Akiri, Line-Slinger 2/10
Very narrow in that you have to be playing an artifact themed aggro Boros deck before this is at all interesting. It would at least be really good in standard right now... For cube if you are going artifacts you are better off looking to affinity. In affinity this has no place, hard to cast and no return synergy are exactly what the archetype doesn't want. You consistently need two artifacts in play for Akiri to be worth it and only with three or more does she start to be impressive on the power front. A card with some potential but clearly one without any top tier homes for now and likely ever.
Parting Thoughts 5/10
Hmm. Poor as removal goes and very unreliable as a card draw effect. It is not so poor as removal that it is unplayable, it does kill without prejudice or restriction at least. Although 80% of the time this is just a slow Murder it will also cantrip about 10% of the time and end the game the other 10% of the time. Murder plus draw a card, even at sorcery and for a life cost is good. Murder plus draw two or more cards should be enough to dominate that game. There is a slight chance that actually you cannot afford the life and so despite drawing like 5 cards you still just die from being too low. This has a very odd progression for scaling. A lot of the swingy cards are useless at their low end which is a big turn off. This is a card with a huge swing potential that also has a passable low end performance. The balance for that is simply that you expect the low range outcome far more than the good and broken ones. Counters are pretty common in the cube and so I feel this merits at the very least some testing. I don't love it because it is so random in when it will wildly warp a game but that doesn't stop it from being a cube worthy card, it just means we won't be friends!
Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist 0/10
I prefer the Thermo variety of Alchemist quite significantly. This is a bit of a Jori En style card as well but rather than give you an option to draw in their turn it gives them that option. With pain lands, sac lands, shock lands, phyrexian mana and all the rest I am pretty sure I could draw about as reliably with Ludevic with it on either side of the table. Certainly it is harder and less rewarding for the person facing Ludevic as they have to damage themselves rather than their opponent for the trigger. This is not that significant, the important thing is that this is not far off a symmetrical effect (not to mention pretty low impact and thus hard to abuse like say a Hokori Dustdrinker) on 1/4 for 3 mana. No thanks.
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis 0/10
So this one probably isn't better than the Nephilim... A 2/8 is just not exciting at all as a body, sure it is hard to kill but so what, it is very little threat to anything. It gives you the option to draw and ramp while it gives your opponent the option on one or other of those things. This wouldn't be enough if it hurt your opponents rather than helping them in heads up. I appreciate this will make you less of a target in multiplayer games but this is laughable in comparison to the rest of the cycles in stand alone power.
Ravos Soultender 3/10
Quite a lot of card for the mana but rather outclassed by Angel of Invention. This has to live to obtain value and needs to have a board to have an impact. On top of this it is gold. Good but a long way from there.
Ishtai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker 0/10
Hahahahaha. Awkward. Whenever an opponent casts a spell put a +1/+1 counter on Ojutai, Dragonspeaker unless it is a Shock in which case put your four mana pile in the bin. Again, a card that has better functionality in multiplayer and more so with the commander mechanic however you seem to be paying far too much of a price on the cards base power level for these multiplayer scaling effects. I wouldn't be that excited for this if it was a base 4/4. It would probably be good enough for drafting cube at that but only just. Alternatively, I'm not sure this would be that exciting if it cost just UW. I guess it is irrelevant me considering its viability with such alterations as it is what it is and that it utterly unplayable in heads up magic.
Faerie Artisans 5/10
Here we have a very interesting card design. There is an element of the Vedalken Shackles about this card. Any guy they make, you get a disposable copy of. In any sort of grindy midrange scenario that is going to be way to much value and inconvenience to plow through. You can only have one copy at a time so there is play around potential where by you make a big thing then a small thing. You can also just build up over time with low impact things and develop a bigger board but this requires them to draw dead and for you to have the right sort of dorks. So many cube dorks have enter the battlefield effects and playing them into this is just not an option. This card needs removing or you need to be ahead enough already that you can finish them off without playing any more creatures. Both of these are relatively easy to do and so this is not a busted card by any means. I fear I am biased towards this card for its cool interaction potential and great design. I want to play with this more than I should be playing with this! Sometimes it will be a 4 mana 2/2 flier which is really really naff. Sometimes it will basically stop them being able to usefully play any dorks and will be not far off a a hard lock in a nicely playable package. My gut is that it will spend too much time on the lower end of the performance spectrum to be a great cube card but I retain some hope!
