Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Strixhaven Preliminary Review: Part IV

Torrent Sculptor / Flamethrower Sonata 1

Removal that needs you to have the right thing in hand to toss away is bad. Sonata is a bad removal spell. Torrent Sculptor is just a dork. It might be a 5/5 if you are lucky. It could even be a 6/6 if you hit a big delve spell. It will still be pretty weak. This card overall is narrow, needs support, and doesn't even do a very good job of the things it does. In a deck all about the filling up of the bin and almost entirely instants and sorceries then I can see me considering Sonata as a part support, part removal tool. Don't think I would ever actively want the Sculptor in my deck even if it would occasionally get cast when playing the card for Sonata.

Uvilda, Dean of Perfection /  Nassari, Dean of Expression 0

Super slow and vulnerable. Uvilda is just a bad card. I don't want Grey Ogres and Durkwood Boars. Having to tap and wait and only really getting a bit of mana out of the deal is also pretty useless. Nassari is much better but still poo. A five mana 4/4 that does nothing until my next turn and even then, pretty randomly. No thanks. Nassari isn't bad but there are many many superior five drops resulting in it never being a good choice to run. 

Valentin, Dead of the Vein / Lisette, Dead of the Root 4

Valentin is cheap and does a lot but I am not sure it is all that exciting. The key words are cool but it is pretty low impact stuff. They don't really make the card relevant in any way. It isn't a real threat and can largely be ignored or handled with ease. The other ability comes in two parts. Making a 1/1 token on an uncommon trigger for 2 mana is not exciting or powerful. It is a mana sink more than anything else. In a deck with lots of uses for bodies the value goes up but it remains a long way from impressive. The exile aspect however is surprisingly disruptive and will get in the way of a lot of cards and effects. It is a fairly strong aspect of Kalitas. Thing with Kalitas however is that he is also relevant and good in addition to that effect which Valentin fails to be. I always like a one drop, especially an interesting one but sad to say I don't see what I would want Valentin for or where I might play him. Lisette offers more power but she requires you to have access to lifegain to impress at all. That isn't very easy to pull off in drafting cubes and so she is not going to do much in the way of carrying this card. I will at least test this, a one drop with that much text and option density cannot be easily dismissed. Can't express any optimism for it's chances though. 

Kianne, Dead of Substance / Imbraham, Dean of Theory 0

A Phantom Warrior or a Grey Ogre with some wanky tap and mana abilities. Both sides are low power, very low tempo cards with high risks and minimal upside. Lots of options but none I am all that interested in using if the cost is playing this card. 

Shaile, Dean of Radience / Embrose, Dean of Shadow 6.5

Shaile is cheap and useful. She gets to attack and buff dorks which is pretty nice. Her floor is fairly low but being a cheap evasive dork she is still suitable with all the dork buff effects white typically runs. She also has reasonable threat level just by herself. White is increasingly on the lookout for anthems that are also bodies so that it has less potentially dead cards. Shaile fits that bill well. I would be fairly happy playing her in most white aggro decks. Not a bomb but rounded and useful. A nice thing to play on turn two. Embrose is less interesting but not without uses. He is fairly big and does a couple of useful things. You wouldn't put him in a cube by himself but you absolutely might want to play him instead of a 1/1 flier and he can absolutely win games when you do. He can buff your dorks or ping down theirs. He can also draw you cards right away with the passive. Black is a fairly common splash colour for white decks and with the suitability of Shaile on top of that I expect this to be one of the more playable MDFCs from the set so far. Not a bomb by any means but at lest playable which is more than can be said for most so far. 

Shadrix Silverquill 2

Shouldn't this be in the commander decks? It seems pretty unplayable in 1v1. I don't want to do any of those things for my opponent if I can avoid it. I might get away with the +1/+1 not actually doing anything but not something I want to be relying on. Imagine giving away a card and then just having this Swords to Plowshares. Imagine giving away two power fliers that make your planeswalkers vulnerable? Ghastly levels of risk for not all that much return. Unimpressive power levels despite the risks. In practice it is a little bit like Rankle and so despite the element of symmetry you should be able to engineer coming out ahead. Playing Shadrix precombat does allow you to get some immediate clout out of it should you wish too which lowers the risk of the card. Not as bad as I first made out but still not cube worthy.

