Friday 23 December 2022

Top 10 Cards to Have With Lurrus


Lurrus of the Dream Den is infamous to say the least. Not only hailing from one of the most infamous cycles of all time but also generally regarded as the most oppressive of the ten overall. Lurrus is the only card to have achieved a step above the likes of Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall in brokenness having received a ban in vintage! In addition to a rules errata and a ban in most other formats as well... Certainly Lurrus is a nutty card but how does he look in cube? 

Lurrus suffered least in the change from 0 mana extra cost to 3 mana for putting in hand. This is because Lurrus offers an effect you actually want rather than just being a free card as is the case for most of the others. When they cost 0 mana extra it was pretty much a case of how easy their pre condition is to fulfil and how detrimental that was to the power of your list as to how good a companion was in cube. This left Lutri as the clear champion. Indeed Lurrus, of those companions that actually saw cube play, was one of the least used as a companion as it was very hard to build a deck with only low cost permanent cards. You remove most of the pool for your various colours. Further to that Lurrus is a value card who's precondition pushes you towards tempo cards. These nuances and complications all resulted in it taking a lot longer to work out how to Lurrus optimally. As time has gone on I am seeing more and more Lurrus-as-a-companion builds. They are a nicely different archetype and are fun to build and play with. 

There are two big things you want to consider with such a deck. Obviously you can just throw Lurrus into most main decks that can cast him and he is usually good to fine. The threat of him alone is often enough to bait out removal. When however you are attempting to play him as a companion you need to draft and build with these considerations at the front of your mind. Firstly, you need mana sinks. Your curve is going to be far lower than usual and even if you get to cast stuff from the bin each turn, if it is all low value one and two drops you are going to be out of gas and wasting mana fast. You can build aggro decks and you can build mindrange and control too, I lean on the latter types as it is typically easier to fulfil your various needs in addition to it marrying up better with Lurrus being a value tool. Aggro decks will need less mana sinks than the midrange and control but not by as much as you might think. I do tend to find that regardless of where I start out or think I am going I do tend to wind up on the midrange side of things which isn't really surprising given the nature of things. I think it is the best fit for Lurrus in addition to the notable advantage of having the biggest pool. The biggest pool in an archetype with a much reduced pool is significant.  

Secondly you want to consider how you are going to win. It turns out that it is really hard to push through and close a game with just cheap permanent cards. All the game ending stuff typically sits rather higher on the curve. This means you can swarm and win that way but that is generally only an aggro game plan. Evasive dorks can be a thing although again, this helps the aggressive decks most. The last time I played this archetype I splashed for Celestial Colonnade and Creeping Tar Pit as they gave me decent game ending threats and mana sinks. 

Lurrus lets you play instant and sorcery cards that cost three or more. These rarely end the game but do allow you to make a more sensible looking curve and cram more punch into you list. I am a particular fan of Wretched Confluence as it can buy back Lurrus. Having just the two toughness while being such a dangerous card to leave around means you often just get the one use out of Captain Dream Den. If you are building your deck around him this feels like quite the let down. Things that protect and recur therefor have that extra bit of appeal to them. Lingering Souls is another fairly big spell that works well in the list in what is a surprise to no one. Mostly because it is very powerful, but also specifically because it offers a way of ending the game, is on colour, and develops the board in a proactive way. 

Lurrus is incredibly flexible in colours. You can build your decks any of the two colour pairing with the exception of Gruul, Izzet, and Simic. Equally you can build it Mardu, Abzan, or Esper, as well as mono white or black. My favourite is of course Orzhov but this is not to say that this is the best. You don't need to worry all that much about colour intensity. You don't want Lurrus as a splash but beyond that you don't need it to be heavily supported. You are typically playing Lurrus late in the day by which point you should be able to muster two black or white mana. Mostly I like Orzhov Lurrus as it looks neatest and it is a cool way to make a boring guild fun. 

For the sake of this list we will focus on exclusively cards that could be played in an Orzhov commander deck. We will also only look at permanent spells. It seems pointless to use up valuable space talking at length about the few expensive instant and sorcery spells that there are. There are so few of them and they are sufficiently obvious and powerful that they are mostly just getting played. There is no unusual stipulation on them either so much the same sort of things apply. It is the restricted types that jump about in value that much more and as such merit discussion. There is naturally one important honourable mention of a non-Orzhov card that is great with Lurrus. This is of course Seal of Fire which was doing great work in modern back when Lurrus was rampant there. It is cheap and direct and reusable. It is interactive and provides reach. It is simply one of the best and most roundidly useful cards to have with Lurrus. You can save it up for a turn cycle and take out 4 toughness dorks. It is just great. Relatively low power but absolutely spot on for function. 

