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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jan 16 2020 12:00pm
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I've already looked at the format's most powerful and least powerful cards. What about its medium cards?

It's not practical to cover them all, since there are hundreds, but I've chosen a select few that are worthy of discussion. These are cards that large parts of the community seem to rate improperly. Cards that you regularly see later in packs than you ought to, or being played more than they should, or being discussed the wrong way in Twitch chat.

(If you're wondering why you should listen to my opinions more than the community's—of course don't take my word as the only interpretation, or the best interpretation, but I am pretty good at vintage cube. I have 17 trophies after my first 50 drafts, using a variety of archetypes. Look up vandwedge on the leaderboards; that's me.)

I'll be rating these cards from 1–4, scaled for a discussion of regular cards.

  • 4/4: Pretty close to broken. Cards like Fractured Identity and Bribery (although I won't be featuring those below, because people already know about them).
  • 3/4: Underrated. In the right deck, will play a significant role in your victory.
  • 2/4: Good, but not something to prioritize while drafting.
  • 1/4: Overrated. It does have a function, but be judicious about when to take it, and even more judicious about when to maindeck it.

 

#1 Dismember

Dismember

The main reasons people dislike Dismember are psychological. Paying life feels bad. They don't realize it's colorless. They don't realize it only costs one mana. But compare this to Swords to Plowshares, which is acknowledged as the gold standard of removal. That's also a one-mana instant-speed removal with life swing, just in the opposite direction. In vintage cube, paying 4 life hardly matters.

No, it can't kill Consecrated Sphinx, but it does still kill a so-called "indestructible" animated Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. And I repeat, it's colorless!

But my favorite thing about this card is something you hear less often: it's a combat trick in a format with no combat tricks.

Vintage cube famously has no Giant Growths, so people don't expect combat bluffing. If you attack your Goblin Guide into their Primeval Titan, it's to Char it afterward, not to blow them out with Necrobite or Become Immense. The opponent does the math, decides they're okay with you 2-for-1'ing yourself, and blocks. Then you Dismember the Titan into a 1/1! "Oh yeah, Dismember exists," they say to themselves while shaking their head and/or sinking into despair.

It even has some other random uses. Just yesterday I used Dismember to shrink the opponent's Wurmcoil Engine—not for combat purposes, but to reduce how much life it would gain, allowing me to attack for lethal when they weren't expecting it.

Rating: 3/4

Not broken, and you're often better picking an archetype-specific card, but it does fit almost everywhere, and a one-mana removal spell is still a great tempo play even without getting into bluffs.

 

#2 Mother of Runes / Giver of Runes

Mother of Runes 

Mom and stepmom. Almost every white aggro deck you face will have one or both of these. They're beloved staples of the archetype.

After playing (and trophying) with white aggro a lot, I don't think they should be. I think people should view them as sideboard-only cards.

White aggro wins by dogpiling damage while restricting the opponent's resources. It doesn't win by playing some doofy defensive card to preempt the opponent's Hero's Demise. If you want to stop the opponent's Hero's Demise, do it by making them cast it. For three mana. On a creature that already dealt them four damage. Not by using a card to sit around dealing 0 while making the opponent say "Arrrgh, if only I could cast this Hero's Demise! I guess I'll spend my three mana on Recurring Nightmare instead."

I know the arguments. "It can be used offensively, letting a creature slip through unblocked." If you want a one-mana spell that can be used offensively, how about Kytheon, Hero of Akros? Or Swords to Plowshares?

"You should have seen how dominant my Mother of Runes was in this match yesterday." I know it was—that's why I said it was a sideboard card. One out of every four matches, it will play a valuable role. If you're being honest, it was a wasted resource those other times.

Rating: 1/4

 

#3 Brimaz / Bladehold

Brimaz, King of Oreskos  Hero of Bladehold

These are obvious windmill slams if you're in white aggro... or are they? (They aren't.) Like the Relatives of Runes above, they're sideboard-only cards. Most decks will watch you spend 3–4 mana on this creature that doesn't have haste or an EtB ability, then kill it with only 1–2 mana of theirs. If your opponent has any removal, your 3 mana is better spent on a Blade Splicer, Flickerwisp or even Hallowed Spiritkeeper so you at least get something out of a removal exchange. And at 4 mana... shouldn't you be casting a planeswalker or Armageddon? (You should.)

But I did say it's good from the sideboard, so against what? They race pretty fast, so I like them against Storm decks. And there are decks who just can't remove them, so usually against those. I say "usually" because, against green ramp for instance, they can't remove them, but can easily block or ignore them.

