Tuesday 14 October 2014

Testing Results from Khans of Tarkir

As ever I miss-evaluated some cards on the spoiler and wish to amend my position on the cards I got most wrong. Slight over excitement or lack of enthusiasm for a card is no big deal but when you completely miss something it is more useful a learning experience. You can ask yourself why you didn't like the card on first sight and as such will be less likely to make the same error again. You tend to find you base a lot on how much you like a card rather than how good it is, you see the bad in designs you are averse to and all the good in the quirky weak cards you are find of. I have been doing set reviews now since Innistrad block and have improved a lot over that time. My first review is really quite off the mark with few of the predicted top cards matching my opinion now. I was so unimpressed with Wolfir Silverheart at the time I didn't even write about it, suffice it to say that felt a little awkward when 32 copies of the card showed up in the next Pro Tour top 8....

Although I am now less likely to miss as many or as significant cards I still miss some each set and more concerning, I am starting to miss-read them too! Rabblemaster last set and from this one Jeskai Ascendancy. Senility on the rise alongside experience means I am probably not far from my peak in terms of review astuteness! That aside, I have played with (and read) a bunch of the new cards and can make some more informed claims about them.

Jeskai Ascendancy - C cube 3.0

Initially I thought the prowess was triggered by non-creature spells and the looting by creatures hence my previous review making so little sense. It is a lot more streamlined as a card with the triggers both working together and as such does have a cube role to play if not a very big one. The combo usage of Jeskai Charm will work in cube but will be overly vulnerable due to the lack of redundancy and so will likely only ever get played to try something new rather than as a serious attempt to win games. In a tokens deck however Jeskai Ascendancy is suddenly very powerful indeed. Cards like Raise the Alarm give you both guys and Ascendancy triggers and there are a healthy quantity of these things available in cube so as to build a deck around it. Sadly being three colours and only being really powerful in a specific archetype still leaves this card lacking what it takes to get a slot in the main cube. Powerful, fun and versatile so worth having a go with but ultimately too narrow in application and requirements.

Monastery Swiftspear - A cube 7.0

Compared to Blistercoil Wierd this card doesn't seem that much more exciting however being a one drop, you don't have to add much before you have a very powerful card. It turns out non-creature is a far easier trigger than instants and sorceries and that haste is preferable to pseudo vigilance for an aggressive dork! Throw in an extra toughness for good measure and you have a very dangerous, robust and rounded one drop. A 2/3 is pretty awkward to block when you are getting beaten up, even as a 1/2 you have to show some respect for the ease at which you can obtain instant prowess triggers even without mana up. In a dedicated deck Swiftspear slightly outdoes Goblin Guide for damage, gives away no card advantage and is harder to kill. In your more average red aggro deck the Swiftspear might get slightly out damaged by Goblin Guide but it is comparable to any other top quality red one drop for damage output (on average) as well as being robust, having no further mana investment or other drawback associated with it. Overall I would say this is the card I got most wrong in my initial review of Khans. I disliked Plated Geopede for basically the same reasons I disliked Swiftspear, both in worst case scenarios are just one power beaters, and favouring consistency in my aggro red decks I formed a gut dislike for the cards despite their upside being incredibly powerful and fairly likely on average to be working.

Treasure Cruise - A cube 6.0

My failure to analyse this correctly was due to being closed minded. When looking at blue card draw I automatically imagine control decks which is an example of a bad assumption to make. Certainly I don't exclusively consider control decks for card draw however when I get such a bad early impression of a card I will then spend less time thinking about other potential uses for it. My criticisms for this card were that the delve cost would be too onerous for decks to do early and without damaging their ability to reuse key spells later in the game. Although I considered quicker and cheaper decks it was mostly in the context of combo where exiling your graveyard is rarely something you want to do. As soon as you have a quick cheap deck that is full of redundancy then Treasure Cruise becomes incredibly powerful. Legacy has provided us with an example of the perfect kind of home for this card and it is an archetype that translates into the cube format very well indeed. Although Treasure Cruise is narrower than a lot of the other card draw spells in the cube it is one of the most powerful when in the right kind of deck. The beauty of the design of the card is that its power scales with the archetype, it will be playable in control decks but likely a bit of an awkward Concentrate. In a blue red aggro burn deck it will be damn near an Ancestral Recall. If you do have it for your control deck you can easily draft with it in mind to make it better by grabbing more sac lands or more cycling cards etc. Although it is narrow in terms of the archetypes it is a staple powerhouse it is still playable in other archetypes and becomes a good skill tester in deck design terms.

Temur Charm - A cube 5.0

I have not yet obtained Jeskai or Mardu Charm and while I stand by my claim that Temur Charm is the weakest of the Khans Charm cycle I have been far more impressed with it than anticipated. Initially I wasn't going to give it a slot however other people wanted to play with it and have been consistently killing me with it since. It helps that it is usually found with Savage Nuckleblade, another card that is performing very well in the cube thus far! Temur Charm is a real game ender of a card, the abilities are a little situational and perhaps overpriced however between them they offer a card that does lots of work and is seemingly never dead. Typically it is going in tempo and midrange Temur decks where you cannot afford to play much in the way of situational utility spells however Temur Charm offers a perfect balance of reach and utility to such a deck and does not seem to be harming consistency at all. Based on Temur Charms outstanding performance I suspect all of the new Charms will get full time main cube slots. Far more of the Return to Ravnica Charms became cube mainstays than I originally thought would.

Thursday 9 October 2014

True-Name Nemesis

True-Name NemesisThis card looked dull and over powered so I was in no rush to get one however one has found its way into my hands and so I have felt obliged to put it in the cube and at least try it out. Thus far I have not been too offended by the card. While it is clearly one of the best three drops you can make there are lots of reasons it is not too good for the cube. Goblin Rabblemaster has been outperforming the True-Name Nemesis which I guess speaks more for the quality of Rabblemaster rather than the reasonable power level of True-Name.

The reason I disliked True-Name so much when it was first spoiled is that it seemed far too powerful in a heads up format while offering very little in terms of skill tests. Certainly it is powerful, a 3 power unblockable, near unkillable 3 drop is a fine clock or a pretty serious wall if you need it to be. This is however all it really ever is. Unless you have a merfolk tribal theme in your cube the only synergy you can really get with True-Name is combining him with equipment. True-Name cannot just win games on his own, a single blocker doesn't do much to stop a swarm of weenies or a couple of fatties and alone it's clock gives too much time to your opponent. It doesn't even add much to a race, most other 3 drop tempo dorks offer more damage, quicker damage, or at least added utility. It has been called the blue Sulfuric Vortex and while True-Name is more damage after 3 turns, harder to kill and no self harm involved, the Vortex's ability to prevent life gain is a large part of the strength of the card and entirely missing from True-Name. Vortex is also quicker to apply damage and has good synergy with red cards in general making it a far more purposeful card.

As it is double blue you cannot easily splash it in things like zoo where it would be a potent threat and so for the most part it has found homes in heavier blue decks that cannot apply enough pressure to exploit the aggressive side of the card. When you do some soft of agro creature based deck in UX True-Name is better but leaves you fairly vulnerable to sweepers. Despite being in the category of hard to kill threats it does not offer the same resiliance to sweepers as the more humble persist and undying monsters or the terrifying Voice of Resurgence! By not covering an area of weakness in such decks you rather miss out on getting the full use of its abilities. Spot removal will just hit other things and save a comparable amount of damage and sweepers will still be just as ruinous. When going agro dorks True-Name feels much more like a 3/1 unblockable than a mini Progenitus.

Finally in control True-Name has found a happy role of protecting planeswalkers but it is still arguably less good than a Wall of Omens or Sea Gate Oracle. You still have to tap in your turn to make it and you still kill it with your own sweepers. It can double up as a cheap finisher but even things like the old school Psychatog get it done a lot faster. Both trample and flying make True-Name a fairly useless defender and even for a control deck a 7 turn clock does not really constitute a finisher, most planeswalkers can take the game in that amount of time and will have yielded far more value in the process.

Don't get me wrong, True-Name is still a very powerful and very tedious card. It reminds me of Jitte, fairly easy to outplay it but a slow and painful game over when you can't. Jitte is a higher pick as it is easier to play and offers far more utility. I rate True-Name 5th-10th best blue card in an unpowered cube. Highly powerful but hard to use to its full potential within the cube. The other top blue cards all do a lot of work to increase the power of the other cards in your deck, True-Name does this far less. The best home I have found for True-Name thus far is an UW cawblade style deck using few powerful creatures, Stoneforge and equipment and finished off with control stuff. You never have to overcommit to the board and have sufficient tempo and control to be able to be attacking.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Cube List post Khans of Tarkir

It has been a long while since I posted a list for my cube. As I change it about so frequently it is hard to pick moments that represent the general feel of the cube. Presently it is more limited focused than it has been ever before with narrow cards and enablers mostly removed. These have been replaced with vast swathes of gold cards and generally more midrange stuff. Having not gotten my hands on much of the new Khans cards nor had much chance to test those I do have I am sure that there will be many more Khans cards popping in and out of the cube for the next few months.


10x Original Duals
10x Shock Lands
10x Sac Lands
10x Pain Lands
10x Scry Lands
10x Filter Lands
10x Check Lands
10x Bounce Lands

5x Quick Lands
5x Man Lands
5x Wedge Lands
5x Off Colour Life Lands
5x Mirage Sac Lands
5x Artifact Lands
5x Cycling Lands

Nephalia Drownyard
Kessig Wolf Run
Desolate Lighthouse
Darksteel Citadel
Rishadan Port
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Blinkmoth Nexus
Mishra's Factory
Temple of the False God
City of Traitors
Ancient Tomb

Teetering Peaks
Barbarian Ring
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Lake of the Dead
Gaea's Cradle
Treetop Village
Faerie Conclave
Shelldock Isle


Engineered Explosives
Mox Diamond
Mox Opal
Chrome Mox

Cursed Scroll
Elixir Of Immortality
Sensei's Divining Top
Aether Vial
Mana Vault
Voltaic Key
Chromatic Star

5x Talisman
Ankh of Mishra
Winter Orb
Ratchet Bomb
Grim Monolith
Umezawa's Jitte
Scroll Rack

Vedalken Shackles
Palladium Myr
Tangle Wire
Sword of War and Peace
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of Feast and Famine

Molten-Tail Masticore
Thran Dynamo
Solemn Simulacrum
Nevinyrral's Disk

Memory Jar
Gilded Lotus

Wurmcoil Engine

Myr Battlesphere
Karn Liberated
All is Dust

Blightsteel Colossus
Emrakul. the Aeons Torn


Sultai Charm
Butcher of the Horde
Bant Charm
Broodmate Dragon
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Mantis Rider
Savage Nuckleblade
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Dromar's Charm
Azban Charm

Coiling Oracle
Shardless Agent
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Trygon Predator
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Mystic Snake
Simic Skyswallower (Sagu Mauler likely to replace when I get one)

