Hello Blog readers. I know there has been some time since my last update, the last few months were busy. I am intending to finish what I’ve started – the Amonkhet set review. Writing late set reviews has advantages and disadvantages. The cards are less splashy now, some were quickly solved. On the other hand, more informed opinions can be given on most cards. This post will deal with Amonkhet cards that do not have cycling, emblam or exert and are not gods.
Gideon of the Trials – low playable
Gideon was a solid underperformer in any cube that I’ve heard tried him. First of all let me bust the myth – he is not a great aggro card. He is not a 4/4 with more abilities. It is true that he does not die to mass removals and sorcery speed creature removals in general. But he also cannot ever block, and is very easy to kill with even utility bodies. In fact, it is more vulnerable than a 4/4 creature usually. He is not the sort of body you want to equip. Combine it with a difficult casting cost, and you have a very average or even below average beater for that type of deck.
Control strategies do love the Maze of Ith effect that can turn into a small clock after a mass removal. It even deals with permanents which are otherwise very difficult for control decks such as manlands, vehicles and planeswalkers. That said, the double white is a burden in these decks and protecting him is not trivial.
The emblem ability I’ve never seen being relevant. It is essentially just a lifegain spell, as Gideon itself can be attacked. The problem is the plus ability is usually better at that, and gives you more safety. Another small strike against Gideon is that there are two much better planeswalker versions of him and one flipwalker version, and there are diminishing returns for playing many Gideons together (yes, even with the emblem).
Regal Caracal – unplayable at 810 and below
Vizier of Deferment – Niche archetype support
Cute card, generally has many synergies, but is just of low intrinsic power level and conditional. He is splashable, reuses ETB effects and kills tokens. But he requires holding three mana up for most trickery, is a measly 2/2 itself, and it cannot touch anything that doesn’t indulge in combat. Eldrazi Displacer and/or Flickerwisp do the job better. Vizier is not going to cut it in an aggressive deck. He is incredibly held back by there being no good creatures with ETB effects for 2 or less mana.
As Foretold – a sleeper, still in testing
Much better than I’ve initially perceived. It is a mana rock fixing battery. If you can lay it down turn three and survive until it has two or more counters you are very likely to win the game. In some ways it can look like a win more card, but it is not always so. It frees up your mana for other uses such as manlands, activated abilities and various card filtering for the enchantment such as clue popping and cycling. It also allows you to play expensive spells with counterspell backup. It is important to know that you can use the ability once on your own turn and once during your opponent’s turn. You do have to build around it somewhat or at least have a fitting deck – you want to have a healthy amount of instants, many of them rather cheap. One mana filter spells such as Ponder also play well with it, both when it has one counter, or late game to save some mana.
What holds it back it that it is much worse than a mana rock late, and that in some matchups you cannot afford to play a three mana cards that does nothing that turn.
Pull from Tomorrow – solid playable
This card is actually quite good, but it is not a necessity. It is just a great card draw spell to play at the end of turn when there was nothing to counter, and basically be unwinnable from there. The discard is also a blessing in itself for some decks. The reason why it is not top notch is that it is a top end draw spell and you just do not need many of them in a deck or cube. Dig through Time is better, Fact or Fiction is more efficient by enough that you’ll basically always prefer it. Pull is not great at digging for answers, and is horrible at getting you out of a mana screw. I think it is better than Sphinx’s Revelation, mostly for being monocolored therefore much more playable. It is also better than Jace’s Ingenuity and Opportunity if anyone still plays that.
Dread Wanderer – staple
What a great card. It is a great card for all sorts of decks. Recurring DW is usually very easy, the threshold of one card in hand is much easier to reach than true hellbent. It is the only recurring creature that can block. It is good in aggressive decks for mass removal recovery, good with Braids for stacks evilness and good with Skullclamp for card advantage. The recurring creatures are the most sought after black one drops, and this is no exception. Do not leave home without one.
Bone Picker – unplayable
It is not easy to time this well to cost a single black mana. It will certainly never happen on turn one. You can sacrifice a Sakura-Tribe Elder third turn and play this. Neat, but hardly impressive. In the more likely case you need to spend a removal spell on something your opponent plays. That runs into several problems – not only do you rely on that opponent having targetable creatures and you having a suitable removal, you are risking wasting the removal on a subpar target. Also, the removal is usually black meaning you should have double black mana available. The creature is not worth the hassle.
Liliana, Death’s Majesty – playable or even solid playable
It is hard to say she is outright weak. Her problem is rather her narrowness. Black aggressive decks are not interested in her. Control decks do not always have enough creature for her reanimation ability to be interesting. That leaves her mostly as a midrange affair card, even more narrowly a creature-based midrange deck.
That was my first analysis, but it turns out she is a bit broader than that. She is unskippable in reanimator decks for obvious reasons. She has strong synergies with Recurring Nightmare/ Survival of the Fittest shells. She has uses in stax too, with cards such as The Abyss. Zombie synergies such as Kalitas are also relevant. Overall, she is better than the Ob Nixilises, up until when the cube is small enough that 4 Lilianas will be too much (lower than 540 probably).
Plague Belcher – niche
I thought this could be playable outside of specific tribal decks or synergy decks. It turns out that a 3/2 menace is not good enough for three mana, and when weakening other creatures you become vulnerable to removals spells, especially bounce and control magic effects. It is good with Gravecrawler and the like, but the payoff is not quite there to go out of your way to build around it.
