Tesseract #4: Ravnica Allegiance Mechanics
9 January 2019
9 January 2019
Tesseract #4: Ravnica Allegiance Mechanics
Hello everyone! I want to begin by apologizing for being absent. The reason was a very human one. The holidays came around, I decided to take a week off, which turned into 2 weeks off….which almost turned into 3 weeks off. I know I said this would be a “release when I want” series, but I do want to try to stick with a weekly basis when I can. In the future, if I feel like I might be going away for a bit, I’ll be sure to make that more known.
This said, I want to point out that this article was written on two major dates. The first portion was written before we’d really begun getting into RNA spoiler season, and the second half was written after a majority of the spoiler season had passed. The relevance here is that for the first half I was making predictions using information I didn’t have in the second half. Just keep that in mind when reading and try not to crucify me if my designs are mindless upon arrival.
Hello internet, and welcome back to Tesseract, the series that goes hyperdimensional on cube!
As we enter the new year, I’m slowly getting back up to pace on devoting time to this project again. Apologies for taking a time off, but I’m sure most people were pretty busy anyway.
Last time, in Episode 3, we had our first single-card discussion on Autumnal Gloom Flip. I think it went over pretty well! I saw several individuals singing gloom’s praises as well as others considering trying it out. That’s fantastic, and it’s exactly the purpose of these articles: To have myself and everyone reading think outside of the box and make a cube that isn’t necessarily just a cookie cutter copy of Cubetutor’s top list.
In this episode, I want to have a discussion about the now-revealed mechanics coming to us in Ravnica Allegiance, which we are about to head into the spoiler season for. I want to focus on how these mechanics may function for my cube specifically, as well as the cube of anyone building Peasant. I’ll also be giving some predictions of cards that I’d be excited to see printed. I’m hoping as always that I can incorporate all sorts of new cards once the set releases. But before we get into that, let’s catch up on what has happened since last episode.
Since We Last Spoke
As mentioned a couple weeks ago, I am currently in a bit of a stale desert when it comes to cube playtesting. As such, there have been no changes to the cube since we were last together, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if there were none until Ravnica Allegiance hits. I personally think it’s bad practice to keep making further and further changes without actual testing, and so for my cube at least, things will be pretty steady for another month or two.
Of course, this will continue to allow me the chance to focus on articles which aren’t specific to what is going on in my cube, which I’m sure is good for the subsection of you all that care more about broad topics than the minutia. So, without further ado, let’s get into our main topic for this week!
Ravnica Allegiance: The Unknown Knowns
Ravnica Allegiance will be following the same general set design present in Guilds of ravnica before it, as well as Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. This is, that 5 predetermined “guilds” or 2-color pairs will be focused upon in the set. Ravnica sets are more multicolor-focused than most other sets, and this usually means people are want for opening their already-full multicolored sections further to allow room for all the new shiny toys.
Personally, I’ll be trying to avoid this heavily. The size of a normal cube’s multicolor section can GREATLY affect the way the cube is drafted, and adding in just 1 more card for every guild makes a big difference on its own. That all said, I fully intend on doing what my playgroup wanted me to do when Guilds of Ravnica came out, which is to add in all of the “XXYY” uncommons that come out to see if any of them are good enough. If you don’t know already, I’m talking about cards like Crackling Drake and Conclave Cavalier from the previous set.
This is not necessarily something I’d advise everyone to do as completing cycles just for the sake of doing so is a serious trap that anyone can fall into. There are definitely some cards added in that may not pull their weight (I’m thinking Golgari Findbroker might be one of these). These will eventually be cut for something a bit more powerful, but I agreed with my group that they all seem splashy and fun to experiment with. And some of them like Crackling Drake have easily secured a spot in my list for quite a while.
So, because it is confirmed that RNA will contain the other 5 cards in this cycle, I can already say these cards will be included - regardless of how powerful they are or what they do. The 5 cards I believe will be cut for these will be Mistmeadow Witch , Blightning , Voltaic Brawler , Zealous Persecution , and Trygon Predator . None of these cards are inherently bad, and honestly some of them are almost guaranteed to be more powerful than whatever ends up getting printed in this cycle. I’m a man of my word, though, so in they will go.
