Another year, another Core Set. As Cube builders we are fortunate to have yearly Core Sets that feature new cards. Core Sets also provide us some opportunities to pick up reprinted cards if we missed them the first time around–particularly in foil. Since the sets are less than 50% new cards, we also don’t have a ton of cards to evaluate–a nice break from the other sets of the year in my opinion. I’m not going to rate every card out of the set. I’m just going to comment on ones that I or others think will have an impact (or that I want to make fun of). I will rate the cards on a scale of 1-5, with the following basic meanings:
2- Good enough in the largest of Cubes (720+). Very good cards that fill roles or provide support, but have been forced out of smaller Cubes over the years: Sigil of Distinction, Transcendent Master, Avenger of Zendikar, Jeska, Warrior Adept, Exclude)
As with any ‘evergreen’ format, all card evaluations need to be done relative to every other card printed. While some cards may be powerful in a vacuum, they may suck in Cube next to other older cards. With that in mind, I’m also going to suggest cards that can be cut if you want to add these new cards.
Off we go!
We are starting out with a doozy. Ajani is the real deal, folks! For three mana and a whopping FOUR starting loyalty, you get a Planeswalker that fits nicely into an aggressive curve while giving you some abilities that are very relevant. His +1 is just powerful enough to advance your game plan and his -3 combines well with the first ability to give you an alpha-striking option. Do we need to discuss how good his ultimate is? Ajani v3 is a welcome addition to the bloodline of original Planeswalkers and will make Cube managers start to evaluate how many white Planeswalkers their Cube can support. I’ve had a few drafts with him already (in proxy form), and he has been awesome every time.
Rating: 4, but only because he fits much better in attacking decks than he does in control decks.
The obvious comparison here is to Blade Splicer and the Knight comes up pretty short in all departments: total power, first strike power, blink abuse potential and damage-based removal resistance. While artifact removal does work significantly better vs. the Splicer, I don’t think that is enough to warrant a replacement. Is the Knight good enough otherwise? Probably not, even though we don’t see very many first strikers with only a single colored mana in their cost.
Really only good if you have a token theme. And let’s be honest: if you have a bunch of tokens, wouldn’t you rather just have an Anthem instead of an additional non-evasive attacker? No thanks.
Rating: 1, although she DOES appear to have a little Captain in her.
CC two-drops seem to be a thing of the past and Knight of Glory does a pretty good imitation of White Knight without the difficult mana cost. While he does die to most non-black creatures in combat, the fact that he can impact the board immediately is a big plus. I’ve had a couple of drafts with KoG in my deck so far and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his performance.
A 3/4 first strike for four mana is decent, his triggered combat ability is very good, and he has a cool Avacyn-symbolized sword. So what’s the problem?
Have you SEEN 4-drops in white? A creature would have to be pretty insane to break through and Odric ain’t it.
Rating: 2, but only because I can’t call this card awful. There just isn’t room at the highly competitive spot in white’s curve until the Cube gets awfully large. Odric gets better if you have that oft-mentioned token theme.
Also known as Yo Dawg I Heard You Like Exalted Angel, Xzibit Angel, or Oprah Angel (You have exalted! And you have exalted!). Sublime Archangel is a pretty good deal as a 4/3 Exalted flyer for four mana. Add in the additional Exalteds, however, and it becomes a game-changing bomb. If attacking for an evasive five damage by itself on your board is good, imagine how good this card is when you have other creatures. It turns all of your stalled ground creatures into pump spells and of course can be an oppressive threat on its own with even a modicum of other creatures in play. The Angel also turns small swings with a mostly stalled board (from say, a Soltari brother) into huge, game-ending swings that can end the game quickly. However, have you SEEN 4-drops in white? A creature would have to be pretty insane to break through…
Sublime Archangel is it.
Once again, I have been able to play this card a few times so far and I’ve been convinced. I Don’t Practice Santeria Archangel is going in. Oddly enough, I’ve had Ajani, Knight and Archangel in every white deck I’ve drafted in non-Anthony Cubes since they’ve been spoiled.
Rating: 4, but I could see first-picking this often in the future if it continues to impress at the same rate.
