Breaking Up With Baneslayer

I was over the moon when I traded for my first
Baneslayer Angel. What a card! It was extraordinarily expensive, it was a making waves in Standard,
and pros were lamenting that it heralded the death of Magic. To me, that chase mythic was
the glowing exemplar of a Good Creature. It went straight into my cube, where it remained
for a few years. Ultimately, though, I fell out of love with Baneslayer and cards like
it. I’d like to confess why our torrid affair ended. Welcome to Cultic Cube, where we cube religiously.
We make you better at cube and make your cube better. The term Baneslayer Angel is often used as
shorthand for any relatively high casting cost creature that is a must-answer threat
but that has little value once answered. It is typically a stat monster with good combat
abilities. In this video, I will explain the Mulldrifter vs. Baneslayer theory of creature
value. We will think about Baneslayers in relation to the Vindicate test and consider
the testís relevance today. Finally, we will identify other creatures in the Baneslayer
genre and examine spells might be good replacements for them. Allow me to interject a quick announcement
that you can now support Cultic Cube via Patreon. I have a number of exciting perks for supporters.
Rest assured that this video series is and will remain free for everyone to consume.
Patrons get some extra icing and sprinkles on the cake, however. Patrick Chapin wrote a foundational article
in 2011 that lumped Magicís creatures into two categories: Mulldrifters and Baneslayer
Angels. The value of a Baneslayer Angel is inherent to the creature itself and is conditional
on its presence on the board. The Mulldrifter, by contrast, creates value that does not rely
on its body. Chapin has since expanded this schema, but here we will focus on its original
articulation. As always, the video description below features links to all of the resources
that we discuss. Baneslayer Angelís introduction in Core Set
2010 famously signaled Wizardís push to make creatures central to the Magic experience,
to drive interaction toward the battlefield and away from the stack. When Baneslayer is
juxtaposed with her ancestor, Serra Angel, who was a feature of competitive decks until
1996, Serra comes out worse for the comparison. Even from the perspective of 2019, Baneslayer
is impressive, despite ten years of creature power creep. A fundamental reason for my aversion to the
card in cube has to do with the so-called Vindicate test. I want to build a more nuanced
argument than simply, ìshe dies to removal,î but let us begin with the basics. Vindicate
is, of course, sorcery speed spot removal. A creature is said to fail the Vindicate test
if it is susceptible to a removal spell, costs more resources to put into play than to cast
the kill spell, and gets no value if it is taken off the board before engaging in combat. Casting cost matters because Vindicate typically
trades one-for-one in terms of cards. However, if it trades up in resources, it is generally
a tempo-positive play. When Vindicate trades down, it is itself tempo negative. If a red
deckís Goblin Guide gets Vindicated, this is a sign that the game is going pretty well
for the red mage. A four cmc creature is right on the border, whereby some people give these
creatures a pass from the test and some do not. It is certainly the case that the more
expensive a creature is, the more seriously we should treat a creatureís failure in this
evaluation. As Vindicate is a Sorcery, people will sometimes
supplement its test with a related measure, called the Terminate test. This examines whether
a creature accrues any value before one passes the turn to the opponent. Typically a creature
that passes the Terminate test will perforce pass the Vindicate test as well, leaving aside
corner cases such as protection from Instants. The most well-known example of a creature
that fails the Terminate test but passes the Vindicate test is Consecrated Sphinx. If one
draws two cards off of the Sphinx and makes the opponent spend a card removing it, one
has reaped reasonable reward for oneís mana investment. Mulldrifters, in contrast to Baneslayers,
have most of their value tied up in effects off of the battlefield, and thus pass both
instant- and sorcery-speed removal tests. These cards usually have enters the battlefield,
leaves the battlefield, or recursive abilities. When one casts Mulldrifter proper and it is
immediately killed, one has already secured the value of Divination at 3 mana. Thus the
removal spell trades for a Wind Drake that one effectively bought at the bargain price
of 2 colorless mana. Of course, most cubes do not run Divination (and in fact I do not
run Mulldrifter anymore), but you see the point that despite the fact that Mulldrifter
has the same converted mana cost as a Baneslayer, if this card trades one-for-one for a Vindicate,
one is additionally up two cards for a net increase in resources. Before getting into why I do not like Baneslayers,
