It’s that time again! With the last set in our return to Ravnica, we are all expecting to get more multicolor cards for our weaker guilds while maintaining the hope we will find a monocolored gem or two for inclusion. Cubers have strengthened all 10 of their guilds already, but will we get something that can break through the powerhouses? I’m not going to rate every card out of the set. I’m just going to comment on ones I think will have an impact/other people think will have an impact/I want to make fun of. I will rate the cards on a scale of 1 to 5, with the following basic meanings:
5 — First-pick quality in any Cube; high powered and/or flagship archetype cards (Sol Ring, Bitterblossom, Tinker, Koth of the Hammer)
4 — Good enough for the smallest of Cubes (360); powerful, versatile, and/or top support cards (Lightning Bolt, ABU Duals, Vindicate)
3 — Good enough for the medium-sized Cubes (450-540+); great support, redundancy, and archetype-extension cards (Dismiss, Goblin Ruinblaster, Precursor Golem)
2 — Good enough in the largest of Cubes (720+); very good cards that fill roles/provide support/have just been forced out over the years (Sigil of Distinction, Transcendent Master, Avenger of Zendikar, Jeska, Warrior Mage, Exclude)
1 — Not good enough for any reasonable-sized non-specialty Cube (Myr Servitor, Chimney Imp, Meddling Mage, Cancel)
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.
Note: I reserve the right to change my opinions at any time. These are predictions, and I am never too proud to admit I was wrong on a card evaluation, or missed a card entirely.
Off we go!
This draws the obvious comparisons to other Cube cards like the staple Cloudgoat Ranger and its cousin from Innistrad, Geist-Honored Monk. While having a larger body as the primary piece (4/4 compared to base 3/3s), Scion has the significant drawback of only triggering the token generation when cast from hand. For that drawback, you get the upgrade of the populate ability instead of just another 1/1 token. The thing is, how often is that populate ability going to get you something significantly better than a 1/1 flier? On Turn 5 in most aggressive or midrange decks in Cube, you will occasionally have a 3/3 Elephant token (or possibly a 2/2 Wolf) but will rarely have something spicy like a 4/4 Angel. That makes the populate ability virtually blank, but takes away the big upgrade of blink or other shenanigans. For me, it isn’t passing the other two creatures listed above (or Baneslayer Angel) and may be on par with something like Conqueror’s Pledge.
Harkening back to the halcyon days of Morphling, AEtherling brings the same sort of Chuck Bednarik-style playing of offense and defense but with bigger starting numbers. For one extra mana, you pick up an extra power and toughness, which actually translates to three extra power when giving the business; business that is unblockable, too. While not as good on defense (a repeatable effect like Icy Manipulator or strong enough removal will get it out of the way), the fact that AEtherling is unkillable with enough mana available (save split second cards like Sudden Death) definitely makes up for that because you can cast your sweeper and still have your finisher up to do work. The big question for inclusion over something like Sphinx of Jwar Isle is going to be how often it will matter that effects can remove it as a blocker (albeit temporarily). Only time and testing will be the true test of that, but for now he should be going into Cubes to get those reps.
Rating: 3, with a chance at moving to 2 or 4.
Possible replacement for: Sphinx of Jwar Isle (for an excitement upgrade), Morphling (for a size upgrade), Keiga, the Tide Star (for a non-splashable upgrade), or Palinchron (for a non-combo upgrade).
Dark Confidant, it is not. What it is, however, is an on-curve attacker with a relevant creature type and a reach-enabling ability that fits perfectly into aggressive black archetypes. Two power for two isn’t embarrassing, and being a Zombie helps support other cards like Gravecrawler and Graveborn Muse. The real power lies in the card-drawing ability, though. Being “hellbent” is fairly easy in the black aggressive archetypes and also gives this card added value when drawn later in the game (which is a drawback of most low-drop creatures, and a reason why cards like Figure of Destiny are sweet). You also get some corner-case value with cards like the Jaces, Sign in Blood/Night’s Whisper, and Sensei’s Divining Top. Pretty solid card, I think.
Red cards that feature recursion or repeatable card advantage warrant a look (even a lowly 1/1 for three mana sees some play in Cubes!), so Pyrewild Shaman needs to be examined further. As a creature, the Shaman is fine as a 3/1 for three mana especially since red three-drops are a bit on the weaker side. As a pump spell, it is somewhat mediocre as far as Cube cards are concerned, since it provides no extra evasion and only one extra toughness (making the target only slightly harder to kill). The selling point of this card is the recursion ability. The problem is there are just a few too many conditions on its return. It needs to be in your graveyard, you need to do combat damage (relevant difference over just damage), and you need to spend three mana to get it back into your hand. This is one too many hoops to jump through for a three-power creature/pump spell.
