With the complete list now out for Dark Ascension I am reasonably underwhelmed with the new offerings for the cube. The latter half of the set has very few obvious high power entries to the cube and lots of C cube filler cards that may some day serve a role. This is not to say the set is bad, I am impressed with the flavour and expect it to be in keeping with the high quality for draft that Innistrad has to offer. It also has much for constructed formats but here is for cube talk, for which we shall be scraping the barrels.
Faith's Shield 2.0
I think this card will directly replace Brave the Elements. While it cannot reliably save your team from some of the mass removal effects nor allow you to alpha strike with an unblockable team, it is a much more rounded card that could easily see play outside of white weenie decks. This is both a combat trick and a counterspell for targetted removal. On top of this it actually has a reliable fateful hour mechanism, particularly against red decks. At five or less life it works as a counterspell for things targetting you which will be great against getting burned out and occasionally be useful against other random effects. It will prove an interesting card to play around although sadly it will not be quite as good as Brave in the dedicated deck it is a more deserving card of the slot as the cube really doesn't want multiple cards like this. Although this is strictly better than Brave the Elements with the trigger it is not something that can be relied upon or easily engineered and will not be doing what you want when you want. Despite this drawback of the Shield in decks that would play Brave the overall playability of this card earns it the a position in the A cube.
Thraben Heretic - C cube
I pretty much view this card as a hoser and don't want to put it in the cube based on that alone. It is a fine body with a pleasant cost but a tap effect is far from ideal even if it is more reliable for certain jobs than other white options.
Call of the Kindred - no slot
Quirky card but to silly to build around, way too vulnerable and for all that investment you should be winning immediately not just putting random dorks into play.
Counterlash - C cube
This is hard to set up as a way to cheat something into play and fits in few decks well. 6 mana is also way to much to be overpowered even if your throwing out Wurmcoil Engines and Blightsteel Colossus. Still, got to keep the cheat cards lying around incase they find a home someday, against all the odds.
Dungeon Geists - B cube
I really like this card, feels a bit like Sower of Temptation. Although Sowers effect is way more powerful the extra toughness on the Geist does keep it around longer and allow it to do more on the board. I can see this potentially finding a home in aggressive blue decks based around flying but only as redundancy for Sower.
Geralf's Mindcrusher - no slot
Cool, a green monster in blue. While this is loads of immovable fat in a colour not overdone for such things it is a bit do nothing and a bit expensive for blue to want to bother with.
Mystic Retrieval - B cube
This smacks of Mystical Teachings and could very well spawn some interesting archetypes around it. I love the interaction with Gifts Ungiven and Intuition. While sorcery, the lower flashback cost makes up for this. Mystical Teachings has been in and out of the cube, generally feeling a little too narrow due to effectively being a gold card and slightly too much mana. While I am going to try hard to make cool decks with the Retrieval is strongly suspect it will follow the same path as Teachings spending its days in the B cube.
Screeching Skaab - C cube
This does a thing and is a reasonable body to go with that. If a deck type arrives that wants to do what this does then perhaps I'll be glad I kept a copy...
Stormbound Geist - 1.5
If this card could block anything it would be a mainstay blue dork in the cube. As it is it is much more restricted to aggressive decks in a slot where blue already has many options. This is still a whole lot of monster for blue to have access to and requiring of the double kill allows blue to maintain stronger board positions, another thing it is typically weak for. Blue really lacks one and two drop monsters that support archetypes that would use the Geist and so due to the unreliablity of this guys defensive prowess he may well wind up in the B cube.
Tower Geist - C cube
Now I am all about the Sea Gate Oracle and so I have given much consideration to this card. Sadly I think it doesn't make the cut. The extra mana is so much more over the Orcle as effect used to smooth out your draw and buy you time. The chance to do something powerful on turn four is what the Oracle lets you do, this is not however a powerful thing. The 2/2 body is likely worse than a 1/3 for a card in this role and flying is certainly not worth the extra mana.
Black Cat - 1.5
I quite like this and think it may have a place in the cube. Ravenous rats, while technically card advantage, does two things very poorly. Them choosing the card they pitch means it is often not very useful, and a 1/1 is obviously getting very little done. Random is significantly more powerful than giving them the choice, sometimes even more so than Coercion effects can be as it is able to hit lands. If the opponent cannot risk a random discard the Black Cat is powerful on the defensive. Rats are typically used in decks that want to make use of bodies and so abuses come into play effects and when this dies effects. Pox decks, Reccuring Nightmare and Birthing Pod are all good examples. These are the only decks that would ever tend to want Ravenous Rats for which Black Cat is significantly better. Rats only being the superior card when you can't find a way to get the them killed usefully.