Speaking of honourable mentions it would be remis of me to ignore Black Lotus. The card was obviously foolish in vintage where you could freely have access to +3 mana a turn from the get go. Even post companion mechanic nerf the Lotus Lurrus combo is pretty oppressive. A great card by itself, arguably the greatest, and a card that is free and always in your opening hand? Sounds like the best combo imaginable. In powered cube Lotus is obviously great and doesn't really need the win more of Lurrus to help it. Much as it is nutty in power it is also both win more and polar. Often it is hard to find a way to spend a billion mana when all your stuff costs two or less and Lotus becomes overkill, likely only recurred a couple of times and then only if it is the early game. While having one of the highest ceilings on offer it is not actually a combo that I find very fun or exciting. I prefer just having things to do with my Lurrus rather than expanding upon my capacity to do. 

My last honourable mention is more cute than anything else. I am yet to properly test the card by itself, let alone feel like I am in a position to judge it in concert with other specific cards. That is because it is from Warhammer 40K and I was very late to the party on those cards and unsure if I would be including them in my cube in the long run. The card in question here is Triarch Pretorian which is a kind of black unearth take on Muldrifter. The card is a very playable and nicely rounded one by itself that has a little jump in power when you can deploy it from the bin other than with the unearth. Lurrus does just that and so you have this fine little filler card that turns into a card advantage monster with Lurrus. A bit overkill but almost certainly worth it. If you fear your Lurrus is biting the bullet then getting a nice cheap two cards into hand for a mere two mana is going to help fill in for that ongoing Lurrus value.


A word of warning, often people pursue an aristocrats strategy with Lurrus as it seems like it would all line up nicely. Cheap stuff, the right colours, and a lovely bit of security and redundancy as part of the Lurrus package. And indeed, when it all lines up it is a savagely good list. The issue is that you are leaning so hard on a couple of cards. You are doubling down on narrow by not only wanting good aristocrat cards but also having a low curve. No Yawgmoth for you. No Woe Strider. No Midnight Reaper. You need to have every sac outlet on offer and every Blood Artist effect you can play as well to have enough given the two or less CMC restriction. Generally I think you are better off making a good generic Lurrus deck or a safe and consistent Blood Artist deck. You can of course just jam a bare naked Blood Artist into your Lurrus deck as it is a very powerful card and offers a nice bit of reach. Just don't go building around it too hard. If you must have a build around plan I do rather rate Urza's Saga. Lots of nice cheap filler artifacts kicking around to help pad out a list and Saga nicely solves the lack of fatty problem. Right, on with this top 10!


10. Student of Warfare and Kytheon, Hero of Akros

Some aggressive white one drops with decent threat and the capacity to have mana sunk into them. Normally I wouldn't consider Student outside of a very heavy white deck, nor Kytheon outside of a very aggressive deck. In Lurrus however I am happy enough running both of these cards is less than ideal conditions. Kytheon is your best sniff at getting a planeswalker in play. Both of these dorks are fine to get you going, they attack, block, crew stuff, hold things, provide options, all that good stuff. Then they pop back into play late in the day and represent a more serious threat. Ideal. I should likely now include recruitment officer in this little group. It is certainly going to hit all the creatures in your deck! Value isn't exactly what you are after on the back of your recursion targets but you do not want to lean too hard on Lurrus being your source of value as he is slow and vulnerable. You are likely better off activating an in play Officer than you are paying three to put Lurrus into your hand. Officer does do a great job of ticking a few boxes and for a one drop that is otherwise already playable that is good going. These are not that often cards you are super pleased to be playing, they are just the sorts of cards you will wind up playing in order to make up the numbers, they are the first you go to out of the cards that intuitively seem off-brand. Ordinarily I wouldn't want an aggressive one drop in my midrange deck but in my Lurrus deck you do what you have to and when you do, these are the ones you want to reach for first from whites pool. 

9. Mishra's / Urza's Baubles

While these were all the rage in modern Lurrus decks they are less important in cube. Or at least, the value of them is in them being nicely playable cards that pad out deck space rather than how good they are with Lurrus directly. Yes, it is lovely to be able to have a 0 mana thing to do with Lurrus. Drawing an extra card is amazing, but, it is from your Lurrus deck so these cards are pretty low power. Getting on with something direct and with purpose is going to serve you better. The Baubles let you get online with a Lurrus quicker than other cards and they are repeatable which is also lovely. Sometimes a surviving Lurrus can run out of steam in the mid and early game. It might have a couple of targets, play them both, and then sit around doing nothing much further. At least with a Bauble you get to put it back into the bin so that you can redeploy it next turn. 

8. Concealing Curtain

I have been generally impressed with Curtain in cube and Lurrus is certainly one of the places best suited to it. It is nice to be able to have effects you would normally find on instant and sorcery cards on permanents so that you can up your consistency and range on your Lurrus. Some hand disruption is always welcome in a black deck and Curtain would be my top choice for such things in a Lurrus setting although not the only consideration. Tourach, Dread Cantor as another very powerful option in this line. What both of them offer on top of hand disruption is also somewhat tricky to come by elsewhere and that is a meaty body! In a world of two mana spells a 4/3 that can grow or a 3/4 menace are just fat. They are going to be valuable assets on the board and can even help give you that extra bit of reach. Both also represent as pseudo 4 drops thus letting you have a somewhat more sensible curve. Pilfering Imp is a card that lacks the power of the other two but does at least put itself in the bin allowing you to soft lock. Imp isn't the cheapest of the options to do this with but it does at least have the upside of having some use in the earlier stages of the game to probably be the best in slot for that kind of discard Lurrus lock. 

