Thursday, March 19, 2015

Taking Hold of the New Legacy Cube

An avid cube enthusiast, I quickly took note of the changes Randy Buehler made to the cube way back in early march (link:  The article describes his efforts to balance the cube for, you know, the fun factor.

I disagree with some of the cuts.  Umezawa's jitte provides a valuable tool to creature decks, which can often pale in power level when they stack up against a well-built cube control deck.  Ravages of war and armageddon remain; are they not equally as powerful in providing a way for an aggro deck to just seal the deal against an opponent?  Well, two mana does make a difference, so while I'll miss jitte, I'm not shedding any tears.

I was happier to discover that the "graveyard" deck has been trimmed back.  Grisly salvage and mulch were just waaaaay to durdly.  It was possible to build a good g/b graveyard deck in the previous cube, but you wanted cards like wild mongrel and fauna shaman, along with powerful black reanimation spells as recurring nightmare, entomb, animate dead and reanimate.  Sheoldred was one of my favorite creatures to reanimate, along with Elesh Norn, as they could both help you stabilize early on in a game against aggro decks of all sorts. I one a round in a single elimination with a five-color monstrosity of a deck which had no business winning anything off of the back of these interactions, and came close to scraping out a win if my opponent hadn't drawn a journey to nowhere for my value-generating Sheoldred.

So green seems better.  I'm sad that Eureka is gone, as I felt that it was a fun card, and while it may not have been the winningest card in the cube you could build around it in whacky ways.  A deck like this might not be the best possible, but darn it you gotta go for the fences sometimes:

What I loved about this deck was that it wasn't just Eureka.dek.  Rather, it was the green ramp deck using eureka as an additional mana cheat.  Even further, many of the pay-off cards worked synergistically with Eureka: parallax wave, terrastadon, kiora, and angel of serenity all do a nice job of clearing away any nasty permanents that your opponent might deign to put down.  Sadly, my connection had some issues so I was only able to play one round.

Enough tangents about my love for Eureka.  Let's focus on green.  With the worst graveyard synergy cards gone, green seems a bit better. Tracker's instincts wasn't even very good in Dark ascension, and seeing it in a pack alongside a cryptic command or sulfiric vortex just felt bizarre.  Also gone are some green-aggro support cards, such as rancor or curse of predation.  In their place are some solid ramp spells, like fertile ground and rampant growth.  However, we also got the terrible scapeshift and warden of the first tree.  We're down a disenchant effect, but the disenchant we got in the update is better, as it's a creature.  Stunted growth will be missed, but you don't have to have it to overpower your opponents mana - terrastadon can do the job quite well.  All in all, I'm looking to go green in this new cube.

Part of the reason I'm excited about green is because two other colors at the same time got much worse.  Black received the majority of changes to the cube, and all in all I think it's weaker.  While theoretically the vampire synergy could make up for the lack of individual power level, as an archetype it feels too fragile to rely on, and more vulnerable to wraths.  Black sun's zenith is not replaced adequately by crux of fate, as the flexibility of zenith allowed you to sculpt situations where it can do far more than a wrath typically can.  And while mono-black aggro wasn't very good (and get out of here, bad moon!) the vampire cards that we've gotten to replace them don't seem much better.  Who's excited for vampire interloper?

Red similarly was nerfed, losing such headliners as sulfuric vortex, fireblast, and searing blaze.  If you're demolishing your opponent with a bloodcrazed neonate, that's on them, not you.  Blue changed very little, and remains one of the best colors to be in, if it's ever open (hint: it's not).  White has gotten just slightly better, as the cards received in the update help you gain tempo more than what has left, or just have a bigger impact.  You'd think that losing a planeswalker would be a hit, but losing ajani steadfast just earns a shrug.

None of this is to say that red and black are unplayably bad.  Rather, I think it's important to remember that the odds that you'll want either of them to be your main color will be very very low.  Black is still quite good as a splash, and reanimation is still viable.  Wheeling an entomb is not so far-fetched, and with just a reanimation spell or two you can create a deck capable of some very broken starts.  Black also can provide support two other colors by filling a role; for example, it helps green out with it's lack of removal.  Here's a deck I drafted which went 3-0 by relying on the core green ramp strategy, supplemented by a light splash here and there:

It helped that the packs in general were strong, and green was open,  A good amount of ramp, some payoff cards, and a couple of cards which can just bust the game wide open.  The key decision point in this draft was natural order vs. lotus cobra.  At the time, I was leaning towards lotus cobra.  It felt safer, with its lower CMC and its ability to fix colors.  However, I decided to go with the splashier play, and in multiple games the tutoring and mana-cheating power of natural order gave me the edge.
Additionally, I was very happy with ravages as a splash.  When you've got a deck full of mana elves, losing lands hurts less, and if you have them out an armageddon effect will leave you with the lead in mana for several turns, if not the rest of the game.  During one game I ravaged on turn 3, blowing up two of my lands and two of my opponents, and never looked back.

Round 1 was against a very challenging w/b deck.  Game 1, the opponent started the beats early, and followed some early damage up with the inevitability of bloodline keeper.  I was almost able to stabilize thanks to hornet queen and avenger of zendikar, but he played an elspeth and ajani to push over the top of what I was able to do.

Games 2 and 3 were more representative of how this deck normally plays out, as I was able to use early ramp to move quickly into more serious threats.  The terrastadon does just die to big elspeths minus ability, but he does a lovely job of preventing her from ever being cast:

In round 2, I was paired up against another green deck, this one splashing red.  I greedily kept a one-lander on the draw, with two mana dorks as my justification.  Thankfully, this worked out as I lived the dream yet again:

The journey to nowhere on a llanowar elf may seem unusual but the way my opponent played his hand out, it was apparent that he was trying to build up to some very, very big spells.  At the end of the game he revealed a hand of uncastable 7 and 8 drops.

Round 3, I found myself up against u/w control.  While I lost game 1 to an early vendillion clique which was backed up by a wall of counters, games 2 and 3 were victorious.  This screencap is from game 2, where I started things off simple with a mana dork hitting on the second turn for two thanks to exalted.  I made a big mistake tapping out for hornet queen into counterspell mana, but thankfully I drew well enough to not be punished to hard.  At the start of this turn, my opponent cliqued to get a dorky creature out of my hand and draw my into wolfrir silverheart, who I probably should've been maindecking.  A vedalkan shackles threatened to put a halt to my beats, and indeed him stealing the slime held me off for some turns, but I was able to draw into natural order yet again, which tutored for me exactly the creature I needed: terrastadon.

While I highly recommend going into green in this incarnation of the cube, it is not without some reservation.  If in pack 1 you see that it isn't open, just let it go.  There's a difference between forcing a color and favoring a color, and forcing green when there are three or more other green drafters just doesn't work out.