Chrome Mox 4.5
One of my favourite ever magic cards offering some of the most difficult choices right from the first turn. It is one of the easiest cards to get a read on from your opponent as it is the only card that really causes a long pause on the first turn to work out its best use from the many options it comes with. I loved this card so much it is the only card I ever bothered trading for two play-sets of when it came out. It is a Mox that is balanced! Although clearly worse than the original five Moxen it does have the added bonus of being able to fix colours for you. It is also far easier to build a mana base around Chrome Mox than Mox Diamond as it is more like a land than a spell. The Chrome tends to wind up in blue and black decks most as they are inherently slow and can recover the card disadvantage. The most aggressive white weenie and red deck wins suffer the card disadvantage more severely and require the speed boost less with an already very cheap mana curve. Certainly the Mox is best in your opening hand where it can offer its services for more of the game and have more imprint options to chose from however it is a lot more useful as a late draw in cube than in any other magic format. The nature of cube has resets and huge changes in game state with many spells effects being symmetrical. A top deck or opponents play can give a sudden surge of cards at which point an extra mana at the right time can make all of the difference. Even in control on control mirrors this remains the case when a few crunch turns happen and players try resolving their big spells. I am always surprised how late these are still floating around in the modo cube and only pass on it for about 20 cards including the power nine.
Mox Diamond 4.5
The other widely usable balanced Mox is easier to play with than Chrome but far harder to construct with. For the most part Chrome can be counted as a land where as Diamond needs to be counted as a spell making mana bases very hard to work out and harder to avoid potential mana floods. Diamond works better in more aggressive decks than chrome but is still not an auto include by any means. The best homes for this deck are just where certain cards allow for efficient use of the card such as Land Tax, Life from the Loam and Yawgmoth's Will. Mostly this is because it discards rather than exiling allowing for more synergy. The colour fixing side of Mox Diamond makes it more popular than Chrome in decks with three or more colours too as a general rule (chrome also becomes less reliable as your increase the number of colours you play, unless of course they are mostly gold cards). Chrome probably sees slightly more play than diamond however when diamond is at its best it outshines Chrome for sure. I often play both Chrome and Diamond in some of the more extreme black and blue decks. Moxes smooth out and even up many cards in the cube, on one end of the spectrum ruinous effects that should be complete game over for control decks like Armageddon are recoverable with Moxes and at the other end of the spectrum the narrower out cards people are forced to play in the light of things such as Umezwa's Jitte become far less narrow with Moxes floating around to blow up. Free, instantly usable ramp and colour fixing should come at s stiff price if you compare it to something like a Rampant Growth or even a Bird of Paradise. A single card, especially in the cube, doesn't really seem to be that big of a deal for what you get in return.
Mox Opal is bar far and away the weakest of the newer attempts at fair Moxes. The Legendary aspect is a good way to do this for constructed formats but has almost no bearing in the cube. While you lose no card advantage for this powerful Mox you need to fulfil prerequisites before it comes on line. It is not so much a matter of how easy it is to obtain metalcraft in a deck but how quickly you can do it. One of the main strengths of a Mox is when you make it turn one and then curve out a whole turn ahead of your opponent from the outset. On turn one you will have the biggest relative difference gain in mana over your opponent from a Mox i.e. on turn one you will have two to their one meaning you double their mana however on turn four you will only have five to their four which is only 25% more mana. Even in the nuts affinity deck where you have a full set of artifact lands and a high number of other zero and one costing artifacts to get this on line and doing things on turn one you will still find you cannot activate it turn one at least half of the times you have it, sometimes you may even have to wait as long as turn three, particularly if they have some cheap removal. In decks less suited to turning it on fast it is even more prone to being of very little help when you most want it. Mox Opal demands more support than most other A cube cards to become playable, more than Tinker for sure. You just need a really high count of cheap artifacts, once you do the Mox can go in literally any archetype out there. The problem is that there are only four or five archetypes that can usefully play the required number of artifacts, including affinity, some Tinker/Welder decks and some combo decks like Thopter Foundry Sword of the Meek, which means the Mox does not see all that much play and is dangerously on the narrow side.
Zuran Orb 4.1
If you could accurately determine which card was most instrumental in sealing a victory for any given game of magic the innocuous little Orb would have amongst the highest number of killing blows so to speak. Life gain is generally quite a weak premise for a card and all other life gain effects in the cube come attached to another relevant effect which speaks volumes for the power level of the Orb as the only pure life gain effect in the A cube. It is quite hard to really understand exactly why the Orb is so strong. Often enough it simply draws out a loss as you bleed out, your land count slowly getting further behind. With Fastbond gone the Orb has lost most of its combo applications yet still sees much play in a reasonable selection of archetypes. Typically in black decks that abuse Necropotence and Bargain to get card advantage or in white decks to combine with Balance and Land Tax allowing respectively an Armageddon option and guaranteed activations. I think the best way to understand the power of Zuran Orb is to consider it as a Seal of Time Walk. It hopefully does nothing until victory is within sight at which point you should have enough life available from your land to give a safety net to get the win or buy that extra turn or two of attacks you can absorb. Any close game will generally be swung by the Orb coming down and at zero mana it is a very low risk card with the only drawback being pseudo card disadvantage when you draw this and it is of no consequence to the game as the Moxen can be. Not just in agro but for control and combo as well the vast majority of games are decided by one players life reaching zero. An even bigger majority of decks contain lands, at least 25% of their cards and usually a chunk more. Zuran Orb is almost guaranteed to have a relevant effect of the game, it is very easy to play and use yet offers the potential to really abuse with certain cards and synergies. It scales well as the game goes on, the only time you are likely to need life in the first few turns is against something combo like Erratic Explosion at which point 2 is probably enough. The longer the game goes on the more lands you will have at your disposal and the lower the value further lands will have to you. You can flop the Orb down right away to avoid discard or you can hold it back to withhold information from your opponent until the last minute, costing zero means either option is always open and never harmful to your curve or plans.
Mana Crypt 4.4
The Mana Crypt is more powerful than Sol Ring in the appropriate deck, and given that Sol Ring is a solid 5.0 rated card that is lots of power. The significant loss of rating this card suffers over Sol Ring is because of the drawback obviously, more specifically it is because of the kinds of decks that cannot afford the drawback. You either need to be winning very fast, able to do incredibly powerful things or have ways to sacrifice it easily in order that it doesn't just kill you on its own. Most of the very aggressive decks are mono coloured with lots of cheap yet with high colour requirements in which Mana Crypt does not help very much. This leaves most combo decks able to play Crypt but other than affinity Mana Crypt only very occasionally winds up in agro decks and those tend to be experimental, or just clunky and inconsistent. Some mana denial decks play Crypt however they need to take serious precaution as with some much effort placed in disrupting mana bases they tend to kill very slowly like control decks. It is very very rare for a pure control deck to think they can get away with running Crypt and they are usually still wrong when they do. Other than combo, some mana denial decks, affinity, the occasional weird agro deck and occasional foolish control player the only other home for Crypt is the big artifact ramp decks. Often these have Tinker and/or Goblin welder and other such effects like Upheaval allowing you to dispose of the Crypt if needed. Really it is that they are just doing such powerful things so much sooner than they should be that normal sorts of fair balancing effects are just negligible to them. So what if I take three every turn, I have a Wurmcoil in play from turn three followed up with a Mindslaver lock... Mana Crypt is a little bit randomly swingy both for the coin flip aspect and just for when you draw it in a suitable opening hand. It is also very much of the power level of the cards I have banned from the cube when I elected to de-power it. The reason I have kept the Crypt despite its over powered random nature is because it enhances the weaker archetypes while not really adding very much to the current top tier decks. I feel Crypt makes more archetypes exist close to the top tier of decks and makes for a better balanced yet broader metagame. The classic cheesy play that everyone hates this card for is turn one Island, Crypt, Tinker however it is increasingly common for decks of all flavours to be able to beat that start which is both funny and satisfying. Innocent Blood? Nature's Claim? Path to Exile? Vapour Snag? The real killer is when you get something like an Inkwell Leviathan and they just make a Goblin Guide, race you and win..