And since we’re on the topic, the Rakdos card from this cycle has already been revealed, so let’s talk about Rakdos Firewheeler . Just in case this card isn’t yet in the database, I’ll tell you what it does. For BBRR, you get a 4/3 Human Rogue that, upon entering the battlefield, deals 2 damage to a target opponent and up to 1 target creature or planeswalker. For all intents and purposes in my cube, we can ignore the planeswalker part of the card.
Rakdos Firewheeler is an interesting take on the Flametongue Kavu formula. Being able to play this into an empty board is nice. Being able to use it as burn is also nice. And the extra point of toughness isn’t anything to scoff at either. Of course, the big appeal to kavu is that it’s a huge tempo play in a red aggro deck’s top end, usually resulting in whatever the largest thing the opponent has played getting incinerated. I think Kavu is probably a better card, but I also think it’s closer than many people are considering it, and Firewheeler will be a welcome addition to my cube where it just may stay long term.
Now that we have discussed these facts, let’s get into the actual mechanics of RNA.
Ravnica Allegiance: The Mechanics
We will begin with the Azorius. This go around, UW gets an ability called Addendum, which effectively boils down to “if you play this card during your main phase, gain a bonus”. The example card given to us was called Sphinx's Insight , which is an instant for 2WU that draws 2 cards, and gains 2 life if cast on your main phase. Addendum is an interesting mechanic that I think makes a player ask some important questions during the game. The cards so far feel like they are costed with the mindset that addendum will be met, which I worry might be a problem. I don’t want a card that is balanced when I meet a requirement I do not want to meet, if that makes sense.
In order for a multicolored Addendum card to be exciting to me, it’s going to have to compete with some heavy hitters like Reflector Mage and Cloudblazer , and those are not easy cards to compete with. The UW section of my cube right now has been moving more towards tempo, but I wouldn’t mind giving UW something more control-focused to experiment with. Something like the following would be pretty sweet:
1 - Uncommon
2/3 Human Wizard
Addendum - If you cast this spell during your main phase, you gain 4 life.
A card like this would be good to play on curve against aggro decks, but could also be played at the opponent’s end step after holding up mana for a counterspell that perhaps wasn’t needed. Honestly, with how powerful creatures are getting, I could even see something like this getting Vigilance, but I want to make sure it isn’t ALWAYS right to play the card on the main phase. I would not be embarrassed to play a card like this in my cube.
Orzhov this time has received what I believe may be a very, very powerful ability in “Afterlife”. Afterlife effectively boils down to the following: Afterlife x (when this creature dies, create x 1/1 white and black Spirit creature tokens with flying). This means that afterlife can, if fact, be greater than 1, and the power scaling on afterlife is honestly crazy. Doomed Traveler is a card that is already good enough to see play depending on the cube, and cards that are pushed beyond doomed traveler will easily find homes in cube.
Specifically for my cube, afterlife is absolutely spot-on for what I want in my BW section. Both sacrifice and tokens are present themes and afterlife fits well into both fantastically. I could easily see myself playing a bunch of cards that have afterlife printed on them. Something like the following would be an interesting card for midrange decks, as well as token or sacrifice-centric decks:
2 - Uncommon
The “front” half of this card isn’t blowing anyone out of the water, but being 3 total creatures whose total power and toughness come out to 4/4 with other abilities for only 3 mana is a fantastic rate. I’m really interested to see just how far they push this mechanic.
The rakdos mechanic in Ravnica Allegiance will be an interesting new take on bloodthirst, where gaining counters isn’t the only benefit one could receive. Spectacle is an alternate casting cost that activates if an opponent has lost life in the same turn. Not only are there cards which become cheaper to cast when spectacle is met, but some actually change the card entirely. Rafter Demon, for example, if a 4/2 for 2BR. However, it has a spectacle cost of 3BR, and if spectacle is met then each opponent has to discard a card when Rafter Demon enters the battlefield.
Spectacle has a TON of potential, and ultimately it comes down to what the actual cards end up being. Rafter Demon is not that exciting. Light Up the Stage , however, is. LUTS, as I wish to call it, is a sorcery for 2R that reads “Exile the top two cards of your library. Until the end of your next turn, you may play those cards.” And it has a spectacle cost of R. Without Spectacle, the card is fine. With spectacle, the card seems fantastic. I actually assumed it was a rare for a while and was happily surprised to find out that I’d get to cube with it after all.
