Ah yes, Avacyn has been Restored

Yes, I noticed the new set coming out. I actually already thought a lot about its cards. The thing is, debating which of them should go into my limited card pool for Next Level Cubes got something rolling which led to me completely redesigning and greatly reducing that pool – and that took a LOT of time. I shrinked my collection from roughly 3.600 cards to less than 2.300, and I thought hard about each and every one of them, always in context with other existing options (for example, how many other cards supporting a tribe or a mechanic I wanted and needed, and how those should be distributed over colors, mana costs and functions, but sometimes just comparing similar cards and deciding how many of them I could use for clearly distinct purposes). Now I’m finally done with that, resulting in about 2000 cards I want to get rid off (including some I’d taken out earlier), but also a wish list of over 100 cards (mostly from New Phyrexia onward, but also including a few older ones I needed to round off my now much more tightly defined themes).

For those of you who are interested, I will still post a list of those Avacyn Restored cards I intend to acquire for my pool with a few comments, but note that my criteria have become much stricter, leading to several cards which play perfectly fine in cubes being ignored, since I no longer ask “CAN I use that card in a cube”, but “Do I NEED that card to build the cubes I want to build?”

A few general words, though: As should come to no one’s surprise, I deeply hate the miracle mechanic, which stands for almost everything I hate about the new direction Magic design has taken over the last years: Random, swingy, overpowered, and only “fun” for people who prefer to watch the game play itself. But I really like the idea of soulbond (actually, I dabbled with a very similar design once), but I can’t yet tell how well it plays, especially in an environment with decent removal (this has priority – I will not sacrifice interaction to propagate a mechanic which doesn’t work with it). However, it seems to me that most cards with soulbond are strong enough to be still useful then, although not as dominating as they seem to be in AR limited, so I’ll give them a try.

Other than soulbond, AR hasn’t much to offer me beyond single cards – I still don’t use human tribal, because it’s a nightmare when combined with older cards, and since I don’t like to use a tribe spread over all colors (I actually eliminated allies and slivers from my pool for that reason, although there this was a feature, not a bug), and I certainly don’t use angel tribal, since angels are a really silly tribe (almost a silly as dragons or giants), mechanically as well as flavorwise: They are supposed to be strong single cards, not a weenie strategy held together by support cards. Also, I don’t like most angel tribal designs.

Then, I will not use too many cards encouraging you to keep exactly one creature in play, because that leads to not too enjoyable play patterns (I’m looking at you, Homicidal Seclusion). That leaves two themes/cycles continued from Innistrad & Dark Ascension, for which Avacyn Restored fills a few holes: Creatures with Undying and the utility lands requiring dual mana. In the end, I’m still interested in 40 cards – not overly much for a large set, but not exactly just a few stray cards either.

To the cards:

Lands:

Desolate Lighthouse – even together with the lands from Ravnica Block, I was unable to find a ten-card-cycle I liked. Or a five-card cycle, for that matter. I came to the conclusion that in limited a land which only gives colorless mana, but needs two colors of mana to justify its inclusion, doesn’t belong in a cube unless it supports a color-defined theme of that cube, so I wouldn’t keep lands I couldn’t use in a cycle. I found only one possible cycle I liked: Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion; Stensia Bloodhall; Skarrg, the Rage-Pits and Desolate Lighthouse – fit for inclusion in a Red-dominated cube.

Artifacts:

Angel’s Tomb – A very nice card which rewards playing creatures and attacking with them, but also has subtle synergies with self-bounce and flickering. I already use Halcyon Glaze, and this is a reasonable colorless version.

Angelic Armaments – while I severely whittled down the number of equipments I kept, I still want a good selection at my disposal. This fits a hole, and does so with sensible stats.

Vessel of Endless Rest – I wouldn’t have kept it just for the manafixing (I have Coldsteel Heart and Coalition Relic for that function), but I’m always on the lookout for colorless, maindeckable cards featuring moderate graveyard hate to allow interaction with graveyard themes.