Everflowing Chalice 2.7
The chalice is everything you want from a colourless mana generator. You can fetch it with a Trinket Mage and power it up with proliferate! More relevantly than those pleasant aspects of this card it may be tapped for mana on the turn you make it, it untaps normally and scales well throughout the game. The chalice fits in any non-green deck (as they usually have better options) wishing to accelerate to something or just spend lots of mana on things. The card does what you need it to when cast for two and although not exciting will likely be of great help unless in a badly misconstructed deck. Typically this will be cast for two in control decks and is a sign of not much going on when made for more although it will be offering some real advantages to that player if the games picks up again. In artifact decks this card is far more frequently cast for large numbers and abused with Voltiac Key and is still generally better than Thrann Dynamo in such decks despite the obvious inferiority if kicked two or three times. As most of the serious artifact ramp decks have such big spells (as well as the untap mechanisms on much of the good cheap artifact ramp) they tend to ramp into more ramp spells and then start casting unfair things. Everflowing Chalice is excellent for being able to fulfil the role of both first and second tier ramp effect thus really smoothing out your draws. Talisman and Signet rampers are preferred when you are not really wanting to ramp from 4 to 6 or 7 as colour fixing is good I hear.
Engineered Explosives 2.1
Highly versatile little card that will crop up here and there. With access to a three or more colours reliably and perhaps a few things to makes that 4 or 5 occasionally like Bird of Paradise, Vivid Lands or Mox Diamond the card really starts to shine. The ability to tutor this up with a Trinket Mage is also pretty huge as mass removal is not the sort of thing you expect at 1 or less mana. It kills planeswalkers and is much quicker than Ratchet Bomb, even if more mana to use. Overall this card is better than Ratchet Bomb when you can reliably charge to three or more, otherwise it is too restrictive. Both cads fill very similar roles in decks being more used to deal with specific threats rather than being a card like Wrath of God or Pernicious Deed which aim at gaining card advantage through mass removal. You will use it as an answer to a Sword of Somthing and Nasty or to take out a planeswalker you are unable to attack. It is a card that makes you feel a lot safer when in your deck however it is often discarded to a Thirst for Knowledge as it is not the cheapest card to use as removal on larger things. Fairly brutal against the weenie decks and an outstanding answer to tokens on mass where it is usually card and tempo advantage as well as removal. Quite clumsy to use in the kinds of deck I play it in where I often have to make choices about what I will be killing of my own as well as of theirs. More frequently used as a sideboard card brought in against a Skullclamp your mono black deck just lost too or the Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession your mono green deck is getting mashed by. The reason it sees less play than Ratchet Bomb is that it is an OK out to things you can't cope with however you need access to lots of colours for Explosives to really shine and when that is the case you should have cheaper solutions to your problems.
Mana Vault 4.2
This is one of the most effective accelerators remaining in the cube with the removal of the power. At one mana it is easy to curve out nicely with it or tutor up with Tezzeret or Trinket Mage. Great to abuse with Voltaic Key for huge mana or gain a small boost once and then sacrifice to a Welder or Tinker. The life drawback is nowhere near as harmful as on Mana Crypt as well as much more controllable and makes this far more playable in control type decks. Typically this will see play in the combo decks and is a mainstay of the big mana artifact archetypes. It is my favourite picture on a magic card too which has no effect on its rating but probably on my bias... It offers choices, do you take a turn out to untap or take the pain and hope to top deck or just cast something of little consequence? The drawbacks on Mana Vault are certainly very pesky compared to Grim Monolith but at half the mana cost we can happily forgive them. The Vault, while netting you the same mana as the Crypt on the turn you make them, will generally deny you access to a coloured mana and thus make it that much less explosive than Crypt. Often the vault is dropped and left a few turns until it can be of most use, this should never happen with Crypt, both for the life loss and the fact that it freely untaps. Mana Vault offers some really powerful starts and has both generic synergy with things through being a cheap artifact as well as powerful specific synergy with cards like Voltaic Key and Tezzeret, the Seeker. While it is a very powerful magic card it is well tempered by its various inconveniences and drawbacks. Having to untap it in your upkeep is a royal pain and rarely something you want to do, while with Grim Monolith it is easy, obvious and relatively painless to untap. The slow nibble of life is also great at forcing an issue and makes the card more interesting and more balanced.
Æther Vial 2.5
The Vial is a powerful card but rather like Birthing Pod it requires a deck to be somewhat structured around it. You need a high creature count and an appropriate curve within those guys to really abuse Vial. Ideally you want to make it on turn one as well which means you can initially be slower to get aggressive. It also makes it a very weak draw later in the game. Even in perfect decks for it you will still find it to be of little use more often than not but the power it offers on the occasions it is good is enough to compensate for its inconsistency. If made on turn one and then used to make guys over the next three or four turns with there is no other card that can offer as much free mana without a consequence. It can be 6 of any coloured mana by turn three and 10 by turn five. Evading counter magic is a bonus to the card but a very minor aspect compared to the mana generation. The ability to bring in monsters at instant speed is more relevant than their being counter proof. Things like Kor Skyfisher become really powerful if usable at instant speed, not to mention the fear an untapped vial gives a player wishing to attack. Another small nombo this card can have that occasionally precludes it from decks is that it doesn't work with things like Sarcomancy, Bloodbraid Elf and Spectral Procession. I find it very hard to balance the number of dorks I have in my deck with Vial. If you play only dorks you end up casting them all and not getting many uses from Vial, if you play too few dorks you frequently end up without any dorks to cast or Vial out. You want some things to spend you mana on like activation costs and equipping with just the right number of dorks to plop one out most goes with the Vial. I find a lot of card draw very helpful in making the Vial perform at its best but really wouldn't like to guess at any generic guidelines for good creature ratios and curves to use with Vial. I like to play Vial in blue decks most of all as they crave ways to have more casting power, have good ways to spend mana on abilities and can draw into more things to put through the Vial. Blue can also easily convert a dud late to the party Vial into a fresh new useful card where other colours are not so able to filter.
Chromatic Star 3.5
This is the perfect example of a good magic card. It makes decks and mana bases both more consistent while offering good utility and synergy with cards that want artifacts in play, or to sacrifice them. Sure, the card doesn't do much and won't be the cause of games being won or lost on its own. It will perform its role unnoticed in the background, prevent the screw and draw you out of harms way all allowing you to play the game of magic rather than slowly dying without options. I cannot really stress enough how cards like this improve all formats of magic. The cube allows the Star and similar cards to shine but it is also a format where the one mana cost can occasionally be a burden meaning the card is far from an auto include in any deck. On the other hand the star is a pretty reasonable consideration for any deck which is another fantastic claim for a card. If you are light on playables, or at all concerned about your fixing or just in need of something else to up your artifact count the humble Star is there for you. In a lot of combo decks the ability to turn colourless mana into coloured mana is very important. Many use cards like Mana Crypt, Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors and Mana Vault to speed them out of the gates. You can cast a turn one Oath of Druids with basic land and Mana Vault if you have the Chromatic Star while you would have to wait. This crops up in all manner of quick technical combo decks in all kinds of situation. I play Chromatic Star in most of those kinds of deck and find I save it for as long as possible fairly often as I am concerned about having enough of the right colours in a turn or two. You can't go too far wrong with this card and it will frequently save your ass, often without you even really noticing. An unsung hero and the kind of card good magic is made of.
Sensei's Diving Top 4.0 (or 0.0 if you are bad)
The Top is a painfully skill intensive card and when in play causes games to grind to a slow crawling pace. This is pain as this is a beautiful card and offers many of the perks of Chromatic Star, in that is reduces the random screw odds against you. I would also prefer it if the costs on the abilities were switched so that you could destroy the damn thing when they tap out. As it is the thing is basically indestructible which only adds to the frustration caused by its retarding effect. On the plus side it is the card I see most misused in the cube either porting down the users mana for no gain or being put in decks with no use for it giving them effective card disadvantage. A nifty trick with the card in combination with Voltaic Key is to use the tap effect then respond by untapping it and using it again. You then draw the Top and another card, which after replaying the Top allows you to use your Key and spend two mana a turn to draw a card. The more shuffle effects you have, the more mana you have and the more specific cards you need to find such as combo pieces or answers the better top will be in your deck. The only other occasions the Top is called upon is as a cheap artifact to boost a total count or get sacrificed. With many decks fitting these various criteria the Top is a popular card but is still probably played more than it should be and definitely more than people would like. Tomi Walamies once said he thought Maze of Ith was the worst card in magic simply for the ability it gave people to misplay the card to put themselves at a disadvantage. Top would be my vote for card most misused to peoples detriment. Some people seem to feel the need to use the Top every single time the top three cards of their library changes. While one mana is a bargain you will really set yourself back in mana with excessive use over the course of a game. The Top is the best card to interact with Miracle effects, although it doesn't allow you to miracle out a card once you have drawn it the Top has several other features that work very well with the mechanic. Firstly Top gives you good warning as to when you have a miracle coming your way and also alows you to postpone its arrival until it suits you best. The best thing however about Top and miracles is that you can set it up to instantly and freely draw you a miracle, say a Bonfire of the Damned in their combat step. While of very limited use without library manipulation and shuffle effects it quickly rises to the level of Brainstorm card quality spell. Library manipulation and particularly shuffle effects are abundant and often on powerful cards within the cube and so the Top is not a particularly restricted card.
