Friday 23 February 2018

Top 10 Cards from 1995

Mana CryptThe cards from 1995 continue to show the trend of better design and understanding balance that 94 had over 93. There are basically no oppressively powerful cards printed in 95 with the single exception of Mana Crypt. As the card was a promo and not in proper sets it seems a lot more reasonable to print it. Rather like cards such as True Name Nemesis in the commander sets and them not damaging modern or standard or even draft. Although the only card I have banned from my cube from 95 compared to the four cards of 94 that I ultimately banned, Mana Crypt is a return to the broadly over powered style of broken found in the 93 core sets rather than the more linear power of 94.

Before the top ten from the year I have the list of other cube relevant cards for the year. This also continues the trend from 93 to 94 in that it has even less in it. A couple of powerful but narrow cards and then basically jank. I suspect when I am done with all 25 years that 95 will stand out as one of the weaker years with both relatively limp cards and few of interest. The couple of gems from the year combined with the lovely flavour of Ice Age mask how low the power level is in almost all the dimensions of the game from this year. Low power doesn't prohibit good design however and I feel like Ice Age had some much more interesting cards than we had previously sampled. Doing this historical account of Magic by years rather than by sets also divides most blocks up and mixes them up with others. A very colonial British thing to do! It makes it a lot more cut and dry on whats goes where which is nice and convenient for me at least! Orcish Lumberjack gets the honourable mention for this year and was a mainstay in my cube for a long time. Powerwise he is great but he is a little all in for most peoples tastes and as such is now rather too narrow to be a good inclusion. Merchant Scroll, Hydro and Pyroblast are the only cards that see any sort of regular play now and they are all in unusual formats.

Orcish LumberjackMerchant Scroll
Zuran Orb
Orcish Lumberjack
Dance of the Dead
Barbed Sextant
Elemental Augry
Enduring Renewal
Fiery Justice
Glacial Chasm
Ice Quake
Illusions of Granduer
Mystic Remora
Zur's Weirding
Tinder Wall

Necropotence10. Necropotence

Huge in its time and very significant in early cube Necro is now somewhat of a relic card only used in the narrowest of builds. It is not so much that the card is bad but more that black cannot support it alone in the current meta of extreme tempo. Mono black devotion is the best place for the card these days but it barely out performs Phyrexian Arena. I have no doubt it would be put to nefarious uses in modern where you can suitably build around it. In cube you typically either don't have sufficient support for the card or you do put in enough and then don't see your vital Necro. Sure, you can tutor it up but then it is even slower and more costly to your tempo. In a previous article in this series I mentioned the cards that have drawn me the most cards over the years and this is still in the top three despite it having drawn me fewer than Faithless Looting in the past half decade.

Pyroclasm9.   Pyroclasm

I feel like this card is yet to reach its peak. Red is getting better at slower and more grindy games and that was always the main problem for this, not effect or power level. In white or really any other colour I think this would have done far more work in cube. While obviously the less powerful card I would say that Pyroclasm is far more brutal than Wrath of God. It creates far bigger swings due to costing so little. You are going to be well up on mana if you are at all up on cards with your Pyroclasm. An early game Pyroclasm is more brutal than Arc Trail and that is otherwise the most brutal thing that can happen to the majority of unpowered cube decks these days. It is like a double Time Walk a lot of the time. Later on in the game two mana in little enough that you can do other useful things as well. Worst case it is a weak Shock, best case a half price Wrath. More decks seem to be going wide or cluttering up the board than used to be the case so despite threats becoming hardier Pyroclasm still seems to have plenty of work to do. As red gets more tools to compete in longer games the value of Pyroclasm will continue to climb.

Memory Lapse8.   Memory Lapse

For no particular reason this seems to have dropped in value of late and it is one of the least played two mana counterspells in my cube. I have always felt this was on a similar power level to Remand. Remand is certainly the better card being more proactive, more versatile and better balanced but Remand is a great card and being in the same ball park should be a big win. Memory Lapse is generally better than Remand when hitting cheaper cards and the cube has had a strong tendancy towards lowering CMC over time. Memory Lapse should be getting better and that isn't being represented by play. It isn't even like other good 2 mana countermagic is getting printed and edging it out. I think it is just peoples feelings, Lapse feels worse than other counters. Despite being able to hit any spell and always stopping it, only costing two mana and being a one for one trade the Lapse doesn't answer anything. It is Repulse rather than Hero's Downfall. Except again it isn't, Denying your opponent a draw is not the same as getting to draw yourself. Most decks will favour the latter and even if it isn't technically better I still think people are predisposed to favouring drawing themselves for a multitude of reasons. If you haven't tried out Lapse I recommend it. A surprisingly good Counterspell and the only offering from Homelands to make this list. Along with Merchant Scroll it is pretty much one of only two playables from the whole set!


