MTGO Cube Changes

Written by Kyle Engleson on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube

MTGO Cube Changes

Kyle Engleson

Kyle is a cube enthusiast that recently finished 45th in his first Grand Prix at GP Minneapolis. He has been designing and sculpting his personal cube for more than two years, and is a regular at weekly drafts and FNM.
Two months after the release of Avacyn Restored, the MTGO Cube has finally been updated to include new cards. I’m going to review the fifty changes, discussing why cards may have been removed and what to expect out of the new batch. I’ll do my best to match each card as an “in” or “out,” despite only being given the new list and no summary of changes. I based my ranking on whether or not the new cards or the old cards are better in a vacuum. A lot of these changes are not straight swaps that I would make to my own cube, but the overall feel is a good one.

White

Out: Iona, Shield of Emeria
In: Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Both of these cards will almost always serve as reanimation targets, although sometimes they can be hard cast. This seems like an odd swap to me. It shows a recurring theme of Wizards wanting to test out their newer cards even if the new card is a weaker option. Avacyn’s ability to grant indestructibility is comparable to Iona’s ability to lock out a color, both protecting your team from specific threats. While Avacyn’s Vigilance allows you to attack while still staying on the defensive, Iona’s color locking ability is much more powerful.

Rank: Slight Downgrade

Out: Hallowed Burial
In: Terminus

The strength of sending creatures to the bottom of the deck as opposed to the graveyard is very format dependant. Hallowed Burial came at a time when persist was printed, and Terminus with undying. Both keywords discourage creatures from going to the bin, so Wizards printed Wrath effects that didn’t actually Wrath. In cube, more often than not these are just expensive Wraths. Terminus’ Miracle cost allows a control player to sweep the board and land a threat in the same turn, helping stabilize against aggressive decks a turn earlier. The extra mana will be relevant, but six mana Wraths are acceptable, as Akroma’s Vengeance and Austere Command have shown us.

Rank: Slight Upgrade

Out: Magus of the Tabernacle
In: Restoration Angel

Despite Avacyn being the namesake of the set, I believe Restoration Angel will go down as the best angel to be released from the Helvault when all is said and done. The card has already proven to be a mainstay in Standard as both protection in the WU Delver decks and as another way to trigger ETB effects in Naya aggro decks. The two times I played against Magus of the Tabernacle, it actually was worse for my opponent. He ended up behind on the board and couldn’t hit enough land drops to catch up. The card is very mediocre, and I’m glad to see it gone.

Rank: Major Upgrade

Out: Loyal Retainers
In: Silverblade Paladin

Silverblade Paladin is the flagbearer (figuratively and literally) of the Soulbond mechanic. Along with Mirran Crusader, Hero of Bladehold and the aforementioned Restoration Angel, the midrange slots of white’s creature base have received a very powerful overhaul in recent years. The pseudo-Haste of Soulbond means any one or two drop this is paired with will hit extra hard. Loyal Retainers is too specific to be useful in the Magic Online cube. I count only four worthwhile legends in white to reanimate, which isn’t enough for this already narrow strategy.

Rank: Major Upgrade

Blue

Out: Court Hussar
In: Delver of Secrets

Court Hussar being included as a blue card is one of my biggest disagreements with how the Magic Online cube is classified. I prefer to sort my cards based on what decks would most likely play it, not what the textbox reads. Cards like Court Hussar, Kird Ape and Orcish Lumberjack are all classified as mono-color, despite being almost unplayable without the second color. Delver of Secrets coming in helps support the Ux (generally, UW) tempo decks and the UR burn decks. I would have preferred Phantasmal Bear be cut over Court Hussar.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Thieving Magpie
In: Fettergeist

When Avacyn Restored was being spoiled, Fettergeist’s inclusion into cube was to be expected. It is very similar functionally to Serendib Efreet, a card that has been a staple since cube’s inception. An extremely aggressively costed body that is the single threat for Ux tempo decks to lean on. Thieving Magpie hasn’t impressed me in a long time. Even three mana Ophidians aren’t seeing much play, although it can block many of the aggressive fliers now seeing play. Four mana is just too much to ask for this sort of effect.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Lu Xun, Scholar General
In: Dungeon Geists