Kird Bird is pretty good if you could guarantee a 3/2 at all times. In U/W, Lifelink is typically a useful commodity as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think U/W control needs a 4 mana flier that trades for a one-drop and gains three life. I could see playing this guy if you support blue tempo/aggro archetypes, but the role of U/W in my Cube is mostly control. I’ll be passing on this guy.
Rating: 2, but a 3 if you support blue tempo/aggro.
Possible replacement for: Court Hussar if you’re looking to upgrade the tempo/aggro.
A 1/3 for two mana is okay and being able to draw a card off of it is very nice. But what if you miss? Court Hussar or Sea Gate Oracle he is not. Let’s take a look at some numbers to see what we need to do to ensure drawing a card (thanks to Murkbeard on MTGS for the numbers):
Assuming there are 31 cards left in your deck, here are the number of hits left in deck and your chance to miss drawing a card (remember to take away the number of spells in hand):
5 – 58%
6 – 51%
7 – 45%
8 – 39%
9 – 34%
10 – 30%
11 – 25%
12 – 22%
13 – 18%
So you need to run about 12-13 instants/sorceries to avoid missing more than 25% of the time (or so). This leaves only about 5ish cards of other types for your deck. The effect just isn’t exciting enough for me to not care about missing.
Lawl. Maybe if someone wants to play it, they can use the undrafted portion of the Cube after the draft is over. Just shuffle up and go.
Ten cards in a graveyard that you don’t control seems like a bit much and Flying Men hasn’t impressed much in the past ten years.
If you thought ten cards in a graveyard was a lot, ten mana is even more. And your reward? Casting other spells for free. Why not just spend the ten mana on a card that does something?
Significant reprints for Cube: Jace, Memory Adept (although I wouldn’t advise it)
An interesting card for sure. Disciple of Bolas’s 2/1 body is a little unimpressive for the four mana cost. What you are really paying for, however, is the ability to trade in a creature for multiple cards. This is especially useful in ground stalls where most boards have a creature or two that are irrelevant. The ability is also very good with creatures with leaves play/dies abilities (think Kokusho or Reveillark) and with creatures that return (Kitchen Finks, Geralf’s Messenger). If I’m reading the card correctly, it does say another creature. You can’t cast it just to draw two cards if the rest of your board is empty or populated with small creatures. While I think the card has some potential, I’m not thrilled about it enough to make room for it at this point.
Rating: 2, higher if you are a more midrange/control Cube.
Another part of the ‘Kird’ cycle, but this one comes in a control-ish color pairing. Even with the bonus, we get a 3/3 for three mana that can become unblockable. Not impressive.
The flip-side of Knight of Glory, Knight of Infamy might be at once better AND worse than his white brethren. If you support black aggressive decks, then you need to include him. If you don’t, leave him on the bench. So while Knight of Glory is in a better aggressive archetype, he isn’t as important as Knight of Infamy is to black aggressive strategies. Ergo, worse (archetype) but better (importance). Got it?
Rating: 3 if you support black aggro, 2 or less if you don’t.
Possible replacement for: Black Knight, other CC Knights
Ah, the other new Planeswalker. Much like the original Lili V., I think Dr. Lili has its best home in midrange or control archetypes. The first ability is okay since drawing an extra card is always fine and it gets her loyalty up to the par mark (CMC = Loyalty). The second ability obviously combos with the first and can also be used as a straight up removal spell once she is played if needed. There are also some scenarios where the +x/+x can be useful as well, but those are less common (I learned it DOES pair well with the new Ajani second ability, however…also Elspeth, Knight-Errant). Her ultimate, however, is one of the few that really doesn’t help you win the game like almost all the others and doesn’t particularly impress me. If you are supporting ‘Swamps matter’ mono-black as an archetype (Drain Life, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Mutilate, etc.), then her value surely increases significantly. If not, then I think you just have a value Planeswalker that functions as a free spell every turn. Guess what? That’s not so bad.
Rating: 3, but 4 if you support ‘Swamps matter’ black decks.
