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.

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Hour of Devastation Set Review

Hour of devastation is a weak set for cube. Not just below average, but weak. There is only one card from this set that I consider a staple for a large cube – that is worse than Born of the Gods!

 

New Mechanics

Eternalize

Eternalize was not priced competitively. There is nothing inherently wrong with the mechanic – it is natural card advantage and mass removal protection. It has synergies with Entomb and looting, but in practice they will almost never be worth building around. Graveyard shenanigans with the mechanic are more incidental than anything, which looks like it was intended.

Adorned Pouncer – high playable

I actually kind of consider it a must have at 720 as it belongs by merit of powerlevel. It is far from unique or necessary however and that is why it is not a staple. Do not prioritize buying one. The base mode of Fencing Ace is subpar. It is still better than a vanilla 2/1 body. Double strike scales well with equipment, anthem effects, Elspeth, Knight Errant and Verdurous Gearhulk. Most of those synergies however are expensive and easy to disrupt. Pouncer lacks evasion so ultimately even if it is very big, that is not a reliable way to win games. The reason we want it though is for the eternalize. White weenie is soft to mass removals, and the eternalize mode of this card is quite efficient. Again, not a reliable way to close a game after that wrath, but much better than doing nothing or playing a true five drop in your aggro deck.

Champion of Wits – playable

It performed well for us so far. The 2/1 body usually trades with something. A double loot is a consistent way to get out of mana screws and floods. In a generic blue deck the eternalize option will not be played often. That said, it is quite potent, if you have luxury of playing it and nothing better to do. You are sure to draw enough gas to finish the game.

There are some decks where you actively want this, too. Reanimator decks will want nearly every discard outlet. This is a discard outlet that has some relevant synergies with other discard outlets, assuming you draw it after them. It is also a multiple roleplayer in Reveillark shells.

 

Exert spell cycle

All of them have splashy effects, but the drawback is huge. It is worse than echo, as even lands used for other purposes than casting the exert spell will not untap. I’ve only tried one card out of this cycle, but so far it is disappointing enough that I don’t think any of the cards are better than fringe. They do get slightly better the more nonland mana sources you have.

Kefnet’s Last Word – unplayable

A control Magic that cannot be destroyed, and can grab artifacts or enchantments for the same price is awesome. Keeping yourself tapped out for the next turn in a blue control decks is disastrous. It is like a more polar Mind Control – against aggressive decks where Control Magic is only okay it will be far worse. Against midrange decks, especially of the green variety, and the reanimator/Show and Tell/ other cheater decks, it will be stronger. Stealing an artifact is far less useful here than with Dack Fayden – you never want to grab a mana rock or most equipment and vehicles with this.

Bontu’s Last Reckoning – fringe playable

This is probably the best of the cycle. I’ve tested it and it disappointed so far. It is obviously worse than Damnation but I thought every hard mass removal below five mana would be playable. Turns out it is a big gamble. You basically give your opponent two turns in a row, especially in the early game. By that time they can play a threat, equip and attack with it once. It only gets worse if they have a haste creature or two. Basically they can build enough of a board that will require a serious tempo answer or another mass removal. Late game the drawback is less severe, but a Crux of Fate can still be better.

It is true that against some decks, a mass removal on the fourth turn might be too late, especially if you are second. But a Reckoning is still unlikely to save you. Playing a relevant turn three play and a four mana mass removal, even if softer in nature such as Yahenni’s Expertise, is better.

 

The rest

White

Angel of Condemnation – fringe playable

This appears wonderful – a recurring source of evasive damage that clears blockers, kills tokens, reuses ETB triggers and returns what was stolen from you. However she has major setbacks preventing her from being a powerful card. She is as vulnerable as they come, and she does nothing the turn you play her. She is not a good blocker. She is an expensive card that tries to generate value slowly, so she is not an aggressive card. She requires creatures so she is limited in scope to midrange. But if it is blink that you seek, Eldrazi Dispalcer and Parallax Wave do this better, among other cards.

 

Crested Sunmare – niche

The payoff is there, but you cannot base an archetype on a single incentive.

 

Djeru, with Eyes Open – unplayable

There is no planeswalker toolbox. Djeru is just a value play. His body trades with two drops. Planeswalkers are much worse when you opponent can prepare for them hitting the battlefield. Plus, you do need at least two white planeswalker, which not only makes Djeru narrow, it bloats your curve a bit. White’s five drop are far better than that.

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Blue

Nimble Obstructionist – playable

This card is overrated in cube, like every card with the stifle ability. Disallow was bad, and this is not that much better. You do get card parity (or even the rare card advantage) when cycling this. But the main mode of the card is arguably weaker than Cancel. What makes it the better Stifle variant for cube is the splashable cost. It is best in decks that put a good use to a 3/1 flash flier. It is still a very relevant mode for your average control deck, for surprise attacking planeswalkers, taking back monarch or ambushing an attacker. It is maindeckable in many blue decks, especially if you have plenty of instants, but is never necessary or something you miss if you do not have.

 

Supreme Will – high playable

The best three mana counterspell after Forbid. Both the Impulse and the Mana Leak modes are fair or even weak for the price, but the versatility of having both is huge. It is a very natural card to play – keep mana open. If something strong is cast, counter it, if not, Impulse. Digging for a mass removal or land drop will always be great when needed.

 

Black

Ammit Eternal – low playable to playable

This is big, cheap and splashable. It is even a zombie. It will be quite bad on defense, and in some board states it will be shrunk down to irrelevancy quite easily. Still, when you play it early, it is of the better aggressive black three drops. Realistically it should attack for four at maximum, and three at minimum due to afflict. A three mana 3.5/3.5 with semi-evasion is fine but not good.

 

Doomfall – fringe or niche

It is more a braod sideboard card than a good maindeck answer. An edict that exiles is of the meaner things that can be done against some reanimation targets (but not Myr Battlesphere). It also answers recurring creatures and cards like Kitchen Finks. A Coercion that exiles is an answer for permission decks and Recurring Nightmare. Having Doomfall is like drafting two different sideboard tools together. Overall though, both modes are not useful enough to justify the high cost.

 

Razaketh, the Foul Blooded – unplayable

Looks like Griselbrand lite but isn’t. It is just a huge body that doesn’t pass the Vindicate test, unless you have life to pay and creatures to sacrifice. Even if you do, what will you bring? Usually my 8 mana cards should win the game and not be a way to draw into my other ways to win the game.

 

Wasp of the Bitter End – fringe playable

It was just a matter of time until the planeswalker deck would bring us something playable. Finally black gets a Mistral Charger.

 

Red

Abrade – staple

The best card in the set by far. This card is the red Disenchant, the monocolored Abrupt Decay. It is instant and can deal with many problems cheaply. Having a maindeckable artifact hate is great. Shatter-like cards are problematic to maindeck as in some matchups they are dead or very near. On the other hand, having an answer in the maindeck for artifacts will have a significant effect on other matches. Abrade gives you the benefits of running a Smelt without the risk of being dead. I’ve run, like many others, Torch Fiend for years. The creature-only Searing Spear mode is a much better fail case than a 2/1 for 1R.

So how good is it? I think it is of the best answers to artifacts there are. Release the Gremlins, Manic Vandal, Vandalblast, Ancient Grudge, Gorilla Shaman and more are worse. I’d also play it over Smash to Smithereens. Smash is more powerful in an aggressive deck, but worse in red control and is harder to maindeck. I’d highly recommend cutting an artifact destruction card and never look back.

Is it better than Searing Spear? For control decks or ramp the answer is probably. We lose some reach, which is not crucial to the game plan, and we get a broad answer. We also however lose the ability to kill planeswalkers. In an aggressive deck, a Searing Spear is probably better. I’d not feel bad about playing Abrade in aggro, and would very likely play it over a weak burn if it was my only out to artifacts.

 

Burning-Fist Minotaur – playable

It has the body of Aether Chaser with an arguably better ability. By the threat of activation this guy can punch through most blockers. It can convert unused land drops to damage. The Minotaur is one of the few cards in the red aggro deck that allows you to kill a titan on defense. True, it is a 2-for-1 at best, you are still behind and might lose the game, but at least you have an out. It is also a serviceable discard outlet, if not efficient.

 

Earthshaker Khenra – low playable

The base mode is Speedway Fanatic. It appears better than a Borderland Marauder, as it attacks for more damage up until two turns after you play it, and the damage output between the two then will still be even. The problem is that the body is too low impact, and will die to every token. It is contained by 2/3s and gets outclassed quickly in general. Khenra alleviates a bit of the chump blocking issue, but still not by enough to be great. The eternalize is a super late game option for this kind of deck. It is quite easy to stop with fat creatures or removals/bounce, so you cannot count on its reach. Again, that is still a better late game option than you would normally have, but having a better early game is probably better than this package.

 

Firebrand Archer – low playable and/or niche

It triggers off of equipment, vehicles and Sulfuric Vortex. It will only really require 3 damage or so before you are happy with the card. The problem is that the body is very weak, and it is not easy to get that many triggers in aggro decks. Even in spell heavy deck you have to draw and play it early.

 

Hour of Devastation – niche

Five mana mass removals have been bad in white and black, and there is no reason to believe they will work in red. Red is a less heavy control color, and there plenty of better mass removals in the color, like all the Earthquake variants. Not being an answer to early aggression leaves this card is a control card against midrange, and even there Earthquake is likely better as it is more selective and can kill planeswalkers.

 

Green

Ramunap Excavator – niche, or fringe

A Crucible of Worlds on legs. Crucible was not a great card for me. It is a lock combo with Strip Mine and quite good with Wasteland, but in a large cube the chances of having that pair in your pool is too low. The average case scenario is much lower and probably requires a couple of fetches and a few loot effects. Crucible does nothing the turn it comes into play and is slow. How many fetch land activations do you need before it was worth the card and mana cost? At least three, and that is three lands drops (not even ramp) and three life over three turns. Crucible was cute with Smokestack, but again, you need several outlets of sacrificing lands in your maindeck before it is worth a slot there. Bottom line is, it was a combo card and not a value card.