7.   Portent

The slow Ponder does have some perks over actual Ponder. Mostly it is nice to be able to gain free knowledge of what is on your opponents library for a couple of draws. You still mostly aim it at your own library but the option on either is both strong and relevant. When used early, or in decks full of instants, the delay on the draw is pretty irrelevant however in the later portions of the game it is a significant drawback. Portent sits with Sleight of Hand at the bottom of the one mana card neutral blue card quality cards but that still makes it pretty decent and very playable.

Urza's Bauble6.   Urza's Bauble

The bad Mishra's Bauble! Bad because you can't use it for card quality with shuffle effects and bad because many other things show hands and hands are often empty leading to this offering no information at all. Obviously you are mostly playing cards like this to trigger prowess, fuel delve and delirium all while thinning the deck. There is a real cost to playing these cards but the payoff is worth it in a surprising number of decks. Bauble is a nice example of a sleeper card too.

Nature's Lore

5.    Nature's Lore

With the various dual lands in cube this has always been significantly better than Rampant Growth, not just for the ability to fetch up non basics but also because it puts the land in as if you had laid it rather than the always tapping Rampant Growth. Rampant Growth feels so fundamentally green that it seems odd that this predates it. While green is not shy on two mana ramp options this remains one of the cleanest and best of those on offer.


4.    Incinerate

Not much to say about this, it is the balanced Lightning Bolt. Well Searing Spear is but regenerate is so fringe now that there is basically nothing to choose between them. After trying Bolt out at sorcery it was learned that 3 damage is just too much damage for one mana when you can put that damage where ever you like.

Fyndhorn Elves

3.   Fyndhorn Elves

Another slot going to green ramp! A fifth of these lists so far is green ramp spells! This is also the first functional reprint to make the lists. Functional reprints, especially of core cards like these, are of huge value to cube players who stick to playing singleton. What I am learning from taking this chronological look at magic is that the earlier cards are very much core cards, they are not frilly and exciting like newer cards. They are just simple ways to do simple things nice and cost effectively. I class both Fyndhorn and Incinerate as fair and balanced, certainly in cube terms. They are not powerful because they are powerful, they are powerful because they do a broadly useful thing and only that thing in a cheap and focused way.

Brainstorm2.   Brainstorm

In any other lists (as in not a cube focused one) Brainstorm would be the clear number one from this year. In cube however Brainstorm simply isn't on the same nutty power level it is in other formats. Often an Opt will achieve more than Brainstorm as Opt is self contained, you have no need of a shuffle to obtain the maximum value. Brainstorm is almost a build around card with things like Delver of Secrets and miracles and sac lands. Cube having a lower density of all such things simply can't empower Brainstorm as effectively. Now the card is still the best one mana cantrip in cube on average (because Gitaxian Probe is zero mana!), it is just a lot closer to the others. It has a much wider range than other card quality effects being comparable to Ancestral Recall at its best and being a Whispers of the Muse (without buyback!) at worst. The most common way to mis-evaluate a card in magic is to think a good or fine card is better than it is. As the card isn't bad you never get punished for thinking it is good and so you continue to over value it. When a card you thought is good is actually bad you are quickly informed of your error through experience. As Brainstorm is insane in most formats and still decent in cube it is typically over valued. If you just want one mana card quality there are plenty of things to choose from and they are all fine. You shouldn't snap up the Brainstorm over something you actually need for your deck.

Brushland1.   Pain Lands

In the exact reverse of the case for Brainstorm the painlands a far far better in cube than in other formats. Pain lands are comparable, if not a little better, than the quick lands in cube. Cube is slower than modern and so those 4th and 5th lands carry more weight. Coming in untapped all the time is a huge win. Pain lands do less self harm on average than shock lands as well. There are only five cycles of dual lands (including the sac lands) that are always able to produce two colours of mana on turn one and that is what you really want from your lands in cube. Lands that come in tapped restrict options and cost you tempo and are increasingly unpopular. With other formats able to play 16 sac lands per colour and four of each dual they wish for you simply never need to resort to pain lands. In Singleton you just want every half decent dual you can get and pain lands are more than half decent! They got an additional boost in power with the release of BfZ and the colourless mana requirements. While quite a narrow element it is a use for which these lands become the actual best in the game. They are basically Murmuring Bosk that always has a treefolk to reveal!


  1. I love these lists! The have FORCEd me to go back through a lot OF old sets. I WILL be adding Nature's Lore to my cube, can't believe I forgot that one. Meanwhile, this list seems like it has a very notable omission...

    1. Cheers! What is my omission? If it is Force of Will then that is a 1996 card. Part of the awkward aspect of doing years rather than sets or blocks is that it has this effect! If not Force of Will then I am super curious what I have missed.

    2. I definitely meant Force if Will! How is that card 1996 when the other Ice age cards are 95?

    3. Oh wait, Alliances... whoops!