Manifold Insight 0/10
Ouch, three mana for the worst cycle ever. I thought Murmurs from Beyond was poor. At least this is totally bonkers in any game with 4 or more players.
Goblin Spymaster 0/10
Great card design and great multiplayer fun machine but way to slow, fiddly and weak to be a cube consideration.
I want to like this, it is so nearly the improved Nevinyyral's Disk. So near yet oh so far. Basically if you want this effect and you are paying four mana for it you want there to be no chance of it doing nothing. 50/50 and another shot next turn does not cut it when you absolutely positively need to kill everything in the room. This is exactly the substitute you should not be accepting.
Thrasius, Triton Hero 3/10
Nice utility and reasonable defensive body but too slow and low impact to be generally good. You might play this in a merfolk deck to give you a bit more late game gas and a bit more early game defense but it is hardly a groundbreaking new tool for the tribe. This will certainly win you any late game topdeck wars but those are few and far between. Man lands usually do that job best. This has to be able to win games as a 2 mana 1/3 which isn't happening.
Armory Automation 1/10
Not enough equipment being played for this to be more than a Grey Ogre most of the time. This isn't even that good against opposing equipment, the best use for this is cheaply tooling up itself with your own stuff. That isn't enough power or utility by a long old way. This is low power, very situational and not even that impressive when at its best.
Grip of Phyresis 0/10
Quite a powerful removal spell for an equipment but I am not even sure you would play a removal spell specifically for equipment in your sideboard, even if you had Wishes for it. There are plenty of times this would be a game changing card however it is completely dead weight in all other situations and as such not a thing we can really look to make use of. Powerful but not suitable. The best way to think of this card is taking the idea to the extreme. Would a card that read "play this only if your opponent activated a man-land this turn. Win the game" for like 2 or 3 mana be playable? The answer is no. Any half sensible player is just not going to activate their man land if they suspect you could have such a thing. It might once win you the game against an unsuspecting player but it should really always be a dead card. Even against the oblivious it is still dead the vast majority of the time. You would have to have little respect for your opponents skill and near zero expectation for your decks ability to win the game before you play a card like that.
Runehorn Hellkite 5/10
A six mana 5/5 flier is below par in the cube but it is still fairly fine as a card. You can play it as a top end thing and it will win a lot of the games that the best threat possible would win. Big flying things are timelessly good. It is a fine second mode to have for anything but it does have to be the secondary reason to play this dragon before it can be considered good. That means you are primarily playing this to have access to an uncounterable six mana instant speed Wheel of Fortune. That is too much mana for an aggressive red deck to have much interested but there are many other places I can imagine such a tool being very useful. A Gr ramp deck with Survival of the Fittest would be all over such a card. A big red deck with artifact ramp may well want it as might some kind of reanimate deck containing lots of discard outlets. There are starting to be enough Wheel effects in the cube that you could reasonably consider some kind of red mill strategy based on them. Having an uncounterable one to finish with would be very nice there too. This is a very interesting card that will probably be used more like Squee than a Shivan Dragon. I do have my reservations, Soul of Shandalaar saw no play and is a better on board threat and body and has a more widely applicable "flashback" effect. The difference between them is that the Soul was primarily the body with the re-use from the bin being the secondary perk while Runehorn is the other way around. Wheel of Fortune is a much more potent effect than Searing Blaze and so jumping through some hoops to get it is less of an issue. Quiet narrow but very interesting and useful.
Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder 2/10
Not close really. A 5/4 trample is not worth four mana, let alone for different colours of it. Giving all your stuff cascade is pretty saucy but it isn't enough to makeup for the casting difficulties and unimpressive body on this dork. He is mildly suited to aggressive decks (such as Zoo) because of his body however he again fails to impress more than Bloodbraid Elf. The Elf does the cascade right away and can attack right away itself. The elf gives two different sources of immediate value. Yidris on curve will do nothing if he is killed right away and still be behind on a Bloodbraid should he get to attack and play stuff for a turn. You need two turns of this guy in play for him to really unload a game winning return and for a dork with 4 health and no other survival utility is simply not enough.
Magus of the Will 5.5/10
While this does look rather spicy on paper I was rather burned by Magus of the Wheel. I thought that Magus of the Wheel would be a great tool for loads of different archetypes. I was very wrong, it has seen little play and been underwhelming. The issue is that either you want to Wheel of Fortune, or in this case, Yawgmoth's Will or you want to make a dork to effect the board. A Trained Armodon is a disappointing play when you want a dork and waiting a turn and spending twice the mana when you want the effect generally rules it out as a useful course of action. Very rare are the occasions that the 3/3 does good work and then converts into value later down the line. You need to hold off loads of damage or deal a chunk, say 6, before these cards could be considered better than the original spell. I think Magus of the Will should outperform Magus of the Wheel but that is mostly down to their being very few cards like Will and quite a lot like Wheel. It is also helped by black having some burst mana effects like Dark Ritual. This will be very strong in a powered cube just because Yawgmoth's Will is so busted however in an unpowered cube I suspect this will be cut.
Ikra Sidiqui, the Usurper 3/10
A five mana 3/7 menace isn't good at all. It is a slow threat and not a very threatening threat at that. The lifegain is quirky and can mean than Ikra is providing a 10 point life swing a turn on her own. As it is only player damage it is quite a lot worse than lifelink and can be mitigated more easily. Ikra is quite hard to race and quite hard to kill but she doesn't really do all that much except ruin aggressive red decks. Too much of the weighting of this card is locked in the life gain and you don't want to play cards specifically for their ability to gain life. Play a good card like a Thragtusk that has some nice incidental life to offer, quicker and more reliably than this dork I should add as well.
Orzhov Advocist 2/10
Another very quirky card that is quite interesting. While failing the test of being a somewhat symmetrical card on a three mana 1/4 body there are some easy ways to break that synergy. Either they have no dorks and you have quite the mean threat or they do have dorks but need to be able to attack to not be losing that game. If you have things like planeswalkers forcing their hand about how to play then this will be of little help to them. If they can just sit there with some dorks in play this is a pretty bad card. You grow your 1/4 a but while they grow their Vampire Nighthawk or whatever and utterly crush you. A 1/4 for 3 that just got +2/+2 each turn wouldn't be totally broken in cube either, just a good solid lump of dork. It might be considered the white Tarmogoyf but it would be far less impressive a tempo play and far worse off the top than the posterboy vanilla dork. Slith style mechanics are generally a little slow for cube and even a great one like this is rather marred when stuck on a 3 drop. The fact that this can backfire at all is too much for me to be interested in it, the upsides are not high enough to offset even just a 1 in 20 chance of this doing more harm than good.
Curse of Vengeance 0/10
Wow, actually less use than a One with Nothing for heads up play.
Treacherous Terrain 0/10
This is just a highly restrictive Fireball. It can only be for X = 7, it is gold, it is only face and it probably does less than 7 most of the time you play it. I am not sure basic land cycling on Fireball (or Blaze) would make it better than Devil's Play. While that doesn't matter much here it does show me than this isn't even made playable with it.
