Saturday 27 May 2023

Top 9 Planeswalkers 2023


This is more of a stealth article to talk about the rapid decline in the power of planeswalkers that has come hand in hand with power creep over the past 3 or so years. Around Tarkir block, perhaps as far as Kaladesh, was the peak of planeswalker play in cube. Arguably they were at their most powerful when they first landed on the scene but with scarcity of printing it took a very long time to get enough planeswalkers into cube to meet the demand for them. For the first few years you would be picking and playing every walker you got your hands on and this would be a couple at best. This trend of pick and play all the walkers declined long before walkers did but only due to demand being met. The better measure of planeswalker prowess is the average number of walkers in decks and that continued to rise all the way to 2016. At that time I was happy playing around 5 or 6 walkers in my 40 card decks pretty much regardless of the archetype. Aggro decks struggled to find enough suitable as their curves were that much lower but the midrange and control decks had room for days. Most of the top end of my 2016 cube draft decks were planeswalkers. Jump to 2023 and we are down to around one walker per deck on average. 

Walkers are not getting worse, they, like every thing else, are getting better. What is it then that is contributing to hard to this fall off in the card type? Disparity in power creep is a big part of the why. Yes, walkers are getting better but if other things are getting better faster then planeswalkers are effectively getting worse. Dorks are one of the main areas that power has crept and they are not only the main solution to walkers but they are also the main competition for their slots. In a world where Questing Beast and Glorybringer win the game faster than your average walker and/or answer it as well then it is no shocker that they are replacing them. 

Removal is the other part of the game that has power crept ahead of walkers. A big part of the early dominance of walkers was the lack of non-creature answers to them. You could counter them, you could attack them, or you could Vindicate them. It took a long time before things like Hero's Downfall become a bit more standard. It was even longer before we had the likes of Angrarth's Rampage, Dreadbore, Assassin's Trophy, Ossification, Sheoldred's Edict, and a slew of other two mana spot removal spells for walkers. Back in the day if they made a walker and activated it just once and then you untapped and killed it with a three mana removal spell you were behind and that was about as good as it got for you if you were not ahead on board and able to answer it in combat. These days if I kill your walkers with a two mana spell that single activation rarely feels like it came close to those two or three mana I gained with my efficient removal. Even when planeswalkers are a good value exchange they can still be a poor tempo one and this is too often the case these days. 

Not only is removal better at killing planeswalkers but people are playing more of it than ever before. When you are playing a load more removal even the stuff that can only hit creatures can help let you take down walkers. I might not want to "waste" my high quality removal spell on your medium dork but if it will also let me attack that turn and take out a walker it suddenly seems like a good plan. Planeswalkers feel the most vulnerable than ever before in the face of all the better, cheaper, broader, and more commonly seen removal. For a card type that scales in power with turns in play being vulnerable is a concern to say the least!

Another factor is game length. It seems as if a lot of the power creep is hitting the 5+ mana cards. Most now have a good shot of winning the game and quickly. Games being tempo focused and having really powerful top end cards do just seem to end. Games can run away form you to the point of no recovery if you do not get involved early. They also end pretty quickly later on too if you can't handle one of the expensive threat cards properly. This means that planeswalkers suffer twice over. Planeswalkers provide ongoing advantage, the longer they are in play the better they become. Longer games give more opportunity to stay in play longer and that works well in planeswalkers favour. I have always maintained a rough rule of thumb that good walkers are still mostly bad with just one activation, fairly even with two, and game winning with three. Back in the day those activations would be determined by the survivability of the walker, these days the game ending is curtailing the actions rather more noticeably. This leads to the second issue which is that walkers lose part of their value and much of their interesting play dynamic if the sensible play is more often to ignore them and end the game by just going face. Planeswalkers used to feel like a bit of a buffer that padded out effective life totals and helped elongate the game and this added to their value, a bit like some incidental life gain makes Lightening Helix a potent spell. Basically you could usually consider the worst case scenario for walkers to involve the effective gaining of five or so life and this really helped with their floor. These days that effective life buffer is that much less common and reliable and is no longer something that helps raise the floor of the card. Shorter games has resulted in the best walkers on offer being ones that cane come down early and do a lot to control the game or those that have a really big effect immediately. Shorter games have lowered the floor of walkers and made their average performance that little bit closer to the floor. 