7. Walking Ballista

Broadly I am including Hangarback Walker in this as well as both have their place and have a lot of overlap in what they offer. Mainly it is beefy mana sinks, both from hand at more than two mana or recurred from the bin. Ballista is generally the better card and offers lovely efficient direct damage pings to colours usually lacking such things. Walker however offers a lot more board presence for the mana and scales much better with a lot of what Orzhov midrange decks get upto, be that sacrificing stuff or buffing everything. While neither are what you would call big statted or mana efficient these are some of the bigger dorks you can expect to play in your Lurrus companion deck. When you need such things you are glad of having these versatile XX dudes at your disposal. These are also good extra support for Urza's Saga iterations of Lurrus builds, which are increasingly common it would seem. It is noteworthy, in this section especially, that while Luminarch Aspirant itself is not directly a synergy with Lurrus it has great synergies with a lot of the cards that also have Lurrus synergies, as well as helping with the issues of having no big dorks. 

6. Intrepid Adversary and Paladin Class

Anthems are very powerful in cube however most of the more playable ones tend to cost three or four mana. This rules them out for Lurrus. Only buffing white or black dorks is too narrow and so the two mana options fall out of favour. Adversary and Paladin Class however sneak under the radar representing Lurrus viability despite functionally being four mana Anthems. Both of these cards are nice mana sinks and offer a good amount of reach and power. They do require a creature count but I have found them to be fine even when I have fewer dorks and token generators than I would be comfortable with. They just add so much more to an archetype that struggles to push through and struggles to find meaty plays. One of these off the back of a Lingering Souls or Spectral Procession will carry a lot of games, especially if they are backed up by protection (Selfless Spirit / Duress) and removal.

5. Knight of the Ebon Legion  and Evolved Sleeper 

Black has a little less in the way of premium Lurrus one drop dorks but the two good ones it has are very good indeed. It is early days in testing Sleeper. It as seemed decent and indeed excellent in this archetype. It is a little bit recruitment officer in that it is a value tool, but it is also big growing fatty as well. Growing mana sinks are great and these are that. Knight is especially scary as it double grows, the slow permanent growth and the big mana powered one turn growth. Both make Knight a hard to stop threat and a surprisingly effective beater and master of combat in general. All in all these are good cards anyway, that shine in cube relative to other formats being one drops that scale so well into the late game. In Lurrus decks the capacity to act more recklessly with the lives of your scaling or value dorks adds nicely to their play pattern. These are so great I am somewhat taken a back that they are only 5th on the list. 

4. Cathar Commando Engineered Explosives 

Removal effects like these are especially good with Lurrus as they are reusable and can really shut something down. Portable Hole and On Thin Ice are both good card and ones that work with Lurrus. The thing is that they are not reusable with Lurrus as they stay in play and so there is relatively scant advantage to be had playing them over other higher CMC or simply more powerful instant and sorcery alternatives. Cather Commando and Engineered Explosives, much like Seal of Fire, put themselves in the bin on use and so are there and waiting to do so again at the behest of Lurrus. This is pretty tough and scary to face. Beyond these few facts these cards are very different. Cathar is relatively inefficient and limited removal but it is on a useful and proactive body. It might seem to have not been all that impressive to you but your opponent is sat looking at some terrible investment opportunities and lines in their hand that are as good as dead thanks to your simple line of fetching Lurrus, remaking Cathar, and answering the thing. Sometimes Cathar is just cheap padding, sometimes it is the out you needed, and other times it can dominate the game as it answers several things and keeps the opponent out of cards and threats. Explosives on the other hand offers no real proactive side to speak of but it can answer most permanent types and do so en masse. A perfect midrange tool to handle the aggressive and wide strategies. A nice mass removal synergy piece to pair up with Lurrus. Often used as spot removal but in a world where you can do that every turn at no card cost that is perfectly fine! The more towards the control end of the spectrum you are the better Explosives becomes. It helps you get to the late game and then really helps you win once there. 

3. Selfless Spirit (and also Spellskite / Dauntless Bodyguard / Selfless Savior / Benevolent Bodyguard)

These various dorks are the perfect pairing for your Lurrus decks and can often soft lock the opponent out by themselves, especially in combination with "of Runes" one drops. Having these kinds of cards really help ensure your Lurrus will live to fight another day. Lurrus is one of those cards that typically puts the game out of reach if it sits about too long, that is assuming the deck supports it which is what we are trying to do here! If your opponent has to wait until they have two removal spells to play and the mana to do them together then Lurrus is going to steal the game. This kind of technology even lets you safely milk the lifelink should one of their only lines be to burn you out! Corner case for sure but certainly more reason that these effects (Spellskite excluded) are so strong. Mostly these just work with Lurrus while adding a healthy injection of safety and consistency to your game plan. Given that it is a powerful plan that you have made some significant build sacrifices to the nation of protecting it seems pretty obviously worthwhile. 