Abundant Harvest 8.5

The essence of cheap card quality. This finds you action or land. Perfect. It gives you no choice beyond action or land but it assures you get one or the other. All told I place it around but a little above Sleight of Hand in power level which is a great place to be. Sleight is one of the most played cards in my cube. It is rare not to have a top rate card quality spell run in decks. This is also green which places a premium on it. Indeed this is the only green card quality spell that lets you dig for some of the non-creature action. You can't always sensibly run Oath of Nissa or even Once Upon a Time in a non-creature spell heavy Simic deck for example. This you absolutely can. The place this is biggest is likely Golgari midrange lists as card quality is either restrictive (Adventurous Impulse) or extreme (Vamp) for the most part and often not really played as a result. Unsurprisingly this card is a notch above the power level of the Strixhaven cards being a MK2 preview. Big fan of the art style used on these as well even if the boarder is a little gaudy. I would certainly like one in my cube to showcase the style. I should stress again, this card is really really good. It isn't as oppressive as Once Upon a Time was in standard but it is far more playable. There is just no green deck that isn't going to be more than happy to play this. You had to have the dork count for Once Upon a Time, you often have to spent two mana on it turning it into quite a low tempo card. Harvest is consistent and fair and is the only non-blue card that you can really compare to the likes of Serum Visions. Vampiric Tutor and Faithless Looting are both very potent card quality spells outside of blue but they both have extra costs that make them less widely playable. Oath of Nissa and Tithe are both very powerful too but both have target restrictions upon them which limit their applications and result in narrower, less playable cards. Even Brainstorm and Ponder really want you to have other library manipulation effects in order to maximize their card quality potential and take them above the likes of Preordain (the card quality spell with the highest average performance in cube). This might be one of the most exciting one drops I have ever reviewed. I love one drops. I love things that reduce screw and flood. I love cards that we don't already have loads of similar iterations of. Sure, another Birds of Paradise type of card would be lovely. Deathrite Shaman is absolutely a much more powerful card. That isn't the point. Deathrite is a little too good and can be a little tedious. A good white 2/1 for one just rarely excites me as it doesn't do very much to change the cube and the same applies to most of the one drops I add to cube. Abundant Harvest is fresh, fair, and highly desirable. In the ten years I have been doing this blog there are only a few one drops more powerful, of those most could be described as too powerful. Fewer still than those one drops more powerful than Abundant Harvest are those that are as exciting to me. A couple of red aggro dorks like Swiftspear. Then Deathrite, Looting, Gitaxian Probe are more potent cards. The cards that come close in terms of excitement would only really include Thraben Inspector and Faithless Looting. I obviously got excited about things like Oath of Nissa and Gilded Goose at the time just because they were new and interesting one drops. They are rather a notch down in playability and power compared to Harvest. 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Strixhaven Preliminary Review: Part III


Rowan, Scholar of Spark / Will, Scholar of Frost 4

I like a lot about what I see here but sadly I cannot see the card overall offering enough to be a good draft cube cube. The modal nature of the MDFC is only useful in Izzet and without that modality the card offers very low functionality. Yes, it is easier to splash for than Lingering Souls but the payoff seems low. Reducing the cost of spells is nice but it is narrow. Both halves also have low loyalty relative to cost and fairly low rates of loyalty gain. Rowan's +1 is low impact and offers no protection. Will's affords no value or threat and is just a stall button. I much prefer Will Kenrith to this Will side of the card. Six mana Will gives a lot more back for that one extra mana. Just all the same stuff but better, more effective, and better loyalty costs. The ultimate abilities on these walkers are the most interesting part about them but they will be hard to pull off with poor loyalty and poor protection. Rowan's is achievable but it is on the narrow side and certainly doesn't equate to a win. It is conditional value over time and will more often than not cost tempo rather than gain it. The real nail in the coffin for these two is that I don't really want both halves in the same deck. Will is fairly control looking and Rowan far more aggressive. Sure, this fits in an Izzet tempo deck but it isn't going in a red aggro deck or a blue control deck, not happily at least. It is also a long way off an auto include in an Izzet tempo deck with many better walkers and much higher power cards on offer. There is a bit too much going on with this set of siblings to not see play in some form for me but I doubt drafting cubes are the place. 

Dragonsguard Elite 3

A lot of power in this card for sure but not something I anticipate working out in most cubes. Just dorks do not excite very much. Tarmogoyf gets little love, things like Sylvan Advocate are long gone. Now, if this were red or blue we would be talking more but as a green dork this just isn't getting it done. Green has far too few things to trigger this and not all that much interest in cards from other colours that do. Green sets up early with ramp and card quality and then deploys meaty threats. Other colours prefer cheaper threats that can go big. A Temur tempo deck might play this for some juicy fat but they can keep it in house with things like Sprite Dragon these days and not need to weaken the mana base. 

Archmage Emeritus 6.5

Interesting and potentially very dangerous. The blue Beast Whisperer but rather more threatening when spells like High Tide, Frantic Search, and Time Warp exist. This can get out of hand very fast. Yes, it is vulnerable and poorly statted. You can solve these issues in a couple of ways, Force of Something counter backup is going to be a brutal combo with this. Failing that just waiting till five or six mana and playing it with something else to ensure some value. It needs answering fairly promptly and will have likely done enough work if it draws just two cards before answered. This feels like a Consecrated Sphinx that you can play two turns quicker. The payoff seems worth the inherent risks of a sorcery speed four mana 2/2 however the payoff might be overkill. If you only need half the returns the card offers then the relative amount of risk you are taking to the useful return increases. I feel like this will make the cut but I doubt it will be any kind of bomb. Often Master of Winds will get played in it's place for one reason or another. Other times it will be some random planeswalker, say Architect of Thought, taking the slot as a means to provide card advantage but with a little more utility

Professor of Symbology ?