let me first state that the Vindicate test is absolutely not the be-all and end-all of
card evaluation, any more than is the so-called Vanilla test that compares a creatureís stats
to its mana cost. My friend Andy Mangold recently wrote an essay on the Vindicate test, which
offers the useful admonition that if we were to take this test as a definitive measure
of creature value, we would conclude that Staunch Defenders is a better card than Baneslayer
Angel. As I see it, Baneslayers can absolutely win
games in a spectacular way. I will for the moment use actual Baneslayer as a test case
for the broader category, though later we will consider other cards that fit the same
mold. The angel is most likely to secure such memorable victory in midrange decks. This
is not in and of itself a problem, but given the limited number of slots we cube curators
devote to mana-intensive cards, I would prefer that the card have application elsewhere too. I do not believe that anyone claims that Baneslayer
belongs in a combo deck, but I have seen people argue that it is appropriate as top end in
aggro or as a finisher in control. I have not found either of these theaters to be the
best home for Baneslayer. My aggro decks are not much interested in cards that cost more
than four mana; I would prefer to add another one-drop to my deck. This allows me to lower
my land count and to avoid a dead card in my opening hand. My first videos on this channel,
by the by, articulate my approach to building white and red aggo decks. It is more common for people to understand
the card as a good control finisher. Hereís the problem: classically the control deck
despises creatures and tries to insulate itself from them, particularly by girding itself
with sweepers. Oneís own creatures are thus vulnerable to oneís defensive measures. But
more importantly, if the control deck has not been playing any creatures (or none worth
killing), then the opponentís creature removal is rotting in their hand. Playing a Baneslayer
turns on the opponentís removal at a stroke. Of course one may have objections, such as
the fact that the control deck can hold up countermagic to protect its threat. While
this is true, this means that Baneslayer proper costs 3WWUU for actual Counterspell backup.
The control deck can find better finishers that are stickier, more resilient threats
at a better rate, as we will discuss in a bit. Second, it is sometimes argued that actual
Baneslayer is outstanding against red aggro and therefore warrants inclusion in control
lists. It is true that red cannot beat this card, as it makes racing impossible, it eats
every creature red can throw at it, and one is obliged to two-for-one oneself with double
bolts to shoot it down. This does not make Baneslayer a unilaterally good card, though;
this makes it good against one specific matchup. My friend SirFunchalot has written about this,
and he makes the case that Baneslayer is effectively a sideboard card. Another common objection is that Baneslayers
can undoubtedly win games of Magic, so they create suspense and anticipation when they
hit the board. Does the opponent have the Doom Blade? The value that one places on such
tension is a matter of play preference. I am not especially interested in fostering
environments in which winning or losing comes down to a coin flip about whether one sticks
oneís Baneslayer or not. But I can entirely understand the visceral attraction of playing
splashy creatures and riding them to victory. If this is a model that sounds desirable to
you, then by all means play Baneslayers! Another motivation to run exactly Baneslayer
is the desire to curate a so-called museum cube. A recent episode of the Solely Singleton
podcast interviewed Anthony Avitollo, who is co-host of the Third Power podcast. Among
the goals of Anthonyís cube is to showcase iconic cards from throughout Magicís storied
history. [Anthonyís Museum WELCOME: Antknee42’s Cube is a playable and portable museum of
Magic: the Gathering that attempts to capture the rich history of the game in a fun and
really shiny way.] If your aims are similar to Anthonyís then Baneslayer and perhaps
other cards in a similar category are a perfect fit. I would be remiss if I did not mention that
Baneslayersí viability in a given cube is properly understood in relation to the density
of removal that surrounds it. Baneslayers thrive when access to kill spells is restricted,
whereas I maintain a relatively removal-rich environment. Cubes that run lighter on spot
removal and sweepers will find that Baneslayers are more reliable. We have been thinking almost exclusively about
one particular card, of course, but this card is emblematic of a class of creature that
may be found in each color. Moreover, some recent cards that have made a splash in cube
similarly suffer from the Baneslayer problem. Doom Whisperer is extremely aggressively costed,
but I have found it to have too little upside when it eats a Vindicate. Of course one may