The last big contributing factor to the decline of walkers in cube is the increased frequency and potency of manlands and vehicles on offer. These types of card are especially effective against planeswalkers who struggle to protect against them with their sorcery speed creature control effects. Vehicles and manlands are also commonly played because threat diversity is generally useful, it is not simply because they counter walkers, if that was the case the meta would undulate back and forth. As it is we just have a lot of vehicles and manlands getting action and a consistently repressed planeswalker count to go with that. A bunch of the better vehicles and manlands are evasive further causing trouble for walkers. They also counter planeswalkers in one of the most oppressive ways - that is proactively. You just play your lands and so manlands are typically just ready to go by the time walkers are coming down. Vehicles, if not just cheap, do tend to be very well statted. And even if unable to be crewed at the time there is no guarantee that they will not be come the next attack. As such you are reticent to deploy a walker into a vehicle regardless. This all makes walkers really dodgy. Not quite dead card dodgy but that distinct vibe, just a card you can't afford to use as it will be too easily and efficiently answered by my opponent and leave me further behind. 

So, what walkers do still see play and what is it about them that sets them apart from the 80%+ of walkers that have become a liability over the space of about six or seven years? Power is absolutely the main factor but certainly not the only factor. Cards like Jace, TMS and Narset have plummeted in value in the cube while still being pretty strong legacy cards. While both are still fine in cube neither stand out at all from the crowd any more. They simply lack the board presence or control. Too lacking in tempo or robustness. Two loyalty and a bounce is dodgy to say the least! That kind of line is asking to get steamrolled. Beyond just raw power the planeswalkers that remain in cube are either those with high enough impact on few activations or those that are cheap and able to maintain strong board control. Here is the list of the 9 planeswalkers that stand out from the crowd in the current state of cube. 

1. Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes

This is a very silly magic card that was designed for a completely different format. It is still strong in commander where it has a wildly reduced activation frequency, way more opportunity to be attacked down, more life buffer and more opponents to contain it, and generally a lot beefier things to content with. Walkers are mostly not that good in EDH and this dude is. No shocker then that this is oppressive in 1v1 formats. We banned this very quickly. It was really hard to beat. Untap with it and win, often in more than one way should you chose. Even if they could answer it they still had the 4/4 kicking their head in which was often too much to handle. A lot of games were stalled by wasting removal on Boo so as to avoid it becoming a 7/7 or getting thrown at something. A really sad stall that rarely ever worked. This card was way waaay too much to the point of not being fun. Often played on turn three and either ending the game on the spot if unanswered or just leaving them well ahead at worst. This walker just entirely ignores the basic rule of walkers by being good on one activation and game winning on two. It feels a bit like it comes with a free personal Time Walk so as to skip that first turn where an opponent can answer a walker and not be behind having done so... It is cards like this that make me wish I had avoided product lines that skip standard. 

2. Oko, Thief of Crowns

Another walker that got itself banned in cube although it lasted a lot lot longer than Minsc and Boo did. While Oko was too good at the time of printing, and waaay too good for standard, it is probably no longer too good for cube. Absolutely it would still be one of the best cards in cube but that doesn't matter too much as it isn't coming back any time soon. The card is wildly unpopular, in part because it dominated formats for too long and left a bad taste that way, but mostly just because it plays in a really lame way. It just turns your stuff into vanilla 3/3s. You don't get to play with fun or powerful cards, they all get Elked. Oko just brings a selection of feels bad moments. Oko is the new Ashiok (who we banned long long ago back when it was oppressive and everyone hated it. Ashiok would be pretty rubbish now I think but we never even tried it out again as it was so hated). Oppressive cards are unpopular but feel bad ones are are unforgivable. 

3. Teferi, Time Raveller

This is a good example of an immediate high impact walker. Just Repulse off the bat is a sufficient effect to justify the three mana and anything from that point onwards is all just bonus upside. This does some annoying disruption and offers some convenience and trickery with the +1. If you can get more than one -3 activation with the card then it is obscene value and that is a thing that happens. A nice high floor and low cost with random savage hosing all keep little Tef incredibly playable. 

4. Grist, the Hunger Tide

Not a broken card but a nice playable one that does the things you want. Flop this on turn two or three and it has a good chance of keeping itself alive for the next few turns by which point it is starting to dominate the game. When Grist has free reign to sac off some insects it made to kill your bigger and better plays the game has probably slipped you by. It is one of those walkers that is cheap and offeres reasonable board control and as such gets to play somewhat like the planeswalkers of yesteryear. 

5. Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast

While better than Grist Daretti is a little narrower needing artifact support rather than dork support. It is a lot harder for Daretti to come down and be able to answer something right away and that is the only reason it is lower. Both are just good examples of cheap walkers with removal modes and the ability to clog up the board with tokens to block with. 

6. Nissa, Ascended Animist 

To the other end of the scale we have a card here that has immense immediate impact. The flexbility on casting is also a nice touch. However you chose to cast her the +1 represents a sizeable board presence. This means Nissa is a bit like Minsc and Boo in that it leaves two parts, both of which really need a solution. Overrun style ultimate that you can do right away and Disenchant effect all add to the impressive modality and threat level this surprising bomb has. While very similar to Minsc and Boo in play pattern the lack of haste on the tokens and the extra mana cost ensure Nissa is at least two turns slower and thus substantially fairer. And yet she still seems pretty obscene thus far in her relatively short span in the cube. 

7. Wandering Emperor

Flash is just the ticket on walkers. It all but ensures this is getting two activations and greatly increases the trickery potential and safety in deployment. While this planeswalker has some good modes the power level isn't through the roof, it is all just about how good the flash side of things are. Tokens are fine, they are proactive, they can protect or be buffed, and they do eventually represent a threat that can end a game. Exile removal is great but only on tapped creatures means you are really only getting one good use out of it. The +1 is reasonably unexciting and slow to gain loyalty and the starting count of three is low, especially for a modern four mana walker. This means that despite two strong minus loyalty abilities and a guarantee of two activations The Wandering Emporer is a little less threatening one in play and takes a bit longer to become game winning by herself. While she is fine with just two or three she certainly isn't winning the game consistently when she hits than three activation bar most walkers are held to. I expect it is more like five activations needed before Wandering Emperor is of game winning power. Even so, that safety and trickery is more than enough to make up for her slower pace there after. 

8. Chandra, Torch of Defiance

One of the last of the classic walkers still impressing in cube. Chandra has always been one of the most rounded of walkers offering direct damage threat, card advantage, mana, or removal. Basically all main avenues covered. The removal is expensive but relatively effective and meaty, and for that matter, something you can add to other effects should you need to. Chandra can be effectively a two mana play costing you little tempo or she can answer something quite big off the bat and have that high impact first turn, while also protecting herself. Being red is a big deal as well. Having that early board control lets you deploy Chandra with relative safety compared to the other colours. 

9. Vivian, Monsters Advocate

I fear the 3/3 reach more than I fear the elk of Oko. Vivian protects herself so well. Four loyalty and a 3/3 reach is a lot to chew through. One of the only walkers that is good against fliers, and basically the only one that is good against those pesky fliers than have haste or masquerade as land. Vivian also has a bit of a scaling effect in that if you lay her off curve with mana up you can play stuff off the top or indeed make instant use of the -2, all of which has the capacity to make for a very big impact turn. Lots of value, lots of safety, combining to assuredly overwhelm any game in which she isn't answered or somehow bypassed. I am always surprised by how well this holds up and performs in cube. It seems like it should be more average but so often runs away with games either through her resilience or through her surprising burst. She packs way more utility than most other walkers too with her tutoring element. 

So there we have it, a lot of very big names missed off this list. The old cube champion Elspeth Knight Errant and the traditional best walker Jace TMS both now mediocre at best. The black three mana Liliana cards all a little situational to be considered top tier any more. Wrenn and Six, Karn Scion or Urza, and Nissa Who Breaks the World are all bombs but all are also situational and require some degree of building around to reach their potential hence just missing this list. Yes, Turn two Wrenn and Six into their one toughness play with a Boseiju and a sac land is game winning. As is ramping out a Vernal Bloom Nissa and getting to play with double mana while they scramble to find the many answers they now need. Performance in cube is determined much more by the floor of a card than the ceiling. In constructed you can set things up such that ceilings of many more cards are a reality. No shocker then that the best constructed cards tend to be more about ceiling than floor. Karn, Wrenn and Six, and any other ceiling driven walker will underperform in cube. Not always to the point of being unplayable, just in relation to the card in constructed. Often people peg their expectations to their experiences of a card and when that comes from constructed, as it very often does with the higher rarity cards you find in cube, they come away unimpressed. Human bias being what it is will then tend to over compensate. Either shock that these clear bombs are not on the list or shock that they are even in the cube at all. The fairly dull reality is often just somewhere in the middle. Still good, still fine, but neither bomb-like or shocking. The main takeaway here is that some of the best nuggets of insight are to be found under the rocks of subverted expectation. 