I am a big fan of this learn mechanic. A kind of self contained Wish that allows it to be splashed about on cards with no risk of breaking things. The cost of Lessons varies in different formats. In booster draft you will have to use picks on them, in constructed you will have to dedicate sideboard slots to them. In cube it gets even worse as you need to dedicate cube slots to them as well which will have all the negative impacts of adding narrow or low powered cards in. Lessons and learning cards would need to be really really impressive and somewhat abundant for this to be close to viable. That all being said, this is cube, and we can do what we like in cube. And I really like this mechanic and want to play with it. As such, I think what I plan to do is simply allow any Lesson to be available like basic lands. People can just access them without having to see or pick any. This might make cards with learn too powerful but from what I have seen so far it might work out nicely. I suspect I will have my fun with it for a while and then cut it for being either a little too good or a little too fiddly. As for this little dude? A 2/1 for 2 with a loot (rummage) in white is not actually that far off the mark. White has so little in the way of card quality and is keen on making little dorks. That is about as good as it will get in cube unless you allow any lesson as I plan to do. How good will that then be? There are a lot of assumptions that will go into this. How many we see, how diverse they are, as well as the more obvious power level. Power level wise we look pretty safe, lessons are below par on that front and thus even more so in cubes. Three mana Preordain impresses no one. In that regard you are drawing less than a card. On the flip side, you pay a lot for utility and flexibility, and with enough Lessons that should be a thing. When you can find what you need it matters a lot less that the rate isn't all that efficient. There is also the fact that these are actual cards which is really powerful. You can loot them away and then delve them away again. They could be literal blanks and their value would often still be good, often more than a token achieves. All put together "learn" is probably going to be a fraction better than draw a card in my cube if I allow any lesson to be found. A 2/1 for 1W with draw a card on it? Premium. Auto include in almost any deck. Likely better than Watcher for Tomorrow. Contingent of course on the lessons. So, with lessons used as intended this is probably a 3/10 card at best but if used as I suggest for cubes there is a good chance this breaks the 8/10 mark. 

Pop Quiz ?

Better than Divination if not largely for the instant speed. Being raw draw you need to be able to make up for the tempo loss of playing it which is something that Lessons are not going to be great at. Not being able to find land as effectively either detracts from this as a Divination upgrade. Even with my plan to cheat on lessons in my cube I am not sure this will make the cut, we will need them to be good and useful for Pop Quiz to perform. If Lessons turn out to make this good enough then I will likely have to stop letting them be a free for all. One way or another I don't expect to see this doing that much work in cubes. 

Lorehold Apprentice 1

This card is a mess! So many different synergies needed and not even a very impressive payoff. There are likely a few cute things you can do with this but it certainly wont be going in any spirit decks I might build!

Storm-Kiln Artist 2

Treasure trigger on magecraft is incredibly powerful in the right setting but a four mana 2/2 body helps keep that well in check. People will stick to the likes of Baral, Bergi, and the Medallions for the most part. Artist not only has storm potential but is also somewhat equipped with Cranial Plating and can be used aggressively, but don't do that. Tt all comes back to being such a vulnerable four drop ruining this dude's chances in most formats. EDH probably has the time to abuse the Artist at least although I can't imagine storm decks are all that popular to play against in EDH.

Quandrix Apprentice 3

Certainly a potent card but I suspect it just misses the bar for a gold cube card. There just isn't space for this kind of support card. Coiling Oracle and Ice-Fang Coatl are both just more reliable sources of value and offer more impact and relevance immediately. A little bit narrow and inconsistent for the kind of role it is doing.

The Snarl Cycle 6

We get the enemy colour pairings for the shadow lands. Check lands and Battle lands ended up edging out the Shadow cycle for a variety of subtle reasons. I do really like the shadow lands in principle but they didn't scale all that well with a lot of the other lands I wanted to be running. I may revisit them as the Triomes support them well and see a lot of play. Unless you are both running a very large, or perhaps budget conscious cube, or maybe like me you really like dual lands, then these are unlikely to be a consideration. They are better than they seem to get credit for. They are arguably the most powerful dual lands if you were to take the relative power of the cards and divide by the cost to buy them! 

First Day of Class ?

A bit on the expensive side for a card that gives out haste. You want to be able to play stuff after it and with two mana less to do so your options are limited. There are not loads of ways to pop out a load of dorks without spending mana that turn which is where this would be most apt. Cheap and interesting none the less. If the lessons are good enough this can just be a Burning Wish! This is probably a 4/10 card but it certainly has potential. The learn is the significant part of this card so it really all hinges on lessons and how they are used. If this was draw a card rather than learn it wouldn't see play over cheaper means to give haste.

