Today, I talk about black in cube.
Within the cube community, the very utterance of the name of Magic’s dark slice of the color pie causes a crescendo of groans and complaints and confusion, infecting everyone with its viral contagion.
This article is partly prompted by the recent changes to the Magic Online Cube and the subsequent reactions from many people that think those changes are, well, less than ideal. I agree. It’s unfortunate that these changes only reinforce the negative view of black cards and decks in cube. Black is frequently called the worst color in cube by a vocal majority of players, and I don’t agree with giving a blanket statement like that.
I’d like to do away with a few popular notions:
- That black cards are weak and bad in cube.
- That black cards live in a vacuum.
- That there are too many oppressive cards preventing black from being powerful in cube.
- That black can or should do everything in cube.
- That there is one-method-to-rule-them-all of improving black’s performance in cube.
It’s the Return to Ravnica update, part deux.
With today’s update I’ll finish inserting any of the non-multicolor cards from Return to Ravnica I want to add into the cube, and cut cards as necessary.
On to the changes, starting with Colorless, and a random color starting point going around the wheel:
Triskelion –> Chromatic Lantern
Best source of colored mana acceleration after Coalition Relic? Accelerates less, fixes more. It’s so good
Triskelion is fine, but is not a high-value card in terms of average effectiveness compared to other 6-mana creatures in the cube. With the trend of multicolor cards with intense colored mana costs being very playable despite that drawback, it’s hard for Triskelion to compete. Reveillark will just have to find other creatures to value-town with.
Flame Slash –> Mizzium Mortars
Ghitu Slinger –> Guttersnipe
Ember Hauler –> Ash Zealot
I’m eager to try out the Mortars, and it’s replacing a card with a cheaper base casting cost but no late-game upside. It should prove to be nearly as good early, and very good late in the decks that can Overload it.
Guttersnipe looks interesting for different reasons, as a build-around card that should perform best in red, black, and blue decks, where the high concentration of removal spells give plenty of ways of triggering the ability. The lower density of spells in white and green mean it will be less good there, but can still provide a bit of reach in aggro decks with those colors.
Ember Hauler is pretty nice actually, able to pick off small creatures, help take out large ones, and assassinate planeswalkers with low loyalty, but I’m putting it on the bench so that adding Ash Zealot doesn’t mess with red’s curve or increase the number of spells with double-red in their casting costs. The utility lost by its absence should be shored up somewhat by Ash Zealot’s aggressiveness and Guttersnipe’s ability to deal damage outside of combat. I’m treating the Zealot’s last ability as a sort of bonus – the card is plenty good enough without it.
Fledgling Djinn –> Pack Rat
Sudden Death –> Ultimate Price
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief –> Desecration Demon
Let’s face facts: Fledgling Djinn (and many other cheap black creatures) are just filler. Pack Rat is a limited bomb that has the capability to win the game on its own (albeit combined with the other cards in your hand as fodder), and has synergy with the cube reanimator archetype! Get in my cube!
Sudden Death is an unanswerable kill spell for, well, just too much mana nowadays. Ultimate Price should fill in cuves better, can kill larger creatures (like Titans), and isn’t necessarily horrible versus Mother of Runes, one of the few plusses Sudden Death had going for it. Ultimate Price won’t hit the new multicolored creatures in the cube, but it’s still a great Terror variant.
I’ve been wanting to try one of the huge undercosted black fliers for a while, but never had my hands on an Abyssal Persecutor before. Desecration Demon is similar, but doesn’t have a “you can’t win the game” clause. The ability to chump it with ground-based creatures looks bad (for the controller), but it’s really not a big drawback, certainly not worse than what you see on Blastoderm. And if your opponent has no creatures, for some reason (perhaps they paid the Ultimate Price already), they’re taking six damage or more in combat. Drana has been consistently good once she hits the table, but does tie up a lot of mana for her ability, and costs more up front.
