Tuesday 31 August 2021

Preliminary Review Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Part I


Play with Fire 8/10

This early spoiler for the set has got me all rather excited. These are the kinds of cards I want to see but haven't for a very long time. Core one mana spells are the most important cards for a cube foundation. I find that if I go much beyond 600 cards presently then my cube loses cohesion. This is because you just don't have sufficient playable one mana cards to support appropriate curves. It becomes more about opening enough of the good cheap stuff in your deck rather than drafting and playing well. Core red is burn and Play with Fire is a delightful take on the classic Shock. The design is genius. I have always wanted a scry burn and have always hated Magma Jet for being wildly overrated unplayable shit. I have always just wanted a Shock with scry 1 but in my heart of hearts I know that such a card would be too good. Even making it a sorcery might not be enough to keep it fair and then it would be dull as well. Play with Fire is the perfect compromise. It makes the joke play of turn one Shock to the face actually quite a valuable one. This is the red opt. You get a one mana instant scry and the card draw is replaced by two damage. Two damage for a card isn't an unreasonable rate at all for a red deck when you assume they are winning through damage. When you include lands two damage average per card is a decent rate, it is about what Lightning Bolt clocks in at. So, Play with Fire is a Shock whenever you need it to be while also being Opt equivalent helping out when you need to dig for certain things. It is options in how you use it and then a big old second helping of options if you scry. It is relatively fair as far as power level goes but it is super playable and more interesting than many of the comparable cards. 

We have not had a proper one mana burn spell that can hit any target since Wild Slash from Khans block about 6 years ago. I think we have only had a couple of Volcanic Hammer type cards since then as any kind of cheap any-target burn. Much as more playable cheap interesting burn is very welcome red is the colour that least needs the help. There are a couple of playable one mana burn spells I do not have in cube, as of this exact moment they are Wild Slash and Shock. Red is the most able to expand in size of any colour and is the most powerful colour in my main cube currently too. Play with Fire is better than Tirefire and Pillar of Flame and sits around the Seal of Fire and Firebolt range. It is probably more interesting than all of the burn too. Given my current cube size and balance I will likely just replace Pillar or Tirefire with Play with Fire. Other colours need a little bit more in the one slot before I can start growing the cube in size so as to just add Play with Fire without cutting something. Modern Horizons II dumped a lovely pile of good playable one drops on green. Black has been getting stuff for a while that is good and useful, even if it isn't the hand disruption that defines the colour. White has always had the deepest pool of playable one drops thanks to a wealth of one drop beaters and viable spot removal. It is now blue holding things back. It might have been over five years since we got a Shock but Preordain was the last new playable blue card quality one drop we got and that was over a decade ago in M2011  

Consider 9/10

Boom! The big reveal. We get another Opt. Hip hip hooray. Consider is better than Opt on average too and thus very possibly the second best card quality spell in cube after Preordain. Obviously in constructed Ponder and Brainstorm are the champions but they have consistent and reliable access to the likes of sac lands there which are a bit more scarce in cube and thus lower the power level of Ponder and Brainstorm. The stand alone card quality spells perform that much better in cube. Sleight of Hand is sorcery which makes it a bit worse in control decks and a chunk worse in tempo or prowess decks. Serum Visions is powerful but fails to affect the card you draw with it while also being sorcery. Preordain has the power of Serum Visions and the perks of immediate high quality draw. Opt keeps the draw quality high but trades some power for instant speed. Instant speed is preferable when it comes to prowess, tempo, and control decks and gives you more trickery potential as well as a greater range of options and utility. So while Preordain and Serum Visions are more powerful card quality spells Opt is at least more played than the latter and is a more rounded and versatile tool. Consider does everything Opt does while also fuelling the many graveyard synergies in cube from flashback, to delve, to escape. Consider isn't always better, you cannot sometimes afford to mill certain cards in your list even if you don't want to draw them until later. Equally you might be getting a bit thin on library and thus time to win so may need to keep a rubbish card. These situations will come up but they will be fairly uncommon and fairly minor compared to the frequently juicy upsides of a mill over a scry. Especially in tempo lists. Consider is the perfect card for me and my cube. It is the thing I most wanted and needed should I want to expand my cube size. The power level is spot on as well. It isn't a bomb nor directly better than the competition. I am super pleased to see this printed. The 9/10 rating reflects the need and playability of the card more than the raw power. On that front it is more like an 8/10 but given that this is a card I will play happily and as good as always in any blue deck while also being literally the single most important card printed in a decade as far as cube expansion goes I think a 9/10 rating is more than fair. 

