Quarterly Cube Update – Avacyn Restored
The update wherein I add 4-months-old cards to my cube!
We’ll go by color, starting with Lands. Oh, there are no changes to lands? Ok.
To the Artifacts and other such Colorless magic! Oh, none there too? I see.
Multicolor? Ah, yes, multicolor! We have sweet changes:
Brion Stoutarm –> Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Soltari Guerrillas –> Slayer’s Stronghold
Spellbound Dragon –> Desolate Lighthouse
Boros has been maligned far too long with a couple of cards that are merely OK. Compared to Ajani Vengeant, Lightning Helix, and Figure of Destiny, which are widely regarded as three Really Great Cards in cube (one of which is easily a Top-5 contender for Best Planeswalker in the Cube), Brion Stoutarm and Soltari Guerrillas very often fill the roll of, well… filler. They are four-mana creatures in colors that are filled with great four-mana creatures and planeswalkers already, and they aren’t even as good as them. Soltari Guerrillas, in particular, has been hanging around simply because he’s a repeatable removal spell and decent sword carrier (but not both at once? Argh!), but the days are long since past where it was a very reasonable creature for its cost. Nowadays, one expects haste on its red four-drops, or four power and toughness plus a relevant combat ability in white. Brion Stoutarm is almost there, but his inability to hit creatures with his activated ability means he can’t be used as a source of card advantage (maybe taking advantage of tokens?). His size is relevant, but it doesn’t seal a game quite like Hero of Bladehold or Hellrider.
Spellbound Dragon is quite a finisher, often attacking for 7 or more damage – not bad for a five-mana flier. However, I’d like to encourage a little bit more of the counter-burn archetype for blue-red, and Desolate Lighthouse (Loothouse!) gives that deck another way to continually generate increasing card quality if a game goes long, while still being able to leave mana open during its opponent’s turn for counterspells and burn.
And onward we go, through the rest of the colors. Except black, because it’s being a little emotional and doesn’t want to change anything today.
Calciderm –> Restoration Angel
Emeria Angel –> Silverblade Paladin
White is gaining a couple of powerful cards from Avacyn Restored.
Restoration Angel will see play in a variety of decks. Merely a 3/4 flier for four splashable mana is nearly playable on its own (Guardian Seraph is a bit of a pet card of mine, and it’s a decent budget angel in cube). Give it flash, and now you get to do it on your opponent’s turn, deploying itself as a surprise combat trick. And the blink ability? That is simply icing on the cake. Now it is white’s Swiss Army Knife of creatures. Re-use an “enters the battlefield” effect. Untap another creature during combat to block with. Save a creature from removal. It’s almost like a white Cryptic Command, where you simply have to choose the “put a 3/4 flier into play” mode every time. Also, it forms an infinite combo with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (as seen in Modern!). It is sick, and thou shalt play Restoration Angel in your cube.
Silverblade Paladin is an attacking enabler. Your best guy gets double strike, probably crashes through the red zone unimpeded for a lot of damage. Or, is a one-sided Abyss; opponent’s choice. It’s never a good choice when you have a team of double strikers running at you. Soulbond is a slightly risky ability, since the ability can be broken by removing one of the creatures from the battlefield, but the reward is worth the risk. Having an attacker ready the turn you cast the Paladin is another way to mitigate that risk, giving Soulbond a near Haste-like quality.
I’m going to miss both of the cards leaving. Calciderm has performed well as a mid-range threat and aggro curve-topper, with its self-preserving shroud. And Emeria Angel is in theory at its peak ability in my cube now that I have the full suite of fetchlands ready to abuse landfall with. Maybe one day one or both of them will find themselves in a rotation with the remaining quality 4-drops.
Great Sable Stag –> Wolfir Avenger
Rampaging Baloths –> Wolfir Silverheart
Creeping Mold –> Ulvenwald Tracker
Bramblecrush –> Somberwald Sage
So, Great Sable Stag and Rampaging Baloths are decently efficient beatsticks. The Stag even protects itself somewhat. But they’re simply not particularly interesting. In comparison, Wolfir Avenger gives green more of a tricky quality that I enjoy, flashing in powerful creatures to surprise your opponent. I expect the Avenger to perform well in most green decks. Wolfir Silverheart is a monster, and like Silverblade Paladin, dominates combat, making what was once a lonely little Bird of Paradise into a sizable 4/5 threat. Being an 8/8 under optimal conditions isn’t too shabby, either.