Excavator can be a value card. It provides a 2/3 body, which means it adds defense and has a fail-safe in case you do not have lands in your graveyard. It can still carry equipment, crew a vehicles or just add mana with Gaea’s Cradle. As a combo piece it is vulnerable now, but as a green creature it is also easier to tutor. I prefer Excavator to Crucible in a large cube, but it might still not be better enough to be worth a slot.

the-scarab-god-hour-of-devastation-mtg-art

Gold

The Locust God – low playable

Blue six drops are plentiful and overpowered. The god has a weak body for the cost and an inefficient activated ability. Locust god is so expensive that even pointing a three mana removal spell on him is a good deal. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is probably more reliable.

 

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh – Niche

If you liked the old Bolas, the new version is better. That is mostly down to the easier casting cost and being cheaper. If not, there is no reason to suddenly include a three colored card in your cube. This is not meaningfully better than Ugin or Karn. Nicol Bolas is a card you do not include for power level, it is a sort of achievement for the players to cast it. Whether or not that is worth a card that will seldom get play is up to you.

 

Samut, the Tested – unplayable

You must control a creature with 2+ power for her first ability to matter and her second is not brilliant either. Gruul has so many good four drops that I cannot why anyone will play Samut. For reference, the five most played gruul five drops are in no order Xengaos, the Reveler, Huntmaster of the Fells, Sarkhan Vol, Bloodbraid Elf and Ghor-Clan Rampager.

 

The Scarab God – playable to high playable

Blue and especially black have few five drops, so this fills a curve spot nicely. It is a big defensive body, and has a very strong ability. Note that it steals from any graveyard, and you get ETB triggers. You do want at least one player to have some creatures in the graveyard, and that might not be you. It works well with Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw, as well as looters. 4/4 Baleful Strixes are potent. I’ve found that even one zombie is usually good enough to win the game – the scry triggers add up. When The Scarab God is in play, every trade is painful for your opponent and brings you closer to winning. It gets better if you have a few zombies in your deck, but most zombies are not suitable for a control deck. Exceptions, such as Skinrender or Kalitas, exist.

 

Colorless

Mirage Mirror – fringe playable

Mirror is more of a sideboard card than something I am happy maindecking. It has some advantages over traditional clones in that it is playable even when no interesting permanent is on board. If you have the mana, it will give all your creatures haste. Against cheat decks, reanimator and some midrange, attacking them with their own creature before them can be backbreaking (think of a Show and Tell into Emrakul). If you need to keep the body around however, Mirror becomes expensive and the initial cost is not cheap either. Unlike other clone cards you do not get the ETB effects with it.

 

Desert colored cycle

This cycle is intriguing. You get useful effects on your lands for a low cost. They provide colored mana, so you will have little reason not to play them in certain decks. These lands are hard to rank, as they are more dependent on whether your cube has the space for them. If you do though, it is very likely they will see very consistent maindeck play.

Ramunap Ruins

The best of the cycle, for several reasons. First is that red is the most aggressive color and cares the least about losing life or sacrificing a land. The second is that the effect is entirely what you are trying to do in aggro decks – it is better than drawing a card, it is drawing the right card. You do not care if you overpay for the shock, if it wins you the game. How often were you 1-2 damage short of killing your opponent with a red deck? I guess quite a bit, and this uncounterable source of damage will improve red decks.

Ifnir Deadlands

The best effect on sacrificing of the whole cycle. It is far less playable however. Having a glorified Disfigure is not that good at that stage of the game. It is certainly almost never worth five mana and sacrificing a land. I do not see non-aggro decks playing this, the self-damage outweighs any use you might gain from the card. In aggressive decks it is probably playable, but you have to be black heavy and it is still not as potent as Ramunap Ruins.

 

Top 8 Hour of Devastation cards for a large cube:

  1. Abrade
  2. Supreme Will
  3. Adorned Pouncer
  4. The Scarab God
  5. Nimble Obstructionist
  6. Burning First Minotaur
  7. Champion of Wits
  8. Ramunap Ruins
  9. Ramunap Excavator
  10. Earthshaker Khenra

Amonkhet Set Review – the rest

Hello Blog readers. I know there has been some time since my last update, the last few months were busy. I am intending to finish what I’ve started – the Amonkhet set review. Writing late set reviews has advantages and disadvantages. The cards are less splashy now, some were quickly solved. On the other hand, more informed opinions can be given on most cards. This post will deal with Amonkhet cards that do not have cycling, emblam or exert and are not gods.

 

White

Gideon of the Trials – low playable

Gideon was a solid underperformer in any cube that I’ve heard tried him. First of all let me bust the myth – he is not a great aggro card. He is not a 4/4 with more abilities. It is true that he does not die to mass removals and sorcery speed creature removals in general. But he also cannot ever block, and is very easy to kill with even utility bodies. In fact, it is more vulnerable than a 4/4 creature usually. He is not the sort of body you want to equip. Combine it with a difficult casting cost, and you have a very average or even below average beater for that type of deck.

Control strategies do love the Maze of Ith effect that can turn into a small clock after a mass removal. It even deals with permanents which are otherwise very difficult for control decks such as manlands, vehicles and planeswalkers. That said, the double white is a burden in these decks and protecting him is not trivial.

The emblem ability I’ve never seen being relevant. It is essentially just a lifegain spell, as Gideon itself can be attacked. The problem is the plus ability is usually better at that, and gives you more safety. Another small strike against Gideon is that there are two much better planeswalker versions of him and one flipwalker version, and there are diminishing returns for playing many Gideons together (yes, even with the emblem).

 

Regal Caracal – unplayable at 810 and below

White five drops are extremely competitive. If you want token producers you have Angel of Invention, Cloudgoat Ranger, Wingmate Roc and arguably Giest-Honored Monk that do that job better.

 

Vizier of Deferment – Niche archetype support

Cute card, generally has many synergies, but is just of low intrinsic power level and conditional. He is splashable, reuses ETB effects and kills tokens. But he requires holding three mana up for most trickery, is a measly 2/2 itself, and it cannot touch anything that doesn’t indulge in combat. Eldrazi Displacer and/or Flickerwisp do the job better. Vizier is not going to cut it in an aggressive deck. He is incredibly held back by there being no good creatures with ETB effects for 2 or less mana.

 

Blue

As Foretold – a sleeper, still in testing

Much better than I’ve initially perceived. It is a mana rock fixing battery. If you can lay it down turn three and survive until it has two or more counters you are very likely to win the game. In some ways it can look like a win more card, but it is not always so. It frees up your mana for other uses such as manlands, activated abilities and various card filtering for the enchantment such as clue popping and cycling. It also allows you to play expensive spells with counterspell backup. It is important to know that you can use the ability once on your own turn and once during your opponent’s turn. You do have to build around it somewhat or at least have a fitting deck – you want to have a healthy amount of instants, many of them rather cheap. One mana filter spells such as Ponder also play well with it, both when it has one counter, or late game to save some mana.

What holds it back it that it is much worse than a mana rock late, and that in some matchups you cannot afford to play a three mana cards that does nothing that turn.

 

Pull from Tomorrow – solid playable

This card is actually quite good, but it is not a necessity. It is just a great card draw spell to play at the end of turn when there was nothing to counter, and basically be unwinnable from there. The discard is also a blessing in itself for some decks. The reason why it is not top notch is that it is a top end draw spell and you just do not need many of them in a deck or cube. Dig through Time is better, Fact or Fiction is more efficient by enough that you’ll basically always prefer it. Pull is not great at digging for answers, and is horrible at getting you out of a mana screw. I think it is better than Sphinx’s Revelation, mostly for being monocolored therefore much more playable. It is also better than Jace’s Ingenuity and Opportunity if anyone still plays that.

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Black

Dread Wanderer – staple

What a great card. It is a great card for all sorts of decks. Recurring DW is usually very easy, the threshold of one card in hand is much easier to reach than true hellbent. It is the only recurring creature that can block. It is good in aggressive decks for mass removal recovery, good with Braids for stacks evilness and good with Skullclamp for card advantage. The recurring creatures are the most sought after black one drops, and this is no exception. Do not leave home without one.

 

Bone Picker – unplayable

It is not easy to time this well to cost a single black mana. It will certainly never happen on turn one. You can sacrifice a Sakura-Tribe Elder third turn and play this. Neat, but hardly impressive. In the more likely case you need to spend a removal spell on something your opponent plays. That runs into several problems – not only do you rely on that opponent having targetable creatures and you having a suitable removal, you are risking wasting the removal on a subpar target. Also, the removal is usually black meaning you should have double black mana available. The creature is not worth the hassle.

 

 

Liliana, Death’s Majesty – playable or even solid playable

It is hard to say she is outright weak. Her problem is rather her narrowness. Black aggressive decks are not interested in her. Control decks do not always have enough creature for her reanimation ability to be interesting. That leaves her mostly as a midrange affair card, even more narrowly a creature-based midrange deck.

That was my first analysis, but it turns out she is a bit broader than that. She is unskippable in reanimator decks for obvious reasons. She has strong synergies with Recurring Nightmare/ Survival of the Fittest shells. She has uses in stax too, with cards such as The Abyss. Zombie synergies such as Kalitas are also relevant. Overall, she is better than the Ob Nixilises, up until when the cube is small enough that 4 Lilianas will be too much (lower than 540 probably).

 

Plague Belcher – niche

I thought this could be playable outside of specific tribal decks or synergy decks. It turns out that a 3/2 menace is not good enough for three mana, and when weakening other creatures you become vulnerable to removals spells, especially bounce and control magic effects. It is good with Gravecrawler and the like, but the payoff is not quite there to go out of your way to build around it.

 

Trial of Ambition – fringe

Worse than Chainer’s Edict but not by much. Really gives hope for getting better versions of that effect in the future. I currently think Edicts are some of the weaker necessities in cube.