pay life and scry two in response to removal, but this is a meager consolation prize. Similarly,
Questing Beast underwhelmed in my testing. This card only costs four, which may put it
in a different category from the typical Baneslayer, but despite the many words in the cardís
text box, the card does not offer much if it simply dies. If Haste were traded for Flash,
the card would be more viable. What, you may ask, do I recommend instead
of this set of cards? Of course, the first response is Mulldrifters — creatures with
good abilities. Second, creatures that have built-in resilience that invites opponents
to two-for-one themselves to get rid of it. Angel of Sanctions is actually the only White
five cmc creature that I am currently running in my 450, and it exemplifies these desirable
characteristics, as it has a great ETB and it has built-in recursion. Cavalier of Gales
operates somewhat similarly. I am not in love with God-Eternal Bontu, but I think it is
actually a better card that Doom Whisperer. And just to point out the obvious, Thragtusk
is the Green Mulldrifter par excellence. These days, there is a long list of five cmc
white creatures that I prefer over Baneslayer. Angel of Invention, Thaliaís Lancers, and
Archangel Avacyn top the list, and I rather like the lesser armies in a can as well, such
as Regal Caracal and Cloudgoat Ranger. You will notice that all but one of these is a
Mulldrifter; and Avacyn, while a Baneslayer, has Flash, so she at least dodges Vindicate.
None of these cards are typically suited to control decks, though. Control decks in particular but also midrange
decks should think about diversifying their threats. One may lean into artifacts such
as equipment or Vehicles. Batterskull is a little slow these days, but it is difficult
to remove. Vehicles are not generally amazing in control, though they can be quite good
in midrange. This class of card is hardened against sorcery speed removal, and I have
found Aether Harvester to be a fine addition to certain control shells. Planeswalkers are, of course, sterling control
finishers and good midrange tools. It is not difficult to find walkers that have some combination
of the following traits: excellent defense, card advantage, and game-winning threat. I
have a recent video in which I argue for increasing Planeswalker density in oneís cube. I would draw particular attention to two recent
Planeswalkers. Mu Yanling Sky Dancer is much better than many people give her credit for.
It is a bit hyperbolic but not totally crazy to argue that she is pretty close to a three
mana Air Elemental with Suspend 1. And Serra the Benevolent is self-evidently quite pushed.
For starters, she is actually a four mana Serra Angel. I asked you all on Twitter for your favorite
non-creature, non-planeswalker control finishers or rewards, and you all offered a wealth of
options. These range from cards for Pauper to Powered Vintage lists, from Sorceries to
Enchantments, and from deal twenties to alternate win-cons. Let us briefly consider a couple of control
lists that went 3-0 in my cube and that generally avoid creatures. These decklists are linked
in the video description. The first is a Dimir deck with a few cheap-ish creatures to help
preserve life total. It has quite a bit of early interaction in the form of hand disruption,
spot removal, and permission. Jace and Will do not end games on their own, though they
are excellent, but Yanling can take over with Birds. The deck closes the game by stealing
opposing threats, clearing the board and sticking a Batterskull, and/or overwhelming with Bitterblossom
tokens. The faeries and the Retrofitter Foundry tokens can, of course, either chump block
or suit up. Second, let us look at a less typical control
deck: Big Boros. This deck struggles to find cards, though Wall of Omens, Blast from the
Past, and Mind Stone replace themselves, Genju of the Fields is quite sticky, and Land Tax
can draw a great many cards. This deck trades early blockers for white and redís cheap
interaction. It is quite good at keeping the board clear. The deckís real strength is
in ramping with mana rocks into disruptive spells such as Balance and Burning of Xinye.
It finishes games with Assemble the Legion and Planeswalkers. Emissary of Grudges, as
almost the deckís solitary creature, is a lightning rod, but the fact that it has haste
and can protect itself means that it is very likely to get in for some damage, and it often
functions as a three-for-one. If you wish to continue cubing and playing
Baneslayers, I entirely support that decision. I hope I have explained why I personally prefer
more value-driven, stickier, or harder-to-remove threats. Differences in attitude toward Baneslayers
often has everything to do with peopleís cube goals, which is a topic that my last
video explores in depth. Please check out the Cultic Cube Patreon, and letís keep hanging
out and chatting cube!

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