Technically they also have synergy with cards like Opposition and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, but not a ton, honestly. And if you're expecting those Brimaz tokens to stick around for your Skullclamp, it's time to trade in those rose-colored glasses for something clearer.

Rating: 1/4. I'm not afraid to be controversial.

 

#4 Mentor / Peezy

Monastery Mentor  Young Pyromancer

These are classic examples of looking good while drafting but not while deckbuilding. They're centerpieces of an archetype that just doesn't exist.

Even trying to force spells, if you aren't firmly in storm, see how many instants you get in your final 23. Rarely more than 6 or 7, right? So for Pyromancer to make more than even one token is unusual, and not exactly game-changing when it does happen. Mentor has higher upside, and I've seen it successful more often, but we're talking like 4 times versus Pyromancer's 2. And I've drafted cube literal hundreds of times over the years.

Neither is to be viewed as worthless, especially if you have Skullclamp, but if you reread the wording of my above scale, you'll see why I'm giving both of these cards a stern-but-fair...

Rating: 1/4

 

#5 Winds of Abandon

New this season! It looks like a worse Path to Exile, and in a low-to-the-ground two-Armageddon aggro deck it generally is, but I've already seen this card take over several games in a defensive deck.

It probably seems risky to give your opponent four or more free lands, but visualize how it actually plays out. By the time you get up to 6 mana, most opponents have all the mana they need for the whole game. Maybe they'll get a relevant skip in their curve, or be able to cast two spells next turn instead of one, but isn't that still way weaker than just having four creatures on the board?

It isn't helpful in every deck or in every matchup, but when the stars align, a one-sided Wrath is as good as it sounds. If you're not convinced, here's me winning the instant I cast it, in a spot when few if any other cards would have done it.

Rating: 2/4

 

#6 Dark Confidant

Dark Confidant

I see Bob in the second halves of packs aaallll the tiiiiime. For a while I assumed it would be one of those sleepers that people would eventually figure out the insane power level of and start picking more highly, but here we are two years after I started cubing and it still hasn't happened. He's still a frequent wheeler despite me crushing with him time after time.

So, readers, very plainly: Dark Confidant is extremely good and you should draft him higher.

I don't have to explain why drawing a free card every turn is good, I hope. I also don't think I need to explain how significant the mana advantage is over cards like Phyrexian Arena and Coercive Portal (did you know you can cast him on Turn One off a Chrome Mox?). So apparently I have to explain why you shouldn't worry about the life loss.

#1, it's Vintage Cube. Your life total is barely relevant. Most games are determined by concession without any regard to who's at a higher life.

#2, he doesn't take as much as it looks like. "It will feel so horrible to reveal my 5-drop," I know, but calculate the average casting cost of every card in your deck, and you'll see that it's much lower than 5. Especially since over 40% of the cards in your deck cost of 0 (your lands). It's as good a deal as Mana Crypt's 1.5 damage a turn.

The equation changes a little if you're a Sneak Attack deck with six cards costing 9+, but in any regular old meat and potatoes deck (ie "most decks"), it's not a concern. In other words, don't feel like you need to run Vampire Nighthawk to recoup the life loss. (Or for any other reason. This is not a format for Nighthawk.)

OK, he has a fragile body, but how many decks reliably take advantage of that, early enough to matter? This is vintage cube. One of the only decks that can, red aggro, is a deck you want to board him out against anyway. And if your white aggro opponent really wants to use Path to Exile on this, we are OK with that. In the absolute worst case scenario, a Swords to Plowshares or Flame Slash or something, it's still a low-costing 1 for 1. And that happens fairly infrequently.

If you're unconvinced, I don't know what else to say besides try it. You are sacrificing huge value if you don't draft Confidant.

Rating: 4/4

 

#7 Mesmeric Fiend & friends

Mesmeric Fiend  Tidehollow Sculler

These cards I also reliably see in the second halves of packs. The BW one I can understand for its color requirements, but there's no excuse for the other two.

This is a format that allures people into questionable deck-building choices from the absurd power of a single card or two. Your opponent pulled a Tinker in pack one and put everything they had into it, even though it wasn't open. (If that doesn't sound like a realistic opponent, you must not have played this format much.) So how do you think their game will go when you snatch that Tinker from their hand?