White:

Avacyn, Angel of Hope – While the effect is really strong, you are supposed to get some value for 8 mana, and Avacyn likely neither wins the game on the spot nor can it only be removed with card disadvantage (although removing it isn’t easy). I believe this is a good spot for an 8-mana creature to be in, and I want a few of those for some cubes. It’s also the only reasonable choice for an 8-mana spell in White in the whole game…

Goldnight Commander – Obviously another card encouraging you to play many creatures, but also interacting nicely with flash creatures or instant token generation. I like this design more than Herd Gnarr (although the Gnarr is completely fine), since it plays better and makes more sense flavorwise.

Nearheath Pilgrim – I kept two soulbond creatures in every color featuring them (plus two extra in Green). Silverblade Paladin is just too powerful and steps on the toes of Hanweir Lancer, so I had little choice in White. However, I am happy with the Pilgrim.

Seraph of Dawn – really like the design, but this will NOT be common in my cubes – a card that is at the same time always very useful and able to completely upturn a game just shouldn’t be common. It might work in Avacyn Restored limited, but that’s an environment with little interaction consisting of players taking turns dropping overpowered creatures and two-card combos.

Spectral Gateguards – Well, I wish this wasn’t a 2/5 creature, since I don’t like the way these stall the board, and thus use them very sparingly. This means that putting the Gateguards in a cube will force me to leave out other cards of that kind, restricting my options when I want it for soulbond – not optimal, but acceptable.

Thraben Valiant – very basic creature, and thus very useful. Obviously, especially interesting in cubes featuring auras and/or equipment.

Cloudshift – While I’m not nearly as much a fan of this mechanic as MaRo is, since I don’t like tricks which are only really desirable when you can expect a stalled board, this one’s basic, cheap and efficient enough that it makes sense in many possible cubes (Ghostly Flicker, on the other hand, didn’t make it, because it’s too clumsy and too situational to be enjoyable in an interactive environment – well, and because I prefer Blue to use bounce for such purposes).

Black:

Demonic Taskmaster – As I said, I don’t want too many of this kind of card, but a few is fine, and this one can also be used as a risky finisher or a sacrifice outlet (and of course works nicely with Persist and Undying).

Harvester of Souls – Very powerful effect, but I can make use of a few powerful 6-mana creatures, and this is no Visara. I’m glad it has the following two safety features: “another” and “nontoken” – they make the difference between a strong card for high-powered environments and an unfairly overpowered card.

Marrow Bats – That’s a nice design, although I would have preferred that card to not be splashable. I guess it’s weaker than it looks, since not all removal is damaged-based, and since you don’t always get to trade 4 life with quality spells like good removal or other expensive creatures, but sometimes just with small 1/1 flyers and the like. The Bats made it easier for me to remove Sengir Vampire from my card pool, though – I don’t think Black should have a (albeit only very slightly) superior Air Elemental. (There’s also Fallen Angel, but that feels a lot less generic to me.)

Green:

Druid’s Familiar – in Avacyn Restored, Green and Blue have a higher number of soulbond creatures, but I didn’t like most blue ones, so I decided to give a higher number only to Green (to make up for Black having none, in a way). This one, however, is really powerful in limited (I have no idea how clueless a Magic player must be not to see this immediately), but then again, I put good removal in all of my cubes, so the Familiar is brought down in power a little. Also, it is just the kind of creature with soulbond you WANT to have. I’ll give it a try.

Howlgeist – I admit I would’ve preferred an even cleaner design (maybe a mana cheaper) without the extra ability, but this is a useful green creature with undying on a sensible power level.

Nettle Swine – Each color needs a few vanilla creatures, and this one’s in a perfect spot for Green. This is purely a flavor update – I feel the card makes more sense as a boar than as a human monk. (I wish it was a beast instead, though.)

Nightshade Peddler – well, if Black had soulbond, this would’ve been a black design. Useful, basic and not too obvious at the same time.