Chromatic Sphere 2.5
Like the Chromatic Star but slightly worse in most situations. There are times the Sphere is the best of these effects in the cube but these are rare. When you are having a power turn with a Yawgmoth's Will or facing down a Samurai of the Pale Curtain the Sphere will still draw you the all important card. These slight upsides do not outweigh the fact that the Sphere has no synergy with sacrifice effects. The primary function of this card is to smooth mana and draws and reduce the chance of losing games. In this role there are few cards as effective but assuming you have any cards that require/allow you to sacrifice artifacts the sphere will be third choice out of the options after Chromatic Star and Terrarion. I am always happy to pick one of these cards in a draft as it gives you many more options to fine tune your land spell ratio in a deck. Sometimes 16 land and 24 spells is too land light and 17 land 23 spells is too much land, in this situation you can either run 17 land 24 spells or you can run 16 and 24 spells including a Chromatic Cycling Fixer. Not always a solution but sometimes appropriate. Redundancy is a good thing in cube, especially on a card this broad in where it may be of help. I am rarely unhappy about putting in the second card of this style to my deck, you can clog up your mana a bit and deny yourself a bit too much information early if you draw them all but the diminishing returns on playing these effects are not that worth worrying about. If you have any synergy for them or a really shaky mana base such as affinity on both accounts then you will suffer no diminishing returns on their inclusion all the way to three copies. I even tried out Barbed Sextant but that was too far and too weak.
Pithing Needle 1.8
A neat little answer card for a selection of decks against a wide array of awkward problem cards. Most commonly found in blue decks which have Trinket Mage to fetch it up however not uncommon in black decks where killing artifacts is tough. You need to really want to stop something with the Needle to be able to play it as it obviously does nothing else and often only partly shuts down a card like when you turn off their Grim Lavamancer but they still manage to kill you just attacking for one. It is most commonly employed against equipment and planeswalkers however is surprisingly useful in lots of situations against lots of cards. The bargain price of one mana often makes it tempting to throw down to get a small immediate advantage however it is often right to hold onto it for the serious problem cards you had it in for in the first place. In the case of planeswalkers it is one of the few removal spells that can stop them getting even one ability use out of a walker and can be a fine pre-emptive lay however it is often the case that a single activation of a walker is not worth its cost, especially the plus loyalty effects, and so you are better off letting them make their expensive cards and then shutting them off. While Needle does nothing else beyond shutting something down it does make it a lot more robust than Phyrexian Revoker and as such more reliable removal. Given that you are playing it because of problem cards the fact that it is more reliable makes it far better in this capacity however as light tempo disruption the Revoker is the better call as it is not a lost card. A great sideboard card, a generally useful disruption and solution card that can be used to bolster synergy in any artifact themed deck and a nice fair card that makes a selection of mono coloured decks more viable. It is often particularly brutal against combo decks who struggle to deal with it and often can't go off around it. It is rarely the best solution to a problem and playing it feels like accepting defeat and that your deck has fundamental flaws in so it sees less play from me than it probably warrants. It feels a bit like Pacifism, a totally fine removal spell that you just wish was something else like a Doom Blade, Path to Exile or even a Journey to Nowhere when you use it. Commonly brought in from the sideboard when you realise how badly you lose to the Opposition, Sword of Your and Colours, Olivia Voldaren, Vedalken Shackles, the bomb like planeswalker and so on and so on.
The final card of the three cycling mana fixers, it offers some advantages over the others for a drawback. The Terrarion offers a double mana fix on the turn you use it which is rarely relevant but certainly not irrelevant. For this double fix you are prevented from using the Terrarion the turn you cast it which is also not often significant. Should it be drawn later on in the game and the card is desired more than the mana fix it may still be sacrificed immediately if you have an outlet. Decks that primarily want to have useful artifacts lying around to sacrifice will play the Terrarion and the Star, those decks would just want occasional pain free fixing and a pseudo 39 card deck will opt for Star or Sphere. In the decks where you want to sacrifice these effects are much more important to your strategy and so the Terrarion sees more play than the Sphere despite it being the more cumbersome card. Tarrarion is generally a worse late game top deck and also far less useful should you have only one mana both of which are not as uncommon as I might like.
Voltaic Key 2.6
The Key is the enabler for the big mana artifact decks of all flavours. It fits perfectly on the curve and offers an array of useful combos with most of the other spells that go into such decks. It can draw you additional cards with Divining Top, fix your colours with artifact lands and moxen, be fetched by a Trinket Mage, give your dorks pseudo-vigilance, and most importantly ramp your mana with artifacts that tap to add two or more. The two most notable of such artifacts are Grim Monolith and Mana Vault which both particularly enjoy the company of Voltaic Key as they are unable to untap as per usual and require a hefty mana investment to do so that the Key can negate. Key can offer either a steady flow of additional mana or a big burst of extra mana when used with Vault or Monolith. Key is one of the best cards in the various decks utilizing lots of artifact ramp but it rarely features outside those decks or without its support cards. It is a cheap and versatile effect with powerful applications that is a mainstay of all the decks which play it. Since the removal of the power it is one of the cards that has surprisingly risen in value as it is so much more important in the abusive starts and big turns. If you play mana burn it is also a fairly good way to sink any you might have going spare although this would not be a reason to ever play the card. It is a very hard card to give a support rating to as it is narrow in where it gets played yet is loaded with powerful intended synergies and quirky little useful ones as well.
If you want equipment that really gives you tempo without much risk then this is your card. For a very minor cost you can turn almost any monster in the cube into a vastly more serious threat. Equipment is at its most effective on small creatures in that the boost it gives them will increase their value on the board by for more than it would an already decent dork. Obviously you wouldn't chose to have a small weenie instead of a massive fatty because you wanted to equip it, the reason I bring this up is because you have small creatures at the start of the game. As Bonsplitter is so cheap you can easily use it in the early game as well to make your dorks really far above the curve. It is also still pretty decent in the late game as it increases the power of every dork or card that makes dorks while you have it. With such a small and divisible cost it often allows you to be more mana efficient in the early game further helping your tempo. It is often going on your weakest dork rather than something like a Sword which really craves some kind of evasion so as to connect and do more than look like a Vulshock Morningstar. When placed on your weakest dork for only one mana you really don't stand to be that far behind if they use removal on your guy while many a game have been won with removal in response to the equipping of Swords and Jittes. Bonesplitter is a great addition to any deck with lots of weenie dorks worried about having too many low powered draws in the later game without wanting to give away any tempo. It is great for any agro deck with some artifact synergy and small dorks. Rancor is the more powerful card but then not every deck is green and the Splitter does have its perks over the aura such as security when you make it against getting two for 1ed. Bonesplitter is cheap and effective if not as exiting as some of the other equipment.
Cursed Scroll 2.8
This classic card crops up in all sorts of decks. For non-red decks it is one of the most cost effective way in which they can have access to direct damage (assuming they are able to empty their hand by turn five or six). For red decks it is used as a non-red source of damage as well as a different type of threat that offers repeat usage. It is sometimes even used as a cheap utility artifact in decks that want to have lots of artifacts to power up other effects. The high cost to damage ratio and the cards in hand requirement make this almost exclusively a late game card. It offers some very interesting choices for both you and your opponent when used with two or more cards in hand which makes me like the card more. The power level of the card is not especially high relative to the rest of the A cube but it retains its slot comfortably for now as there are no real comparisons or alternatives. I used to prefer Magus of the Scroll in red deck wins as it could nibble a few life points away in attacks and having more guys was useful for Reckless Charge and Goblin Bushwhacker. I am now of the opinion you either play a better one drop monster or Cursed Scroll over the Magus as you primarily want the card to evade removal, not the specific effect. Cursed Scroll is being increasingly used in agro blue decks who love the access to damage, have few one drops and have cards like Grand Architect and Trinket Mage to enhance its effectiveness. Scroll is a perfectly acceptable card in any fairly aggressive deck, it offers reach, card advantage, removal and a mana dump in the late game. It is fairly pesky to get rid of, especially for certain colours and is hard to beat when active for a number of archetypes.