NEW –> Jace, Architect of Thought
Repeal –> Cyclonic Rift
I mean, come on. It’s a Jace. It costs four. It protects itself with its first ability, and draws cards with the second. And it has a decent amount of loyalty for a blue planeswalker, too. Adding Jace without cutting a card seems like cheating, but I already have plans on expanding my colors by one or two cards in the next update. Blue justifiably gets an extra card early because it’s blue and it always gets nice things first. ;)
I really like both of the cantripping bounce spells in my cube (Repeal and Into the Roil), and though Cyclonic Rift can’t draw cards, it has a massive potential upside with built-in card advantage. I’m not quite sure which cantrip is the right one to cut for Cyclonic Rift, but I think I might value the ability to hit large creatures for a bare minimum of mana over the ability to hit non-creatures. On the other hand, situations like hitting an equipment mid-combat, or a planeswalker, are really important actions that give Repeal versatility. Right now, Into the Roil stays.
Decree of Justice –> Angel of Serenity
I’m a big fan of preventing my opponent from winning the game. A few angel tokens don’t have quite the same effect as one angel that Oblivion Rings up to three of your opponent’s best threats. These are both at about the same mana cost when hard-cast, and the Angel has blink and reanimation potential to boot.
Thanks for taking a look at my cube changes. Return to Ravnica gave a little bit in every color, and combined with the multicolor additions, turned out to be a really great set for cube.
Return to Ravnica is here! There are a LOT of cards to update with this set, so I’m going to split this up into multiple posts. It’ll let me get a little in-depth into my choices, as well. We’ll start with the thing firmly on everyone’s mind when it comes to the plane of Ravnica: Multicolor.
Before I get into my choices for inclusion this time around, I’m going to reiterate and explain my current and future multicolor setup (as well as my general philosophy, which I explained in some previous posts here on the blog).
My current setup is a Guild-based model, where each two-color combination (UB, GW, RW, etc.) get up to 9 fixing lands and spells devoted to that combination’s needs and each of the tri-color combinations get up to one card for a support card or flashy card (Wild Nacatl, Broodmate Dragon, Murmuring Bosk, etc.) where there is a card I deem “good enough” to play in the slot. I try to have at least 4 fixing lands and/or artifacts in each combination, to ensure people have plenty of ways of casting their spells.
From now on, I’m adding a hybrid slot to each pair as well as another multicolor slot, bringing that total to 10+1. There will be a restriction, in that combinations will not be able to get over 5 non-fixing cards in the combination until the hybrid slot is filled. This should be easy enough for most combinations. I’m also going to give leeway to cards like Signets and lands with multicolor activated abilities like Kessig Wolf Run. The latter are sometimes run as a ‘bonus’ splash card in a deck with only few ways of activating them, and also don’t count as spell slots in deck construction, and thus are more like hybrid cards than a spell that can become dead in-hand. This will all eventually mean a 20-card increase in my cube, which I’m fine with.
My general philosophy is that multicolor cards should be either flashy finishers (Olivia Voldaren, Simic Sky Swallower), powerful archetype support cards (like tokens, or the artifact deck), or efficient cards people like to play that fit into a variety of decks or archetypes (i.e. if you are these colors, you are likely to play the card). Some cards fall into multiple categories. Also, I’m OK with leaving out certain powerful cards playable in all decks in favor of more “interesting” ones that fill more narrow niches in the cube, which is, of course, all subjective. :)
I’m not going to fill up all of the new slots in all of the color combinations with this update, but all of the Return to Ravnica guilds will receive the full complement of cards, and some of the others will get a new card or two. This won’t unbalance the cube too much in the short term (since not even half of the guilds will be missing cards) and it will definitely be fully balanced by the time Gatecrash and [Sinker] are released.
On to the changes! First, the Return to Ravnica guilds:
NEW –> Armada Wurm
NEW –> Dryad Militant (hybrid)
Armada Wurm is the kind of finisher that should do well in my cube. It puts out multiple threats, which gives it some permanence versus spot removal, something green and white finishers sometimes have problems with. I like it a lot better as a cube card than Sigarda for a couple of reasons: It is harder to cast, ensuring it is both a motivator for a drafter to move into the color combination hard early in a draft, and also gets to the drafter that wants it late. And, it provides card advantage but not feel-bads for an opponent that has no outs to a 5/5 hexproof flier, which some decks are just cold to. I’m not particularly fond of hexproof in general, since it reduces interactivity in-game, and Sigarda is also immune to just about every black removal spell in the cube.