Curtain Call 4/10
Hmm, this is actually relatively good even with just one opponent. For a mere five mana you can kill any two creatures, big ones, small ones, black ones, artifact ones and so on. Being instant gives this a lot more game although always needing two targets will be a problem now and again. As this is so expensive it is rather the control card and as such you will often find just a single threat facing you. While a five mana removal spell is something that could be stomached for this kind of tempo, interaction and card advantage the few times it will not help as you die to a Colonnade probably rule this out for being playable. That and Wretched Confluence.
Duelist's Heritage 5/10
Quite a dull card but seemingly fairly effective. This is another Silverblade Paladin alike. The thing with Silverblade is that it is somewhat of a Grey Ogre, it is vulnerable to most removal and not something you want to put in harms way. That means even when he has doublestrike himself you often always attack with him as he might die and you will lose your buffs. On the offence Duelist's Heritage is a safer, more fliexible and more reliable Silverblade Paladin. The drawbacks are when it is on its own or on defense. Obviously the Heritage is a do nothing on its own, it makes playing vehicles, Glorious Anthems and equipment all worse while Silverblade has none of those negative synergies. Typically you don't want to be blocking when you are making cards like this but it is still a relevant part of what makes Silverblade good. You get to attack with a serious thing and still have a doublestrike dork back to block thus giving you a massive head start in any race. This is the better card when you are ahead and when things are going well but it is not quite as rounded as the competition and as such I am not overly fussed for adding it to the cube. It is a strong card that fits well in some archetypes but it is surplus to requirement. I do like that you can be tricky and give their things doublestrike when then attack you, not often that will be helpful but there are reasons to do such a thing.
Benefactor's Draught 7/10
This is a very interesting little card made ever so playable by those lovely three words "draw a card".
There are quite a lot of applications for this thing. You can use it as a way to get that extra bit of ramp in a green elf and/or Cradle style of deck. You can use it as a way to apply pressure in an even or behind capacity without giving away card advantage. You can use it as a way to surprise crush someone who thought they were racing you and instead run into a wall of blockers. Lastly you can go all combo with this much like a Dramatic Reversal and stick it on an Isochron Scepter. While you need mana dorks rather than mana rocks to gain your infinite mana this one also draws your deck for you which should be a good thing even if it does ultimately prevent you getting actual infinite mana. This is a lot of potential effect, dangerously so, and a lot of options on a card that is cheap and playable. It is very little risk to play and has perfectly acceptable low end performance being at worst a cycling card. I think it will be quite hard to actually fit this into decks but I just can't see this ever being a bad card, often a game ending one. Just randomly drawing 3 cards by running some elves into walls is huge for 2 mana. This basically can't not be good!
Frenzied Fugue 4/10
A sorcery Word of Seizing with a perpetual rebound instead of the split second. I guess just a Threaten that hits any target with the ongoing rebound is a better description but whatever, we can all read. Threaten effects are a bit too situational for the cube. The ongoing nature of this one generally just makes it more so given the extra cost. The main thing that is interesting about this card is the ability to steal planeswalkers. A well timed theft of a planeswalker is game over. This is a little too awkward and a little too midrange I think to stand out in cube but it is interesting, unique and potentially very powerful. Something like a small meta shift or new archetype in red could be enough for this to shine in cube.
Evolutionary Escalation 2/10
Quite powerful if they don't have creatures but that is not a thing to be relied on. I cannot think of a good reason to put counters on their guys such that you could abuse it, certainly not one that would stand up in cube. You would need an extreme degree of +1/+1 counter synergy as well as dorks that just scale well with it in your deck before you could consider this. Powerful but overly risky and situational.
