DOM Update

This is another update exlanation for the cube list. Dominaria held promise in the beginning to be a great set – the legendary theme in particular could be good as that drawback is negligible in a singleton format like cube. Right after the leak it seemed like we have a really bad set with very few playables. In the end, it turned out to be an average, if somewhat uneventful, set update.

I’d like to recall the reader that Dauntless Bodyguard, Lyra Dawnbringer, History of Benalia and Karn, Scion of Urza have been added in a previous update (right after the leak).

 

Blue

Unsubstantiate, +Blink of an Eye

Unsubstantiate is a piece of disruption at the 2 mana slot. Against decks where you need early disruption, you are mostly going to bounce a creature anyway. I doubt Blink will stay here for long, as I don’t think any deck will play both versions of that card (Into the Roil) and it is still a filler. Yet it is a good filler and something that will see play for a while.

 

Black

Doom Blade, +Cast Down

The two cards are similar, so the comparison appears to be pretty straightforward. The cube currently has 49 legendary creatures and 65 black creatures. That count is after this update, and includes manlands, vehicles and Gideon Jura. Cards that cannot be killed like Ulamog or cannot be targeted like Emrakul are not counted. Seems like a pretty clear case of Cast Down just having more targets, right?

The naïve estimate is not accurate for several reasons. First, if you are packing Doom Blade, it means you are the black player, and as such you should play yourself a large percentage of the black creatures at the table. That effect is hard to quantify, as it will be different between black aggro and black control decks. Second, not all targets are created equal. How often do you point a removal at a Bloodghast? Certainly a lot less than Lyra Dawnbringer. This becomes even more complicated with tokens. Killing a Bitterblossom token will not be a reasonable play often, but will be absolutely crucial if it clears the way for an alpha strike.

All the above is just to say it is not easy to tell which card is better and by how much. What we can say is that Cast Down is the more consistent card of the two. It has a higher floor and less frequent ceiling – it will have at least a few targets against basically every deck, but will not be able to hit every single creature against most decks. The major advantage of Cast Down in my opinion, and the reason Doom Blade is cut and not Ultimate Price, is because black already has many cards that kill nonblack creatures. Nekrataal, Snuff Out, Shriekmaw and Bone Shredder already do that and will likely not be cut soon. Answers in black needed diversification.

 

Demon of Dark Schemes, +Demonlord Belzenlok

Dark Schemes was serviceable, but was held back by a few factors – the triple black cost, and killing your own creatures. As such, it was more often reanimated than hardcast. Yet even as a reanimation target or control top end, it is only great against opposing aggressive decks. Often you don’t have enough mana, enough energy, or good targets for the ability to matter, and I’ve seen the ability used twice in a single game only once. Plus, Massacre Wurm occupies a very similar space.

Belzenlok is a more rounded card. A creature you’d be pretty happy to ramp into quickly or cheat no matter what you are up against. It is a noticeably worse defensive card, as it only blocks one creature and loses life, but also never going to royally screw you and he does have a better body for sealing games.

 

Chainer’s Edict, +Divest

Edict is just a low powerlevel card. Most decks play many creatures, nowadays even a lot of the reanimation targets and control finishers produce tokens. Some edicts are necessary, but not as many as before. A large cube always has demand for more one mana selective discard spells. The last one that we got and was tested was Despise. Depise sucked. I think Divest will be much better. First, there are a lot more artifacts than planeswalkers. Second, black has no way to deal with artifacts once they hit the board, while black has several direct planeswalker kill spells, not to mention creatures to attack them with. Third, unlike Despise, you can target yourself with Divest to discard a fatty for reanimation.

 

Red

Combustible Gearhulk, +Verix Bladewing

Gearhulk fills a very niche role – a red artifact for the artifact decks, especially Daretti. But it is sufficiently weak to not be strong enough even with synergies. Playable in those decks yes, but not game winning and basically always underwhelming.

Verix is entering red as a 7 drop. No, you are not wrong, it has a 4 mana mode, and it will likely the more common mode. A 4/4 flier is not bad, Curator of Mysteries performed very well as a creature here. But Verix will almost never see play in decks that are not interested in his expensive mode, this is where the power lies. Red currently has no creatures that costs more than 6, and only Inferno Titan at the CMC, so there is definitely a void to fill.

 

Green

Dissenter’s Deliverance, +Adventurous Impulse

Deliverance doesn’t deliver. It was added as a convenient way for people to maindeck artifact hate. Turns out they still leave DD in the sideboard. Whether that’s right or not, it is just not achieving its goal. Impulse offers green card selection. Green ramp decks are prone to bad draws – you sometimes draw just the ramp, sometimes just the fat. AI is restrictive on deckbuilding though, and worse in at least two way than Oath of Nissa, but OoN has been good enough that a weaker version can still see play.

 

Woodland Wanderer, +Territorial Allosaurus

Wanderer is just a stat monster. It doesn’t pass the Vindicate test, and is not quick or particularly threatening. WW is very bad if not being cast, which was surprisingly relevant. It is much poorer than the average green four drop with Eureka, Natural Order, Oath of Druids, Sneak Attack and every reanimation, but also with Green Sun’s Zenith, As Fortold and Nissa, Steward of Elements. It is poor when it comes back from the white Oblivion Ring effects. Requiring multiple colors to cast him is not a big hurdle, but still prevents certain decks from maindecking him, especially those that are near mono green.

Allosaurus has a beefy base mode, not great but good to have. The dino offers green two things it needs – a removal spells, albeit a limited and very expensive one, and card advantage. It is also a mana sink which ramp decks like. It is not great in any mode, yet green four drops are unexciting enough for it to survive for a bit.

 

Multicolored

Fleecemane Lion, +Shalai, Voice of Plenty

I’ll start by explaining why Shalai is not that hot, as I believe she will be overrated. She does nothing alone besides being a splashable 3/4 flier (that is surprisingly almost good enough though). She is not great offensively and not great defensively. Even if you do have other creatures out, they need to be better than Shalai for the ability to matter. Case in point, almost all creatures that cost three or less will have a worse body while on board than Shalai anyway. An opponent having a removal will point it at her anyways. Even when you do have larger creatures, pointing an Ultimate Price at her is still a good deal for your opponent.

I’m not saying the ability is blank, I’m just saying it matters far less than it initially seems. Somewhat like Elspeth, Knight Errant’s ultimate. Shalai will be most potent against burn based decks, as 4 toughness is most likely a 2 for 1 against them. She can be anything from just a 2 for 1 and some lifegain into a card that protects your precious elves from dividable burn or allows planeswalkers to survive more than one turn. She prevents targeted discard, though she is too expensive to be truly effective in that role. That pretty much ends there. Overall it is hard to envision it mattering consistently, which is why I think she will be unplayable in decks without green.

There is nothing wrong with Fleecemane really, and I believe the two cards are of about equal powerlevel. Selesnya has two other two drops, so some diversification seems good, however all the white four drops are better than or very close in powerlevel to Shalai even in Selesnya decks, what you cannot say about white two drop and Fleecemane Lion. Both are mana sinks. Shalai plays well with the tokens and anthem archetype, which is a reason enough to try her when the power is so close.

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March 21st update – Dominaria leaked cards, white overhaul

Weird to do two consecutive quite large updates in such a short time. The main motivation for this update is the Dominaria cards leak. Dominaria is a surprisingly average set judging from what we have seen so far, and it is unlikely we will get much more, as the remaining cards should be simpler by the nature of the spoil (edit: already we have seen a nice black removal spell…). The second part of the update is just oversights and wrong decisions that needed to be corrected on the previous update.

The third part is specifically tackling white. White aggro has been weak recently. This mostly refers to mono-white, or heavy white decks, as white\black is commonly drafted and more successful. There are several possible reasons for this weakness. The first note is that white’s curve was a bit too heavy on the two drops. The second is that white has no reach and currently not enough good ways to compensate for it. Traditionally, the two Armageddons carried white forward, just making sure there is no late game to worry about. Nowadays they are much less effective at that role. If your opponent played on-curve creatures himself, the board is likely even and playing Armageddon is just a gamble. Most decks will play an early mana rock, mana elves or moxen and will recover way before you do from the mass land destruction. In best case scenarios, you will hit a draw-go deck when it is tapped out, or a ramp deck that used only land based ramp and did nothing else in the first three turns. Both are highly unlikely and most Armageddons play out nowadays more like win more cards. They were not cut in this update, but might be soon after some more serious rethinking about the color.

The other way for white to have reach is by going wide. Tokens are hard to block and remove effectively, giving trouble to most decks. The problem is that most token cards are not great aggro cards, let alone control cards. Some more token support was added in this update, but it wasn’t an all-in change. A more realistic approach at this point of time is just to combine white with another color for reach, inevitability or resource denial when drafting. Specifically the double white two drops are bad in that kind of deck. They both want to get down early, which very hard to do in a two-colored deck and the cards are not very powerful to begin with. They are somewhat of a trap maybe if mono-white is too weak to be a good deck.

 

White

Savannah Lions, +Dauntless Bodyguard

I’d already started to write a short article about white one drops before I wrote this update. Dauntless Bodyguard is as efficient as every other aggressive one drop but covers two of the traditional weaknesses of such a creature. First, it is a useful topdeck later in the game. It has board impact and relevancy, assuming you have another meaningful creature on board and your opponent plays some targeted removal in his final 40. Second, it has uses outside aggro decks. Spot removal protection is something midrange, ramp and perhaps cheat decks want sometimes, though probably more as a sideboard tool than a maindeck one.

Lions is simply the weakest one drop currently. A more detailed look at the state of white one drops will be published in this blog soon.

 

Gideon of the Trials, +History of Benalia

Trials is a control only card in practice. It is too situational, not aggressive enough and has low initial impact for aggro and midrange. Control decks are rarely mainly white. This is the sort of card that really wants to come down early as later in the game it could face a gamestate that it will be uncastable in. As such it was hard to play, and for metagame balance purposes a control focused card is less needed now.

Hard to say how good History of Benalia will be. It has low initial impact, but a disproportionately large one for a three drop two turns after it hits the battlefield. Killing a token early with a shock or bounce largely renders the card bad. Knight synergy is not negligible in white at all though, with five mono white knights that cost four or less.

What makes HoB more interesting is the synergy it has with global pump effects. It will also provide two attackers for Kytheon. Good with Flickerwisp and Sun Titan as well. This might be the sort of playable crossover between aggro and tokens.

 

Baneslayer Angel, +Lyra, Dawnbringer

An upgrade. There are six other angels in white to pump. Of them, two already have lifelink. Perhaps a more important perk over BSA is being legendary, Lyra can be protected with Karakas and is fetchable with Thalia’s Lancers. The question is therefore actually why is BSA cut? The answer is not to superbly nerf aggro, especially now that Exalted Angel is back in the cube. All three are supremely hard counters to aggro, yet weak against control as they are easy to answer and provide no value. For metagame calls as well as diversification, this is the five drop cut.