Dryad Militant is another welcome 2/1 for 1 to support aggro, and should be solid. It will occupy the new hybrid slot.
I’d like to also include Selesnya Charm as well, but simply don’t have the space.
NEW –> Dreadbore
NEW –> Rakdos Cackler (hybrid)
Oh look, two very efficient cards: a removal spell and an aggressive creature, in a color that wants lots of those things! These are probably the simplest of my Return to Ravnica updates.
Rakdos Shred-Freak looks close to being included, but I don’t like it better than my other current options.
Azorius Signet –> Detention Sphere
NEW –> Supreme Verdict
NEW –> Judge’s Familiar (hybrid)
The Signets are slowly but surely being removed for more interesting cards. I don’t think they’re too powerful, or have too much of a detrimental effect on the number of colors a deck can draft. Azorius Signet, being one of the blue ones, hurts to cut, but I am fine cutting it for a unique effect, and its function can be replaced with other artifacts in the cube. Detention Sphere is going to be just as good as Oblivion Ring. Being harder to cast sometimes (being multicolor) and having a bigger effect sometimes (taking out multiple tokens) should balance out in the end.
Supreme Verdict will be a wrath, like other wraths. It will be good, and it will get passed to the drafter that needs it on occasion. I’m curious to see how often the immunity to counterspells will be relevant in control and tempo matchups.
Judge’s Familiar might be the first cubeable Suntail Hawk. We’ll try it out, and if it doesn’t work out, Moorland Haunt can take its place in the hybrid slot, freeing room for some other UW card from [Sinker].
Fire//Ice –> Fire//Ice (hybrid)
NEW –> Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius
NEW –> Izzet Charm
Fire//Ice gets moved to the hybrid slot, where it belongs. It gets used more for the Fire side than the Ice side on average, but it’s fine in both roles.
Niv Mizzet is like a big Olivia Voldaren, that also kills your opponent with direct damage while drawing lots of cards. Seems good enough to me! Like Armada Wurm, it also has a somewhat restrictive casting cost, making it more enticing to drafters early and requiring a deck to be deep enough in its colors to play most effectively.
Izzet Charm is simply an efficient spells that will act as a support card in a variety of red-blue decks. I like charms in general, and this one almost always has a relevant mode.
Glissa, the Traitor –> Lotleth Troll
NEW –> Abrupt Decay
NEW –> Deathrite Shaman (hybrid)
Not for trying, I don’t have a Vraska to include in this update. That would make my decision a little harder, as Glissa was the only card I was “prepared” to cut from my current lineup of spells (which is Putrefy, Putrid Leech, Pernicious Deed, Maelstrom Pulse, and Glissa). I suspect that I may decide to cut Abrupt Decay once I have a Vraska, since it is the most restrictive of the removal spells and doesn’t really fill an archetype need, while Vraska is a flashy spell that is fun to play with. Putrid Leech is another option, but will depend more on how much I find it necessary to have a very efficient beater in this color combination once my black section is overhauled (Pox support). I support aggressive strategies in green, so this is worth looking at harder than in cubes where ramp is the premier green strategy over a more moderate strategy.
So, Glissa is out for Lotleth Troll. Lotleth Troll is going to be just as aggressive, and will support the reanimator and stax/pox archetypes more than Glissa supports the artifact archetype.
Abrupt Decay is an efficient removal spell and worth playing while I have the space. I’m sure it will be destroying a number of aggro creatures and equipment for the time being.
Deathrite Shaman is an interesting card. It will be less good than in its best format (Modern), but still has plenty of targets for its second and third abilities, gradually gaining resource advantages and light graveyard hate. I think I like it quite a bit after personally playing with it in limited and Standard, so I have high hopes. It’s also just a cool flavorful card, interacting with the graveyard in an interesting way, so it has that going for it as well. :)
I’d also like to try out a few cards from the other guilds, and now have some more space to work with. Here are my new inclusions:
Kessig Wolf Run –> Kessig Wolf Run (hybrid)
NEW –> Sarkhan Vol
I’ve played with Sarkhan in the cube before, but didn’t have too much time before Huntmaster of the Fells showed up and took his place. I’d like to play with it more, so let’s give him another shot.
