A short Planechase 2012 review from a New Level Cube perspective

Well, I already mentioned I intend to acquire Beetleback Chief and Elderwood Scion. Red can certainly use some medium-size token production, and I love it when there is a balance between a token-producing creature (allowing reuse with bounce and the like) and the tokens it produces (which means they should feel like a major part of the creature, not tacked on as a minor bonus as with Ambassador Oak or Voice of the Provinces). Selesnya needed a good, solid medium-sized creature able to turn games around (or let’s just say a strong 5-drop which can hold its own against monowhite or monogreen 5-drops like Serra Angel or Ant Queen).

But what about the other cards which didn’t make it? (MTGSalvation has a spoiler only for the new cards from this set, which is a great service Gatherer doesn’t offer – have a look!) I’ll sort them in three groups:

1. Perfectly usable in Next Level Cubes, but I don’t want/need them

Illusory Angel: Nothing really wrong with that card. However – what’s the point? Why not just use Air Elemental? Making it splashable is not a plus in my book. Encouraging players to sandbag their spells also isn’t something I want to encourage. Allowing broken starts with 0-mana spells? Is that a desirable thing? Punishing players for topdecking their big flyer into an empty hand? I already learned that Skyshroud Condor doesn’t really play well (and the issue was not that card’s power level). If I want big, undercosted blue flyers with a disadvantage, I can go to Phantasmal Dragon, Living Tsunami, Extravagant Spirit, Illusionary Servant, Sea Drake and Stitched Drake. That’s plenty of choices (and already excluding some very environment-specific like Esperzoa and some which I don’t even use, like Serendib Efreet or Fettergeist). I just don’t see in which way Illusory Angel specifically could enhance a limited environment.

Sakashima’s Student: Well, I like ninjas. And I like clones. But I don’t see any incentive to combine the two unless it’s power, and I don’t think Clone needs to be more powerful. A ninja should have some kind of saboteur ability, not just cost reduction.

Preyseizer Dragon: Well, Devour actually doesn’t play THAT interesting. I keep it on a very short list of selected cards (Thunder-Thrash Elder, Skullmulcher, Tar Fiend) as an option for players drafting decks which synergize with it, but I don’t like to focus on it too much – creature tokens, as well as creatures which can come back from the grave, have their inherent uses, and it’s much more interesting to keep them around for those most of the time than to always use them in two-card combinations to assemble big creatures. It’s also not coincidence my devour creatures of choice are all splashable – they should be options for an archetype, not just for a color. And then, the Dragon is already a strong card without devouring anything, but if it gets to devour a couple of tokens, it will probably end the game with its next attack. That’s not broken for a 6-mana creature needing some assistance and requiring you to put yourself at some risk, but it is also not at all to my taste.

Brindle Shoat: This card has two major functions: “Don’t attack me, I’d just get a good creature out of it – oh, and by the way, don’t bother killing this thing either” and “See, I am SO clever – I play this card which has the disadvantage of needing a sacrifice, and I actually turn that into an advantage!” I don’t like either of them. I’m fine with creatures you need to kill twice (and thus can use as sacrifice fodder without too much risk), like Young Wolf or Penumbra Bobcat, but I don’t like the Rukh Egg style of creatures sitting back idly, stalling the board and waiting for you to draw that clever card which turns them into a significant threat.

Dreampod Druid: Face it, outside of multiplayer this card is kinda boring. Also, it is somehow counterintuitive – if I enchant a creature, I do so to turn it into a big threat, and if I am to get a special reward for enchanting a specific creature, I expect that reward to make my big threat more impressive – see Metathran Elite or Aura Gnarlid as examples – not to produce 1/1s as a byproduct. But then, I have already largely moved away from the idea of this kind of creature, at least with the aura theme: I don’t feel the option for your opponent to get a 2-for-1 needs to be announced that clearly, and I don’t believe a deck full of creatures which require auras on them to be impressive plays too well. Thus I vastly reduced that theme (and took it completely out of Green).

Baleful Strix: In contrast to Tidehollow Strix, this isn’t an all-around good creature, but another sit-around like Brindle Shoat: “Go ahead, attack into it / kill it – you’ll use up a strong card of yours, and it has already replaced itself.” Obviously, in multiplayer this kind of cards encouraging other players to leave you alone while you accumulate your resources to play your worldshaking spells have a place. (God, I fucking hate multiplayer dynamics.) In an interactive duel, they’re just annoying. This strix is a little overpowered, and a little more undesirable. I’ll keep the other, thanks.

Sai of the Shinobi: On the MTGSalvation boards, people seem to be holding a contest who can decry this equipment the most. Well, that’s the same crowd which usually laments that new planeswalkers are underpowered, so what should one expect? This is actually quite a reasonable card – you spend 1 mana only once, and afterwards this will mostly be always enhancing exactly the creature you want it on for free. Moving it around “manually” is a bit more expensive than with Leonin Scimitar to compensate for that. This is actually the card which came the closest to make my card pool, but in the end I realized that I just didn’t need yet another equipment similar to the Scimitar, and I prefer the more elegant version. (Also, moving it back and forth manually all the time plays better, in my opinion.)

