Ixalan Fliplands

The fliplands are a new concept in the game. The closest yet not great analogy we have for them are the flipwalkers. The flipwalkers are one of the best cycles that have ever been printed for cube so far. That said, none of that power is intrinsic to the transform mechanic. Jace was a clear mistake, and we can assume wizards have learned from that experience to better balance this cycle.

What was the best indicator to the flipwalker success in hindsight is the quality of the creature. In the case of Kytheon, the front side alone was worth playing, with Jace being very close to the line as well. The new cycle, besides one exception, does not come close. Then we have the difficulty of the flip trigger. This part is a fundamental difference between the two cycles – on enchantments you can count staying around, while creatures are more prone to be removed. As such, with equal triggers the enchantments should be easier to flip. With the flipwalkers, the best cards had triggers that are bound to be met eventually, and all are a natural thing to achieve to at least one established cube archetype. The easier the threshold is to meet, the better the card is, obviously.

Then we get to the land side of things. Just having a land means getting free ramp, kind of like a mana rock that is hard to destroy. That said, none of the enchantments are flippable in the early stages of the game, and the value of the ramp diminishes much more quickly than a planeswalker. Some archetypes just do not care at all about ramp. Finally, the lands also have activate abilities, ranging from the meek to the scary. In general, they are designed for repeated use in slower decks.

The major problem with this cycle is how little “on theme” the different parts are – few are the decks that both:

  • Want the front side
  • Can achieve the flip threshold with only reasonable effort
  • Can utilize the ramp
  • Desire the land’s activated abilities

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Legion’s Landing – unplayable

The front side is usually not worth a card. Even if you flip the land, it is hard to say you have gotten value here. If you can do that consistently for one mana, that might not be an issue, except that you cannot. As we know from Kytheon and Windbrisk Heights, attacking with three creatures is hard, yes, even if one of them is given to you as a 1/1 lifelinker for W. It is only somewhat conceivable in aggro and token decks, but said decks are not interested in the land. Yes, it gives you some buildup after a mass removal, and some late game. An infinite chain of sword holders will be relevant at some point. However, any other mana sink in your deck will still likely be better, not to mention every topdeck. Landing is not worth the petty front side over a more aggressive option like an Elite Vanguard. This land fits control more – keep your mana untapped for counters, and if nothing happens, get a dude. But control decks have no use for the token and no means to transform the enchantment. The union between the decks that satisfy the four conditions above in regards to this card is pathetically small.

 

Search for Azcanta – playable

Blue again got the best card of the cycle. The default mode is quite good – repeatable card selection at no cost, and cheap enough to get you out of mana screws. This is 80% of what Thassa did for less mana, but sending to the graveyard instead of to the bottom of your library is better in almost every deck – it fuels your delve cards, shaves mana off of Deep Analysis and obviously works well in reanimator decks.

The trigger is very easy to achieve. With this card alone it would take 7 turns, but is hard for your opponent to prevent. With other cards, it can be flipped in 2-3 turns. It is worth noting you do not have to flip this if you do not want to. There will definitely be times where digging for the right answers will be more important than the land half.

Regarding the land, blue decks love mana ramp. They also like mana sinks that can be activated at instant speed. The activated ability is not great, but the whole package here is very on theme and attractive. What is great with this card is that retains power throughout the game. The front half wants to be played early, to accumulate value, and alone would be a poor topdeck. With the flip side being immediately available late game, it becomes an acceptable topdeck (as in, better than an island, especially considering you have the choice whether to transform or not).

 

Arguel’s Blood Fast – terrible

This fails all the criteria. The front side is an expensive way to draw cards, both in life and in mana. In control mirrors it would be good, but still not a great card. Compared to Night’s Whisper, it costs three times as much mana in total and twice as much life for the same results.

Now, one can argue that against aggressive decks getting the trigger is easy. You might not be able to activate the ability, but you are all but guaranteed to get the land, which is amazing in that matchup. I think that is wrong, as it is not too hard for decks to engineer an alpha strike or lethal burn. Also, the land is only threatening if you have several creatures with high toughness in your deck, and they should not be too central to your gameplan as you will be required to sacrifice them. It certainly requires too much luck and/or effort to count it as a sacrifice outlet. I see it as a trap mostly – people will self-harm themselves just so that it flips, which is not worth the payoff.

 

Vance’s Blasting Cannons – fringe playable

The front half of the card is bad. It costs 4 mana and does nothing immediately. Worse off, if you hit a land, you will not get anything next turn too. This is similar to Outpost Siege, except worse on the relevant mode of the card. It is much worse than Chandra, Pyromaster. Red is not a color geared towards continuous accumulation of card advantage so the splashable cost is good. Not great though, as that form of card advantage plays poorly with reactive cards (counterspells, removal spells that might not have a target). The flip threshold is hard to meet. The card’s main function helps somewhat, but you still need a considerable amount of cheap spells in your deck. The most consistent way to flip will be with cantrips, but that also requires a good mana base. Sandbagging cards in your hand for the eventual flip is also a losing proposition almost always, if at all possible.