 

Hallowed Burial, +Settle the Wreckage

Settle is cheap enough to actually be a useful mass removal against aggro. Burial is just a bit too late to the party. Settle will likely be worse in some matchups, say a deck that hardcasts eldrazi, but should still be better on average. White has plenty of spot removals that exile, masses of small things is what mass removals are for. One of the few swaps in the update that favors control and not aggro.

 

Precinct Captain, +Legion’s Landing

For double white two drops, see above. If you can get a land and a useful body out of it, Legion’s Landing is a great card for one mana. You are never going to play the card if you cannot flip it reliably. As such it is restricted to aggressive decks or token builds. Some cubes report good results with it and I am always intrigued by playable one drops. Small synergies with Kor Skyfisher and Flickerwisp exist.

 

Trueheart Duelist, +Hidden Dragonslayer

Duelist is just too vanilla as a 2/2. You technically gain card advantage out of it, but the body is so bad for the cost it doesn’t overly matter. His/her best use is as a double fog, not a very wanted effect. Dragonslayer is getting back, not because it became better than it was last time, but because it is preferable to the card getting cut.

 

Faith’s Fetters, +Secure the Wastes

Fetters is a control-only card. It is certainly not the best removal in white, with the high casting cost. White four drops are stacked. Secure is a pretty widely playable token generator, and plays very well with anthems. Secure does need synergies to carry it, it is chiefly a tokens deck card, but it does have uses in other deck types (sideboard in Selesnya ramp against permission decks, sideboard in Azorius decks against aggro).

 

Quarantine Field, +Angel of Sanctions

Quarantine Field has a higher ceiling for sure, but Angel has the higher average case scenario. Quarantine Field’s most common value for X is 1, you often just cast it to survive and then it is a worse Oblivion Ring. Angel cannot be cast at all for four mana, but at 5 you gain both an answer and a threat. Angel has a great body to pressure future planeswalkers. Field can remove 2+ permanents, making it especially good in midrange matchups, where removing a few blockers for a turn or two will close the game. As a defensive card, Angel is better. It can remove and block on turn 5. Against aggressive decks that is by far the better deal. As a creature it is also an actual win condition, and will benefit from global pump and equipment. Angel is also useful when there are no targets out (niche), and has some synergies with discard outlets and Entomb. It is still the worst 5 drop in white though.

 

Blue

Compulsive Research, +Man-o’-War

There is too much card draw in blue. Blue needs more things that affect the board. Research is among the worst card draw/selection cards as it is sorcery speed. Often you use your cheap card draw and selection spells to draw more lands, so discarding one is counterproductive, making Compulsive Searching a pure card selection spell far more often than you’d imagine. The jellyfish is there to slow down opposing decks, clear the way for attackers for a turn or kill tokens. Splashable, cheap yet also faces strong competition at the 3 drop slot from other colors.

 

Black

Grasping Scoundrel, +Vampire Lacerator

The group feels strongly that Lacerator is the better card due to the second point of toughness. The lifeloss shouldn’t matter in most games, although sometimes it certainly does. Vampire synergies are also a small upside with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Falkenrath Gorger and Patron of the Vein.

 

Dark Ritual, +Vraska’s Contempt

Ritual just had too few homes. The card advantage was rarely worth the mana burst, also it is a bad topdeck. Contempt is rare as a black removal that exiles. This is the most playable version of those that do, it even has some compensation for the high casting cost compared to Hero’s Downfall. Not necessarily the best black removal, but does something no other black card in the cube does so likely to stay in testing at least for a while.

 

Pain Seer, +Dauthi Horror

Like Trueheart Duelist, a 2/2 is not really enough. It is very hard to attack with Pain Seer without killing it. Against decks with no early blocker or walls, it might draw a card or two, but it is mostly just a failed attempt. It still will force blockers or removals if necessary, but a 2/3 or bigger will render him useless. It has synergy with tap effects such as Secrets of Paradise, vehicles and Opposition, but it is very bad when drawn without them. It also still needs to survive at least a turn to redeem the card, and usually two.

Black aggro decks thrive on evasion. Black has no reach and no real way to go wide, so this is black’s way of closing a game. It is central to the gameplan. You cannot hope to kill every card your opponent plays (and almost literally every card answers Pain Seer). Horror as an unblockable threat is needed. I still dislike how it cannot block, therefore useless when behind, but is still a card you will have a hard time passing on in an aggressive build.

 

Red

Tattermunge Maniac, +Eidolon of the Great Revel

Let alone that Tattermunge Maniac cannot block, you cannot even keep him around for an eventual alpha strike, equipment or vehicle! The drawback is so steep that all other one drops in the cube are better. If you are playing Maniac, it is very likely you are heavy red as other aggro colors in your deck should not leave you that desperate for one drops. In that sense, Eidolon slots into the same decks Maniac would. I’d prefer to have more one drops than two drops in red for curve reasons, but there aren’t enough good ones. Such a big gap from spoiled white!

Eidolon really wants to come down on turn 2. If it does though, it represents a lot of damage for cheap. Even if answered immediately, it usually at least shocks for two which is well worth the trade. The curve of your deck should be lower than other decks so you should expect to recieve more damage from Eidolon than your opponent, but it is still worth it in most matchups as you care little about your life total. I also find the minigame it creates interesting.

 

Bogardan Hellkite, +Stoke the Flames

Hellkite is superfluous. What enlightened me was a reanimator deck drafted last time using Glorybringer as a target (without playing any red sources). Not only was Glorybringer sufficiently powerful, it was also arguably a better reanimator target early (mostly talking turn 3 here). While Hellkite is a faster clock by a turn, it cannot kill future creatures, and never does 4 to the face + 4 to a creature immediately. Of course it is a better card later, when the 5 split burn is amazing, but you just don’t really need to go that over the top and it is better to have calmer but more playable cards in cube.

Stoke adds a little more token and prowess support. Heavy burn spells are not that great, but it is better than Hellkite and there are enough new token cards in red (Pia Nalaar, Hanweir Garrison, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Aether Chaser) and white to give it a second chance.

 

Colorless

Crystalline Crawler, +Karn, Scion of Urza

Crawler didn’t really get proper testing, but space is needed and players are not excited to try him out. Karn is somewhat of a Coercive Portal, except he draws a card immediately. This is the difference between Jace Beleren and Phyrexian Arena and it makes a huge impact. Karn is pretty sturdy as he can start at 6 loyalty. The plus ability is worse than card draw on the first turn, but the choice between a known card a new card that my opponent chooses out of 2 unknown cards off the top is much closer in value to a pure card draw. Later in the game when several card have silver counters on them, it will eventually be better than a card draw.

Karn also has a minus ability, and it is pretty strong. It defends Karn well and can also be a win condition. If you have a mana rock out, it will produce a 2/2 that will attack for 3 next turn if you create a 3/3 brother. Obviously the ceiling is much higher in an artifact heavy deck. That is Karn’s best home, but he is also quite great in green decks, as they lack good card draw and can ramp him out quickly.

Cube List Changes for the Last Six Months

The cube list hasn’t been updated in the last half a year, mostly due to me spending some time abroad in the United States. This time I’ve decided to write the rationale of changes in this blog. I believe it will reach a larger audience, and holds interest for the general public of readers here. It looks nicer too (I used to publish the updates in the forums of MTGS). Behind the scenes, it is also easier to edit it in this platform.

So what did we have going on for cube during the last six months? The entirety of Ixalan block mostly. The first set was a pretty good one, offering many solid cards. Rivals of Ixalan on the other hand was very bad for the cube format and offered little. Together they do even out to be just a bit below a normal set in powerlevel. No new archetypes have been formed, no new innovations like Vehicles. No mechanic has more than a single card representing it!

The other major change is the planeswalkers uniqueness rule. Now every planeswalker is just legendary, meaning we have as many Jaces as we want assuming they have different names. This made a few versions of common walkers be worthy of play again.

As to be expected, there were other changes in cube composition and balance. Five artifacts and a card from each color were cut in favor of 10 extra dual lands. Aggro has been a little weak, so some small consideration was given and a few aggro hosers were cut.

Note: Carnage Tyrant and Kinjalli’s Sunwing were already in the cube since they were spoiled early.

 

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White

+Skymarcher Aspirant, –Steppe Lynx

Lynx is very inconsistent with the low fetchland density of a 720 cards cube. One of the absolute worst cards to topdeck, and usually attacks for less than 2 on average per turn even in the early game. Aspirant is better than Savannah Lions, Elite Vanguard and even Dragon Hunter. Ascend will happen rarely, but more often than other pluses on white one drops that are not Kytheon. It makes the card a relevant one drop in the very late game. Although the trigger will be a rarity, your opponent will still have to respect it and play around it. Say you have 8 permanents, but a couple of cards in hand. It can be assumed that you can get the blessing at will so your opponent will not leave a planeswalker on low loyalty. Slamming a late game land + sword + city’s blessing will create great stories of turn arounds.

 

+Adanto Vanguard, –Relic Seeker

TL;DR – Aggro upgrade

Relic Seeker is not a good cube card in general. It is an anemic 2/2 body for 2, and doesn’t do anything before connecting. Even then, you need a piece of equipment in your deck. In a large cube, the saturation of equipment is low. If we had twice as many equipment, he would’ve been worth another trial run. Since wizards is reluctant on printing powerful new equipment cards, this is very doubtful we will ever have twice as many cubeable equipment cards as of today. The card has no hope really.

Vanguard seems to be one of the strongest two drops for cube. It survives mass removals which is a major weakness of white weenie. It can attack through chump blockers. In general it is hard to remove. If you are the aggro deck, 4 life is usually a small price to pay for a “free” 3/1 that can attack right away. It is a very good dude for holding equipment, being cheap and resistant.

 

+Thalia’s Lancers, –Angel of Sanctions

Thalia’s Lancers can now fetch planeswalkers. This adds up a lot of targets for Thalia’s Lancers. Lancers themselves are quite formidable planeswalker defense. People have positive reviews of her after the rules change. It certainly allows some deckbuilding creativity. Angel of Sanctions was just the most expendable white five drop. It fills no role particularly well. It is not very reliable as a removal, not big enough to be a finisher. It does provide reasonable defense, but usually it is killed once which means you pay a lot of mana and tempo to stick the angel on the battlefield.

 

+Exalted Angel, –Linvala, the Preserver

TL;DR – Exalted is the less narrow card, that fills the lifegain role almost as well anyway.

I still think Linvala is the best white six drop creature for control decks. The lesson I’ve learnt is that it is too narrow of a role to fill and doesn’t warrant a slot in the cube. Linvala is not something midrange or ramp decks want, it is not a reanimation target and is not something exciting to cast early off of a Black Lotus or Mana Drain. Exalted Angel is still pretty gross against aggro decks as a six drop, but plays a few more roles, even if not as well. Exalted is a three drop, and can even be sided in for the aggro mirror. It plays better with all sorts of ramp. Because it is flexible on the curve, it is a solid midrange white card.