Back to once mighty walkers that missed this list we have a recent star in Escaping Elspeth. She is still good but now white can draw cards it doesn't need the value side of things so much. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is likely the most surprising omission from the list. He is still solid but he is narrow in colours and hurting a bit from his primary archetype being pretty weak at present. Tef five fails to fully answer a thing at high cost and usually dies right away. Or he draws a card or two at some cost and then he or you die. Kaito three has felt more playable than a lot of powerful walkers and he is just a fancy little value tool and no bomb. 

The actual best walkers in terms of the play that they get in the cube are those that have dork modes such as Jace VP, Nicol Bolas (the Ravager), Tibalt of Valkie fame, and Nissa the Civic Wayfinder! Time to get testing battle Teferi! These are typically just cheaper and safer players. These are the remaining walkers I have in cube, many of these are filler or hanging on. I could easily trim this list of 5 to 10 Ob style cards and you would barely notice. 

Sunday 21 May 2023

The decline of Thoughtseize and the curious effect of tempo on card value


A while ago, like 2016ish, I valued Thoughtseize only slightly less than I valued Force of Will as a pick in cube draft. For reference I value Force of Will over most other cards in most formats. I am a FoW fanboy, always have been and I still am. These days I barely play Thoughtseize in cube. The falloff that Thoughtseize, and other targetted hand disruption effects, have experienced is pretty extreme. Delving into why extreme changes occur is always revealing and so here we go!

As you would expect with any gradual changes in a complex meta or ecosystem there are multiple factors at play. The main ones I can isolate that correspond to a decline in the value of hand disruption are as follows. An increase in the opportunity cost of playing a one drop. An increase in the cost of tempo negative plays. An increase on the cost of consuming natural card resources. The last is the most complex an ethereal and so I may struggle a bit getting my point across. It is the main thing my title points to however I suspect it is the least significant of the three factors discussed here in terms of affecting change on the meta. It is also linked, like the first two points, to seemingly ever increasing tempo. As the first two points are pretty simple we shall begin with those.

Discard effects are tempo negative. They spend mana and do not affect the board at all. Yes, most of the good ones only cost one mana but that is still mana that could have been invested in fighting tempo. People are playing less card quality effects now too. A few years back every single Opt and Sleight of Hand was getting play and decks would happily play like six of these kinds of cards if given the opportunity. Now only the premium ones are getting the love and most builds are only packing a couple unless it is a key part of the deck synergy. It is much the same sort of tempo pressure affecting both sets of cards. In many ways blue card quality is the Ying to black discard's Yang. Both are card neutral, both typically cost one mana, the good ones at least! And Both provide information. The blue improve your card quality while the black reduce your opponents. Net mana and cards for both players are the same. 

The increased opportunity cost of playing a card like Thoughtseize simply relates to the increasing number of other good things there are to do with one mana. More playable removal spells, more dorks to deploy, that sort of thing. Indeed, the Triomes are so potent a thing to get setup they are often some of the best things to be doing with your first turn of mana. A huge draw to cards like Thoughtsieze back in the day was that they would be incredibly powerful while not getting in the way of other powerful cards in the deck. It was just like having free power, but that power is not quite so free any more. There is also the pressure from the opponent, they deploy a Ragavan or a mana dork and you probably want to use removal on it but if you do that then you are not using your discard on turn one and as such it is either going to really get in the way of a midgame curve play or sit in hand until properly dead. While most one mana spells drop in value as the game progresses discard effects suffer most. 

It is of course worth noting that hand disruption in cube is, and has always been worse than it is in constructed. In standard there are usually very few good playable one drops, fewer still able to represent as much power as Thoughtsieze. In formats like modern you are getting to unpick synergies , disrupt combos and all that jazz. Games are that much quicker and you are able to play a much higher % of your deck as discard and so it can be rather more of a plan and can scale with itself better rather than being a risk or huge liability late game. Inquisition of Kozilek and other cards with that style are naturally worse in formats with higher curves and cube is certainly still higher than modern and legacy. 