2. Umezawa's Jitte

The just does all the things you want. It is a mana sink and it is reach. A Jitte will close out a game for you, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly but if it is equipped and charging it is pretty inevitable. In a Lurrus deck they have to answer the Lurrus first else you will just replay the Jitte or the dork equipped to it. They cannot just kill all your dorks or answer it which are typically the best two ways to answer Jitte. They have to eat it for a bit while they handle Lurrus then see what they can do about it. This could then all be too late. Not only is Jitte this nice game ending threat it is also removal and lifegain which will help stabilize the game and do some of that nice interaction. Another massive thing Jitte brings to Lurrus decks is the ability to have the biggest dork again. A nice effective +4/+4 a turn, and as you require, ensures your little two drop dorks are likely the biggest potential thing on the board. Having the fattest dork usually gives board control which in turn translates to tempo advantages and more efficient trades. 

1. Dauthi Voidwalker

No shock that a Modern Horizons card is stealing the top spot. First and foremost, this card is just a monster of a card. Great in any deck that can pack him. It is terrifying to play against. It has that real jeopardy to it that Fractured Identity is so hated for. Basically if Voidwalker somehow hits one of your big cards it is likely going to win the game. This means you just really want to kill it as soon as possible so that it does just kill you randomly. This guy can shut down simple looting, you can't ditch top end early when digging for lands as you will just be conceding the game. Nothing is safe, if you play it removal can hit it, if you keep it in hand then discard is scary. Even stuff in the library is subject to getting milled. This is all just Voidwalker in a normal cube setting. Very oppressive but fortunately a double black card with two toughness that needs to untap to represent that fear all contributing to helping to keep it safe. Put it in Lurrus and this already pretty broken card gets better and helps out with some of those weaknesses inherent to the archetype. Voidwalker is one of the few ways you get to play with big permanents. Getting to deploy a four or five mana walker thanks to Voidy is so fun and powerful. Lurrus and any protection stuff you might have for him both help Voidwalker live and threaten with its ability. Even when you are not stealing big cards off the opponent Voidwalker is an evasive and passively disruptive pain in the arse. It hits something for 3 each turn and very cheaply. It is reach all by itself. Graveyards and on death effects are pretty powerful in cube and a part of most decks. Having all those things passively hated on by Voidwalker adds further power and tedium to things. Obviously the ceiling here is beyond stupid and involves having both Lurrus and Voidwalker and a lot of powerful things with void counters on them and getting to play one a turn. Not a lot is standing up to that, to the point that it isn't a realistic life goal, opponents will see the writing on the wall and concede long before you can do that sort of horror to them. 

Monday 12 December 2022

Is Magic Complete?

I recall wishing for things in Magic like a child at Christmas, more white three drops, more one mana black discard, more card quality etc etc. That desire and excitement slowly dried up and more recently got replaced with "I wish they would print less stuff all the time". Now I mostly put that down to bias, I have been getting annoyed with many things Magic/Wizards/Hasbro have been doing for a while (2019 onwards!) and so I simply concluded that was the reason for my lowering interest and excitement at new stuff. Now it is hard to be objective when in the thick of caring about something but when you are passed all that it gets a bit easier. I feel like I recently reached that point of no longer giving a shit and with the clarity of those eyes I actually feel like I stopped wanting for things because in fact there was nothing much left to want for! Phrased another way - Magic was complete! 

Now obviously there are always new cards to print and a fully infinite array of things to do in a game like Magic. After a while however most of those "new" things are just remixed old things. There is very little actually new, and the vast majority of that is either unplayably weak or totally broken. The newest, or freshest, things we seem to get these days are expansions of mechanics or tribes so as to make them things you can build around. Great for EDH but less use to the cube drafter. 

So many cards have been printed that there is typically enough of any kind of effect with a high enough power level to meet your needs. I am not adding cards to the cube to plug gaps in colours or strategies. I am only ever adding cards on power level and suitability and it is typically only ever minor improvements on existing cards and effects. It also used to be exclusively power levels that would trigger cards getting added to the cube but it is increasingly the suitability metric which is the defining one. The old way of it being determined by power lead to the meta being firmly pulled in one direction and then a totally different one as cards came and went, support along with them. The cube meta felt a lot more like it tracked standard for a very long time. New interesting and fresh cards would join the fray and give a whole new landscape which would evolve slowly until a fresh batch of new additions came along. These days however the cube doesn't feel like it changes much at all with new cards. A few things across the board get a little improvement but the meta stays very much the same with all the same archetypes. 