An instant speed 2/2 for B? Seems awesome! Wait, there has to be a card in a graveyard? And it has to be a creature? Seems too unimpressive by the time you can use it. It does pick up some value if you support Reanimator as a major theme (as a natural foil that still applies pressure), however.
Three power for two mana is where you want to be and Muckwader has the chance to be just that. Unlike the other Kird creatures we have talked about so far, Muckwader is above the 1:1 ratio for power to mana cost when at full power and on par without a Swamp. The regeneration ability will be used a non-zero amount of times as well, so that makes a nice little package all together.
Know what card I really like? Arc Lightning. Know what card I also really like? This one. I find it interesting that we are starting to see reprints that are Planeswalker-branded. What would have been wrong with just reprinting Arc Lightning with Chandra artwork on it?
Rating: 3, only because it won’t fit in most small Cubes.
An instant-speed answer to creatures akin to Starstorm, Magmaquake also gives you the ability to deal directly with multiple Planeswalkers. The quake is one of the first cards we have seen that can do that since other Earthquake effects can only deal with one. While I don’t think Planeswalkers are a huge problem right now, having an answer to both them and creatures that doesn’t damage you could be a nice addition. I think more testing is in order, but I have a feeling that decks usually want to either kill creatures OR Planeswalkers, not both.
Rating: 2, maybe higher if Planeswalkers continue to occupy more Cube space.
Possible replacement for: Starstorm
Not quite a reprint, Searing Spear rests solidly in between Volcanic Hammer/Fire Ambush and Incinerate on the power scale. It isn’t super exciting, but it is very effective and will likely see play in almost all Cubes.
Now we’re talking! For five mana (only two of which is colored) Thundermaw Hellkite gives you a hasty, evasive five power that not only gets blockers out of the way but also kills some of them. Perfect at the top of an aggressive curve, Thundermaw is also quite impressive as a finisher in midrange or control as well. A shoo-in for Cubes of any size.
Rating: A solid 4, with the chance of being a 5.
If I wanted to see this many sevens, I’d go to the casino. Either that or play Pelakka Wurm, which is much better.
The best of the cycle of Kirds, Flinthoof Boar is a Grizzly Bear with a ton of upside. As a 3/3 for two mana, it is able to survive combat with other 2-power creatures and is already in a color pairing that likes to have both Forests and Mountains in play. Turn one Kird Ape followed by turn two Kird Pig is a pretty nice opening for R/G decks. Oh, and it can get Haste if you have an extra mana. Mise.
Value town! Five power and five life for five mana and a 3/3 when it leaves play? Sign me up. While not particularly impressive at any one thing, the ability to receive a ton of value along the way makes up for it. And it only has a single green in the mana cost. The real fun begins, however, when you combine it with Momentary Blink, Venser, the Sojourner or Recurring Nightmare.
Rating: 3, possibly a 4.
Another green square peg (4/4 for 4), Yeva gives green some much needed flexibility on casting the majority of their spells. Once in play, green creatures all become combat tricks and you are able to save your mana for a variety of things, much like blue mages. Since Yeva herself has Flash, she is also ostensibly harder to deal with as well. Now imagine with me, if you would, the thought of flashing in a Woodfall Primus inside of combat to destroy a Sword and block a creature. Sound good?
Rating: 3, because the 4 slot in green is pretty crowded.
Colorless and Multicolored
This card is definitely interesting to me as I value lands pretty highly; especially ones that do more than fix mana. Having extra spell effects in your deck is always valuable, but I think R&D did a good job of making this one very balanced. The question is: is a ‘free’ Exalted trigger worth running a land that neither fixes your mana nor taps for mana on the first turn? I feel like it is certainly worth a shot.
Rating: My gut tells me 2, but it could easily move to a 1 or 3.
That’s it! While we didn’t get too many new cards for Cube, the ones we did get are pretty solid. We did get a lot of good reprints, however, so that will certainly help those of you out there looking to foil out your Cube. Some cards, we can now get in KOREAN foil (*Swoon*). There is also the nice Commander contingent of cards, so you can likely trade your foil Omniscience for sweet Cube cards.
May all your squares be three-dimensional.
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