Going on a little tangent here but as many cubes I see still don't have good curves it is probably a useful and appropriate one to go on. Essentially the best drafts are those where your picks are determined by the suitability of the card for your deck and the power of the card. The suitability of a card is affected by your archetype or potential archetypes and then changes as you make picks. Areas in which you lack, be that curve or type of card, increase in pick value as they become more suitable for your deck and this is what makes drafting interesting. What you don't want to happen is having a deficiency of a card type in the cube rather than your draft pool being a significant factor on your picks. I have drafted far too many cubes where, after having a look at the list, I simply take every on colour one and two drop I can as I see the cube contains far too much top end. It removes a lot of the choices from the draft. The games are dull as well when you roll over the various decks which don't do anything relevant until turn four! The curves of cubes should roughly reflect the curves of the best decks. If, on average winning decks in your cube have a 4 - 8 - 6 - 4 - 2 curve from one to five and you have a 720 cube with 120 lands then you should have roughly 100 one drops, 200 two drops, 150 three drops, 100 four drops and 50 five drops. There is obviously plenty of wiggle room here but it is a pretty good guide to go by. This curve balance is far more important in cube design than most other factors and is something I pay much more attention to than colour balance. It is for this reason I am so excited by Consider. My 540 cube wants roughly 15 one drops per colour. This is a list of the most common blue one drops in cubes;


Given that my cube is neither powered nor does it contain combo you can see how quickly the well runs dry of broadly playable and decently good cards. Due to most blue one mana dorks ultimately being narrow cube cards and not seeing much play I am again limited in what I can sensibly add to get my curve where I want it to be. Further to that the options on countermagic at one mana tend to also be narrow and rather polar. As such I have only Spell Pierce and 12 cantrip cards currently in my cube blue one drops section. The 12 cantrips contain all the seven card quality one drops, all three Peeks (although one is arguably a 0 drop!) and two self mill cards. Being the most in demand area of my cube these 13 cards see more play in my cube than basically everything other than the good lands and cards like Lightening Bolt. Yes, even Sorcerer's Sight and Portent see more play than good planeswalkers, good equipment, and good removal. If I were forced to add in more blue one drops I would start with Witching Well and then reluctantly would move on to Delver of Secrets and Force Spike. Suffice it to say Consider is a much more welcome addition to get started with.

Champion of the Perished 8/10

The last of our exciting one drops and this is the least exciting of the lot, all be it not for power reasons. On that front this is likely the most dangerous. This is simply a little narrow and a little polar resulting in a card I like less and that is a bit more awkward for cube considerations. Certainly there are enough zombies to make this decent in most cubes and enough could easily be added so as to make Champion bonkers. We know all too well how good this kind of card is thanks to Champion of the Parish. I am fairly sure this will do more work than the living version. Zombies are a more powerful, more focused, higher synergy tribe than humans and is typically in fewer colours. White has plenty of good one drop beaters while black and zombies don't so much further pushing the potential of this dork. Good one drop tribesmen are the cornerstone of tribal lists more so than anything else. Cards like Siege Gang Commander get all the attention and credit but it is the Prospectors and Sledders that make it all happen. I may want this in my cube. I will absolutely 100% want it in all my zombie lists. 

Infernal Grasp 7.5/10

Almost certainly the best Doom Blade in black. No 1B instant speed destroy creature spell achieves more than a 90% hit rate in typical cubes. Reliability at the job required is the most important thing and so this seems to be the best. The only issue for this card is that black removal seems to be steering very much away from this sort of thing in my cube meta. Either cards cost 1 mana, they kill multiple creatures at once, or they let you kill planeswalkers. Any Doom Blade effects I add to the cube just don't see play. It is all Fatal Push, Bloodcheif's Thirst, Bone Shards, Hero's Downfall and Baleful Mastery and no Go for the Throat at all. I will test this none the less and even if it fails to last it will be the first card of this type back in should the meta shift back to a place where two mana creature removal is desirable.