Pathbreaker Wurm – Again, basic and useful (and not even obsoleting Craw Wurm, although I really wouldn’t have a problem with that – see Vorstclaw). While I’m not enthusiastic about it (I feel that soulbond plays better on smaller, cheaper creatures), there’s really no competition for it – Diregraf Escort is silly, Wolfir Silverheart is bonkers, and I would already hate Geist Trappers if they only made themselves a 3/5 Wall for 5 mana which stops flyers – as I said, I use that kind of card only very sparingly and consciously, and I really try to avoid creatures for 5 or more mana which play defensively.

Trusted Forcemage – the most basic soulbond creature. How could I not include it?

Vorstclaw – I experienced Craw Wurm going from “not nearly as good as most players think” to “nearly unplayable in most environments” in limited over the years. Yes, it was a solid creature in, say, 4th Edition limited, but that was because it was near impossible then to fill your limited decks with cards you’d even NOTICE when drafting or deckbuilding with modern sets. Craw Wurm is just overcosted. There’s some wiggling room for correct stats on a vanilla creature for 4GG, and 7/7 is a bit on the high end, but it’s still a very sensible default.

Wandering Wolf – A simple, useful, although not too remarkable design, but I like the subtle synergy its ability has with enhancers. Also, a good way to give Green some kind of evasion which makes sense on less than gigantic creatures (meaning that it’s not a version of trample).

Wolfir Avenger – well, Centaur Courser is in the right spot for a 2G creature, and a double-colored mana cost on a 3-drop justifies a noticeable increase in power. I’m also happy that it gives me a green flash option in between Ambush Viper and Briarhorn.

Snare the Skies – It’s a Silk Net with updated wording. Silk Net is a wonderful basic green trick.

Terrifying Presence – I like maindeckable Fog variants. Between this one and Tangle, Green now has good basic options.

Blue:

Latch Seeker – won together with Scrapskin Drake and Chambered Nautilus (which I need for the beast tribe – yes, that tribe makes more sense in UG than in RG!)  in the crunch against Phantom Warrior and Cloud Spirit when I decided which basic blue 2-mana evasion creatures I needed.

Mist Raven – a much more fitting companion to AEther Adept than the complicated Venser, Shaper Savant (and compensates for the loss of Riftwing Cloudskate when I finally removed suspend from my card pool). Excellent design (and always undervalued by mediocre players).

Scrapskin Drake – see Latch Seeker. Also, an update to Cloud Elemental, since the zombie tribe needed the blue 3-mana drop more than the elemental tribe (and yes, I let myself be persuaded to make zombies BU instead of mono-Black, because I like Havengul Runebinder better than Cemetery Reaper, which is too strong for my taste, and Diregraf Captain is an excellent design, and because this allowed me to dispense me with faerie tribal, which I feel doesn’t work too well in limited).

Tandem Lookout – That’s certainly an interesting soulbond creature. Actually, I might’ve preferred simple over interesting, but I hated most blue soulbond creatures: Elgaud Shieldmage doubles the issues a creature with hexproof has (yes, I eliminated hexproof creatures completely from my card pool in the meantime),  Stern Mentor is about milling (a non-interactive alternate win condition – an absolute no-go!), and Galvanic Alchemist and Deadeye Navigator have no effect until you pay extra mana, which I feel defeats the concept of soulbond, especially because it’s colored mana. Even more important, the Navigator threatens to totally take over a game as soon as you untap with it and is nearly unstoppable by removal, while on the other hand the Alchemist is, in most situations, rather underwhelming. I like the Lookout, but I might have liked another card in this slot better.

Wingcrafter – this one, on the other hand, is just perfect in every way!

Favorable Winds – This card just makes a lot of sense. (It also made it easier for me to get rid of the anemic bird tribe.)

Into the Void – I’m perfectly fine with Undo being splashable if it costs a mana more. Undo was always a bit too strong for my taste.

Spirit Away – This is a powerful 7-mana spell which makes a lot of sense in Blue. Great design.

Red:

Archwing Dragon – I always loved Viashino Sandstalker and Viashino Cutthroat, but had to realize that they didn’t work too well in limited. This one does.

Hanweir Lancer – excellent basic soulbond creature. My first choice in that color.