 

Red

Bloodlust Inciter – fringe playable

I have not tried him, but I have a hard time seeing how it could succeed. First, it does nothing by itself. It also does nothing if the creature already has haste, which in red is pretty common. It does nothing again if you leave your creatures to block. It will also never do anything the turn you play him. And he will just be another body when that mass removal hits. His stock rises significantly in a more midrange and creature focused deck, where aggro is not heavily supported and therefore most traditional red one drops are not as appealing.

 

Bloodrage Brawler – high playable

An undercosted stat monster. As with many cards like him, people overestimate the card disadvantage. In aggro decks, I’m often willing to give up on card advantage in favor of tempo. I’d rather win before I need that seventh card in my hand. Not to mention color screws and mana floods which make that decision even easier. A 4/3 is huge – it can punch through Wall of Omens and Courser of Kruphix unaided and crush most planeswalkers. It outright kills most three drops and can trade with many four drops. Clear the way for this and the game will be over shortly. The discard is not a requirement on this card, so it is a great topdeck (relative to a two drop) and plan B to keep in your hand. The discard can even be a bonus if you have a Bloodghast.

Nevertheless, the discard is a drawback. It will hurt when you mulligan, it is weak against bounce. Know the weaknesses and plan accordingly. It is not a reason to skip this great card.

 

Harsh Mentor – anywhere from playable to staple, very cube dependent

Harsh Mentor is of the better hate bears printed, certainly the best nonwhite one for this format. It only hurts your opponent, and it deals delicious damage. It hits a lot of things, from fetch lands through vehicles and manlands. Some strategies depend on excessive use of activated abilities – think Recurring Nightmare, Opposition or Eldrazi Displacer. The flip coin is obviously that you have no control of the effect and it can very well be a vanilla 2/2 for two mana in some games. The variance is staggering. Sometimes it is the best turn two play, other times it is so bad and you wonder why it is even in your deck. The card is highly cube dependent and I encourage everyone to test this out for his own environment.

 

Soul-Scar Mage – low playable

A generally worse Monastery Swiftspear. Usually your burn spells hit an opponent or kill a creature. Shrinking a creature is almost always card disadvantage as in the red deck your beaters are tiny. Nevertheless there are some cards worth weakening – Baneslayer Angel is a good example. Overall that ability is quite niche, and prowess is less consistent than a plain 2/1 body.

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Green

Channeler Initiate – unplayable

Two drops mana dorks are much weaker than one drop mana dorks. Sylvan Caryatid is rather an exception as she fixes, she can block small things and most importantly she is reliable. She cannot be burned out. Initiate can, but trades that with a meaningful body after a few activations. Cool, but unimpressive. I’d rather not be limited to three uses – mana screws and Armageddons happen. Also, a 3/4 vanilla body is not great or exciting by the stage when you will have it.

 

Manglehorn – staple in powered, high playable in unpowered

Viridian Shaman and Uktabi Orangutan are great cards. This is better. Making mana rocks come into play tapped makes them significantly weaker. You are happy when that Wurmcoil Engine or Baleful Strix is not blocking for a turn. Overall a great hoser design for cube. It is proactive, strong and meaningful but does not invalidate the strategy as a Shatterstorm does.

 

Prowling Serpopard – niche

That is a bad hoser design. Not only are counterspells much less common than artifacts, ‘pard completely invalidates all counterspells they might hold (if you play a heavy creature deck). It is not helped by the snake cat being unsplashable, low impact as a 4/3 for three mana without evasion, value or combat abilities and doubly inherently narrow (specific green decks in specific matchups).

 

Vizier of the Menagerie – Playable to high playable

Very rare to “draw” more than one or two cards with it, with the average being less than one. The naga can offer quite a bit without that though, as it has a great body, especially on the defense. It is an ultimate fixer for creatures. It also gives you, and only to you, knowledge about your next draws. The splashable cost is also great here and rare amongst green four drops.

The card does have several problems. The first is that it is just a vanilla body by the turn you play it, and sometimes for longer. Vulnerable to removals and bounce. The second is that sometimes playing out all your creatures is not your best interest as you will get blown out by mass removals. Yes, you do not have to play badly, but it means your 3/4 body is just that, a 3/4  body. The third is narrowness. Vizier will generate value over time. That limits it to midrange creature-heavy decks. Green should do those things often, but still this is not a card you can throw into every deck.

 

Gold

Nissa, Steward of Elements – staple

By far and away the best card in a struggling guild. She is a bomb worthy of splashing. She is great at all points along the curve. Play her early and improve your draws significantly, in a Dack Fayden style. Her middle ability is the rarest one, but it is useful if you must have an out or another mana right now. It can also be a source of card advantage if you can pair it with library manipulation. But still, it is usually better to just scry and build up towards the ultimate, which is also playable immediately if you cast Nissa late. The ultimate is of the most achievable ones and it kills. Nissa’s main weakness is her inability to defend herself. If you are far behind, if she doesn’t outright kill with her ultimate she will not stabilize you.

 

Samut, Voice of Dissent – undecided, still testing

Samut is somewhat weak by herself. She is big but has no evasion and provides no value. She does threaten amazing plays. End of turn, play her, your turn play Verdurous Gearhulk, attack for 18 surprise damage. Will it be enough to save her? Probably not, but I’m still giving her a chance.

Amonkhet Set Review – Exert, Embalm and Aftermath

Amonkhet shapes up to be a great set for the cube format, likely the best set in my history of cubing – 9 years! As such it is unavoidable to dissect the set review to smaller parts. The set is high in innovation and the most natural way to discuss the new contenders is to see the new mechanics separately first. I’ve written about the gods and cycling before, now I’ll cover the three new mechanics in this set – Exert, Embalm and Aftermath.

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Exert

Exert is an ability that reads better than it truly plays. You are committing to not attack next turn, which is obvious, but you are also giving up the option to block for two consecutive turns. An opponent can play a creature AND attack with it the following turn, without you being able to change your game plan accordingly. Similarly, the creature will not be able to attack a fresh planeswalker, or use a topdecked equipment. As such the effect you should get from the exert creature should be a significant one. Exert is a highly offensive ability as a result. Even in aggressive decks, exert should hurt in the mirror. In reverse, if you fear removals it should be correct to use the exert abilities as soon as possible, so as to squeeze more value from your card. Your opponent would still have to deal with the exerted creature, as it is still a threat.

Exert is not an ability you build around. It is an ability to be examined on a card-by-card basis. It can combo with a few effects that untap or give vigilance. There are not too many of them in cube, but such random synergies would still be a huge pain to face – we have Restoration Angel, Flickerwisp, Ral Zarek, Maze of Ith and Ajani Goldmane as some commonly used enablers.

Glory Bound Initiate – solid playable

Could even be a staple as far as large cubes as concerned. There have been several 3/1 creatures for 1W and only the top few of those had seen cube success. A 3/1 body was always good on an empty board, but on the too common scenario where there are blockers, it will die to the worst one your opponent has. GII can grow to impressive 4 toughness and avoid that fate. It will not be able to attack every turn in that mode, but it will do above and beyond any two drops in stall situations as a 4/4. It kicks through Courser of Kruphix and breaks down Wall of Omens. Lifelink tremendously helps not being able to block for a turn and will be a key ability against opposing aggro decks. The 3/1 body is still fragile against red, but if it attacks once you have already got an effect that’s worth a card, with a potential 8 point life swing. You cannot get the life and the blocker simultaneously which is sad, but that’s two drops for you.

White is a color that needs many two drops and frankly only few of them are truly great. Initiate is comparable to Seeker of the Way yet looks better. Probably also better than Relic Seeker as it does not need to connect to get value. Other potential cuts include Cloistered Youth and Soltari Trooper, which both have their advantages, but beat for equal or lesser amounts on a clear board yet are much worse in a race.

Gust Walker – unplayable

This seems comparable to Mistral Charger, but it is far worse. Plays worse with equipment as it doesn’t have static evasion. It is also a slower clock while flying and when you factor all the aforementioned drawbacks is just not worth it.

Ahn-Crop Crasher – solid playable

There are two ways to look at this – a better version of Geier Reach Bandit or a worse version of Goblin Heelcutter. As Heelcutter is such a great red card, and Bandit totally acceptable, both comparisons are to his advantage. One of the better topdecks you can have in red aggro. It is great on turn 3, great after a mass removal, a good planeswalker killer and good in board stalls. Basically always useful, with the floor of a haste 3/2 for 2R being perfectly good. Heelcutter still has the advantage of being able to disable a blocker every turn if you need, and can evade mass removals. But Crasher can also replace Brazen Scourge, Sin Prodder and likely quite a few other cards as red’s three drops are shallow compared to other colors. It is not a bomb, as 2 toughness is fragile, but a card with high ceiling and a still almost playable on its own low end performance for a three drop is bound to be great.

Battlefield Scavenger – unplayable

A very bad attacker and a very bad looter. Being able to do both once every two turns does not come close to redeem this.

Combat Celebrant – niche to low playable

Celebrant is almost good enough by itself, but I do not think it passes. A 4/1 body will die to everything. For three mana it hurts, especially if it trades with a token. If you have a few attackers lying around it will be a fine deal not matter what. Assuming you have 2 dorks with 2 power (one drop and a two drop), Celebrant will add 8 damage to your board, or an Imperial Edict + 4 damage. But in the very likely case of having less unblocked attackers, it does too little. What redeems him is being an on color combo piece with Kiki-Jiki. Unless the opponent has a first strike or protection from red blocker, you will kill all his blocker and eventually him, in an infinite loop of hasted attacking 4/1s and extra combat steps.

Glorybringer – solid playable

Exert is at its best with haste. This is a limited bomb. In cube it reminds me of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. It has the obvious advantage of dealing 4 damage to a creature and a player in the same turn, creating a ton of immediate value that is unstoppable with sorcery speed answers. Sarkhan on the defense will too often kill a creature then die to everything. Glorybringer will be able in the best of days to take down a creature and a planeswalker the turn you cast him. It also kills the second creature in two turns. Sarkhan will only do so in three turns and will die in the process.

