Both abilities are good too. The damage equal to power is easily scaled in cube and makes this awkward to remove or block and likely to get value. The haste is less good but it does add a load to this card in a specific but not all that uncommon setting. It is a big part of what makes Fervent Champion playable too. Basically cheap dorks with haste are the ideal follow up to having your creatures all answered when you have an equipment. This can be due to a Wrath effect or just some spot removal they have had to blow because they cannot endure a Sword trigger or Jitte charging comfortably. Having them make a play to stop that and have you do it anyway is brutal. A great cheap utility support card that has more late game relevance than a lot of one drops. Presently I run all fo Mogg Fanatic, Fanatical Firebrand, and Fervent Champion in my cube and I suspect this winds up replacing one of those rather than just joining the mix. Probably the Firebrand too as it is the most comparable to this and the most middle of the road for the synergies.

Master of Winds 7.5

The lovely point between a Cloudkin Seer and a Caller of Gales. A blue flyer that puts you up a card. This is good value, good support for graveyard based stuff, good card quality, good offence, and good defence. It is good on basically every axis beyond instant speed. It should get lots of play what with having very little downside. Control decks that are heavy on the counter plan might want to avoid four mana sorcery cards but otherwise it is hard to pass up on this rather delightful all rounder. It is even safe to ping effects when "flipping" if you have another way to trigger it unlike Wandering Fumarole which is dead to a ping once a flip trigger is on the stack. This is probably going to wind up comparable in power to Whirler Rogue which is a great place to be. Master leans on the value side while Whirler is about the best blue board control creature out there.

Glasspool Mimic / Shore 6

I have always hated Clone cards, especially ones that can only copy your own stuff. This is at least a land making being a Clone card less problematic! This is fairly late game as you really want to have stuck a four or five drop before Cloning it with this for value. Do that and this is going to be an impressive card. Otherwise it is probably going to be a land and that is fine. I really don't like it but I can't convince myself it is too bad for cube.

Agadeem's Awakening 8

Seems great. Low cost land or late game massive swing. This will do impressive things most of the time from five mana all the way to nine. As soon as you are getting two or more dorks back the card is pretty good. It is decent tempo at X=3 and improves from the point assuming some hits! The only thing really going against this card is that in a flood you might well not have much at all in the bin and so your spell land isn't great in either mode. Out of all of the top end spell lands on offer this seems the most likely to win the game. It is also one of the more versatile and so I am expecting good things from it. On raw power this would be an 8.5 but due to replacing a free card (Swamp) rather than a pick it does lose some bite.

Roost of Drakes 2

Here we have an actual reason to build a kicker deck. Play this on turn one, kick a few spells and be very ahead very easily. The issue this has is lack of cheap kicker spells you can follow this with in standard or simply difficulty in playing and finding this in singleton. The kicker in Dominaria might let this become a historic or pioneer thing but I doubt it. More support still needed in a couple of places for the various formats.

Base Camp 1.5

This is the Tournament Grounds, Cavern of Souls style card we needed for party decks to have enough fixing for all the stuff they will be trying to jam in. Entering tapped is a shame but for a land that fixes so well for that archetype you will still play all that you can. Little to no use outside of a party deck of course.

Ancient Greenwarden 2

Seems amazing for commander landfall decks and strong for any green landy deck there too. A bit big for a value or support card in heads up play. The body doesn't threaten enough, it is just quite big. You can likely do a bunch of cheeky things with this and Amulet of Vigor or Mystic Sanctuary or any number of abuses for the double trigger aspect.

Bayeen Veil / Coast 3

This is low value and low power. Likely the least useful or playable of all these flip lands for cube play. It is a bad Fog, while it does potentially act as a combat trick the kinds of deck that make use of combat tricks cannot afford this. Only decks with a lot of draw can afford to pack a card of this little value. A bad Fog that can be a land is still quite handy and so this will still see some play here and there, just not in cube limited.