Flayer Husk 1.0 (C cube)
I thought this card would impress more than it has. It is two permanents for for one mana, one of which isn't a token. It also has loads of subtle synergy with so many of the other cube cards from Bad Moon to Kor Skyfisher. Despite the many perks of the card it has too low a power level to make the cut in the decks it would perform best in, and for that matter most of the decks that it wouldn't too. The only deck it has performed reasonably in has been equipment based white weenie decks that use Puresteel Paladin to get card advantage and living weapons to keep the dork count reasonably high. Such decks use narrow cards from the B cube and are really not a common or powerful way to build white weenie. The equip cost is too high in mana to complement the low cost of the card and the minor stats boost. If that were somehow different, perhaps costing life, the card would see much more play in aggressive decks that had much synergy with it at all because it is so effective in smoothing out mana efficiency and fulfilling several roles.
Overall I think this is the best equipment, with Jitte as the only other serious contender. Jitte utterly wreaks other creature based decks in short order but it generally less exciting than your average Sword of This and That against control decks. Clamp on the other hand is powerful against any deck and can be used and abused in more ways than Jitte all for half the cost at both ends. Beyond both being very good equipment there are few similarities between Jitte and Clamp as they perform vastly different roles. Clamp is unlike most other equipment in this respect and is the hardest of them to play correctly with. This is because most of the time clamp is used it is costing you tempo and gaining you card advantage while other equipment, assuming they are successfully equipped, provide a large tempo boost. I have seen many a player too eager to use the clamp and throw the game due to lacking significant board position. At all times when using clamp you need to be very aware of which of its roles you desire as they are distinct. It is either; a mini Bonesplitter used to put on additional pressure, an Altar's Reap, allowing you to over extend against mass removal or vague protection / evasion in that it acts as a disincentive to block or attack into a clamped guy or use removal on them. It may perform many of these roles in a single turn but very much depends on the state of the game. In a close tempo race you rarely want to be using it as Altar's Reap and will primarily be using it as a Bonesplitter and as a disincentive. Against combo it is far more frequently used to mercilessly murder your team in order to find a specific answer card. It is even used itself in some combo decks. In summary Skullclamp is a great card of the highest quality that offers many powerful uses. Misuse however will cost games and so its controller must carefully ascertain which of its distinct uses apply at all times. Skullclamp is perfectly playable in any creature based deck however several cards and effects will increase its power. If you can sacrifice your dorks in some way top an effect it makes the clamp more reliable, if you have lots of token generation, or dorks with one toughness you want in the graveyard and so on. Like Bonesplitter you can't do too much wrong in putting a Skullclamp in your deck, it costs so little and is of high power. You can however use it badly and gain little advantage from it if you misread the situation and use the wrong applications.
The Talismans 3.2
These are the most consistent way to ramp and fix mana for all colours other than green. They have been in the cube since it was first made and are probably well up there with the really big name cards for most played of all time. I have actually cut the RG Talisman of Impulse as it was rarely played and never sorely missed if unavailable. The WG Talisman of Unity saw more play big mono white decks and in various mana denial decks using Winter Orb and Cataclysm etc. Overall however the green aspect of talismans is never desired as green has far better creatures and spells to ramp and fix. Red artifact decks are perfectly happy with utility cards such as Mind Stone or Everflowing Chalice over colour fixing for their two mana accelerators, they certainly never needs two Talisman that tap for red. The two blue Talismans are the most played by quite a significant margin and the overall rating is aimed at reflecting those. It is not the power of the non-blue Talismans that let them down after all. The convenience offered by the Talismans is exactly what you want from this kind of card, the ability to tap right away, the option to colour fix and the way they are painless to use assuming you don't need coloured mana. A no fuss card at the right cost that can do a lot of what you want better than most alternatives. Viable in combo, control and the occasional tempo deck.
The Signets 2.2
I have only bothered putting copies of UW, UB, BW and UR into the cube. Two of these offer redundancy on the blue Talismans while the other two offer opposing colour fixing for the two opposed colours that most want such effects. Occasionally someone will dip into the B cube and dig out one of the other signets for very obscure decks but a complete set of 10 is far far too much for a cube to support and will just end up being a load of last picks. As ramp cards they are pretty weak, while not coming into play tapped they are still quite hard to effectively use on the turn cast even if it is beyond turn two. Forcing you to have one of each colour can be annoying as well meaning they often get paired with filter lands to offset that problem. Turning a colourless mana into coloured is quite useful and allows a higher number of colourless generating effects to be played in the deck. Never play one instead of the Talisman equivalent if you have the option, otherwise fine for what they do but not exciting or as robust as one tends to like cards of this nature to be.
Mind Stone 1.6 (C cube)
While this taps for mana immediately when you make it the fact that it is only colourless makes this almost always worse than the Signets and Talismans. In the cube generating colourless mana is quite easy to do, even large quantities of it which this does not offer. As such it finds more play in ramping control than big mana artifact decks. As colour fixing is usually better than the cycling this will be the second or third choice for such decks and does not see much play as a result. Everflowing Chalice has stolen most of the homes this card once had which is a shame as this is a very nicely designed card that is not especially high power but does what you want it to reliably and well and is never dead due to the cycling. This is one of those cards that is fine in lots of decks but not quite good enough to make the final cut in the vast majority of cases. You are less likely to get screwed playing this over Everflowing Chalice however you are hurting your decks overall power when you cut cards that are best at their primary role for cards that are a touch safer. Mindstone is best used to sure up mana and ramp ratios rather than as a pure ramp card. Best in the non blue artifact decks as well, where card quality and needing to top deck are more more important.
Grim Monolith 4.1
A cube mainstay that offers the desired redundancy to Mana Vault for big artifact mana decks. Obviously not quite as good as the Vault as it is harder to tutor for, offers less burst and is less easy to curve out with smoothly. While the burst from Vault and Monolith if used on the turn they are made can be of use it is more often the case to make them as an investment so you can add three mana extra to a subsequent turn. For this use the Grim is far closer to the Vault in power despite being double the cost. Once in play the perks of monolith over Vault are surprisingly noticeable. Being able to untap it at any stage is really really useful as you don't have to make difficult choices in your upkeep. Not having it hurt you is always a bonus but far less relevant than the convenient untap. Another minor perk of the Monolith is as a mana sink to avoid burning. Monolith tends to come as a package deal in decks alongside Voltaic Key and Mana Vault, often with the lands that generate 2 colourless mana too. This package gives such an early power boost to the mana of a deck that it can go in a wide array of directions using expensive spells such as Upheaval, Yawmoth's Bargain and Wildfire to name a few. Simply making a massive threat much quicker than is fair also works very effectively and is generally more reliable than trying to mess about reanimating them into play. It is about as consistent and offers you far more scope to use other spells and effects requiring lots of mana beyond just creatures.
Ankh of Mishra 2.2
This little card is really rather brutal and acts like a cheaper Sulphuric Vortex for any deck feeling agro enough to support it. Typically it is the red agro decks with their burn that are keen for the power of the Ankh but I have seen it crop up in most agro decks except those relying on sac lands to fix their mana. While I like the fact this is a cheap persistent threat I dislike the fact it is a little temperamental in use. On the play on turn two following a one drop threat it is back breaking for most decks however it can be dead weight in the mid game when you are behind in any way against a non ramp or control deck. In addition to this wide variation of power it is much much more effective against some archetypes than others which is fine in principle but does make me look less fondly on it. While hosing archetypes is bad, hosing sac lands which are overly powerful and in most archetypes is something I am much more in favour of and so Ankh wins back some lost points on that front. It was also one of the few cards that could keep Fastbond in check before I banned it from the cube. Similar decks to those abusing Fastbond still exist but without it they don't need any keeping in check. Another perk of the card is that it is one of the few cheap aggressive artifact cards and so can go fairly well into any tempo deck desiring of artifacts for synergy such as Shrapnel Blast and Galvanic Blast. It gives reach to colours like white at a reasonable cost but is more like a powerful disruption effect than an actual win condition as it gives so much control to your opponent as to when they take damage from it. Red is by far and away the most common colour to use the Ankh not jsut because it has burn to compliment it but also for the land destruction cards and potential redundancy with Zo-Zu the Punisher.
