An all-new block means all-new mechanics and all-new cards, which is always exciting for Cube owners! In Khans, we also see the return of Morph, a mechanic that has worked its way out of most Cubes due to the outclassing of creatures during the Creature Era of Magic. Cube owners also get to see focused wedge-colored cards (instead of the usual throw-in now and again) to see if adding more (or any!) three-color cards can make the cut.
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, Jeska, Warrior Mage, 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.
Note: I reserve the right to change my opinions at any time. These are mostly ‘testing in my head’ predictions, and I am never too proud to admit that I was wrong on a card evaluation, or missed a card entirely. I’ll eagerly update you on any new findings in future articles.
Ainok Bond-Kin: A 2/1 for 1W isn’t that exciting, but a 3/2 first strike certainly has some value. While the Bond-Kin is my leading candidate for an inclusion with outlast, the mechanic itself feels slow and underpowered for Cube because of the conditions of sorcery speed AND tapping the creature. Ainok Bond-Kin does have some nice interactions with cards like Ajani Goldmane, Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes (sense a theme?), Stormblood Berserker, and Stromkirk Noble, but overall it seems a little lackluster unless you have a very strong +1/+1 counter theme (is that a thing?).
End Hostilities: Our first Wrath of God variant in the block! This one costs an extra mana, but you get the upside of destroying those pesky equipments and bestowed creatures. Is this enough to warrant an extra mana on your Wrath? Personally, I don’t think so (except for the largest Cubes) unless you really despise playing against those types of cards. If that’s the case, maybe you should be looking into more disenchant-type effects instead of slow wraths since the wrath supply is ample while the disenchants are a little more wide-reaching.
Wingmate Roc: Birdmate Dragon (or Party Roc) is a pretty great deal for five mana, provided you are able to attack first. Luckily, this card is best as a curve topper for aggressively minded decks, so the raid mechanic requirement shouldn’t be much of a problem. Also, the gaining life text isn’t irrelevant, especially when playing against aggressive decks. The only real issue I see with this card is the inability to get full value after getting a sweeper cast against you on turn four. Ideally, you won’t be committing everything to the board pre-wrath, so you should be able to cast it the following turn. Overall, this card isn’t as good as the ‘Big Three’ in white five-drops (Baneslayer Angel, Cloudgoat Ranger, Reveillark), but it comes in right after those, meaning medium and larger cubes will want this card over the second tier of white fives.
Clever Impersonator: Cube owners have been spoiled by the recent run on great Clone variants in recent years, from Phyrexian Metamorph to Phantasmal Image to Sakashima’s Student. Those cards are all very good, but none of them give you what the Impersonator can: a way to copy enchantments and planeswalkers! This is very exciting, and it only costs four mana, which is acceptable for this powerful an effect. An auto-include for all but the smallest Cubes, or ones that don’t run planeswalkers for some reason.
Dig Through Time: People have described Dig Through Time as ‘not as good as Fact or Fiction early, and I’m perfectly OK with that, since Fact or Fiction is the nut high. Thing is, this card is better than Fact or Fiction in the later stages of the game. How many card draw spells that cost four mana or less can say that? Answer: one for sure, and that card was made in the ‘we didn’t know any better’ stages of Magic. Play this card, because even at 4 mana it’s really good.
Treasure Cruise: Remember that thing about cards named ‘Ancestral’? This card sort of says that, right? Actually, this card is a LOT like Ancestral Visions, but with opposite timing (and without the cascade shenanigans): a horrible early game draw, but a terrific topdeck later in the game. Delving for five shouldn’t be too difficult from the control decks (which would make it better than Compulsive Research), and delving for six or seven is awesome. Get in my Cube!
Rating: 3 for powered (only because of competition), 4 for unpowered.
Possible replacement for: Compulsive Research, Concentrate, Tidings, Jace’s Ingenuity…or maybe Ancestral Vision if you have too many bad experiences with drawing it late and not enough suspending it early.
Wetland Sambar: Thought this said ‘wetland sandbar’ when I first read it. Amazing how the brain uses auto-correct to words you know, isn’t it? Also, I wish I was the person whose job it is to find races of animal that haven’t been used in Magic yet.
Bloodsoaked Champion: Gravecrawler is a mainstay in most Cubes that support attacking black decks, and this guy is better than Gravecrawler. Bloodsoaked Champion is THE best black aggressive one-drop, and should be an auto-include for every Cube that supports aggro and/or sacrifice themes. This card has lots of great interactions, too, from Goblin Bombardment to Attrition to Carrion Feeder…the list goes on and on. A virtual auto-include in every single Cube.