In part I wonder if part of the reason for the decline in black discard is that I am offering the wrong sorts. Duress and Inquisition hit less and less as things tend towards a midrange dork based slugfest! I think I need to revisit Harsh Scrutiny, Despise, and Dreams of Steel and Oil. The ability for these cards to take away the game winning later threats most commonly seen seems to have more present value than a card that has more overall coverage or more early game. This might help increase the overall play of these types of cards but it won't help Thoughtseize who remains kind of the pile. 

So, onto this last point. What am I talking about when I talk about natural cards? Simply, these are the cards you start with and the cards you draw each turn. The cards that cost you nothing to obtain. In an ideal setting you want to know roughly the number of turns a game is, we shall call this X. You then get 6 or 7 + X natural cards based on starting or not. The best tempo you can achieve is having X lands and spending all your mana and all your cards. If X is 4 then we will have 10.5 cards, of which we want 4 lands. That will give us 10 mana to spend on the remaining 6.5 cards. As such we would want the average cost of our non-land cards to be about 1.5 mana and we would want about 40% of our cards to be lands. This would give us the most possible tempo. Just dumping cards and mana into tempo as fast as we can with no time wasted on anything else. If X is 6 then we are looking more like 12.5 natural cards, ideally about six land. Just under half! We then have 21 mana to spend on 6.5 cards greatly upping the average mana cost we are looking for to over 3 per non-land card. It is all a lot tidier and less stretched for decks that operate quicker that is for sure. The longer you go the more you are going to need means of smoothing things out or drawing more so as to have the right balance of things. Those being things to do early, stuff to spend mana on late, and the lands at the right time so as to have maximum possible mana output.

It is incredibly easy to get cards or value in magic these days. All the colours have it and you can lean on cards like Mazemind Tome and Bankbuster for it as well. The thing is, all of it comes with tempo cost and opportunity cost. Even the mighty Treasure Cruise with Ancestral Recall levels of efficiency has to sit dead in hand while you fill up the bin. It still has that small tempo cost of one mana for no board based return. And it is very much the outlier. Some of the next best card advantage spells in terms of mana efficiency come in a lot worse in the tempo department, say Night's Whisper. There are a few cards that are typically both value and tempo, most of these can be more tempo if you are willing to sack off the value part as well. Bloodbraid Elf is usually a two for one with high tempo. It is just still usually less tempo than a Questing Best or an Eskia's Chariot. 

The point of all this is that it costs you to invest in effects that are not tempo and it costs you again to consume cards in doing so. You are not speeding up the game by using discard but you are cheaply consuming your own resources. Likely you are going to be needing to recuperate these card resources which in turn will incur further tempo cost. 

It is the poor scaling and high late game risk of discard that really pushes us over the edge on this issue. Drawing that late game discard spell that does nothing is devastating. Not just because it is essentially you being a card down but being a natural card down. You need to compensate for these risks in building and in turn that seems to be making decks a bit worse. The low cost low tempo side of hand disruption simply scales in the wrong direction with its effect of lengthening games. It makes the deck's mana and curve maths more awkward. It forces you into playing more low tempo cards, or risks you suffering bad draws, both of which can be fatal in this high tempo fast paced meta. 

Essentially my curious effect of tempo on the value of cards is in some ways the opposite of what you might expect. When tempo is king cards are worth less and when tempo is less important value is king. Or so you would expect. Upon closer inspection however you have to differentiate between cards you invest in getting and cards you get anyway. In a world where tempo is king investing in cards costs more. That makes those cards less valuable, the upshot of which is that the cards you are getting regardless are that much more valuable and need to be made the most of. This simply means you need your main deck to be full of high power cards that are unlikely to be dead, either through being too situational, too conditional, or too expensive. You need to make everything count, luxury cards, filler, and fluff are no longer really things you can afford much of. Increasingly I find my deck to be lands, threats, and answers to threats. Cube and booster draft continue to converge in feel which is no bad thing really. Decks might lack some of the exotic creativity of older cube formats but the quality of games is far better. 