It's for this reason that Thoughtseize is usually better than Hymn to Tourach. And believe it or not, it's even why these three cards are also usually better than Hymn to Tourach. Yes, they can be killed, but, #1, against a lot of decks, no they can't, and #2, even if they are eventually killed, the game has probably progressed enough where their bomb isn't quite as meaningful as it would have been.

Suppose they aren't even holding a bomb when you cast this. A very common occurrence is that you "only" get to steal a Signet. But doesn't that still sound really good? You took an entire turn off their development. Their 4-drop is not coming down as soon as they thought. That Signet is sometimes the only reason they kept their opening hand of 4+ drops.

Last, don't forget that Kitesail Freebooter's evasion makes it a great candidate for equipment, ninjutsu, or even pressuring planeswalkers.

Rating: 3/4

 

#8 Pack Rat

Pack Rat

I thiiiink most people have realized this card's badness by now. I don't see it played nearly as often as the last two cube seasons. So if you think this card is bad, skip to the next one. But if you aren't convinced:

It's bad. This is not the format to be winning with a bunch of vanilla creatures, even if they start growing big. Every card in your deck should be good—so why would you want to pay mana to turn it into a 3/3? If you're playing with Pack Rats, you are basically Oko-elking yourself over and over. For three mana a turn. That is not a high EV line.

Rats are a discard outlet for reanimator—the worst one in the format. Vintage cube has so many discard outlets, all costing less.

Some decks can't deal with an opposing Rats, true, so you could consider drafting one for the sideboard. But those matches come up so rarely that, when given the choice, you're better off taking a medium maindeck card, or a potential splash card, or a not-yet-relevant dual land, or an actually good sideboard card like Fatal Push.

The only time I recommend Pack Rats is if you're drafting some wild defensive deck, you're halfway through pack 3, and you still don't have a single wincon. Then Pack Rats can fill the role, as long as you don't try to cast it until turn 7 or so.

Rating: 1/4

 

#9 Ophiomancer

Ophiomancer

I rejected this card for years. I was a fool.

The obvious benefit is the combo potential with Skullclamp, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Plaguecrafter, and Smokestacksh;all honestly legitimate archetypes.

The less obvious one is the card's face value. A 1/1 recurring deathtouch is surprisingly relevant against a lot of decks. OK, your opponent snuck in an early Terastodon. It doesn't have trample; what is their vanilla 9/9 really going to do against your snake? Act like it has defender, that's what.

Rating: 2/4

 

#10 Bitterblossom

Bitterblossom

People take this card higher than Ophiomancer. I think it's worse. (I give them the same rating, but that's because my system has only 4 points to pick from.)

It has all of those same combos, plus Opposition as well. And yet it's so much slower, and its bodies are so less likely to be relevant. People say "It's a good blocker" all the time, and true, it fends off that Terastodon indefinitely. But wouldn't you rather just kill the Terastodon with a reappearing snake?

The only time these bodies are relevant is in a control mirror, if you drop it early enough. In any other scenario not involving a combo, this should not be in your deck.

Rating: 2/4

 

#11 Regrowth, Eternal Witness, Den Protector

Regrowth  Eternal Witness

These ones are interesting to rate because their value changes so much contextually.

If you're in a green ramp deck: 1/4. There is nothing to get back. Your elves are on the table, and your payoffs are in your hand. If Regrowth is in your hand, it's taking the place of a payoff. If an elf dies, you don't win the game by casting this to recast it. And if you need to regrow a payoff, it means you probably lost the game already. Don't put this in your ramp deck, although it obviously will help out every once in a while.

If you're in a multicolor value deck: 2/4. There is nothing wrong with regrowing a removal spell, draw spell, or planeswalker. I recommend it, in fact. Prioritize them a little low while drafting, but if you can pick one up without passing something good, run with it. I also rank them in the order of the above pictures, unless you have Skullclamp or Opposition of course.

If your deck has Time Walk: 4/4. The insane value of recasting a Time Walk is hard to overstate. It's one of the most oppressive things in the format not involving Upheaval you get that P1P1 Time Walk, take as many Regrowths as you can. And Snapcaster Ma, if you're lucky enough to get passed one.

 

#12 Carnage Tyrant

This card gets overshadowed by green's premiere 6-drop Primeval Titan. And yes, it is a little worse, in that it won't help you hardcast your Woodfall Primus, but don't write it off completely. It's alarming how many opponents simply cannot deal with Carnage Tyrant, and view it as an inevitable clock.

Sometimes it gets stymied by an opponent's two first-striking 3/3 golems, and sometimes it trades with a wrath, but in most matchups, the name "tyrant" is accurate.