The flipside is mighty. It is not only inevitability, it is a decent clock. It is also a repeatable answer – creatures and manlands with 3 or less toughness can be shot on sight and planeswalkers are an easy prey. The problem is, if your deck is full with cheap cards, you are likely not aiming for the late game. I fail to see which deck could both flip it and desire the transformed face.

 

Growing Rites of Itlimoc – fringe playable

Ignoring the back side, this is not worth the cost. It is never card disadvantage, which is a huge plus, but also never something you want to play on your third turn as it does not affect the board. Never being card disadvantage is only true if we assume high creature density though. How easy is getting four creatures out depends on the deck. It is never trivial, but it can be your gameplan. In general it is overextending without heavy use of tokens, yet the token producers are rarely creatures themselves and fail to work with the front side. The land is great, and something very much worth three mana in the decks that want it. Having enough creature cards, likely some creature token makers, and enough mana sinks is not easy, but there actually are homes for this card. Decks that play Gaea’s Cradle and Craterhoof Behemoth would love this, and green has some support for that archetype with Hornet Queen, Avenger of Zendikar and Deranged Hermit. I think this is definitely playable there, but still too narrow. Cradle itself is better even with 2-3 creatures out, and will always be a higher pick than this sidekick.

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Maze of Ith

Below is a comment I have made in MTGSalvation’s cube card of the day thread about Maze of Ith a month ago. It turned out to be pretty long and detailed. It grabbed a few likes there and that is a good indication it holds interest to the public.
Before that I’d like to note that the cube list has been updated and details can be read here.


Maze of Ith is an exceptional card and especially good in control decks. There is a happy marriage between that archetype and Maze as both cover the weaknesses of the other well. Maze of Ith is one of the best answers to many things control is usually soft against:

1) Manlands. Celestial Collonade? I don’t mind if you pay 5 mana per turn for nothing! The attacking Gideons can also be included in this category. Planeswalkers and lands are hard to answer and survive your mass removals. Maze of Ith protects you from their nastiness, indefinitely
2) Repeatable pump effects. I am mainly talking about equipment, usually making each creature your opponent draws a must answer threat thus exhausting the control mage. With maze on board there will be no sword triggers or Jitte counters. Maze also largely negates Elspeth, Knight Errant‘s most potent ability and Kessig Wolf Run.
3) Haste dudes. With Maze they will never catch you with your pants down.
4) Vehicles. Similar to manlands and equipment, but for the time being the majority of cubes have 3 or so lying around.
5) Aetherling. How many cards can even answer that?
6) Death triggers. This depends on your suit of removals. Cards like Hallowed Spiritkeeper and self recurring threats can pose problems to control.

In turn, control complements the weaknesses of Maze well:
1) Costing a land drop. This hurts least in control decks. You are not trying to ramp nor to win fast. You do not care if you cast that six drop a few turns later if you are in control of the game.
2) It is bad against decks going wide. You are not in a good place if you untap a token with it. This is traditionally taken care of by mass removals. In turn, Maze of Ith forces your opponent to overextend a bit to overcome it, making each mass removal you play more potent.

This is all in addition to effects the card offers to decks of all theaters. Sometimes it is not all about you – Maze protects planeswalkers like few other cards can. Although increasingly less relevant, it is answer to cards with protection against your colors. Maze is hard to respond to by your opponent. It is uncounterable and there are few maindeckable answers to lands. Another incidental perk is that it is quite good against cheat strategies. Titans and eldrazis ignore it, but the occasional Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Wurmcoil Engine or Dragonlord Atarka cry. While most cheated fatties will not be completely answered by maze, it will steal a lot of their punch and delay their clock, giving you enough time to find a proper answer. It is of the few cards able to do so before turn 3.

Maze is a card often misplayed (including by me). It is generally advisable to play the land only after your first mass removal against aggressive decks, delaying the reset button by a turn is not worth it. The decisions Maze creates in races are complex. Which creature will be able to get through, which will be able to block you. Which planeswalker do you protect. This all adds up to a card that is powerful, yet interesting.

Delaying Battle for Zendikar Year in Review

Since we are already in the preview season for Kaladesh and it is hard to fight that for attention the Battle for Zendikar Year in Review article will be released later. There was really no opportunity to eek this in after Conspiracy: Take the Crown was released. I am going to review KAL, and only after that do the BFZ year in review. I’m also in advanced stages of writing a higher cube philosophy article, the first to appear in this blog. Stay tuned

What is MtG Cube Crafting?

Hello and welcome to my blog. This is a blog about cube drafting for Magic: The Gathering. I’m assuming that by stumbling here you know already what the format is. The thing that differentiates my blog from others is the focus on a large (720 cards) powermax cube. The scarcity of written material on the web on about large cubes inspired me to start this blog.

The blog features insight, experience and opinions about all things cube related, from both the points of view of the players and the designer. I think it will be worth a read for smaller cube owners also.

I’ve been cubing since 2008, during Morningtide, continuously with a 720 cards cube. I’ve been active on the MTGSalvation cube forum and now on Cubetutor as well.

Of course, all feedback is welcome.

Enjoy browsing!