Heirs of Stromkirk – a quite strong red evasion creature, I admit, but not too strong for its cost – I believe comparisons to Thieving Magpie and Abyssal Specter are fair.

Kruin Striker – another wonderful creature encouraging players to build a weenie rush deck.

Lightning Mauler – my second choice. While it SEEMS basic, it actually plays a bit differently, since it usually gives its soulbond bonus only to one creature. It’s still fine, though, and I don’t like Stonewright because that is another case of needing to spend colored mana to get a bonus from soulbond.

Mad Prophet – so this is how looting works in Red. I’m okay with that, especially if it’s coupled with haste (otherwise, 4 mana would’ve been too expensive for my taste). By the way, just attacking with the prophet will often be an attractive option, too. Good design.

Dangerous Wager – Unfortunately, this is not just a red take on card draw in the way that Night’s Whisper is a black take on it, since this card really only works well in certain decks. However, it is a great tool for those decks.

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4 Comments on “Ah yes, Avacyn has been Restored”

  1. bezalet Says:

    Thank you for the review, I’ve awaited it eagerly. On Avacyn: Did you ever build a cube in which an eight-drop (and even one that requires triple white mana) is useful? And is such an environment still fun to play with? I mean, Avacyn is not too much worse than Army of the Undead, even though you don’t automatically win when you untap.
    Speaking of cubes: It would be really nice if you’d post a list of one of your newest cubes, since it is about nine months ago when we saw your last one.

    Oh and one more thing: Could you please explain why you removed suspend from your cube? It seems like a wonderful ability to me, providing me with options (I can suspend it now, or maybe rather play may two-drop and hardcast it a few turns later). Even a seven-mana-creature like Errant Ephemeron will never sit useless in your hand, thanks to suspend.


    • So many questions!

      1. I cannot remember. Expensive cards will never be a major theme in my cubes, but ramp sometimes is a minor theme, and it’s nice to give drafters who commit to a ramp strategy or to a slow control deck attractive finisher options. ( I seem to remember that I once lost to a Hellkite Overlord in a cube game, but I’m not sure about the context.) Another way to use them is in an environment with a good amount of looting (and other useful discard options), so that the risk of them sitting dead in your hand is minimized, while you can still profit from drawing them in the lategame. In my experience, players reach 8 mana often enough for this. BTW, note that Avacyn does not win the game by itself in two turns like Army does, and is still a lot easier to deal with than 13 2/2s (exile, bounce, steal; and partly through tapping/enchanting).

      2. I have no newer cube at the moment – we played Crusade for a long while, because it is just a great cube; and now I have completely redesigned my card pool and need to get missing cards. Then I’ll start building again.

      3. Suspend worked okay, but there were a few kinks with it. One is that there was no overarching theme exploiting the mechanic (well, other than storm, which I don’t touch), so it always felt like a few random cards thrown in. Another was that there is a time during the midgame when suspend cards just suck – drawing Errant Ephemeron on your fifth turn, for example, was less a case of deciding which option to use and more a case of accepting that you probably just had a dead draw. Then, the mechanic is rather complicated, requiring bookkeeping and using a rule some people (including me) find counterintuitive (adding haste). Also, not all colors have designs which I like (mainly Black, but White is spread rather thinly, too.) Overall, suspend just hadn’t enough going for it that I felt I needed it – there are other ways to make expensive creatures useful if drawn early (cycling). Suspend didn’t get the boot because it was bad, but because it just wasn’t good enough.

  2. atog28 Says:

    I admit that I found it surprising that I agree to your pov and also find you agreeing with what I wrote (if or if not you actually read it). That’s a happy mood to be in.


    • Okay, you tricked me into reading your Avacyn Restored articles with your comment. Was that your intention? Because, you see, I really cannot find much that we seem to agree upon. You like Avacyn Restored. You like miracles more than soulbond. You look at the cards from a completely different angle (and even in that context, I would often come to other conclusions). You draft a blue/black deck and leave Blood Artist in the sideboard.

      I’m glad you liked my article, but I have no idea what you are referring to when you talk about similarities in our views.


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