 

 

Blue

+Search for Azcanta, –Baral, Chief of Compliance

TL;DR – An uncubeworthy two drop is now a strong, synergistic one.

Baral is a bit of a trap card. He does not play well in generic blue control shells. Mana rocks are more useful and reliable for ramp. Baral dies to your own mass removals. It is hard to have enough instants and sorceries for his abilities to occur more than once in a game. It is even rarer for the free loot to trigger. As an anti-aggro card even Omenspeaker proved better. The theros prophet gets you out of a mana screw and mana flood reliably, is a much better topdeck and as a lot of the effect is outside of the body, you are much more willing to chump and/or trade with it.

Search is a cheap card the fills several roles well. It is a card selection engine. It is cheap enough to get you out of mana screws. It fills the graveyard for reanimation decks, delve spells and more. It can be ramp at some point in the midgame. With cantrips, loots, fetches and counterspells it should transform way before 7 turns pass. It is a card advantage engine in the late game. Powerful and broadly playable, good early and late, this card is a winner.

 

+Ancestral Vision, –Timetwister

Timetwister sees very little play. Blue tempo is not really supported, so Twister has few homes. This cube also has no storm combo or the like. It was on the list since day one, always was relatively bad and now it will retire. Ancestral Visions has been on and off several times. Should play better now with As Fortold and the expertises that survive, as well as more card selection to filter it away when drawn late.

 

+Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, –Prognostic Sphinx

TL;DR – Now that Jaces are not cannibals anymore, one gets in over a finisher

Sphinx provides inevitability, but that is perhaps less needed now for blue decks. It is a slow, uninteractive card. A pretty great blocker against aggro, which has no decent way to remove it. Pretty helpless against mass removals and edicts in the control mirror. I do think it is powerful, but not overly and is perhaps unneeded.

Jace presents more options and interaction. It never saw much play due to planeswalker saturation, but it does not mean the card is inherently bad. He is pretty good in most situations, having 6 loyalty or bounce means he can survive most board states. Ongoing card selection and advantage will win games if he survives. What he is not is a finisher. The ultimate is pathetic, as your opponent can see it coming and sandbag spells should he or she need to.

 

+Chart a Course, –Elder Deep-Fiend

Elder Deep Fiend is a fine card but again not a reliable finisher. Good against control in the mirror or in ramp decks. In fact, non-blue green ramp decks have sided it in before. It is still bad in that role and not really worth a cube slot.

Chart a Course is probably the best card in Ixalan block for cube. It is a discard outlet for reanimator. In decks that want to attack it is efficient card draw. Even if you are playing a slow deck you usually have some utility bodies that can trigger this. Hard to envision Chart not seeing a ton of play.

 

+Merfolk Looter, –Negate

Negate was not loved here. In theory it should be good, but being exposed to creatures is a big risk. Especially as the trend is to print better new creatures than new spells, perhaps barring planeswalkers.

Merfolk Looter is just another Thought Courier. There are more graveyard interactions in blue now, which can make the card worth it – Search for Azcanta, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Torrential Gearhulk and Champion of Wits not to mention delve cards as additions from the last few years. With the boost reanimator got looters have higher demand. I am not fearing the card being weak, I fear looters over-saturation with Thought Courier, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Enclave Cryptologist.

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Black

+Ruin Raider, –Doomfall

TL;DR – A weak sideboard card becomes a solid aggro card. Raider is more of a glorified monoclored Rogue Refiner for aggressive decks than a Dark Confidant. Still an easy include.

Doomfall is too expensive for both modes. A solidly sideboard only card. I do wish we could get more playable edict effects than the ones we currently have, and offering extra abilities beyond the situational edict is a right step. But a three mana edict is poor, Coercion is poor, and even their combination is highly unexciting. I wish we could get an edict as an option on an otherwise playable modal spell. Like the shatter on Kolaghan’s Command.

Ruin Raider has a weak body for the cost. It will trade with any lowly one drop on both offense and defense. A deck that cannot reliably trigger raid on turn three when you cast Raider should really not play the orc. In aggro decks, having raid when you cast Raider is the more probable baseline mode. As that, this card is a better Phyrexian Rager. You get a larger body and pay a little more life on average, a fair trade and not a bad floor. Then you have the potential to draw a lot more! Many black creatures are self-recurring, so even in a stalemate position you can sometimes milk cards by chump attacking with them. Getting value from your draw engine right away is a big deal compared to Phyrexian Arena, not to mention it is an actual threat too. It is worth noting that unlike Arena this card can never directly kill you.

 

+Wanted Scoundrels, –Dauthi Horror

Horror doesn’t fit the color well. Black already has a lot of evasive creatures and plenty of bodies that cannot block, enter the battlefield tapped or are poor on defense in other ways. Scoundrels pack a big punch, but a very serious drawback as well. You never want to give your opponent two mana to cast his or her six drop on turn four. Also bad against control decks that can wrath the board then will still have counter mana up. I am skeptical this is good enough, but we want to test.

 

+Ravenous Chupacabra, –Murderous Redcap

Chupacabra is a better Nekrataal. Redcap has been weak for a while, the shock is too little too late at this point of the curve usually.

 

+Dusk Legion Zealot, –Carrier Thrall

TL;DR – Zealot is not powerful but a broadly playable filler in a barren spot.

Thrall is too low impact. It does provide some mass removal protection, some defense, some ramp and some sacrifice fodder. But it is quite poor at all roles. Zealot is a much better topdeck. It will also get you out of mana screws. It is probably one of the best non-aggro black two drops, and there is a high demand for that. Besides the usual uses for errant bodes such as equipment, chump blocks and planeswalker protection black has many sacrifice outlets, from The Abyss through Braids. Zealot is also actually fine to reanimate with Recurring Nightmare, Liliana, the Last Hope, Liliana, Defiant Necromancer, Meren and more.

 

+Kitesail Freebooter, –Wasp of Bitter End

TL;DR – Another solid 2 drop filler for most deck archetypes

I am not in love with Freebooter. It immediately draws comparisons to Mesmeric Fiend. Fiend’s largest drawback was his weak body – you usually cannot afford to let him die in combat, so he just lingers around waiting to die. Freebooter has a much better body – it can attack for a few points of damage, keep planeswalkers in check, block Lingering Souls tokens and is a good equipment holder. The obvious drawback compared to fiend is not hitting creatures. I believe it is not as bad as it seems on first sight. First of all, you usually want to nib the removal spell with this kind of creature, else it will die immediately and they will get their card back. Furthermore, most strong cards in a powered cube are spells anyway. You will hit that Tinker, piece of power, Natural Order, Upheaval or Armegeddon always if you can. Black has plenty of ways to kill creatures, spells are your problem. Not to mention a large part of the power of the ability is just gaining information by seeing your opponent’s hand. As a final touch, the kite pirate is a good raid enabler. The 1/2 flying body is more than twice as good as the 1/1 body.

 

+Grasping Scoundrel, –Vampire Lacerator

Unsure which is better, but I err on losing less life as black has many life payment cards already. Having less toughness and having less power on defense are both relevant however. A pretty miserable card.

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Red

+Rampaging Ferocidon, –Volatile Chimera

TL;DR – Chimera is too random and punishes cheat decks during the draft. Ferocidon has a solid base and excels against several problems of red decks such as lifegain, planeswalkers and tokens.

Chimera can definitely be among the best red three drops. In fact, it can very well be the best three drop in all colors, or even the best creature in the cube. That is in the scenario of grabbing an eldrazi titan with annihilator, and attacking on turn 4 triggering it. That line of play is so devastating that it trumps any other plan you might have. If you can pay 4 mana and exiled one eldrazi titan with chimera you have just over 50% of hitting it if you spend all your resources on it. Other superfatties are less devastating to various degrees.

Now, it’s true that the play is answerable. You usually have at least one turn to kill Chimera. It is true that in a powered cube Channel into Ulamog is a possibility so facing a monstrosity on the second turn is not unheard of. Chimera is a different problem entirely. I’m not even mentioning the fact that you need to play both Channel and Emrakul in your deck, then draw them together, and you must have at least 16 life. What we highly dislike is the randomness of it all. Often times, if you whiff for a single turn, the opponent will be able to answer your monster, contain it or kill you. Having the entire interaction by dictated by dice rolls feels bad.

Added to that is the incentive of red players to grab the superfatties away from other players who draft cheat decks. That can render other decks nearly useless while you still have a perfectly fine aggro or midrange shell as backup. Hurting the draft experience on top of being so grossly random is too much. I liked how red aggro could get broken plays once in a while with it, but I wish it was designed in a less random way. In fact, one of the additions from Ixalan does exactly that.

Ferocidon is a pretty scary three drop. We never had a 3/3 menace body in cube. Judging by Sin Prodder (a card that is not good enough for cube), it is pretty threatening. The third toughness is a great boost. A pair of 2/1s can be both killed with a single bolt if they block ferocidon, for example. Menace combines very well with the third ability. If you want to block this card, you need to play creatures, and playing creatures will hurt you. The combination of these abilities makes for a highly threatening card. Token decks suffer heavily of course, that Bitterblossom now becomes a giant liability and even Lingering Souls is not as strong.

Another thing Ferocidon excels at is killing planeswalkers. So many of them create tokens as lines of defense. Ferocidon will make sure defensive plays will not gain, and likely decrease loyalty. Every other creature you play will damage your planeswalkers. That is on top of the lizard being a 3 powered evasive threat. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is especially sad.

Lifegain prevention is an ability we only have in the cube in Sulfuric Vortex. It is quite a narrow ability. At least 70% of games go on without any opponents gaining life. That is why it has to appear on an otherwise solid card. As it does, it adds quite a lot to the powerlevel. Red should have outs to some of the hate cards it faces. In certain matchups this will literally be your only way to win. An opponent sitting on a Wurmcoil Engine on the defense? Topdeck the lizard and continue bashing as normal. A perfect answer for that lone Baneslayer Angel that can ruin your dreams.

 

+Dire Fleet Daredevil, –Firebrand Archer

TL;DR – Archer is weak. Daredevil provides some powered cube level plays for an archetype that rarely has access to them.

Archer has a very weak body. Even 1 drops nowadays are often having a better one. The ability is only worth it in prowess decks, given the purely aggressive nature of the card. Even there, it drops sharply in power as the game advances.

Daredevil has a higher floor but still a pretty miserable one. A Youthful Knight is pretty poo, at least it can exile a Deep Analysis. On the flipside, it is totally capable of casting Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. The effect is so unique and off color no one will expect it. Even if they do, it is not like they will side out their powerful cards. In the more average scenario it will snag a Thoughtseize, a blue cantrip or a black removal spell. All are good value and options on top of a two drop. It is the best two drop red has in the late game.