Deathrite Shaman
Abrupt Decay
Golgari Charm
Dreg Mangler
Maelstrom Pulse
Pernicious Deed
Reaper of the Wilds
Vraska the Unseen
Garruk, Apex Predator

Qasali Pridemage
Selesnya Charm
Fleecemane Lion
Voice of Resurgence
Kitchen Finks
Knight of the Reliquary
Advent of the Wurm

Azorius Charm
Geist of Saint Traft
Detention Sphere
Supreme Verdict
Venser, the Sojourner
Sphinx's Revelation

Rackdos Cackler
Spike Jester
Rackdos Charm
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Olivia Voldaren

Domri Rade
Boggart Ram-Gang
Xenagos, the Reveler
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Bloodbraid Elf
Xenagos, God of Revels

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Merciless Eviction
Ashen Rider

Dimir Charm
Baleful Strix
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Oona, Queen of the Fae

Fire / Ice
Izzet Charm
Dack Fayden
Ral Zarek

Figure of Destiny
Lightning Helix
Boros Charm
Ajani Vengeant


Gitaxian Probe

Vapor Snag
Seal of Removal
Force Spike
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Mental Misstep

Delver of Secrets
Enclave Cryptologist
Phantasmal Bear
Cloudfin Raptor

Memory Lapse
Mana Leak
Arcane Denial

Cyclonic Rift
See Beyond
Lat-Nam's Legacy

Waterfront Bouncer
Lighthouse Chronologist
Looter il-Kor
Snapcaster Mage
Phantasmal Image

Chasm Skulker
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Vendilion Clique
Trinket Mage
Thassa, God of the Sea
Grand Architect
True-Name Nemesis

Frantic Search
Show and Tell
Jace Beleren
Compulsive Research

Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Cryptic Command
Fact or Fiction

Phyrexian Metamorph
Master of Waves
Glen Elandra Archmage
Venser, Shaper Savant

Riftwing Cloundskate
Force of Will
Temporal Manipulation
Time Warp
Timayo, the Moon Sage

Time Spiral
Frost Titan
Consecrated Sphinx

Temporal Mastery
Dig Through Time


Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Mana Tithe
Land Tax

Champion of the Parish
Soldier of the Pantheon
Mother of Runes
Gideon's Law Keeper
Student of Warfare
Elite Vanguard
Boros Elite
Steppe Lynx

Knight of the White Orchid
Precinct Captain
Loyal Cathar
Thalia, Guardian of Threben
Kami of Ancient Law
Wall of Omens
Stoneforge Mystic

Gather the Townsfolk
Raise the Alarm
Honor the Pure
Journey to Nowhere

Silverblade Paladin
Hushwing Gryff
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Blade Splicer

Wing Shards
Spectral Procession
Oblivion Ring
Banishing Light
Lingering Souls
Spear of Heliod

Restoration Angel
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Sublime Archangel

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Heliod, God of the Sun
Ajani Steadfast
Wrath of God
Day of Judgement

Gideon Jura
Elspeth Tirel
Cloudgoat Ranger
Baneslayer Angel

Planar Cleansing
Austere Command
Akroma's Vengeance
Sun Titan
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Eternal Dragon
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Unexpectedly Absent
Entreat the Angels
Descree of Justice
Mikaeus, the Lunarch


Elvish Mystic
Llanowar Elf
Fyndhorn Elf
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Elves of Deep Shadow
Noble Hierarch
Birds of Paradise
Joraga Treespeaker
Wild Nacatl
Experiment One
Nature's Claim

Oath of Druids
Nature's Lore
Survival of the Fittest
Life from the Loam
Sylvan Library

Lotus Cobra
Sylvan Caryatid
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Wall of Roots
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Wall of Blossoms
Elvish Visionary
Flinthoof Boar
Fauna Shaman
Strangleroot Geist
Scavenging Ooze

Bow of Nylea
Beast Within
Search for Tomorrow

Courser of Kruphix
Eternal Witness
Wood Elves
Boon Satyr
Reclamation Sage
Ohran Viper
Yavimaya Elder

Polukranos, World Eater
Master of the Wild Hunt
Thrun, the Last Troll
Oracle of Mul Daya
Wickerbough Elder

Birthing Pod
Garruk Relentless
Natural Order
Garruk Wildspeaker

Wolfir Silverheart
Kalonian Hydra
Acidic Slime

Plow Under
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Primal Command
Nissa, Worldwaker

Primeval Titan
Chancellor of the Tangle
Avenger of Zendikar
Regal Force
Craterhoof Behemoth

Green Sun's Zenith
Worldspine Wurm


Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning
Lava Dart
Seal of Fire
Burst Lightning
Titan's Strength
Reckless Charge
Faithless Looting

Goblin Guide
Firedrinker Satyr
Stromkirk Noble
Kird Ape
Mogg Fanatic
Legion Loyalist
Orcish Lumberjack
Goblin Welder
Grim Lavamancer

Ash Zealot
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Kargan Dragonlord
Young Pyromancer
Plated Geopede
Lightning Mauler
Keldon Marauders
Hellspark Elemental

Searing Blaze
Magma Jet
Arc Trail
Mizzium Mortars
Searing Spear
Lightning Strike
Tormenting Voice
Searing Blood

Chaos Warp
Wheel of Fortune
Silfuric Vortex
Molten Rain

Zo-Zu the Punisher
Goblin Rablemaster
Prophetic Flamespeaker
Chandra's Phoenix
Manic Vandal
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Ball Lightning

Chandra, the Firebrand
Chandra, Pyromancer
Sneak Attack
Koth of the Hammer
Aggressive Mining
Stoke the Flames

Purphoros, God of the Forge
Flametongue Kavu

Siege-Gange Commander
Stormbreath Dragon
Thundermaw Hellkite
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

Inferno Titan

Devil's Play
Bonfire of the Damned


Inquisition of Kozilek
Vampiric Turor
Dark Ritual

Gnarled Scarhide
Diregraf Ghoul
Carrion Feeder

Go for the Throat
Demonic Tutor
Hymn to Tourach

Dark Confidant
Pain Seer
Blood Scrivener
Pack Rat
Vampire Hexmage
Brain Maggot
Nantuko Shade

Master of the Feast
Vampire Nighthawk
Herald of Torment
Geralf's Messengers

Liliana of the Veil
Recurring Nightmare
Hero's Downfall
Toxic Deluge
Phyrexian Arena

Bloodline Keeper
Erebos, God of the Dead
Braids, Cabal Minion
Graveborn Muse
Phyrexian Obliterator
Whip of Erebos

Doomwake Giant
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
Grey Merchant of Asphodel
Liliana Vess
Living Death

Grave Titan
Sorin Markov
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

Sheoldred, the Whispering One
Sickening Shoal
Death Cloud
Mind Twist

Monday 8 September 2014

Khans of Tarkir Review (complete)

Jeskai Elder - C cube  4/10

I am a big fan of the Looter il-Kor and so I want this to be good despite knowing deep down it won't get the job done most of the time. Having to make contact and not having shadow, or "unblockable" as it basically is, makes this a very different card from the other looters simply because you cannot so reliably assume you will get to use this for card quality. As such you have to start looking at this as a tempo creature with added utility. A 1/2 with prowess is acceptable early game and will make blocking it annoying should you have mana up so as to represent the ability to trigger the prowess. Without a good supply of instants to back up the Elder however he is too insignificant to go in many tempo decks. There are certainly archetypes where he will shine such as Delver of Secrets style decks but outside of these few niche decks he is pretty unplayable. Blue does lack "beefy" two drops that are worth playing and this isn't that but it is closer than most of the other options so might be played as desperate filler for a devotion theme.

The Wedge Lands - A cube 7/10

Lands that can tap for three colours without an ongoing penalty are both strong and rare. Loads of lands come into play tapped and while it is annoying it is a more than acceptable price to pay for such reliable and broad fixing. The Shard Lands see cube play and are a very efficient way to offer a lot of fixing using relatively few card slots. Although a little rarer to get them when you are all three colours, when you do you are very grateful. I don't have them in my main cube because I have plenty of allied colour fixing and vast quantities of other dual lands as well. The Wedge lands however, as they offer two enemy colour fixing options each, go a long way to addressing the imbalance of fixing in my cube between allied colours and enemy ones. They are OK at bolstering a wide array of two colour mana bases and are golden when you are an exact match three colour deck.

Rattleclaw Mystic - C cube 3/10

Two mana ramp effects have to be fairly special in green to get cube play and this I fear is not in that special category. It looks like it does a lot but sadly it doesn't do it in the right way. The Mystic is vulnerable with only one or two toughness. To get the double ramp out of the card you have to spend three mana the turn before. Ramping to six mana on turn four is good but it is hardly explosive for the cube and unexciting compared to even the humble Generator Servant. The colour fixing Mystic offers is OK but not close to Sylvan Caryatid or even Lotus Cobra. The only thing that Mystic does that other green ramp doesn't is offer the ability to fix your green when you have none to begin with which is nice but so slow it is unlikely to sort out your bad situation very often. This is so far from Noble Hierarch it is offensive to have mentioned them in the same context.

Dragon Style Twins - C cube 3/10

This understated card is actually a really serious beater. It hits for six alone and effectively gets double prowess, something fairly easy to trigger a bunch in red. Sadly this is competing the slot with dragons that fly and haste, two things this card would really like! Five or so years ago this would likely have had a good run in the cube, today it probably wont get a look in.

Sultai Charm - A cube 7/10

One of the best three mana charms I have seen. All the abilities work well together and ensure you have a lot of options and control over any given situation. It fulfils several important control roles for cube decks thus offering you slot efficiency while remaining very powerful at the same time. In these colours you have a fairly decent array of broad removal  so it won't necessaily be an auto include in any such control deck. Having a good card quality option built into removal is the golden ticket for control, you can go pretty weak on both the card quality side and the removal side and still have a good cube card, as demonstrated by Azorius Charm. Sultai Charm is pretty strong at both ends as well as being far broader. It also offers some graveyard synergy potential as well. While it is clearly a control card I am sure it will see some play in more tempo focused decks simply because it covers so many bases effectively while never being dead weight.

Crackling Doom - B cube 4.5/10

I am not a fan of this card but it does smack a little of Searing Blaze. Three colours and no colourless to ease the casting of this card make it unwieldy and a bit too narrow for my liking. That said it is very potent removal. It can go two for one should they have a low loyalty planeswalker out. It gets around a lot of annoying abilities like hexproof and indestructible. It is instant so as to cover you against pesky man lands and trickert and most importantly of all, unlike all other reasonable Edict effects Crackling Doom will get the scariest threat rather than the least relevant dork. Three is still a lot to pay for some spot removal even in mono coloured decks so I think this will not be commonly played but when it is it will be pretty decent for both agro and control decks.

