Ixalan gives us a few new horizons to explore. Besides the transforming lands, there are no innovative new mechanics. Enrage is underrepresented with only nine cards with it in the set. Damaging your own creatures is not easy in cube. You can do that with split damage burn spells (Arc Lightning) or an Earthquake variant, but that’s about it. Abusing triggers requires red, and either requires wasting precious burn damage points or some careful engineering of a mass removal that can only be done if the board state allows it. I guess you can sacrifice a Garruk Relentless for it, Enranging indeed! It still gives high incentives not to block the creature and not to chump attack into it. Still, no decks will be crafted around synergies with that mechanic.
Adanto Vanguard – solid playable
Vanguard is the latest in the lineage of 3/1 bodies for 1W with extra abilities. The closest in function was Aethergeode Miner, and they both solve one of the prominent problems that comes with these stats – every contact with an enemy one drop or token result in untimely death. Adanto has a few advantages in that regard as it actually gets rid of the roadblock. If Miner gets blocked and is flickered, that blocker will also be there next turn (no touching). Adanto also partially solves one of white weenie’s greatest weaknesses – building up after a mass removal. Considering it will beat for 3 immediately the following turn, paying 4 life seems like a no brainer in that case.
But not all is bright for the white bloodsucker. The cost of 4 life is real, as we can learn from other cards such as Anguished Unmaking. As you are the aggro deck however, you can reasonably expect it not to matter at least a third of the time as you are against a significantly slower deck. On the other hand, against the other 1-2 other aggro decks in the table, it will be unviable to activate the indestructibility. Even in the best case, you will only be able to punch through 3 blockers or so at maximum in realistic scenarios, which is quite a bit but you need to be aware of the limits (or, as the old vampiric saying goes – the fangs only go so deep). It is also pathetic on the defense (should’ve been van-attack), unlike other 3/1s which are actually quite efficient trading up that way. That said, blocking is more of a corner case than being blocked or mass removals, so Vanguard is clearly better than Miner. It is also quite good by comparison to most white two drops. Not quite an Accorder Paladin level of critter but around Adorned Pouncer’s level.
Kinjalli’s Sunwing – solid playable
I have been testing this since it was leaked and it did not disappoint anyone here yet. The effect is known and beloved. We can see it on Thalia and Imposing Sovereign. The body is the same as Bygone Bishop, or Trygon Predator. Cube is a format that lacks medium sized creatures in the skies, which means the dinosaur can be reliably the largest thing there until dragons and angels enter the fray. Sunwing hoses haste creatures, helps in the always challenging midrange matchup of white weenie, and is general a high value, splashable card that attracts a lot of removals (the jurassic-pleo diet had roast chicken too, sort of). It applies pressure to planeswalkers and carries equipment well. It is also a natural hoser to Sneak Attack. Sunwing fits most decks with ease. It is currently underrated in cube due to the relative redundancy of the effect, and the competition at white’s three drops. In my opinion it is better than Sovereign by quite a bit and stands tall amongst other white three drops in a large cube. A card I am happy to have at the cube.
Settle the Wreckage – trap
It looks like a one sided mass removal. It even costs like Day of Judgment and is an instant! That said, it has fatal drawbacks. Only removing attacking creatures makes this thing more of a Wing Shards than a mass removal. Need to deal with Dark Confidant, Eldrazi Displacer or that Jace before it flips? Too bad. It also scales worse where other mass removals are their best – when facing a mass of creatures. Getting 3-5 lands is not negligible, even in aggro decks that will likely not be able to utilize all the mana for the long term. At the very least they will have significantly better draws for the rest of the game. Much worse if they have some mana sinks, such as manlands and equipment. Also, if your opponents suspects you have this card in hand, he can play around it with relative ease, forcing you to either keep up four mana open constantly or to blow it off of subpar attacks. Consider this Wreckage settled.
Tocatli Honor Guard – niche
This is a sideboard card at best. It hoses only specific things, and even them not completely. Can be good in certain cube configurations, but even in best cases in traditional cubes it might affect 10 cards in a given deck. As an otherwise 1/3 for two mana that does not advance your game plan in any way, has no synergies in a typical cube and even limits your deckbuilding choices, it shouldn’t see much play.
Chart a Course – staple
Even as a 1U draw two cards, discard a card this is not bad. It is a sorcery speed Anticipate that doesn’t dig as deep, but allows you to keep two new cards. In case of a mana screw, you’d likely choose to keep the two lands you draw, for example. It is also a discard outlet, and fuels delve, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy etc. It is splashable and such an easy inclusion for reanimator decks. Of course, in decks that can even occasionally get raid, it becomes a whole lot better. The mono blue Night’s Whisper without life loss. It is of the best sources of card advantage for blue tempo decks. As the card is cheap and plays a role in multiple archetypes, I think it will find a course to many cube lists and be a staple for years to come.
Jace, Cunning Castaway – low playable
Jace is at worst a 2/2 incorporeal creature plus a small planeswalker behind. That is not a low floor. The 2/2 tokens only die when they become a target of a spell, not the target of an ability. Nearly always the spell that would have targeted them would have killed them anyway, especially as they are tokens and therefore would have died either way to bounce. It is even a little advantage, a when you sacrifice your illusion (and yes, you should. Liliana is not into you, Jace) that token will become an illegal target before the spell resolves, which can cause Cryptic Command to fizzle. In reality, it will just limit the usage of that spell and Mystic Confluence a little.