Dimir Signet –> Dimir Signet (hybrid)
NEW –> Havengul Lich
Havengul Lich is a fun card. It’s not the most powerful card in the world, being a multicolor Durkwood Boars with an activated ability, but it will lead to interesting board states. It could be a blue-black Genesis vulnerable to removal, but that’s actually fine. There will be times where it brings back utility creatures or bombs from an opponent’s graveyard as well, and that leads to fun games and stories to remember.
NEW –> Tidehollow Sculler
NEW –> Vault of the Archangel (hybrid)
Orzhov gets another cheap creature with a “discard” ability, further cementing black-based hand disruption as a reliable strategy.
Vault of the Archangel has the capability to turn stalled board states into finished games quickly by changing the race dynamic. It will go into the hybrid slot since I could see it splashed into any white- or black-based aggro deck.
I don’t have any cards to add to Boros at this time, and Simic needs a hybrid card before I add anything to it (other than what is in Gatecrash, I’d like to try out Voidslime at some point as a catchall counterspell).
This update is more of a “cube additions” update than a true “cut-and-add” update, but I would still like feedback, especially if you have any suggestions or feedback from playing with the new Return to Ravnica cards. Thanks for reading!
Whoops! I forgot to add in the new planeswalkers in my latest blog update! Here are the changes:
Decree of Justice –> Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Decree of Justice is pretty awesome, but it hasn’t been used to as much effect as I’d like, when other finishers have performed more consistently. White is definitely the premiere aggressive color in my cube other than red, so adding Ajani in its place further supports that strategy. I’m going to be testing Shrine of Loyal Legions in an artifact slot behind the scenes, so as to not lose the token support. And as with any other card removal from my cube, nothing stops a card from coming back in the future.
Makeshift Mannequin –> Liliana of the Dark Realms
Liliana is just more versatile of a spell than the Mannequin, which only hits your graveyard. I’d really like another 3 mana or less reanimation spell without restrictions like this, but I don’t think we’ll see any new cards with that kind of power unless they are printed in a not-for-Standard product like Commander. In any case, Liliana serves a mostly midrange and control role in cube, and this meshes well with where I am taking black as a color in my cube.
Let’s add some cards to my cube! Today, I’m finalizing some Magic 2013 updates after testing cards for a few weeks.
NEW –> Cathedral of War
Cathedral of War has been a nice splashable card, pushing some extra damage through in any deck wanting to attack often with a solid threat. Its opportunity cost in a deck is small, and the ability can be turned on the same turn it enters the battlefield.
Silver Knight –> Serra Avenger
White Knight –> Knight of Glory
NEW –> Aven Mindcensor
I’m trying out some new options for cheap creatures in white. White Knight and Silver Knight are iconic creatures, but are honestly not all that impressive in cube. The creatures you receive for their double-white mana costs feel slightly expensive, as if it should actually be a splashable 1W. Knight of Glory does exactly that, and removal of first strike is not that big of a loss when it is replaced with exalted, which is usually decent.
Serra Avenger still costs double-white, but it gives white decks another evasive attacker, and one that is not outclassed on turn four (and not difficult to cast on turn four, either). In fact, helps to enable more dynamic turn fours for aggressive decks, and plays into a control deck’s plan of playing a cheap threat while leaving mana up to protect it.
Aven Mindcensor is more of a test card, but I’m a big fan of flash as well as tricky abilities that “counter” your opponent’s spells in white. This will also likely see play in a variety of decks. It’s not from Magic 2013, but there are no other white cards from the set that I’m looking to add and I would like to keep the update even in number across the colors.
River Boa –> Yeva, Nature’s Herald
NEW –> Thragtusk
First Mire Boa, now River Boa? Yep. It’s just that so often, they’re simply 2/1 creatures for two mana, and only sometimes evasive. Green doesn’t want to fight aggressively in exactly the same way white does, so why play a worse Stormfront Pegasus? Yeva is going to be another creature for green that lets it play a little less on its own turn (helpful with werewolf creatures and with response-heavy colors like blue, red, and black for use with counterspells and creature removal), and enabling the rest of your green team to pop in with flash is not to be overlooked, either.
Thragtusk is simply one of the best recent five-drops to be printed for green. I think it will end up being better than both Vorapede (due to casting cost) and Wolfir Silverheart (due to resiliency) on average. Interactions with blink effects are are pretty obvious, and it’s not a bad Kiki-Jiki or Mimic Vat target, either.
