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Dark Ascension Cube Update! (and bonus land update!)

March 30, 2012

Dark Ascension is here! As is customary, I’ve waited until I have had enough time to properly evaluate the new cards before putting any of them into my cube. It doesn’t have anything to do with being a lazy cube manager. At all. I *swear*.

Alright. You got me. Honestly, I haven’t cubed very much since the last update, but in the meantime, I considered quite a few cards from Dark Ascension, threw some of the obvious cards into the cube, and ruminated on what to cut. I’m making quite a few changes, so let’s get started!

I’ve got a lot to say in this update, but if you’re more interested in just the “TL;DR” version of the changes, the card swaps are in bold.

Lands

New –> City of Brass
Vivid Meadow –> Out
Vivid Grove –> Out
Vivid Crag –> Out
Vivid Marsh –> Out
Vivid Creek –> Out

City of Brass is one land that should have been on the books for a while. I came across one in a trade a few months ago and stuck it in the cube immediately. I’m removing the Vivid cycle, because I’m adding new lands to the multicolor section (below). I plan on removing the Shards of Alara tri-land cycle as well once I complete the Ravnica shockland cycle (only two more to go!). Without the Vivid lands, fixing for slower 3- and 4-color decks will become a little harder to find. That’s not really a bad thing.

Artifacts

Chimeric Mass –> Wayfarer’s Bauble
Isochron Scepter –> Jinxed Choker
New –> Nevinyrral’s Disk

Chimeric Mass hasn’t performed nearly as well as I had expected. The one deck that seemed to want it (aggro, as a creature that survives wraths and isn’t a bad top-deck late-game), didn’t like the inefficiency of a basic X/X for X mana that requires a mana investment every turn. When compared to aggressive creatures in each color this is even more pronounced, as most of them will provide additional utility or card advantage.

Isochron Scepter combos with a few cards in my cube (about 40 cards as of this particular update, if it remained in). Most of them are library manipulation spells, removal, and burn. I like Isochron Scepter, but I think that the irregularity that everything comes together isn’t worth the payoff, and thus the card slot. A comparable card might be Tinker, which also takes some initial setup. The difference between them is that Tinker is a bit more open-ended in game possibilities, the number of artifacts in the cube is more plentiful than the instants Isochron Scepter requires, and the payoff may be a bit higher (a Sword or a large robot such as Myr Battlesphere).

Wayfarer’s Bauble is a card I’ve been thinking about trying for a while. Now is probably a good time, as I take out the Vivid land cycle. This will give control decks another mana rock to accelerate with, doesn’t discriminate by color combination (unlike Signets), and isn’t vulnerable to artifact destruction once activated (again, unlike Signets).

Jinxed Choker looks like another hot aggressive support card, giving reach similar to Sulfuric Vortex for any color. I’ve heard good things about it and am anxious to see it in action.

Nevinyrral’s Disk is a classic sweeper that fits into a variety of control decks and decks that cannot otherwise deal with enchantments or artifacts. It should be especially powerful when combined with control-based planeswalkers (Jace, Ajani Vengeant).

Multicolor

Desolation Angel –> Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Stillmoon Cavalier –> Lingering Souls
Spiritmonger –> Glissa, the Traitor
Sarkhan Vol –> Huntmaster of the Fells
New –> Windswept Heath
New –> Wooded Foothills
New –> Bloodstained Mire
New –> Flooded Strand
Boros Garrison –> Sacred Foundry
Orzhov Bascilica –> Godless Shrine

I went over my changes to Orzhov and Golgari changes more thoroughly in my multicolor roundup here and here. Basically, Sorin and Lingering Souls are both awesome cards, and Desolation Angel and the Cavalier had to go. Spiritmonger is in the “big dumb beater” category of multicolor cards that, while efficient, doesn’t really add much to the draft experience like Glissa does as a build-around card (that is also playable on her own).

The cut to make room for Huntmaster of the Fells was HARD. Basically, it boiled down to removing either Sarkhan Vol or Stormbind. I’m still not sure I made the correct choice (as Sarkhan is very fun), but Stormbind is a solid way to end the game. I favored the aggressive archetype-enabling card over the midrange one, as I do quite a bit. I may re-visit this change later as I play more with Stormbind, and as I think about how Sarkhan would perform as a curve-topper in my red and green decks. Huntmaster of the Fells needs no real justification, as it puts a multiple-creature threat on the board and forces your opponent to play differently than normal.

I finished the fetchland cycle! Yay!

I also picked up two more of the Ravnica block shocklands. Those are replacing the karoos in their color combinations. Orzhov Bascilica is a fine card, as that color combination does produce quite a few control decks, but my experience is that those decks will take whatever fixing is available to them. My other choices, Fetid Heath and Caves of Koilos, are great for these colors because they both help produce turn one colored mana or alternating mana (e.g. turn one W, turn two BB with a plains) early in the game, which helps pay for aggresive creatures such as Knight of Meadowgrain and Nantuko Shade.