Lu Xun is Thieving Magpie’s long lost Chinese brother. Another philosophy I follow is not including Portal cards. Horsemanship was meant to be played with horsemanship, not with the rest of Magic. It leads to funky card interactions that seem unintentional. Dungeon Geists has seen play off and on since Dark Ascension was released. As with the above two changes, it adds another solid body for the tempo decks.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Aether Adept
In: Lone Revenant

Removing Aether Adept doesn’t seem to go along with WotC’s push for Ux tempo to be a deck. While not Man-o’-War, Adept does a fine job of pushing through damage while still affecting the board. Lone Revenant is more of a finisher for blue-based control decks.. Once it lands, it is very difficult to answer and will bury your opponent in card advantage assuming its allowed to hit. It is a little expensive but I’m willing to see where it goes.

Rank: Lateral Move

Out: Waterfront Bouncer
In: Phantasmal Image

Phantasmal Image was one of the biggest omissions from the original list. As with most of the cards that are being added, this card has shown how dangerous and powerful under-costed clones can be. Waterfront Bouncer is fine as a way to push through damage, but often a player would end up short on card draw to be able to constantly fuel it.

Rank: Major Upgrade

Out: Neurok Commando
In: Tandem Lookout

Lone Revenant is everything Neurok Commando isn’t. While still protected from spot removal, the body is too small to win in combat. Tandem Lookout brings the same issue, but the ability to turn any creature of yours into an Ophidian means it isn’t nearly as poor. When unopposed, the card advantage after turn three is almost impossible to come back from.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Legacy’s Allure
In: Brain Freeze

The storm deck is one of the unique aspects of the Magic Online cube, and the lack of Brain Freeze was confusing to regular cubers. When decks are 40 cards, you only need to storm for 9 before this is most likely lethal, assuming no crazy mulligans. It requires about the same storm as Tendrils, but is cheaper. Legacy’s Allure felt like an alright card that often was passed up due to too much text. The fact that your opponent can see it coming also hindered it.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Opportunity
In: Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

More planeswalkers! Tamiyo’s obviously on the proper power level for cube, and is much more interactive than the all around un-fun Jace, Memory Adept. While drawing four cards is a big game, I always felt like the mana cost wasn’t quite worth it. Instant speed draw three or four does help in control matches, offering a counterable spell before you untap and land the big threat. I would have rather seen the sorcery speed Tidings get cut over Opportunity.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Time Warp
In: Temporal Mastery

Much like Terminus, Temporal Mastery is replacing a very similar card, with the new mechanics being pushed. The difference being that Time Warp isn’t often included in many lists, so adding two to the cost is a big deal. At best, I think this is about an equal swap, but I think Temporal Mastery will end up being in most sideboards.

Rank: Slight Downgrade

Black

Out: Abyssal Persecutor
In: Demonic Taskmaster

With the changes to black, WotC announced something every cuber has known for a while now; black sucks. Black aggro sucks, black control sucks, black midrange sucks. The color is by far the weakest and thus got the most changes. Persecutor always felt like too much work for not enough payoff. You get a solid body, but need a certain number of answers to your own card in your deck. I’ve been impressed with Demonic Taskmaster so far. There are rarely times where his downside prevents you from adding to the board, and he holds off most aggressive creatures.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Dauthi Slayer
In: Gloom Surgeon

I hate the keyword Shadow. It is a failed attempt to create super flying and suffers from the same issues Horsemanship does. That being said, black Shadow creatures are vital to fighting Planeswalkers in cube. Every other color has legitimate answers to a resolved Planeswalker. Black has Vampire Hexmage and Shadow creatures–that’s it. Dauthi Horror is more splashable. But in a 720 card cube, I think Slayer should stay in. Gloom Surgeon is difficult to deal with for green decks, but underwhelms me.