The first ability is somewhat of a win more. If you have creatures connecting, while also keeping your planeswalker alive, you are in a good shape. It is sometimes a better form of inevitability than adding another illusion if you fear a mass removal, might as well build more nonlegendary totally-normie Jaces instead. Also useful when a 2/2 has lost all relevance, say a giant ground stall where a flier of yours can get through, or a Moat. Loots are always nice. The ability is bad overall and basically worse than the loyalty you gain off of it.
The ultimate can be quite quick to achieve. If you can get one, it means you can very quickly get two more. That is very cool but one heck of a win more. Overall this Jace is weaker than Jace Beleren, and in general loses out to competition in the blue three drop slot. The double blue in his cost is not doing him any favors, as in the blue aggressive decks, his best match, that color is usually the support and not the main color.
Spell Swindle – ?
Throw enough money at a problem, and it will go away. Spell Swindle is obviously good if you hit an expensive spell. The effect is much stronger than Mana Drain. Not only does the mana come colored, you can save it for whenever you need it. As an example, you can always have counter backup mana to whatever you wish to cast for the rest of the game. It also means you can hoard them for that emrakul, or that Tezzeret ultimate, or for when you will draw your splashed card. It is an attractive target for Torrential Gearhulk while in your graveyard. It is even not bad to target Carnage Tyrant with it, as you will still get 6 treasures. Even more niche-yet-mention-worthy cases include stax cards like Tangle Wire.
What I dislike about it is that like Bribery, Treachery or even Desertion, it is yet another blue expensive spells that punishes midrange decks. If you hit a spell that costs 4 or more, you are golden (well, treasured, it is a different kind of token). If you face an aggro deck, it will probably be so bad you will need to side it out game two. Blue is already a color that has a favorable matchup against midrange decks. As such, I think the card is not needed and that space in blue should probably be dedicated for cheaper cards in the color that will actually help against the aggressive matchups. That said the card is strong enough in his good matchups, it is just a matter of space. I’d likely test it in the place of a blue planeswalker at that mana cost.
Storm Fleet Aerialist – niche
If you push blue aggro really hard it is a soid card. It is terrible without the trigger, which means it is unplayable in anything but decks full of cheap creatures, yet the ceiling is not amazing. Welkin Tern is likely better for consistency, even though it is sadly not a pirate.
Dire Fleet Hoarder – niche
Generally worse than Carrier Thrall. You do not get fixing, but you do get the same ramp and it is attached to a creature. That is much better for mass removal recovery. As a sacrifice fodder, Thrall provides two creatures to sacrifice to your Abyss, or Flesh Carver. Being weaker than Carrier Thrall is not a place you generally want to be in.
Kitesail Freebooter – low playable
The modern Mesmeric Fiend. It has a narrower discard ability and a better body. The discard being narrower is not that much of an issue, as you are almost always taking away their removal if they have any. A large part of the value of the ability is from the knowledge you gain. Not being able to hit a creature is a downside, and not a negligible one, but not a fatal flaw.
However, being a 1/2 flier instead of a 1/1 is fantastic. A 1/2 flier can keep pinging opponents, apply pressure to planeswalkers and carry equipment. Even if all it does is keep a spell at bay for three turns, the fact that it can ping for 2 damage in the meanwhile makes that much more palatable. Fiend’s body has forever been the point that failed the card. You never want Fiend to die, so it cannot participate in combat, making it essentially a 1-for-1 against your opponent’s worst removal spell, if even that. With freebooter, you can have some cheap disruption coupled with some small pressure, making it a much better fit for decks that are interested in that effect. Bonus points for introducing a kite into the world of cube.
Ruin Raider – low playable
Raider is a 3/2 for 2B that will basically always replace himself that very turn in aggressive decks. That is not a bad floor. The potential of continuous free card advantage somewhat covers for the body’s ineptness in combat, with it dying to one drops. You can also just keep chipping with that one safe creature which is very large or has evasion and still get that precious booty of card avantage. Worth to note that unlike Dark Confidant, you can just stop attacking until you get lethal if you fear dying from the continuous life loss.
Vraska’s Contempt – unplayable
It is simply too expensive. One for one removal for four mana is not very playable. Yes it exiles, yes it gives 2 life, it is instant even, but you’d still rather have the Hero’s Downfall variants over this virtually always. Losing because you were a mana short to play that removal hurts. Utter End is almost exactly this card, and there is a reason it does not see play in cubes anymore. Black is a color with a ton of cheap removal spells and plenty of contempt and doesn’t need this.
Walk the Plank – unplayable
Black has too many cards that cost double black mana, with cards like Hymn to Tourach, Sinkhole, Bloodghast and several three drops that all cost double black mana. If you insist on playing a removal at that cost there is Victim of Night and Malicious Affliction.
Wanted Scoundrels – fringe playable
The body is excellent for what you pay. Bloodrage Brawler did not disappoint us yet. Unlike Minotaur, you get no drawback unless the Scoundrel actually dies. Bounce, exile and enchantment based removals do not incur penalties. However when it does die, the double treasure is big trouble. People will kill the scoundrel in otherwise inefficient ways just to get it. After all it is double ramp and double fixing as early as next turn, and you do not want to help your opponent cast that Titan turn 4 unless have a dinosaur brain. It is also very, very bad against mass removals. Your opponent will even have counter mana up after that turn 4 Wrath of God! The risk likely outweighs the reward here.