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.