Possible replacement for: Vampire Lacerator if you have too many one-drops (not likely), any one-drop that doesn’t have two power, or virtually any creature that has disappointed you at some point. This guy is the real deal.
Empty the Pits: I originally dismissed this card as a do-nothing for too much mana, but now I think it is a do-not-quite-enough for a little too much black mana. A late game bomb, for sure, but the BBBB is certainly a tall order for all but the darkest of manabases. I’m going to pass.
Rating: 1, but a slam dunk include for Zombie Cube.
Grim Haruspex: This is the first morph that looks like the real deal on the front side, but I’m not sure that being a morph is any kind of advantage at this point.
In Cube, killing a morph on sight is a good plan the vast majority of the time (and virtually always right if they tap out to play it), because by its nature, Cube cards must be very good in order to warrant a spot for inclusion. In other words, you’re never just going to kill a ‘worthless’ creature with your spell when you kill a morph, and get ‘punished’ by wasting a card. This new round of morphs also intentionally doesn’t include any that will crush you on turn four if you don’t kill it on turn three (a la Exalted Angel), so you have a solid 1-2 turn window of killing them before they flip to become something nasty that doesn’t die to virtually every kill spell. So what does does this mean for the future of morph in Cube?
There aren’t enough ‘punishable offenses’ for auto-killing Cube morphs, and until we get more along the lines of Willbender and Vesuvan Shapeshifter, I don’t think evaluating them by virtue of their ‘morph curve’ is something that is effective for how it will play out in reality. We will just have to look at the front side first and foremost, and then consider morph as some extra text that gives a modicum of value.
Going back to Haruspex, three power for three mana is certainly OK, and it does ask to be killed before other creatures you control, but it doesn’t have any sort of evasion or ways to win in combat. I’m willing to try it out, but I’m not expecting much.
Howl of the Horde: The thought of triple Fireblasting or Searing Blazing is certainly appealing, but I don’t like having to spend a card at sorcery speed in advance of casting a spell you hope will be copied. I guess it’s almost a must counter spell, but I’m not super interested in a card that does nothing by itself.
Monastery Swiftspear: Raging Goblin, you’re fired! And by fired, I mean ‘you’re at least one slot lower on the bench of being possibly included unless it’s some sort of tribal Cube then I guess I you could see play unless there is a human tribal too and there is only room for one more one drop then you are still below Swiftspear’. I want to like Swiftspear, but I’m not convinced most aggressive decks will have enough non-creatures they are willing to cast early to make this card effective enough.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker: A wonderful curve-topper, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is a great aggressive planeswalker that also has the ability to affect the board when you are behind with its second ability. Being indestructible on the attack is a huge boon as well, which severely limits the amount of removal spells that can interact with the 4/4 hasty flier. While the ultimate ability isn’t a game winner like most others are, it certainly is very powerful and can help swing games in which a 4/4 flier that dodges most removal isn’t good enough (although I’m guessing those will be few and far between). An auto-include, in my opinion.
Rating: 5, because this is a perfect top to an aggressive deck’s curve that can win the game on its own in various types of decks.
Possible replacement for: Any Chandra if you are limiting the amount of planeswalkers or want the easy swap, or any other red five drop besides Siege-Gang Commander/Thundermaw Hellkite/Zealous Conscripts.
War-Name Aspirant: Two drops with three power are becoming all the rage: Stormblood Berserker, Gore-House Chainwalker, Borderland Marauder, and now War-Name Aspirant! All of these cards are fine inclusions into Cubes if your red decks like to attack (haha), and the Aspirant is likely at the top of that list alongside Berserker as the cream of the crop. The evasion text helps to get around those pesky tokens and walls too, an effect we have enjoyed on Hero of Oxid Ridge for years now. Get in my Cube!
Rating: 4, as it is one of red’s finest 1R creatures.
Possible replacement for: Fireslinger, Blood Knight, or other ‘slower’ cards would be my first round of cuts. Second level to look for cuts include Altec Bloodseeker (which has actually been good so far), Ash Zealot, or other RR creatures that your Cube might have trouble casting.
