RTR^3

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube

As we welcome the new block, we also welcome back a Magical storyline setting that has given us one of the largest sets of “cubeable” cards in history; the lands and Signets alone combine for a whopping thirty cards.  I expected nothing less than a veritable cornucopia of cards to consider for inclusion, and at first glance it seems as though it might just be true again.  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, according to this scale:

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 Adept, 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.

Off we go!

White

The more I see this card in action, the more I like it.  Being able to Oblivion Ring three creatures is a huge deal, and getting extra value by targeting creatures in graveyards (either your own for more threats if the Angel dies, or by bricking possible graveyard shenanigans by your opponent) really adds a layer of depth.  While still inferior to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in my opinion, I think it could wind up being white’s second-best 7+ mana finisher.

Rating: 3.5

Possible replacement for: Akroma, Angel of Wrath, although she is MUCH more iconic.


Yay, another Kami of Ancient Law/Ronom Unicorn.  How many of these do we need for Cube?  Yawn.

Rating: 2

Possible replacement for: The aforementioned Unicorn, if you really want to go Spirit tribal!


This card seems like it could be a variable removal spell for your opponent’s best creature–sort of like the role that Wall of Denial plays on defense–but the competition is just WAY too strong at the four-drop spot in white for spells like this.

Rating: 1, but much higher if it was 2002.


2/2 first strike creatures for two mana always deserve a look, and ones with an additional benefit even more so.  That being said, having to connect with an opponent for the benefit makes it less impressive, and we are getting more and more 2 power creatures for 1C instead of CC. It’s getting more and more difficult to include those ‘knights’ when new sets come out.  Close, but no bananas for me.

Rating: 2, maybe a tick higher if you are a big token supporter.


A removal spell for most permanent types is awesome, but it is certainly conditional.  Personally, I prefer my opponents to NOT be able to choose their own destiny.

Rating: 1

Blue

The comparisons to Upheaval are understandable, but they are not the same card at all.  The instant speed is nice and will still likely result in a game-winning situation, but the one extra mana and the lack of hitting lands leaves a bigger window for Cyclonic Rift to be not good enough.  It does gain some value by being able to be used in a pinch on a single permanent, much like the role that Into the Roil fills. But, not being able to use it on your own permanents or to draw a card as a tempo play (like Repeal) makes it much less impressive.  I actually believe that this is a card that blue just doesn’t need right now.

Rating: 2, because it is still a giant beating if the Overload resolves.

Possible replacement for: Into the Roil, Boomerang


It’s blue.  It’s a Planeswalker.  It’s named Jace.  Yup, all three quotas met for Cube inclusion!

With starting loyalty of four for a four mana Planeswalker with a +1 ability that helps to protect both you AND him, Jace 4.0 is off to a pretty good start.  Add into that the ability to perform mini Fact or Fictions (especially vs. control decks), and you have yourself a sure-fire winner for Cube.  The ultimate certainly isn’t backbreaking and game-winning like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but it can definitely be very good in a control mirror stall if you need a way to win (and the constant stream of extra cards won’t be good enough, or if your finishers are all kaput) but have a good grip on the flow of the game.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Jace, Memory Adept (for un-fun factor or cheaper factor)


I really want to like this card, but I just can’t seem to find room for it.  Ophidian-type creatures have really failed to live up to expectations in my Cube, and one by one I have tried them and rejected most of them for various reasons. This one, however, seems to have a lot going for it even though it looks boring on the surface. Stealer has an easy to use mana cost, two power for making an actual damage impact, and not more than three mana total.  My problem?   Without some form of evasion, I just can’t justify putting it into the Cube over other blue cards.  Non-rare cubes should LOVE this card, however.

Rating: 1.5, but more like a 3.5 for peasant/pauper Cubes.

Possible replacement for: Ophidian, Thieving Magpie, Scroll Thief (if anyone even plays that!)