Contagion Clasp 1.4 (C cube)
I am very fond of this card despite it not really being cube material. Its primary function is as removal for which you get a sorcery speed effect that kills very few monsters in the cube for a somewhat extortionate two mana. Even for colours without any removal of their own this card is to costly and restrictive as just a way to kill stuff. Proliferate is very cute and can be abused however it is hard to fit enough cards that benefit from it into one deck so as to make Clasp worth it for that side of the card. Clasp is also a cheap artifact with a come into play effect which makes for really good filler in Tinker and Goblin Welder Decks. With its minor but broadly useful removal effect and its artifact and proliferate synergy all combined you do reach a critical mass of support cards in the odd deck that make this low powered card very effective and worth playing. As to giving it a cube slot for these relatively few decks is a different matter, but I do really love proliferate, of which this is the most viable card for cube.
Winter Orb 2.7
This is a very powerful card that is both cheap and available to all colours. The problems with it are a lack of redundancy and difficulty in building a deck around it. Hokori, Dust Drinker and Rising Waters are a bit costly and restrictive to offer the desired redundancy. Sphere of Resistance and now also Thalia aid the effect of the Winter Orb and are as good as you can get for having enough effects for properly building a deck based around mana denial. The most common deck using Winter Orb is a WG(x) deck using lots of mana dorks, some cheap threats and utility, some artifact mana and a whole bunch of things to stop them making things. The difficulty with the deck is similar to those experienced by black based pox decks in that they want to include so many things they run out of space and if not careful end up with a deck that is either very inconsistent, unable to beat certain things or lacks any gas. Winter Orb is also thrown into heavy artifact mana decks that tend to be blue or red based and possibly splashing either of the other colours and/or black. While not the main focus of the artifact decks they just work so well with the burst, high mana lands and alternate mana sources already in the deck. Generally more powerful without the power in the cube as Moxen are so effective against it. Bounce lands go some way to helping but do not compare well overall to Moxen... Winter Orb has a huge impact on the game bringing it to a crawling pace. It is far more pronounced against decks with higher average costs, lots of activation costs on their permanents and/or a lack of alternate mana to just lands. It is a card you want to time casting as best you can so that you are ahead on the board yet your opponent has tapped all their lands.
Plating is a hard card to rate as it is the best equipment in the right deck while being complete poo in the vast majority of decks. This is compounded in the cube where narrow decks are penalised so heavily on rating and options. It is less narrow than many of the affinity cards but not by much. I have seen it played in a variety of mono coloured aggressive artifact heavy decks in all colours except green. When you have a reliably high artifact count Plating is pretty much the most power you can hope to be boosting your guys with. Even at just three artifacts total in play the plating is very good and beyond this it gets silly even before you consider monsters with evasion or infect or life link or double strike etc. The instant equip effect is also very powerful as it allows you to totally dominate combat either forcing it through as you have more guys or using it to kill of larger blocking monsters of you choice. It is a cornerstone of the affinity deck and accounts for a large part of its power as an archetype.
Ratchet Bomb 2.0
Sadly a little on the slow side to be a generic answer to things. It is strictly better than Powder Keg and replaced it as soon as it was released. Typically this is used in decks that lack answers to specific things such as mono black decks as an out to artifacts or enchantments. Playing the card can be very difficult but also quite interesting. Having it in play will force different plays from your opponent and may be used to add insult to injury if they hiccup in curving out as they will not want to make multiples of permanents with the same converted mana cost. Generally you will have an idea of the things you need it to be hitting such as a planewalker or opposition or a Sword. The problem is trying to gain any use from the card while ramping up its counters pre-emptively. Most of the time it will never hit the things you were playing it against as it is either killed before reaching the right charge or it forces different plays. This means you can be better off leaving it on two charge instead of three even if you know you want to use it against 4 drops. It is hard to describe an example of when this would be the correct play and so the simplest thing to do is reinforce the idea that you are unlikely to be reliably hitting things costing three or more. It is too slow to be reactive and too obvious to be pre-emptive and so needs to be thrown down as soon as you can sensibly make it and then used to control your opponents options from the outset as its primary function. If while doing this you manage to reach 4 counters and kill a planeswalker at the end of it all then great. Also often used to wipe out a whole bunch of tokens, most of the time to allow an attack to kill of a planeswalker. If you have access to three or more colours the Engineered Explosives tends to be a more useful card despite the greater cost. Ideally you want to be able to hit four mana for Explosives to shine even if it is just off a Mox, Vivid Land or Bird of Paradise. You can usually use the cards to get a 2 or 3 for 1 rather than controlling the board or saving as an answer. Often this will not solve all of the things you want it too and is another tricky call. Ratchet Bomb is played by most colours so as to support them in an area they are unable to kill things. It is more common in mono decks than two colour decks and amost never sees play in optimal three colour decks or more. As a generic removal card it is fine filler and as a sideboard card against weenie decks or mass tokens it is at its best.
Isochron Scepter 2.5
This is one of the more tedious cards alongside things like Vedalken Shackles. The arrival of planeswalkers has made the incremental card advantage you get from Scepter less exciting but it is still a very versatile and powerful card. It is cheaper to make than planeswalkers but tends to then only have one effect that costs you mana to use every turn. If killed prior to use it is also vulnerable to getting yourself 2 for 1'd. Orim's Chant takes the throne for dullest card to imprint but has been removed from the cube for being too narrow. It is quite hard to use in a deck as you need a good number of sensible targets. Lots of cards are OK but only a few are really abusive, Fire / Ice and Lightening Helix are both outstanding choices. Burn spells all tend to be quite good with Burst Lightening being one I am fond of for the option to kick it. Counter magic is OK but will not get you much use and rather than gain card advantage will tend to buy time. The best counterspells are Memory Lapse, Remand and Arcane Denial as they are harder to play around and offer more versatility. Terminate, Doom Blade, Swords to Plowshares and even Disenchant against the right deck are all great targets but less useful in all matchups. Into the Roil and Boomerang are both pretty useful in all matchups, the former is especially useful for mana disruption in the early game. Typically played in counter burn decks but will also find play in various incarnations of Psychatog style control decks or UW control, generally both at least splashing red too. Probably the easiest way to know if this is good in your deck is to check if you are playing Fire / Ice, if not then probably also not. If so then if you have 5 or more other reasonable targets then its probably starting to look quite nifty. Despite being very powerful it is an inconsistent and vulnerable card that is a little too mana intensive to make huge waves in the cube. It is still one of those cards that completely ends close games if no answers are found to it in time.
Lightening Greaves 1.4 (B cube)
These boots have gone out of fashion lately. In Mirrodin when the cube was far less consistent the Greaves were highly regarded and saw play in both agro decks and combo decks. These days the only time they see play is in heavy monster based artifact decks where it can be abusive with Goblin Welder, Metal Worker and later on the massive threats. Occasionally agro blue decks try out the boots but they are never too exciting in that deck although they do fit in the curve better for blue than all other agro decks. Forgoing a two drop and a threat to haste up your subsequent men is often too much of an investment to be worthwhile. Most agro decks will have very few draws where the Greaves shine, this can be remedied by building around the Greaves but then when you fail to draw them your deck is slow and clunky. As monster quality has gone up the value of this card has decreased and is now just not worth altering your deck to suite it meaning very few decks ever look at them. The shroud is almost as relevant as the haste with their being lots of monsters you wish to keep safe from removal. As cards go that offer protection the Greaves have been trumped by Spellskite which offers more convenient and reliable protection while also offering more appropriate utility for the decks that want to protect things. Greaves does nothing on its own and as such is relatively easy to negate the effects of thus leaving you with a wasted card. It also makes it inherently inconsistent, the power it offers rarely offsets these drawbacks.
Scroll Rack 3.0
One of the most complicated cards in magic, comparable to Divining Top although just more complicated. It offers a few things Top does not but for a downgrade in price, convenience, safety and versatility. When you have card draw, shuffle and untap effects on the go Scroll Rack will melt your mind, particularly in a combo deck in a close game. You can prevent yourself from getting decked with Scroll Rack although rarely useful. The power of the card scales with the number of cards you have in hand and so it is best in decks with access to lots of card draw. White has little card advantage and combining this with an active Land Tax is a very powerful way to remedy this deficit in the colour. It is one of the most abusive combos with the Rack as Tax offers both a massive influx of cards in hand as well as a shuffle effect allowing you to effectively draw three extra spells each turn while filtering any previously drawn unwanted cards in addition. It is the only non-blue card in the cube that allows cards to be put from the hand into the library which is a very handy effect, particularly in a singleton format. Scroll Rack is one of the most effective spells at digging for specific cards and does not need shuffle effects to become playable as Top does (although it does still greatly benefit from having shuffle effects about), instead it requires a good amount of card draw. Top tends to be more for filtering cards and gaining card quality where as Rack is much more about getting the cards you are after as soon as you can. Scroll Rack is played in all manner of decks across all the colours, never in agro decks and generally in the more quirky unusual decks. While I love this card I do always feel like I misplayed the game whenever I use it and pity anyone who has to wait around while their opponent sits confused by how to make use of the card. You have to really want the effects Rack has to offer to play it as it is relatively expensive as card quality effects go. It has seen some more play since the arrival of miracles as the best miracles are Bonfire of the Damned and Terminus both of which are not blue. Scroll Rack has the advantage over Top of being able to put drawn miracles back in place to be miracled out however it doesn't help you draw them at instant speed as the Top does.