Plargg, Dean of Chaos /  Augusta, Dean of Order 7

Plargg is fine and Augusta is OK. Neither are great and it will not be all that often that having the options of the other enhances the card. Boros simply offers little advantage over a mono coloured list and as such gets fairly limited play as far as aggro and midrange decks go. Rather than being modal in games this feels modal in draft, a bit like Figure of Destiny. That makes it the opposite of narrow but you do still need a baseline power level to be a cube consideration and this is rather close to such things. Augusta is broadly a bad Anthem. She only pumps half as much and isn't that exciting of a body. A far cry from Benalish Marshall. There is some potential for shenanigans with exert and the like but sufficiently corner case that I would probably just prefer any relevant anthem in my cube or any other three drop threat. Augusta is a card you use to make up numbers when a draft goes badly. Plargg fairs a little better. A 2/2 rummage for 2 is quite nice. Other looters have come close in red but forcing you to play things that turn or costing mana, or just being a one off, all rather ruin the convenience of a nice cheap looter. The 5 mana ability on Plargg is nice too, it adds a bit of late game value and scaling. Plargg is a very playable midrange red support card which are in fairly high demand and an OK filler dork in an aggro list. If this card is getting enough action to remain in the cube it will be down to the work of Plargg. I can see people who are running Plargg tossing in some white sources just for the potential and that working out quite well from time to time too. 

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Strixhaven Preliminary Review: Part II


Professor Onyx 6

This is a powered up version of Ob Nixilis Reignited. Both +1 to gain a card and a lose a life. Both -3 to kill a dork. Both start at five. The removal modes are pretty comparable with minor pros and cons on both sides. The +1, while better on Onyx in terms of card quality and extra graveyard synergy, has the issue of being quite risky in 40 card decks. The other six mana Liliana lost her cube slot for being too often a self mill liability. Not being able to grow a walker is pretty terminal for their power level... Onyx isn't quite so dangerous as Dreadhorde General but she equally isn't all that exciting if you can't grow her, although better than a lot of walkers locked out of growth. Not a huge drawback overall but still, something to consider. I wouldn't chose to run this in the slower or more threat light control decks for that reason. More problematically, it would be a significant consideration in grindy midrange decks which is likely where she would see most of her play. The -8 should win the game pretty well and it will often do so on the spot which is always nice. Really it comes down to, is the passive "magecraft" trigger worth the extra mana over Ob? It is very powerful but it is late in the game and on a somewhat fragile card. It seems a bit win more. When it is bad your card is just a much worse Ob and when it is good your Ob probably won you the game anyway. It is only really the red decks where this matters and it is likely a little slow to be all that significant there. A powerful card for sure but not one I expect to do all that well in my cube. I prefer it to Dreadhorde General but not by enough. Ob is the baseline for playable as far as walkers go and she doesn't quite clear that bar for me. 

Kasmina, Enigma Sage 5

Much as I love the passive ability I don't think Kasmina does enough by herself to make the cut. You either get 4 loyalty and a scry or 1 loyalty and a 1/1 token the turn you make her. Those are shoddy options. Sure, if she lives you can power out a 2/2 or a 3/3 and start to get some good returns. She seems to compare poorly to Nissa, Steward of the Elements and to Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer. I really want to pair Kasmina with a wide array of other walkers, notably Narset, Parter of Veils. It is super cool being able to grow walkers without that ability themselves, or even to more rapidly/usefully grow walkers so as to empower big -loyalty effects et. Cool is not powerful however. It is quite the corner case and in most situations, certainly those in cube limited, doesn't add a significant amount to her power. As such she is just a fairly underpowered walker. Being both three mana and green affords a glimmer of hope (green walkers often come out a turn sooner, and there mana walkers are just that bit more dangerous in general).

Zaffi, Thunder Collector/Conductor 0

I'm not sure Gary Glitter is the right choice for working in a school... This is a fun card, not a powerful card. Sure, he can do powerful things but it is quite a lot of setup, hard to do, and on the risky side. Zaffi is a doubly narrow card with a low floor. 

Adrix and Nev, Twincasters 1

Sadly another card that is narrow and has a low floor. Ward helps a tiny amount with the flimsy body but when you don't have a commander slot to use any decks that want these kinds of synergies are going to prefer enchantments not 2/2s to build their synergies from. Great design for commander though, I am sure it will have loads of uptake. It is fun with a plan and that is what you mostly want in cards designed for that format. 

Breena, the Demagogue 0

As far as I can tell this is a three mana 1/3 flyer in 1v1 play and that is nearing the floor on power these days. 

Osgir, the Reconstructor 2

Cool card with decent power and utility. Sadly he is very narrow and rather on the clunky side. With stuff going on he can get pretty out of hand but if not he is just a 4/4 dork. In an artifact themed cube I would want this guy. In more constructed settings where you can properly push synergies this guy is competing with things like Goblin Welder and Urza and as such just doesn't really compare. 