Black


6/6 fliers for four mana should never be ignored, and the Demon is no exception.  Like all of its brethren, it does come with a drawback of being able to be virtually ‘chumped’ by non-flying creatures.  Unlike some of the other drawbacks, however, this one actually makes your 6/6 an increasingly dangerous threat.  It is obviously terrible versus any sort of token deck or theme, but versus creature-light decks/draws it hits hard and fast.  Once again, I’m not a huge fan of leaving the decisions of your own cards in the hands of your opponents, as they will choose the best option for them (think of how bad Browbeat or Vexing Devil are at doing what you want), but I can see this card having impact in larger Cubes.  Playing one on turn two off of a Dark Ritual can be bad times for all but those pesky token decks.

Rating: 2

Possible replacement for: Juzam Djinn (blasphemy!), Grinning Demon


Upon initial spoiling, this card seemed mostly unassuming.  “Oh look, another rat card that gets bigger when more rats are in play.  I’m sure casuals will love it.”  Anybody who has played some Return to Ravnica limited, however, will tell you differently.  Pack Rat can completely dominate a game if left unchecked, especially on turn two.  You basically have one turn to deal with it before it gets out of hand and can overrun you without your opponent having to use many other resources.  If you don’t have a constant stream of removal spells, a very aggressive curve of creatures or a sweeper (or a sideboarded Pithing Needle), you will die to the lowly 1/1 for two mana.  The question is, how does this translate for Cube?

Many people have been regaling the internet with stories of how amazing packing rats are in Cube, and while I certainly believe them, there are many more ways to deal with the rats than there are in RTR limited, and in more colors:

  • Red has a myriad of removal spells that have a single red in cost as well as being two mana or less
  • White has many more sweepers as well as some cheap targeted removal (like Swords to Plowshares)
  • Blue has much more efficient countermagic at two mana or less
  • Black has a few extra removal spells and some sweepers
  • Green has the ability to ramp quickly and provide larger threats that the Rats can’t handle in time
  • There are artifact sweepers like Nevinyrral’s Disk and Engineered Explosives
  • Multicolor also has many more tools to deal with the rat in a timely fashion, in almost every color pairing

So while the Rats will be weaker against the field in the Cube, they can still provide a great win condition for very little effort.  The ability is non-tapping, as well!  Just add Squee, Goblin Nabob for even more fun!  For the low price of the card right now, it is certainly worth picking one up and trying it out.

Rating: 3, but I could certainly see this landing anywhere from 2-4.


Another 1B restricted, targeted removal spell in a long line of cards ranging from Terror to Go for the Throat, Ultimate Price certainly has more targets in Cube than it does in RTR.  Does it have more targets than the other 1B spells, though?  That depends on the size of your multicolored and artifact section, honestly, but in the vast majority of Cubes it will have more than Terror, about the same or slightly less than Doom Blade, and significantly less than Go for the Throat.  Seems good enough to me!

Rating: 3

Possible replacement for: Terror, Victim of Night

Red

In the spirit of all things aggressive, a 2/2 First Strike, Haste for two mana is pretty good.  The graveyard-related ability is just a little bit of added gravy versus Snapcaster Mage and other Flashback-type effects (nice Yawgmoth’s Will, brah).  Even though red has many of the flashback spells (like Firebolt, Reckless Charge, and Faithless Looting), red decks that want this creature don’t really care that much about taking a few damage to trade it for more damage to the opponent. Unless, of course you are red/black with Gravecrawler, because that could be a real drag.  Include the Zealot because she is good Ash (not bad Ash).

Rating: 3

Possible replacement for: Slith Firewalker, Fireslinger, Crimson Muckwader, or more expensive creatures like Chandra’s Phoenix in an attempt to lower the overall curve.


Not very exciting, but a 3/2 for two mana is solid and likely needed in a color that could use more help in the two-drop spot on the curve.  Honestly, I really don’t care that it can’t block most of the time, but at least you have that option.

Rating: 2

Possible replacement for: See above!