Ash Barrens 6/10
I am rather drawn to this but I fear it is rather on the subtle side of things. This is very strong for its ability to be a near free inclusion of a shuffle effect, a land thinner, a fixer and a graveyard filler. When you can't skip a beat on tempo this is a fine enough land that comes into play ready for use. When you have some time or spare mana it can be used to generally improve your situaion. The price you pay for this is that sometimes you can't skip a beat on tempo and a colourless mana isn't what you need and you lose. You either need to think of Ash Barrens as a colourless land or a dual land that comes into play tapped (on a turn of your chosing at least). It can be either but it can't be both and as such it is unlike any other land for how you work it into a mana base. For cheaper things and high colour intensity things it is worse as it is more often forced into being slower. If you only have the consistency to play one colourless land in your mana base you are either playing the minor Barrens or something with more impact like a Wastelands or Mutavault. There will be occasions where 1.5 colourless lands is fine and those are the windows where Ash Barrens will really shine. In 40 card decks it will also be a little tight on targets towards the late game in a lot of decks. While not in the same league as Gitaxian Probe the Barrens does fit in a similar group of low impact cards that are near free to play and offer a lot of support to other things. I am hopeful that this will be commonly played like the Probe and add a lot of consistency and options to peoples game and mana bases however I do fear it will just get left out a bunch in favour of other more straight forward and direct lands.
Ancient Excavation 4/10
Too powerfuland useful an effect to not see some play but too narrow and situational to be worth playing in a drafting cube I feel. Four is a lot to pay for a potentially massive Careful Study even at instant speed. Obviously the land cycling goes a long way to helping this be a rounded card that you can play in most discard or graveyard themed decks but you still very much need to have a deck that wants a big mid to late game dump like this and those are likely few and far between. I cannot see this being some thnig you want over Careful Study or Thoughtscour for that matter. Support cards want to be cheap and convenient rather than big and powerful.
Migratory Route 2/10
Being sorcery this is not a good control card and it is a bit too fair in terms of power for most midrange decks. This is really only a synergy card and white blue tokens isn't the best way to go for this kind of thing. Five is generally too much to pay for most things in the sort of archetype you would want this in. When you do pack a five drop you want it to be of game breaking power rather than a nice fair good fit kind of card for the deck. Until you have a Glorious Anthem in play this isn't worth it and that makes it too narrow even with the delightful land cycling. This is a proactive card rather than a control one and so land cycling is hurting your tempo and something you would rather avoid.
Entrapment Maneuver 1/10
Potentially game ending power but you cannot expect to be only attacked by big dorks. Often you will be being beaten up by 1/1s and 2/1s and as such this is pretty awful. Not to mention the times you will not be being beaten up and wish your removal spell would do anything at all. When you hit something with a decent toughness and either use the tokens to clear up their attack or just hit them back some and kill them then sure, great card but I fear this is less than 15% of the time you can even cast this. Four mana removal is dodgy to begin with, make it situation and unreliable and you have to do a lot more than make some 1/1s to recover it. Just play Martial Coup or some generic Terror effect. They may not be quite so exotic but they will let you play magic. Removal is there to stop you dying, threats are there to win the game. Combining your removal with threats is nice but not worth it when it starts to fail at being useful removal or worse still, either.
Drafing Cube Mainstays
Vial Smasher the Fierce
Stuff to Test
Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder
Ryhan, Last of the Abzan
Tymna, the Weaver
Breya, Etherium Shaper
Saskia the Unyielding
Magus of the Will
Exotic Stuff for the Reserves
Atraxa, Preator's Voice
Thrasius, Triton Hero
A lot of close stuff from this set but not all that much of extreme power. Much of the sets power is tied up in the gold stuff that is generally too hard to work into most draft things. While there is little in the way of cheap things that make new stuff possible there is a load of interesting card design that although I expect to only seen infrequently, will be a lot of fun to play with. Plenty to build around, plenty to put into fun archetypes to do cool and crazy things. Given it is just 56 new cards and many of them have multiplayer mechanics that severely weaken them for heads up play this is still an impressive showing of interesting cube stuff. The good stuff from previous commander sets has been rather oppressive, things like True-Name Nemesis and Baleful Strix are not wildly fun cards in a 1 on 1 yet they are very very powerful. I would much rather have fun cards as we have in commander 2016 than tedious power cards. High power level makes it much easier to know if I am adding it to the cube or not but it doesn't always make the cube better in the sense of more fun.