Rank: Downgrade

Out: Skeletal Vampire
In: Griselbrand

Skeletal Vampire is a part of the old guard of finishers in cube. “If you untap with it, you almost always win” used to be the benchmark, but not anymore. I recently cut Skeletal Vampire and Morphling, and I’m about there with Oona as well. I’m not sure if its realistic to hardcast Griselbrand, so this seems like an addition for the reanimator deck more than an actual finisher. Either way, as we’ve seen with Legacy recently, Griselbrand’s ability means untapping isn’t required to gain ridiculous advantage from landing him.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Carnophage
In: Guul Draz Assassin

Guul Draz Assassin intrigues me. While its quite a bit of mana to level him up all the way, once he is there, he will do his best impression of Nightfall Predator. He offers a cheap threat that ducks under counter magic and can be progressed at your own pace. The removal of Carnophage makes sense until you see that Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul were kept in. I don’t think there is enough of a zombie subtheme to justify cutting the rest of the aggressive black one drops but keeping those in.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Dauthi Marauder
In: Headhunter

While I mentioned above that Shadow creatures are necessary to keep Planeswalkers at bay, I don’t include Dauthi Marauder in this list. Three mana is a lot for three power of unblockable, and this card will never survive against a red deck. Headhunter is another good early threat for black decks against control decks. Much like Liliana of the Veil, the repeated discard effect can wreak havoc on a control player very quickly.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Kokusho, the Evening Star
In: Massacre Wurm

Kokusho is another of the old finishers that have slowly been phased out of cubes recently. I still have it in my list, but don’t remember the last time it was cast. It has recently been trumped by Grave Titan (probably the best finisher in cube), Bloodgift Demon and its replacement, Massacre Wurm. The triple black of Massacre Wurm generally means two color decks only, but its ability to wipe away aggressive decks, especially tokens, is why its back.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Phyrexian Negator
In: Okiba-Gang Shinobi

Yet another old finisher that has been outclassed for a while now, Negator is really only good when you can run it out on turn 1 with Dark Ritual or other fast mana. The downside is a major downside and stopped Negator from seeing much play. Like Headhunter, Okiba-Gang will do a number on a control player if it connects. Connecting just once can seal a game very easily.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Vampire Lacerator
In: Putrid Imp

Removing Lacerator confuses me as much as removing Carnophage. I agree they should be removed, but keeping in Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul all but confirms WotC is trying to push the newer cards. I’m okay with it when they are sidegrades, but the changes to black aggro are just odd. Putrid Imp comes in as an enabler for graveyard based strategies. It combos well with Life from the Loam and some flashback cards in a pinch as well, although Loam is being cut this go around.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Nantuko Shade
In: Skittering Skirge

Nantuko Shade has a special place in many cubers’ hearts. It reminds them of a time when mono black control was dominant. Cards like Skittering Skirge have always bothered me. The body isn’t big enough to win a game on its own but it prevents you from playing additional threats. Even as a Lava Spike that suspends for BB is underwhelming. The change also appears odd given the removal of Lacerator and Carnophage.

Rank: Downgrade

Out: Nightscape Familiar
In: Throat Slitter

Nightscape Familiar is a big support card for the storm deck and Grixis decks in general. It still has very narrow applications outside of those decks so I’m fine seeing it go. Throat Slitter usually ends up being a cheap Nekrataal with a worse body. I try not to rely on ninjas for reusing ETB effects so this card is pretty weak. I’d rather some of the aggressive creatures not be cut than include this.

Rank: Lateral Move

Out: Sorin Markov
In: Demonic Rising

This is one of the biggest surprises of the new update. WotC doesn’t seem to have any concerns about the number of Planeswalkers in cube, so that isn’t why they’re removing Sorin. He’s one of the more complete planeswalkers in my eyes; he can stabilize the board as well as win a game by himself. Demonic Rising takes some effort to work, but once it is active, the payoff is fantastic. I wouldn’t mind seeing it stay, but not at Sorin’s expense.