Interacting with spells in a somewhat similar fashion as Ash Zealot, Guttersnipe has a much less impressive body/cost ratio, but a MUCH higher ceiling of added value.  Turning every removal spell into a smaller landfalled Searing Blaze or Entwined Barbed Lightning (or a successful (C)Lash Out, if you’re nasty) is pretty awesome.  Adding two damage to every burn spell is pretty spectacular as well, and I think is well worth settling for the Gray Ogre body in the Cube.  I think it is much better than it originally appears.  Now imagine, if you will, a UR counterburn deck with Guttersnipe.

Rating: 3 with a bullet.

Possible replacement for: Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, Fire Imp


The Overload mechanic makes for some interesting card evaluations. Without testing, it is difficult to figure out which mode will be used more often.  Personally, I try to think about how good the non-expensive mode is and then compare it to how difficult the Overloaded cost is for the much better effect.  In this case, you are getting a double-costed Flame Slash (which I don’t play) and a six mana sweeper for your opponent’s small to mid-sized creatures.  While it can be a blowout (as is the point and general theme of Overload), I’m just not sure I have room for this card as I currently prefer the other six-ish mana sweepers, like Wildfire, Burning of Xinye, Bonfire of the Damned, and Obliterate.  The triple red in the Overload cost means you need a pretty significant red presence in your deck as well.  Then again, wrathing ONLY your opponent is pretty sweet (and without a Miracle!).

Rating: 3; a lot of people don’t like the land sweepers like Wildfire and Obliterate and will want this card instead.

Possible replacement for: Starstorm, Bonfire of the Damned (cost saving maneuver!)


Remember when 5/5s for four mana in green had drawbacks, and we played them anyway and liked it?  Now this one has a benefit, so we should love it, right?

Yeah, and you also had to walk uphill in the snow both ways without shoes to play Magic.  Move along, grandpa.

Rating: 1.5

Possible replacement for: Any random 5/5s you have lying around with drawbacks, like Iwamori of the Open Fist, Jade Leech…but not Blastoderm!


This is a good mana rock because not only does it fix itself, but it also fixes all of your lands.  3+ color control decks rejoice!  If you bought a Coalition Relic on Amazon, you might see that other customers who bought that item also bought Chromatic Lantern.

Rating: 2.5

Possible replacement for: Darksteel Ingot


Shocklands (Hallowed Fountain, et al) – These are not new cards, but they are so vital to the health of Cube manabases that I feel obligated to tell you to GET THEM.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: any non-ABU dual lands and fetchlands that you are playing in place of these cards.

Multicolor Discussion

In case you didn’t know, there are a LOT of multicolor cards that warrant inclusion.  When I say a lot, I mean way more than what we got from the all-multicolor Alara block.  Because of this, Cube builders across the land will have to figure out how to accommodate all of these wonderful new cards.  Personally, I am going to delay making a long-term Cube construction change until Gatecrash is released and we have a better idea of how many new multicolored cards we will have.  I’ve heard some good minds suggest moving your hybrid cards into their best home in mono colors. I’ve also read about people just adding cards to each section and I’ve talked about just making tough cuts.  I’m going to do something different temporarily.   I’m going to add a hybrid-only slot to each of my color pairings.  I’ll talk more about which cards and why at the end, so my reasoning makes more sense.  For now, we need to jump into this vast pool of multicolor cards.  Cannonball!


Comparisons to Smother don’t do this card justice, as the ability to hit other permanent types is a HUGE upgrade.  Being able to hit a crucial piece of equipment or creature with impunity will be an important function, especially as Magic cards get increasingly powerful on the low end of the mana spectrum.  The occasional Planeswalker or enchantment hit by it will be gravy, and the instant speed and uncounterability just make it even better. Decay should be in your Cube.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: cards not named Pernicious Deed or Maelstrom Pulse.


When this card was first spoiled, I was very excited to see a Planeswalker in this color combination and likely overreacted about how good the abilites were–especially since they are so flavorful.  While she does protect herself (one of the criteria for a good Planeswalker, in my opinon), her abilities are just a little too clunky and slow to make a huge impact at five mana.  And her ultimate, while very flavorful and interesting, just isn’t very good at all (Captain’s Call, anyone?).  Were we not getting a bevy of other cards in Golgari, this might have been an easy inclusion.  Unfortunately for Vraska, she is going to be on the outside looking in on faster and more efficient cards.