Crater Hellion –> Thundermaw Hellkite
Forked Bolt –> Searing Spear
NEW –> Flames of the Firebrand
Crater Hellion has seen better days. Its largest effect just doesn’t deal with the variety of large threats that your opponents can play anymore, like the titans and other common 6-toughness finishers. As with many cards with echo, that drawback is becoming increasingly more difficult to justify in a world of 5- and 6-mana creatures with great abilities that don’t require a payment encore. Thundermaw Hellkite is simply a high-reaching finisher that even aggro decks can play. It’s also easier to cast and a bit more interesting than another comparable card, Rorix Bladewing.
Forked Bolt has a fairly small effect, and is just outclassed by Searing Spear, which will kill larger creatures and provide more consistency for burn directed at players’ faces.
Flames of the Firebrand will shore up the loss of Forked Bolt by giving red back the dividable damage in a slightly more expensive, more damaging package.
Black Knight –> Knight of Infamy
Dauthi Marauder –> Ravenous Rats
NEW –> Disciple of Bolas
This update for black continues the trend of knight-cutting. Black Knight is being removed for Knight of Infamy, for the same reason I’m adding Knight of Glory.
Dauthi Marauder might be considered a strange cut, but it’s very weak to removal, and doesn’t do anything other than attack. I’m getting to the point in my cube where, for three mana, I want my cards to do something other than just enter the battlefield and wait a turn to affect the board. This is especially relevant for a creature with shadow, since it can’t block. Ravenous Rats will “do something” early an immediately, and in the right deck combined with other threats, can run your opponent on the defensive without any answers.
Disciple of Bolas is a pretty cool value engine card that lets various black decks refill their hand for the long game if needed.
Blue is the odd color out, with no new cards from Magic 2013 that I’d like to add.
Return to Ravnica is looking pretty sweet already. I’m eagerly awaiting the full spoiler list, and once it’s out I’m going to set up a review of the interesting cards from the set.
I made some changes recently to my cube, adding in cards from the latest Planechase set, plus a few other additions that I’ve been wanting to make for a while, having finally acquired the cards:
NEW –> Thawing Glaciers
Every now and then I like to throw a bone to control decks, and this is a nice source of slow source of card advantage. After adding it in the latest draft, it already saw interesting play with Venser, the Sojourner enabling a much faster source of lands.
NEW –> Chrome Mox
Chrome Mox is just a cool card that can enable some fast starts by aggro and control decks alike.
Wall of Denial –> Moorland Haunt
Simic Signet –> Shardless Agent
Nemesis of Reason –> Baleful Strix
Oona, Queen of the Fae –> Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
NEW –> Maelstrom Wanderer
What we have here is removal of a few “boring” cards and additions of some narrower cards to help support specific archetypes. Wall of Denial, while a generally powerful card, is just not interactive. Moorland Haunt supports the blue-white aggro/tempo plan and still provides a few chump blockers for more controlling decks. I didn’t really want to remove Simic Signet, but it’s the weakest of the options in its color combination, and Shardless Agent is going to be a nice option for card advantage in the same sorts of tap-out blue-green decks that would want to play the signet. Nemesis of Reason and Oona are both great finishers, but I’d like to support the artifact deck more with Baleful Strix (also wonderful in any blue-black control deck) and Tezzeret. I may even find myself adding back Tezzeret the Seeker back in to the cube at a later date. Maelstrom Wanderer is a wonderful card that will give players a reason to play big green ramp decks.
Ghostly Prison –> Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Ghostly Prison hasn’t been used in a while, and for understandable reasons – at its most effective time, early in the game, your opponent has probably already played a threat and can either pay the mana, destroy the enchantment, or do other things with the mana. In exchange, you have cast a three mana spell that doesn’t do anything to improve your own threats or card advantage – unlike, say, a Man-o’-War or Blade Splicer, which have similar applications as defensive cards. Mikaeus is a way for aggro and token decks to gain some reach, as well as give them a decent variable cost threat.