White

Goldmeadow Harrier –> Gideon’s Lawkeeper
Knight of the White Orchid –> Loyal Cathar
Paladin en-Vec –> Blade Splicer
Mystic Crusader –> Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Yosei, the Morning Star –> Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Glorious Anthem –> Temporal Isolation
Scepter of Dominance –> Parallax Wave

White is getting its creature-base pretty shaken up!

The first change is simply upgrading Goldmeadow Harrier to a foil version of its functional reprint, Gideon’s Lawkeeper. There is a slight functional upgrade, as having the human subtype is going to interact with another card in this update. I don’t expect it to come up often, but it will happen at some point.

Knight of the White Orchid is a fine card, but having “persist” is better. Should be good for aggressive decks and makes trading creatures in combat difficult for your opponent.

Paladin en-Vec and Mystic Crusader share similarities (3-mana double-protection creatures), and both are being overshadowed by their double-striking cousin, Mirran Crusader. I needed to fit Blade Splicer and Thalia in, and didn’t want to remove other creatures at that cost that have either come-into-play abilities or anthems. Blade Splicer puts a lot of power on the board for three mana, and Thalia is a cheaper threat that disrupts your opponent.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is a house. A mansion, even. She has a way of closing out a game like few other creatures. She will wreck the battlefield and your opponent will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Yosei has a very mean downside to killing it, but does not have the same kind of immediate effect.

Glorious Anthem may come back in again. It’s a good card, and may be getting better with more tokens in the cube, but I wanted to add another piece of removal at the moment.

Scepter of Dominance has always been a card I liked, but sometimes felt a little too fair and has a particularly restrictive mana/activation cost that has mattered in practice. I’ve always wanted to try Parallax Wave, and it should create some interesting interactions in both aggressive decks as well as control decks.

Green

Genesis –> Wolfbitten Captive
Chameleon Colossus –> Mayor of Avabruck
Brutalizer Exarch –> Strangleroot Geist
Kodama of the North Tree –> Vorapede
Hurricane
 –> Vinelasher Kudzu 

Green has a slight shift in actual composition with this update. One of the things I’ve been trying to do overall in the cube, is reduce the average mana cost bit by bit. Part of this is because I want the cube to feel more aggressive. Another part is giving green something to do besides play “big dumb guys” that require a lot of mana investment for their size. Instead, I’m including more early creatures that still have some late-game appeal. The werewolves will change the way opponents play spells, and the undying creatures have a lot of value going for them for free on their back-sides, as the fronts are fairly efficient enough on their own. Vinelasher Kudzu is a card I’ve been wanting to try out as a budget Tarmogoyf for a while, but didn’t feel like it would work out without fetchlands. Since I’ve gotten that cycle complete, I can test it out as another part of the aggression package.

Genesis has not done very much in our duels. In multiplayer (which is not frequent) it is better. But overall, this is a 5-mana 4/4 that just wants to eat up more mana later.

Chameleon Colossus has been more impressive, but still requires a lot of mana investment to become truly scary.

Brutalizer Exarch was just one mana too many. At 5, it would be one of green’s best mid-range utility creatures. At 6, he competes with 6/6 creatures.

Kodama of the North Tree is being swapped for Vorapede in many cubes, and mine is no exception.

Hurricane has never seen much play, and never felt essential. It’s an older iconic card, but in the end doesn’t do very much.

Some last notes on green’s mid-range creatures. There are a lot of creatures in green that perform similar kinds of functions that Genesis and Brutalizer Exarch have (i.e. value and non-creature permanent removal), and I think that there might be better ways of providing those things. For instance, with early pressure and a flipped Mayor, you can provide continuous free value not unlike a planeswalker. Brutalizer Exarch may take care of planeswalkers, but there are many other creatures that destroy artifacts and enchantments in the cube, and do so without taking up a whole turn to cast one big creature (the size of the creature tends to matter less than the spell effect, in my opinion). Kodama of the North Tree is sizeable, but has its drawbacks (equipment). Increasing green’s tempo ability is something I think will strengthen green as a color overall.

I’m also going to think about including more cheap effects that help green win the tempo game. I may consider Nature’s Claim over the more expensive Krosan Grip. Or, I may try out Prey Upon, to give green a better incentive to play big creatures whilst simultaneously removing blockers.

Red

Barbarian Ring –> Faithless Looting
Volcanic Hammer –> Reckless Charge
Hearth Kami –> Torch Fiend
Lord of Shatterskull Pass –> Hellrider
Stone Rain –> Rivalry
Moltensteel Dragon –> MOVED TO COLORLESS
New –> Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Faithless Looting looks either really good, or really bad, depending on who you talk to. I think it’s really good. 🙂

Reckless Charge is another older card that I’ve wanted to try out. I think the ability to simply be Lightning Bolt x2 in one card is going to be pretty sweet. A little more combat dependent than most burn, but it’ll give some oomph to late-game creatures. Volcanic Hammer is one of the weaker burn spells (and fairly boring), so it’s getting the axe.