Temur Ascendency - B cube 5/10

More Fires of Yavimaya style cards, for a bit more colour you get to draw cards along with your haste which not only gives you real punch but also some long game too. Usually the issue with cards like this is that they do nothing without other cards, obviously that is still the case with this as well but it fuels you getting more cards so overall you will wind up with this dead far less often than you would the classic Fires. Typically agro decks don't pack much card advantage and can find then run out of gas too soon if they are running too much support cards like these. Many of the good big agro red and green dorks already have haste however there are also very many that become very unreasonable when you do give them haste such as the Titans or Kalonian Hydra. If you have good mana I can see this being something you would splash for in an appropriate red green beatdown deck. Very narrow but suitably powerful is the verdict.

Narsef, Enlightened Master - C cube 3/10

Six mana for two toughness and only a bit of hexproof to help keep it safe terrifies me about this dork. You get value from just attacking but you need to get to the attack step and ideally survive it a couple of times before I think you have enough value to merit playing this dork. It is a lot of colours and requires you to have a high number of spells you want to cast off the trigger in your deck on top of this. All a bit too steep for me.

Mardu Skullhunter - C cube 2/10

Nice idea but neither large enough nor reliable enough to be replacing anything else you might want in this capacity. If you want them discarding cards you are playing Ravenous Rats, if you want to get generic card advantage on a fair body then you are going down the Dark Confidant and pals route and if you want to just beat down then you have so many better options...

Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker - A cube 8.5/10

Finally we have a well rounded red planeswalker on offer that gets the job done in most decks without much need to build around or be a specific archetype. Koth can be very powerful but is typically quite a linear planeswalker as well as really needing a tempo lead when you make him due to being so poor defensively. The various incarnations of Chandra don't really do enough on the board to make an immediate impact on the game. They are either situational, slow or fiddly and despite all of this they still see a bunch of play, all be it mostly the four mana variants. Dragonspeaker does serious things and he does them right away, either he burns away a pesky creature for a sizeable four damage or he is swinging into one of your planeswalkers or face for four. This makes him one of the best anti planeswalker planeswalkers on offer as well as one of the quickest to close out a game. He is a little weaker to lots of small creatures but can race fairly well even if he can't very effectively kill them off. Typically the Chandra's have the opposite issue, that they are weak to fat dorks but great against weenies which means they complement each other fairly well too. The ultimate is good fun as well, very powerful but certainly not as game winningly broken as some others which has the nice aside of it being cost so that you can get to use it with rather more frequency than most. I place this on a very comparable power level to Gideon Jura, comfortably one of the top ten planeswalkers of all time.

Icefeather Aven - C cube 3/10

Certainly better than Gaea's Skyfolk and Echo Tracer but then neither of those cards come close to getting cube play so I am not sure combining them does much to increase its chances of play. Elegant and versatile and I am sure a brilliant limited card but not a cube card.

Lens of Clarity - C cube 1/10

Needed some way to sacrifice and draw a card for this to be useful, as it is you can't support the card disadvantage for this effect in any deck I can think that would like it. Nice effect and well cost for it but not quite there. A far cry from Divining Top.

Mardu Warshrieker - C cube 3/10

Coal Stoker is very niche and far more a combo card than an agro one in cube. With this being more unreliable I cannot really see it seeing play in the same way however there is a small chance of it being used more as a midgame tempo boost like a slow Burning-Tree Emissary.

Ugin's Nexus - C cube 2/10

A funny way to hose certain strategies but not a reason it should ever be in a cube. As a way of taking extra turns outside of blue it is very interesting but due to needing a sacrifice outlet as well as having no way to really abuse because of its self exiling I cannot see this getting played more than once or twice.

Sorin, Solemn Visitor - A cube (just) 5/10

Comparable to the other Orzhoz Sorin and my gut is that the newer is the slightly weaker. Four loyalty for four mana is decent however his ability to protect himself reduces his loyalty significantly and is a better offensive tool than a defensive one. His plus one ability does nothing at all without you having a board presence already which greatly reduces the options he offers, which is one of the main strengths of planeswalkers. In an agro deck this will be pretty good, it will make racing hard and will pose as a dangerous threat however in a control deck I think this will be slow, underwhelming and overly restricted. Ral Zarek springs most to mind as a similar sort of planeswalker that typically does too little with its plus loyalty effect to be worth it in most decks. It is nice to see a planeswalker that finally makes flying tokens however I think a little too much caution has been used.

End Hostilities - no slot 0/10

With so many other board sweeper options this is a very specific half mast affair. To my mind either play simple four mana wraths or cover all six mana ones. This is too much mana for not a commonly useful effect.

Howl of the Hoard - C cube 3/10

Lots of potential fun and power but realistically it is going to be very hard to set up for maximum efficiency in the (few) decks that might want such an effect. Good old two mana Fork is just going to be better almost all of the time. BDM did suggest the fantastic play of Electromancer getting in for the raid trigger than casting this into triple Manamorphose!

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant - A cube 5.5/10

A mini Grave Titan that can be triggered outside of entering the battlefield or attacking. There are a lot of easy combos you can use to create a total army with this on the spot. You need a fairly creature heavy deck for Sidisi to be worth playing but you certainly don't need to be triggering him externally, so to speak, for him to be very powerful. He also has added value for any graveyard synergy your deck might be packing. This is a whole lot of monster however being three colours and needing around a third of your deck being dorks he is a very narrow card indeed. Comfortably A cube power level however if it will see enough play to retain the spot remains to be seen. This I suspect will be a strong theme from this set.

Sagu Mauler - A cube 6/10

I think this is just a direct replacement for Simic Sky Swallower in my cube. I think it will have overall a lot more playability due to doing more earlier in the game. The Sky Swallower is a better game ender as the flying makes it so hard to match with blockers however there are a wealth of strong game enders you can cheat into play. Aetherling is doing a lot of the work for control decks now that was done by Sky Swallower back in the day. Sagu Mauler represents a serious clock that needs some specific answers. Hexproof is vastly better than shroud and allows you more deck construction freedom. With the morph you can be attacking with it when you get to five mana as well as having more options with it. Certainly losing the flying changes the application of the card somewhat from how Sky Swallower was used but I think you gain much more overall from the hexproof, morph and reduced cost. More decks will be able to play it yet it will still do a similar and often better job in the old decks and roles it was found in.

Anafenza, the Foremost - B cube 4/10

Another card that is above the power curve in cube however on this occasion I don't think it does enough to merit the narrow cost. Doran the Seige Tower is a bigger dork than this for the same cost and has a more interesting effect and it rarely gets any play. The exile aspect of Anafenza is incredibly minor and does little more than hose the odd card and a few archetypes. Random hosing is not fun nor especially skill intensive so puts me off the card a lot. The counters on tapped attackers is strong but a bit clumsy, it has annoying synergy with vigilance for instance. It is not doing something you always will find useful nor is it contained within the card. For this level of restriction on cost you want a powerful unrestricted card which this doesn't quite achieve.

Mardu Ascendancy - B cube 3/10

This is a very powerful card indeed but I think too niche. Not only do you need to be an aggro deck in these three colours but you also really need to be focusing somewhat on working well with it by using haste creatures, battlecry effects and having lots of cheap dorks. As a persistent threat that gains you value you can do better with the more broadly playable Sulphuric Vortex, Bitterblossom or even just an appropriate god. The sac ability is a bonus and will help against some red mass removal or for an epic combat step. It adds to the interest and power of the card but certainly isn't the reason you should be considering playing it and will be blank most of the time.

Utter End - B cube 5/10

So close but ruined by the non-land clause I fear. Instant, exile, no drawbacks, no requirements and a near full range of targets gain this card top marks in almost all the categories for good removal. Then you have a two colour, four mana casting cost and you have to wonder how often you are going to be gaining a tempo advantage with your one for one removal spell? Without the ability to gain card advantage or much tempo you have to really want a total solution to certain things to run this in your deck. It is slot efficient but that is about it. Control decks are those that like really good answers that are broad however one of their main weaknesses is the man-land which this totally fails against and so I cannot see this getting enough play.

Abzan Ascendancy - C cube 3/10

If I wanted to turn my real dorks into tokens I would likely be running Spirit Bonds or things like Xathrid Necromancer. If I want to pump my guys I am running permanent pump like Spear of Heliod, versatile pump like Ajani Goldmane or gamewinning pump like Overrun. The pump is OK but a bit awkward as it does not work smoothly with the other half. This card is too narrow and way too much of a do nothing in many situations to cut it in cube play.

See the Unwritten - B cube 4/10

A kind of Tooth and Nail card that is very very cheap for what it can do but it a little bit unpredictable for my liking in the kinds of decks that flop out big guys. Eight cards is a lot, especially in 40 card decks and will usually find you something pretty good but it will be a lot weaker than you might hope for when it comes to choosing two dorks to flop out. The card is also a little middle of the road. Either I want it cheap like Natural Order or I want it really powerful like Tooth and Nail or Green Sun's Zenith. Even six mana Garruk does a better job in the midrange area than this as it comes with so many other options. A powerful card but one without a home in the cube.

Wingmate Roc - C cube 3/10

More powerful than the Cloudgoat Ranger but the raid requirement makes it too inconsistent. Cards like this you need to be powerful off the top late game when you both have nothing and not only good when you are curving out and maintaining tempo.

Crater's Claws - B cube 4.5/10

I am a big fan of the clause on this kind of Fireball card that allow you to do more damage than what you pay. When you have ferocious this is a Shock as well as a super hurty Fireball which vastly increases the utility of the card. It is the poor scaling with low mana investments that usually rules out X damage spells for most cube decks and this card gives you the potential for that not to be the case. Sadly I don't think you will be ferocious often enough when you want this as Shock for it to supplant the Devil's Play from my cube. A very interesting and different Fireball with some new potential applications. Not however as powerful, synergic or generally all round advantageous and stand alone good as just having a bit of flashback. Perhaps as they are so different the cube could support, for the first time ever, two Fireball equivalents.

War-Name Aspirant - B cube 3/10

The best in a long line of recent two mana three power 1R dorks but I suspect still not competing with the more direct aggro two drops like Hellspark elemental or the rarer RR ones like Kargan Dragonlord and Ash Zealot. Evading one power blockers is nice but likely not worth the drawback of needing to raid to not be just a 2/1. I am sure this will be a top rate limited and even standard aggro dork but for cube this is not enough dork. Suitable filler in a redundant deck but far too low power to get any play outside such strategies.

Suspension Field - no slot 0/10

Journey to Nowhere, but a whole lot worse. No thanks.

Clever Impersonator - A cube 6/10

I have never loved a Clone in cube as its usefulness very much depends on what you are playing against. That said they are still typically rather good, they give you a lot of power when your opponent is doing powerful things and they give you options. This clone is a lot more expensive than Phantasmal Image or Phyrexian Metalmorph (the two I have in my cube at present) but it can do a whole lot more. It is not specifically its broader range that makes it good but more what that means for more matchups. Lots of control decks are chock full of planeswalkers and have few other powerful permanents which they can make. Against these fairly common decks a more classic clone is poor while this remains useful. This is a more consistent Clone than any other which is good for a card effect that is inherently high variance in performance.