There are two problems with this card. One, it depends on your opponent. Some decks have few instants and sorceries. Green midrange decks are the most common, but artifact decks and super ramp decks are also possibilities. Other decks will have targets, but they will not necessarily be beneficial to you. Permission cards, mass removals or things that need to be built around like Natural Order fit the bill. Daredevil will be good against the majority of decks, but as a drafter you should be prepared to side it out sometimes.

People will undoubtedly get too focused on the late game blow out potential of this card, not realizing it is first and foremost a two drop. If you do not play it when you would play another two drop just for the potential of future value you are probably doing it wrong.

 

+Captain Lannery Storm, –Brazen Scourge

TL;DR – Storm is more splashable and perhaps playable in more archetypes.

The 3rd toughness will be missed, but the harder mana cost will not be. As a pure 3/2 haste guy for 2R, the two critters will be fairly equal. Lannery is better than that hypothetical card though. You have the option of stacking mana up for later. This can be a good option in Izzet decks against control – they have an easy time clearing early blockers given they play red. Lannery also has some synergy in artifact decks. It might all be somewhat irrelevant, and Lannery can very well be an aggro only card. Even then I think it is a small upgrade.

 

+Rekindling Phoenix, –Hero of Oxid Ridge

Too many aggro four drops in red. You always get more than you need and this is the weakest one, having no evasion and low toughness. Phoenix is a midrange card. It is hard to remove and has some sacrifice synergies. Will shine against control grindy decks. Might not work well in practice as blue can take control of it or bounce it, while white can exile it easily.

 

+Sweltering Suns, –Wheel of Fortune

The most playable red mass removal, as it cycles. No creatures out/ creatures are too big? No problem. Unsure if it is good enough considering the heavy red cost, but we never had anything quite like it. Wheel has been in the cube since the beginning. It always lacked homes. Now I am cutting it and Timetwister. It is only worth it in very low curve aggro decks. It is hard and often unwise to empty your hand quickly. Even if you do, you need to your opponent to still have significantly less cards than you do to make Wheel worth it. It is not good for reanimation decks as it will discard your reanimation spell.

 

+Pillar of Flame, –Vandalblast

TL;DR – Wheel has been a trap card more than anything. Pillar is good in the current meta

Vandalblast is less needed as 5 artifacts are being cut, and is a narrow sideboard card anyway. Abrade is a much better implementation. Pillar is widely playable as a low cost burn spell. It is good in aggro decks, against aggro decks and in spells-matters decks. In addition, it solves a few true problems. Since Kaladesh, we got the following as good targets for the card: Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger, Champion of Wits, Adorned Pouncer, Earthshaker Khenra and Trueheart Duelist (which is unlikely to last long in cube). That is in addition to older priority targets, from the classic target of Kitchen Finks and Flesh Carver through Bloodghast to Yavimaya Elder.

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Green

+Thrashing Brontodon, –Viridian Shaman

TL;DR – A reactive and hard to maindeck card is replaced with a maindeckable one, while diversifying the cube environment.

Viridian Shaman is a very weak card when there is no artifact to pop. Despite being a powered cube that supports the artifact deck, and somewhat because of the large size of the cube, in many matchups there are no consistent artifacts to pop. Even destroying a mana rock with Shaman is worth it. However, not being able to play the elf before they play their mana rock is problematic. Shaman should be worse now that 5 artifacts are being cut. Another point against the elf is that it is nearly strictly inferior to both Reclamation Sage and Manglehorn.

Brontodon is a 3/4 for 1GG and never truly dead. As such it is much more maindeckable. It is never a value card, but it is more consistent, has more options and is proactive. Against the aggro deck with a Jitte game 1, that doesn’t draw it game 2, your elf will be cast only as a last resort. Brontodon will still be a solid blocker/attacker. Also works if you reverse it – game 1 you see no artifacts, Shaman is likely sided out if you have anything half decent. Brontodon will very likely stay in the maindeck and protect you against that Jitte game 2.

 

+Jadelight Ranger, –Wood Elves

Wood Elves are just low impact. A little too expensive for the ramp. The body is very small. Ranger provides some value, card selection and a big body. It is option dense. Still a risky card as you have limited control on how will it play and the double green mana cost hinders it. With Ranger and Brontodon, green will likely need to cut a double green three drop, with Selvala or Jadelight Ranger as prime options.

 

+Nissa, Vital Force, –Wickerbough Elder

TL;DR – Nissa is a powerful card that gets reintroduced now that the planeswalker uniqueness rule is cancelled. Wickerbough Elder is inefficient and unneeded.

With 4 other Nissas in the cube, one of them had to move aside. Now Vital Force gets back to the action. She offers haste for a color that lacks it, as well as limp ramp. She defends herself very well and can become a card advantage engine in long game. Covers up the ground of both Reality Smasher and Regrowth that are getting cut in this update. She is a good team player with the other nissa and superfriends in general.

Wickerbough Elder is just too slow and inefficient. It is a 3/3 for 4 mana if there is no artifact around, much worse than Thrashing Brontodon. He also requires green mana to be kept untapped. If there is an artifact to answer, chances are Elder is probably a bit slow to answer it. With so many good answers to artifacts and enchantments in green, I doubt he will be missed. With 5 artifacts being cut, less artifact destruction is needed.

 

+Deathgorge Scavenger, –Rhonas the Indomitable

TL;DR – Rhonas was dead too often. Deathgorger is an all-around powerful card that does many things but is not perfect for any single task.

Rhonas had consistency issues. In the later stages of the game, you could pump your limp creatures and attack with him. That is, if your pumped creature is not killed/bounced in response. And Rhonas was universally bad in the early game, outside of rare win-more scenarios.

Deathgorge fills several needed roles, the question is if he fills them well. It is a maindeckable graveyard hate, quite a rarity. This is perhaps the only job he is 100% reliable in. That JVP will have a hard time flipping with this dude on board. It is a source of lifegain situationally. Even if you are able to gain 2 life immediately, chances are Deathgorge will trade in combat or die to a burn spell, effectively being half a Kitchen Finks. This is still probably a fine card against aggro if that’s all it is, but far from great. The final role is being an aggressive three drop. This can be done rather consistently, as it can eat cards from both graveyards. The card could very well end up being too low in powerlevel, but for fulfilling multiple roles and offering some in-game choices it deserves some testing.

 

+Devoted Druid, –Fertile Ground

TL;DR – Enchantment based ramp doesn’t have many synergies in green is riskier than you imagine.

Enchantment based ramp has been somewhat disappointing in general. There are a few upsides that make them seem superior – they redeem a part of their cost immediately as they do not suffer from summoning sickness, they do not die to creature removals and they can generate even more mana with land untappers such as Garruk Wildspeaker and Arbor Elf. But they also set you back significantly when you face land destruction or bounce, such as Vindicate, Strip Mine, Cryptic Command, Venser, Shaper Savant, Acidic Slime, Flickerwisp, Woodfall Primus, Terastodon and more. Overall this is more common than being able to generate more mana with untap shenanigans.

Creature based ramp has a lot of synergy in green. In many decks you just need a lot of bodies around for Gaea’s Cradle, Craterhoof Behemoth and Garruk Wildspeaker. Cheap green creatures are essential for Natural Order. They also offer more synergy with Survival of the Fittest, Fauna Shaman, Green Sun’s Zenith and more. Meren likes creatures in the graveyard, and creatures dying in general. As always, creatures can carry equipment, threaten planeswalkers and block. Sorcery ramp offers quite a bit as well: deck thinning, shuffle effects (for Oracle of Mul Daya, Sylvan Library, Vizier of the Menagerie and Courser of Kruphix), works with conspiracies better (Double Stroke, Iterative Analysis), can be reused with Eternal Witness and Den Protector, get you higher on the land threshold for Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Sylvan Advocate, pump your Tarmogoyf and discount your Emrakul, the Promised End. Out of color they can also be used for delve costs, they flip Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Search for Azcanta faster and more. In general, land based ramp is by far the hardest to undo. I think I’ve convinced the reader that enchantment based ramp just doesn’t offer nearly the same payoffs.

Druid can ramp twice, which is attractive. It has some rare synergies with pump effects such as Verdurous Gearhulk and little Elspeth. It is also a self-sacrificing critter for Meren. It also taps twice at some point with Opposition. Overall though, it just gets you from 2->5 and that’s plenty good.

 

+Explore, –Overgrowth

For Overgrowth see above. The tempo hit you get if the land is bounced/destroyed is harsh. Explore is a bit risky in the sense that you are not guaranteed to draw a land with it. That said, it plays well with nonbasic lands, which are increasing in number as of this update. It is the best topdeck of sorcery based ramp spells because it can draw a nonland.

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Multicolored

+Hostage Taker, –Samut, Voice of Dissent

TL;DR – a middling five drop became a highly versatile and rounded card that provides a few off-guild effects.

Samut just doesn’t cut it without evasion. It is too easy to contain. He is also just often not better than the mono green and mono red five drops. A mix of Gonti and Sower of Temptation, Hostage Taker has many modes of operation. The first is to play him at turn 4. This gives your opponent a window to kill Hostage Taker before you can play the card you took. If they do not have removal, it is a giant swing – kind of like a Control Magic that leaves behind a 2/3 and cannot be disenchanted or dealt with in any way. If they do have it, it probably cost them less than the 4 mana it cost you and you barely did much. A 2/3 is easy to deal with. Playing hostage taker early is a high risk high reward play. It is still probably the correct line of play if you are under high pressure. It is still a must-answer card the turn after you play him, and the returned creature will get summoning sick. If you play taker later in the game you can immediately replay the card and minimize risks. You still can probably only steal medium value targets that way as you need to cast them that same turn. Taker benefits heavily from counterspells as protection. If you can hit a Wurmcoil with counter mana up, you are golden. Also worth noting that you do not even have to intend to cast the card you are kidnapping, you can always target that reanimated Ulamog even if it is highly unlikely you will ever reach 10 lands. Equally, Taker evaporates tokens. I appreciate that Taker is another form of maindeckable answer to artifacts, especially so for a color combination that lacks removals that hit them. Grabbing a mox with him is dirty.

 

+Vraska, Relic Seeker, –Detention Sphere

TL;DR – Sphere is a redundant card that’s very close in powerlevel to Banishing Light. Vraska is a mighty win condition with extra amounts of safety and utility.

Detention Sphere is far from a bad card. Every Azorius deck played it. The problem is that it is just a little upgrade over mono white removals, which are playable by far more decks. Even when it saw play in W/U decks, it was usually over a mono white option, whether during deckbuilding or draft phase. Killing tokens is far from flavor text, but OTOH rare enough that the main advantage this card has over Oblivion Ring is that as a two-colored card no other person would grab it during the draft (as it is not strong enough to be splashed for). It might very well be back in the cube if token decks will be more prominent in the metagame.