The drawback compared to Sarkhan is that it is a much more fragile win condition on average. Creature removals that are sorcery speed or don’t exile all deal with Glorybringer and not Sarkhan. As a red five drop, I find that being better on defense trumps being a better win condition against control decks here.

Glorybringer seems better than Stormbreath Dragon by quite a lot. It still below the mighty Thundermaw Hellkite as it is just a far less focused tool for his job. Between the high redundancy of similar effects, I’d cut one of the lesser dragons for Glorybringer instead of one of the other solidly performing red five drops that you might play.

Magic The Gathering: Amonkhet CR: Wizards of the Coast

Embalm

Embalm is card advantage. It is a synergistic ability with discard. Given it is printed in blue and white, the major way to gain extra value from embalm cards is to loot them. A second way is to just let the creature die in combat. Another useful attribute is that you just don’t care as much when a creature with embalm dies to your mass removal. Plus, embalm cannot be countered, which is a rare but game winning upside. Embalm could be great on an aggressive creature, especially a one drop, but it was rather calm this set. The only ability in this set which I can say was played safe and not pushed. The mummy tokens are also a flavor win.

Angel of Sanctions – playable

So much value. I’ve found in testing that it is usually possible or even easy to answer it the first time (at the cost of a turn’s worth of mana or near), but when embalmed the turn after, it usually stays for good. As a sturdy flier out of bolt range, this has great immediate defensive value. It is a slow clock but punishes planeswalkers and will rescue you from most situations. Oblivion Ring effects are good in this format. You are going to face many threats of many types, almost all are game winning and you need to have solutions. There are more white five drops available than is sensible to play in a cube, and AoS is no Avacyn or Baneslayer. In large cubes, it will be a low 2nd-high 3rd tier and can replace Cloudgoat Ranger. The slower and more midrange your cube is, the better this will be. Not long ago Wingmate Roc was a playable cube card and this seems a few levels above that card.

Trueheart Duelist – fringe playable to playable

Who doesn’t like card advantage on a two drop? This card serves a few specific purposes really well yet has enough broader uses to be playable. We never had cubeable cards with the double-block clause. This card can just be a defensive nightmare for your opponent. It is very close to a double fog + killing an attacking creature every attack if played on turn two. Just having a Moment’s Peace is good for keeping planeswalkers alive, especially those that come down turn 3. If it means your opponent is just holding back and overextending, just play Duelist again after your unrecoverable mass removal.

Seems dangerously closer to a weenie hoser but for the fact it is a decent 22nd-23rd card in a white weenie deck itself. It offers value after a mass removal. It is splashable. It will just be a hard to remove body to hold your equipments sometimes. All are fine functions if not great. When things go awry in aggro mirror, a Moment’s Peace can be all that you need. Duelist also plays well with the Stacks theme in black, especially Liliana of the Veil and Braids.

Glyph Keeper – playable to solid playable

A great finisher, but lacking on defense. It seems (and definitely felt so far) nearly impossible to kill. There are some limited ways to target this without spending a card, such as Maze of Ith or the new Gideon. Even if you manage that though, it still demands two removal spells for it to be gone for good. Combined with an ability that ensures it cannot be countered and you get a very reliable way to close games. While it can die to big fliers, you still get the card advantage and as a control deck yourself, you have ways of removing opposing threats. Another huge trait is that early game, when you do not need finishers, it can be cycled with a looter. The second useful way to play it is as a blocker turn 5 and a finisher later. As a 5/3 flier it will block and kill nearly everything in combat and it is not a blocker you can remove in any way.

All in all, rather great and comparable to Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Sphinx dies to mass removals and edict effects while Keeper does not. Sphinx does not die to burn, but given how difficult it is to answer Glyph with it that might not be a relevant point! As a result, I’d play Seeker over anything weaker than Jwar Isle, which I consider a solid card, including the likes of Frost Titan and Meloku.

Vizier of Many Faces – fringe playable

This would see more cube play than it should just because it is a clone effect. It is card advantage, but like all copy cards is only good when you have something useful to copy, and that likely does not come from your side of the table. Blue just doesn’t have many great creatures. That is why the double blue mana in Clone effects is a big limitation, and why all the playable versions so far have been splashable.

Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun – unplayable

Temmet does not do much alone so requires building around. Token decks in cube go wide. For this to shine you need a deck with a few large tokens, which is an archetype that doesn’t exist yet, plus play both white and blue. A narrow card is an understatement here, and even then the power level is questionable. In the rich guild of Azorius. No chance.

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Aftermath

A mechanic pretty close to flashback. It shares a lot with embalm actually – plays well with looters, is an inherent card advantage. As aftermath is spread across more colors it has more synergies, mostly with discard effects in red and black. It has synergy with the prowess and spells matters archetype. They also count as two card types while in the graveyard for Emrakul and Tarmogoyf.

Dusk to Dawn – unplayable

A major feature of mass removals is killing hordes of tokens or just stopping aggro decks on turn 4. Dusk doesn’t do any of that. As a value card off of the Dawn side, this is rather limited and slow. Plus it is a white four drop.

Commit to Memory – playable

Commit is almost a good card by itself. Most comparable to Venser, Shaper Savant or Into the Roil. Venser offers a creature for your trouble, while commit just puts them down a card. Comparable from the card advantage outlook and Commit can even appear to be better. That is not so. Venser offers immediate tempo and often played for bounce + trade with an attacker for stabilization. The body can be reanimated with Reveillark, bounced with Karakas or it can just carry a sword or surprise attack a planeswalker (plus killing the token it just created). Into the Roil is played often at the two mana mode here (a rough estimation would say 40%), so it is far from a direct replacement. Commit is less color intensive than these two though.

But that is ignoring Memory. While obviously paying six for a Timetwister is a lot, it doesn’t have to be used often to make the card great as the base mode is almost powerful enough by itself. It will be played when your opponent has a large hand advantage over you. It will be played to prevent yourself dying from milling. It can just be good value in certain decks, especially prowess triggers decks.

Another way to look at it is a form of blue removal. I love Imprisoned in the Moon, but this can be an even better card. Blue likes instant speed answers and this doubles as a counter. Blue’s four drops are stacked, and I’m not sure what I’d cut for this, but I will find the space for this solid piece of cardboard.

Failure to Comply – unplayable

While Unsubstantiate is fine, it is not good enough I’d want a second one in 720. This is worse than Unsubstantiate a fair amount, as it cannot target a creature. Having a half that is bad by its own and requires another color is not enough. Plus, Azorius is competitive.

Never to Return – staple

Being better than an already commonly cubed card is a sure recipe for success. This is a Hero’s Downfall and Ruinous Path variant. I’d rank it in the middle between the two. Hero’s Downfall is the best, as instant is a significant advantage and you get it for no additional cost. Ruinous Path has an alternative mode that requires 7+ mana. Thing is, I’ve seen the 7+ mana mode used less than 5 times in the few years it has been in the cube.  A 4/4 vanilla, with a drawback (being a land is bad), is not impressive at that stage of the game. Enough so that even when you have that kind of mana, it was often used to cast Path in cheap mode so you can used the other 4 mana in other ways.

Return in not a great mode at all. But it is free value. We are paying 4R to flash back Firebolt after all. Return is playable at any point in the game after you cast Never, so it already wins Path. Maindeckable graveyard hate is nice to have. The synergy with LotV and Heir to Falkenrath should not be ignored either. It is a zombie for all your filthy desires with Gravecrawler, Cryptbreaker, Kalitas and more.

The question becomes whether you want three versions of this effect or is Path just cut altogether from cubes. On one hand, planeswalkers are becoming cheaper and more dangerous with time and we need answers. On the other hand, those three spells are expensive for creature kill, which is what they’ll end up doing most of the time, and the unsplashable cost hurts more in multiples. In 720 I am going to test playing all three, but I’m skeptical. At 810 or 900 the highest, I’d want to have access to all three for a long while.

Insult to Injury – very niche

Free value is tempting and the card is plashable. But both halves are not worth their price. Insult requires damage on board or it does completely nothing. Lunge sees no cube play. Not many creatures that cost 3+ mana die to Shock. Other times it will be uncastable just because you have no creature to target. You can also get both in a single turn, which is great in an aggressive decks that will not get to six mana, or very unexciting in a slow deck that will.

Mouth to Feed – unplayable

Worse than Call of the Herd, which is fringe cube playable at best. Feed needs a 3/3 or better to be on board to be equal or better to Harmonize, a bad card by itself in cube. After a mass removal it doesn’t even do that. The ability to generate 6 power and 6 toughness worth of stats from one card is probably better and much more consistent in a deck that wants that three drop.

Cycling in Amonkhet

Amonkhet shapes up to be a great set for the cube format, likely the best set in my history of cubing – 9 years! As such it is unavoidable to dissect the set review to smaller parts. The set is high in innovation and the most natural way to discuss the new contenders is to see the new mechanics separately first. I’ve written about the gods before, now it is time for a returning mechanic central to this set – cycling.

Cycling is a returning mechanic. It should be a known quantity. It was more pushed in Amonkhet than at any other point in history. Cycling just by itself accounts for a large part of this set’s share of cube worthy cards. Cycling is a nice thing to have from a cube builder’s viewpoint, it allows narrow and/or expensive spells to be played where they otherwise wouldn’t. Before I delve into the new cards, let’s have a look the previous cycling cards we had in magic, what that mechanic brought the cube format and what can we learn and expect from it.

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History comes in cycles

Cycling was printed in Urza’s block, Onslaught, Time Spiral and Alara. It was used much more than most mechanics in Magic. Despite this there are very few cube playables today with cycling. In my cube I counted Miscalculation and Edge of Autumn, with edge only good in large cubes. There are a few caveats to my claim. Typecycling cards such as Ash Barrens and Eternal Dragon do not count here. Neither does Blast from the Past, as few people play with gold borders.