Rating: 2, possibly a 1.
Basically a 3/2 with evolve (the other text is mostly irrelevant in Cube outside of cards like Ajani Goldmane, because not many other evolve creatures are good enough), and while this is likely to grow to a 5/4 somewhat easily if left unmolested in midrange decks, it is worse than Gnarled Mass unless some conditions are met. Krasis is not nearly exciting enough for me to consider for inclusion, and I’d still rather have a Call of the Herd in most decks.
At its spoiling, I didn’t consider this card too seriously. Then, I got to thinking about the practical applications in different decks and started to change my tune. I imagined it in a control deck vs. an aggressive deck, where it came down on Turn 5 and basically Time Walk-ed the aggro deck. That thought extended into playing Momentary Blink or Venser, the Sojourner afterward, essentially creating a lock. Then I thought of it in a Bant tempo deck vs. a creature deck, in which you basically get a free swing plus a Time Walk. In both of those scenarios, you are also left with a significant body for the cost, and the protection from red doesn’t hurt much either. I’d like to get some testing in with it, but I have a feeling this may play a lot better than it looks.
Oh, and it shuts off planeswalkers and mana rocks, too, which is neato.
Rating: 3, because the top three spots in UW are pretty hard to crack. Should be a good addition to any larger (six-plus) multicolor section.
Possible replacement for: Wall of Denial (if you find the Wall the ultimate in boredom), any remaining Iridescent Angels, or EDH All-Star Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.
A tempo card at its heart, this can have either side cast in a pinch without much embarrassment (especially Away, because Diabolic Edict will likely never see print again), but the real play is casting it fused, which will give you a great tempo boost and can be used to rid yourself of hexproof or other unmanageable targets. Even though this is best in tempo-type decks, it certainly can be used in more controlling decks as well, especially because you can cast one half on the cheap if need be. Definitely worth a test run.
While very cute, the non-evasive body isn’t quite good enough in this color combination at the cost. And don’t cast it when your opponent has a Consecrated Sphinx in play … unless you like dying, of course.
A welcome sight for a weaker guild, Ral has a number of things going for him. He can protect himself fairly well with either of the first two abilities, either by untapping a blocker or by directly bolting a threat; he combos with some artifacts and creatures by untapping them (like Mana Vault, Gilded Lotus, Time Vault, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Somberwald Sage …); and his ultimate should be game-winning in most scenarios (with two extra turns being the average). What’s not to like? Shame on you if your first statement about him was “He’s not as good as Ajani Vengeant.”
Possible replacement for: Virtually anything in the color pair, because this might be the best UR card. Probably something like Nucklavee or Etherium-Horn Sorcerer if you still run it; otherwise the spell you like least (out of Prophetic Bolt, Izzet Charm, Electrolyze, Fire // Ice, etc.).
Unlike Far // Away, both sides of this card are significantly worse if cast separately. It will kill any targetable creature for sure when fused, but this doesn’t play as well into archetypes that UR usually represents as its Dimir brethren. It is solid, however, and might be a welcome change for some who don’t like the small-time effects of the usual Izzet fare.
Rating: 2, because I like the value/flexibility of the other UR spells more.
Possible replacement for: Prophetic Bolt, if you are comparing total mana costs.
It’s Mana Drain! Well, sorta. Except you get colored mana! Except it costs twice as much … While Plasm Capture is interesting, the four-mana CMC (and pretty restrictive one at that) is just a bit too high without having a surefire way to spend the mana afterward. That said, if you are the UG ramp deck this card might just be NUTS for you. I also find it interesting that this card is obviously broken at two mana, WAY too good at three mana (think about how fast everyone would run four of these in any deck that could cast them; or replace almost any spell in UG in Cube for it), but at four mana we are hesitant about it. Is there a correct mana cost for this effect?
Rating: 2, but 3 if you actively support a UG ramp archetype.
Possible replacement for: Voidslime, if you want to move that direction.
Six mana is a bit much for my taste in clones, but at least you get a pseudo-Followed Footsteps attached, if you are into that sort of thing. Save it for EDH/Commander; there are at least two better Simic fatties for Cube (Simic Sky Swallower and Zegana, Prime Speaker).
A one-time Pernicious Deed-like effect, Gaze can function as a token sweeper or low CMC removal spell pretty efficiently. The thing is, Golgari has gotten quite a few good cards in recent sets, and there just isn’t room for this card.
Rating: 1, but a 2 if you need a foil to a token strategy.
So wait … this costs six mana, does virtually nothing when you play it, and even when you do get something for it, you don’t get to choose? Um, no.
