My Dark Ascension Review for Next Level Cubes, Part 2: White
Archangel’s Light: 8-mana cards fit for a next level cube are hard to come by – there’s not too much room in the area in between “not worth such a high cost” and “winning immediately”. (Good thing I don’t need many of those cards!) Archangel’s Light showcases yet another pitfall (okay, it also fits the criteria of “not worth 8 mana”): drawing the game out instead of driving it towards its inclusion. That is really not what an ultra-expensive card should be about!
Bar the Door: That’s really too weak, even though it obsoletes Piety (had to look that card up, didn’t you?) Once in a blue moon you might plan an attack or a mass removal spell with this as backup, but in 99% of all cases at least you want this effect in reaction to what an opponent does, but you can’t keep 3 mana open at all these times. Shield Wall will help you in roughly 90% of all situations where Bar the Door helps you, but will actually be available for casting roughly three times as often when you need it. And Shield Wall is already a card which will typically get cut from a draft deck in most environments.
Break of Day: Ah, another fundamental decision: I am not using fateful hour in my cubes! I don’t like that dynamic at all. I’m fine with cards which get more useful when your life total drops, but I’m not fine with this threshold. So, you now will have to analyze if you want to take the risk of bringing your opponent down to 5 life or less, and if there is a way to bring him down to 6 instead? This will make gameplay incredibly complicated (which is not the same as deep), punishes you for trying to win (which shouldn’t be punished) and might even drag a game out endlessly. I hope R&D will come up with better ideas to explore the design space created by the removal of mana burn in the future. Oh, and Break of Day doesn’t even have a really interesting effect tacked onto a Glorious Charge.
Burden of Guilt: I would not have expected to see a descendant of Thirst in a modern set. I like my creature removal less taxing. Of course this card is entirely serviceable, but tying up your mana forever plays just so annoyingly.
Curse of Exhaustion: This kind of effect is neither especially useful nor in any way desirable in limited games. Oh, and it’s an enchant player.
Elgaud Inquisitor: Lifelink on a 2/2 for 4 mana doesn’t excite me that much. This is too similar to Mausoleum Guard, which I consider the superior design, because killing the Guard usually isn’t desirable for an opponent, but killing the Inquisitor probably is.
Faith’s Shield: Another fateful hour card. Other than that, quite a generic design. I won’t miss it.
Gather the Townsfolk: Take the excellent Raise the Alarm, make it a sorcery and tack fateful hour onto it (oh, and change the tokens’ creature type). I like the constantly good Raise much better. I think the general idea of that design isn’t too bad, but 1 point of life making the difference between 2 and 5 tokens is too swingy for my taste. This card will probably be the poster child of that new mechanic in Innistrad block limited. Let’s see how it plays.
Gavony Ironwright: Really bad without Fateful Hour, really strong with it. No, thanks. (Really, I am astonished they didn’t print a card like Flame Rift in this set!)
Hollowhenge Spirit: Not all design space is created equal. Removing a creature just from combat sure has its applications, but is, in the end, decidedly LAME. I will use cards preventing damage or tapping or bouncing creatures instead, which aren’t as narrow and quaint.
Increasing Devotion: I’m torn about this card. Its power level without flashback is spot on, and the flashback is high enough that I don’t mind the strong effect (also, 10 tokens are not quite as absurd as those 13 from Army of the Damned). Then again, I love my Icatian Town – weaker, but still useful. And then there’s Conqueror’s Pledge – stronger, but also fine (and the only one of the bunch creating tokens with a creature type useful to me). Those two cards probably do a better job together, with a splashable common level effect on the Town, and a white-committed, rare level effect on the Pledge. (Also, the Pledge’s kicker is about as absurd as the Devotion’s flashback, but a lot safer). Still, the Devotion reads cleaner – but in the end, that is just fascination with the new (and the superior artwork).
Lingering Souls: This is a fine enemy color flashback card, provided one realizes that it is really, really strong (but not threatening to get totally out of bounds like Spider Spawning). It is a bit close to Midnight Haunting, though, but I actually don’t think I would use these cards in the same cube – Midnight Haunting fits better with spirit and token themes, and Lingering Souls better with enemy color and graveyard themes.
Loyal Cathar: Is a DFC.
Midnight Guard: Hmm… pseudo-vigilance on an otherwise vanilla creature (okay, plus some potential to combo with Psionic Gift and its ilk). Not bad. I would have taken a 2/3 for 2W with vigilance; I see no reason not to use this.
Niblis of the Mist: Bah. Certainly a reasonable card, but I have to compare it to Blue’s Pestermite, which is very good, but still fine, and makes the Niblis look decidedly weak sauce. What about the Kor Hookmaster effect? Oh, and there is also Flickering Wisp. I don’t need this card.
Niblis of the Urn: This is much better! Great design for a 1/1 flyer for 2 mana.
Ray of Revelation: Reprint I’m already NOT using (too oppressive against enchantments).
Requiem Angel: This is a bit strong for a splashable creature. Should have costed 4WW, or probably better even 3WWW. Also, feels mechanically somehow disconnected to me.
Sanctuary Cat: Just too weak to be useful. (Somewhere in the dark, a squire’s crying.) But notice that this little cat can kill a Benalish Hero and walk away from it!
Seance: (not bothering to find the accented “e” on my keyboard) Just not meant for limited, but begging to be played in some absurd (and probably absurdly weak) combo deck. That doesn’t mean it’s unplayable in limited, but highly situational and potentially annoying (since its most reliable use is providing extra blockers to keep your opponent from attacking). Not interested.
Silverclaw Griffin: Overcosted. In my cubes, I prevent less experienced drafters from building overly clumsy decks by avoiding such cards, even though they aren’t useless. On 5 mana, Shepherd of the Lost is fine.
Skillful Lunge: That’s a completely serviceable card, as its red relatives have proven, but I feel it belongs in Red. White’s combat tricks should be more solid, like Moment of Heroism and Mighty Leap.
Sudden Disappearance: There is so much this card COULD do, and so little it actually WILL do in a limited environment. Yes, it can retrigger your ETB abilities. Yes, it can “untap” your creatures after combat. Yes, it can free creatures of auras or bereave them of counters, and it gets rid of tokens. But mainly, it will be an overcosted “creatures can not block this turn” effect. I feel it is just too costly, too complicated and too tantalizing for what it actually does. This is not what a 6-mana sorcery should be about – you want a reliable, strong effect.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben: One of the few cards of its kind (that kind is named “hatebears” and designed for constructed) I can totally get behind in limited! It’s not too oppressive, and it’s not all upside, but it really helps aggressive decks. A fine upgrade to the inefficient Glowrider!
Thraben Doomsayer: Shyarite! Probably the strongest, and thus worst fateful hour card. Really, it would have been so much nicer with just the first ability…
Thraben Heretic: I’m always looking for graveyard hate which is maindeckable, but not too strong (like Withering Wretch, for example). This is perfect!
A final observation: Usually, White ends up with the most candidates for my card pool in a new set, because I love efficient, small creatures, and because its abilities are all over the color pie. This time, it is dead last! I guess it is a combination of having the most cards with fateful hour and R&D’s conscious weakening of White to illustrate the theme of Dark Ascension.