Sunday 14 May 2023

Aftermath Preliminary Review Part II


0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb 

Arni Metalbrow 2

Not useless but plenty of better options. Good EDH build around card but in cube this is hard to get value with. Arni by himself is just giving haste to things really, I guess bypassing countermagic somewhat too. Even with high cost dorks Arni is only ever offering mana savings and not card advantage. I guess the gimmick is to flop out some Myr Enforcer type card and cheat out a six drop. All very clever and not worth doing outside of commander.

Plargg and Nassari 3

Not as good in heads up play as it is in multiplayer. Slow and vulnerable is my main issue here. This will draw and play the worse of two cards each turn. That is a card and a couple of mana. Decent. New compleated Omnath decent. But still not good enough. 

Tazri, Stalwart Survivor 3

Another cool looking EDH build around card that is just a bit narrow for cube. 

Jirina, Dauntless General 3

Sure, this is great in a tribal humans deck and not elsewhere. 

Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival 3

I like this one a lot. Easy to power up and lots of nice things it works with. Still however too narrow for most drafting cubes. 

Danitha, New Benalia's Light 3

I almost didn't bother reviewing this, only really a sense of OCD completion compelled me. Like so many new cards this is great in the places that want it and narrow enough to not be wanted much elsewhere. That, and the name was tediously long to copy. Turns out I am happier writing a paragraph complaining about something than I am copying out a couple of words... Oh, and the other thing I am saying a lot, specifically with this set, great looking EDH card. Basically this Aftermath set is just an EDH primer set. Hasbro experimenting with new and exotic ways to milk their fattest of cows - the commander community. 

Nashi, Moon's Legacy 5

I do rather like this one. Mostly for the ward. It is too many colours and a bit overly conditional to be a good cube card but there is something to this that I find appealing. 

Sigarda, Font of Blessings 6

Plenty of power here but I fear it is just not enough. Much as I want to be playing angels and humans I imagine that aspect of the card is netting you about a fifth of a card per cast. That in turn makes me prefer the likes of tame old Yasharn. I would rather guarantee two basics in hand than wait around for the wiff of playing an angel of a human. Yes, hexproof to my stuff is great but it doesn't protect the high value Sigarda while Yasharn actually can protect himself. This will just under perform in cube, the best thing about it will be the 4/4 flying body and that is not where I am at with my gold cards. I would still probably chose to play Shalai, Voice of Plenty over this in cube and I cut that long ago. 

Niv-Mizzet, Supreme 7

This is going to be pretty brutal in most cubes where colourless and gold answers to it will be in short supply. Just a flying hexproof 5/5 is winning a lot of games. The jump-start is cute but doesn't need to do much for this to be good. Sadly this is probably the wrong kind of good, I like cards to be interactive. If you support the mana and have a lot of five colour decks in your cube this is going to get play and results. Most cubes seem to be able to comfortably support five colour decks now with the full ten Triomes and with cards like Omnath kicking around they are pretty popular and powerful too. Whether you want to add this big True-Name Nemesis to that archetype it or not is another matter!

Nissa, Resurgent Animist 6

Big lotus cobra! Plucking elves and elementals out of the deck will be nice too, it should happen fairly often, lots of green dorks are elves and a couple of dorks in most colours are elementals. Good though this is it isn't really good enough. I would play Tireless Provisioner or just Lotus Cobra over this if I wanted mana. Llanowar Visionary if I wanted cards and mana. And like, a whole pile if cards if I am about the value. This Nissa just isn't quite powerful or reliable enough to be where it is at. Not good enough at any one role and not quite high enough raw power to ignore the previous shortcomings.  

Kiora, Sovereign of the Deep 2

Blah blah blah EDH. 

Sarkhan, Soul of Aflame 3

Blah blah blah mostly EDH. 

Samut, Vizier of Naktamun 6

If this draws you a card it is good. If it draws more than one it is great. If it draws removal from your opponent it is OK and the rest of the time it is likely bad. The keywords are a lot but they are paired with mediocre stats. I think the average cards drawn from this per cast will be close to 1 but assuredly below it. That means this isn't likely to be cube worthy despite being close. 

Ob Nixilus, Captive Kingpin 6

Big powerful body with fairly impressive effects. The effects are however ones that really need supporting and that could well result in this being too narrow. If you play this and get no triggers it is pretty rubbish. This is situational and top end payoff for an archetype that really doesn't lack for those things at all. I am pretty sure I would be paying Falkenrath Aristocrat over this in my aristocrat builds.