This is obviously a double edged sword. Games, while samey, are good. Having depth in card pool is lovely from a design and constructed perspective. I have wished for these things, I now have them, and somehow I seem to be complaining that I am now bored! Cube is great but the cost of that is consistency. If I want variation it is on me to find it, not to complain about the things I was wishing for not so long ago. And I have. I have toyed with loads of things cube adjacent over the past couple of years. I have made a combo cube, a couple of synergy cubes, a down powered cube specifically to house cards that I want to play with. I worked on but never played or built tribal cubes, a pre-modern cube, a gold cube, and a kind of blueprint core set style of cube. And those are just types of cube. I have done plenty of things to spice up play with my main cube as well from a wide array of banning strategies to playing with commanders. I have even been doing some play with wholly different objectives in mind like my first pro tour cube style decks. These are all a response to the format of my cube tending towards becoming consistently similar, with a strong emphasis on the last, say five years. I find mostly I only really want to play my main cube when I am testing new cards out, once they are played and worked out I am back on the different stuff (if I still have time and energy for magic by that point). I have said a couple of times lately that I wouldn't mind now if they stopped printing new cards and this alone should be a pretty big clue to me that Magic is, if not actually complete, sufficiently complete to have comparable longevity regardless. 

And what does this mean? Well, the world is your oyster frankly. You can play magic however you like and there are the cards to support your doing so. You might need to get a bit creative or put some effort in should you want to keep it fresh but it is only a good thing, for the player at least. It might well be more of a problem for the company producing magic as there is ever less incentive to get the new stuff beyond power level and that is only ever ending badly, it has started to be problematic already. 

Magic is not complete nor can it ever really be complete. Even if they never printed another card and even if that was the right thing to do there would remain infinite ways to play and enjoy magic and people would get to creating their own take on things in no time. They already do. Magic is one of those too big to fail things. The company might go under, and in some inconceivable situation, it might not get bought out and carried on, but even then, the game is too good. People would find ways to play and enjoy it. It hasn't been Richard Garfield's game for a long time, but nor is it a Wizards of the Coast game, or a Hasbro game. It is our game. It has been for some time. But it is only as the hand on the tiller loses their way that this fact becomes so apparent. Cube, EDH, competitive play, alters, all the best bits of magic came from the community. For many, myself included, the community itself is the best part. Just a group of people with at least one thing in common - a love for a game. 

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Top 8 Two Drop Mana Dorks


In cube we have access to all the very best mana ramp. This makes it pretty hard for green two drop ramp to get all that much of a look in what with there being sufficient one mana options available. There has to be some fairly significant extras on offer with the two drop options to temp you away from a cheaper alternative. The main advantage you can look to get from a two mana ramp card in green over a one mana card is getting a land into play. Lands are safer than creatures, they trigger landfall, and they empower plenty of things. There is lots in the way of good reasons to be wanting that slower safer land in play than a flimsy fleeting dork but here we are looking exclusively at creatures that cost two mana. We are bypassing the land or dork debate on an individual card basis and just looking at what it takes for a dork to be good enough to cost a whole mana more. 

We are also going to just look at green creatures. Yes, Vedalken Engineer is a powerful card but it is pretty narrow and not something that is useful to compare here. The stricter one keeps the parameters for cards to compare the more meaningful those comparisons can be. For this reason I will also be taking out Sakura Tribe Elder from the discussion as it sits directly between a creature ramp spell and a land ramp spell. It is certainly a great card and would sit near the top of this list but it isn't functioning in a similar enough way to be usefully discussed here. Gold ramp cards can compare but are broadly just too narrow to be worth playing in drafting cubes. There are none so much better than a mono green one that you should bother constraining draft options to include. 

Other powerful cards failed to make the list for being too polar and thus not improving the way your cube will play. Sanctum Weaver, Bloom Tender, and Priest of Titania can all be pretty insane mana dorks that provide massive returns for little upfront cost. The issue is that you need support to do that and that in turn means your card is either underwhelming or pretty unfair good. That doesn't lead to good games and so we are far better off looking for more rounded cards and have nice high floors instead of stupid ceilings. 

You could argue Lotus Cobra falls down for being too polar, which is certainly a criticism of the card. If it lives and you have a sac land and get to not only have two mana of any colour out of it but also get to do free damage or crew with it or whatever it all seems pretty unfair. I think Lotus Cobra fell down more as removal started getting better and more common. There are simply too many effects that kill a one toughness creature with absolute ease. Your chances of winning the game of magic drop an astronomically large amount when your Lotus Cobra dies to the soft end of an Arc Trail etc. You take that risk with a one drop but you simply don't need to with two drops and so for the most part you will find staying power to be a big feature of two drop mana dorks in general. This is certainly where Deathcap Cultivator fails to have any allure in cube. 

One might ask why we are bothering to play dorks at all when there is a wealth of two mana land ramp, and even Talisman and Signets on offer at the two slot? If safety is such a big deal why would we bother with these fragile mana dorks at all? Tempo and utility and value are the various answers! Cube is a very rounded format and it is fought hard with both tempo and value in most games and matchups. A late game Rampant Growth does very little while a creature might provide that much needed blocker. An unused land cannot apply pressure while a mana dork usually can. Mana dorks can be useful in the early and mid game outside of their primary role as a mana dork and they can avoid being dead in the late game. There are of course all the many things that scale with dorks from equipment to Anthems to vehicles and all those cards that find dorks or let you play them from the top of your deck. Some decks just really want a high creature count to scale with their various other cards.

