It’s Core Set time! As Cube builders we are fortunate to have yearly Core Sets that feature new cards, as well as give us some opportunities to pick up reprinted cards if you missed them the first time around, particularly in foil. Since the sets are less than 50 percent new cards, we also don’t have a ton of cards to evaluate — a nice departure 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 think will have an impact/other people think will have an impact/I’d like to ridicule. I will rate the cards on a scale of 1-5, 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 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. A good example of this is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; I just completely missed the boat on how good she is.
A worthy successor to the five-mana Angel bloodline, Archangel of Thune plays can put the game out of reach in short order, especially if you have other creatures. It blocks very well the turn it comes into play, because someone attacking into it with a smaller creature would likely result in giving you a seven-life gain (including the swingback), while bolstering your other creatures. It also plays well on offense, as increasing swings each turn will overrun your opponent in no time, even if they block it.
It plays offense and defense at the same time, which is valuable to different archetype “theaters” (aggro, midrange, control), and has some amusing interactions with other Cube cards like Umezawa’s Jitte and Scavenging Ooze. The only question is a the amount of room for five-drop creatures in white, since Baneslayer Angel and Cloudgoat Ranger are clearly better, and Reveillark has strong interactions as well. I would put this card around no. 4 in the five-drops, ahead of Geist-Honored Monk and Scion of Vhitu-Ghazi in Cubes that don’t push a token theme.
Rating: 3, because there is a chance it might be better than Reveillark in some decks and worse than the token makers in others.
This card has the potential to fill a role that is only somewhat satisfied with Fiend Hunter: a disruptive creature that can be played on-curve and still apply pressure in the attack phase. The main “drawback” is the fixed trigger ability, which prevents the possibility of shenanigans through stacking triggers. This trigger wording makes a lot more sense from an intuitive standpoint, so I really have no problem with it. I also don’t think the change will effect gameplay much. The change from a 1/3 to a 2/2 matters more and is an improvement in white aggressive decks for sure. It is also a human, so there are some possible good interactions.
Rating: 3, but it might actually be a 4 depending on how much help your white aggressive decks need.
For one mana greater than Knight of Meadowgrain, we get untargetability by red or black; for the same mana as Paladin en-Vec, we gain lifelink in exchange for the ability to block/attack all day through red and black creatures. I don’t like either of those comparisons for Paladin’s chances, and white’s three-drops have improved considerably in the past few years.
Rating: 2, because he certainly isn’t useless and could be a …
Possible replacement for: Paladin en-Vec, if you are tired of double-protection creatures randomly being unbeatable versus certain deck types (we’ve all experienced this, and it can be frustrating to some people).
Raise the Iotas! Join the Wafers! Chip Call! Chisel Fodder! Queen’s Call? Slice Harvest? Sliver Screech? Overlord’s Enlistment? Empty the Sharpener? Gather the … oh forget it. Nicknames for this card are too hard … oh wait!
You know what I like a lot in Cube? Creatures that have a respectable power-to-cost ratio and have additional effects that disrupt your opponent. In my last review, I thought Blind Obedience was very close for inclusion, and now we get the best part of that effect on a two-power creature for two mana! I think it is an automatic inclusion if you are supporting white aggressive decks, and also makes for a fine card to bring in against the hasty red decks when you sideboard (if you’re into that sort of thing, that is).
Oh, and it’s a human, for all of you Champion of the Parish supporters.
Rating: 4, right alongside Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
While playing spells for free is always the best price, and playing your opponent’s spells for free seems even better, the effect is just too random to make it worth playing a 4/4 flier for six mana in a color that already has a plethora of six-drops that are really good. Seems sick in a control mirror, however.
Being a 1/3 for two mana can certainly put a crimp into a lot of aggressive decks, and flying certainly is no flavor text. But unless your aggressive decks are just absolutely trouncing your blue/control decks with very high frequency, I see no reason to even consider playing this card. Even then, you better be sure that you are playing Augur of Bolas and Lighthouse Chronologist first.
While it seems to be a great addition to constructed Merfolk decks, Tidebinder Mage is the kind of card I don’t like to include in my Cube: a random hate card for certain colors that is pretty mediocre if you don’t play against those colors. Pass, but give me some foil copies for Legacy/Modern.
Black three-drops are pretty weak and a 3/1 intimidate creature might not be too shabby, especially considering that black is falling behind in the aggro game. Add an effect that gives you perfect information, possibly nets you a card from their hand, and is also a relevant creature type for the color and extra interactions? Sign me up, at least to test it out.
Rating: 3, lower if you are on the Pox plan in Black.