Rating: 3/4

 

#13 Lodestone Golem

Lodestone Golem

If you're looking at this as a beater to cast off your Mishra's Workshop—you're right; it's mediocre.

This card's true value lies elsewhere. It's a sideboard card against storm. Not only does its taxing ability throw a huge wrench in their works, the 5-powered body provides a fast clock that they can't trade with in combat (unlike Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, who is overall the better card but will occasionally look sheepish across from a Baral, Chief of Compliance).

Sometimes storm wins on Turn 2 before you can cast the Golem. But honestly, not as often as you might think.

Rating: 2/4

 

#14 Golos

He's fine. But I know that people view him as more than fine.

Any time the possibility of drafting five-color comes up in a Twitch stream, chat immediately starts praying to open Golos. And I say this as a lover of forcing five-color: Golos is borderline unplayable in those decks.

The reason is, they cram themselves full of value cards. Planeswalkers, two-for-ones, draw spells, basically high impact things that make up for their lack of synergy with their raw power. What this means is, your hand is usually full, and of things you really want to cast. You will rarely want to tap 7 to activate Golos, when you could just cast the 4GB Garruk, Cursed Huntsman in your hand. His biggest use in those decks is often his EtB land fetching, which isn't that useful.

High potential, low practicality. He does play well in artifact decks, fetching Tolarian Academy.

Rating: 2/4

 

#15 Recurring Nightmare / Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Recurring Nightmare 

These two cards could be talked about at length, but here's the short version. I was tempted to feature both of them in my article about cube's broken cards. But because I regularly see them in picks 6–10, the community isn't seeing them as broken. I'm here to tell you that they're broken.

Recurring Nightmare requires the most minimal of planning to own the entire game. It is not just for reanimator decks. Any deck not trying to win in the early turns can benefit from a small Nightmare package.

Gonti can be shoehorned into any deck capable of casting him, and will repeatedly surprise you with the ridiculous lines he opens up. AND how relevant his body is. Once every 2 or 3 drafts he'll whiff on the reveal 4, but the rest of the time he provides value way beyond expectation—even if you aren't combining him with Flickerwisp (or, uh, Recurring Nightmare).

What's more, he sometimes randomly wins the game by exiling your opponent's tutor target, even if you never cast it. If you haven't tried him, just try him.

Rating: 4/4

 

#16 Karn, Scion of Urza

This card's deceptive in that it doesn't play out like most other planeswalkers.

Most planeswalkers in cube, you just put into any random deck and let their base power take over. Karn certainly looks like a generically powerful card, and is even colorless to boot, so you might think you can slip him in wherever, especially given his impressive constructed record. You can't.

Karn is great in two circumstances. One is artifact decks, where his construct ability pumps out two (or more) 6/6s. The other is control mirrors, where you can reliably fiddle with the first two abilities several times each.

In every other match, Karn is an Armillary Sphere. (You spend four mana, put two lands in your hand, then die to a better strategy.)

Rating: 2/4

 

#17 Recruiter of the Guard / Imperial Recruiter

  Imperial Recruiter

These cards are good in Twin combo. Obviously.

But stop putting them in your aggro decks. The card advantage boost is severely outweighed by the tempo loss. In an aggro deck, you need to be ramming out damage and interfering with your opponent's plans, not using your third turn for a nice value play.

Aggro decks also don't benefit from the flexibility of the tutoring ability. All of the tutorable creatures in your aggro deck fulfill the same basic role of turning sideways. While you're pondering whether to select your Blade Splicer or your Silverblade Paladin, I'm asking why you wasted a deck slot on Recruiter of the Guard instead of casting a good 3-drop this turn.

If you have some weird multicolor toolbox deck, where you can choose between fetching Knight of the Reliquary and Ravenous Chupacabra, OK I guess, but I've yet to see that in practice. It still seems like a waste of a crucial three mana in an important stage of the game.

Rating: 1/4 unless playing Twin

 

#18 Disenchant & friends

Disenchant  Ancient Grudge  Wear__Tear.jpg

These cards are absolutely maindeckable and will win you games. Sometimes in a glaring fashion, sometimes more subtly, but whether you're blowing up a Skullclamp or an Azorius Signet, the impact can be profound.

You will find yourself boarding these out, but only once every draft or two. This is a format where artifacts are rampant. My favorite configuration is one in the maindeck and one more in the board, but I've even started with two before to good effect.

Rating: 3/4

 

That is all! Thanks for reading and happy cubing.