2. A little over the edge or around the bend

Felidar Umbra: With lifelink and totem armor, I’m still on board – that’s fine, and I might have replaced the slightly dull Eland Umbra with it. However, the switch is a little too much, effectively protecting any creature you want for two mana, and also allowing you to use it both on attack and defense (and maybe in between on a pinger?)

Mass Mutiny: Well, duh, outside of multiplayer a 5-mana Threaten.

Dragonlair Spider: A 6-mana creature with reach? Just what I hate. Oh, and of course it’s sitting there, making you largely unassailable, while at the same time building up a token army. What a typical multiplayer card. Just what I hate. Oh, I already said that.

Etherium-Horn Sorcerer: Cascade is, in limited, random, swingy and most of the time overpowered.

Indrik Umbra: Well, okay, it is a 6-mana aura. It’s allowed to be powerful. But this is a bit too close to a one-sided Wrath of God, and it even stops your opponent from playing creatures afterwards. This is not how games should play out. That totem armor gives it some protection against the 2-for-1 risk makes things even worse.

Shardless Agent: Cascade is, in limited, random, swingy and most of the time overpowered.

Silent-Blade Oni: So it’s a lategame ninja. Hm. I don’t like that so much, but it’s okay. It’s also neither completely uncastable nor unusable if you’re forced to pay its full price. Fine. Goes well with the fact that it’s a lategame ninja – you can topdeck it and put it on an empty board without embarrassing yourself. But then, it has a really swingy saboteur ability. In a normal limited game, this will often yield nothing of substance (since it’s a lategame ninja), but sometimes flatout win the game by stealing your opponent’s strongest  card. Well, I guess in multiplayer it will be consistently impressive, allowing you to cast someone’s Emrakul or the like, which I suppose is fun… (did I mention I hate multiplayer dynamics?) Anyway, this is just too swingy.

3. You must be kidding me!

Krond the Dawn-Clad: Actually, I could have stopped just after reading this mana cost – I draw the line after CCC for monocolored (and hybrid) cards, CCDD for two colors, and CCDE for three colors. Yes, I want my players to be able to actually cast their cards reliably. But okay, let’s have a look at that flying, vigilant 6/6 – that’s acceptable for a 2-colored 6-drop. What’s that? If enchanted, it turns into a significantly enhanced Visara? Of course.

Maelstrom Wanderer: Cascade, cascade, cascade, cascade, cascade, cascade… Don’t interrupt me! I’m designing “fun” cards! Well, okay, two instances of cascade must be enough. Let’s just make sure that any additional creatures which show up this way can attack alongside this 7/5 with haste. Admittedly, sometimes this is just a 7/5 with haste for 8 mana which nets you a Lay of the Land and a Fertile Ground. And sometimes you get to Prophetic Bolt the only relevant potential blocker out of the way and get to attack with this and a Krosan Tusker. Just what an 8-mana creature should be about, fluctuating between disappointing and flat-out gamewinning. NOT.

Thromok the Insatiable: Yup, you got that right – this thing can devour two creatures and will still be smaller than a Streetbreaker Wurm. Oh, and of course it can devour three creatures and then be a noticeably overpowered 5-drop! Well, you can actually do better things with those 3 creatures, even if you really want to sacrifice them. But what about sacrificing four creatures? Isn’t geometrical progression impressive? And isn’t it fun to eat up all your board and then either win with a creature with 2-digit stats or lose to a Voyager Staff or Unsummon (not to mention actual creature removal)? Wait – it isn’t. At all.

Vela the Night-Clad: So, I’m giving all my creatures intimidate. That sounds really powerful, but might not help too much if I have few creatures. Well, let’s put that effect on an almost reasonably sized evasive creature for 6 mana then. What? This is already game-endingly good? Then how about throwing in some life loss for your opponent if he deals with your now hard-to-block creatures? That’s it. Let’s jus put Intimidation, Nihilith and Blood Artist on the same card. Sounds like a great idea, since all of those are already quite strong in limited. Oh yes, intimidate is a bit weaker than fear, and you don’t gain life and nothing out of your opponents’ creatures, bit did you notice this triggers not just from your creatures dying, but leaving play? Ain’t that cool? (No.)

Fractured Powerstone: Let’s roll over and die. I mean, let’s roll the planar die.

Yes, I realize this set is not targeted at me, but caters to the need of quintessential Timmies, producing a series of spectacular events while giving the players very little control over what is happening. That concept IS fun, if it refers to sex, but I do not play Magic as a surrogate for sex …well, I am just not part of this set’s target audience. Let’s keep it at that.

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