Tyvar the Bellicose 1

Expensive and a bit aimless. Yes, this can go all sorts of wild with the likes of Priest of Titania but there are far better ways one can win when you have an active Priest in elves... This might appeal in 100 card elf decks but it isn't getting a look in at 40 card lists. The card isn't bad or anything, nice big statline and some deathtouch. It is just always going to have a long list of superior options regardless of the task at hand. Cards want to either be narrow synergy bombs or generic all round power houses. Having a bit of narrow synergy scaling and a solid high power level just tends to mean the card will miss out on both potential homes rather than appealing in multiple places. 

Calix, Guided by Fate 3

All a bit wishy washy. This can line up to do powerful things but it can be a bit of a do nothing Grey Ogre. Enchantment decks, like aristocrat decks, do not want for payoff, what they want is support cards. Technically this is a bit of both and it is fun so it should get some play. Just manage ones expectations with this gimp.  

Narset, Enlightened Exile 4

Fine card. Some perks, some value. Mostly this is a 3 colour 4 drop value card that needs to attack to be said value. That rules it out two or three times over. And yet it is still pretty clearly a very powerful card. You could put it in cubes and it would not seem out of place, 

Nahiri, Forged in Fury 2

You can do some cool builds that drop the cost of this very quickly. Sadly the payoff then offered isn't really all that impressive. You might as well reduce down some Myr Enforcer and do so with better cards... I'll certainly play this in the right deck but it feels like that will be a 100 card one and not a 40 card one. 

Karn, Legacy Reforged 2

Um, so, prolly another EDH card. Tolarian Academy trigger is great even if only colourless. Having to pony up the 5 mana first and have your dork survive the turn cycle however is less enticing. 

Saturday 13 May 2023

Aftermath Preliminary Review Part I

 0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb 

Cosmic Rebirth 5

Good card but a bit gold, fair, and needing of setup to be good. I think for cube that Renegade Rallier will typically perform better and that is too gold and fair for cube already. Instant speed allows for some cool trickery or combo safety and the three life helps boost the overall power but it just isn't the kind of card you generally want in draft cubes. Recursion is just too conditional for the most part.

Death-Rattle Oni 5

Not a fan of how situational this is but no denying the ceiling here. A one mana flash 5/4 is good already, have that finish off a dork or two and the exchange is off the charts. How often you can engineer a situation anywhere close to that is another matter. I think this is probably close to good on average but incredibly polar in performance and that isn't really what you want either. This with a Goblin Bombardment is going to be utterly disgusting. It is certainly very easy to make this more ceiling than floor if you are packing enough Mogg Fanatic effects. 

Reckless Handling 2

A more expensive and restricted Gamble with a pretty negligible upside. I barely ever play Gamble in decks and would anticipate playing several other cards before this as well. Even so, two mana Tutors are never to be fully over looked.

Markov Baron 4

Love the convoke madness combo. In the right deck this card is great. That is a tribal vampire deck with a discard/madness sub-theme. It is very much not a drafting cube, you need to lord side of things to be firing, ideally the madness too, and in cube they will be pretty minor. The power on Markov Baron is however very high, so much so that this is making any vampire list and possibly taking vampires in his direction. It is a power level worth pandering too and cards like that are not so common. Aspiring Spike already trying this out in modern, and modern viability is a strong indicator of a cards raw power. 

Feast of the Victorious Dead 2

Powerful but too conditional. I might think about playing this in a deck that is empowered by lifegain triggers that also has a lot of sacrificing going on. 

Coppercoat Vanguard 4

Lovely little human tribal card. It is almost playable in drafting cubes with the human count being so generally high. Another one of those cards I can imagine pushing modern builds. 

Blot Out 7

I literally just replaced Soul Shatter with Sheoldred's Edict! In 1v1 Blot Out is mostly an upgrade to Soul Shatter. Exiling is a lot better than the capacity to get around Ivory Mask effects - of which there are few to none! This is a fine card, playable, fair, reliable, but dull. Put it in your cube if you need more removal or black cards or whatever. Don't if you don't! I am sure it will be edged out soon enough, these role filler cards that are on the mark for power level do not last long in this wild world of power creep.

Campus Renovation 0

Far too gold and expensive for anything really. Pretty narrow too.