It is in part for these reasons that we do not see Wall of Roots getting much love in cubes any more despite clearly being a premium mana dork. It is very bad at crewing or holding equipment or pressuring opponents stuff. Walls/defenders in general have seen a steep decline in use in  cube since Kaladesh era and the arrival of vehicles. It is not something specific to ramping defenders although they were some of the more commonly seen types of these card in cube.  

So what else nearly made this list but failed? Gyre Sage is one such card, it has a nice ceiling and can produce lots of mana while enjoying some cool synergies. Problem? It can do nothing and floor is more important than ceiling, especially on a role filler card like a ramp effect. Reclusive Taxidermist is the other end of that spectrum. The floor is fine but what it offers you back in ceiling just isn't much of a draw. Just some vanilla stats and even then, only maybe. 

Lastly there are Gala Greeters and Prosperous Innkeeper, and arguably even Nest Invader, who are a bit Gilded Goose, a bit Sakura Tribe Elder and even a bit Lotus Cobra. They are like Goose in that they do not assure ongoing ramp. They are like Tribe Elder as they can be pretty hard to prevent from providing a ramp. And they are like Cobra as they can attack and ramp at the same time! Greeters are an interesting utility card but as ramp they are far too slow and unreliable. They cannot ramp you to four mana on turn 3 by themselves and that is pretty much enough to kill their chances in this list. They can also be a do nothing 1/1 which is a problem for any card looking to have a home  in cube! I like them most as a threat with cool utility. Innkeeper on the other hand just isn't enough card. Life is whatever and 1/1 body isn't impressing anyone. Equally Invader is just some stats and of less value than coloured or ongoing mana production by quite a margin. 

Sylvan Caryatid 8th

Much as walls are not where you want to be, three toughness and hexproof very much is! This is as close to a land in terms of reliability and safety as you are likely to get from a creature. It survives most removal, and critically survives almost all removal that would stop this from ramping to four mana on turn three. It also blocks very well and provides far better colour fixing than any land ramp is providing. The utility of being able to soak up damage or provide mana all with relative safety is outstanding. This card is comfortably cube power level and one of the best ramp dorks that the ramp decks on the slower side of things can use. This is only not in my cube due to there being so many good options at present and the meta tending towards proactive decks. If things swing back the other way this could easily get back in. 

Incubation Druid 7th

The floor on this is low but at least reliable. A little tougher than most one drop dorks and a hint of fixing. Where this one excels is with ceiling and synergy. If you manage to get a counter on this quickly and at low cost then you are going to be wildly ahead on mana and likely win from that alone. A bit like when you manage to successfully level up and keep alive a Joraga Treespeaker but better! Pretty easily one of the best ceilings for a card on this list but it requires support from other cards which makes it a bit polar and narrow. Luckily the adapt mode gives a much easier to reach pseudo-ceiling that makes this a relevant body, a mana sink, and a much bigger ramp spell. It is a royal pain trying to attack into four untapped lands and an Incubation druid as it can block, become a 3/5, munch an attacker and then untap with at least seven mana and a much improved board state. This means that even without synergy this is one of the best late game dorks on this list. Great card, lots of fun, but sadly, when it comes to ramp you want the bulk of the card to be performing well on turn two, not in the late game. 

Devoted Druid 6th 

Similar floor to Incubation Druid that then trades all that late game ceiling for the ability to produce an extra mana one time. Sounds like trading a lot for a little but it is trading a lot of stuff that isn't part of why you are playing a card, and that you will be getting from other cards, for something you are directly playing the card for. It is a bit like how both Lightening Helix and Bolt are both better than a Searing Spear but Bolt is directly better and so is the much better card overall. Incubation Druid likely has the greater sum of parts but Devoted Druid is just better at ramping. It is the only two mana ramp card that reliably gets you to five mana on turn three without help or support from other cards. That can be utterly back breaking for the opponent. Indeed it is why I have shied away from this card a little over the years. Easily powerful enough for cube but a little polarizing. It forces people to build and play around it as they can so easily just lose to some hard hitting five drop wildly ahead of schedule. Even an Acidic Slime can be good games if it is coming down and destroying half your lands in play! Think what what a five mana Nissa might feel like at that pace! There are also cute synergies with buffs that let you milk extra mana out of Druid, even infinite mana, although those are not all that great in cube. I have even seen this used as a means to prevent a Jitte from charging which is quite cute. 

Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale 5th

Comfortably the lowest power card on this list. Just an overcost Llanowar Elf stuck on the back of a bad forest. I have just been really impressed with the play of this card. It does what you want it to and it provides a lot of dynamic options. You can play conservatively with it as a land or aggressively as a dork. You might do this to avoid removal or because you have too many or too few lands in hand. There is a tricky art with playing ramp as you don't want to wind up with too many mana sources in your list as you then start flooding too much and folding to answer heavy lists. Equally there is no point playing ramp and cutting lands as missing land drops entirely negates the benefit of ramp. This little card does a great job of keeping your land and ramp balance in check. It is card quality for ramp decks. Usually you are just trying to get a good balance of land and spells but ramp decks need to mix ramp in to that equation as well and this is a handy little tool to help out with that. 