Mortarpod 0.9 (C cube)
A great little utility card that sadly costs rather too much at both ends to be much good. Heavy equipment white weenie is the only deck to effectively use the card and that is based on the synergy with Puresteel Paladin and Stoneforge Mystic. The Puresteel in particular really needs a high artifact count to be much good but that in turn hurts you creature count. Living weapons are a great solution to this and Mortarpod is one of the more useful ones that is not too costly. The problem is you don't want to be playing low powered cards to support niche and narrow cards. Without cards that enhance this card in some way, that you would be playing regardless, this card is not worth it. Even if you want sacrifice effects the cost is too great and the effect too minor for this to be the solution. It does offer the ability to kill small creatures to some colours that lack that option but due to low power and lack of synergy with blue and green you are better off without. I am trying to think of more positive things to say about the card given that it is in the cube after all. Er, it combos with Bad Moon to give you the all powerful 1/2 germ fanatic or with infect monsters for unblockable poison or Fume Spitter shenanigans. As you can see, while it offers some different synergies throughout the cube they are pretty lack-luster. This is a good example of a card I slung in to test out and rarely played due to it being pretty poo but still liked having it as an option for its wide applications and versatility so overlooked its low power.
Crucible of Worlds 2.9
I included Fastbond and Strip Mine within the power and removed them. If you have both of those cards in your cube Crucible is more like a 4.0 as it is one of the most powerful combo engines while still having uses in its own. Fastbond plus Zuran Orb and this is an infinite life and mana combo, throw in a Strip Mine and lock them out of the game as well. The reason the combo is so good is that all the cards are powerful on their own. While a powerful engine Crucible plus Exploration and Wasteland is not infinite or a likely win. Other decks that make good use of Crucible are slower black pox decks, sometimes with Lake of the Dead. Big red with land destruction such as Wildfire also commonly use Crucible to recover quickly and gain card advantage. Green based control decks with Gifts Ungiven however use Life from the Loam as it is more tutorable and offers more options. Seismic Swans tends to pack a Crucible as it is reliable card advantage in the deck working well with so many of the other effects. GW mana denial decks have also been known to play Crucible as well as Life from the Loam to improve their chance of being able to recur their lands. Although Crucible has good synergy with sac lands, Mox Diamond and the odd other card it does too little without support cards to be included in random decks and winds up only in those really able to get full use out of the card.
Tangle Wire 3.7
A terrifying card that when used at the right time will lock someone out of the game for 2 or 3 turns. If your deck can make a good number of permanents quickly, of which some are threats, then Tangle Wire is likely a good card for your deck. Most commonly used in elves, white weenie, affinity and other fast artifact decks. Red deck wins has made good use of the Wire in non-cube magic however the relatively high cost and lack of damage or card advantage make it terrible unless played at the exact right time and thus too unreliable. Generally the Wire is an anti control card but this is mostly because control will have a lower permanent count than other decks. As an artifact with an expiry date it makes a great sacrifice target and commonly is paired with Goblin Welder, Tinker and Arcbound Ravager. It has also seen use with proliferate for comedy lock-down. Tangle Wire is a better card in a powerless cube as it becomes harder to run out as many permanents. The ability to stack the fade effect and the tap effect so that the controller taps one less card than their opponent and has the ability to tap the Tangle Wire itself means that it is not a symmetric effect like Winter Orb and therefore needs less dedicated deck construction for it to work. Tangle Wire is one of the most effective disruption cards in the cube, it works for any colour deck and will always have some detrimental effect on your opponent. Just the potential the get a double Time Walk for three mana makes this card incredibly temping even in the riskier decks such as red deck wins. It is far better on the play but assuming your decks is sufficiently cheaper than your opponents it will still be powerful on the draw.
Loxodon Warhammer 1.8 (C cube)
Slow and clunky as you might expect an elephants arsenal to be. For a long while the Warhammer was preferable to Sword of Light and Shadow getting itself an A cube slot. Now with War and Peace and even Feast and Famine the Warhammer is looking less clever. Although its costs as much as a Sword to cast the extra mana to equip makes a huge difference and makes the Hammer a far riskier and slower investment. Without any protective stats to benefit the creature once equipped it isn't even that much of a disaster once you manage to do so. Whatever is equipped is easy enough to kill in combat and will force a re-equip thus costing a further three mana. Sure, the life swing will be huge however tempo is not just about life, it is about board position. If you are spending three mana to equip a dork plus whatever the dork costs over and over each time losing the dork you can get so far behind on the board that a big life difference isn't enough to take the game. I have often used equipment my opponent has in this way to win games, repeatedly forcing them to spend their mana inefficiently while I develop my position then overwhelm them. The Warhammer does have its advantages over Swords in that it is quite easy to make a Sword nothing more than a Vulshock Morningstar just by blocking while the Hammer is adding value regardless of whether it is getting blocked or not. With bigger and better monsters on offer, a full set of Swords to outshine the Warhammer and black having a healthy amount of lifegain now at its disposal the Warhammer is no longer really a cube worthy card. It is too much mana for too big a risk, the alternatives are more powerful, safer and more efficient.
Tumble Magnet 1.9 (B cube)
This was one of those cards I threw in not expecting anything other than to play once and confirm that it is awful and then remove it to the C cube to reside for eternity. As it happened it kept winning games instead. It might seem underwhelming however it scales well with the power of other cards. Lots happen in a few turns in the cube and so the majority of times the game is concluded before you can spend all the counters. This makes it much better than Icy Manipulator which is just too expensive. I have seen Tumble Magnet played in lots of different archetypes including agro, combo and control, generally used in draft rather than constructed cubes as it is generic good filler. Constructed cube decks do still call upon Tumbles, most commonly those also using Winter Orb as it both hurts their mana (most decks have either some artifact mana sources or some critters that tap for mana) and allows you to turn off the Orb for your untap (I am not 100% sure you can still do that in current rules but I like to be able to reminisce on magic of old). At filling any one role the card is weaker than other options but as general utility Tumbles is outstanding. Disrupting mana bases, tapping blockers to kill off walkers and players, tapping attackers to buy time and bypassing colour protections all help to make it worth the slot and the mana in a lot of decks. Not of absurd power but always useful and easy to play.
Sword of Fire and Ice 3.8
The third best equipment thus far to be printed and rather likely to stay that way for a long time to come. Also the clear best of all the Swords of This and That. Generally better than Jitte against control decks as well which is often overlooked simply because Jitte is the better equipment overall. While Swords all fall into the expensive equipment category due to a minimum cost of five to have online the two mana equip cost is very reasonable. The cast and equip costs are the wrong way round to curve out with however make the card better overall as you lose less tempo to any disruption and save more mana in the long run. The 2 damage portion of the card means that any time a small critter can chump block they will which stops many of the swords benefits. The protection helps to stop blocking but not as reliably as having evasion monsters in your deck. Drawing cards and dealing damage are always good in magic against basically any kind of deck. While all the other Swords have effects that might be more powerful, none of them are as consistently useful. Few equipment in the cube offer toughness boost which is another perk of the Sword however the protection from red does negate some of the benefits of added toughness. Essentially the SoFI turns any body into a decent threat for a very reasonable price. The best decks for Swords are those with lots of 1-3 drops, either white weenie where your guys come down early and do a lot of damage but are very weak late game or in blue based creature decks where you have lots of small utility 2 and 3 drops but no real finishers.