Vraska is a mighty six drop. Gold six drop planeswalkers are generally pretty bad as they are very restricted in which decks can play them. Luckily, Vraska is green, a color that has few six drops and can relatively easily ramp to that amount of mana. Vraska can start with 8 loyalty and 2 toughness to protect her right off the gates. She is a fairly safe planeswalker to lay down. It is also a reasonable assumption that she wins the game when her ultimate fires, with two 2/2 menace dudes a life total of 1 is low enough. She is a 3-turn clock. On top of that she answers most permanent types efficiently. Vraska looks good in comparison to even Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Karn. She is miles better than Sorin, Grim Nemesis and the likes. As no other such expensive multicolored planeswalker has even been great in cube there is still some amount of risk here, but I expect the gorgon to shine.

 

Colorless

+Field of Ruin, –Gargoyle Castle

TL;DR – Field is likely the third best answer to nonbasics in the cube, and the best one for control decks. There is a limited real estate for pure utility colorless lands, and Gargoyle is only there for slower decks in games that go long.

Two years ago the cube had three colorless utility lands that served as late game mana sinks – Foundry of the Consuls, Gargoyle Castle and Westvale Abbey. Today all three have been cut. As a fan of low opportunity cost inclusion, this requires explanation. Currently there are many mana sinks in the cube. Decks do not have as many instances of waiting for a topdek in the lategame with nothing to do with their mana. This is due to several factors. The full cycle of manlands as well as the cycling lands from Amonkhet are the big contributors. Cycling cards from Amonkhet in general helped a lot. Other mana sink mechanics include embalm, eternalize, clues and more card selection in blue. In addition the colorless mana cost cards have gone comparatively weaker. I’m not sure what is the cause and what is the effect in this relationship – did the decline in the power of the lands made colorless mana cards harder to support, or the colorless mana cards being weak lowered the demand for colorless-only producing lands. In any way, some colorless late-game lands will likely be back if some mana sinks were to leave the cube.

Field of Ruin, unlike Wasteland, doesn’t set you back on mana production. In fact it even fixes you. This makes it great for control or ramp decks that do not want to set themselves back, especially not early. In return, it does not deny your opponent resources. As such, it is more of an answer than a disruption card. There are many lands worth answering in control. Manlands, Volrath’s Stronghold, Library of Alexnadria, Kessig Wolf Run and more all are great targets.

Fields offers more from the mutual shuffle effect. On your library it has synergies with Sylvan Library, Oracle of Mul Daya, Sensei’s Divining Top and the like. On the other deck, it plays well with Commit//Memory and Unexpectedly Absent, not to mention countering Imperial Seal.

 

+Sundering Titan, –Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

The Tinker target was missed. Titan is still not great, as it has serious problems finishing games, having no evasion. That said, for Daretti/Tinker purposes, it’s one of the best we have got. Crew 3 is a harsh requirement. Skysovereign has few homes, as you need multiple relatively big creatures. Even then, it has to compete against five drops from different colors.

 

Two color fixing

+5 fastlands, +5 enemy scrylands, –Cultivator’s Caravan, –Reality Smasher, –Smokestack, –Fleetwheel Cruiser, –Aethersphere Harvester, –Sram’s Expertise, –Man-o’-War, –Nezumi Graverobber, –Kari Zev’s Expertise, –Regrowth

TL;DR – More fixing, less chaff.

I think he cube can support more fixing. It will make decks more consistent and lessen losses due to color screws. If we judge picks by playability, dual lands are always going to be ranked high. You always want them if you play both colors. I have completed the fastlands cycle for the allied colors, except Rakdos which got a checkland. Enemy colors had to settle for scry lands. I dislike them, but there are no other good options for enemy colors. Besides, if some scrylands should make it into the cube, it is better to add half a cycle than a full cycle as it would make the cube very slow. They are still sad in Boros and Orzhov for example. I consider them as placeholders.

The cuts are more interesting than the additions. One card was cut from each color. Sram’s Expertise is in perhaps the most contested slot in the cube. It might technically be playable in aggro, but not considered the competition – you always have 3 better cards to play over it that cost 4. In token decks it is decent, but even if you drop an anthem this is not a spectacular play for a 4 drop. In slower decks you have many more reactive cards so it is hard to utilize the free spell, and without it the card is poo. Very unplayable.

Man-o’-War is mostly there as a counter to aggro decks. Bounce one dork, trade with another, great. Also good against midrange, but less so than most blue bombs. As blue tempo isn’t really a thing and aggro is a bit weak, it seems like an easy cut. In X/u tempo decks, three drops in other colors are generally much better. It might return if aggro becomes too strong.

Graverobber is uninteresting unless he flips, which is not guaranteed, even early – either your opponent has too many cards, or none at all… Flipping him requires considerable resources, and the flip side is easily answered and again very slow. Black has improved in the 2 drop department by now.

Kari Zev’s Expertise suffered again from low playability. You need your opponent to have a meaningful creature out, and you to be able to pay double red as well as preferably have a spell to cast. In decks with few creatures it will be a dead card far too often. Most creatures you’d just prefer to burn. It is nice to have a Threaten effect in red be playable in cube against Eldrazis and what not, but this card is dead far too often. A playable Threaten has to be a single mode on a charm or command.

Regrowth is very overrated. It is almost always disappointing. Green decks have few instants and sorceries, and those that it has are not really worth getting back. Returning permanents is worse, as you do not control when they will be put into the graveyard. The larger underlying problem is that it is too situational to be worth the deck slot. You’d rather just play more removals, more burn, more threats, something that will always do what you want it to. The only time when this card is great is with power – Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. This is not enough to carry this card, which is never strong inside the color and is pretty much a trap.

Cultivator’s Caravan is first a mana rock and then a vehicle. A Manalith is not good enough and being a 5/5 vanilla sometimes in the late game does not make up for it.

Reality Smasher is powerful, but again hard to play. As an offensive five drop, the only deck that really wanted it and could support it is green, which can fetch wastes with basic land fetchers. Inside that color, it is still not as good as half the five drops no matter which deck are you building. Nissa, Vital Force also provides that 5 power haste for five mana in green, in a much more rounded and playable package.

Smokestack just saw little play. It is very slow to start rolling. It does nothing the turn it comes into play, and only starts to be interesting with 2+ counters. Even then it is far from a guaranteed win, and requires building around to even break symmetry. It just was a perpetual late pick for far too long. Its legacy will carry on with Braids and a few other cards.

Fleetwheel Cruiser again suffers from the competition of the aggro curvetoppers at 4 mana. It is still a great card, but not against midrange and not compared the 4 drops in white and red for aggro decks.

Aethersphere Harvester is actually fairly playable, but it is mostly an aggro hoser. As aggro is a bit weak now it is unneeded.

In general the cube had too many equipment and vehicles, all are situational cards that require creatures to work and it was clear they were unsustainable in the previous high numbers.

Planeswalkers Rule Change Top 10 Winners

Recently the rules concerning planeswalkers have changed. Before, if you controlled two planeswalkers with the same subtype, you had to sacrifice one of them. Now planeswalkers are legendary – you need to sacrifice a planeswalker only if you control two with the same name. Having Jace, the Mind Sculptor together with Jace, Architect of Thought is perfectly legal. Controlling two Gideon Juras still isn’t.

Some cards care about the legendary subtype. Unfortunately most of them came from Kamigawa and are therefore unsurprisingly still unplayable. Honor-Worn Shaku got a bit closer to Worn Powerstone, as tapping planeswalkers usually carries no negative effects, but will still suffer consistency issues. Lay Bare the Heart got much worse, to the point of unplayability perhaps. Not that is was a great card to begin with. A card that is already solidly cube-worthy that got much better is Karakas. Now it can interact with animated Gideons and Sarkhans. Having Karakas will now basically prohibit the use of the animation abilities of those planeswalkers against you. If you control them, Karakas will save them from removals.

One card that actually leapt from the realms of obscurity and cuteness to possible mainstream play following the change is Thalia’s Lancers. As a 4/4 first striker for 5, the ability to find a legendary card is more about value than tutoring a specific piece. Lancers’ body have synergy with her effect as they provides effective defense to the planeswalker she is fetching. Especially nice for curving into Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Now a cube deck can expect to have around three legendary cards on average, and that might well be enough for the lancers. White after all is the color with Restoration Angel and Flickerwisp to abuse the trigger a little bit more. White is also really thirsty for the card advantage.

Besides that single card, the rules changes will affect the planeswalker cards themselves. Some of them are definitely worth a new look. Which character benefits the most from the rules change?

 

  1. Elspeth

The two strong Elspeths are hardly affected by the rule change. Every deck that can cast them wants them. Big Elspeth is by far white’s best 6 drop. Elspeth, Knight Errant has more competition in her slot, but is still arguably in the top 3 white four drops. As they are unlikely to travel long distances in the draft table, it is very rare to have both at the same deck in a large cube. You always played both if you had them, so not much changed. They have some minor synergy, as they defend themselves and each other so well, but having even one Elspeth surviving is such a beating it is almost a win more. Elspeth Tirel’s poor performance in cube has nothing to do with the type line, and all the recent white five drops destroyed any sliver of chance she had of seeing play. Play Thalia’s Lancers over her and get a better Elspeth into your hand!

 

 

  1. Chandra

Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Chandra, Flamecaller are the two versions commonly played in cubes. It is probably true that every decks that plays Flamecaller would play Torch, but not the other way around. A cool possible play is to use Torch to ramp into Flamecaller, then use her to swipe and protect both. A beating, but dreamland scenario. Overall, clashing between two specific cards in a 720 cube is so rare you will barely notice anyway.

Other versions of Chandra unfortunately do not gain enough from the change to be playable. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is the closest, but will not go into the same shells as the other two Chandras so the rules change will be invisible to her. Chandra, Pyromaster and Chandra, the Firebrand just cannot compete with new red four drops. When we get cards like Fiery Confluence, Hazoret and Territorial Hellkite, the weaker fire ladies have no real chance.

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  1. Daretti

Daretti only has 2 iterations. That said, because they both belong to a narrow deck, there are much higher chances of snagging them both at the draft. It is a weird case where Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast is the less narrow card despite being multicolored and not mono red. Iconoclast fits into Braids/Skullclamp/The Abyss shells. It is also great in superfiends decks as it is cheap, provides defense and removal. You really do not need much more than a few mana rocks and his own plus ability to make him worthwhile. As much as I dislike a non-aggro card in this guild, Iconoclast surpassed all my expectations. Daretti, Scrap Savant only fits in the artifact deck. It has some uses in reanimator decks too I guess. If you have drafted Savant, you will pretty much want Iconoclast at any cost, even if it includes splashing. Now you can play both of those cards that are so ideally played together in the same decklists.