Trial of Ambition – fringe
Worse than Chainer’s Edict but not by much. Really gives hope for getting better versions of that effect in the future. I currently think Edicts are some of the weaker necessities in cube.
Bloodlust Inciter – fringe playable
I have not tried him, but I have a hard time seeing how it could succeed. First, it does nothing by itself. It also does nothing if the creature already has haste, which in red is pretty common. It does nothing again if you leave your creatures to block. It will also never do anything the turn you play him. And he will just be another body when that mass removal hits. His stock rises significantly in a more midrange and creature focused deck, where aggro is not heavily supported and therefore most traditional red one drops are not as appealing.
Bloodrage Brawler – high playable
An undercosted stat monster. As with many cards like him, people overestimate the card disadvantage. In aggro decks, I’m often willing to give up on card advantage in favor of tempo. I’d rather win before I need that seventh card in my hand. Not to mention color screws and mana floods which make that decision even easier. A 4/3 is huge – it can punch through Wall of Omens and Courser of Kruphix unaided and crush most planeswalkers. It outright kills most three drops and can trade with many four drops. Clear the way for this and the game will be over shortly. The discard is not a requirement on this card, so it is a great topdeck (relative to a two drop) and plan B to keep in your hand. The discard can even be a bonus if you have a Bloodghast.
Nevertheless, the discard is a drawback. It will hurt when you mulligan, it is weak against bounce. Know the weaknesses and plan accordingly. It is not a reason to skip this great card.
Harsh Mentor – anywhere from playable to staple, very cube dependent
Harsh Mentor is of the better hate bears printed, certainly the best nonwhite one for this format. It only hurts your opponent, and it deals delicious damage. It hits a lot of things, from fetch lands through vehicles and manlands. Some strategies depend on excessive use of activated abilities – think Recurring Nightmare, Opposition or Eldrazi Displacer. The flip coin is obviously that you have no control of the effect and it can very well be a vanilla 2/2 for two mana in some games. The variance is staggering. Sometimes it is the best turn two play, other times it is so bad and you wonder why it is even in your deck. The card is highly cube dependent and I encourage everyone to test this out for his own environment.
Soul-Scar Mage – low playable
A generally worse Monastery Swiftspear. Usually your burn spells hit an opponent or kill a creature. Shrinking a creature is almost always card disadvantage as in the red deck your beaters are tiny. Nevertheless there are some cards worth weakening – Baneslayer Angel is a good example. Overall that ability is quite niche, and prowess is less consistent than a plain 2/1 body.
Channeler Initiate – unplayable
Two drops mana dorks are much weaker than one drop mana dorks. Sylvan Caryatid is rather an exception as she fixes, she can block small things and most importantly she is reliable. She cannot be burned out. Initiate can, but trades that with a meaningful body after a few activations. Cool, but unimpressive. I’d rather not be limited to three uses – mana screws and Armageddons happen. Also, a 3/4 vanilla body is not great or exciting by the stage when you will have it.
Manglehorn – staple in powered, high playable in unpowered
Viridian Shaman and Uktabi Orangutan are great cards. This is better. Making mana rocks come into play tapped makes them significantly weaker. You are happy when that Wurmcoil Engine or Baleful Strix is not blocking for a turn. Overall a great hoser design for cube. It is proactive, strong and meaningful but does not invalidate the strategy as a Shatterstorm does.
Prowling Serpopard – niche
That is a bad hoser design. Not only are counterspells much less common than artifacts, ‘pard completely invalidates all counterspells they might hold (if you play a heavy creature deck). It is not helped by the snake cat being unsplashable, low impact as a 4/3 for three mana without evasion, value or combat abilities and doubly inherently narrow (specific green decks in specific matchups).
Vizier of the Menagerie – Playable to high playable
Very rare to “draw” more than one or two cards with it, with the average being less than one. The naga can offer quite a bit without that though, as it has a great body, especially on the defense. It is an ultimate fixer for creatures. It also gives you, and only to you, knowledge about your next draws. The splashable cost is also great here and rare amongst green four drops.
The card does have several problems. The first is that it is just a vanilla body by the turn you play it, and sometimes for longer. Vulnerable to removals and bounce. The second is that sometimes playing out all your creatures is not your best interest as you will get blown out by mass removals. Yes, you do not have to play badly, but it means your 3/4 body is just that, a 3/4 body. The third is narrowness. Vizier will generate value over time. That limits it to midrange creature-heavy decks. Green should do those things often, but still this is not a card you can throw into every deck.
Nissa, Steward of Elements – staple
By far and away the best card in a struggling guild. She is a bomb worthy of splashing. She is great at all points along the curve. Play her early and improve your draws significantly, in a Dack Fayden style. Her middle ability is the rarest one, but it is useful if you must have an out or another mana right now. It can also be a source of card advantage if you can pair it with library manipulation. But still, it is usually better to just scry and build up towards the ultimate, which is also playable immediately if you cast Nissa late. The ultimate is of the most achievable ones and it kills. Nissa’s main weakness is her inability to defend herself. If you are far behind, if she doesn’t outright kill with her ultimate she will not stabilize you.
Samut, Voice of Dissent – undecided, still testing
Samut is somewhat weak by herself. She is big but has no evasion and provides no value. She does threaten amazing plays. End of turn, play her, your turn play Verdurous Gearhulk, attack for 18 surprise damage. Will it be enough to save her? Probably not, but I’m still giving her a chance.