Willowdusk, Essence Seer 3

This is surprisingly dangerous looking. It is a bit narrow and durdly for drafting cube but in a build around setting I like the things I can do with this. It is pretty easy to gain or lose a bunch of life in a turn and get some pretty threatening cards. I can see this winding up in Golgari based Death's Shadow lists. Perhaps even a Hardened Scales list would be interested. This, Walking Ballista, and a way to pay life, is a potentially viable combo. The floor of Trained Armodon is more acceptable than the rest of this commander cycle too. 

Monday, 22 March 2021

Breach Red .dec (rotisserie)

I have not had all that much opportunity to cube much this last year due to a variety of social restrictions. As such I have built and played less decks and done far less testing on newer cards. All of this is resulting in far less for me to talk about and thus far less in the way of inspiration. We have managed to do a few online events (played on cockatrice) which typically suits rotisserie. These have been great but they go at a slow pace. I invariably draft blue in these things and promised myself I wouldn't in this most recent event of ours. Technically I managed but in practice I built the bluest non-blue deck you will ever see. I have done a lot of articles on this kind of deck but they are really fun and this one was properly designed to compete rather than just being a fun or showcase style of deck. 

It is a storm style deck with no actual storm cards. More of an Underword Breach and Bonus Round deck if anything. It has a variety of different ways to win and is surprisingly interactive and robust for a deck that is aiming to combo kill. While I have done this kind of deck before a selection of new cards have really pushed the envelope on this archetype and taken it from a fun and playable deck to a powerful and dangerous one. There are not really any other decks like this in magic which gives you a nice play advantage too. The closest thing would be a Birgi EDH deck but 100 cards, multiplayer, and having a commander are all such huge changes things pan out rather differently. Being 40 cards my burst mana is wildly better than EDH decks even with their Sol Rings (we had a fairly extensive banlist with pretty much legacy bans plus a round of 2 cards banned per player, mostly blue cards and fast mana got hit with those). This makes this list able to win a game rapidly and with decent consistency. Being able to play Birgi as a commander would be a significant upgrade to my 40 however! 

The list has some cards in brackets which are things I would like to have played or should have played instead of the card next to it. The draft was 9 people so we did a round robin. There are more than enough cards now to rotisserie with more people. I am keen to try a 16 person one at some point. There was one other red aggro player but we had basically no overlap at all. As such I got every single card I wanted bar one, perhaps two. Here is the final list I played. 


Lion's Eye Diamond

Lotus Petal

Rite of Flame

Galvanic Blast

Overmaster (Manamorphose)

Ruby Medallion

Run-Away Steamkin

Underworld Breach 

Thrill of Possibility

Tormenting Voice

Cathartic Reunion

Desperate Ritual

Pyretic Ritual

Birgi, God of Storytelling / Harnfel, Horn of Bounty

Wheel of Fortune

Seize the Spoils 

Jeska's Will

Seething Song

Bonus Round

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Karn, the Great Creator

Fiery Confluence

Past in Flames

Pirate's Pillage

Pyromancer's Goggles

15 Lands

Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

Ancient Tomb

13x Mountains

SB Stuff



Smash (Abrade)

Liquimetal Coating

Mycosynth Lattice

Sentinel Tower

Defense Grid

Dragon's Claw (Ensnaring Bridge)

There are a lot of different working parts to this list. Obviously there is the burst mana, to include the things that reduce cost or trigger mana gains upon casts. This lets you do big things quickly or more relevantly, lots and lots in one turn. Then there is all the red style looting effects. These are great for finding your key cards and filling up the bin with fuel for your Breach and Past in Flames. The real joy with these cards is that when you are Forking them they turn into incredibly efficient card advantage spells. More often than not my Tormenting Voice costs me one or less mana net and is a 2 for 4, effectively Ancestral Recall. Pirates Pillage often generates mana while offering the same card advantage! Bonus Round means when you start to go off you really really go off. Pyromancer's Goggles also let you Fork but limited to once a turn it is mostly a way to kickstart things with a pile of cards or mana as you require. It is also comfortably the most cuttable card in the list. I was playing it to be cute and as it is so cool and fun rather than because it was optimal. It isn't bad but probably a one mana cantrip would be better, loot effect, or even some other lesser ritual. 