 

  1. Garruk

The trio of Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk Relentless and Garruk, Primal Hunter have seen in my cube since they were printed. Nowadays Primal Hunter is entirely skippable as green five drops are absurdly good, and the Nissas at that mana cost specifically so. That said, in green having the triple colored mana cost is not as hard as in other colors, and creating a sizeable token for a plus ability makes him very hard to overcome for some decks. The best part about him is that he offers a lot of card draw in a color that lacks it. He also fills the role of mass removal resilience better than the other Garruks. His ultimate is of the easiest to activate and finishes games quite reliably. He is worth a second look now if you do not play him. Garruk, Apex Predator could have had a chance except Vraska, Relic Seeker got printed and basically obsoleted him.

 

  1. Liliana

The Lilianas are of the greatest winners from the rules change. Three of them – Liliana of the Veil, Liliana, Heretic Healer and Liliana, the Last Hope cost exactly the same. LotV and Healer especially go into the same decks. The problem they had until now, is that if LotV flipped when you had Veil, you had to sacrifice one planeswalker. As you do not have full control of her flip trigger, it can bite you. I expect Healer to see a lot more play now. Liliana, Death’s Majesty is also fine, if weaker, but as she fits into different and slower decks, she is not greatly affected by the rules change.

 

  1. Sorin

Besides the top three cards in Orzhov, which consists of Vindicate, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Lingering Souls, I find the guild pretty weak. Sorin, Solemn Visitor is definitely a powerful card, as is Sorin Grim Nemesis. Having guild cards play badly with each other is much worse than having colored cards do the same, and as such it was hard fitting two Sorins in Orzhov. Now I am very likely to include Solemn Visitor as the fourth card in the guild. Grim Nemesis suffers from two main problems. First, Orzhov is not a very controlling color, he might as well be an honorary Esper card. Second, I prefer the black six drops to be reanimatable if possible. He is also bad against decks that go wide, such as basically all aggro decks. In a more midrange focused cube, he becomes more appealing.

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  1. Jace

It is unsurprising Jace gains quite a bit the rules change with so many playable versions of him lying around. Only two or so iterations of him are unplayable, and most are actively good. Now the dream of a Jace tribal deck can be a reality!
Jace is the best example of a planeswalker that has one version being clearly better than the rest. Mind Sculptor is more desirable than all other Jace versions basically always, perhaps barring Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Consider Jace, Architect of Thought. He costs the same as Sculptor, yet is clearly worse. As such, if you would cut one of them from your maindeck, it would always be Architect. The result is that TMS does not gain anything from the rules change but AoT does. This is true for all other versions of Jace as well. Before, people would prefer cards such as Deep Analysis to AoT, now I expect this to change.

Jace, Memory Adept is another member in the pantheon of broken Jaces. He is still as brutal and quick as ever, but as he just does that it was hard sometimes to play him alongside the cheaper Jaces that aid in stabilization. Now Jaces can be both your defense and your offense. Jace Beleren saw relatively high amounts of play since he was printed given the low competition in his mana cost. It is the worst of the Jaces mentioned so far however, so gains a lot more viability nowadays and for smaller cubes not running him, I’d strongly consider him now.

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is perhaps the clearest historical case of a fine cards that saw no play due to the planeswalker type rule. I’d actually playtested him. He is broadly playable, with a good spread of card advantage and selection and some defensive capabilities. I believe that cubes that will try him will be pleasantly surprised. However, recent blue five drops give him a very hard time nowadays – Arcane Savant, Mystic Confluence, Spell Swindle and Baral’s Expertise all basically bury his playability.

Jace, Cunning Castaway is the only tempo-oriented Jace (although TMS is also a great card in tempo decks) so gains little from the type-line rules change. I do not believe he will see any more than fringe play. That is mostly due his first ability seriously lacking in power and the ultimate being underwhelming.

 

  1. Tezzeret

Tezzeret the Seeker and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas fit into exactly the same narrow deck. You can wheel them around sometimes, so the chances of getting both at the same pool is actually not too low. That was a real problem, and I contemplated cutting Seeker in light of the new strong blue five drops. The rule change made me seek a different cut. Tezzeret the Schemer was also cut for similar grounds – having two cards with the exact same mana cost in a guild slot, for exactly the same narrow deck was too much. Now it might we worth revisiting if you really want to enforce the archetype. With the printings of The Scarab God and Hostage Taker however, I think few cubes would bother trying, mine included.

 

  1. Gideon

There are three very strong Gideons. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is likely the strongest, despite being in one of the most contested slots in cube, including his rival Elspeth, Knight Errant. It just fits effortlessly into every deck type and threatens from many angles. I used to underrate his last ability, but with time found out I sometimes just cast him to immediately cash for a Glorious Anthem that cannot ever be interacted with as that gave me more immediate board impact. If I can pump 3-4 creatures, and force my opponent to now chump them and can kill 2-3 of his defenders, it is very much worth it. The highlight is that Gideon is not just about incremental advantage, it is a threat from the moment it is cast, just like Elspeth, Knight Errant.

The most playable Gideon is Kytheon. It is simply the best white one drop with two power. Not much else needs to be said. I’d expect the top two Gideons to be present in every cube of every size. Gideon Jura did not age too well. It once was a premium white five drop. It is still okay, but creature power creep means that 8 loyalty is not as high as it once was. Also the prevalence of planeswalkers increased the number of available answers to them in cubes and it is now dangerous to rely on the bearded guy to keep you alive. It needs a bit of help. If you combine him with other defensive cards he will still stall forever, give you a lot of life and time to draw a mass removal, then attack for 6 a turn to seal the deal. A wanted card in control and superfriends decks.

The planeswalker that is suddenly a lot more viable for cube is Gideon of the Trials. He is cheap, color intensive and defensive – not a good combination. What he does have is amazing synergy with other Gideons, especially Jura. The emblem gains a whole new meaning when you can have several Gideons out there at once. Also, the protective layers of all the Gideons combine together to create a fort that is hard to penetrate. I do not think Gideon of the Trials will suddenly become a bomb, but he is now a much more comfortable inclusion at 720. Further printings of other strong Gideons will increase his value even more.

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  1. Nissa

Nissa is one of the planeswalkers with most iterations in cube. Interestingly, most of her printed versions are distinct role players. Each green eyed characterless planeswalker does her own thing, and usually does it very well. Nissa, Worldwaker is perhaps the best ramp card for super ramp decks. If you want to cast eldrazis, look no further. She is also a very good win condition, a repeatable stream of 4/4 tramplers is hard to contain. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is an enabler and reward for token and stacks decks. Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a great card in the control matchup, and long games in general. Nissa, Steward of Elements is the strongest Simic card and is a card selection engine as well as a finisher for UG decks.

Nissa, Vital Force does not do a required specific task as the others fill so well. I cut her due to Nissa oversaturation. She is a card I am excited to bring back. She brings some fresh things to green. First, she is a hasty source of damage. She also ramps by one if you need. She defends herself quite well, so her ultimate is very achievable and gives green much needed help in control games. What she does not do well is finish games alone, as the 5/5 lacks trample or evasion. That said, the question of who is better, Nissa, Vital force or Garruk, Primal Hunter remains open.

Ixalan set review part 1 – white, blue and black

Ixalan gives us a few new horizons to explore. Besides the transforming lands, there are no innovative new mechanics. Enrage is underrepresented with only nine cards with it in the set. Damaging your own creatures is not easy in cube. You can do that with split damage burn spells (Arc Lightning) or an Earthquake variant, but that’s about it. Abusing triggers requires red, and either requires wasting precious burn damage points or some careful engineering of a mass removal that can only be done if the board state allows it. I guess you can sacrifice a Garruk Relentless for it, Enranging indeed! It still gives high incentives not to block the creature and not to chump attack into it. Still, no decks will be crafted around synergies with that mechanic.

 

White

Adanto Vanguard – solid playable

Vanguard is the latest in the lineage of 3/1 bodies for 1W with extra abilities. The closest in function was Aethergeode Miner, and they both solve one of the prominent problems that comes with these stats – every contact with an enemy one drop or token result in untimely death. Adanto has a few advantages in that regard as it actually gets rid of the roadblock. If Miner gets blocked and is flickered, that blocker will also be there next turn (no touching). Adanto also partially solves one of white weenie’s greatest weaknesses – building up after a mass removal. Considering it will beat for 3 immediately the following turn, paying 4 life seems like a no brainer in that case.

But not all is bright for the white bloodsucker. The cost of 4 life is real, as we can learn from other cards such as Anguished Unmaking. As you are the aggro deck however, you can reasonably expect it not to matter at least a third of the time as you are against a significantly slower deck. On the other hand, against the other 1-2 other aggro decks in the table, it will be unviable to activate the indestructibility. Even in the best case, you will only be able to punch through 3 blockers or so at maximum in realistic scenarios, which is quite a bit but you need to be aware of the limits (or, as the old vampiric saying goes – the fangs only go so deep). It is also pathetic on the defense (should’ve been van-attack), unlike other 3/1s which are actually quite efficient trading up that way. That said, blocking is more of a corner case than being blocked or mass removals, so Vanguard is clearly better than Miner. It is also quite good by comparison to most white two drops. Not quite an Accorder Paladin level of critter but around Adorned Pouncer’s level.

 

Kinjalli’s Sunwing – solid playable

I have been testing this since it was leaked and it did not disappoint anyone here yet. The effect is known and beloved. We can see it on Thalia and Imposing Sovereign. The body is the same as Bygone Bishop, or Trygon Predator. Cube is a format that lacks medium sized creatures in the skies, which means the dinosaur can be reliably the largest thing there until dragons and angels enter the fray. Sunwing hoses haste creatures, helps in the always challenging midrange matchup of white weenie, and is general a high value, splashable card that attracts a lot of removals (the jurassic-pleo diet had roast chicken too, sort of). It applies pressure to planeswalkers and carries equipment well. It is also a natural hoser to Sneak Attack. Sunwing fits most decks with ease. It is currently underrated in cube due to the relative redundancy of the effect, and the competition at white’s three drops. In my opinion it is better than Sovereign by quite a bit and stands tall amongst other white three drops in a large cube. A card I am happy to have at the cube.

 

Settle the Wreckage – trap

It looks like a one sided mass removal. It even costs like Day of Judgment and is an instant! That said, it has fatal drawbacks. Only removing attacking creatures makes this thing more of a Wing Shards than a mass removal. Need to deal with Dark Confidant, Eldrazi Displacer or that Jace before it flips? Too bad. It also scales worse where other mass removals are their best – when facing a mass of creatures. Getting 3-5 lands is not negligible, even in aggro decks that will likely not be able to utilize all the mana for the long term. At the very least they will have significantly better draws for the rest of the game. Much worse if they have some mana sinks, such as manlands and equipment. Also, if your opponents suspects you have this card in hand, he can play around it with relative ease, forcing you to either keep up four mana open constantly or to blow it off of subpar attacks. Consider this Wreckage settled.