Sword of Feast and Famine 2.2
I have been very unimpressed with this sword thus far and and much prefer Sword of War and Peace. While making them discard and untapping your lands can be very useful they can also both do nothing. The protection Feast and Famine offers is also far less useful than expected, most green decks have an abundance of ways to kill artifacts, especially green black ones, and black decks can easily kill creatures without having to target them or deal them damage. The best I have seen this card be in in blue skies style decks where the untapping of lands is most frequently useful combined with the evasive monsters to ensure the effect can trigger. Blue creatures also appreciate the stats boost most. While still a powerful piece of equipment I have not found a place where I wouldn't prefer to have one of the pro red Swords. War and Peace is much more direct and Fire and Ice is far far more generically useful to trigger. Although you typically don't play equipment in control decks this is one of the better ones along with Batterskull. For control decks just having untapped lands is highly beneficial, even if you have no actual use for them, just representing disruption is potent. If you are playing Feast and Famine in an agro deck you should aim to include some useful mana sinks such as levelling creatures so as to not waste the untap effect which is often the case with Swords typically being one of the last things you cast when agro.
Sword of War and Peace 3.0
This is the clear second best of the Sword cycle and although much less interesting than Feast and Famine it ends up doing a great deal more. Red and white are good colours to have protection against but not any significant degree more than any other colour combination. In all fairness Swords tend to be more about the +2/+2 and potential random protection gibbing than the abilities as you should be pulling very far ahead if they start to get through regardless of the flavour of Sword. The strength of the ability is more about forcing bad chump blockers through fear of getting hit and proccing it and that applies to all of the Swords. War and Peace offers no chance to get card advantage like all the others but it does have a direct and synergic effect that can cause enormous life swings and can conclude a game quicker than the other swords. Getting hit by this with a fairly full hand is really not a good option, of which you will be very lucky to survive more than twice. Even with both players just having one or two cards in hand you are still gaining huge tempo from hitting them. With the symmetrical draw 7 effects in cube it is also not unreasonable to engineer a 16 points or more life swing. Swords can be a bit clunky and this can become an over cost Vulshock Morningstar (which is no terrible thing, just not optimal), it offers few choices or any real utility and I am not a big fan of the card but it does just get the job done. If you want powerful mid range equipment to end games on your gribbly little dorks, play Jitte. If for some reason that has been banned in your cube, play Sword of Fire and Ice. If someone else has it or will whine that you are hosing their UR deck, play Sword of War and Peace. A closer comparison to this Sword than Fire and Ice or Jitte is Loxodon Warhammer which is more certain life gain and offers trample which can be really important. Overall the extra toughness and cheaper equip costs make the Sword significantly more consistent, powerful and useful, even if it is slightly weaker as a life gain card.
Vedalken Shackles 3.2
One of the most tedious cards in the cube and very little fun to play against. It is generally a case of kill this or die for most normal decks (ones that make dorks) which puts it in a similar category to Umezawa's Jitte. While at its best in mono blue decks it doesn't require you to play only islands at all and may be played reasonably well in even split two colour decks. Even if you can't steal their biggest dork simply chump blocking with their small guys will quickly put you well ahead. Not wanting to simply throw guys away an active Shackles will tend to shut down most attacks single handedly. The original dual lands and shock lands along with the vast majority of cube monsters having two or less power make this card highly playable. Despite all this I cannot highly recommend including this in your cube despite being clearly powerful enough. The card does not make games more fun or more interesting and is still quite restrictive in deck building. It gives a lot more game to agro blue decks and works incredibly well with Grand Architect in them. Shackles is playable in control as well as agro and is somewhat like an Isochron Scepter without the risk of getting 2 for 1ed. A very swingy card that has a massive effect on the game, it is hard to beat for a creature based without killing it but does end up making games more random.
Thran Dynamo 2.6
One of the first big mana ramp cards on the curve you can freely use again and again without it remaining tapped or causing you lots of pain. It is rather a bland card but it is also quite effective. I cut it for Khalni Gem as coloured mana is a lot more useful however they are not really the same kind of card. The Gem is good fixing and utility is decks that specifically want artifact mana while the Dynamo is just pure ramp for decks that are really mana hungry. In most decks there is not enough requirement for such vast quantities of colourless mana and so while some control decks might pack a Gilded Lotus very few would bother with a Dynamo. The only places this will see play are the artifact ramp and combo decks which have very few coloured spells in them and are mostly artifact ramp with some colourless utility and threats. As it costs four mana you pretty much need a small ramp spell to get to play it so that you can ultimately ramp into something really good quite quickly. Only really dedicated decks will be wanting to ramp into ramp and so this explains a bit why Dynamo is a bit niche. To show why it is so powerful you can apply a similar logic to how I assess the overall power of burn in a comparative way. If you look at the total ramp you gain for you card investment and combine that with how much ramp you get for your mana investment then compare that result with other ramp cards you see it is quite a lot better, 2.25 compared to 1 from a Llanowar Elf or 0.5 from a Talisman or 1.8 from Gilded Lotus. It may be used on the turn you make it as well which can often mean it only sets you back one mana to make for its future benefits. All in all it is a clean, effective and efficient top end ramp card that frequents most big artifact decks and even makes the odd appearance in really extreme ramp control decks and ones trying to get Tooth and Nail working. It is not as flexible as the Everflowing Chalice, not as convenient as the Gilded Lotus, not as redundant as Dreamstone Hedron nor as bursty as Grim Monolith and Mana Vault however it offers more mana for less than all of the above on its own over just two turns.
Khalni Gem 2.0
I put this card in the cube with no serious expectation of it lasting more than a single outing. I was highly surprised by how useful I was finding it to be and kept playing it in different archetpyes. It sometimes takes the slot of Thran Daynamo in decks but is really quite a different card. Assuming you make normal lands every turn then a Thran Dynamo offers you 8 mana on turn five while the Gem offers you a mighty 5 mana on turn five... Typically however you are not using normal lands but things like City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb (and Mishra's Workshop) which you can either use to ramp further or save from a forced sacrifice on the former. On top of this these multi mana lands give you colourless which can cause you problems which the Gem resolves nicely. Colour fixing is useful in the artifact ramp decks, especially those bent on neutralising lands. In lots of the decks that want to play a 4 cost artifact mana source they will be missing subsequent land drops anyway so the return effect is like that of the bounce lands giving you pseudo cards. Big Red is the biggest user of the Gem where it can put some lands back into the hand in preparation for a Wildfire or to cycle off a Forgotten Cave. In all it offers more utility and fixing than Thran Dynamo and still gives all the same benefits of being an artifact in play or in your hand etc. It is not really a ramp effect and works instead as a smoother and enabler for a variety of ramp decks.
Nevinyrral's Disk 1.9
Unlike most expensive artifacts the Disk is not commonly played in decks that can easily reduce that cost through ramp of various sorts like Big Red or Tinker style decks. That makes it painfully slow mass removal as it comes down on turn four then gives them a whole extra turn to deal with it or prepare for it. Typically played by blue and black for its ability to deal with permanents those colours can't. Not hitting planeswalkers is pretty tedious and has made the card worse in recent years but still the best of a sub-par bunch of options for colours without their own answers. While it may not affect planeswalkers it is able to hit man lands if they are activated which very few mass removal card do. Being able to blow things up at instant speed is very nice in general, once you have cast the Disk and got around to untapping it then it is almost always better than Pernicious Deed. Although not many tuned constructed style cube decks call upon Disk for being too clunky it is picked up pretty early in more limited formats as reliable mass removal for any deck. A cool and classic card with a nice feel to it which might bias me on keeping it around but for its applications it is vastly better than Oblivion Stone almost all the time which is the only real comparison. Typically you are under pressure to use these cards and the extra mana to use the Stone effectively gives them and extra turn on you to reapply pressure. The most common home for the Disk is in Necropotence decks where it gives black a way to kill artifacts and enchantments while also getting you out of a Necro lock.
A go to card for almost all the mana denial decks which include Big Red, black Pox, Artifact Tinker decks and even white or white green Armageddon/Cataclysm decks. It is a huge effect to have on the board and gives you a great deal of control. By correctly stacking the effects you can ensure your opponent is always the first to lose a card. It is a little slower than Braids but allows you to play in a few different ways. You can either ramp the counters up as fast as you can with the aim of depermanenting both players to reset the game in an advantageous position for you. When not aiming to depermanent both players it is risky ramping the counters on the stack up too much as you will end up losing more stuff overall. You can get it to a nice and steady one or two counters, which ever you will be stable on, and lock the other player out of the game. You can even drop it down and neglect to charge it until it suits you to do so and simply cause people to play differently. A great card that brings a lot of power to colours that struggle to compete otherwise. It has taken a bit of a dent with the arrival of planeswalkers as so many of them make tokens and have an immediate effect on the game. Smokestack is slow and expensive but in the right deck single handedly takes out control decks and can still be either a game winner or life saver against decks able to make more of an early board presence.