Hooded Hydra: This Hydra, unlike many that have come before it, plays decently on some level if you only get 2-3 heads. It passes the ‘Terminate Test’ at higher mana costs with flying colors, and is very good with the variety of anthem effects that exist now. I think this card is very good for the midrange and ramp strategies, as it is certainly useful at different points in games (and gets around a lot of control’s removal as well, since it repopulates your board with threats). I like it, even if I’m down on morph a bit until we see more of them.
Possible replacement for: Thelonite Hermit (for the morph swap), Genesis Hydra
Rattleclaw Mystic: OK, so here’s a morph that you actually need to morph to make it Cube-worthy, and in doing so, you make that nice mana jump from three to six, which is ‘titan territory’. It certainly doesn’t feel great to kill your opponent’s Mystic if it is face-down, but it very likely feels better than dying to the six drop they cast if they untap with this guy. I’m not convinced this is good enough for Cube (since morphing is so important after it isn’t summoning sick), but the allure of having six mana on turn three or more is strong. If you want this sort of effect, I recommend playing Somberwald Sage.
Savage Punch: No Khans review of any sort would be complete without punching a bear. Unfortunately, sweet art alone does not a Cube card make.
Aside on tri-color cards in cube: The biggest feature of Khans of Tarkir, much like Alara block, is the focus on cards with three colors. Unfortunately for Cubes, having too many non-hybrid multicolored cards can be a burden, and that is amplified for cards with three (or more) colors. It’s going to take a GREAT card to break into Cubes, and even greater for smaller or multicolor-limited Cubes. My hope was that we would at least get a few worthy cards, especially in the color combinations that really haven’t had any decent cards yet (BUG and RBW come to mind). Let’s see what we got!
Butcher of the Horde: Well, we start off with a doozy! Butcher has a great cost to power ratio,
evasion, and an activated ability that is useful…all without a drawback! While it is perfectly reasonable on its own, there is extra value to be gained from interactions with cards like Gravecrawler, Bloodghast, Bloodsoaked Champion, et al. too! If there ever was a card in this color combination to be added, this is it.
Rating: 3, but only because small Cubes likely won’t have room for it.
Possible replacement for: Any other Mardu-colored card, or a black four drop if you want to cut something in one of its colors.
Mantis Rider: The obvious comparison here is to Lightning Angel, a card with the exact same abilities but with a higher mana cost and higher toughness. While I originally dismissed this card as inferior to the Angel, coming down a turn earlier would be a HUGE advantage against the non-red decks (which often have spells that deal three damage cheaply, but not four). With three colors of mana, however, the reliability of such timing is in question. I’m guessing that Lightning Angel will be cast more reliably on turn four than Mantis Rider will be on turn three, but the allure of casting Rider on turn five with counterspell mana up is a real thing. Which is better? Only testing will tell, and that’s something I’ll be doing every time Angel/Rider gets cast in my Cube: figuring out which would be better.
Rating: Anywhere from a 1 to a 3! I’m leaning more towards 3, but I could easily be wrong. If this card is inferior to Lightning Angel, being second on the list of three-color card makes it unplayable in all but specialty Cubes.
Sagu Mauler: Like Mantis Rider, Sagu Mauler has a card that is an easy comparison: Simic Sky Swallower. Mauler has the advantage when it comes to casting cost and protection ability, but it is lacking flying. Part of the reason why SSS is so difficult to handle is the combination of flying and trample, which makes it hard to chump and very hard to kill in combat. Sagu Mauler gets to wear equipment and pants, but also has a much higher chance of getting blocked and killed in combat. Mauler also gets to unmorph a full two turns before SSS can hit the board, but morphs are ‘kill-on-sight’ and this one will not survive long enough to flip, considering it is vulnerable for a full two turns if cast on curve. I’m just not convinced this is an upgrade, and that opinion is solely based on the fact that it can be blocked and killed in combat much easier.
Rating: 2. If it is somehow possible to play more morphs that punish your opponent, this would be a 3 or higher.
Savage Knuckleblade: Savage Knuckleblade is what I believe to be Temur’s best entry from Khans for inclusion into the Cube. This card has very good power to cost ratio and THREE relevant abilities. The red ability allows you to cast it on turn four to great effect (a valid concern when casting CDE colored cards), the green effect lets you spend extra mana on making a bigger impact (also important when casting it after turn three), and the blue ability saves it from removal later in the game…which allows you to recast it with haste and possibly as a 6/6 the next turn! I really like this guy, but you know what else I like, probably more? Cascading twice from eight.