Rank: Downgrade

Out: Tainted Pact
In: Diabolic Edict

Tainted Pact gets better the more colors you play, so this might be WotC’s effort at weakening the 5c deck. The more non-basics you have, the more this becomes an instant speed Demonic Tutor. Even then, it’s awkward because you can exile most of your deck without finding the card you want. I was surprised to realize Diabolic Edict wasn’t in the first batch. It’s a great edict effect and I’m also surprised the rest (Chainer’s, Geth’s Verdict) aren’t included as well. Answers to Hexproof are always welcome!

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Skeletal Scrying
In: Spinning Darkness

Skeletal Scrying offers black something it desperately needs to be a solid control color: card draw. The black section initially had quite a bit of card draw however, so it has been scaled back with this update. Spinning Darkness feels like an awkward inclusion. The alternate cost can be hard to achieve, unless you’re based heavily in black. Not including other mono black cards like Mutilate makes me wonder where WotC wants their black section to go. I don’t even think they know at this point.

Rank: Downgrade

Out: Disfigure
In: Tragic Slip

Not much to discuss here. Both are effective at hitting early aggressive drops or mana creatures, but being able to give finishers like Primeval Titan or Griselbrand the Slip gives it the nod.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Death Cloud
In: Decree of Pain

Death Cloud, like Pox and Smallpox, require a specific board state to gain full advantage. Death Cloud pairs best with Planeswalkers–specifically Garruk–as wrecking both boards leaves you quite the advantage when you have a Planeswalker. Decree of Pain has been growing on me recently. The uncounterable aspect of Cycling gives you a great out to Decree of Justice or Martial Coup. Hard-casting this against a mid-range deck usually means game over. It’s just too difficult for those decks to recover from such card advantage.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Mind Shatter
In: Persecute

Oh what a difference one mana makes. Mind Twist is considered easily first pickable since combining it with fast mana can rip apart an opponent’s hand. Mind Shatter is less powerful, but still justifiable in cubes. Mid-game Shatters for 3-4 are still very effective, so I’m sad to see it go. I’ve never been a fan of Persecute. It is really only good against the midrange decks, and black already has enough against those decks with removal galore.

Rank: Downgrade

Out: Ambition’s Cost
In: Unburial Rites

As with Court Hussar, I wish Unburial Rites was a B/W card. Sure, you’ll cast just the black half some games. But they didn’t include Rise from the Grave in the cube, and that can hit both graveyards, so obviously the flashback comes into play. Color distribution aside, Unburial Rites is fantastic. It combos well with Intuition and Gifts Ungiven too.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Sign in Blood
In: Wrench Mind

Another baffling change. Sign In Blood is perfectly adequate as a second Night’s Whisper. The BB cost can be difficult to hit on turn 2, and the targeting is almost never relevant, but its still a good card. Plus, being able to insult someone by killing them with Sign in Blood is one of the best feelings. Wrench Mind is also a solid card, but I like it more as another disruption spell for the black aggro deck, which seems to be disappearing.

Rank: Downgrade

Red

Out: Skizzik
In: Hellrider

This is another easy switch. Ball Lightning is the best in the business at what it does, and still is borderline playable. A more expensive, less efficient Ball Lightning had to go. Hellrider is a great finisher for red decks and a step above Hero of Oxid Ridge.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Goblin Wardriver
In: Plated Geopede

Goblin Wardriver never seemed worth it to me. Its harder to cast, has less power and sees less token swarm support than Accorder Paladin, which also should be in this cube. So long as you’re able to hit your land drops, Geopede will generally be a 3/3, which is perfectly adequate for a two drop in red. Bonus points for the fetch-heavy aggro decks too!

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Stromkirk Noble
In: Vexing Devil

What…? There are at least two other one drops in red I’d take out before Stromkirk Noble (Spikeshot Elder and Genju of the Spires), and Vexing Devil has shown to be decent at best in the mono red deck. This isn’t even a case of forcing newer cards, since Stromkirk Noble was printed just last October. I have no idea how to justify this one and wouldn’t be surprised to see it flipped back come this fall.