 

Tocatli Honor Guard – niche

This is a sideboard card at best. It hoses only specific things, and even them not completely. Can be good in certain cube configurations, but even in best cases in traditional cubes it might affect 10 cards in a given deck. As an otherwise 1/3 for two mana that does not advance your game plan in any way, has no synergies in a typical cube and even limits your deckbuilding choices, it shouldn’t see much play.

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Blue

Chart a Course – staple

Even as a 1U draw two cards, discard a card this is not bad. It is a sorcery speed Anticipate that doesn’t dig as deep, but allows you to keep two new cards. In case of a mana screw, you’d likely choose to keep the two lands you draw, for example. It is also a discard outlet, and fuels delve, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy etc. It is splashable and such an easy inclusion for reanimator decks. Of course, in decks that can even occasionally get raid, it becomes a whole lot better. The mono blue Night’s Whisper without life loss. It is of the best sources of card advantage for blue tempo decks. As the card is cheap and plays a role in multiple archetypes, I think it will find a course to many cube lists and be a staple for years to come.

 

Jace, Cunning Castaway – low playable

Jace is at worst a 2/2 incorporeal creature plus a small planeswalker behind. That is not a low floor. The 2/2 tokens only die when they become a target of a spell, not the target of an ability. Nearly always the spell that would have targeted them would have killed them anyway, especially as they are tokens and therefore would have died either way to bounce. It is even a little advantage, a when you sacrifice your illusion (and yes, you should. Liliana is not into you, Jace) that token will become an illegal target before the spell resolves, which can cause Cryptic Command to fizzle. In reality, it will just limit the usage of that spell and Mystic Confluence a little.

The first ability is somewhat of a win more. If you have creatures connecting, while also keeping your planeswalker alive, you are in a good shape. It is sometimes a better form of inevitability than adding another illusion if you fear a mass removal, might as well build more nonlegendary totally-normie Jaces instead. Also useful when a 2/2 has lost all relevance, say a giant ground stall where a flier of yours can get through, or a Moat. Loots are always nice. The ability is bad overall and basically worse than the loyalty you gain off of it.

The ultimate can be quite quick to achieve. If you can get one, it means you can very quickly get two more. That is very cool but one heck of a win more. Overall this Jace is weaker than Jace Beleren, and in general loses out to competition in the blue three drop slot. The double blue in his cost is not doing him any favors, as in the blue aggressive decks, his best match, that color is usually the support and not the main color.

 

Spell Swindle – ?

Throw enough money at a problem, and it will go away. Spell Swindle is obviously good if you hit an expensive spell. The effect is much stronger than Mana Drain. Not only does the mana come colored, you can save it for whenever you need it. As an example, you can always have counter backup mana to whatever you wish to cast for the rest of the game. It also means you can hoard them for that emrakul, or that Tezzeret ultimate, or for when you will draw your splashed card. It is an attractive target for Torrential Gearhulk while in your graveyard. It is even not bad to target Carnage Tyrant with it, as you will still get 6 treasures. Even more niche-yet-mention-worthy cases include stax cards like Tangle Wire.

What I dislike about it is that like Bribery, Treachery or even Desertion, it is yet another blue expensive spells that punishes midrange decks. If you hit a spell that costs 4 or more, you are golden (well, treasured, it is a different kind of token). If you face an aggro deck, it will probably be so bad you will need to side it out game two. Blue is already a color that has a favorable matchup against midrange decks. As such, I think the card is not needed and that space in blue should probably be dedicated for cheaper cards in the color that will actually help against the aggressive matchups. That said the card is strong enough in his good matchups, it is just a matter of space. I’d likely test it in the place of a blue planeswalker at that mana cost.

 

Storm Fleet Aerialist – niche

If you push blue aggro really hard it is a soid card. It is terrible without the trigger, which means it is unplayable in anything but decks full of cheap creatures, yet the ceiling is not amazing. Welkin Tern is likely better for consistency, even though it is sadly not a pirate.

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Black

Dire Fleet Hoarder – niche

Generally worse than Carrier Thrall. You do not get fixing, but you do get the same ramp and it is attached to a creature. That is much better for mass removal recovery. As a sacrifice fodder, Thrall provides two creatures to sacrifice to your Abyss, or Flesh Carver. Being weaker than Carrier Thrall is not a place you generally want to be in.

 

Kitesail Freebooter – low playable

The modern Mesmeric Fiend. It has a narrower discard ability and a better body. The discard being narrower is not that much of an issue, as you are almost always taking away their removal if they have any. A large part of the value of the ability is from the knowledge you gain. Not being able to hit a creature is a downside, and not a negligible one, but not a fatal flaw.

However, being a 1/2 flier instead of a 1/1 is fantastic. A 1/2 flier can keep pinging opponents, apply pressure to planeswalkers and carry equipment. Even if all it does is keep a spell at bay for three turns, the fact that it can ping for 2 damage in the meanwhile makes that much more palatable. Fiend’s body has forever been the point that failed the card. You never want Fiend to die, so it cannot participate in combat, making it essentially a 1-for-1 against your opponent’s worst removal spell, if even that. With freebooter, you can have some cheap disruption coupled with some small pressure, making it a much better fit for decks that are interested in that effect. Bonus points for introducing a kite into the world of cube.

 

Ruin Raider – low playable

Raider is a 3/2 for 2B that will basically always replace himself that very turn in aggressive decks. That is not a bad floor. The potential of continuous free card advantage somewhat covers for the body’s ineptness in combat, with it dying to one drops. You can also just keep chipping with that one safe creature which is very large or has evasion and still get that precious booty of card avantage. Worth to note that unlike Dark Confidant, you can just stop attacking until you get lethal if you fear dying from the continuous life loss.

 

Vraska’s Contempt – unplayable

It is simply too expensive. One for one removal for four mana is not very playable. Yes it exiles, yes it gives 2 life, it is instant even, but you’d still rather have the Hero’s Downfall variants over this virtually always. Losing because you were a mana short to play that removal hurts. Utter End is almost exactly this card, and there is a reason it does not see play in cubes anymore. Black is a color with a ton of cheap removal spells and plenty of contempt and doesn’t need this.

 

Walk the Plank – unplayable

Black has too many cards that cost double black mana, with cards like Hymn to Tourach, Sinkhole, Bloodghast and several three drops that all cost double black mana. If you insist on playing a removal at that cost there is Victim of Night and Malicious Affliction.

 

Wanted Scoundrels – fringe playable

The body is excellent for what you pay. Bloodrage Brawler did not disappoint us yet. Unlike Minotaur, you get no drawback unless the Scoundrel actually dies. Bounce, exile and enchantment based removals do not incur penalties. However when it does die, the double treasure is big trouble. People will kill the scoundrel in otherwise inefficient ways just to get it. After all it is double ramp and double fixing as early as next turn, and you do not want to help your opponent cast that Titan turn 4 unless have a dinosaur brain. It is also very, very bad against mass removals. Your opponent will even have counter mana up after that turn 4 Wrath of God! The risk likely outweighs the reward here.

Ixalan Fliplands

The fliplands are a new concept in the game. The closest yet not great analogy we have for them are the flipwalkers. The flipwalkers are one of the best cycles that have ever been printed for cube so far. That said, none of that power is intrinsic to the transform mechanic. Jace was a clear mistake, and we can assume wizards have learned from that experience to better balance this cycle.

What was the best indicator to the flipwalker success in hindsight is the quality of the creature. In the case of Kytheon, the front side alone was worth playing, with Jace being very close to the line as well. The new cycle, besides one exception, does not come close. Then we have the difficulty of the flip trigger. This part is a fundamental difference between the two cycles – on enchantments you can count staying around, while creatures are more prone to be removed. As such, with equal triggers the enchantments should be easier to flip. With the flipwalkers, the best cards had triggers that are bound to be met eventually, and all are a natural thing to achieve to at least one established cube archetype. The easier the threshold is to meet, the better the card is, obviously.

Then we get to the land side of things. Just having a land means getting free ramp, kind of like a mana rock that is hard to destroy. That said, none of the enchantments are flippable in the early stages of the game, and the value of the ramp diminishes much more quickly than a planeswalker. Some archetypes just do not care at all about ramp. Finally, the lands also have activate abilities, ranging from the meek to the scary. In general, they are designed for repeated use in slower decks.

The major problem with this cycle is how little “on theme” the different parts are – few are the decks that both:

  • Want the front side
  • Can achieve the flip threshold with only reasonable effort
  • Can utilize the ramp
  • Desire the land’s activated abilities

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Legion’s Landing – unplayable

The front side is usually not worth a card. Even if you flip the land, it is hard to say you have gotten value here. If you can do that consistently for one mana, that might not be an issue, except that you cannot. As we know from Kytheon and Windbrisk Heights, attacking with three creatures is hard, yes, even if one of them is given to you as a 1/1 lifelinker for W. It is only somewhat conceivable in aggro and token decks, but said decks are not interested in the land. Yes, it gives you some buildup after a mass removal, and some late game. An infinite chain of sword holders will be relevant at some point. However, any other mana sink in your deck will still likely be better, not to mention every topdeck. Landing is not worth the petty front side over a more aggressive option like an Elite Vanguard. This land fits control more – keep your mana untapped for counters, and if nothing happens, get a dude. But control decks have no use for the token and no means to transform the enchantment. The union between the decks that satisfy the four conditions above in regards to this card is pathetically small.

 

Search for Azcanta – playable

Blue again got the best card of the cycle. The default mode is quite good – repeatable card selection at no cost, and cheap enough to get you out of mana screws. This is 80% of what Thassa did for less mana, but sending to the graveyard instead of to the bottom of your library is better in almost every deck – it fuels your delve cards, shaves mana off of Deep Analysis and obviously works well in reanimator decks.

The trigger is very easy to achieve. With this card alone it would take 7 turns, but is hard for your opponent to prevent. With other cards, it can be flipped in 2-3 turns. It is worth noting you do not have to flip this if you do not want to. There will definitely be times where digging for the right answers will be more important than the land half.

Regarding the land, blue decks love mana ramp. They also like mana sinks that can be activated at instant speed. The activated ability is not great, but the whole package here is very on theme and attractive. What is great with this card is that retains power throughout the game. The front half wants to be played early, to accumulate value, and alone would be a poor topdeck. With the flip side being immediately available late game, it becomes an acceptable topdeck (as in, better than an island, especially considering you have the choice whether to transform or not).

 

Arguel’s Blood Fast – terrible

This fails all the criteria. The front side is an expensive way to draw cards, both in life and in mana. In control mirrors it would be good, but still not a great card. Compared to Night’s Whisper, it costs three times as much mana in total and twice as much life for the same results.

Now, one can argue that against aggressive decks getting the trigger is easy. You might not be able to activate the ability, but you are all but guaranteed to get the land, which is amazing in that matchup. I think that is wrong, as it is not too hard for decks to engineer an alpha strike or lethal burn. Also, the land is only threatening if you have several creatures with high toughness in your deck, and they should not be too central to your gameplan as you will be required to sacrifice them. It certainly requires too much luck and/or effort to count it as a sacrifice outlet. I see it as a trap mostly – people will self-harm themselves just so that it flips, which is not worth the payoff.