With the ability to turn all your graveyard into a resource and the ability to generate massive value with Forking and draw seven effects this list cares very little for card advantage and disadvantage. You can happily blow a load of resources getting something relevant out earlier and expect to recover from that with no trouble. I was scared of countermagic and over compensated as a result. I figured with so much in the way of mana producers and little in the way of action cards, combined with several cards that directly two for one you due to discards as an additional cost, I was concerned that a couple of well placed counters could simply shut me down. The reality was quite different and blue counter based decks were among my best results. I was more than happy to eat a two for one to a counter on my Tormenting Voice as I could recover easily and their counter was gone and unable to hit something bigger down the line. I had enough threats and enough capacity to push out multiple things in a turn that trying to keep me contained with blue permission wasn't at all easy. I absolutely should have cut one anti-permission card (Pyroblast, REB, Defence Grid) from my sideboard and replaced it with a creature control card such as Anger the Gods or Ensnaring Bridge. Bridge I drafted with the intent of playing as a Wish target but for some reason I decided to run the Dragon's Claw instead and still lost to the red burn deck... The meta consisted of a Doomsday Deck, a Splinter Twin deck, a Scepter Chant deck, the red aggro burn deck I mentioned, a Golgari Birthing Pod deck, a Mardu aristocrats list, a Fires of Invention deck, and a Show and Tell / Paradox Engine combo soup type affair. 

So how does this deck actually win? It has a couple of lines it can take. One is simply some kind of rapid Karn lock thanks to the fast mana. Then there are the Wheel of Fortune wins where you simply cast it enough times to mill out your opponent. This is mostly going to draw games as it is hard to have it with your opponent having less in the deck such that a Wheel kills them and not you. There is also the most storm like kill where you get the Sentinel Tower out and cast enough spells to shoot people down with it. The most common route to victory however is simply using the two maindeck burn spells. With Forks and flashback/escape it is very easy to find 20+ damage. With people doing themselves some with land and you having a few dorks and walkers than can chip in a bit too this gets even easier. You can even win the good old fashioned way with some dorks, walkers, and unenhanced burn spells. A manland would have gone a decent way to improving this line although I would be reticent to add more colourless or EtB tapped lands to the list. It could probably support one more of each but it wouldn't be a free and painless addition. Mishra's Factory, Valakut Awakening, Spikefield Cave, Rishadan Port, and Blast Zone are the top contenders for those slots.

Karn and Chandra round out the deck really well. They both assist the combo elements of the deck in a variety of ways while giving you access to high powered cards that can really benefit from being accelerated into play. Multiple games were effectively won through flopping out a quick four drop walker. They would buy me the time or resources to win. Karn into blowing up lands with Liquimetal Coasting was pretty common. I even made a turn two Chandra and shot a Birds of Paradise with her! You don't want to over do it with walkers but you could probably fit another in if you wanted. I certainly found I was never unhappy drawing either. Original Forking Chandra even had some appeal!

So what are these new cards that have pushed this list from a cool and cute deck to a competitive one? Namely Birgi herself, Underworld Breach, Seize the Spoils, Thrill of Possibility,  and Jeska's Will. The extra redundancy and quality in looting effects is huge. I have played Wild Guess in previous iterations so being able to replace that with a 1R card is lovely. Seize the Spoils looks worse than most other cards like it in the list but in practice it is one of the very best. Forking the ones that return treasure is just a delight and even if you are just setting up with them the extra treasure makes going off far quicker and easier. Birgi is amazing. I cast both sides loads. She did blocking, attacking, adding mana, and drawing cards. I even animated the Horn in one match and beat down for five with it! Every aspect of the card fits the list perfectly. Even down to little synergies like the horn filling up the bin or letting you play things from exile using mana from Lion's Eye Diamond. Jeska's Will also fits this bill being mana or cards as you require. The mana side is a little unpredictable but pairs wonderfully well with Wheel of Fortune. I frequently added 7 or 14 mana for just a couple invested. While we have had plenty of good nee looting cards to add redundancy to this list we have not had much in the way of Rituals making Will a most welcome addition. Lastly we have Underworld Breach, the real powerhouse of the deck. It is pretty hard to lose if you resolve it with any semblance of cards in the bin and access to mana. Like turn four or five dropping it down with a couple of mana left open and 7-12 cards in the bin is probably just a win. If you get the god draw of LED, Will, Wheel and Breach you can do everything! On turn one if you find the appropriate rituals to power it out. The only real downside of the card is that it is gone once it is gone, you have no sensible way to get it back. You can absolutely win without it but it is much harder. This makes hand disruption, discard choices, and the playing of Wheel of Fortune and LED all that much more awkward. I considered things like Hall of Heliod's Generosity and Conjuror's Bauble as solutions to this but felt that Past in Flames was generally the best direction to go and just accept the extra work when the Breach is taken out of the equation. Past in Flames is nice as you are very happy to throw it away to any of your Tormenting Voice effects. It does what Past in Flames does but it needs a bit more to get you started and is a little bit fiddlier to sequence. 