Yavimaya Elder –> Avacyn’s Pilgrim
Mire Boa –> Caller of the Claw
Albino Troll –> Master of the Wild Hunt
I’m removing a few old staples here, so there’s got to be an explanation, right? Well, Yavimaya Elder is a fine card, but to get the most value out of it, you have to spend quite a bit of mana (for the equivalent of an awkward Harmonize). I’m replacing it with Avacyn’s Pilgrim, which will serve a similar but more aggressive role in ramp decks and green-white aggro. Mire Boa is sometimes evasive, and sometimes hard to kill – but there are plenty of spells that will deal with it, including the incoming Tragic Slip. Caller of the Claw is going to give green yet another flash creature, adding to recent and incoming additions Wolfir Avenger and Yeva, Nature’s Herald. I’ve been very happy with the way green is transforming into a more tricky color with these creature options, and I hope more get printed in the future. Master of the Wild Hunt is another card that I’ve been wanting to play with for a while, and have finally gotten the chance. This token creator will have a bit of an impact for green midrange and control decks, and while removing Albino Troll is sort of efficient, echo is always a feel-bad mechanic and I don’t think I or my fellow drafters will miss it much.
Crater Hellion –> Goblin Welder
While I like having some control options in red, I’m making way for a future addition of Thundermaw Hellkite and allowing myself an easy change for now. Goblin Welder has already done awesome work as a busted card in an already busted Tinker deck, bouncing Wurmcoil Engine and Sundering Titan into and out of play over multiple turns, proving its going to have a home in my cube for quite a while. It’s narrow, but justifies its inclusion by helping to create a more consistent artifact-based control deck.
Fume Spitter –> Tragic Slip
Fallen Askari –> Yawgmoth’s Will
Nameless Inversion –> Terror
Black is getting a fairly simple update this time. Tragic Slip performs a similar role to Fume Spitter, while also sometimes ridding the battlefield of larger threats. Fallen Askari is removed for Yawgmoth’s Will, trading a simple aggro creature for a combo and control finisher. And Nameless Inversion moves out for Terror – Inversion is cute, but Terror is a bit more useful at killing larger creatures (and it has awesome Foil art!).
I’m starting to shift black a little bit away from aggro and more toward control – though it is less about removing aggro than it is about removing aggro creatures that don’t “do something,” whether that means having activated abilities or triggers that improve board position or card advantage. Straight 2-power beaters with drawbacks are going to start making way for more useful creatures and spells.
Capsize –> Tradewind Rider
Tradewind Rider is a card I got a chance to play both with and against in the MTGO Cube events, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would. I run plenty of creatures in my blue section, so it’s definitely worth the inclusion. It’ll replace Capsize as a similar repeatable removal option, but one that doesn’t require spending a whole lot of mana to keep up once it’s online. And in the meantime, is a fine blocker in the same control decks that would play Capsize.
Additional Cards I’m Testing
Cathedral of War
Krenko, Mob Boss
These are simply additional older cards I’m testing out. There are some Magic 2013 cards in here I’m not sure about yet as well. Birthing Pod has already seen play in a 4-color Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker deck that could combo off with all three infinite combo options in my cube (sadly, it only got to perform it once in the draft – but it did all three ways in one turn as a consolation!), and I think it will probably find its way in as a permanent addition to the cube in the next few updates. Cathedral of War seems to be a decent “value” card that has low opportunity cost.
That’s it for this update. Magic 2013 changes will come as soon as possible. There aren’t too many cards, but there are some gems. I’m also really looking forward to some Return to Ravnica spoilers, as there are bound to be interesting cards in a new multicolor block.
The update wherein I add 4-months-old cards to my cube!
We’ll go by color, starting with Lands. Oh, there are no changes to lands? Ok.
To the Artifacts and other such Colorless magic! Oh, none there too? I see.