Animist's Might 1

I guess I might play this in a mono green deck that was all or nearly all legendary dorks....

Filter Out 5

Sideboard tech against constructed decks or potentially some kind of way to go off with a bunch of 0 mana artifacts, or at least support better cards like Paradoxical Outcome! I think cube is a bit too creature based for this to shine but it can still have some pretty devastating results. In EDH this is looking like a staple, a baby Rift. 

Harnessed Snubhorn 1

Powerful effect but a bit too much work to get the payoff, even in a build around setting. Certainly too narrow for draft. 

Kolaghan Warmoner 4

Nearly powerful enough with a negligible dragon count. Any time the cube happens to have a high-ish dragon count, say, above 10, this is probably worth looking at. Otherwise just a nice little tribal tool.


Gold-Forged Thopteryx 2

I mean sure, there is a deck that will want this. It does useful, if narrow, things. Not a drafting card but one that does quite a lot for the cost. 

Drannith Ruins 3

A bit aimless for drafting cubes but probably starting to look worth it when there are strong synergies at play. 

Rebuild the City 6

This seems really powerful. For six mana you make 9/9 in stats over three bodies which is decent although too vanilla to be exciting. What is more exciting is the land side of things. That makes these tokens a whole lot harder to handle. They are immune to a whole bunch of removal effects for one. You might get to copy a land with a cool effect and get some bonus value or utility there. Lastly, this ramps you to nine mana and that is pretty massive in some situations as well. This is a powerful card with lots of utility. It is a bit six mana and three colours so this still needs to perform above expectation to stand a chance of lasting in the cube. In a lot of ways it isn't even better than Broodmate Dragon so I doubt this will be a feature. None the less, I do like it! 

Urborg Scavengers 7.5

This is pretty egregious. It just grows. A 3/3 basic that can gain a selection of potent abilities as it grows and that also can disrupt graveyards. This seems scarier than Graveyard Tresspasser and way way more powerful if you can flop hexproof or indestructible onto it. I am not sure I love the design here, the variance is a bit high. The floor is good enough that this is certainly cube worthy, the ceiling however will not be any sort of fun to play against and that is a problem. 

Tranquil Frillback 6

Nice utility but I think this is a bit fair and a bit situational. You need at least one of the effects to be meaningful which it often will not be. Then you just have a bad dork too high up the curve. This is playable but it is a long way from powerful. Generally I loke these kind of utility dorks to be proactive, ie, ones I can cast regardless of situation and then not lose their utility. Cankerbloom for example. This is a bit reactive and either sits in hand waiting to be useful or comes out well under powered. 

Deification 2

This is very very cool. It is however quite hard to make playable. I guess I might play this in a planeswalker tribal deck or in one that is a combo in which a walkers is a key part. Otherwise this is just too cute and narrow. 

Ayara's Oathsworn 6

An evasive Slith style card. Usually you get this to a 6/6 and that game is over already. The Tutor isn't bad or anything, it just isn't adding much. The trigger doesn't work if you hit walkers or battles which lowers the value of the evasion. Overall this is fine but a bit dull. The more aggressive your black the more likely this is a good include. Where my black is at I doubt this is getting enough play. 

Metropolis Reformer 5

Another very powerful card that is just a bit aimless. Unless you want these things it is just a mediocre dork. Hexproof will wreck some people, the life will annoy the odd deck. A lot of decks will just ignor the low stats and other effects and be entirely un-phased by it. This kind of card, even with this power level, are not typically good in cube. They do not lead to better games. 

Open the Way 1

I guess in 1v1 play you can tutor a specific land into play if you are otherwise running a fully MDFC mana base like oops all spells. Otherwise just a multiplayer card. 

Nahiri's Resolve 2

Very odd card indeed. Buff my dorks and slowly flicker them? The first half is creature based aggression and would be amazing on the three mana card. The flicker is a midrange value tool and something you want with lots of EtB effect dorks (and perhaps instant Wrath effects!). The marriage of these two effects I think just results in an overcost and overly narrow card. Powerful and fun but not really cube material. 

Spark Rupture 3

Cool and interesting but likely no longer good disruption. Certainly not someone you want to use to "animate" walkers of your own, that is never looking like a good plan unless you can alpha strike the turn you lay this. People are just not playing enough walkers in cube for this to do enough. Perhaps one day this gets good enough again.