My original builds had access to a second draw seven effect but I found these to be clunky and unnecessary. I was just getting to see enough cards with my looting effects that I could streamline the deck. Ultimately the Pyromancer's Goggles took the slot that would have gone to a Memory Jar or Reforge the Soul. I elected not to run Simian Spirit Guide as I figured I was going to need a very full graveyard to power out the Underworld Breach. Being neither an instant/sorcery nor a card that goes to the bin it just felt like the weakest of the burst mana cards. In practice this was overly cautious and the Guide would likely have been an overall perk. Lightning Bolt was a card taken by the burn player which was expected. I am not even sure it would have been better than the Galvanic Blast I replaced it with. It is very easy to have Blast deal four when you are going off and that makes it wildly more efficient. When being used to answer problem early cards like Deathrite Shaman and Thalia the extra damage wasn't missed either. The biggest and most significant loss was Manamorphose. Not grabbing it sooner was a drafting error. The card would have been a pretty huge addition to the list. Often acting as a free ritual is lovely as is being a cheap cantrip. I often found myself in a position where I was casting things from the bin or from exile with an empty hand. You can't cast your Tormenting Voice style cards without things to discard and so you need to have access to cantrips so that you can kickstart these effects. That was the main reason for running Overmaster, I had little intent using it to force things through with it. 

The deck is resilient, diverse, fast, and powerful. It can kill out of nowhere too making it very hard to play around. I still highly recommend playing it if you can. It is one of those decks than is fun to just goldfish too. The event was won by the aristocrats list which came as a surprise to us all. It was consistent, quick, and very able to go long and push through. It also happened to be fairly good at derailing plans with some elegant hoser cards. Tocatli Honour Guard put in some good work in other matchups, Thalia is what ruined me! I have yet to play the Twin deck and I suspect it will be one of my most fun and close matchups. Winning will take me to 5-3 and losing still leaves me even. While my result was little better than average I found the performance promising. A small amount of refining and picking Manamorphose sooner would have lead to significantly better results. I didn't play optimally either. Turns out it being an unfamiliar deck isn't just one way on the perks. I think this deck is a viable high tier deck for rotisserie style events. It is fairly uncontested and it should scale well with power allowing it to perform well in most environments. More importantly it is different and fun! It is even surprisingly adaptable. 

Here are some of the options I was looking at; 

Ensnaring Bridge

Anger the Gods

Simian Spirit Guide

Lightning Bolt

Memory Jar

Aetherflux Reservior

Jaya Ballard

Reforge the Soul

Krark, the Thumbless

Helm of Awakening

Mizzix Mastery

Goblin Lore

Burning Inquiry

Vessel of Volatility

Burning Wish


(I would have been looking at the likes of Mox too if they had not been banned out)

Friday, 19 March 2021

Thanks CubeTutor


I first got asked to put my list up on CubeTutor in 2015 and thought I was doing others a favour in doing so. Since then I have used the site more than any other magic resource and am quite clearly the recipient of the favour! It has recently come to my attention that my main drafting cube is one of the most popular cubes to be drafted on CubeTutor. This pleases me no end. It was always my aim with this blog to share my love of cube with the world and try to show how great the format is. The reach CubeTutor has given my cube is something I am even more grateful for than the personal utility the site gives me. 

Not only am I proud of my high draft and deck building rates on CubeTutor I am also a little surprised. I have not exactly promoted the use of the site and would expect more active members of the community to be the recipients of this attention. The only place I have ever advertised my cube is here on this blog as far as I can recall and even then, pretty poorly. It would take some digging to find the links to it. As such, thankyou to any of my audience who must have helped contribute to the performance of my cube on the site. A very big thankyou also to the good folk at CubeTutor who created and maintain the site. You have clearly done great work. If anyone has any theories as to how my cube became so popular I would be most interested to hear them. 

For the sake of continuing this positive trend, here are the links to my CubeTutor lists; (I keep the main cube well updated, the others less regularly)

Main Drafting Cube


Combo Cube


Powered Cube


Budget Cube


Monday, 15 March 2021

The Kill Index

I was trying to think of a measure for how powerful a threat is and the "kill index" is what I ended up with. This is not unlike an article Top X list in which I covered cards that had text closest to "win the game" on them. This however extends the idea beyond big things that win and lets us examine midrange cards too. The idea is simply how long a threat has to stay in play on average before it has effectively won the game. Ideally I would be able to pull on thousands of games of online data for this rather than just guess based on a significantly smaller pool of experience. The kill index of a card that literally said win the game would be 1, the best possible. Cards that usually win right away or force a concession such as Ugin or Craterhoof would have a kill index near 1 such as 1.2 or something. As you would hope when you are paying for an 8 mana card! It is the low cost cards that are more interesting however. I have always thought the sign of a good four + mana planeswalker is one that is passable with one activation, good with two and game winning with three. That is essentially saying planeswalkers with kill indexes of 3 or less are really good. You do really want to take CMC into account as well. A three mana planeswalker with a kill index of 4 is very probably better than a four mana one with a kill index of three. Certainly that will be the case for curving although it is a different story when it comes to top decking it.