Multicolor? Ah, yes, multicolor! We have sweet changes:
Brion Stoutarm –> Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Soltari Guerrillas –> Slayer’s Stronghold
Spellbound Dragon –> Desolate Lighthouse
Boros has been maligned far too long with a couple of cards that are merely OK. Compared to Ajani Vengeant, Lightning Helix, and Figure of Destiny, which are widely regarded as three Really Great Cards in cube (one of which is easily a Top-5 contender for Best Planeswalker in the Cube), Brion Stoutarm and Soltari Guerrillas very often fill the roll of, well… filler. They are four-mana creatures in colors that are filled with great four-mana creatures and planeswalkers already, and they aren’t even as good as them. Soltari Guerrillas, in particular, has been hanging around simply because he’s a repeatable removal spell and decent sword carrier (but not both at once? Argh!), but the days are long since past where it was a very reasonable creature for its cost. Nowadays, one expects haste on its red four-drops, or four power and toughness plus a relevant combat ability in white. Brion Stoutarm is almost there, but his inability to hit creatures with his activated ability means he can’t be used as a source of card advantage (maybe taking advantage of tokens?). His size is relevant, but it doesn’t seal a game quite like Hero of Bladehold or Hellrider.
Spellbound Dragon is quite a finisher, often attacking for 7 or more damage – not bad for a five-mana flier. However, I’d like to encourage a little bit more of the counter-burn archetype for blue-red, and Desolate Lighthouse (Loothouse!) gives that deck another way to continually generate increasing card quality if a game goes long, while still being able to leave mana open during its opponent’s turn for counterspells and burn.
And onward we go, through the rest of the colors. Except black, because it’s being a little emotional and doesn’t want to change anything today.
Calciderm –> Restoration Angel
Emeria Angel –> Silverblade Paladin
White is gaining a couple of powerful cards from Avacyn Restored.
Restoration Angel will see play in a variety of decks. Merely a 3/4 flier for four splashable mana is nearly playable on its own (Guardian Seraph is a bit of a pet card of mine, and it’s a decent budget angel in cube). Give it flash, and now you get to do it on your opponent’s turn, deploying itself as a surprise combat trick. And the blink ability? That is simply icing on the cake. Now it is white’s Swiss Army Knife of creatures. Re-use an “enters the battlefield” effect. Untap another creature during combat to block with. Save a creature from removal. It’s almost like a white Cryptic Command, where you simply have to choose the “put a 3/4 flier into play” mode every time. Also, it forms an infinite combo with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (as seen in Modern!). It is sick, and thou shalt play Restoration Angel in your cube.
Silverblade Paladin is an attacking enabler. Your best guy gets double strike, probably crashes through the red zone unimpeded for a lot of damage. Or, is a one-sided Abyss; opponent’s choice. It’s never a good choice when you have a team of double strikers running at you. Soulbond is a slightly risky ability, since the ability can be broken by removing one of the creatures from the battlefield, but the reward is worth the risk. Having an attacker ready the turn you cast the Paladin is another way to mitigate that risk, giving Soulbond a near Haste-like quality.
I’m going to miss both of the cards leaving. Calciderm has performed well as a mid-range threat and aggro curve-topper, with its self-preserving shroud. And Emeria Angel is in theory at its peak ability in my cube now that I have the full suite of fetchlands ready to abuse landfall with. Maybe one day one or both of them will find themselves in a rotation with the remaining quality 4-drops.
Great Sable Stag –> Wolfir Avenger
Rampaging Baloths –> Wolfir Silverheart
Creeping Mold –> Ulvenwald Tracker
Bramblecrush –> Somberwald Sage
So, Great Sable Stag and Rampaging Baloths are decently efficient beatsticks. The Stag even protects itself somewhat. But they’re simply not particularly interesting. In comparison, Wolfir Avenger gives green more of a tricky quality that I enjoy, flashing in powerful creatures to surprise your opponent. I expect the Avenger to perform well in most green decks. Wolfir Silverheart is a monster, and like Silverblade Paladin, dominates combat, making what was once a lonely little Bird of Paradise into a sizable 4/5 threat. Being an 8/8 under optimal conditions isn’t too shabby, either.
Creeping Mold has been a versatile card for quite a while throughout Magic’s history, since it’s original printing in Visions. Bramblecrush looked to be a similarly powerful card, trading the ability to hit artifact creatures for the ability to destroy planeswalkers. Unfortunately, four mana is asking a lot, when the cost is justified by the ability to hit lands. Lands can be powerful in cube, but spending four mana to destroy one at sorcery speed is typically a way to slow your tempo by such a degree that your opponent can capitalize on it. Both of these cards are leaving for cheaper cards; one will give green some incentive to play big creatures to destroy his opponent’s creatures, the other will give it more chances to play those creatures earlier in the game.