Rank: Major Downgrade

Out: Fire Ambush
In: Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

Sorcery speed Incinerates have always bothered me. Whether it be Fire Ambush or Volcanic Hammer, I’ve never liked them. They’re fine but unimpressive. I’ve never wanted them included. I’m glad Searing Spear was recently printed. I won’t be surprised to see it included in the next update. I’ve tried testing Tibalt for a while now and it just hasn’t been in the packs, but I think it has potential in cube.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Banefire
In: Bonfire of the Damned

Adding Bonfire of the Damned is 100% correct. The card has shown that it is playable when cast for its normal cost. It won’t be as effective in cube given that it will be harder to combine it with lots of mana creatures, but its a great card for the red based ramp decks or even the fast mana Wildfire ramp decks. I’m loathe to see Banefire leave, as it is another good Rx control card. The uncounterable clause is useful and I’d rather see Genju of the Spires or Firestorm leave for Bonfire.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Firebolt
In: Pillar of Flame

Huh…? This is probably the second worst change to red (stay tuned). Pillar of Flame’s exile clause is rarely relevant. This is partially why we don’t see Demonfire/Disintegrate/Red Sun’s Zenith in most cube lists anymore as well. Firebolt is an amazing card. Dealing with an early aggressive creature and finishing off a planeswalker later, or just paying 6 to dome them for 4, it always does work. I’m very sad about this change, and won’t be surprised if it is changed back eventually.

Rank: Major Downgrade

Out: Destructive Force
In: Rite of Ruin

Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner of “Worst Cube Change” goes to…Rite of Ruin!! While I do think Rite of Ruin as a 4th Wildfire effect is acceptable in larger cubes, including it at the expense of Destructive Force is downright unacceptable. If they wanted to remove Destructive Force, Zealous Conscripts would have been a great addition, and should be included in the cube regardless.

Rank: Major Downgrade

Green

Out: Overgrown Battlement
In: Jade Mage

After the first two runs of the Magic Online cube, the general consensus among pros was that the green ramp deck, whether mono green, Gr or Gu, was the best deck available if drafted properly. Overgrown Battlement is the 3rd best two drop for this deck, behind Wall of Roots and Devoted Druid. I don’t know if Overgrown Battlement was removed to weaken the archetype, but it will. Jade Mage will help G/W token decks, and is perfectly fine on its own.

Rank: Lateral Move

Out: Quirion Dryad
In: Scavenging Ooze

I have no idea how Scavenging Ooze wasn’t included in the original run. In my blog posts about the initial Cube, I listed the exclusion of the Ooze as the biggest omission. Quirion Dryad, despite being a great card in the 5c deck, was rarely played and isn’t nearly as good without a bunch of cheap cantrips to make it bigger.

Rank: Major Upgrade

Out: Wood Elves
In: Somberwald Sage

Wood Elves has a cute interaction with the dual lands available in the cube. Being able to search up a Taiga or an Overgrown Tomb is great in theory. In practice, it didn’t happen too often from my experience. Somberwald Sage is a great ramp card for the mono green dec, which features the most finishers for ramp. It works in other decks as well, but I like it best in mono green.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Jungle Lion
In: Ulvenwald Tracker

Unlike black, green finally had its last aggressive one drop cut with good reason. Like black, these colors need all or none of the aggressive cards to operate successfully. In Ulvenwald Tracker, green gets access to repeatable removal. Tracker is a great Green Sun’s Zenith target as well. I like this change somce utility early drops are good for all colors.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Vorapede
In: Wolfir Silverheart

Vorapede suffers from being a mid-range green creature. Green is absolutely overloaded with great utility creatures and beaters in the mid-range casting costs. In every other color, Vorapede would still be in. Wolfir Silverheart is an absolute beating, and even better in cube where Vapor Snag isn’t everywhere and there are more evasive creatures to pair this with. For extra juiciness, try drafting Wolf tribal with Silverheart and Master of the Wild Hunt.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Stonewood Invocation
In: All Suns’ Dawn

Stonewood Invocation has always been a very awkward combat trick. Having to leave up four mana in an aggressive deck screamed trick, and usually the card tabled during drafting so everyone knows its out there. I’m not really sure why All Suns’ Dawn is coming in. Restock has always been drafted late and even Regrowth is undervalued. You have to work a lot harder for All Suns’ Dawn to be good.