Rating: 2, primarily because it is a numbers game at this point.

Possible replacement for: Spiritmonger, Lord of Extinction, or Nath of the Gilt-Leaf if you prefer Planewalkers over creatures.


The LOLTroll has a lot going for it: good power-to-cost ratio, regeneration for a cheap cost, the ability to grow to a larger size, trample to take advantage of the larger size, and a tribal affiliation that allows you to work even better with your discarding (Gravecrawler).  Once again, add Squee for even more flavor!  What’s not to like?

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Putrid Leech


This card is the real deal, even though at first glance he doesn’t seem like much.  With fetchlands, he acts like a black Birds of Paradise. He can become Grim Lavamancer to the face with very little trouble, and he can also net you some life for value.  While the black activation is really where you want to be, the occasional extra mana and extra life along with the prevention of graveyard shenanigans is not to be overlooked or undervalued.  He’s certainly going into my new hybrid section.

Rating: 3

Possible replacement for: any card over four mana


If you are tired of your BG decks always being the Rock-style midrange fest, then consider including this guy.  A 3/3 haste for three mana is a pretty aggressive creature (especially on turn two), and you can tailor the rest of the BG section to support that idea.  Let’s do a bit of experimenting with card lists:

Even though those sections have a lot in common, you can hopefully see how the tenor of the sections change when you tinker just a little bit.  I won’t be including Mangler at this point, but I’ll be picking one up just in case I try to make the biggest trap deck in the Cube a tick faster.

Rating: 1.5, but a 3 if you are looking to speed things up a bit.


Blue/White has the distinction of being one of the best color combinations, but with notoriously weak multicolor cards thus far in Magic.  Because of this, any card that seems remotely reasonable is going to warrant a look.  Is an easier to cast Cursecatcher that flies good enough?  Not with the other additions in this set, but perhaps it can find a home in Cubes that support the UW tempo strategy.

Rating: 1.5; 3 if you support the tempo deck in UW.

Possible replacement for: higher casting cost creatures, especially the expensive finishers


A fine card in constructed, Detention Sphere plays a very useful role in Cube that is currently only occupied by Oblivion Ring (and to a lesser extent, Parallax Wave and Fiend Hunter). However, Sphere has the added benefit of being able to hit multiple permanents occasionally (think token makers like Bitterblossom or Sacred Mesa).  This card is a fine addition to the color pairing, and plays a role that fits in well with the archetype.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Wall of Denial (for being very boring), Absorb (if you are in the ‘hate Absorb’ camp), or one of the more expensive cards like Grand Arbiter Augustin IV or Venser, the Sojourner.

Four mana sweepers are always welcome, and this one comes in a color combination that historically favors control decks.  A no-brainer addition for this shallow color pair.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Venser, the Sojourner


Ten points of trampling power is quite a lot for six mana.  Add in the possible blink/reanimation shenanigans, and you have quite the card for a very deep color pairing.  It is a good ramp target, and a great top to the curve of green/white decks.  I’ll take it.

Rating: 3, because the top three spots in WG are pretty solid.

Possible replacement for: Sigarda, Host of Herons


An uncounterable 4/4 for three mana is no joke, especially when it comes with a discard clause similar to Wilt-Leaf Liege.  Here’s the question: is this card interesting/good enough for Cube?  If you continue to push aggressive decks hard, then yes.  If you’d rather have more interesting cards, no.

Rating: 2.5

Possible replacement for: Knight of the Reliquary, Loxodon Hierarch


2/1s for one mana are one of the lifelines for aggressive decks in the Cube, and this one can be used in two different colors equally.  The additional text on the card is helpful vs. cards such as Snapcaster Mage, but with the Cube’s inherent one-ness it isn’t as impacting as it is in constructed format.  The base stats are good enough for inclusion in most Cubes, however.

Rating – 4 if you want to continue to reach for the critical mass of two-power one-drops in Cube, 1 if you don’t much care about that kind of thing.