Because spectacle can be a very powerful ability, I fully expect to see a number of cards like Rafter Demon which are only remotely playable when spectacle has been met. However, if appears WOTC is pushing uncommons in this set. I think the following card would be a really simple and fun way to play homage to one of MTG’s greatest:
2 - Uncommon
Deal 3 damage to any target
This Lightning Bolt variant finds an interesting niche next to the likes of Searing Spear and Lightning Strike in Peasant cubes. Instead of it just being a heavier mana-costed version of bolt like strike is, it just makes you work a bit harder for the same effect. And when the opponent is at 3 life….well...the mana cost doesn’t matter. It’s certainly interesting that a card like this would be much better in aggro than control, which cards like bolt and strike fit into both of. I guess that, depending on what the cube was attempting to do, this could be a better version of something like Lava Spike , since that only goes in aggro anyway.
I’m excited for the Gruul mechanic: Riot. Riot only occurs on creature cards, and reads as follows: “This creature enters the battlefield with your choice of a +1/+1 counter or haste.” This is an interesting take on the Tribute of creatures like Fanatic of Mogis which are arguably unplayable because of how tribute gave the opponent too much leeway. The strength of this ability, like all of them, depends on what WOTC is willing to print.
Riot is a perfect Gruul mechanic, in my opinion. It provides a pleasant mix of big and fast that we’ve all come to lovingly associate with the Gruul Clan. And a card like Frenzied Arynx really shows how much they might push these creatures. Frenzied Arynx is a 3/3 Cat Beast for 2RG that has Riot, Trample, and an activated ability of “4RG: Frenzied Arynx gets +3/+0 until end of turn.” That’s a hell of a lot for a COMMON. That’s right, a COMMON. Just imagine what kinds of uncommons with riot we might be getting.
I love Riot as a mechanic for my cube, because it adds in more merging aggression to Red and Green, which honestly have a hard time doing that merge without looking awkward. Green aggro creatures tend to be poorly implemented for cube or in not enough of the numbers they’d need to be worth including. Green tends to just want to ramp to 3, 5 and higher, and effectively ignores any other game-plan that might be going on. I would love to see a pushed uncommon creature with Riot that fills in a bunch of these gaps. Something like this would be lovely:
2 - Uncommon
3/3 - Wurm
When Frantic Wurm enters the battlefield, it fights target creature
Frantic Wurm is a card I built while making comparisons to something like Charging Monstrosaur . Green in cube needs aggressive creatures that aren’t just big numbers on a body, and this card provides unique gameplay. Aggressive green creatures need to be wanted by more than just aggro, and this card fits very well into a gruul aggro deck OR a selesnya midrange deck OR a simic tempo deck trying to get out ahead and stay ahead. And yet, the card isn’t so overtly powerful that you would want it in every matchup or boardstate.
Being forced to fight any creature upon entering means this card has the same downside that Flametongue Kavu or Man-o'-War has, and I think that’s an interesting design choice. Honestly, I could see this card even having another keyword like Trample, seeing as a common like the Arynx gets it. But, of course, fighting can be quite powerful so I’d hold off on that before testing. Overall, I’m excited to see if Riot provides green with enough cards to make aggro function in green sections of Peasant cube.
Lastly we have my personal favorite guild: The Simic Combine. Many feel as though UG got a bit shafted on their ability this go around: Adapt. Adapt reads “Adapt x: (If this creature has no +1 / +1 counters on it, put x +1 / +1 counters on it).” In other words, a creature with Adapt 1 can receive 1 counter on it when the ability is used. And the ability cannot be reused so long as the creature still has a counter on it.
Adapt is a slightly different take on Monstrous from Theros. The main difference here is that unlike with monstrous, the counters can be removed and when they have been, the creature can be adapted again. WOTC has made it clear thus far that cards will be present that can remove counters, and that’s one of the big things that will show just how useful Adapt is. Adapt on most creatures appears to be a bit lackluster in a set full of such strong abilities.
Because removing counters is such a vital role to this ability, I’m hoping for something that is strong enough to be used in Peasant cubes with or without a true counter theme. Something like the following would be cool to see.
1 - Uncommon
2/2 Vedalkin Wizard
2: Adapt 1
Remove a +1/+1 counter from a creature you control: Tap target creature. It does not untap during its controller's next untap step.