If we look back to cards that saw play before, we have the classic Akroma’s Vengeance, Wild Dogs, the Barren Moor cycle, Starstorm, Unearth and Undead Gladiator. Some cards that have cycling triggers saw play. They were playing essentially more like spells or split cards, they did not have the pure ability so they are hard to compare to. Such cards include Complicate, Decree of Justice, Krosan Tusker, Decree of Pain and Gempalm Incinerator in tribal cubes. None of them seem like they have any chance to return, they are not even close.

Seems like we can conclude the mechanic is bad. As with all mechanics that do not work in cube we need to ask whether a mechanic is intrinsically weak/narrow or it just was not pushed enough. Ripple is an obvious example of the former while provoke is an example of the latter. Of course any card can be pushed enough to be playable in cube, but with the bad mechanics the card would also be playable without them. Tormented Hero is playable and Heroic, but I’ve never seen it matter. Cycling is not like that – every card in the above list was cycled, most rather frequently. The mechanic has potential. In Amonkhet it is pushed enough that there are high hopes for it, and so far it played well in the short testing I’ve done. Let us see what we can learn from experience with previous cycling cards in the format:

  • No card is worth it for the cycling alone. Not even the extremely easy cycling cost of Monstrous Carabid. The top end of the card has to be worth it some of the time and should be desirable not just at corner cases.
  • Cycling 2 is much more than cycling for one colored mana. Barren Moor sees some fringe cube play while Polluted Mire never does. In Amonkhet most cycling costs lowly one mana. By extension, cycling Akroma’s Vengeance was always hard and beyond awkward. It happened, of course, but when absolutely no other line of play was feasible.
  • Cycling is a tempo hit. Like how aggro decks do not bother with even Demonic Tutor, they do not like to cycle. You want maximal use of resources every turn, where every card does roughly the same thing. A more recent close analogy is cracking clues. If an aggressive two drop is hit by Declaration in Stone, the clue usually lingers until turn 6+. Historically cycling is easy in two decks. The first is blue counter based decks, where you anyway keep mana up most of the time, so using it for cycling if you did not use your counterspell is super convenient. The second home is ramp, which eventually has access to tons of mana yet is prone to running out of gas.
  • Cycling has diminishing returns in multiples. Even playing two cycling lands in the same deck, barring synergies (Life from the Loam or such) is rarely done. The tempo hits accumulate. You also have less information if you have 2+ cards in hand that you intend to cycle.
  • The card at face value can be weaker than usual. It can be seen with Miscalculation. Having that flexibility can and should make the second mode weaker. That is not a big deal and not ruling cards out of playability.

This time cycling is designed right. It is cheap, it is on spells pretty close to playability without it. This time the cycling cost is significantly cheaper than the spell itself, no more trashy two drops with cycling that costs two mana. Cycling is a great enabler to narrow cards that would be prone to sideboards without it. A final note in this already thorough background is that today we have better synergies for cycling cards, with delve, delirium, Snapcaster Mage, JVP, tarmogoyf, Torrential Gearhulk and more. Unfortunately, we did not get any fatties with cycling relevant for reanimator.

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White

Cast Out – solid playable

It feels weird cycling this, as it is one of the least dead cards ever. However it is expensive enough you should be doing so if you have a spare mana early and not regret it. Preferably you are a control deck with more answers in your maindeck so losing one is not a big deal. An Oblivion Ring is likely better still, just because it can answer everything a turn earlier. However instant speed is unique in white and quite great. It fills an empty hole among white’s versatile removals. Cast Out is seldom a card you are unable to make good use of. It seems like an upgarde Faith’s Fetters. Fetters can be better against aggressive decks, but only there and the tempo you can gain from Cast Out can outweigh it. Cast Out is obviously what you’d rather have in hand when you do not draw that 4th land, or conversely have too many removal spells in hand. This is a filler most decks will want. Might be good even in medium cubes. I don’t want to call this staple just because there are many options for white removals and they can be tailored for a specific mategame, but I really think every large cube should be playing this for the foreseeable future.

 

Forsake the Worldly – fringe playable to staple (in unpowered)

There are plenty of answers in white at three to artifacts, enchantments and nearly everything (Oblivion Ring, Council’s Judgment). As all of white’s removals at that cost exile, it not that exciting. Cycling 2 is heavy on the curve as well. You want much cheaper disenchants in a powered cube against fast mana. Exile will usually be unnecessary in that environment as you will have targets around consistently. The exile is still useful against Wurmcoil Engine, Daretti, Hangarback Walker and Purphoros. This is better than Revoke Existence and Seal of Cleansing, but I prefer the original Disenchant and Fragmentize in my list. I just cannot see it being a correct maindeck over a Banishing Light variant. In unpowered it is likely better than all Disenchant variants because it is harder to justify maindecking artifact hate. I’d still pick Cast Out over it, and Oblivion Ring itself so only play it in addition. In a large cube you’ve likely maxed out on the premium pieces and want more, so this should fine a comfortable home there for a long while.

 

Blue

Curator of Mysteries – playable

4/4 fliers for four have historically never succeeded in cube. This is the best such card by far. A middle-sized flier is problematic in blue. There are only few scenarios where you want a 4/4 flier in a control deck. Yet when you do, you glad you have that sphinx ready and the cost is minimal. Sometimes you just need a fat blocker in the sky. Sometimes a pesky planeswalker needs addressing. Other times, you are already in control and looking for a way to seal the deal. Usually blue decks cannot afford to pack generic beaters as the middle of the curve is too congested. But blue is the color that likes cheap cycling the most, especially if you pack some permission. Curator should really be cycled most of the time, yet it is still a great card. In a tempo deck it is by far better than for control too. It is very convenient with the new Liliana and has medium synergy with other reanimation effects. The scry triggers is not flavor text completely, it works well with looters. Blue has very competitive top end to its four drops, but it dwindles quickly. I significantly prefer it to Dungeon Geists or any other 4/3 or 4/4 flier for blue at four mana, and so far Curator was moderately impressive in testing.

 

Censor – low playable

This might not look pushed but it is, consider Spell Snip. Censor is probably close to the weakest conditional two mana counter you will play. Force Spike did not work here. It drops in value very quickly in the game. People really played around it, but it still meant you cannot be selective in what you counter. Add cycling and suddenly you get a very good card. The time window where this effect is great is small, but it will result in a 1U hard counter. You need it for the first few critical turns of the game. Perhaps the correct line of play with this card is to wait for a spell to counter, and if by the end of the turn you did not, auto-cycle it. Censor is a relatively painless way to cover one of your deck’s greatest weaknesses. It could even be better than Miscalculation due the cheaper cycling cost. We rarely get counters this strong. Of course you really do want some harder counters in your deck before this is a consideration, so it is never a priority pick or a bomb, but a great way to smooth decks and let other cards shine.

 

Hieroglyphic Illumination – fringe playable?

In my metagame and others cards that just draw for 4+ mana are decreasing in power. Even Fact or Fiction is not the bomb it once was. They can be as strong as you like, but paying that amount of mana and getting no board presence is harsh. Nobody has time for them anymore. HI is a way to add late game power yet feel without a heavy spell in your deck. It should be cycled like 80%+ of the time. In permission decks where you keep mana open anyway you can afford to pay the full price sometimes and earn some card advantage without risking having a dead card against certain matchups. This is still so much worse than what you should get for the full price however that this is a card I am unsure about. So far it disappointed me in testing.

 

Lay Claim – unplayable

The mana cost of the main mode is offensively bad. Cycling fixes the inherent narrowness of steal effects somewhat, but this has an expensive cycling cost and no real use or need.

 

Vizier of Tumbling Sands – niche

The cycling effect is potentially very strong. Untapping Tolarian Academy or Gilded Lotus will be a free way to generate mana, and even the body itself is useful there. The true use of the card though is with Time Vault. Do not play this if you have no clear needs for the card, you will be disappointed.

 

Black

Archfiend of Ifnir – niche

A self-discarding fattie is always interesting in black because it plays so well with reanimation. Still, this body will not win games alone. The ability is strong but very narrow compared to even Bloodgift Demon.

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Red

Sweltering Suns – niche

Red has many better mass removals. Earthquake and Rolling Earthquake are splashable and scalable. Pyroclasm is cheaper and splashable. Fiery Confluence and Chandra, Flamecaller do so much more. Many people also play Wildfires. Sweltering suns has cycling, but it is expensive enough to be a liability. Might be better than Anger of the Gods or Slagstorm, depending on the deck and matchup. Not a card I’d advise playing as red is generally the lighter color in control decks so the double red is tough.

 

Green

Dissenter’s Deliverance – playable to solid playable in powered cubes

Most of what Naturalize destroys is artifacts. It is hard to maindeck that card sometimes though. Green has plenty of more expensive ways to deal with those permanents. It leaves green weak to fast mana and other cheap broken cards before sideboard. Now we get a maindeckable solution. The question is mostly – will it be cycled ASAP by default unless there is a target on the table? If so it will not fill its role very well. Perhaps one of the most difficult cards to use properly as a result. There is usually little though behind Naturalize effects. DD gives choices. What are the chances to see a problematic artifact? Do you have other solution in your deck? What is the value of drawing another card right now? Green ramp decks have a single mana floating around plenty of times (Wall of Roots, turn two Three Visits) so this will be very easy to cycle. In general having more maindeckable artifact hate is a great boost to the health of the format. Even if I see a Jitte and no other artifact I might not want to side in a Deglamer, with DD I’ll simply always be prepared. It is a noteworthy green instant for Tarmogoyf and Emrakul.

 

Lands

The cyclands/BiCycles

This cycle gathered enormous attention from the cube community, although no nickname has been finalized yet. The lands are clearly pushed, they are novel and have plenty of synergy. Despite this and how much I love the idea behind them, they have disappointed me in testing and is a cycle I’d not necessarily include in its entirety.

First, we will look at them in isolation. Being able to cycle a land when you are flooded and need to dig for an answer is great, even if the cycling is not cheap. They protect you against floods. Because of this they are fine 18th lands, and then they protect you also against screws. As they also fix colors they are great boosts to deck consistency.