Creeping Mold has been a versatile card for quite a while throughout Magic’s history, since it’s original printing in Visions. Bramblecrush looked to be a similarly powerful card, trading the ability to hit artifact creatures for the ability to destroy planeswalkers. Unfortunately, four mana is asking a lot, when the cost is justified by the ability to hit lands. Lands can be powerful in cube, but spending four mana to destroy one at sorcery speed is typically a way to slow your tempo by such a degree that your opponent can capitalize on it. Both of these cards are leaving for cheaper cards; one will give green some incentive to play big creatures to destroy his opponent’s creatures, the other will give it more chances to play those creatures earlier in the game.
Another way to look at it, is that green is having a few expensive reactive spells replaced by a cheaper one (Avenger) and cheap threats.
Comet Storm –> Bonfire of the Damned
Aftershock –> Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Hell’s Thunder –> Zealous Conscripts
Blood Knight –> Lightning Mauler
Comet Storm, the somewhat mana-intensive Fireball variant not named Fireball, is being replaced by the best Flame Wave effect in the game. The base cost is serviceable, though expensive. The Miracle cost, however, is positively insane. “Elesh Norn”-insane.
Aftershock, like Creeping Mold and Bramblecrush, suffers from both costing four mana and having a drawback, which was a fairly balanced design when Tempest was first printed, but removal has come a long way since then. Due to these factors, it simply doesn’t get played much in decks, and it’s increasingly a card I just don’t want to play in general. And I like Aftershock!
Zealous Conscripts comes in to replace Hell’s Thunder, which is s a good card, but one I’m willing to play without. The Conscripts are going to do “interesting things” in cube, stealing all manner of permanent types; it’s also Yet Another Kiki-Jiki Combo Enabler.
Lightning Mauler is one of my favorite new cards from Avacyn Restored and it was actually hard to find a slot for it at first. Blood Knight is a reasonably efficient creature, but as good as it is, I think Lightning Mauler will have a larger impact on the average game. Giving haste to itself or later creatures will be a very aggressive sequence of plays, and it’s not bad in the late-game either, when paired with another creature in the same turn.
Willbender –> Deadeye Navigator
Delver of Secrets –> Fettergeist
Tezzeret the Seeker –> Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Mistblade Shinobi –> Tandem Lookout
Some of blue’s card changes are like-for-like, but some aren’t.
Willbender’s Deflection ability is somewhat mana intensive (5 in total, plus may lead to awkward tempo problems by leaving mana open for the ability) and both the intermediate and final creature sizes are not very impressive in cube. Deadeye Navigator isn’t really a comparable replacement, but it is another finisher-style creature in blue, one that encourages playing the blink archetype (but still servicable as a way to protect another threat on the board and itself from spot removal).
Delver of Secrets has not really been vetted in my cube, but I’ve read accounts of it not doing well in other cubes. It’s something I’d like to revisit in the future. Fettergeist fills a similar (but more expensive) role for decks using the same style of play: placing a threat on the board and protecting it. It may also prove to be more effective than Serendib Efreet at laying down some defense in a more controlling deck.
Tezzeret the Seeker is an awesome planeswalker, but right now my cube is not set up to utilize his abilities to their fullest. He’s at his best with lots of cheap artifacts and artifact mana acceleration (the latter being something I avoid in my cube, hoping to the early turns of games a bit more consistent in speed between players). Tamiyo, the Moon Sage will be a much more consistent planeswalker in control decks, and a top-end threat in blue tempo decks.
Mistblade Shinobi is somewhat small, and while the ability is interesting, requires a certain situation to become very good. Tandem Lookout is likely to behave mostly as an enabler for your other creatures to turn into Thieving Magpies, but also has the capability to replace itself if the coast is clear. Cards are king, and if you have a good tempo deck going with card draw like this, it can be hard to stop the assault.
So, what do you think of the changes? Good, yes? I think they’ll work very well overall. Red and white are both becoming very difficult to cut cards from (foreshadowing: somehow I have to cut three cards from red in my Magic 2013 update!).