A card like this would work wonders in a Simic Tempo shell, and could potentially function in a slower UG shell as well as a speed bump/sleep hybrid. Honestly I’m a fanboy of +1/+1 counter archetypes but the problem they have is being slow and parasitic, so I really need some counter payoffs from this set that are not unplayable garbage in other decks. Savage Stomp did this perfectly for dinosaur synergy as it is good enough without the tribal clause. Peasant Counter archetypes need more of this and less “5 mana 2/2 all your creatures with counters gain vigilance.” Blech.
RNA Spoiler Discussion Thus Far
Okay not a flashy title, but it gets the point across! At this point, I am writing on January 8th, 2019, and spoiler season is well on its way. There are tons of fantastic and interesting cards being revealed that I want to test at some point in the cube, but I don’t think I want to go over every single one now. There will be plenty of time in the next 3 months to discuss the minutiae of this set. I do want to talk about things that have been released in relation to what I’d already typed out prior to us hitting spoilers full-on.
First off, it appears 2 of my custom cards thus far have gotten comparable printings. My custom card Frantic Wurm got a Mythic upgrade in the form of Ravager Wurm . Ravager wurm is a 3RGG ⅘ with riot, and when it enters you have the choice of it fighting a creature or destroying a land or destroying a land that has a non-mana activated ability. Certainly this is a better card than the one I came up with, though at Mythic it’s obviously not even testable for me. Here’s hoping for an uncommon version much closer to what I had in mind!
The next custom card that got a close printing was my card Indebted Twins, though admittedly this one is just not what I wanted. Ministrant of Obligation is 2W for a 2/1 with Afterlife 2. I REALLY needed just...anything more. Give it 1 more toughness. Give it Vigilance. Give it Trample for all I care. As it stands right now, I’ll probably try to give it a shot, but it’s a much weaker version of the card I wanted. And being that it’s uncommon, that means I’m just not going to get the card I really wanted.
The Azorius, Simic, and Orzhov xxyy creatures have also been spoiled at this point and since I’m guaranteed to try them all out, I’m going to discuss them here. I’ll start with Sphinx of New Prahv, which is WWUU for a 4/3 flying vigilant Sphinx with the text “Spells that your opponent s ast that target ~ cost 2 more to cast.” This is somewhat exciting. The UW section is really tight though and I don’t have strong feelings that this will last long term. The card is obvious great in limited, but it’s mostly just a stat stick and doesn’t provide much interesting deck design. I suppose it’s a good card for UW skies, but so is Cloudblazer
The Orzhov XXYY creature is Basilica Bell-Haunt, a ¾ for BBWW that makes the opponent discard a card and gains you 3 life when it enters. I’ve heard from other sources that this card had another version that was then nerfed due to power level at some point. I wonder exactly what that power level was, certainly. This card is fine. It’s a spirit so spirit tribal could maybe do something, but BW is another stacked multicolor section and this does nothing to help token builds. I also probably won’t stick with this long term.
The Simic XXYY creature is Frilled Mystic, and this one is one I’m overjoyed for. I’ve long been a proponent of downshifting Mystic Snake to uncommon at this point as I think that’s where its power level lies. Well, boy did I get a gift. Frilled Mystic is GGUU for a 3/2 Elf Lizard Wizard (AN ELF LIZARD WIZARD) with Flash, and when it enters the battlefield, you may counter target spell. I couldn’t have asked for more from this one. Not only will I obviously be trying this out, but this one may just see longterm play in my cube as I think that - providing the mana isn’t too hard - it fits into a good Simic shell most of the time.
And with that, I will leave you all for this week. Given the strange release date of this article (I normally try to release on Mondays), coupled with the fact that I’m still trying to get back into the grind again, I think I will forgo posting this coming Monday and shoot for the following one - The 21st. I’ll also try to make that article a bit lengthier as well due to the wait. For topic, I might consider doing a double-feature episode combining further discussion of RNA, and a topic about cube itself such as an archetype discussion. I’ll also be voting for what I’m going to call the “Peasident” and the “Vice Peasident”, which are my picks from the set for the best and second best card printed for Peasant cube. There are a ton of contenders. I hope to see you all then!
Flooremoji: This was written prior to that reveal, but needless to say, when I saw that card I was pretty happy.