Harrowing Journey - no slot
Too much mana at sorcery speed. Lacks flexibility over cards like Necrologia and Skeletal Scrying. The only extra use this card offers is nugging your opponent for three which is not at all exciting or worth the drawbacks.
Highborn Ghoul - B cube
Black lacks all round two drops and zombie just got way better to have as a type. Evasion is nice to have too but the card is just not very powerful. If you are making these and they are making almost any other two drop in the cube you are losing. The BB cost is also a bit of a downer, while this would likely only see play in mono black decks the added restrictions it adds to your mana base make you wonder if it is worth it. Black and white get many more interesting guys at WW and BB which makes them restrictive in a similar way to gold cards. As such I am generally only interested in the very best cards with such costs. At 1B I would be more accepting of this cards otherwise meagre power.
Increasing Ambition - no slot
Both ends are far too much mana to find a home in any part of the cube.
Erdwal Ripper - no slot
Acceptable starting body and haste are a big bonus on this compared to most of the other various growing monsters. I still think I would rather have a Slith Firewalker thought and that doesn't make the A cube.
Fires of Undeath - no slot
Even at instant this is significantly worse than Firebolt ontop of which it requires you to be in two colours to fully utilize. Not even close to making it into any part of the cube.
Increasing Vengeance - no slot
As it only targets your spells this is much worse than the current options. No use as a counterspell counterspell and never an option to effectively use at two mana. The flashback part of this card is barely playable adding five mana to the cost of one of your spells.
Hinterland Hermit / Hinterland Scourge - C cube
A 2/1 for 1R is acceptable and if flipped is a pretty reasonable monster that can be used as effective removal in a red deck. Sadly the flip mechanic on warewolves is really weak in cube as very few decks stop casting spells, and if they do they are dead anyway. Pretty sure this will never get played in any form of cube deck but I am going to have a copy in the C cube anyway.
Markov Blademaster - B cube
I overlooked this guy in the first review. He does however hit for 3, then 7 and then 11 after which they are dead and you have a 7/7 double strike. I am not sure this will see much play as at three mana monsters start to get a little more serious. Red does lack a hard hitting dork on three but without the first contact Blademaster never gets to be hard hitting and that intial blow seems quite unlikely even with red being reasonable at clearing the path. Double strike is a frightening ability however and works very well with all creature buffs. I prefer both Predator Ooze and Geralf's Messengers to Blademaster but the lack of a triple colour casting cost makes the Blademaster a more playable card. All these diffrent angles might combine to make this decent in the cube but I rather doubt it.
Shattered Perception - C cube
Could come in handy for something, doubt it though.
Torch Fiend - 1.5
Ever so slightly different take on Hearth Kami. The Kami was fantastic when the cube was powered as it acted like a sinkhole half the time, although sinkhole when they have a mox start is less impressive... As a utility card without the power Kami became for too much mana for a one for one trade. Along comes Mr Torch Fiend and allows us to make resaonably costed aggressive two drops that can pop any artifact for a mere one mana. In red deck wins I prefer this to manic vandal as it is more proactive. You can make it at any stage in your curve and not fear a loss to something you then can't deal with later on. It costs the same mana overall as the Manic Vandal and may be split over two turns. It is also usable to blow things up at instant speed which makes it far better against equipment and decks going off. I think I will probably replace Smash to Smithereens with this card although they do not fill the exact same role it is close enough and the Fiend is far less of a dead draw so players will be happier filling out their decks with it.
Crushing Vines - 1.5
Not too many flying creatures in the cube but the ones that there are can be a real problem for green. The narrow anti-air half is not going to come up nearly as often as this being an expensive naturalize but there are plenty enough artifacts that want destroying to make this versatile enough removal for green. When this does hit a flier you will be very glad of having it. A variety of heavy/mono green control decks have been showing some impressive results of late in the cube and this is a nice complement to those archetypes. Obviously if this were a sorcery it would be in the C cube at best but as it stands I think it is worth a shot.
Dawntreader Elk - no slot
Yet another card that is painfully similar to many others but ever so slightly less useful or powerful. So over Sakura-Tribe Elder this is a 2/2 but costs you a mana to use. If you could put damage on the stack I might consider this a bit harder but as it is I would just rather play a wood elf to ramp me, or for that matter, a rampant growth. Compared to Viridian Emissary you have a vaguely aggressive monster with control over getting a land and a bit more toughness but for this you lose all the synergy and card advantage properties of the Emissary.