Possible replacement for: Gaddock Teeg, Knight of the Reliquary

You can do something similar with GW that you can with GB, depending on what you want the flavor to be.  Here are some more sample sections:


Once again, a great aggro tool for the low price of one red OR black mana.  It can’t block as a 2/2, but honestly, who cares?  Auto-include if you support aggressive decks, um, aggressively.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Olivia Voldaren if you want to commit fully to aggro, Fulminator Mage, or perhaps Blightning


Yet another good tool for aggressive decks, but one that might actually be a victim of the numbers game in a very deep RB section.  I feel like the only way to find room for this guy is to get rid of some of the stellar four mana midgame/value cards.  If you use hybrid cards in the section in which they fit best (this one would be red, e.g.), then you should probably get him in alongside Ash Zealot.

Rating: 2, but only because I’m not willing to take out all the four mana creatures. 3.5 if you put hybrids in mono-colored sections.

Since we will be assuredly seeing more Planeswalkers which are worthy of Cube inclusion, it’s always nice to see more cards that can interact directly with them.  It’s even nicer to see them do something else meaningful, and at the reasonably cheap cost of two mana!

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Terminate, although I prefer to have them both.


Once again, a 6/6 flying trampler for four mana shouldn’t be ignored, but wow are there just too many good cards at the four mana spot let alone in RB total now.  Sorry, Rakdos.

Rating: 1, but not because it is a bad card; because there is just too much competition.


Blightning fits in better in the color pairing for a similar effect, and Mind Twist is much more effective.  Not sure why Cubes would need this card with those other two available.

Rating: 1.


I hear this every time I read his name…and it really makes me want to play it in order to use the same inflection.  In actuality, I think NMD is actually pretty good. It isn’t hard to imagine that untapping with this guy raises your win percentage significantly.  With the lack of depth in the color pair, Niv can definitely find his way into UR sections that are larger than a few cards deep–anything but the smallest of Cubes.

Rating: 3

Possible replacement for: Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (although it would be fun to have them side by side: ping you for one, draw a card, ping for another one!), Call the Skybreaker, Invoke the Firemind.


Red/blue was one of the color pairs that sorely needed some depth, and unfortunately it didn’t get much.  Izzet Charm, however, does a bunch of things that the color pairing likes to do: countering spells, killing creatures, and looting.  It’s almost an auto-include at this point, considering the shallow pool of great UR cards.  Supporting the counter-burn archetype is always a good move in my book, too.

Rating: 4

Possible replacement for: Anything except Fire // Ice and Electrolyze.

In Conclusion

Whew, that’s a lot of multicolored cards!  I’m sure you all want to get a chance to play with these cards too, so let’s go back to my idea for a temporary fix, which you might find helpful.

For my cube, this solution means six slots per pairing for either multicolor or hybrid cards, plus an additional slot reserved for a hybrid card.  This allows me to increase the sections slightly while mostly keeping parity among the colors.  That means I will be “adding” the following cards to that hybrid section, thereby pulling them out of the traditional multicolored section if they were already there:

I’ve reserved the cards in this section to be dedicated to archetype support and not just the best hybrid card available.  For example, Kitchen Finks will always be competitive against other multicolored cards, but Dryad Militant isn’t as exciting as the rest of the cards in GW even if it is sorely needed to make the aggressive decks better in those two colors.  Ergo, the Dryad gets the nod for this section so she doesn’t get pushed out by cards like Qasali Pridemage.

There will obviously be some imbalance until we get the rest of the guilds printed, but I’m perfectly OK with that for now. In fact, I think more Cube owners should be more concerned about the play environment they are creating and not so much about having a balanced mathematical equation.

Even though there are no 5’s on my list, there are quite a number of cards that could see significant play in Cube depending on your size and your supported archetypes.  Personally, I will be picking up a fair amount of these cards in order to rotate them in and out of the Cube to test how they play.  I’m sure I’ll start to get it figured out just in time to have to look at all the Gatecrash cards!

Until then, may all your squares be three-dimensional!


-Anthony Avitollo

@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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