Possible replacement for: Liliana’s Specter or Phyrexian Rager, in order to have a more aggressive card. Geralf’s Messenger or Gatekeeper of Malakir if you can’t make BBB happen (although I would say this is more a product of your land selection, and not the creature’s fault).
Liliana’s Reaver has a number of things going for it in the positive column: a decent power-to-mana ratio, a significant static ability, a good creature type (see Zombie, Lifebane), and an ability that is dramatically powerful even if it only hits once. However, for a creature that has most of its value wrapped up in being able to trigger, it has no true evasion and red’s favorite toughness.
Rating: A testing 2.5, with the possibility of moving up or down to the next whole number.
Possible replacement for: Vanilla 5/5s for four mana with drawbacks, or Abyssal Persecutor if your opponents “always counter everything every time I try to get rid of it.”
Is “Dark Realms” a euphemism for the EDH/Commander tables?
A 5/6 flier for five mana is a pretty big deal, especially when it kills almost anything on the way in (Protection from Demons, dude!). The drawback is certainly non-blank, as this creature makes a lousy board presence all by his lonesome in the early to midgame. However, in black decks that want this sort of creature he will be very powerful, and he still has value as a 187 creature and as a late-game draw once your other creatures have been put to rest. I like him a lot, and will certainly be giving him a shot.
Possible replacement for: Almost any of the other five-drops in black, but cards like Ob Nixilis, the Fallen and Kagemaro, First to Suffer are more midrangey cards that can likely go in favor of something a little more aggressive.
Any “just got out of the pool” jokes? Anyone?
Please tell me someone out there has called this Purple Nurple before. You’ve had at least two printings to do it!
Oh, if this only untapped your Mountain! I suppose it’s still pretty good as a five-drop, but it definitely reduces you to playing this only in monored (since you ostensibly need four Mountains to attack that turn). Sigh.
Rating: 1, unless your monored decks need some help. If that’s the case, ship me your red section via email and let’s see what we can figure out.
What we will experience if they keep making Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Willis/Statham/Li movies. Hi-yo!
Our first new planeswalker in the set! While it doesn’t come close to Koth of the Hammer, we can certainly compare it to Chandra, the Firebrand. It does have a higher starting loyalty than the original, but also has double-red in the mana cost. The first ability on Pyromaster is clearly superior to Firebrand, and functions well at any point of the game because of the “can’t block” text. Both ultimate abilities are reached in the same timeframe (four turns), and while neither is game-ending, I’m more inclined to believe that in most red-heavy decks the ultimate on Firebrand will be more reliable and more effective.
The real issue, then, is the second ability. Firebrand’s Fork ability has proven to be very useful, as copying a variety of cards on Turn 5 ranges from blowout (Plow Under) to lots of value (Searing Blaze[card], [card]Harmonize). The question will be if “drawing” an extra card each turn (which you may or may not be able to play) for an indefinite period of turns (due to 0 loyalty cost) equal Firebrand’s Fork?
I don’t know! Testing will tell us for sure, but it will certainly get a chance. Perhaps it will be even better than Chandra Nalaar …?
Rating: 3 for now, but could move up or down a full number.
Another in the cycle of 1CC “hate” creatures, Mindsparker is a nice three-power-for-three-mana creature with first strike in a color that certainly doesn’t have a plethora of aggressive three-drops that stick around. Add on the additional damage possibility, particularly versus typical control decks, and I think you have the makings of a possible Cube card. I’m going to try it out and see!
Possible replacement for: Ball Lightning if you want less monored cards, Countryside Crusher if you always want to play it on Turn 3, Markov Blademaster/Jaya Ballard if you’re looking for something more reliable and aggressive, or Keldon/Manic Vandals if you want more attacking and less Shatters for some reason.
Although some early reports have been less than stellar, I think this still has a lot of potential for tons of added value out of a simple two-drop. It has a fine CMC-to-power ratio, and one of the typical red aggro openings of “one-drop, two-drop, kill blocker(s), attack” is going to net you at least one extra point of damage (more if your four-drop is something like Hellrider or Hero of Oxid Ridge), which could make a big difference. It is also a fine creature in the counterburn/spells matter archetypes. If my experience with Guttersnipe is any indication, Young Pyromancer should be adding additional value and pressure for a variety of red decks for years to come. Time will tell if it is good enough for smaller cubes, but it is certainly worthy of testing in all but those smallest.
Another Llanowar Elves! What’s not to love?
Possible replacement for: Elves of Deep Shadow, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, or Boreal Druid. Or an aggressive one-drop like Jungle Lion or Ghazban Ogre if you are looking to ramp more and attack less from your green-heavy decks.