Gilded Lotus 3.6
The cornerstone of every artifact ramp deck. Certainly it is not the cheapest of ramp cards nor does it net you mana immediately however most of the time you will be using your Mana Vaults, Crypts and Monoliths to be casting this. Once it is down you have no coloured mana worries and you are not restricted by awkward untap costs. Once you have one of these in play you just feel really powerful and able to do vast amounts in your turns. Quite often I will play Tinker with the biggest target being Gilded Lotus and I am rarely unhappy I couldn't get a big fat cheesey dork instead. Gilded Lotus winds up in lots of decks although it is fair to say it is usually with an entourage of familiar faces including Mishra's Workshop, Mana Vault, Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, Tinker, Upheaval, Goblin Welder, Wildfire and so on. It isn't that big of a hit on your own tempo as you can use it immediately to cast things meaning its net cost is often just two mana. The turn after you make a Lotus you can cast at least 99% of the cards in the cube which will allow you to either out power your opponent or at least out spend them. It is not just artifact ramp style decks that play Lotus, any deck that has a lot of activation costs on their permanents such as an agro blue deck with equipment, Vedalken Shackles, level up dorks and other assorted abilities, will relish the mana boost even if it is later in the game. Grand Architect goes a long way to making the Lotus more appealing in those lists as well. A variety of very top heavy non-green control decks also play Lotus in addition to some cheaper ramp. It is one of the safer ways control can heavily ramp because of its ability to be used immediately. Once in play you can cast your six mana threats with mana open for disruption, really abuse things like Bonfire of the Damned or play lavish and silly power cards like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker.
Memory Jar 3.3
This is about the most efficient colourless way of getting card advantage that there is. In addition to this it is far less symmetrical than all the other draw seven effects as only you get to have a main phase with the cards you get. You can also make it and use it at a later date thus freeing up maximum mana to abuse the influx of cards. It has good synergy with Scroll Rack and Goblin Welder for saving specific spells and getting repeat uses. You can use it to good effect with Mind Over Matter too as both fuel to untap and for things to make with masses of mana. Generally the Jar is restricted to decks with lots of mana so as to be able to make use of the majority of the 7 new cards before they are lost again. It has been played at the top end of very aggressive cheap decks which can also play most of a new hand on one go but it is rather slow and lacking in immediate tempo for such a late play and is rarely used in that role. Jar tends to tag along in Gilded Lotus's motley crew getting slots where coloured card draw options are weaker or non existent. With most of the ramp being colourless in those sorts of decks the Jar is often one of the best anyway. It is viable in green decks as well as it allows a decent recovery after a global creature kill where things like Regal Force are found lacking. Green can also afford five mana more easily than most colours without recourse to artifact ramp as well. With threats being more robust or offering some form of card advantage both on creatures, lands and planeswalkers the agro decks are playing this far less than in the past. You are better off playing threats than cards that cost so much and do so little to the board in agro decks. Mostly this is found now in combo and ramp decks where it is still very impressive.
This is a card that would probably be in the B cube by now if it were not for Stoneforge Mystic, a card which Batterskull seems made for. Batterskull does see play outside of being paired with Stoneforge as it fulfils lots of roles. It is also a fine top end threat in almost any deck, it offers lifegain, it scales very well into the late late game and gives you a decent amount of reach. It also has a reasonable degree of synergy just through being an artifact, an equipment, having a comes into play effect and providing two permanents. Five mana for a 4/4, even with lifelink and vigilance is not competitive with the power level of other cube five drops and so you need certain things going on in your deck to increase the worth of the card. It might be as simple as having so much mana you can always cast it with protective bounce mana still up or having cards like Grand Architect or Metal Worker to go with it being an artifact. The equip cost is very expensive and rather a secondary aspect of the card however it does afford you a lot of options if you have other dorks floating around. Equipping Batterskull to even the most humble of fliers turns them into a serious threat and give you total board dominance in all but the most extreme games. Without Stoneforge Mystic it is a generic and versatile card that is a little on the pricey side but still synergic enough to off set it. With Stoneforge it is a whole different affair essentially giving you the option of a two mana, uncounterable, flash, lifelink, vigilance 4/4 that can save itself to fight another day for three mana. As such it is well above the curve and really improves the worth of Stoneforge, seeing play in nearly half the decks that play the Stoneforge.
Mindslaver 1.7 (B cube)
It is a bit like Time Stretch in that you get two more turns back to back except that one isn't with your stuff. The turn you get using your opponents stuff can be little more than a Fog or it can win the game. Often Mindslaver is like a 10 mana Orim's Chant although I have still lost to it plenty from having a Necropotence in play or even just a Zuran Orb or Arcbound Ravager. Although you can split the mana costs and it is an artifact making it much easier to cast for its converted mana cost it still seems too expensive and unreliable to be worthy of such a valuable top end slot in most decks and would be better off as a permanent threat. The best decks for Slaver are ones with Academy Ruins or Goblin Welder that can lock out a person from the game however in these decks it is rather win more as you would very likely be winning just as much with a Myr Battlesphere or Wurmcoil Engine and neither of these would be useless dead draws at any point (compared to other 6 drops). One nice things about the Slaver is that is does give your decks outs to things it would not otherwise have access to but overall I don't rate the card highly as with any spell that derives its power from what it is against rather than what it is built with. It is also one of the easiest cards to forget the legendary status of so be wary when considering your Metalmorph targets. A very fun card but not the most practical or mana efficient way to go about winning.
Karn Liberated 2.9
This is a card that is hard to rate as it is unlike other cards. It is colourless but not an artifact which makes it a bit less natural to consider its actual cost. Things like Mana Vault still accelerate into it well but you cannot Tinker him up or ramp into him with Grand Architects or Workshops. He is also playable in any colour of deck which increases his number of homes although not significantly as he is still a seven drop and therefore at the very top of the curve or too much mana period. I have seen him played in green land ramp decks, counter style control decks and artifact mana ramp decks all of which he was strong in but obviously only when played. He does not end the game quickly nor does he have any great synergy with the decks in which he seems to fit into. As a planeswalker however he is really quite something with a mighty +4 ability allowing him to absorb stupid amounts of damage and a powerful -3 ability that makes Karn frequently act like a funky Desert Twister. Playing a 7 mana out is quite extreme even if they have added value and you don't have any other available ways to solve your problem. You want Karn to come and dominate the board and end the game fast for his mana cost but he seems to just bring the game to a crawling pace gaining you a slow card and tempo advantage. He is the card you cast before the card you use to win the game, like you cast a Jace, the Mind Scultor to give them something to worry about while giving you some perks then you flop out a Baneslayer Angel and kill them with it as they spent too many resources coping with the Jace. The thing is Karn is already seven mana so casting something after him to actually win with feels like you got ripped off even if he is incredibly effective at controlling the game.
All is Dust 1.8 (B cube)
All is Dust is much more immediate colourless removal than Nevinyraal's Disk and Ratchet Bomb, it is also hits far more than Bomb and Engineered Explosives, the latter of which is hardly a colourless spell. It forces sacrifice which is also better than destroy effects. It would seem to be very well suited to a selection of decks, in green and blue as a Wrath effect, in black and red as a way to deal with enchantments and in big artifact ramp decks as a way to deal with all of their stuff and none of your own. The problem is it is cost just that bit too high while not quite doing what you want it too. Plenty of dorks are artifacts, as are a number of pesky threats such as equipment. Against heavy artifact decks it is as good as a blank all of which make it a card you cannot fully rely on. On something cheap, redundant and more broad in application such as a Doom Blade you are less put off by limitations. The bigger the cost the more effort required in the build of the deck to include the card and therefore the greater the waste when it is dead. Your deck should be tailored towards getting to the end of the curve, if when you get there it is not winning you the game your design and deck strategy are probably a little off. While still a good card All is Dust falls victim to this by being very hard to not end a curve with. As a fairly powerful and useful thing to be doing it is a great card but as a game plan it is found wanting. The only deck that really can have this as a thrown in generic disruption effect are the big artifact ramp decks, the thing is such decks can cast whatever they want really and prefer to have the big disruptive spells hurting mana bases as well as attacking other permanents. Cards like Upheaval and Wildfire simply suit the style of deck better than All is Dust does despite the appearance of it being a one sided Scourglass. A strong card that can be taken advantage of but costs too much for something with unpredictable results to have any established homes. Most commonly used as a way to deal with planeswalkers where two midrange decks find they always end up in a stalemate board position and planeswalkers become everything.