As powerful as the effect is, a 2/1 for three mana just isn’t good enough to crack most BW sections unless you value the exile effect highly and have a LOT of blink shenanigans available.
Rating: 1.5, if you have very large multicolored sections.
While getting any permanent from your graveyard is very good, the five-mana price tag is not.
Didn’t we just get a very good five-drop in the last set? If not for Obzedat himself, BBV might have a chance because he does have double protection and lifelink (in a color that often likes to injure itself). The rest of the text might as well be for flavor.
Rating: 2, if you’re tired of Stillmoon Cavalier but like the protection. Otherwise, 1.
A 3/1 haste for two mana is big game, regardless of the mana requirements. Even if you play this guy on Turn 3, a 3/1 haste is still respectable. If you support BR aggressive decks heavily (and most do, with midrange being the secondary archetype), you should probably find a way to get this card into your Cube.
What an embarrassment of riches we have, when a 4/4 haste and first strike creature for four mana is probably on the outside looking in. With Murderous Redcap and Falkenrath Aristocrat ahead of her at the four-drop spot, how deep are you willing to go at that spot on the curve? Had this card come out years ago, we would all be lining her up for inclusion. Unfortunately for her, Aristocrat has a stranglehold on that spot.
Double, Double, Toil // Trouble; Rakdos is not a pile of rubble. Four damage minimum is what they take, more than that is quite an ache. For this card some are agog, but to reach six mana could be quite a slog. So put this card aside with a fling, and let cards like Spike Jester take wing.
Rating: 1, because I really can’t picture many times I would want this card over others in the section already unless I’m really undervaluing the Storm Seeker effect (Sudden Impact for you non-fogies).
Getting closer, but all of the hydra-type cards (besides Ancient Hydra) have been pretty mediocre, because they look much better on paper than how they actually play. Double strike is a step in the right direction, though.
With a Titan-sized body and the ability to play both sides of the board (like the aforementioned AEtherling), Ruric Thar also comes with a very punishing ability for those who would like to see him out of the way. Attacking every turn isn’t a big deal when you have vigilance, but not being able to play your own spells without getting cracked for six hurts a bit. With the increase in 187 creatures in recent years, Ruric is more easily handled than he once would have been. The biggest obstacle for his inclusion, however, is the fact that both Inferno and Primeval Titan exist, and how many fatties do you really need access to in RG?
Even though it is likely the correct casting cost, four mana for four damage is just too costly to make it into a newly improved Boros section of most Cubes. The more I think about this card, the more I realize how undercosted Lightning Helix is for today’s Magic.
I was pretty excited upon seeing this card at first, but once I got to thinking about Cube application I realized that, once again, the competition is just too steep for it to make the cut. If the anthem part was just a bit stronger and if the activation was only one mana (to sneak it in and activate it before wrath effects come online consistently) we might have something to talk about … but have you cast Boros Charm?!?
Early indications point toward this as the chase mythic of the set, and that may mean trouble for Cubers who want to snag this animal for their own (especially foil ones!). Voice fills a crucial role for the aggressive and midrange GW decks by giving you sweeper protection as well as possibly slowing down your opponent by making them cast spells on their own turn. This card seems to fill a similar role as Gaddock Teeg (an underutilized card in Cubes, IMO), but from a slightly different angle. Personally, I like them both to help non-Armageddon GW decks vs. the control decks, but there might not be room for both of them in small- to medium-sized sections. I have good thoughts of Voice on the table when your opponent wraths, only to be followed up by Cloudgoat Ranger and an attack for five. The only thing holding Voice back is an absolutely stacked Selesnya section that runs deeper than any other two-color pair.
Rating: 3, but it might just be a victim of the numbers game and wind up as a 2.
Anyone else think this sounds like a metal album or song?
Also, am I the only one that really isn’t considering a 5/5 flash creature in this section? Lots of other 5/5s for four mana have gone by the wayside in monocolor sections, so how is this going to crack a multicolor section?
What do you think this is, 2006?
Well, that’s about it! We have one definite inclusion no matter your size (Ral Zarek), and a bunch of possible cards that can be good enough to make medium-sized Cubes or smaller ones looking for some new blood (with AEtherling, Far // Away, Spike Jester, Blood Scrivener, and Voice of Resurgence leading the way). Overall, this block has certainly been a boon to Cubes; the reprinting of shocklands in addition to the creation of a wide variety of multicolor cards has finally filled out most color combinations to at least five or six very good cards. I would say this is a fine follow-up to the original block … viva la Ravnica!
May all your squares be three-dimensional!
@Antknee42 on Twitter
Listen to The Third Power, my Cube Podcast with co-host Usman Jamil!
Special thanks to fellow Cuber Dan Nosheny (http://www.neonandshy.com) for the art!
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