Mindswipe - No slot 0/10

Far far too expensive for cube play. This is not efficiently countering much nor is it doing any worthwhile damage when it does.

Mantis Rider - A cube 8/10

One of the best cards in the set. This has tempo and value all over it. In a meta rife with planeswalkers this dork is going to be getting a lot of work done. Three mana haste dorks with three power get a lot of cube play as it is, they offer a robust body that gets to work early, they are hard to play around and have a reasonable clock. Flinthoof Boar, Dreg Mangler and Boggart Ram-Gang are all powerful dangerous cube cards that get a lot of play in aggro decks. For just one more colour you get flying and vigilance thrown into the mix which is a world better than wither or scavenge, the vigilance alone likely is and flying is one of the very best things a dork can have making this head and shoulders above the comparisons. This blocks well, it attacks well, it offers a great threat to planeswalkers and as a result will often result in card advantage as it will Dreadbore then leave you with a Serra Avenger in play! It is colour intense but it is almost always going to be played when you are those colours, both aggro and control. It is simply one of the best, if not the best all round stand alone tempo dork for three mana. It is certainly competing for best three colour cube card too.

Savage Nuckleblade - A cube 6.5/10

Another well above the curve dork for an XYZ mana cost like the Mantis Rider. This one is fatter and has more utility but it is mana intense as well as a bit all over the place. Mantis Rider does one thing very well (the combat step), this does a bunch of different stuff that is going to be situationally useful. RUG is not a common colour combination which makes me a little concerned this guy won't see much play. Certainly more powerful and useful than Anafenza but similarly a card that is aimless, just fairly fat for the mana with some added bonus fluff. Very good fluff in Nuckleblades case but still fluff.

Sultai Ascendancy - C cube 3/10

Probably a more powerful effect overall than Sylvan Library but for three colours and a mana more you should really hope so! This gives you great control over your draw as well as some really nice graveyard synergy however it is a three mana total tempo void which I don't think you can afford in cube for an effect like this.

Mardu Charm - B cube 4/10

Very powerful and highly versatile however this Charm doesn't sit that well with me. Duress is an effect you typically want early and although instant is very handy it does not quite make up for the three mana cost. Four damage to a dork is nice too, it is widely useful and will kill most things in the cube. That is because most of the cube dorks cost one to three mana, once you get to four mana or more the Mardu Charm starts failing to deal with most monsters and as such is rather on the pricey side for what is essentially early removal. Making two 1/1s is the highest value ability on the Charm but it isn't very exciting and while it stops the card from ever being dead it is not even close to the card draw options on Sultai and Azban Charms. For an aggro deck Mardu Charm is not cheap enough to offer any real tempo advantages nor does it offer you any reach. For control decks the abilities are a little too limited, you should be able to put the card to use but it doesn't offer you the things you really need.

Rashaka Deathdealer - B cube 4/10

A cat demon you say? Fine, I guess it is no less silly than a bird wizard... This dork is like a mix of Putrid Leech, Nantuko Shade and Lotleth Troll. It is also more powerful than any of those three on paper but I think it will see less play. The thing about magic is that raw power is often trumped by synergy or consistency. Each of the three cards I compared this to serve quite specific purposes. The Shade is mono coloured and serves as a great tool in devotion decks, both aggro and control versions. It is a mana dump and a good devotion provider as well as a dangerous game ending threat for just two mana. Lotleth Troll is almost exclusively used when you have a discard or graveyard theme in the deck. Putrid Leech is used in very aggressive decks where it is a two drop that needs no further (relevant) investment that can potentially hit for four a turn. Deathdealer performs none of these roles and is just an OK cheap dork that scales better than most into the late game. When you flood, or even just in decks that you expect to have lots of available mana Deathdealer will be a strong card but most of the time he will either restrict you through forcing you to keep mana open or just be a Grizly Bear. I am sad to say I think River Boa is going to outperform this on average.

The Life Lands - A and B cubes 4.5 and 5.5 / 10 for allied and enemy colours respectively.

A set of functional reprints for the Refuges but this time complete with enemy colour pairings making them a whole lot more exciting. They have really nice art for the most part too which is a huge win for lands in particular. Overall Khans of Tarkir will really sort out the cube for decent balance options between allied and enemy colour pairings with these and the three colour lands now on offer. I intend only to put the enemy colour lands from this cycle into the cube. Presently I have the man lands, the quick lands and the Mirage sac lands that are only for allied and nothing that is just for enemy colours. I have no problem with enemy colours being harder to do or even less powerful for flavour and variation however it is no fun if that discrepancy is made up from mana and colour screws. The off colour versions of these lands will see lots of play simply through there being limited options. The allied ones much less so as demonstrated by the Refuge cycle as there are enough better options and hence why I wont bother adding them.

Temur Charm - B cube 2.5/10

Probably the worst of the cycle but still fairly strong. Mana Leak is a nice rounded option but sadly the other two are a bit situational and really only suited to creature based strategies. Even then this card isn't doing specific things you want in creature decks, like being a threat! A bit of evasion will break stalemates and allow for alpha strikes but not at all often, mostly it would be used to snipe out planeswalkers which is OK but more of a way to be less behind than one to get ahead. Fighting is also nice but like the evasion portion it needs you to have dorks in play, and the right sort too making it far less reliable or useful than the removal options on the other Charms. I am sure it would be fine but there is only so many slots you can have as non-threats in the decks this would be good it and this isn't powerful or versatile enough to get one of them very often.

Ashcloud Phoenix - B cube 3/10

A nicely designed card and one of the few morph cards that is interesting. Creatures that need a bit of extra killing are top rate in the cube as are those that fly. Sadly once you have killed this guy once he becomes a Grizly Bear and really doesn't do a lot until you throw six mana at him. Having only one toughness makes it a bit too easy to deal with this four mana card and six is too much to pay regularly to get it back again. I think I would just rather have a Hound of Griselbrand for that sort of thing to ensure both lives of my card were useful.

Stubborn Denial - B cube 5/10

Half the effect of Spell Pierce that turns into Negate at half the cost when you are ferocious! I really like this card and want it to be played but I have my doubts. Firstly there are only so many counters you can run with a limited range. Already I tend to run Negate or Spell Pierce in my control decks, not both. Stubborn Denial is a bit of a middle ground card between the other two. If you want a powerful one drop you play Pierce, if you want a reliable hard counter you play Negate. With Daze and Force Spike doing the rounds people will play around Stubborn Denial by accident and really diminish its value as a non-ferocious card. Obviously the overall quality of the card depends on how often you will have 4 power dork in play. The kinds of deck that want these kinds of effect are typically those with less ferocity about them. I want this to be good because I like the idea of using a Wolf Run or something to turn on ferocious. It just gives more options, more synergy and more interesting games.

Pearl Lake Ancient - B cube 4/10

If it were not for Aetherling doing this job better I think there may have been a place for this big fish. Flash is fantastic for control decks and it has a lot of stats compared to Aetherling. Sadly it lacks evasion and thus cannot be relied upon to end a game. Overall it is likely more mana intensive than Aetherling as you have to recast it after saving it as well as potentially getting back up to seven mana. With trample you might have to think about which unstoppable blue finisher you should go for but as it is I think it will rot for all of time in the B cube.

Murderous Cut - A cube 5.5/10

Instant unrestricted removal is interesting for black. Throw in the ability to have it cost one mana and you have quite a package. Sadly you want this cheap early in the game which isn't going to be happening as often as you would like. The scaling isn't great for the card but I think it is convenient enough to see play in a broad range of black decks.

Siege Rhino - B cube 5/10

Well above the curve and also has some synergy with the kinds of things its colour combination likes to do such as Recurring Nightmare. It is not doing anything that specific beyond being a high value dork and so with it being narrow as well due to three colour requirement I don't think it would see enough play to merit inclusion. Certainly I will try it out and almost as certainly it will perform well when it is played but as soon as a BWG deck passes it up I will look to relegate it!

Jeskai Charm - B cube 4/10

To me this just looks like Azorius Charm plus with a bit bolted on from Boros Charm. One of the best things about Azorius Charm for control was that it cycled away when you didn't want cheap removal, the other great thing about the Ravnica Charms in general was that they cost two mana and are only two colours! This is not particularly cheap removal given the quality of that removal. The best use of this card is going to be taking out planeswalkers in a control deck. Control has many better options than this but more tempo based decks do make good use of all the abilities. Lifelink and +1/+1 is a race winner as well as a decent combat trick. Being able to remove blockers is also handy which is something you cannot do with Azorius Charm. Probably this is just too clunky and niche for the cube despite likely being enough to see constructed play in tempo decks.

Hooded Hydra - no slot 0/10

A bit too mana intense for what it does. If you want dorks that make more dorks if they die you have a wealth of things to chose from that are better. The same applies if you want dorks with variable mana costs.

Kheru, Lich Lord - no slot

Six mana for a 4/4 with a three mana activation cost would need to be really good. At three colours it would need to be insane. Instead you get to Corpse Dance with a little more dazzle. No thank you cheers.

Butcher of the Hoard - A cube 7.5/10

Is it a Baneslayer? Is it a Thundermaw? No, it's kind of both! A four mana 5/4 flier with no drawback is a really good start. It would be a shoe in as two colour card. Add to this the ability to have lifelink, vigilance or haste and you have a winner even in a fairly awkward three colour pairing. Sacrificing a dork is quite a heavy price unless you have a strong token theme or are full of things like Bloodghast but it is an option not a requirement and makes the card better regardless of your deck. A sacrifice outlet is a useful thing to have in itself so coming on a bomb like dork that is reasonably cheap, and affords you powerful effects is another win. It is a dork that can put you ahead on the turn you make it and needs to die in short order or you will just win. A little narrow again but far enough above the curve to offset any such awkwardness.

Master of Pearls - C cube 2/10

Too weak as a stand alone guy to cut it in the cube. It is a nice effect to be able to have in a white weenie deck but it is hardly going to be much of a trick nor is it cheap compared to many of the other things you can do like this. Dictate of Heliod springs to mind as a card better on several fronts.

Bloodsoaked Champion - A cube 6.5/10

Hello Mr Gravecrawler MkII. Sadly not a zombie and doubly sadly twice the mana to recur. Having a zombie is comparable to having raid in fairly appropriately built decks however having to have a zombie is a much less potentially self harming thing to be doing and so this card is all round a fair chunk worse than the original but it remains cube worthy and each will increase the value of the other for redundancy in strategy. You cannot go too far wrong with one mana two power guys with added good effects in the cube and this is such a dork.

Jeskai Ascendancy - C cube 2/10

What a mess of a card. A do nothing alone, scales badly with itself, three colour horror! You need creatures to make it good, you need non-creatures to make it do anything. It is a huge investment to make for a loot effect and an even bigger one to make for a kind of global prowess. I don't see this having any combo application or sufficient aggro worth. Annoyingly it could still be bonkers, say after you make a Young Pyromancer and then chain cast cheap spells. Cool but all very wishful.