Strength of Solidarity 1

Probably the most powerful of the payoff cards in green to party but at sorcery this is super unexciting. It doesn't feel like it has synergy with the game style of party decks. It is just a big pile of stats on the cheap in an aura like form. Not a pull to green, probably not even something you play in your party deck if you go green unless your party members are all Giest of St Traft, Invisible Stalker and Mother of Runes!

Nullpriest of Oblivion 4

Looks powerful and versatile but I fear the low end is just too undesirable for this to cut it in cube. One toughness is just asking for trouble and what is your payoff? A bit of lifegain? Perhaps a couple of damage to a walker or face, not worth a card and two mana more often than not. As a six drop this is conditional and not all that powerful compared to many alternatives. The value isn't all that as half your two for one is still a 2/1 dork. I see this as a tribal card helping you pad out the low curve with bodies or getting back key synergy cards later on.

Kargan Warleader 2

Solid warrior lord with nice clean and appropriate design. Will make most if not all tribal warrior decks and not be playable elsewhere. Likely too narrow for most party decks.

Tuktuk Rubblefort 0

I like this but I fail to see where I am playing it over Bloodlust Inciter or Crashing Drawbridge or Hammer of Purphorus or even just plain of Fervor and the mental Mass Hysteria! I guess it makes a red build of Assault Formation / Arcades decks but red really isn't a colour they are interesting in presently.

Monday 14 September 2020

Zendikar Rising Preliminary Review Part IX

Malakir Rebirth / Mire 6

This is one of the narrowest effects of these two sided spell lands. It is also one of the cheapest. I don't love this because of how this kind of narrow reactive spell complements a CipT land. You want to be able to just hold the card so that if the situation arises where it is powerful you can use it. A CipT land you want to lay at the first opportunity in which is doesn't cost you tempo. You want to be able to look at a situation and determine of you need to be making land drops now or if you need action later. Cards that do things that are always action are far easier to make that call with. Holding this is a tempo cost and an opportunity cost. It is nice when you can attack in with something like Gonti, they offer a trading block and you get another go on your EtB effect at a bargain rate. The proactive side of this is great but it is even narrower again. I guess you can also abuse this with self sacrifice cards like Priest of Forgotten Gods as well as combat but this is just more more situational uses. All told, the low mana cost of the spell and high potential swings it offers feel like they mitigate the inconveniences. Mostly include this as a land in your deck and occasionally have it be game winningly brutal.

Silundi Vision / Isle 7

This has to be pretty great. While I don't normally like card quality effects as limited to type as this it is hard to call that a problem when you have a land on the other side of your card. Commune with Nature could look just 3 or 4 deep and be great if there was a land on the other side of the card! Six is pretty deep and really helps find dig into crucial answers. Instant means you can safely cast it without dropping counterspell protection. Supreme Will is a good card for control decks and this is a similar sort of affair. Both just do two things you generally want to have access too without straining your list. They are not all that powerful but they are just so good for consistency.

Scourge of the Skyclaves 6

This is a Death's Shadow that checks everyone's life and has a higher cap. It seems excellent in modern where sac and shock lands dictate most mana bases. With little effort this is going to outclass Tarmogoyf. The kicker is cute and powerful. Assuming nothing else at all happens you can play this, kick it, attack and win. Halving life however on a seven drop isn't ideal. Nor is a seven drop that has no evasion or ongoing value. Mostly you want this as a two drop and mostly it is good at that. It is easy to get everyone a bit below 20 in cube and that is all this needs to get going. Then you have a quickly scaling serious and dynamic threat. It is pretty easy to do yourself damage if you want in cube. I think this will be fairly comparable to Tarmogoyf rather than outclassing it as I predict for modern. It will be played in more aggressive shells more often than Goyf and will pair wonderfully with the likes of Dark Confidant, Gitaxian Probe and many more. This will be a lot of fun to play with too so I hope I am right about it. There are certainly times it will just be unplayable garbage as someone is at 20 or more and you can't change that. Most cards with that sort of floor are no good for cube but this costs little and does a lot so has a good chance of getting past that hurdle.