But entering the battlefield tapped is a serious drawback. Those lands do not play well in multiples as a result, or with the manlands cycle. Aggro decks seriously dislike lands entering the battlefield tapped and cycling 2 is of little appeal to them. I’ve tested a deck that had Canyon Slough, Lavaclaw Reaches and Smoldering Marsh. The drawbacks were accumulating. This can seem like an extreme example, but consider how likely such a mana base would be if it was a two colors + a splash deck. It is definitely NOT on the powerlevel of Horizon Canopy, a card I have played in aggressive white decks with no use for green before. It is important to realize that if that was all the lands could do they would not be exciting for cube but rather on the powerlevel of the temples.

But they have the basic land types. They can be search for by fetchlands. By that reason alone you would include them in many decklists. Some cards interact with basic land types. In non-green colors they are sparse – you have things like Vedalken Shackles, Koth of the Hammer, Snuff Out, Fireblast and Daze (double combo!). In green they are more numerous. You have the trio of Farseek, Nature’s Lore and Three Visits. Some cubes play Wood Elves. You also have strong cards that care about them – Nissa, Worldwaker and Rofellos. In short, the green lands of the cycle gain more by having basic land types.

If we look at what we can achieve with other cards, we start to see numerous synergies. None of them are great by themselves, but their sheer quantity does add up. There are the usual perks of cycling, which are hard to get from lands, such as delve, Tarmogoyf, Den Protector, delirium etc. Sun Titan can bring the lands back and so does Crucible of Worlds. They have great synergy with Life From the Loam (although it is quite expensive as far as draw engines go and is probably clunky in practice). Effect that bounce your lands gain value, such as Kor Skyfisher and Meloku.

So these lands are good. How do they stand up to competition? The easiest comparison is the tango lands. The tango lands do not enter that often untapped, especially not early and not in three or more colored decks. As such they were just fetchable duals. Cyclands fills that purpose equally well, plus giving options. Playing both cycles is also a possibility, but then, assuming you have shocks and duals, we start reaching a point of having too many fetchable cards compared to fetchers.

These lands are noticeably worse than shocks, fetches and duals. Some manlands are also untouchable, likely all of them are to be honest. They compete with the painlands mostly. Painlands are much better for aggressive decks, or playing that turn one mana elf. They also support colorless cards. As such, which of the two cycles is best depends on the guild it is in. In Rakdos the pain land is far superior. Not a major point at all really, large cubes should probably include all pains and cycling lands anyway. You should consider how many ETBT lands you can support though, and not go overboard with them.

Also, why allied colors again? Now every allied color pair has 4 fetchable dual lands compared to just 2 for the enemy ones.

Amonkhet gods

Amonkhet shapes up to be a great set for the cube format, likely the best set in my history of cubing – 9 years! As such it is unavoidable to dissect the set review to smaller parts. The set is high in innovation and the most natural way to discuss the new contenders is to see the new mechanics separately first. This post will talk about the gods.

Theros was the set that introduced Gods for the first time. They were mostly not cube playable when the set came out and only one out of 15 cards stood the test of time in cubes and that is Purphoros. This time, the mono red version again seems to be the only possible contender. This is pretty much where similarities between the two divine iterations end though. The new gods are always creatures, so they are easier to interact with. They can be killed by Terminus or Diabolic Edict, they die to Toxic Deluge. Man-O-War can bounce them, Control Magic will steal them. That amount of interaction is still minimal though and you can count on the deities to stay on the battlefield.

Theros gods used devotion. They required a high amount of permanents from a single color to be present on the battlefield. They were easy to stop from animating, and indeed seeing a Purphoros attacking in cube is nearly unheard of. The value of the old gods is almost entirely on their abilities. The new pantheon has varying criteria for being able to attack, but they are comparatively easy to do so. As such their bodies are a much bigger part of their evaluation.

 

Oketra the True  – unplayable

This card is a Heliod twin. In dedicated decks, this will be at least twice as easy to attack with. A single Spectral Procession will do it, so will Sram’s Expertise or Angel of Invention. Still, most decks will need to play some creatures the fair way. It is perhaps the easiest god to deactivate by your opponent too, usually killing that 1/1 token would do it.

Then there is the impact issue. If you play a token deck, it is hard to block your board effectively and you are weak to mass removals. Oketra is easy to block, and is just as vulnerable to a mass removal. Would you not prefer an anthem effect or a planeswalker for threat diversification, or just more token producing cards or higher impact creatures?

Finally there is the mana cost issue. No way to include this among the stacked white four drops, between your Armageddon, Elspeth, Gideon, Day of Judgment etc. Even in a token deck you have multiple better four drops, so this just has no chance to see play in any normal cube, even in very large sizes. What a missed opportunity to get a cat god into the cube…

 

Kefnet the Mindful – bad and/or extremely niche

The god with the hardest condition. It is very hard in cube to keep a full hand. You do it with Library of Alexandria sometimes, but usually only for a few turns during the early game, sometimes not at all against aggro. More importantly, Library is still a perfectly playable land if the conditions are not there for it, while Kefnet is a do nothing enchantment that costs 3. The ability is likewise overly expensive and should be played only in the late game. If you can keep a full hand for that many turns in most places you should be winning. It will be powerful in control mirrors, but that’s about it. Cute with draw sevens as well, but not for large cubes. Discard will wreck you if you rely on it. Will be used somewhere with Howling Mines, not in cube.

 

Bontu the Glorified – bad and/or niche

An indestructible sacrifice outlet is useful sometimes, but Bontu is just too expensive for cube. As the benefit of 1 life leech and scry 1 is so low for the mana you want it in a deck that actively wants to sacrifice. The body is good, but requires a lot of resources to keep alive. Very narrow and not powerful enough to build around.

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Hazoret – hard to evaluate, likely a comfortable inclusion

Hazoret appears to be the best Egyptian god. She appears to be potent as an aggro curve topper. First of all, she is splashable, a rare feat for red four drops. She provides infinite reach, so your opponent is never fully stabilized when you have her out. In testing she was used in asymmetrical Sulfuric Vortex mode against a Moat with success. She can go directly for opposing planeswalkers as well. Even without her ability, having one or less cards in hand is natural for aggro decks. It is much easier to maintain than full hellbent. Hellbent tended to fail when you were flooded or screwed, and keeping no burn in hand is far riskier than keeping a single piece. As such she is a good fit, and a 5/4 indestructible haste attacker will close games.

True, the haste will not matter if you play her on turn four. She will not be active by then. But she is a great topdeck, and she can be played as the second last card in your hand to great success. Aggro decks are not those that consistently play four drops on turn four anyway, as they have low land counts and they mulligan aggressively for gas. Then Hazoret will survive all mass removals. She is hard to deactivate.

Unlike something like Hero of Oxid Ridge, she has some applications outside of aggro. Mostly in R/G ramp decks that empty their hands and with black symmetric discard like Liliana of the Veil. She likely loses still to Hellrider which is far more direct, not to mention Fiery Confluence and other aggro four drops such as Armageddon. But the space below Hellrider exists after a certain cube size, and in 720 I think she can be squeezed comfortably. Aggro only four drops are very narrow cards, and she helps a bit by being broader than usual.

 

Rhonas – hard to evaluate, likely playable at 810+

Rhonas does nothing without a creature around. The 5/5 deathtouch body is like a vehicle – does not attack the turn you play Rhonas, but can attack later right after a mass removal if you topdeck a creature (with sufficient power, harder than it seems). The deathtouch does matter a little, as the cobra can take down titans and Inkwell Leviathans. The activated ability is like an equipment, in that it only affect other creatures. Rhonas seems easy to activate, but is even easier to deactivate. If you plan on pumping your 2/2s early for the snake god, be prepared to get blown out by removals and bounce. Yes, the god is intimidating and cannot be ignored, but the repeated cost of 2G is hefty. I foresee decks just bouncing/burning your smaller bodies for a few turns, completely ignoring him and winning. On the other hand, I fear that in many cases winning with Rhonas will result in a gross overkill and vast amounts of overspill damage. In short, it is somewhat of a winmore.

He is not an aggro card, despite being almost purely offensive. The tempo loss of playing him early is too big. In midrange or light ramp decks however, it would be much more fitting. You’ll have creatures with natural 4 power. You could use him as a topdeck to immediately pump something and give it trample. It is a mana sink for your Gaea’s Cradle. And it gives you all the inevitability.

The card makes you more vulnerable to some of your inherent weaknesses. It is unavoidably narrow as it requires a large creature count (of sizable creatures if possible) and large mana count. It competes for the same space as vehicles and equipment in decklists. As such I do not think it stands a chance in cube in the long run. It will always feel like a sort of luxury to have it. I am however willing to test it if I find a cut for the high ceiling it provides and because his uniqueness makes him hard to evaluate properly.

Aether Revolt Set Review

I am a little late for this set review. That might actually be for the better – more data has been gathered by now so evaluations can be more precise. As before I’ll be focusing more about large cubes. Overall AER has less cubeable cards compared to its size than Kaladesh and they are less potent. It is still a good set for the format however and offers at least one staple that will see play in even the smallest of cubes.

 

The expertise cycle

The most innovative new component in Aether Revolt that is worthy of consideration for cube. This mechanic is close to the Dark Ritual rider on Dark Petition. The immediate thing to note is that it will never create card advantage, only tempo. That added tempo has to be worth the increased cost of the base effect of the card.

The way we gain tempo is conditional. Not always will we have a fitting spell in hand. It has to be of a certain converted mana cost or lower. The more expensive the card we chain the better, but we will not want to change the whole curve of the deck just to fit an expertise trigger. Furthermore, as the whole expertise cycle is sorcery, many instant cards will be ruled off for free casting purposes. The biggest group of cards that fit that description is counters, but so are removal cards with limited range such as Disenchant that likely will not have a target at every stage of the game. You mostly want to do something proactive for the tempo to be worth it. Therefore they are better for midrange decks than control. Making a planeswalker is of the best uses of the trigger and mana rocks are not bad either so they are not useless for control decks, just weaker.