Rating: 3, because I think it is awesome and is just a matter of preference for what you like to do.
Possible replacement for: I could see this card replacing Maelstrom Wanderer to help keep mana costs lower, or if you want a change of pace.
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant: A virtual five power for four mana in creature-heavy decks, Sidisi is a steady stream of zombies for those decks if allowed to attack each turn. Unfortunately, the body is a little weak on its own (especially to red decks), but it has a pretty high ceiling (especially vs. control decks if you can sneak it through countermagic). It is one of my top two candidates for inclusion from Sultai, and one I will definitely be testing. It’s nifty with dredge cards, that’s for sure. It’s better than all the cards that have come before it in this color combination.
Rating: 2 for now, maybe ticking up to 3 with testing.
Possible replacement for: Any other Sultai card that has come before it.
Siege Rhino: The Rhino is my entry for inclusion into Cube from Abzan in Khans. It has good stats for four mana, has some evasion, and has a pretty good ETB ability. This seems like the perfect midrange card in the perfect midrange colors, and I will be happy to include it in my Cube as a chance to give Doran, the Siege Tower a break.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor: Planeswalkers always deserve a look, and I think this Sorin’s power is a bit more midrange-y than his Innistrad block counterpart. The +1 ability is very strong when trying to win a damage race, and the fact that it also extends into your opponent’s turn really makes their attacks awkward when trying punch through your defenses. I’m not a huge fan of the token making ability, as I think the loyalty cost is steep for a mere 2/2 flyer. His ultimate is pretty good, but once again I feel like it is a midrange-friendly ability that really keeps control deck finishers off of your back (while defending against aggro decks on the way up to the ultimate). I like him, but I certainly don’t like him more than his original form or the other cards in the top six of Orzhov sections.
Possible replacement for: Stillmoon Cavalier or other midrange cards.
Sultai Charm: The other candidate for Sultai inclusion, Sultai Charm has three relevant modes: Ultimate Price, Naturalize, and a 2-for-1 looting effect (which happens to play well into the Sultai theme). Removal is always good, also having pre-sideboarded effects that don’t clog your hand is better, and when you have a way to ‘cycle’ away a card when it isn’t needed AND support reanimation archetypes without net card loss…THAT is what we call a flexible card. I like Bant Charm for much the same reason; it is never dead in your hand, and is often the exact thing you need. Sultai Charm has a lower power ceiling than Sidisi, but I think it will be more consistent.
Rating: 3 if you want flexibility, 2 if you want power.
Possible replacement for: Any other Sultai card other than Sidisi should be an immediate cut.
Surrak Dragonclaw: If you are looking for a powerful Temur card that is somewhere in between three mana and eight mana, Surrak is your man. Flash and uncounterability is pretty good, a 6/6 for five mana is also pretty good, and giving your other creatures trample is pretty good for an extra ability. In conclusion, Surrak is pretty good…but cards need to be great to break through starting rosters in smaller to mid-sized Cubes, and I’m just not convinced that he is.
Utter End: I liked Wrecking Ball a lot before Innistrad block came out, so a four mana removal spell at instant speed is something that is certainly appreciated if it can hit most things: Utter End hits most things! It is one of the few cards that can interact directly with planeswalkers, and at instant speed, that is pretty good. Unfortunately, it cannot hit lands, which was one of the main functions of Wrecking Ball; that leaves all kinds of tempo plays on the sidelines with this card (which Vindicate does very well, too). Where does that leave Utter End? Probably right around the 7-8th best Orzhov card, which means large Cube material.
Possible replacement for: Mortify
Trilands: New trilands mean more non-embarrassing fixing for large Cubes! Hooray!
Possible replacement for: Lands that come into play tapped that only make two colors.
Fetches: One of the greatest printings of a standard-legal card we have seen in many years. New Cube owners everywhere, rejoice! Cube owners who just traded for expensive one, um, be happy you have the old art!
Arc Lightning: Even though we recently got Flames of the Firebrand, I like two of these effect in my Cube, and this one comes with some pretty sweet artwork, especially in foil!
Overall, it’s a little on the thin side for such a large set, but that is due to the triple-color nature of a lot of the cards not fitting into Cubes, combined with the amount of morphs that might otherwise be playable if it weren’t for the kill on sight nature of morphs in Cube. We did, however, get at least 2-3 blue playables, which is pretty rare considering how good blue cards are in Cube.
Thanks for reading, and may all your squares be three dimensional!
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