Stonework Packbeast 0

If you need this to make your party deck work your party deck is terrible. This should help loads in set limited party but outside of that it shouldn't be getting a look in.

Skyclave Shadowcat 0

Just too pricey for what is essentially just a utility card. Midnight Reaper will serve you better for draw. Carrion Feeder for sacrifice and so on for a long long way before you get to the Shadowcat. It is all about cost for these kinds of thing and the cat does badly there despite seemingly quite powerful and handy.

Moss-Pit Skeleton 0

This is garbage. The power is low, the tempo is low and there is no value to be had. I guess technically you can combo with cards like Vivien, Monster's Advocate but the rest of the card is so meh that it still isn't worth it.

Journey to Oblivion 1.5

Reasonably versatile white removal for party themed decks. Probably still not as good as the black Hero's Downfall version for singleton but white does seem like the lead colour for party decks so this has that as well as wider range going for it.

Wayward Guide-Beast 2

Awkwardly bad. Goblin Guide this is not. You can only really play this in a few places. 1. Decks that have the ability to consistently make multiple land drops. Fine, but when do those decks want an aggro one drop? 2. Decks that are mind-blowingly low CMC. If you are all one and two drops then this is probably OK. It works well with things like Teetering Peeks for extra value. It works with Land Tax to some degree.. It helps a one land hand get a bit more done. It is best at planeswalker control but then a one drop that isn't useful on turn one is a bit awkward. Interesting card but very hard to play effectively. Mostly just Cursed Centaur levels of weak.

Nahiri's Lithoforming 2

I am not entirely sure what this is for?! Turn lands into cards with the capacity to replenish those lands with said extra cards if that is how they come. This is a bit of a Reprocess and a nice way to fill up the bin with lands, dig into a deck, or make a load of landfall triggers. It is however very late, low tempo, and really in need of a lot of synergy to be of interest. This is very expensive card quality, it costs a card and a lot of mana. In cube I fear it would mostly be a nut low Faithless Looting.

Canyon Jerboa 4

This can be brutal or it can be a 3 mana 1/2 which is no good at all. I think you need things to ensure the triggers on this as it is already pretty conditional. When good this laughs at Benalish Marshal but when bad Squire laughs at it. The later cards are the less you can rely on landfall triggers. The cube decks than most want this also don't have many if any sac lands in them. All told I don't think this gets there in cube despite sickening upside potential. Bring me a weenie landfall deck and this is the best card in it though.

Molten Blast 0

Ouch, Abrade got nerfed.

Forsaken Monument 2

This will be a big help to aggressive decks in more vintage formats that have access to large quantities of fast colourless mana. You can burst this out with Grim Monolith and Mana Vault and then lean on the personal Mana Flare to carry on bursting out. The life gain is a mild perk and a potential combo with Bolas' Citadel. The anthem is also very potent but colourless creatures tend to be big to start with and don't do all that much token generation. You could certainly tweak a build to be more token and go wide based but then you are probably just building affinity and cutting this five drop. A powerful card that has few viable or sensible homes.

Akiri, Fearless Voyager 2

Narrow as all hell but potent when you do happen to be on the Boros equipment themed deck. It was well supported already and getting some juice from this set so it is probably looking at least decent as far as singleton goes. Not worthy discussing for limited cubes.

Reclaim the Wastes 1

Lovely perk to slap onto Lay of the Land. While there is room in the cube for Lay of the Land cards that have significant upside Reclaim is not that. Three extra mana is a lot and the payoff is a land you clearly don't need all that much. This will be kicked infrequently and help little when it is. Shame it is so unlikely to see play as it is a well designed card that does all the good consistency style things I am such a fan of.

Lithoform Engine 1

A commander players wet dream I assume. This is far too slow and setup intense to get anything done in cube.