As a minor side note, Ancestral Vision’s stock will go up if a few cards of this cycle will find a permanent home in cubes.

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Yahenni’s Expertise – staple

This is the only piece of the cycle which I am sure will see play in large cubes for a long time. Never before did we have a -3/-3 mass removal for four mana. It is a significant upgrade over Infest cards as many three drops are now 2/3s, and some cards like Garruk Wildspeaker create multiple 3 toughness tokens. Toxic Deluge and Damnation are better, as they less limited by what they can remove for the same cost or less. But between Expertise and Languish there is an open competition. Languish kills more critters, but the jump from 3 toughness to 4 is not too significant.

So what about that trigger? There is usually little point in casting a spot removal after YE. However, following up with a Liliana, Oblivion Ring on their equipment or just a 3 drop of your own is a huge swing. Ever went turn 4, kill their board, discard their hand with Hymn to Tourach? Now you can do that. It has great synergy with black reanimation spells like Necromancy that target each graveyard. This expertise will not have a useful trigger as often as the other cards on this cycle but it doesn’t need to, as it is close to cost effective on its own. Even if Languish turns out to be superior, it is comfortably the 4th best black mass removal and an easy inclusion at 720. Smaller cubes will have to choose between it and Languish and I think in this case, the more interesting card is also the more powerful one.

 

Kari Zev’s Expertise – playable, will see heavy play as it is the best in its category

So far it overperforms. Threaten effects have never been big in cubes as they are situational cards by their nature. When it is dead in hand it is hard not to wish it was some form of burn or threat. While red had more expensive Threatens with a bonus, like Zealous Conscripts or Eldrazi Obligator, most red decks cannot really afford to pay 5 mana for something that doesn’t end the game now in high likelihood. KZE is the best threaten effect for the majority of red decks – aggro. It will be able to chain over half your deck. Just the tempo of playing it turn three, removing a blocker for that attack step and adding a few more points of power to your side, as well as dumping a two drop to the board, is well worth it. It goes well with spells matters cards such as Young Pyromancer. Just having access to that unexpected effect for the red mage will improve games. Now just leaving that untapped Baneslayer Angel might not be enough.

Despite that, Threaten effect are only good or even useful at all against certain parts of the field. You do not want to grab a looter, token, or wall with it. It is also never a replacement for true burn and threats. It is a dead card if they are mana screwed, it doesn’t deal with anything for good, and it doesn’t hit planeswalkers directly like burn. As such it is more of a luxury card for decks that can afford it or a sideboard card. I am happy to have it but it is far from necessary.

 

Sram’s Expertise –playable token support card.

This expertise has the highest chances of getting a good pair with a cheaper card. That is due to white having so few instants. White has the most competitive three drop list among the colors and all are good follow ups for SE. Oblivion Ring and the like complement it well. The downsides are numerous though. It is yet another four drop, in a color notorious for having insane four drops. You can count it as a creature as the competition is far weaker there, but still there is a limit to how many cards costing that much a deck can have. Your Gideon, Armageddon and Hero are a league ahead. And it is not good enough alone. You want heavy synergies for it to be good. It is not a credible threat by itself that can end games, it is small defensive value. Playing it into a three drop is a massive tempo boost but still leaves you open to mass removals, the biggest weakness of white aggro decks as is. With Skullclamp SE is great, but still very slow. In a token deck with anthems, Mirror Entity and the like it should be solid. If it will not prove so, it will simply be cut. It has the potential to be good in stacks decks or artifact decks, but the double white and the contested mana cost prevented it from doing anything in them so far.

 

Baral’s Expertise – high variance card, silly ceiling and low floor

Expertise is yet another five mana blue sorcery of potentially stupid power level that is disproportionately good against midrange. Bouncing three guys is close to a blue mass removal, ending games on the offense and stalling on the defense. This is one of the better and most used options of Mystic Confluence. Expertise is much weaker of course, but can enable some sick plays. You can immediately replay a creature you control with CMC 4 or less, untapping it and getting an ETB effect again. A loop with Eternal Witness. It can also bounce artifacts, which makes this spell a bit less narrow and conditional and it can also untap your own mana rock. The dream follow up is still a planeswalker, the four mana Jaces are prime examples. Where it falls short is when you have nothing to cast off the trigger. Paying five mana and losing a card just to stall is harsh. When you can bounce a creature, a sword, kill a token, play a Jace and now the way is clear to kill their planeswalker, this is off the charts. In your old reactive blue decks, this is likely not worth playing. Simic will love this, Izzet will have little interest. This cards needs more testing than the rest of the cycle to see its full potential as it is so variant in power level.

 

Rishkar’s Expertise – unplayable

When you have a sizable creature out this is good. But that is too conditional. You want your six drops to help when you are behind, to go well with your green ramp when played early or at least to be tutorable by Green Sun’s Zenith or pitchable to Survival of the Fittest. RE can be good as your second midrange card cast, if the first was not hit by removal before. In other words – too conditional and narrow.

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Revolt

Revolt is not nearly as consistent in cube as in other formats such as modern. Fetchland density in large cubes is low, but even in small cubes it is woefully inconsistent. There are few cards that can be played in one turn and sacrificed/bounced for free in another, making all revolt spells effectively cost more than their CMC for full effect. The difference in consistency means that while many cards with the mechanic are very strong in other formats, they mostly miss for cube.

 

Greenwheel Liberator – unplayable

When you get a 1G 4/3 on turn 2 with a fetch, it is great. In the much more common case, it costs 1GG or more (but you get the effect of the second card). Bodies without abilities lose relevance quickly however. A 4/3 is not nearly as exciting on turn 3 or 4 as on turn 2. Never something I want to topdeck either. To burrow from Nicholas West, this closer to Talara’s Battalion than Tarmogoyf.

 

Renegade Rallier – fringe playable

The advantage this card has over others with revolt is that you do not necessarily want to play it over turn 3. When you can get the revolt trigger, you do not only get a card, but you the mana cost or get another free land drop. Very good with Black Lotus. Being is a 3/2 with no abilities in gold for three mana is terrible though. Selesnya is a stacked guild which does not help this card.

 

Fatal Push – fringe playable

In constructed formats it is a tremendous card, in cube it is nothing special. Black has a deep suit of two mana removal spells that are also instant and not capped by the size of creature they can hit. You will be sad holding this when facing a titan, Myr Battlesphere or just a three drop. There is still merit for including it, as there is a shortage of one mana removal options, and costing one mana over two is a large difference against aggro or when answering cards like Pack Rat. Dismember and Snuff Out are clearly better, which leaves Tragic Slip and Disfigure as comparisons.

Disfigure can kill a few things easily that Push cannot, such as Mulldrifter. Equally as important, it answers some high priority 4+ mana targets without revolt conditioning, such as Oracle of Mul Daya and Sower of Temptation. Thing is, about half of the expensive targets provide value outside of their body and spending a removal spell on them is not attractive. Using Disfigure as a combat trick was rare in practice and usually just delayed your death by a turn. Disfigure is dead against some decks. Push will be dead less often as it can hit manlands and tokens of all sizes. Tragic Slip has a higher best case scenario but a much worse base mode. Fatal Push is a serviceable card but far from the top rate answers. I have ignored the revolt part of the card, because it is unreliable, especially early, making it hard to count on as far as answers go. Terror variants will always be superior if it is 3 drops you are after.

A few words about Regicide – if you mostly draft your cube, Regicide is hard to beat. It will have 0-1 decks from a table of 8 against which it does nothing. Regicide will quite consistently hit 40% or more of their targets with no conditioning. It is a good removal for a mana elf as well as a Kalonian Hydra.

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The Rest

Solemn Recruit – fringe playable

This will eventually be large with little effort. Chump attacks will grow him. This is a slow method, the double white cost is hard and at the end of the day it will just be a big guy. Nothing is inherently wrong with that but white three drops are extremely competitive. A large dude without evasion that dies to all removal spells is just not worth the amount of time you wait. Double strike scales really well with white in general, with anthem effects, Elspeth, Knight Errant and even equipment. But we have Mirran Crusader just for that. Crusader usually has partial evasion and partial protection. It is in many cases a better blocker too. Crusader has all these qualities without further requirements.

 

Aethergeode Miner – fringe playable

A 3/1 body for 1W is a good base, but the ability is not doing enough to upgrade the card. Yes, it can attack into everything and survive. But still even a token blocks it indefinitely and prevents you from accumulating energy. When you do face an empty board and able to save some energy for later, Aethergeode Miner will not be killed by spot removals. It will still be killed by mass removals and be neutralized by any creature your opponent will have.

 

Baral, Chief of Compliance – solid inclusion

Baral is a solid card but currently overrated. The reason we want him is that the body is valuable for the cost. It is not worthy of play in your deck if you are not interested in the body. In decks heavy with mass removals or ramp, play a mana rock instead. Many decks have low amounts of non-permanents. The exceptions, burn decks and spell matters, play many cards that cost one mana anyway and do not enjoy the reduction. Permission decks play one counterspell a turn. Getting two discounts in one turn off of Baral should be a very rare occurrence. As such, the mana saving it generates is similar to a mana rock, but narrower. Giving a discount to 5+ cards in your deck should be rare. It also dies to far more spells than the artifacts.

It is still a solid card, as the 1/3 body is great in certain matchups, mostly against aggro. Blue has very few cheap defensive cards. Cards that so that and advance your game plan are golden. This is a good counter for Savannah Lions and Young Pyromancers. I am continuously surprised how well Omenspeaker is holding its place. At the very least they are sideboard cards, in many deck lists it is hard keeping them out of the main deck. With Baral, if you managed to have two useful cost reductions (as with other cost reduction cards many will be essentially irrelevant, resulting in a single untapped land here and there that never gets used) the 1/3 body was essentially free. The looting option seems like it would happen rarely, but in reality is quite good. While you will get only 1-2 such triggers per game at most, they can be critical. I’m a happy a bone was finally thrown to blue permission decks, they were getting continually worse for the last few years.