Another way to look at it, is that green is having a few expensive reactive spells replaced by a cheaper one (Avenger) and cheap threats.
Comet Storm –> Bonfire of the Damned
Aftershock –> Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Hell’s Thunder –> Zealous Conscripts
Blood Knight –> Lightning Mauler
Comet Storm, the somewhat mana-intensive Fireball variant not named Fireball, is being replaced by the best Flame Wave effect in the game. The base cost is serviceable, though expensive. The Miracle cost, however, is positively insane. “Elesh Norn”-insane.
Aftershock, like Creeping Mold and Bramblecrush, suffers from both costing four mana and having a drawback, which was a fairly balanced design when Tempest was first printed, but removal has come a long way since then. Due to these factors, it simply doesn’t get played much in decks, and it’s increasingly a card I just don’t want to play in general. And I like Aftershock!
Zealous Conscripts comes in to replace Hell’s Thunder, which is s a good card, but one I’m willing to play without. The Conscripts are going to do “interesting things” in cube, stealing all manner of permanent types; it’s also Yet Another Kiki-Jiki Combo Enabler.
Lightning Mauler is one of my favorite new cards from Avacyn Restored and it was actually hard to find a slot for it at first. Blood Knight is a reasonably efficient creature, but as good as it is, I think Lightning Mauler will have a larger impact on the average game. Giving haste to itself or later creatures will be a very aggressive sequence of plays, and it’s not bad in the late-game either, when paired with another creature in the same turn.
Willbender –> Deadeye Navigator
Delver of Secrets –> Fettergeist
Tezzeret the Seeker –> Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Mistblade Shinobi –> Tandem Lookout
Some of blue’s card changes are like-for-like, but some aren’t.
Willbender’s Deflection ability is somewhat mana intensive (5 in total, plus may lead to awkward tempo problems by leaving mana open for the ability) and both the intermediate and final creature sizes are not very impressive in cube. Deadeye Navigator isn’t really a comparable replacement, but it is another finisher-style creature in blue, one that encourages playing the blink archetype (but still servicable as a way to protect another threat on the board and itself from spot removal).
Delver of Secrets has not really been vetted in my cube, but I’ve read accounts of it not doing well in other cubes. It’s something I’d like to revisit in the future. Fettergeist fills a similar (but more expensive) role for decks using the same style of play: placing a threat on the board and protecting it. It may also prove to be more effective than Serendib Efreet at laying down some defense in a more controlling deck.
Tezzeret the Seeker is an awesome planeswalker, but right now my cube is not set up to utilize his abilities to their fullest. He’s at his best with lots of cheap artifacts and artifact mana acceleration (the latter being something I avoid in my cube, hoping to the early turns of games a bit more consistent in speed between players). Tamiyo, the Moon Sage will be a much more consistent planeswalker in control decks, and a top-end threat in blue tempo decks.
Mistblade Shinobi is somewhat small, and while the ability is interesting, requires a certain situation to become very good. Tandem Lookout is likely to behave mostly as an enabler for your other creatures to turn into Thieving Magpies, but also has the capability to replace itself if the coast is clear. Cards are king, and if you have a good tempo deck going with card draw like this, it can be hard to stop the assault.
So, what do you think of the changes? Good, yes? I think they’ll work very well overall. Red and white are both becoming very difficult to cut cards from (foreshadowing: somehow I have to cut three cards from red in my Magic 2013 update!).
I took a bit of a break from posting. In fact, for some reason, it’s been harder to concentrate on my cube for a while. Partly because I haven’t really had the chance to cube lately (I’ve really only done two Winston drafts since AVR was released, where I got to try some of the new cards out), partly the M13 pre-release and release events, partly the Steam Summer Sale (I know own approximately 14639 games and have played 5 of them), partly going deep scrounging through my collection for a color matters cube-project, and partly simple exhaustion from daily life.
However, I’m going to try to get the ball rolling again. First, by taking an inventory of the cube and making sure everything’s in its place. Then, AVR, Planechase 2, and Magic 2013 updates. Then, since re-working the black section is the “in thing” to do lately, probably try swapping a few cards there as well after taking a serious look at what black should be doing in my cube.