Rank: Lateral Move

Out: Summoning Trap
In: Overrun

Summoning Trap seems like a great, unique card to keep in the cube. It offers ramp decks a chance against the control decks that only need to counter one or two important spells before the ramp player is out of gas. It lets you cheat things into play, but no more than Show and Tell. So it isn’t a power issue. I don’t think Overrun will do much for green since they removed much of the aggressive creatures that use Overrun as reach to finish the game on turn four or five.

Rank: Downgrade

Out: Life from the Loam
In: Prey Upon

Unique effects like Life from the Loam are one of my favorite aspects of cube. The power level has to be just right that they are able to slot into various decks to fill various roles. Loam is one of those cards. Whether it’s Strip Mine locking or dredging Griselbrand into your graveyard, Loam does cool things. Prey Upon is a perfectly fine addition, but I’d like to see it come in over something else. Perhaps one of the mana creatures like Arbor Elf.

Rank: Downgrade

Lands

Out: Grim Backwoods
In: Desolate Lighthouse

I wasn’t really sure how to compare the land changes, as I’m not sure how WotC sorts them. Grim Backwoods is a joke of a card so anything coming in would be an improvement. Desolate Lighthouse is fine filler until the Return to Ravnica, but I’m hoping for one or two good U/R cards to replace it eventually.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Vault of the Archangel
In: Slayers’ Stronghold

This is a great example of why I do not like the land sorting. Neither of these cards are fixers and should be included in the multicolor sections for these colors. I’m sad to see Vault going, but so is Slayers’ Stronghold. Slayers’ cheaper activation makes me lean towards it. Plus, I like what it brings to R/W.

Rank: Upgrade

Out: Volrath’s Stronghold
In: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Since my cube started, I’ve given each color two utility lands. Unfortunately, black’s utility lands are rather lacking, so the options are Stronghold, Urborg and Cabal Coffers. Urborg and Cabal Coffers work best together but are pretty weak on their own. Given the size of this cube, I’d much rather see Volrath’s Stronghold.

Rank: Downgrade

Multicolor

Out: Behemoth Sledge
In: Sigarda, Host of Herons

The Selesnya guild (G/W) has by far the deepest card pool for guilds. There are probably 15 cards that could be argued as good enough for a limited number of slots in cube. I’ve recently begun shaping my guilds to match where these decks will want to be. But, if you include just the most powerful cards, Sigarda definitely fits the bill.

Rank: Upgrade

Reviewing the Changes

In the end, I ended up agreeing with more than half of the fifty changes that were made. I tended to lean on the side of considering a new card coming in as an upgrade, at least until I see it play out. While I am above 50% on these changes, I do still feel there is a lot of fat that can be cut from this cube and a lot more molding as far as deck archetypes go. It went from about 75% to 80%, which is still an improvement. Hopefully as this process progresses, it will get closer and closer to 100%.

There were a few additions that needed to be made. They should have been in from the get-go, so I’m glad they got added. Zealous Conscripts not being added is a travesty since the card gives red a great option for Planeswalkers and weakens them overall in cube. I don’t know if it is possible for future cube updates, but I would love to see the next set’s cards released for cube the week before the set is released. Having the Avacyn Restored cards added to the cube two months after its release is a real shame. Why not give them a chance to shine for everyone before the pre-release?

I hope you enjoyed this review of the Magic Online Cube changes. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear in the comments about your thoughts. I think the best way for cubers to learn and grow as designers is to take in as many opinions as possible, and to keep an open mind whenever able. Thanks again!

Kyle Engleson
@Kengy5 on Twitter
Kyle.Engleson@gmail.com
http://therainkengy.wordpress.com for my blog about cube!

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