Join the Dance 7/10

Gather the Townsfolk with a massive flashback upgrade over the fateful hour. The actual cost is not the loss of the fateful hour but the addition of green mana making this quite the narrow spell. Powerful enough but likely too narrow thanks to being gold. Some cubes like to support tokens in Selesnya in which case this is absolutely perfect and ideal. I have struggled to balance such things and so Join the Dance has no real place in the green white decks typically seen in my cube. This could push cube humans more towards a Selesnya base. I have previously seen mostly mono white or heavily multicoloured lists when it comes to human builds in cube with a dash of Orzhov builds. It would be cool if Selesnya did become the best way to build singleton humans simply because it is currently a colour pairing with too few different and interesting directions in which to build. 

Triskaidekaphile 2/10

Blue gets another two mana 1/3 with win the game text on it. This one is an upkeep trigger keeping it rather fairer than Thassa's Oracle but this is rather better when it isn't winning the game. Four mana to draw a card isn't great but it isn't bad either. As mana sinks go this is the sort of thing you want to be doing. Not quite good enough just as a rejigged Azure Mage but not bad either, certainly a lot better than Azure Mage. So how easy is getting to 13 cards? In a draft setting it is going to be near impossible, certainly harder than having a depleted library! If you build around it perhaps it gets a little easier but still doesn't come close to competing with Oracle even before you consider that this is slow and vulnerable too. Cute card but unlikely to see combo or conventional play in much. 

Wrenn and Seven 3/10 

An interesting walker that will really need to over perform in order to make waves in the cube what with green having so many solid five mana options on walkers. My concern here is two fold. Firstly I wonder how much threat this card actually poses with a hard to pull off and value based ultimate, and a -3 to make tokens. The various Garruk, Nissa, and Vivien cards at five mana tend to make 3/3 and 4/4 dorks on +loyalty abilities. Some of those also have keywords and some are on lands making the dork more durable. Early on Wrenn and Seven is only making medium sized tokens and late game they do not impress that much more due to lack of evasion. More over you are going to struggle making more than two of these tokens, a problem much like getting to the ultimate. Even if you get to to play this on turn three on the play and +1 it every turn there after you are going to have no more than 5 cards left in your deck by the time you reach 8 loyalty. Mulch is a great card but it quickly has diminishing returns in 40 card decks. This is my second big concern for Wrenn. Realistically the best outcome for Wrenn and Seven is a couple of Mulch and a couple of big reachy treefolk tokens. That is pretty good value for your five mana but it is slow and liable to get stopped with removal or attacks. If you only get one or two of those four things then your return is unimpressive. Having to go down to 2 loyalty while only making one extra defender doesn't feel very safe. Especially not when compared to Vivien who can go to 4 loyalty while making a reach defender or Shakes the World who can get to 6 loyalty forgoing the reach. Yes, there is also a a fourth ability I have not touched on but it is of limited use in cube draft. Yes, there will be some constructed decks capable of abusing it with landfall triggers for a lot of fun but outside of that it is ramp on a five drop than needs you to have a bunch of land and payoff still in hand to do all that much. I do like this card, it is pleasantly green and very much like Wrenn and Six. It has a unique feel too which is nice to see on a mono coloured walker. Despite all of this I fail to see this getting it done in cubes. A short expiry date and low threat level are critical failings. It runs out of steam unlike other walkers in the same cost range while killing slower and being more vulnerable. It turns out that high mana walkers that force you to draw or mill cards are generally undesirable in cube. Those that are more value focused or fail to kill quickly such as Wrenn and Seven exacerbate this issue. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is a bit of an exception to this! Really however we could just have skipped all this analysis and left the reasons this isn't doing work in cube simply as Viviens and Nissas. 

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