Disdainful Stroke - C cube 3.5/10

This is another card I quite want to be good but suspect it will be too inconsistent. My cube has a very cheap curve and while this counters all the most powerful cards it can easily face decks where it has no targets at all. Throw on top of this the fact that it is unlikely to be anything but a dead card in hand until turn four and you don't have the happiest looking spell. As things are still tend towards the midrange style of deck this will continue to improve in value but I can't see it appearing in cubes as a mainstay for a while yet.

Treasure Cruise - C cube 3/10

Oh to be instant! To be honest I am not sure that would be quite enough to make this good. A lot of the decks that want to draw cards, especially those happier to do it at instant speed, are those that want to reuse the cards in their graveyard. As such paying much of a delve cost will be damaging, the more you do it the more detrimental to your plan it will become. I am sure there will be the odd deck where this fits in rather well. It is a great late game top deck in most decks but likewise a pretty dead card for a lot of the early game.

Grim Haruspex - A cube 5/10

Somewhat of a Xathrid Necromancer effect, this in broader in range but offers less tempo despite having extra power over the zombie generator. This will be especially useful in decks where you have things like Gravecrawler and Bloodghast as well as a sacrifice outlet so that you have a draw engine to abuse that is made up of reasonable aggro monsters. It is a bit vulnerable and will be hard to get value out of it when facing any sort of removal but it is reasonably cost and has some nice synergies. You are not going to be distraught when this eats a Lightning Bolt or a Plow, often it will bait them and allow your better monster to get it done.

Surrak Dragonclaw - A cube 5.5/10

This doesn't at all excite me but I can't help thinking it is going to be rather good. It is a messy card that performs no particular role very well but that has so much value and power that it will likely get rammed into all sorts of decks and still be pretty good in them. A five mana 6/6 is a good start although not enough to be cube worthy when you compare it to things like Kalonian Hydra or Wolfir Silverheart for raw size. Throw in flash and you have a card that can engineer some added value as a surprise blocker or unexpected extra attacker when cast at end of turn. Then you make him uncounterable and you don't care that much about it but can't outright dismiss it as a little incidental bonus. Having all your dorks thereafter being uncounterable however is pretty significant in combination with his own counter-proofing and allows you to do whatever you want to do against any deck packing counter magic. Sure, it hoses one colour but it does so in a broad way and better than things like Thrun, the Lame Troll who is a bit of an auto pilot dullard. Finally gaining trample on all your dorks is really quite powerful even if he doesn't have it himself. Green is full of things that get chumped a lot, I find myself wishing I had trample a lot of the time, particularly for dealing with planeswalkers. Feeling like you are in an OK position to have this dork made at you end of turn throwing a 6/6 into the mix and also turning everything else trampling is going to be a huge swing in the game.

Goblinslide - C cube 1.5/10

Too much mana overall, it needed to be cheaper to play, have legs or have no cost for the trigger to cut it in cube. It is a little bit abusable and so I want a copy but I doubt anyone will ever bother trying to abuse it as it is just not as powerful as other things that can be abused.

Abzan Charm - A cube 7/10

One of the two best Charms with a good card draw ability, a top rate removal mode and a combat trick. A powerful card that will never be dead and affords you an abundance of options. Instant speed exile effects are what you want from a removal spell and this hits all the scary big things. Although it doesn't hit small dorks you ideally don't want to be using a three mana spell as the solution to them anyway. The combat trick covers you fairly well in this department. Of the various wedges the GBW pairing is one of the more popular which greatly helps the playability of this charm. This will work well in both aggro and control, as an out that doesn't deny a tempo option as well as not ever risking being dead for the agro player. For the control player it will be much more about having the option on card draw or really hard removal, a bit like a powered up Azorius Charm.

Chief of the Edge - C cube 2/10

Far more potent than the Scale Chief but not enough other good warrior synergy in those colours for this to be useful yet.

Gurmag Swiftwing - C cube 2/10

Too cheap with too many things for it not to be useful somewhere! A one power two mana beater isn't getting it done on its own even with a jumble of keyword abilities. I can't think what this would be helpful with and so until I do it will rot in the depths of my cube reserves.

Hordeling Outburst - C cube 2/10

Perphorus likes this! Spectral Procession this is not however there are a lot of things that work very well with goblins and mass tokens in general and so it would be remiss of me not to have this relatively clean and efficient midrange option unavailable.

Dig Through Time - A cube 8/10

While I poopooed the last delve draw spell I am much more drawn to this one despite its many similarities. Two cards from seven feels like it is going to be doing much more of what you need than just three random off the top. Doing it an instant speed means that you are far happier to play this for five mana in the mid game than you would be if it were a sorcery. This makes it far less of a dead card early and far less reliant on the delving to be good. Costing a minimum of UU seems a bunch worse than just U for Treasure Cruise however it will be so late in the day that you get to that level of delve that the difference of one U will be negligible. All in all this is a very powerful card advantage and card quality spell. It will go very well in many combo and control decks. I am going to go out on a limb here and compare this card to Fact or Fiction, it is refreshing to see card advantage being printed that isn't on dorks or planeswalkers or that require you to engineer some game state to become efficient. The power of dorks these days means you don't often have time to spend casting Fact or Fiction, hopefully this spell will be viable sooner as it gives more scope to do other things at the same time.

Monastery Swiftspear - C cube 4/10

As a stand alone card this is too much of a one power beater to be good. Even in an agro red deck with around half the non-lands as spells this would be getting through an unexciting amount of damage. I was trying to think of a card that I reckon would do a comparable amount of damage on average and the closest I came was with Mogg Fanatic! In a dedicated UR Kiln Fiend style of deck this becomes much more like a Goblin Guide and while such decks are fairly potent in cube they do have rather a lot of narrow cards and are hard to support. The potential for prowess trickery is nice but it comes back to being too much of a one power beater. It is not a high enough impact card given the degree of support it requires to become good.

Cranial Archive - C cube 2/10

Drawing cards is better than gaining life and so this is appealing over Elixir of Immortality despite the increased cost. Unfortunately this exiles itself thus giving you substantially less longevity than Elixir. In the kinds of decks that want this kind of thing you would probably still need to run something else better at that job and just use this as backup.

Alter of the Brood - C cube 3/10

Lots of infinite combos with this to mill someone to death but I can't think of one less than three cards nor one using cards that are all that useful outside of the combo. All in all I don't see this getting it done but it is cheap and potentially effective at doings its thing.

Kin-Tree Warden - C cube 1/10

Not doing enough but still a lot of stuff for one so cheap. I think River Boa is still the way to go for cheap green regenerators but this certainly puts Drudge Skeletons in their place.

Valley Dasher - B cube 3.5/10

This ranks close to the many options on 1R three power dorks in red. It is more reliable and more bursty but does rather lack combat prowess. Compared to Ash Zealot this is missing a lot of extra stuff but ultimately it comes down to the firststrike making it that much more combat ready. Fine but not powerful enough like the various 1R 3/X dorks on offer.

Tormenting Voice - A cube (very hopefully) 5/10

A very tenuous Lat-Nam's Legacy in red. Not only is it sorcery but it requires the discard as an additional cost making it vulnerable to counter magic and impossible to abuse on an empty hand. Wild Guess didn't see much play and is basically the same as this except with a double red cost. That all said, card quality is very good and rare outside of blue. This, unlike Faithless Looting costs no card advantage and still has graveyard synergies. Being 1R makes this a lot more playable in multi-colour decks and those with lots of colourless ramp than Wild Guess and those are the deck types which will want this sort of effect. Cheap card quality wants to be easy to cast and so the subtle casting cost difference I think will be just enough for this to see some play where Wild Guess did not.

Disowned Ancestor - C cube 3/10

Not a powerful card or a quick one however it is a rare cheap defensive dork in black which lets you hold the ground and even can become a threat later on. Black as a control colour is happy to tap out so outlast being a sorcery on this is no biggie. Pretty dull and weak card but performs a role better than a lot of alternatives.

Taigam's Scheming - C cube 4/10

Rather a specific combo binding tool. A reanimator deck is going to be all over this. It does more for you to set up your combo than a Careful Study usually achieves. Also particularly good with all the delve in this set. Sadly it is a card quality spell with card disadvantage and so you really need to have use for things in the graveyard for it to be considered.

Crippling Chill - C cube 2/10

This reminds me a little of Repulse, I like how it can lock out a dork for multiple turns but I don't like how it costs three mana for you and none for your opponent. It is also better than bounce when dealing with comes into play effect creatures. Average tempo filler on the three slot is fine but the cube is generally requiring better than that.

Timely Hoardmate - C cube 2/10

Mini Revailark meets Ranger of Eos.The requirement to have raid makes this worse than either of the comparison cards to my mind. If you have very specific two drops you want to be getting back then this is the cheapest way to do it but if you just want value and card advantage I think other cards are going to be better.

Seeker of the Way - B cube 4/10

Easy to cast, dangerous to block and a good tempo two drop. Knight of Meadowgrain is more robust and stand alone but has far less potential for abuse. Neither are that exciting and to my mind are filler cards that give good flavour and colour feel but that are also not at all missed. While perhaps not as rounded there are a lot of more interesting two drops like Thalia, Knight of the White Orchid, Precinct Captain etc. that do more specific things that consume the available two slots I have in the cube.

Zurgo Helmsmasher - B cube 4/10

Undeniably powerful but I fear missing a few key things to become a cube mainstay. With two toughness, perhaps three going in to your opponents turn Zurgo is very easy to deal with conventionally. Five mana for a threat that dies to a lot of removal is a little awkward. Haste means you get some value but not always in the way you want it. A Ball Lightning is always a big pile of damage, this might just be an expensive Edict or might be just an irrelevant seven to the face, either way, your opponent has a little too much control over things for my tastes. Indestructible isn't even that big of a deal in cube with rife Edict, exile, bounce, counter, wither, reshuffle effects and the humiliator Disfigure on offer allowing you to kill Zurgo whenever you like. Zurgo is best when you can do something like Wrath in your own turn but this seems a complete miss match of cards, really Zurgo wants to be a top end finisher in an aggro deck and nothing to do with board sweepers. While Zurgo will be fine in said aggro decks he is never going to look better than a five mana hasting dragon.

Top Cube Cards from Khans of Tarkir

1.   Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
2.   Mantis Rider
3.   Dig Through Time
4.   Butcher of the Hoard
5.   The Wedge Lands
6.   Azban Charm
7.   Sultai Charm
8.   Savage Nuckleblade
9.   Bloodsoaked Champion
10. Clever Impersonator

Sunday 31 August 2014

Updated Top 16 Blue Counterspells

Being gamers we tend to love a lists. It gives us the chance to make our own lists and compare and contrast them against one another. Lists are a good way to quantify ones opinions. Once quantified we can then subject those opinions to more analysis. If you find your list to be very similar to someone else's except for one card it is a clue that one of you is overrating or undervaluing that card. A list without any justification however is far less relevant unless you are already familiar with the opinions of the the person presenting the list. Without a justification then you will not be able to convince people to alter their perspective of a card when you do have discrepencies between your lists. It presents questions without offering any answers or directions to find them.