Hearth Kami gets an upgrade to Torch Fiend. In a powered cube, this wouldn’t be a swap, as Hearth Kami is pretty good at taking out Moxen and such, and the extra copy of the effect would be welcomed. It’s less necessary in my unpowered environment, and the extremely lower activation cost (always R) is very nice.

Lord of Shatterskull Pass is a great budget card, but is in that spot… A Hill Giant that becomes a 6/6 over two turns isn’t horrible, but it’s a lot worse than you can do in cube. I’ve had the Lord in my main cube for far too long. I want to throw him into a lower, more limited-like environment, where he will be an all-star.

Stone Rain hasn’t been very exciting. Red decks are winning quickly enough without the spell, and lack of secondary abilities like Molten Rain, Pillage, or Avalanche Riders means it isn’t drafted highly. Rivalry is a relatively new find that may give some more late-game reach.

Moltensteel Dragon is moved to colorless. It feels more like a red-colorless hybrid card than full red. I imagine that like Dismember, it will be drafted in its own color more often than not, but the versatility is high enough to warrant the move.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is potentially dangerous. It forms an infinite combo with Pestermite, which might not be fun. I’d like to see what else it can do, though. It should give “big” red something more interesting to do than just burn. In red alone, it can do neat things with Hellrider, Keldon Champion, and Siege-Gang Commander. I hear Flametongue Kavu is a good card, too.

Black

Bane of the Living –> Gravecrawler
Corpse Dance –> Unearth
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen –> Buried Alive

Black doesn’t have much going on in this update. I’m trimming Corpse Dance and Ob Nixilis for power reasons, replacing them with different graveyard support cards. Gravecrawler is an obvious include from Dark Ascension. The Bane of the Living slot has always been either the morph or Thrashing Wumpus, and one of them may return in the future (as they’re great against swarms of small creatures).

Blue

Thieving Magpie –> Dungeon Geists
Calcite Snapper –> Delver of Secrets
New –> Phantasmal Image
Phyrexian Metamorph –> MOVED TO COLORLESS
Keiga, the Tide Star –> Consecrated Sphinx
Jace, Memory Adept –> Frost Titan

I have some more controversial changes in blue.

I really like Thieving Magpie and Calcite Snapper (“Best Convertible Turtle of All Time” award goes to the Snapper), but they have stiff competition. The Magpie is facing other creatures that lock down, counter, bounce, or steal your opponent’s creatures at its own casting cost, and efficient looters at lower casting costs. Calcite Snapper is increasingly becoming harder to defend with, and does not interact favorably with equipment. Delver of Secrets may not flip as often as he does in constructed, but I’m willing to test him out, as the blue-based tempo decks in my cube should be able to get enough value out of him to make it worthwhile.

I’m cheating another card into blue by moving Phyrexian Metamorph into colorless. With this change, every color save green will have a phyrexian mana card in the colorless section, so it is balanced well enough to my liking.

Keiga is being removed for a finisher that will get a tremendous value more consistently. The steal effect is swingy and folds to sweepers. Consecrated Sphinx, meanwhile, merely asks that you help it survive until your opponent’s draw step. Two cards in-hand every turn (i.e. nearly one extra spell per turn) is very powerful.

Jace, Memory Adept is very non-interactive. And thus, just not as fun for either player when he hits the table, as when running 40-card decks, the game is over very quickly. Compared to other milling effects, like Sword of Body and Mind and Nemesis of Reason, it is much faster. The Sword requires an uninterrupted combat step, and Nemesis of Reason has summoning sickness. Jace activations are immediate and relatively easy to defend for a turn. His loyalty starts high enough that even if hit, it’s not always likely to take him out, unlike his more complicated Mindsculptor version. He’s not even Lightning Bolt-able. I didn’t think I would remove him from the cube when he was spoiled, but that’s exactly what I’m doing.

So, there we have it! A much larger update that I anticipated, and quite a lot to think about. I think these changes are going to be great for my own cube, and would recommend other people to look carefully at how they want their own cube decks to behave by shaping the different archetypes available. I’ve been going for an approach that makes each color a little bit more “lean” and more focused.

Green is typically a difficult color to pin-down to archetypes. I know a lot of other cube owners are taking an opposite approach with green than I am, by including more mana-ramp cards and high-end creatures, and they have done so with success for their playgroups. If you’re interested in trying out something off the beaten path, though, maybe what I’ve outlined above for green is something you could try.

Avacyn Restored spoilers are just around the corner, and I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for cube (gimme a new RW Angel and UG/UR planeswalkers, please!).

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