 

Vance’s Blasting Cannons – fringe playable

The front half of the card is bad. It costs 4 mana and does nothing immediately. Worse off, if you hit a land, you will not get anything next turn too. This is similar to Outpost Siege, except worse on the relevant mode of the card. It is much worse than Chandra, Pyromaster. Red is not a color geared towards continuous accumulation of card advantage so the splashable cost is good. Not great though, as that form of card advantage plays poorly with reactive cards (counterspells, removal spells that might not have a target). The flip threshold is hard to meet. The card’s main function helps somewhat, but you still need a considerable amount of cheap spells in your deck. The most consistent way to flip will be with cantrips, but that also requires a good mana base. Sandbagging cards in your hand for the eventual flip is also a losing proposition almost always, if at all possible.

The flipside is mighty. It is not only inevitability, it is a decent clock. It is also a repeatable answer – creatures and manlands with 3 or less toughness can be shot on sight and planeswalkers are an easy prey. The problem is, if your deck is full with cheap cards, you are likely not aiming for the late game. I fail to see which deck could both flip it and desire the transformed face.

 

Growing Rites of Itlimoc – fringe playable

Ignoring the back side, this is not worth the cost. It is never card disadvantage, which is a huge plus, but also never something you want to play on your third turn as it does not affect the board. Never being card disadvantage is only true if we assume high creature density though. How easy is getting four creatures out depends on the deck. It is never trivial, but it can be your gameplan. In general it is overextending without heavy use of tokens, yet the token producers are rarely creatures themselves and fail to work with the front side. The land is great, and something very much worth three mana in the decks that want it. Having enough creature cards, likely some creature token makers, and enough mana sinks is not easy, but there actually are homes for this card. Decks that play Gaea’s Cradle and Craterhoof Behemoth would love this, and green has some support for that archetype with Hornet Queen, Avenger of Zendikar and Deranged Hermit. I think this is definitely playable there, but still too narrow. Cradle itself is better even with 2-3 creatures out, and will always be a higher pick than this sidekick.

Commander 17 cube set review

Commander 16 was a very weak set for cube, with only Ash Barrens representing it in many groups. When I heard the set’s theme was tribal, I had set my hopes low. With those expectations in mind, C17 was actually quite good for cube! It has less testable cards than HOD, but the top end is stronger.

 

White

Stalking Leonin – somewhat niche, at least playable

This card is a metagame call – either it needs cheap defensive cards or it doesn’t. As a defensive tool it is very strong. The removal is free, it can target everything and it exiles. If you activate the ability on an average creature, getting it on top of a 3/3 body for 2W will be great value even in cube standards.

Against aggro decks this is potent. It threatens to be a 2-for-1, but with loads of tempo. Since the lion is 3/3, it will probably hold a few ground creatures back, and with it threatening to kill anything big or evasive, it will likely require removal before any attacks happen. It does die to any removal, but whenever your third turn play requires an aggro opponent to pay mana and waste a valuable burn spell early game, you are happy.

White has a deep suite of removal spells, but few are instants. Leonin will be able to shore up weaknesses of the color, by being able to kill vehicles, manlands, gideons and Koth mountains. You will never be caught off-guard by a nasty equipment or haste creatures.

Whenever you prevent a Baneslayer Angel or Titan from attacking, you are gaining quite a lot from this card. It is even better against reanimator decks, with shiny exile, and it can kill both Emrakuls and Kozileks. It even has some synergy with white blink effects.

Where will it see play then? The splashable cost and decent body help a lot here. In slower decks, I am very likely including this card. It is not exciting in aggro, but playable if you have curve problems, and is a good sideboard cards against the faster red decks and cheaty decks. It should not replace the true removals in your deck, as it has no use offensively and cannot kill creatures with abilities that can simply not attack, such as Dark Confidant.

 

Blue

Galecaster Mage – niche

Bouncing a lot of things is always fun. Galecaster can immediately bounce at least one permanent. With another wizard out, it should be strong enough. It cannot lock your opponent Opposition style, as it cannot bounce lands. What it can do is make you unkillable, and victory inevitable. I think in practice, you will never have enough wizards to both be in control over the game and make this unkillable. You play this, your opponent attacks with something big or evasive. You bounce the threat, then your opponent plays a kill spell targeting your big wizard. End result: Sadness.

So how many wizards are there in cube? I counted 25, 15 of them are blue and 14 mono blue. Most fit control, meaning you very likely to end up with a wizard or two in your deck, but unlikely to end up with 5 or more. Having two wizards in your deck is not enough to guarantee one will be there when you cast Galecaster Mage. That said, it is the best reason to build a wizard tribal deck so far.

 

Black

Kheru Mind-Eater – fringe or unplayable

The 1/3 body with menace is worse than Hypnotic Scepter. It has slightly more survivability. Against many decks, eventually the discard will be irrelevant as they play whatever they topdeck. You can play whatever was discarded, which punishes the choice of discarding lands. Still, as they choose, you will never get a truly great catch. Hypnotic Scepter is not a commonly played cube card in the last 5 years or so either.

 

Patron of the Vein – fringe playable

Pretty similar to Noxious Gearhulk. Gearhulk is much better at stabilizing the board. Lifegain is a needed effect in black with all the self inflicted life loss. Gearhulk can also be grabbed with Tinker and Daretti. Gearhulk is a better card with Recurring Nightmare. Gearhulk also dies to spells that destroy artifacts, but as you are getting more value upfront from the trigger, you do not care as much.

Patron does have a better body. A 5/5 flier and a 5/4 menace body are comparable, but Paton will keep growing. It will exile opposing creatures entering the graveyard like Kalitas, mostly an upside. Speaking of Kalitas, it is perhaps the only other vampire you will play in a control deck with Patron. In reanimator decks, Heir of Falkenrath and maybe Bloodghast will also see play, but that is it, so do not count on Patron pumping other guys.

Overall, there are several black six drops much better than this. I’d cube him over both Ob Nixilises. Black really wants its top end to play well with reanimation, especially in a large cube. Still, this is the sort of card that can be outclassed and pushed out very quickly.

 

Red

Territorial Hellkite – playable+, might be staple

Hellkite has a convoluted text box. In the best case, which might also be the most common, it will be immediate six damage to the head and that will close the game right there and then. It is sort of like the full burn version of Fiery Confluence. Red will really like another. If it doesn’t immediately kill, it will leave a 6/5 flying dragon behind. It might not be able to attack next turn but will need dealing with.

Over a long amount of time, Hellkite deals only 3 damage on average per turn. It means it will not be a contender in slow decks like Thundermaw Hellkite sometimes is. That said, in an aggro deck, the game is very likely over after one or two attacks, so it will deal closer to an average of 5 per turn (6 damage per turn for one attack, 4 damage per turn for two attacks). Of course this is a much less reliable way of killing than straight burn. This dragon be blocked or killed. But we never had anything this efficient before.

The one thing that takes this card down considerably is the inability to attack planeswalkers. Not a deal breaker for the main use of the card, but perhaps enough to keep him out of staple status. It should also be noted it can block for a turn if you play him after your attack phase. It is also a solid way to win over a Moat. I’d test him over Hero of Bladehold, Hazoret the Fervent or Purphoros, God of the Forge.

 

Green

Qasali Slingers – niche or fringe

Better than Conclave Naturalists. The body is a bit better with reach, and once in a while it will be paired with one of the handful of cats there in the cube (I play 7). At least Brimaz will create a steady supply of them.

 

Gold

Fractured Identity – staple

This is a very powerful card. It answers everything, creates card advantage and grants tempo. Compared to Treachery, you can steal any type of permanent with FI. Creatures will still be the majority of targets, but hitting planeswalkers is very relevant. Grabbing an opponent’s Batterskull or Oblivion Ring is also potentially game winning. But FI has more advantages.

FI will grant you ETB triggers. It is the reason why we play Phantasmal Image, and with FI we get it nearly for free. It is like playing my opponent’s titan, for less mana, while killing his! FI will also not die to Disenchant like every other Control Magic effect. It cannot be destroyed, in any way. Once it happens, there is no way to undo it. Even bounce will not work, as the creature is permanently exiled. Yes, your opponent will also not be able to kill your stolen dude and then reanimate it. It is gone.

The final and perhaps largest advantage of FI over Treachery is that it is abusable. It can be replayed with Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It can be doubled with Double Stroke. Even just fetching it with Regrowth is very strong.

I am not saying it is stronger than Treachery, but it doesn’t look far behind at all. A treachery that costs 3WU is a busted card, and there is little reason not to play this card. Azorius is a strong guild. FI is not as important as Supreme Verdict in a large cube. But after that, it could very well compete and win against every other card in the guild. Just not to appear too high on the card, I will remind that it suffers from some of the shortcomings of Control Magic effects, mostly that it is weak against aggressive decks. Everything you will kill in that matchup is likely cheap and not that useful on the defense.

 

Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist – fringe playable

There is nothing wrong with Mirri per se, she is just not a cube level threat. Her ability is cool but might be completely irrelevant. If my opponent has one or less blockers, and relies on mass removals, it does nothing. If my opponent has a single big creature, like a titan or Griselbrand, it does nothing. It is good in aggro against midrange or the mirror. If she can attack and survive. But she does die to a Shock. She will be best against token decks, but you are the one playing the token colors.

Consider her versus something like Loxodon Smiter. Is her ability good enough to be worth the much worse stats? I doubt it. Selesnya is a powerful guild. But even if Mirri was monocolored she would not be an auto include, in either color. Thalia, Heretic Cathar, does her thing better. Mirri does not provide a function you truly need. I do not see a deck splashing a color to play her, but rather just playing her if she fits and the curve needs it. I require more from gold card.

 

Colorless

Bloodforged Battle-Axe – niche

I do not know why some are optimistic about this card. The worse thing about Trusty Machete was her equip cost. Yes, Battke-Axe will grant value if you can connect, but that value will not be great either. You will get another Darksteel Axe. It is so expensive to equip the copies, and so vulnerable, that I cannot see it being more than a win more card. If I am already having a guy with an equipment that doesn’t grand evasion or defense connecting, then I’ll still need to sink more mana to get proper value.

 

Heirloom Blade – niche for tribal support

This is better value and far better stats for the cost. It is still clunky, likely too slow for aggressive decks. You can play and equip it only on turn four. But the equip cost itself is rather cheap. The chances of getting card advantage when the creature dies are not that low, with a lot of creatures having some overlap. You will get that odd equip to an angel or elemental, but maybe you  can get a 50% card advantage hit and that’s decent. Problem is decks wanting a +3/+1 equipment are not interested in slow card advantage engines. Equipment and vehicles are fighting for a tight space, and I do not see this as better than anything in that section.