A good list also need a clear description of the criteria considered in the forming of the list. “The best” is a very subjective term and to be appreciated usefully the term wants to be broken down into a meaningful outline of what constitutes better. I stipulated blue in the title, this was merely so I didn't have to work out where Mana Tithe fits into the mix and spend a lot of convoluted time discussing the implications of a functional reprint in a different colour. Gold counterspells, provided they contained blue, where considered for the list and a couple were fairly close but didn't quite make it. The other description used for this list is simply “top” which is synonomous for best. I have a fairly specific meaning in mind for this in that I do not mean the best card but instead am focusing on the functionality of the card as a Counterspell. How easy is it to play? How effective is it a preventing spells? How good of a position does it leave you in? It was this nature of focusing in on the counterspell aspect of cards that ultimately kicked Dimir and Izzet Charms out of the top sixteen. While they are powerful and diverse cards they are unreliable and somewhat inefficient as counterspells. The utility of them does count in their favour as counterspells but far less so than it would do so in a simple card review. A different example of this would be that I rate Lightning Helix as a very powerful card but only as a fairly average burn spell.

Counterspells are popular, powerful and iconic cards that are relvatively easy in Magic terms to compare and contrast due to their specific nature. Comparing burn spells is even easier than counterspells but something broad in scope like creatures are very tough to compare as they do wildly different things. Without further preamble I shall start to present the list, starting at the bottom, complete with a discussion about the cards performance within the cube.

  1. Spell Snare

Spell SnareSpell Snare is a very powerful and highly efficient counterspell. It is playable from turn one and loses no real power over the course of the game compared to cards like Force Spike and Mana Leak. Making sweeping statements in Magic is dangerous however I can safely say that every (viable) cube deck will have two drops in it thus making Spell Snare highly playable. Certainly some decks will have far more targets and some will have more important targets meaning some variance in the performance of the card based on matchup but this can be expected with most cards. At its best Spell Snare is one of the more powerful cards on this list and at its worst it is still better than the majority of the cards when they are worst case scenario. There are several reasons why Spell Snare, despite all its qualities has ended up at the bottom of the pile and presently doesn't have a slot in my cube. Firstly it is a card that is vastly superior when you are on the draw than it is when you are on the play. It can totally save you against a powerful tempo opener on the draw while on the play it is far less likely to give you a significant advantage. On the play I would almost always have a counterspell that had more potential targets even if it cost two. The result of all this was having lots of fiddling around side boarding to optimise decks which frankly got tedious. Not to mention a card that saw a lot less play due to being cut when possible on the play. The second big flaw I find in Spell Snare is that it serves very little specific purpose in the cube, you never play it really to deal with something generic as you might with a Disenchant or Negate effect. You don't play it as a one drop as you might with Force Spike as it isn't a useful one drop when on the play as discussed. You play a certain number of counterspells in decks that want them as they are decent coverall security and disruption however Spell Snare is too limited in its targets to be a good coverall or security card. You cannot really give away your counterspell slots to a card like Spell Snare and maintain the same level of control over a game. Almost all the reasons to play Spell Snare are contextual rather than archetypal. You play it when you need to counter their two mana combo card, when you are on the draw or when they are an agro deck with over 25% of their list costing two mana. It is rare that you construct a deck that can consistently take advantage of a cheap yet specific hard counter, the only guarenteed advantage of is that you will have spent half the mana your oppenent did. It would need to be a tempo deck with card advantage and/or quality in reasonable abundance that still had sufficient room for reactive non-specific disruption. It is a personal choice but I like to advocate cards that reward and promote good deck construction and design which Spell Snare rarely does.

  1. Pact of NegationPact of Negation

When you are a combo deck, or when you are any deck about to win the game Pact of Negation is the very best card to have. It stops basically anything a counterspell can, which is most things, and costs you no mana to play. These were my main two criteria in assessing the strength of a counterspell and so Pact of Negation is the best of the best in an optimal situation. Combo features little in most cubes and the non-combo decks will spend the majority of their game time not on the verge of winning. This means you have to consider the upkeep cost of Pact of Negation for the majority of decks you might consider playing it in. Three is a lot of mana to pay to counter something in the cube, five is incredibly painful. It is unusable normally until you have your five mana and can still present a risk of death once you have five should they have any way to disrupt your mana production. Typically the kinds of deck that want coverall counterspells also want to leave mana up to be reactive, having to tap five mana in your upkeep will make the turns following a Pact of Negation deeply uncomfortable until you have lots and lots of mana. Although the best when it is good, it is close to the nut low when not optimal. I do not have Pact of Negation in my cube presently however its value rapidly increases as the number of suitable archetypes for it increases and with cube design being as diverse as it is you can easily include more of those archetypes from one of a few different approaches. Pact of Negation is unlike most other counterspells in that it is one that you only really play to force other things through. It should not frequently be played as a coverall answer or a good control card.

Mental Misstep14. Mental Misstep

Mental Misstep is similar to Spell Snare in many ways and is generally lighter on viable and powerful targets, yet it achieves a higher ranking than the Snare. This is because it is a purposive card, you can put it in a deck and improve that deck with no prior knowledge of your opponents deck or who is on the play. Misstep feels more like Force Spike than Spell Snare when you play it and has many of the same qualities and requirements when being built into a deck. Both Force Spike and Misstep are likely to be hard counters for an opponents first turn play. The value of having them or drawing them however declines as the game progresses, although with Misstep it is not because the counter becomes easier to avoid but because the targets for it have been used or cease to be overly relevant themselves. To maximise the power of Mental Misstep in a deck you are advised to have some filer and/or card quality effects so that you can replace it once its value is diminished. To get a mana advantage out of the card you have to pay two life however the strength of the card is not so much that you can be one mana better off than your opponent over an exchange but that you can make the exchange when you have no spare mana. Both Mental Misstep and Spell Snare are opportunistic cards that you want to have open as often as possible so as to maximise their somewhat limited range of targets. To do this with Spell Snare can be uncomfortable and even obvious while with Misstep you can happily tap out with added safety. As with Pact of Negation you can also play Misstep off colour however the latter will be of greater use throughout the game and far more likely as a result to find itself in a non blue deck. Despite this it tends to be the blue decks that play it as it is such an effective way to bolster your early game when you lack low curve cards which is something blue struggles with more than the other colours in Magic. Also when you are concerned about early tempo you are also likely going to be concerned about life and so not having the painless cast option does detract from the appeal of the card. The main thing I have against Mental Misstep is that there are many viable decks without any one drops and plenty more without any concerning one drop plays. This makes Mental Misstep a little unreliable which reduces the amount it gets played.

  1. Mana LeakMana Leak

Dull but fairly effective. Only when you reach super late game top deck mode does Mana Leak cease to be a reliable counterspell. You can play around Force Spike fairly easily but trying to have three spare mana after doing something useful is a tall order. In the early game Mana Leak is better than Actual Counterspell as it is almost always a hard counter and is less demanding on your mana. Although this is a very strong and reliable card the few times it does not do what you want it to really hurt. Those times when Counterspell wins the game but Mana Leak loses it stick with you and make you resent the Leak. Mana Leak will always be the poor mans Counterspell. When you need it you play it but it is almost always because you failed to get something else better that you could play instead. Mana Leak is at least the first card so far on this last to be played in the capacity you would expect counterspells to be played in – when you need cheap reactive coverall security. The only thing you really need to bear in mind when playing it is that it scales poorly compared to many counterspell options as the game progresses. Not to the same extreme rate that Force Spike drops in power but in a format as explosive and powerful as the cube Mana Leak will be getting weaker faster than you might expect. With this knowledge it is best to play the Mana Leak earlier where possible and sensible. Playing with Mana Leak will also increase the power of your card quality and filter effects. It might seem with this in mind that Miscalculation is the more potent card for this role within the cube as it does much the same thing but with a built in card filter mechanism. After much testing it turned out that Miscalculation was closer to Force Spike in terms of its poor scaling into the late game than it was to Mana Leak. Having to pay one more mana gets a surprisingly large amount more done in the mid game. Miscalculation would either trade fairly evenly, be used on something of low significance simply to get it used before it was dead or get instantly cycled. It is a playable cube card but it isn't very efficient or effective which is not sufficiently compensated for by its cycling. Mana Leak does an awful lot more of the thing you are playing the card to do than Miscalculation and turns out to be a fair chunk better in the cube as a result!

Forbid12. Forbid

I earlier stated that three mana was a lot to pay for a counterspell in the cube despite it being a fair price for a universal hard counter in most other formats. This applies to Forbid which does not see huge quantities of play as a result. Forbid has a powerful built in recursion effect than can even be used to your advantage should you need a discard outlet however it really requires you to have some kind of engine built around it otherwise it is too onerous on your resources to be an efficient answer. It is also an expensive way on mana, not just cards, to try and control a game. Needing an engine makes Forbid a somewhat narrow card although not to the same extent as Pact of Negation. One thing strongly in the favour of Forbid in the cube as opposed to any other format is that there being only one copy of any given card there is quite a sharp tail off in the quality of groups of spells. Very few cube worthy counterspells will hit any kind of spell and counter it regardless of how much mana your opponent has spare. Even fewer counterspells that are on the cheaper side of things. This leaves Forbid at about the fourth best universal hard counter under four mana that has no extra costs attached to it. You could argue Dissipate was better however it has no extra utility and is just a three mana counterspell thus rendering too weak for cube. It is the extra buyback of utility that secures it a cube slot however it is the fact it is just another hard counter that plugs a hole that gets it a lot of its play time. Forbid scales in a fairly unusual pattern as the game progresses compared to all the other counterspells. In the super late game, the point at which land draws are basically dead draws, Forbid suddenly starts to gain a lot more value even when used in decks with no engines or intent to abuse the buyback. Another perk that Forbid has going for it is that it offers lots of choices when played which makes for better games and a greater test of skill. There are those matchups that revolve around a few key cards, you might chose to buyback a Forbid on turn three pitching two useful cards because you have no other answers in hand to the remaining key cards they have. This kind of play would almost always be wrong against an agro deck full of redundancy or a control deck where the card advantage is too important but there will be matchups where it is right to do as well something no other counterspell can offer.