Skyclave Relic 6

This is a highly versatile ramp spell with some nice upsides. Darksteel Ingot floor isn't exciting but it does a job. Kicked however you are getting quite the upgrade. Basically an indestructible Gilded Lotus that provides metalcraft by itself. Possibly a bit big for my current cube but absolutely something my combo cube will love. Slower rampy cubes will be all over this, as will the EDH community. I imagine most powered cubes will also fancy a bit of Relic action. It is flexible and powerful on an axis (mana production) that is good for most decks.

Inscription of Insight 6

Nice to finally see blue not getting a bomb in this kind of card. Great that it is a sorcery for once too, it is normally other coloured getting done on that front. Poor white Confluence.  Scry 2 draw 2 is likely the best mode on this and you can do better than that fairly significantly with like any 4 mana instant draw spell, not least Glimmer of Genius... Making a token for four mana is pretty laughable. Bouncing two dorks is pretty sad but likely the mode you will be forced into using most often. When you can kick this it comes together to be a nice swingy, rounded stabilizing package but 8 mana is really rather steep. Not something you should expect too often. The token will be like a 3/3 by then as well which is hardly ideal. Much as it is clearly weaker than black and green Inscriptions it might still sneak into the cube being so flexible.

Maddening Cacophony 3

Great in mill decks being both efficient and versatile. Rather useless elsewhere. Seemingly multiplayer mill is getting serviced.

Nahiri's Binding 1

Pacifism for dorks and walkers. While this gets around the issue of retriggering EtB effects that make Oblivion Ring style removal risky it has a whole bunch of flaws that ultimately make it worse. This is double white to cast, it can't be a Disenchant, it can't stop passive effects, and it still allows other interactions with the target like flickering it to get it back or sacrificing it for some value. All told this is a very long way worse than Council's Judgement and still too far behind Oblivion Ring to get a look in. The best thing it does is having an aura tag and hence not being a 0/10 card.

Ondu Inversion / Skyruins 7.5

This seems amazing to me but it is not without issue. Land or 8 drop is the main one. How are we casting many 8 drops when we are not making all of our lands? That sounds like so much of a flood that we are unlikely to get there. On the other hand, this is a total recovery tool. It is one of very few cards able to recover a board full of walkers and other diverse threats. Ugin and Cyclonic Rift being the current top cards in that camp. There are lots of quite good destroy/remove everything cards however most are symmetrical or totally miss walkers. The latter is a big issue as they are the main antidote to conventional wraths and them most important aspect of a full recovery card to have. The symmetrical cards are an issue because they have bad synergy with any way of winning you might have. They are basically awful when you are even or ahead and don't even do too much of a good job when you are behind. Sure, clear the board and put things back to even but have already taken loads of damage and tap out late in the game just to be even on board. That only wins if they have over extended or had very little going on. So, back to this card. It is great because it does do something when you are not behind. Sure, the 8 mana mode is really a 6 mana spell and it still taps you down and lets your opponent abuse you for a turn but it is still a big out. It can bail you in ways few other cards can. Having it in your deck lets you have more and better game plans and is just the ticket thank you very much.

Squad Commander 2

Another great reason to be white when making a party deck. Little use elsewhere but a solid card for that archetype.

Scute Swarm 4

This is quite cute, a token generator early and a beast of a Pack Rat later down the line. It is pretty hard to beat this and lands late game without mass removal. Early it is sadly a bit slow and vulnerable to be all that exciting. Green is not really a go wide colour in my cube. In a cube with go wide theme in green this seems like a huge gift and great addition.

Vastwood Fortification / Thicket 5

Seems a lot like the graft land but half! To be better than graft land (Llanowar Reborn) this really needs to get value as a combat trick in which case it is great but narrow. It is good in a Hardened Scales deck for consistency reasons that are doubly important in synergy lists. For cube this seems like it is probably too minor to keep a slot. It is one of those low power cards you have to put in the land slot in your list and as such feel the hit of the entering tapped and not being basic that much more keenly. For how infrequently this will trump a combat I suspect it is too costly.