Llanowar Loamspeaker 4th

Relatively early days on this one but so far it has been impressive. The body is sizeable making it fairly robust in the face of removal. An OK blocker and fine ramp and fixing. Getting all those important floors raised to a healthy point. And the sweetener? We can start throwing lands into the mix as 3/3 dorks. This is better than it sounds. Early it is a strong disincentive to deploying planeswalkers and late it is somewhat of a persistent attacker. You are typically able to chump attack with excess lands making this a more robust threat than a mere 3/3 would be. It is not a super powerful ability but it is direct and broadly useful. And given that it is on a perfectly acceptable two drop already doing the job you want from it perfectly well the card seems rather good. 

Biophagus 3rd

Exact same palatable floor as the Loamspeaker but with a much more immediate and oppressive upside. Dorks coming in bigger is going to get out of hand fairly fast. Green is dork heavy and so it will be fairly consistent in triggering this and getting ongoing free value. Even on the dorks that don't scale with being made bigger this counter is worth the best part of a mana. Once you are casting cards like Walking Ballista Biophagus is effectively tapping for 3! This card should be higher on this list and I have marked it down for two fairly biased and likely inappropriate reasons. Firstly it is probably just too good for heads up cube play. It is designed for commander where this sort of early tempo doesn't snowball and is far less powerful. Secondly, it is a 40K card which means it isn't going to be for everyone. 

Paradise Druid 2nd

This is my favourite of the cards on this list from a design perspective. It hits the mark perfectly on power level without being at all polar or narrow. All the power it has is located in the right place. The card has no silly late game tag ons, it is just a reliable two drop mana dork that fixes, is able to get into combat, and stays nice and safe in the lead up to such things. Much as this is a contained card it does also scale nicely with some things, notably getting vigilance, and holding equipment. Getting your dork killed in response to paying an equip cost can be such a devastating tempo loss that it cascades into an actual loss. Paradise Druid is one of the best cards in cube to play with equipment. The increased frequency of the ward mechanic is doing some good work diluting Paradise Druids impressiveness on that front but that is no threat to the cards cube spot as we are all about the ability to ramp first and foremost. This very reliably ramps and then it has some other perks as a pleasant side effect of that reliability. The upsides here are exactly when a two mana ramp card can be worth playing over a one mana option. 

Roffellos, Llanowar Emissary 1st

A classically terrible card design. This is narrow because it has a GG cost and because you need to play it with forests. It is also vulnerable thanks to a mere 1 toughness. These all make it less powerful certainly but they are not a good way to try and offset extreme power. They just make it horribly polar. Oh, I can't kill your Rofellos, I guess you will have twice the mana for the rest of the game then? Nissa Who Shakes the World is pretty oppressive and she is a five drop. Roffellos is absolutely the most powerful two mana ramp dork to the point where I "banned" him out of my cube. He just isn't what you could call a good magic card that leads to good games. If your cube is all about extreme power and having fun doing rare and cool shit, as a nice alternative to playing some drier formats like standard or modern then I am all on board with packing this guy. If however you are looking to have the best and fairest possible games and the most options in draft and deck building then this is not the kind of card you should be looking to run in your cube. 

Sunday 4 December 2022

Jumpstart 2022 Preliminary Review


Oh look, another release... Luckily this one is small in terms of new content and broadly irrelevant. There are a few cute build around cards but mostly this is stuff for EDH and not cube. I might pick up a couple of cards for their constructed build around uses. I might also pick up Ardoz to try out in the actual cube but even he is pretty borderline. He will not be missed if I don't bother so no real rush there. Certainly one of the sets you could easily opt out of thinking about if you so fancied as Wizards have recommended. 

Alandra, Sky Dreamer 2

Four toughness makes this appeal more than Talrand and his measly two. The drawing two trigger however keeps this a much steadier pace of card and rather narrower in that it needs more build around effort. Fun in a draw two deck but a long way off a bomb even there. 

Ardoz, Cobbler of War 7

This seems pretty strong. It hits for 3 immediately which for two mana is pretty hefty. It then does several things in an ongoing capacity. A 1/1 dork by itself isn't nothing, nibble away a bit. The activated ability is a potent mana sink in the mid and late game. A 1/1 token isn't worth 4 mana but when it gets to hit for 3 immediately it is substantially better. I can see games where you hit four mana and just dump it all into Ardoz until they answer him or die. A kind of take on Rabblemaster. Lastly there is simply the decent buff he offers to your other haste dorks and those with EtB triggers that work from power. Ardoz really improves a Flametongue Yearling! Ardoz is no bomb, he is easily answered and is likely just giving damage, not value. He is cheap, offers some cool scaling, and some options. Quite like Kari Zev but less rounded and robust. A scary ceiling that is for sure. Lots of red dorks have haste...