The kill index is a measure of threat, not of survivability. You need the card to survive in order to assess how effectively it is contributing to the win! As such you can just assume a card stays in play in order to calculate the kill index. A Monastery Mentor has a pretty low kill index. Typically untapping with it leads to a win giving it an effective kill index pleasantly close to 2, say 2.5 for the sake of argument. This is better than most planeswalkers, certainly in the same cost range. The difference however is found in the value generation and ease of removal. Planeswalkers generally do at least one of these things, often both. Mentor, especially on curve typically does neither. A shocked Mentor leaves you well behind. Other cards with worse kill indexes than Mentor will either leave behind more when dealt with or resist being dealt with significantly more effectively. A kill index is not therefor an overall measure of card power but more of threat level. When faced with a choice of what to kill the card with the lower kill index is the best choice on average. When curving into a situation where you know you don't face removal then playing your card with the best kill index is generally the best line. When building your deck or curving out normally however just playing the cards with the lowest kill index is not going to be the optimal strategy with value and durability being of importance.

The threat of a card helps to make it powerful but the power of a card doesn't always relate to how threatening it is. Threat is a component of power. Not all cards have threat at all, certainly not in a direct way. A Counterspell might be a threat to your game plan but it isn't directly a threat to your life by itself. While not all cards need to have threat level all decks do need to contain some cards with it. This makes it more important that decks packing fewer threats play ones that have that have a low kill index, or at least incredible resilience and inevitability. I often rule out top end cards that are clearly powerful overall simply because they lack threat. 

Aetherling is a funny customer. You could argue for a kill index close to one, or could have done so back when it was the premium win condition for blue. You simply need to resolve it with some mana up and that would be the game won. The issue is speed and defence. Aetherling is slow to kill and puts up a relatively poor defence. As power in cube rose and tempo became ever more crucial Aetherling fell out of favour. The kill index of Aetherling is basically just tied to how long you can survive. If you have your opponent locked out of the game then sure, call it a kill index of one. If not then even four might be generous. Not an overly relevant tangent what with the card no longer being all that potent but it is worth noting. Ugin has some similarities to this but it is much more matchup dependant. Ugin locks a lot of players out of the game hence so often securing the immediate win. Some decks however win with burn or mill or things Ugin can't bolt or exile out of the game with ease. In those cases Ugin's kill index is much closer to how fast he can win by doing three to the face, sometimes gaining 7 if against burn. 

If we want to get super technical looking we can say that the threat of a card is a product of it's kill index and a measure of it's survivability. The latter would be determined by ease of resolving it and difficulty in removing it. This would help us to determine the power of the card but we would need to take into account a few other factors to fully arrive at the power level. You could slap "draw a card" onto something and make it a lot more powerful but you wouldn't have affected the kill index or the survivability. Things like value, disruption, information, and options, all also contribute to the power of a card. As does the way those elements synergize with the overall card. How much of a swing, or how much board presence a card has is a big factor too. Cards like Whirler Rogue are great because they cover a lot of ground on this front. Things that stop you dying are just as important as things that kill your opponent. All these things are considerations for power level, the kill index is just a small slice of that. 

It is important to make the distinction between how many turns a card goldfishes in and how many turns on average it needs to be in play and active before the game is over. The former is less useful in that it takes no account of how robust a card is nor how good it is at getting through defences. Ugin is actually pretty slow to goldfish doing just three a turn. In practice he seals the deal very rapidly (in most cases, exceptions previously discussed). The reverse is true of Phage the Untouchable who looks to take the game in one hit giving her a goldfishing kill index of two. Due to her lack of evasion or extra pressures and effects her kill index is going to be way way higher. Sadly it is very easy to work out how quickly a card kills in a goldfish while pretty tricky to estimate the average duration in play a card needs to have before it equates to a win. 

A useful measure of a card is to add it's converted mana cost to it's kill index, we could call this a kill speed. A Goblin Rabblemaster comes in at a respectable 6 being a 3 mana card with a kill index of around three. Yes, Rabblemaster kills in four turns by itself in a goldfish but it has done critical damage and value in three. If we generously give a Grave Titan a kill index of 2 then it is still two turns slower at getting the job done than Rabblemaster. This is why aggressive decks play cheaper cards that kill slower rather than pricier ones that kill quicker. That of course combined with the cumulative effect of multiple threats. 

So what is the point of all this? Basically it is just a tool to assist with understanding, decision making, and comparison. The more you understand underlying mechanics and concepts the better placed you are for all of those important elective and comparative aspects of magic. I find that formalizing things and putting numbers to them, even if they are estimates and hard to measure, very helpful in doing this. Every time you have a removal spell and a close choice between multiple targets you are essentially working out the kill index of those cards in the context of that game. The same is true when trying to curve out in an informed way with good reliable tempo. It lets you examine a cards strengths and weaknesses in card evaluation which in tern lets you better select things for appropriate roles in deck construction. Working out goldfishing kill indexes and kill speeds is very easy. Estimating them accurately for real games is something that likely takes some experience and practice.