  1. Memory LapseMemory Lapse

This is a beastly little proactive counterspell come disruption spell. Part Chittering Rat and part Remand the Memory Lapse is an unusual card that finds different uses and homes than the other counterspells. Like all good counterspells Memory Lapse goes one for one with a card and stops a thing happening. Like some of the best counterspells it can stop any counterable spell it chooses for the bargain price of two mana. Placing the card back on top of the library is somewhat of a mixed blessing although intended as a drawback compared to Actual Counterspell. Most of the time you want the thing you are countering gone and so them just getting to cast it again next turn is rather tedious. If however the spell you manage to place back on top is one that is only useful because of the stage of the game such as a ramp spell then you have gained a huge advantage, greater that you would have gotten from putting that card in the graveyard. A turn two ramp spell is powerful because of what you can do with four mana on turn three however a ramp spell does very little unless you are accelerating into something else. Not only will you have disrupted their turn three power play but you will have decreased their card quality by replacing a draw with an out of curve card that is not of much use. The optimal targets for Memory Lapse are low powered card that have situational high value at certain timings within the game. This can also be applied to high powered cards that are trying to be resolved in a high mana window, say a card played from the mana boost gained via a Dark Ritual, a Mana Vault or a Channel. Obviously they will not have sufficient mana in their next turn to just recast the spell in question and so they will have a dead draw coming their way. Memory Lapse is also pretty much a hard counter when used to force something through and/or when you can win the game in that turn as a result, a little like Pact of Negation. The main thing holding Memory Lapse back within this rating is that it is rather a win more card. When you opponent is a bit behind, either they are struggling for lands and need to draw them or they are a little flooded and are only able to cast low curve spells of little consequence then Memory Lapse will really punish them and act a little like a Time Walk. When you are behind however it is not doing that much to bail you out of the situation. With all this taken into account I much prefer to play Memory Lapse in the proactive decks than can apply pressure and get on the front foot. I also like to try and maximise the negative effects it will have on my opponents by appropriately pairing it with disruption effects such as Wastelands so as to increase my odds of them having mana difficulties. If your deck is predominantly responsive then Memory Lapse will under perform for you but is still viable just an early tool capable or drawing out the game.

Negate10. Negate

This simple little card has greatly risen in my estimations over the past couple of years. It is cheap and reliably does what you predominantly want counter magic to do. Every colour has the capacity to deal with creatures all be it with varying effectiveness. Very few colours have the ability to prevent spells from resolving. Black can pluck them from you hand, white can make casting spells awkward while the best red or green can do to curtail casting is to attack the mana base. The variance in ability between the colours to deal with creatures is negligible when compared to the variance across the colours in their capacity to combat spell casting. It is one of the reasons blue stands out as the most powerful colour in Magic. It is nice that a lot of counterspells can deal with creatures however it is not the reason you are playing them, nor is it really efficient or even viable to attempt to control creature strategies with countermagic alone. A good control list will have dedicated parts of the deck tailored to efficiently deal with creatures thus allowing you to reserve your counterspells for things that you need them against such as Armageddon, planeswalkers, Mind Twist and so forth. When you are playing counter magic specifically as a solution to those kinds of problem then Negate is about as good as it gets. In the various three or more coloured versions of UG control decks I would always chose to play a Negate over an Actual Counterspell, those kinds of deck have an unrivalled ability to deal with permanents while coloured mana is more of an issue. I will usually also play Negate over Mana Leak in any sort of control deck as it scales better into the late game and you don't want to be using it on creatures as discussed. You have to be pretty sure you are safe against creatures to do this and it is marginal at best, mostly a personal preference for reliability in cards doing what I want them to do.

  1. DazeDaze
Pesky and cheeky are the words that spring to mind when thinking about Daze. It is a beautifully designed card that is impressively diverse in use and leads to a lot of complex decision making for both you and your opponent while remaining simple, elegant and remarkably fair. It ticks a few boxes immediately in that it is a spell with different casting options as well as a zero mana spell should you chose it to be. Free countermagic demands close attention and unlike most other free countermagic Daze has no associated card disadvantage. Sometimes returning an island will be far more painful than throwing away some cards from hand and sometimes it will be irrelevant. The scaling of this effect is the opposite it's scaling of raw countering power, part of the elegance of the design. As returning a land becomes less detrimental a Force Spike becomes less effective. It is hard to know how important it is to keep your land count up compared to the spell you are considering countering. The fact that Daze can become completely dead in the late game or even when your opponent has a good read on you puts pressure on you to use it early. Whenever you do get to Daze something you feel like you have done well out of the exchange but this is more a reflection of the low nominal power of its effect and not because you inherently gain value from casting it like you do with a Cryptic Command. The real strength of Daze lies in how difficult and damaging it is to play around, in essence it is at its best when your opponent knows you have one but you don't have it in hand. Compared to Force Spike it is harder to read if they have a Daze in hand or not, they never need to leave mana open to be able to cast it and are able to tap out with impunity. It is easy to play around Force Spike or Daze but does really hurt your early game tempo to do so. If they are representing the Force Spike then generally playing around it is OK as they are not spending all their mana or curing out optimally either. If you try to play around a Daze in the early game in the same way you will just find yourself getting really behind. Mostly I think it is correct to just ignore Daze and walk into it hoping your opponent will overeagerly ruin their early tempo in a bad use of the card! As with most of the early game non-hard counterspells in the cube, Daze is improved when you have decent filter and card quality effects as well. It is at is best in tempo decks wanting to pose questions but still have some answers up their sleve but is still very strong in control decks although it does need much more care to be used in a beneficial way. In control the best application for Daze is to add security to making a mid game permanent such as a planeswalker, earlier use, unless hard cast, is too damaging to your tempo.

Spell Pierce8. Spell Pierce

Although the difference in mana you pay and that your opponent is forced to pay extra between Spell Pierce and Mana Leak are the same it is far more about the relative difference and not the nominal difference. With Mana Leak they are forced to pay 50% more mana than you paid to cast the Leak. With Spell Pierce they have to pay 100% more mana than you. Obviously Mana Leak hits more targets than Spell Pierce, which has Negate restrictions on it, they are not directly comparable cards. The point was to illustrate the strength of Spell Pierce's effect. The real reason it is better than Mana Leak is that it is a one mana counterspell. All the same reasons as to why Negate is very strong despite not hitting creatures also applies to Spell Pierce. Spell Pierce is often lumped in with cards like Force Spike more than it would be with Mana Leak and Negate which is a mistake as it is near impossible to sensibly play around Spell Pierce in the early and mid game. As such it is an incredibly efficient spell with a lot of raw countering power for the mana. It gives you a lot of options and security to do things that little earlier. It is often a case of being able to have Spell Pierce and another counterspell up at the same time for very little mana yet high chances of covering everything you need them too. Spell Pierce also scales better into the late game than all the other one and zero mana soft counters. Often against control in the late game there will be turns where you need to try and resolve multiple things so as to force something through and so often the Spell Pierce is the nail in the coffin. It is a brutal card to face as a combo or a control player and it is rarely a bad draw against agro decks. It hits the important things you should be playing it for with a high chance of success at a bargain price of one mana. It is just the right balance of having enough targets while being hard enough for the price.
  1. Counterspell

It may seem fairly shocking to have Actual Counterspell only ranking in at number seven on this list so allow me to justify this claim. Firstly it is more onerous on your mana base (in a two or more colour deck) to cast Counterspell on turn two than it is to cast a Cryptic Command on turn four. Despite scaling very very well into the late game Counterspell is usually weaker than Mana Leak, Remand, Memory Lapse and Arcane Denial in the early game. It is also far harder to engineer added advantage out of Counterspell than it is for all of that list except for Mana Leak. Counterspell simply trades one for one with a card of theirs, it will not draw you into your important cards nor deny them draws. It cannot be used in tricky ways to generate you card advantage or storm. The reason Counterspell is so highly regarded is that it is as cheap as you can get a guarenteed counterspell for any target. In a very loose comparion you could say Counterspell was the Vindicate equivalent while other counterspells would represent cards like Abrupt Decay and Desert Twister. Much like Vindicate the strength of Counterspell is due to the broad range it has however its effectiveness is entirely based on how you use it. Sometimes you are forced into a situation where you need to blow your Vindicate/Counterspell on a cheaper card that you have far more efficient alternate ways to answer thus making them seem underwhelming. You ideally want to be a little ahead or at least have multiple ways to deal with any given problem available to you so you are never forced into trading your Counterspell for a weak card. Another thing to be wary of with counterspells in general although most notably with Actual Counterspell is that you can easily fall behind if relying on them as an answer to things. You need to have mana open so as to be able to play Counterspell. If you opponent is able to use their mana for things you don't want to or can't Counterspell and just sit on the thing you need to counter then you will be getting further and further behind. We all know Counterspell is good but we often overlook its inherent limitations and weaknesses and thus fail to play around it or overplay it in our decks. You cannot win with counter magic alone, the deck of only counterspells beats nothing. You want the minimum number of counterspells in your deck to ensure you are safe against all the possible things that are dangerous to you. If you overplay them assuming they are a generic answer you will come unstuck in various ways over your games. It is easy to die to the one drop that resolved or the man land you couldn't touch with a hand full of countermagic. It is also easy to die despite having equal counter magic to the cards they play jsut not having sufficient mana to cast all your counters when you needed them which is a depressing way to go.
  1. Force Spike
Force Spike
This little gem is especially powerful in cube where the fast pace and high power level give Force Spike perfect conditions to shine. There are three main reasons the Spike is such a top rate counterspell. Firstly it is a one drop that has a desirable effect against all decks in a colour lacking early plays. Secondly it has the capacity to be as effective as Actual Counterspell for half the mana which in itself is a strong effect but also means that any time you stop a spell with Force Spike you feel like you have gained value which is rarely the case when your Actual Counterspell is baited out on a lowly one drop. God forbid you manage to hit a more costly relevant card with a Force Spike! The last reason the Force Spike is strong is the Daze effect where by your opponents damage themselves by playing around the card. It is well worth a dead card in your hand from the outset to be able to deny them a mana for any turn you can leave mana up. This means you are getting unbelievable value when you haven't even drawn it and they chose to play around it. The only real drawback to Force Spike is that it relatively quickly becomes a dead card against most decks. Often I find this trade off is well worth the various perks Force Spike brings to the table however it is also a very easily offset downside when you have ways of putting it to alternate use. This can just as easily be pitching it to play a Force of Will as it can be discarding it to a looting effect which are effects blue has in abundance. A card such as Spell Pierce you play when you need specific solutions however Force Spike is playable much more generally as a way to improve your early game and tempo capabilities.