Deranged Outcast - C cube
Reasonably costed aggressive monster with a useful ability. It can be used at instant speed and he can use himself as ammo, it can even be used to counter an undying effect of theirs. That all said green is overdone with two drop monsters and this one is very limp without extra mana investment. I cannot really see this ever beating one of the existing options to find a slot in an aggressive green deck nor can I see a combo with him as yet, nor is he much use in control decks. The only feature that makes me more curious about this guy is he is a sacrifice outlet in green which have fairly few options for such things. As it is only for humans it is of no real use in any green cube deck wanting to be able to sacrifice creatures however so I feel he is destined to never see the light of day (I kind of wanted to say "play" instead of "day" but I care about animals).
Grim Flowering - C cube
Far to much mana and too situational although potentially abusable in self mill strategies, and a rare card draw spell in green. If it had a flashback cost that could be rather more interesting.
Young Wolf - B cube
I was really hoping this would be a 1/1 zombie for B where it would be really useful. In green I am not sure what this is doing. I don't think it is aggressive enough for the decks that want to beatdown, nor does green have many other good one drops to go with the wolf for early pressure, only elves to make mana for bigger men sooner. Thinking about it most other colours and creature types would have been better for this card in the cube, what a shame. Still, going to try it out a bit, see if I can find a role for the furry little fella.
Drogskol Captain - C cube
This is the best of the gold grey ogre lords Dark Ascension has to offer. Flying is nice and giving hexproof to your guys is great. While not overly relevant in cube having two of these in play is serious and requires global removal to really stand a chance against them. Sadly there are not all that many spirits, nor are they of a coherent theme or tribe. Kira, the Great Glass-Spinner is nice redundancy with Drogskol Captain and a spirit to boot. I am sure a few people will have a go at a spirit deck with this card but otherwise this won't be going near the A cube unless they print an awful lot of white and blue spirits of A cube standard themselves.
Avacyn's Collar - C cube
I like this spell but the expensive equip costs on top of narrow applications make this a C cube card. Many of the good things it combos with are humans such as Auriok Steelshaper and Puresteel Paladin. While the clear home for this is an equipment based human white weenie deck I could see it getting play in blue decks as they have a high human count and Trinket Mage to find it. This is no Skullclamp but what it does offer over the clamp is a way to get value out of your dying men while not losing too much board position. The vigilance on the card allows you to be aggressive whilst making your guy easier to send to the graveyard. If it were 1 to cast and one to equip and only required non-token rather than human to get the spirit the card would be very close to skullclamp power levels and would see play in some critter decks where clamp did not. Most of the time the Collar and the Clamp will just complement each other instead. I will try and play this whenever it seems OK just because I want it to be good, I am doubtful but I'll keep you posted.
Elbrus, the Binding Blade / Withengar Unbound - no slot
Even with all the ways to cheat equipment into play I can't see this being good. Combo decks that don't directly win have to be really special, which this isn't. I do like the flavour of the card at least.
Grim Backwoods - C cube
Land with value is good but this is a colourless land with a multicolour activation cost eating up five mana a pop. The ability is exactly what several green black builds want to have I just don't think the cost is quite right in this instance.
Well, I feel I should offer some sort of a conclusion after all that but I kind of did that at the start... I could offer a top five but as I rated the A cube cards that should be pretty clear already. After a few months play with the new cards I will offer an actual results and conclusion section which will detail any changes made to the A cube list since the last list, most of which will be the Dark Ascension cards. At this stage I will re-evaluate my ratings, most will likely drop as their novelty wears off. Some of the B and C cube cards might surprise me and will get further discussion as to why they are better than they seem in the cube. For the next few months my cube will be awash with narrow and underpowered cards all desperately trying to prove themselves before the dreaded cull! I can't resist a list so for the lazy and forgetful - my top 5 Dark Ascension cards for the cube:
5. Faithless Looting
4. Strangelroot Geist
3. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
For the sake of lists I shall offer my top five favourite cards in the set that I am sure will be too narrow but that I really hope do well. I will be the advocate of such cards building decks specifically tailored for them simply to see if I can make them shine. If I succeed my reward when the day of culling arrives is that I get to justifiably keep fun cards in the cube.
5. Avacyn's Collar
4. Geralf's Messenger
3. Mystic Revival
2. Ghoul Tree