Auntie Blyte, Bad Influence 1

Potential fun build around but not exactly a competitive card. Cynically I would suggest cards like this are produced to tempt EDH players into finding uses for cards otherwise unloved and failing to contribute to the secondary market. Equally you could just look at this as good service to EDH players giving them more interesting tools and toys to build with. 

Benevolent Hydra 4

Really solid dual role card in a counters deck. The power level here is unimpressive however it is fine and more than compensated for by being both support and payoff for counters theme. This has, and gives counters like your Spike Drone support but it is also representing as a Hardened Scales effect. With green being the base colour for +1/+1 counter decks I imagine this will become a cornerstone of those in singleton builds. 

Conductor of Cacophony 1

This is a touch slow and expensive for the returns but I am reminded of cards like Thrashing Wumpus and Bane of the Living which were power houses back in the day. It is not unimaginable that I would play this in a counters deck, or a demon deck, or somewhere. The card is playable and has a powerful effect after all. 

Daring Piracy 1

This is very low power in the face of things like Goblin Rabblemaster. You have to really want this effect to stick around to consider this. Really you need to be a deck with a significant synergy payoff like Purphoros or Goblin Bombardment or Cavalcade of Calamity! I guess pirates tribal might also want this for something. The pirates don't even stick around making this often a do nothing if you are not able to scale up your tokens. 

Distinguished Conjurer 1

Likely just a weak Impassioned Orator but people do love a flicker effect, even if it is wildly over priced. Realistically 40 card life decks will not play this but 100 card ones very well might. 

Instruments of War 2

Tribal Anthem with combat trick potential. Four is a hefty price tag that will not be entertained by any of the more established tribes however there are plenty that lack certain tools which this might be somewhat of a stand in for. Low power but if you can get that combat trick value out of it then the card is more than worth the costs. 

Isu, the Abominable 2

Powerful snow themed card although a little awkward for (specifically as a) commander. Black is where all the snowy mass removal is and playing without access to it is sadness. They are some of the best things about the mechanic. The other thing snow does really well is value generation, which is this dudes thing as well. Yes, Isu is a 5/5 that can slowly grow but he is hardly very threatening. This likely makes the cut in most snow decks as they are generally light on cards and this is high powered even if it isn't very well suited to the needs of the snowy mages. Jorn would absolutely be my commander of choice in snow making this guy somewhat unplayable. 

Kenessos, Priest of Thassa 2

There are a couple of ways to cheat out these big fishy blue dork types now and as such you can probably build a half workable deck using them. This is certainly a pretty reasonable tool, especially as a commander, to do so with. The curve is cute too with turn four cheat out being standard and turn three easily plausible. Turn one mana dork, turn two this plus some kind of Brainstorm, Serum Visions, or super techy Reason! Sadly you are then drawing a dud if Kenessos eats removal

Launch Mishap 1

The overall value here is good but it falls down in two ways. Firstly you don't want fluff on your counterspell, you just want the cheapest most reliable effect. You might play this over Cancel but you are unlikely to play it over Remove Soul. And really the kinds of deck this might seem like it appeals in you are just playing Metallic Rebuke. The other issue here is that it is a spell that makes a token rather than a creature with an EtB counterspell effect. The latter would be quite abusive with flicker and bounce while this very much isn't. 

Merfolk Pupil 2

Low power high utility support card. In the right deck this is going to be perfect but no clue what/where that is. The merfolk tribal decks do not want looting enough to play this and other decks that do want looting are unlikely to pay this much for it. I am not sure dredge decks need this even in singleton iterations? 

Planar Atlas 3

A two drop mana rock with upside is usually a good thing. Not overly sure what lands I am digging for with this however, perhaps it is just to help ensure curving to four mana on turn three which I do like the idea of. Finding tron pieces or digging for Urza's Saga seems pretty poor however. Not giving coloured mana or mana right away is quite a cost for your land search. A narrow card I would suggest but certainly interesting, playable, and unique. 

Primeval Herald 2

Mini Primeval Titan! Much smaller, only basics, only one land, but cheaper. Realistically you are not getting more than one attack out of this and you are probably not trading it for anything too impressive all thanks to that low toughness. As such I would be inclined towards playing the spells that ramp with two lands like Cultivate and Skyshroud Claim. Herald is a two for one but compared to the similar alternatives it is a slower and riskier one. There is a decent ceiling on this but I cannot see myself playing it anywhere. Perhaps a deck with a lot of things that give haste to dorks?

Rampaging Growth 1

Value wise this is great, you get to womp an attacker or swat down a planeswalker and get a land into the bargain. The issue is that keeping up 4 mana and only getting a land out of the mix, especially when you don't have a use for the one turn 4/3, simply isn't enough. You want to curve with ramp and this is a rather situational ceiling card. 

Zask, Skittering Swarmlord 3

Cool tribal insect card and a big fat walking Crucible of Worlds. A bit top end, aimless and narrow for general drafting cubes but a card that will do good work in the right places, mostly EDH ones.