More like Garruk, Caller of Feasts! Looks like the ol’ waistline has expanded a bit, hasn’t it? Not only his waistline, but his mana cost has expanded a bit as well, which always makes cards more difficult to include. Fat Garruk’s abilities are all synergistic and make sense to be included on the same card, so that’s a flavor win for sure. While his first ability seems to be pretty good (drawing just less than two cards on average in a creature-heavy deck), it seems a bit underwhelming for a six-drop. His second ability, a.k.a. Dramatic Entrance, is overcosted by one mana but at least he might stick around afterward to use the first ability again. I wish it said any creature! The third ability, while it seems like it would be very powerful, is WAY more cut out for Constructed than Limited. Let me explain (with thanks to Justin Parnell for his input on the card in the latest The Third Power):
If you cast Fat Garruk on Turn 6 in your creature-heavy deck (let’s say 16-17 creatures), you can safely assume that you probably played about four creatures before him, if not five (leaving 11-12 left in your deck). If activating his first ability nets you between 1.5 and 2 cards each time, that means you will have drawn 4-5 more when Garruk reaches seven loyalty (leaving 6-8 creatures left in your deck). Add to that drawing creatures in any of your draw phases, or having creatures left over in your hand before you play Garruk, and you’re looking at a whopping 5-6 creatures left in your deck to tutor up for your emblem. This isn’t exactly a game-winning emblem in 40-card decks, but it is MUCH easier to build around in Constructed, where you can jam all kinds of giant animals into your deck.
All in all, Garruk, Caller of Beasts is a powerful card-advantage engine that just costs a bit too much in my opinion. I just can’t see including it over six-plus-mana powerhouses like Primeval Titan, Woodfall Primus, Hornet Queen, Craterhoof Behemoth, or Rude Awakening.
Rating: 2. I would only play this card if you want to jam as many planeswalkers as possible in your Cube. All the other Garruks are better.
Possible replacement for: Garruk, Primal Hunter if you want a lower green requirement, I guess. I would never make that switch, personally.
Let’s face it: we’ve been disappointed by hydras before. Only Ancient Hydra clings to life in my Cube, and that’s because he hits like a Mack truck and helps to clear his own path. This Kalonian flavor, however, looks like it’s going to be the one that will break the trend of mediocrity for such an awesome creature type. Here’s why: Kalonian Hydra is going to kill most opponents in two attacks. If you have something like Lightning Greaves, it will feel even faster. Considering that most green decks want to be ramping, Kalonian Hydra will most likely be making an appearance on Turn 4 with a lot of different openings. The combination of trample and doubling power is going to make short work out of opponents who are relying on blocking or damage-based removal to stay alive. Add to those qualities that you can tutor this up with Imperial Recruiter, bring it back with Reveillark, and that it doubles the +1/+1 on ALL your creatures (I’m looking at you, Experiment One and Strangleroot Geist), and you have a good reason to replace one of those creaky and clunky five-drops that lots of Cubes still play.
Rating: 3.5, because I think this card has the possibility to break the top three or four of five-drops.
Possible replacement for: Virtually any five-drop besides Indrik Stomphowler and Acidic Slime is possible, but I’m thinking cards like Kodama of the North Tree, Vorapede, or Genesis are prime candidates.
Hexproof is an annoying mechanic for opponents, and getting attacked for increasing increments if you are a counterspell deck is rough as well, but Great Sable Stag found its way out of a lot of Cubes a while ago, and that card is a bit better than this one. That said, it makes a fine sideboard card, if you’re into that sort of thing.
This card, much like Garruk, Caller of Beasts, seems to be more suited to Constructed rather than Limited (although the rise of Aetherling has usurped the win condition slot in most low-creature count control decks). In Cube, it doesn’t compare well with the other equipment in the efficiency department, since even Bonehoard, which has a much higher ceiling, has found its way out of most Cubes. It is certainly another slam-dunk flavor win, and it can certainly see play in those sorts of Cubes. I just don’t think it is good enough for most typical Cubes.
Since Core Sets always have a number of reprints, it is certainly worth compiling a list of cards you should be targeting that will certainly have a greater supply and lower price than before. Here’s what you should be getting for your Cube, if you haven’t already:
Scavenging Ooze — Isn’t it wonderful that the best two cards are only rare and not mythic?
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Jace, Memory Adept — If you haven’t cut it for being very binary (awesome or terrible).
Flames of the Firebrand
Rachet Bomb — If you like having effective answers to tokens.
That’s all, folks! We got a few auto-includes, quite a few to try out to vie for inclusion, and even a couple of awesome 360 Cube staples that were reprinted. Pretty good for a Core Set, I say!
May all your squares be three-dimensional!
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