  1. RemandRemand

Oddly Remand is about as soft a counterspell as you will find on this list with even the likes of Force Spike fairly frequently being able to get your opponents cards in the bin. This being a list based primarily on the countering effectiveness of cards, and Remand being the least likely to ultimately stop something should go a long way to showing quite how powerful the card is overall. So frequently when cast you feel like you just got to Time Walk your opponent. It is all about the tempo that Remand offers rather than its use as an answer to something. Remand is cheap and easy to cast and has a broad a range of targets as Actual Counterspell. It disrupts your opponent yet replaces itself with another card thus advancing you towards you ultimate game plan. Like Daze it has some counteractive scaling where by it is easier to replay cards in the same turn as the game goes on however you also tend to hit higher mana cost targets as the game goes on as well thus making the gained value greater. Unlike Daze it never becomes close to a dead card due to the inbuilt cycling so even if you are Remanding a Lotus Petal you are not that behind as a result. Remand is a card that stays strong throughout the game, is never bad when it is at its worst and is one of the best things you can play when there are optimal conditions for it. Rarely do you care that much what you are countering with Remand, you care most about how much of their turns resources it took to play what you countered. There are of course occasions when you can combine Remand with some other disruption such as discard to fully deal with something but this is not what you should be trying to do with the card. Although on its own the Remand does not solve any real problems it does provide both time and information which if put to good use can enable you to negate the card in question through play rather than needing a specific answer. The information aspect of Remand is almost always overlooked yet it is a significant perk and helps push the card into the big league of blue disruption. Remand is great in both agro and control decks as it is one of those few cards that offers tempo at no loss of card advantage.

Cryptic Command4. Cryptic Command

While Cryptic Command is only fourth on this list it is probably the second best card overall rather than specifically as a counterspell. Most of the time when being a counterspell Cryptic is just an awkward costing Dismiss, a card which isn't close to cube quality. In that sort of a role Remand is the vastly more desirable card, you want countermagic to deal with stuff cheaply and efficiently, you play card advantage spells to provide the late game inevitability and so you are just harming your own disruptive power by trying to combine the two into one overcost card. Returning to the options Cryptic Command offers, it is rare that you get to tap all their guys and usefully counter a spell. If you need to tap all their creatures you are in need of solutions to permanents. Rather than counter one of the many problem cards such as a haste creature or an equipment that is frequently cast pre-combat you are likely just going to be better off partially negating the spells effect along with the other creatures by using the tap effect and digging for a real answer for everything with the draw option. Counterspell and Boomerang combination is handy but is also a little clumsy to pull off usefully in terms of timings not working out optiamlly for it. Cryptic Command would still be a versatile and powerful card even if you always had to chose counterspell as one of the options but if that were the case you go from a card with 6 options to one with 3. The three options that include draw a card as one of the choices tend to be the three most commonly played as well meaning that Cryptic is used as a counterspell less than you might expect, and when it is it is usually just a Dismiss. If you can take two thirds of the best uses for a card away along with half its overall utility and still have a playable card then it suggests a lot about the power of that card in the first place. Cryptic Command is never dead and always puts you ahead of where you were after you cast it. It is an answer to most things and can often simulate that desirable Time Walk quality. As a counterspell it is reliable, versatile and powerful but at the cost of being obvious and cumbersome. As we are all to aware however it is far far more of a card than just a mere counterspell.

  1. Arcane DenialArcane Denial

A personal favourite of mine as well as a card somewhat under the radar. Arcane Denial never made much of an impact on constructed formats of the time as it was around at the same time as many of the other strongest counterspells and being so old it has never been able to feature in the more current extended formats. As with Force Spike, the powerful and fast paced nature of the cube improves the usefulness of Arcane Denial. You actually lose card advantage by countering one of their spells with Arcane Denial as they get to draw two cards while you only draw one which this can be vary from being disasterous to being irrelevant. Fortunately the trend is far closer to the irrelevant end of the spectrum than the disasterous end. If the card you countered is twice the average usefulness of the average draw for that deck then you are ahead. As you get to chose what you counter you will tend to only counter high value targets so as to minimise the relative drawback. Decks without redundancy are far more vulnerable to the Arcane Denial as far fewer cards will be important at any given time. On the other hand a deck like red deck wins where all the cards are similar in effect and power level you are unlikely to be getting ahead casting the Arcane Denial on their spells. The main reason Arcane Denial is so good is that it helps your deck get to where it wants to be while simultaneously stopping your opponents deck doing exactly what it wants to do regardless of what that might be. Arcane Denial is the cheapest and easiest to cast of all the hard counters without a target restriction and it replaces itself thus helping you continue to curve out and have the appropriate kinds of card. Arcane Denial also tends to provide you with a tempo edge, not only is the card cheap and therefore usually answering something of greater cost but it also tends to let you untap and use the card drawn from it before your opponent. Like both Remand and Memory Lapse, Arcane Denial is a powerful tempo disruption tool however unlike both it is also a single card answer to most things as well. I will almost always play Arcane Denial over Actual Counterspell if I am more than one colour or I care more about getting to the mid / late game more than I just want to control a game. The thing that pushes Arcane Denial over the top in terms of all round goodness is that you can put it to effective use even against red deck wins where the card disadvantage is too dangerous. If you counter one of your own spells then you get both the draw triggers giving you all three cards in the next upkeep. Although not quite two mana to draw three cards as you have play another card costing you some mana and netting you one less card overall it is still a potent card draw spell. Arcane Denial is cheap, reliable, effective in several roles as a counterspell and has added utility as card advantage on top of that. More so than most of the other cards on this list it lets you outplay your opponent as well which is always an indication of good card design.

  1. Mana Drain
Mana Drain
While easily the most abusable and powerful card on the list in the role of a counterspell it is just Counterspell. I eventually cut Mana Drain from the cube along with the other power cards as I found it not only too powerful but far too random and swingy. At its worst it was an awkward Counterspell (real men still take mana burn) however at its best you would get to flop a Wurmcoil Engine into play on turn three or four often with counterspell backup as well. While the cube is all about powerful things there is the fun kind of power that arises from good play and card synergy and then there is the not fun kind of power that occasionally gives you free wins. Mana Drain is of the latter form of power. Mana Drain does benefit from complementary deck design which is basically useful ways to expend an influx of colourless mana but beyond this it is very good in any kind of deck. Even ramp decks that normally have minimal disruption love a mana Drain because it is also such a powerful accelerator.

  1. Force of WillForce of Will

When you absolutely positively need to counter that spell, accept no substitute. While perhaps the AK47 is not the appropriate gun analogy for this card Force of Will is the countermagic you most want to be armed with. A hard counter with no target restrictions and two casting modes makes for a lovely combination. The pitch cost is fair and easily supportable without letting you ignore it in deck design. The normal cost is expensive but still functional as a late game answer and stops it from restricting your potential plays. Force of Will is the ultimate in safety, it is not the power of what it does for you when you finally cast it that makes it incredible but all of the things it lets you do with reduced risk because you have it in hand up to that point. Tap out to make a threat, no problem. Cast a main phase draw spell to carry on making lands drops, why not! You can't even really play around it that effectively. It is always going to be there waiting for the spell you don't want it to hit. Another way to assess the power of Force of Will relative to other counterspells is to consider how good it is at each turn of the game and then average those powers (you either need to stop at turn 6 or 7 or apply less weighting to the later turns for this to be an effective way to compare cards however I simply like data in graphical form and this is the most appropriate way to do so for countermagic). Force Spike starts off very strong but quickly becomes the weakest. Actual Counterspell flat lines for the first turn then starts to get steadily better from turn two onwards. Force of Will however starts out strong and stays strong as the game goes on, in our graphical form it has the greatest area under its curve! In some matchps the turn one Aether Vial is the scariest play that is most important to stop, in others the seven mana Karn Liberated, on all the various scary important spells to stop Force of Will offers you the best or near best odds on stopping it. It is a get out of jail free card. You do have to have sufficient cards to pitch to it which not only means blue cards but also means cards you can afford to lose. If your only ways to win are a couple of top end blue monsters then you can't really include all of them in your total options. The same obviously also applies to pieces of a combo. It is cards like Force Spike you are happiest to be pitching as they are only strong within a certain window in the game. The more blue disposable or redundant cards you are playing the better Force of Will is however it can still be very powerful even with as few as 8 other blue cards to pitch (in a 40 card deck). It is great in control where it gives you great security, it is great in agro where it offers powerful tempo swings and it is great in combo where it allows you to force through spells and protect combo pieces while also going off at top speed. It offers very little above and beyond being a counterspell but it is the very best at being a counterspell and therefore is also one of the best cards there is for allowing you to dictate the flow of a game.

    16. Spell Snare
    15. Pact of Negation
    14. Mental Misstep
    13. Mana Leak
    12. Forbid
    11. Memory Lapse
    10. Negate
    9. Daze
    8. Spell Pierce
    7. Counterspell
    6. Force Spike
    5. Remand
    4. Cryptic Command
    3. Arcane Denial
    2. Mana Drain
    1. Force of Will

Honourable mentions

Muddle the Mixture
Mindbreak Trap
Izzet Charm
Dimir Charm

FoilI always feel very guilty leaving out cool and powerful cards from a list such as this and feel obliged to at least mention those that were also considered. On this occasion we are already fairly deep so I shall mention a few of the key aspects of the honourable mentions.

Foil is the best of this bunch and very nearly got the last spot on this list over Spell Snare. It shares many qualities with Force of Will while also having a better normal cost. Sadly having an island spare is far harder than having a blue card spare as well as much more painful to lose. Then you need another card in addition to this meaning you have three for oned yourself. Most control decks can't afford this level of card disadvantage even if they can support the island requirement. The end result is a powerful card that is rather narrow based on so few decks being able to support it as well as wanting it.

Thwart is the super Daze however it is even narrower than Foil. You need to basically be mono blue as well as having both alternate mana sources and lots of other cheap permanents to be able to support Thwart without it crippling you. For a free counterspell you also can't use it before turn three which takes away a lot of its appeal. Despite only going in a few possible archetypes it is very powerful in them being a zero mana hard counterspell with no target restrictions, an acceptable normal cost and no associated card disadvantage for the pitch cost.

Muddle the Mixture is a fair and elegant card that is the perfect card for the occasional deck but is generally to cumbersome and narrow to be preferable to things like Negate. Miscalculation has already been mentioned in this article and is in a similar situation to Muddle the Mixture in that it looks like a well rounded flexible card but in reality is outperformed by more streamlined alternatives. Certainly playable but rarely outstanding.

Mindbreak Trap does a few things exceptionally, both shutting off certain kinds of combo deck engine and dealing with uncounterable spells such as Obliterate. Encountering these effects in cube is rare and as a four mana Dissipate the Mindbreak Trap is far too costly making it a sideboard card which to my mind is not a good use of cube slots.
Disrupt is a deadly little spell that should it hit anything will put you far ahead in the game. Despite being as soft as they come as well as rather narrow you can fairly easily cycle Disrupt away a little like Arcane Denial thus making it somewhat less of a dead card late game as Daze and Force Spike are. Sadly you rarely want to play Disrupt in your deck as it is not got great odds on doing what you want when you want it to.

Both Izzet and Dimir Charms are useful little counterspells that help to bolster your anti spell capabilities. Good utility cards but playing them mainly for their countering potential is unadvisable. There are just more efficient or effective alternatives that don't come with the other fluff if counterspells are what you need.

Voidslime and Absorb are better in cube than other formats due to the low number of hard counters available. While a three mana counter is pretty weak it is still playable. When you tack on added value or added utility you wind up with a quite acceptable cube card. If not for their being gold making them narrower cards they would be played enough to make this top 16 list.