As for who is better, Omenspeaker or Baral, I’m not sure. Upon release I’d say Baral is better. From testing though he did not shine as much. If I am passing the turn up with counter mana up, the cost reduction is not often relevant, especially as many counter cost double blue mana. Being able to play a mass removal on turn three is not that attractive as there are fewer things to kill and Baral will die too. Playing a mass removal off of three lands sometimes is game changing. Omenspeaker can just help you find that fourth land, which is far better for your future. It also digs for the mass removal. The Greek oracle is miles better late game and more keepable with a two land hand. For all these reasons I predict Omenspeaker will be the better card.

 

Disallow – fringe playable

Vastly overrated. I was saying since it was spoiled the card is worse than Dissolve, people said I was crazy. Now the consensus shifted considerably as testing results started to pile up. Cancel is bad. There are few instances where a Stifle is worth a card and 3 mana. Countering a fetch land trigger is too little too late. Countering an equip trigger is not really worth your card except in extreme cases, and if you play 3 mana counters it is not tempo you are after. The high profile scenarios where a stifle is good are Planeswalker ultimates and eldrazi titans. With planeswalkers, ultimates are so rare that it is hardly worth thinking about and you would rather prevent them in other ways as repeated unopposed plus abilities will likely mean the game is unrecoverable for you either way. Against Eldrazi Titans, most of the time you would opt to counter the body still and not the trigger. Again, Dissolve digs for your land drops early, and specific answers, finishers and just more counters late. As Cancel variants are bad, and Forbid is also better, it is hard justifying Disallow. A deck with two or more Cancels is in a bad shape. It is the most playable Stifle yet is part of a sufficiently unattractive package that it does not make playable often.

 

Skyship Plunderer – unplayable

Blue is not and cannot be an aggro color. It has no one drops. It can play tempo decks, if paired with other colors. Said other colors should supply better two drops. A 2/1 flier for 2 in blue is, unlike white, too narrow to see play. The hardly relevant trigger does not add much to the card.

 

Trophy Mage – unplayable

As other effects like it, it is significantly more consistent in smaller cubes. Unplayable there too due to low powerlevel, so we have an all around loser. There are strong artifacts costing 3 mana, no doubt. Trinket Mage is great in powered cubes. Why one is a commonly found card and the other doesn’t cut it?

  • Trophy will rarely have immediate impact. A mox and Lotus will be played right away, a Trinket Mage + Mana Vault will both be playable on turn four. To play Trophy and its target you need six mana, and for the five swords, a significant portion of its targets, even more.
  • Lower individual power level. Skullclamp and Sol Ring are so powerful it is worth building around them and worth playing a subpar body just to get a second copy. Trophy just has lesser targets.
  • Amount of targets. With Trinket Mage it is far easier to have multiple targets in the same deck. Vedalken Shackles and Grafted Wargear are great cards but unlikely to see play together. In general, equipment has diminishing returns and playing two swords + Treasure Mage is an overkill and too slow for practical purposes. The 3 mana cards lend themselves to different archetypes. The cheap artifacts are playable everywhere.
  • Relating to the previous two points, Trinket is playable even with one target many times do to sufficient power level. Trophy almost never is.

 

Yahenni, Undying Partisan – niche, multiplayer

As a standalone card, the body of a Golbin Guide is not cutting it at three times the price. There are some deck archetypes that want sacrifice outlets, and this could be among the better ones available. It is mono colored, splashable, a creature so it is easily tutorable and reanimatable and removal resilient. In a multiplayer setting this card could very well be playable at face value.

 

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner – solid playable

Despite many improvements in recent years, black’s two drops are still lacking. That just shows how bad they were before! A splashable two drop with two power and evasion is a very fine best case scenario, drawing a card every other is a serious upside as well. Of course the card draw is slow, unreliable and should average to less than one card per game even if Siphoner is landed on turn two. You do not play it because it is a Dark Confidant, you play it because you are an aggressive deck and it fits your curve. It is a fine card and the competition is so lacking it should see play for the following few years quite comfortably in large cubes.

 

Gifted Aetherborn – playable

This is a desirable effect for black decks. A 2/3 body with lifelink on turn two is great against aggro, deathtouch gives it game against midrange. Black has many self-hurting cards so the demand for life gain exists. The thing holding this grounded Vampire Nighthawk back is the dreaded double black cost. Black is already a mana intense color, with Hymn to Tourach, Bloodghast, Sinkhole and other options. As such there are strong justifications not to run yet another BB card.

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Kari Zev, Skyship Raider – staple

The only staple of this set for small cubes. She is hands down the best attacking red two drop. As red is an aggressive color that makes her the best two drop overall. She is very hard to block completely, requiring three bodies. While Ravagan might be brickwalled sometimes, the sky pirate will infiltrate through defenses reliably. Unlike other menace cards, she is very hard to kill with 1/1 blockers, requiring four of them. She is a great holder of equipment too. She has positive synergies with Hero of Oxid Ridge and Purphoros, as well as any instant speed sacrifice outlet and every anthem effect. She triggers Revolt. She is even a good blocker for her mana cost. Easily good enough in a color that still packs Borderland Marauders.

 

Release the Gremlins – undecided

The average case scenario should be Manic Vandal. Unplayable if no target is out, but can sometimes kill more than one artifact. Which of the two is more common? I have a feeling that the former, but this will be tested. Also notable are the losses of creature synergies (Alesha/Recruiter in particular).

 

Aether Chaser – low playable

Actually a fine card I have underestimated. It is contained by the new wave of 2/3s and is less potent against planeswalkers. However turns out first strike is very valuable. It kills most one and two drops outright, doesn’t die to token blocks. First strike scales very well with burn and equipment. Having two bodies from one card playing into the token and going wide themes in red very well. Chaser is good against many cards red decks have trouble with, such as Kitchen Finks and most left-over utility bodies.

 

Rishkar, Peema Renegade – low playable to solid

Green is a color well suited for three drops, as it can usually play them on turn two. That said, green has few aggressive options in that mana cost. Rishkar is a fine attacking body alone, and will usually pump something else. The dream is turn 1 one drop, turn two 2 drop and turn three Rishkar, double pump, attack. Rishkar is still fine as an unreliable yet handy way to ramp, or even ramp twice. If you have some board, late game it can effectively cost one mana. It can even target your opponent’s Phantasmal Image, or create absurd amounts of mana with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Resetting a Kitchen Finks is always nice. A lot of options and passable worst case scenario make this card good, although the average case scenario is fair.

 

Tezzeret the Schemer – niche

This will not see a lot of play simply because Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas exists. Schemer can only protect itself reliably in certain decks. It can get to high loyalty immediately, but then it is also something that can be usually ignored. It is great against control, the ultimate is fast and unstoppable. The issue here is narrowness. It is not only a gold card, it requires specific decks to be playable and in them it is still the inferior version.

 

Ajani Unyielding – unplayable

This does too little for a six drop. It can draw cards, but that requires the board to be heavily in your favor – we want our six drops to affect the board. The removal option gets the job done, but leaves Ajani with funny two loyalty, and only deals with one threat that has to be a creature. It will not survive or help you survive too often to like the kitty. This is cube, we have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and titans at that mana cost. Mandatory cliché Selesnya is very competitive comment.

 

Rogue Refiner – probably playable

We never had a cantrip body with power equal to its mana cost. Elvish Visionary is much worse stats wise and requires synergy to matter. Phyrexian Rager is closer. Refiner has an extra point of power and no life loss, will it be enough to make this gold card cubeable, considering that Rager hasn’t seen play in large cubes in years? I am hopeful, many decks will be interested in that kind of value. The energy will generally not matter but having some is all upside.

 

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Aethersphere Harvester – probably fringe playable

Aggro doesn’t care about the lifelink and high toughness, control doesn’t have enough creatures. Where this is quite good is in green and token decks. Green is weak to fliers and has many one power elves. Sphere is a totally unnecessary aggro hoser for the color, but is kept in check by the fragility of said elves. In token decks it is evasion, life gain and more importantly, threat diversification. It survives mass removals. By threatening planeswalkers and being a huge pain for aggro, it is well rounded all said and done. The most Sci-fi art in cubes that play it.

 

Walking Ballista – staple

There is a second staple in the set, at least for medium cubes. Ballista is so flexible she can lick her elbow. At every single mana cost she is going to look bad, but there is immense value in having a single card filling all of them. For two mana it is just a Lava Dart, but that is what you want against that early Dark Confidant or BoP. It is colorless removal, a rare trait. Later in the game it is a mana sink. Some decks generate stupid amounts of mana and need ways to put it to use. Happens mostly with Tolarian Academy, Gaea’s Cradle, Channel, Mirari’s Wake and Regal Behemoth. There are others, such as Mana Vault/Grim Monolith + ways to untap them and Metalworker. Once you have Ballista on the table, you can pump it every turn and clear the board or prevent new creatures from being cast. It is also fetchable with Trinket Mage and has some minor +1/+1 counter synergies.

 

Metallic Mimic – niche

Not only pumping only a specific tribe, it has to be cast before your other cards. The body is bad and you do not want it to die in combat, making that a total liability. Best in token decks, but tokens have very differing creature types. It is of the most playable persist combo pieces however. Obviously a must in tribal cubes.

 

Heart of Kiran – ?

The crew route is difficult and doesn’t add much offensive value. As such I’d only look to play Heart in decks with at least 2 or more planeswalkers. In said decks it can protect them well, kill opposing planeswalkers and just do a Celestial Colonnade impression of a big, evasive, and hard to kill threat. A way to push damage through with your Accorder Paladin when the ground is clogged up, but you need quite a few cards like it before Heart is consistently playable. Super friends is popular here so it is getting a spin. It will have to be very good when it playable to earn a spot.

 

Untethered Express – probably unplayable

Very fat, evasive and somewhat hard to kill. The downfalls are its slowness and total predictability. You see it coming, can prepare your removal and then you get no value from the train. For a card that has little defensive value and does nothing alone, that is unimpressive. Difficult for some forms of control to deal with, but not more than any other vehicle.