Avenger of Zendikar
Student of Warfare
All is Dust
Eye of Ugin
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Grul Draaz Assassin
Koth of the Hammer
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Layline of Sanctity
Linvala, Keeper of Secrets
Sea Gate Oracle
Sign in Blood
Sword of Body and Mind
Venser the Sojourner
10. Wall of Omens
This was a very close run thing with Explore which is pretty comfortably my favourite two mana ramp effect in green. While I find Explore more interesting of a card than Wall of Omens the list spot has to go to the Wall for how much of a premium it is in cube. There is little else like Wall of Omens in cube excluding of course the obvious functionally identical Wall of Blossoms! Wall of Blossoms is fine and has its place, all be it one behind Elvish Visionary these days. Wall of Omens, just for being white, is exactly the ticket. White is one of two things, an aggressive weenie deck or a control support colour, which is very much not what green does. In the control support case Wall of Omens is the perfect card. It is cheap, it replaces the card cost and it stalls the game and potentially even drains your opponents resources. Frequently Wall blocks a 2/1 and then gets Shocked at which point it is a 0 for 1 and two or four extra life depending on your view perspective. When Wall is not dealt with it forces over extensions so as to apply pressure around the sides of it which plays into white's abundant mass removal. Wall of Omens further excels in midrange and control white decks due to the other flicker effects commonly found in white cube cards and the dearth of good white EtB effects. Restoration Angel commonly draws a card courtesy of Wall of Omens which is pretty unreasonable.
9. Wurmcoil Engine
I have very mixed feelings about this card. In some respects it is one of the best threats in cube and in others one of the weakest. Wurmcoil is the biggest card in my drafting cube that fails the Jace test, the only other card above four mana that also fails it is Baneslayer Angel and there are not even that many four drops failing it these days either. If you invest six mana in your Wurmcoil to get it bounced with a Jace -1 you have almost certainly lost. The same goes for Control Magic effects including the ever sneaky Dack Fayden. Any exile removal, bounce or lockdown punishes Wurmcoil immensely hard too and all those kinds of effects absolutely make up the majority of cube removal. While Wurmcoil does have the advantage over Baneslayer of a potent upon death trigger to protect against destroy removal this is probably pretty equally offset by the extra mana on Wurmcoil and the added vulnerability of being an artifact. So, my reservations about Wurmcoil all stem from it being a pretty all in play with a lot of easy counters. In pretty much every other way the card is off the charts good. It is near impossible to race. It is horrific to get into combat with. It is an insanely high value of 12/12 stats over 3 bodies and with potent key words to boot. It is a great open card being easily cast and easily cheated into play. It feels like a pretty hard counter to red aggro decks. I have blocked it and burned my own dorks just to prevent them gaining 6 life so many times. It does feel harsh marking Wurmcoil down so hard based on the kinds of removal in cube counter it effectively because Wurmcoil is the main reason removal in cube is that way! Wurmcoil is just so damn good that removal that counters it effectively has added value. The best threats do have a habit of defining the removal in a format. It might not be hard to protect against a Wurmcoil but if you don't then you are absolutely going to lose to any you encounter!
8. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Quite simply the most powerful magic card ever printed. This does a lot of everything really. Cast this and win. Attack with this and win. Just get this into play somehow and probably win. I have seen the first two lose but they are about as true as you can get with a sweeping claim in magic! The price tag is mentally prohibitive to consider this in anything other than a shell focused around playing her is some way. You cannot just stick this in a control deck as your win condition as you simply won't get there. There are plenty of cube decks that physically can't generate 15 mana in a turn even with all its lands in play! I presently don't have Emrakul in my cube simply because I am resting the Sneak Attacks, Show and Tells and Reanimate effects presently. They will return some day to keep things fresh and with them will come Emrakul. Not that she will be missed in the interim as she is a common feature of any constructed cube events I do.
7. Grave Titan
For my money I rate this as one of the best all round top end dorks. It is immediate value and good on both offense and defense, indeed, it is one of the few dorks able to do both at once! The only real counter to Grave Titan is a Wrath or a counterspell. Beyond that it is landing somewhere between loads of value and tempo to winning the game. Grave Titan is more resilient to removal and bounce than Wurmcoil due to making the 2/2 zombies when it comes in. It is also a better blocker providing more toughness and bodies right away. While the lifelink is a great stabilizer it is another thing too easily negated on Wurmcoil for it to outclass the simple yet effective bodies of Titan. Grave Titan is a beast to take down in combat as well. Committing six power worth of blockers to it leaves you super exposed to the 2/2 tokens and indeed anything else. It also means you fold to a trick of some sort. Even if they have nothing the deathtouch ensures all of the group block die. At best they are trading a very big dork, two medium dorks or like four small dorks for the Titan and there are still four 2/2 zombie tokens floating about. Six mana to kill most of your opponents board is decent, six mana to make four 2/2 tokens is decent. Doing both is pretty unfair and that is a best case for them when no appropriate answer is to hand. Grave Titan is 10/10 in stats for six mana, you don't really need the attack trigger for it to be good! The only green cards that come close to that power are more conditional and lots of stats and bodies is what green does best. It is like if green had the best counterspell, or white had the best burn spell. The whole Titan cycle is of a power level never before or since seen again and Grave is the best of the Titans. Sun is narrow and Frost yields no value. Inferno is brutally good but is only value based on the board state and needs a bit of mana to keep pace with the clock on Grave. Primeval is the best in constructed but in cube you need the right utulity lands or a few 7+ mana cards to follow up the titan with making it a more focused card than Grave or even Inferno. It is testament to the power of this year that Grave Titan is this low on the list and the only Titan to make it.
6. Quick Lands
These are amazing lands and have contributed a lot to the increase in tempo in cube. They are better in modern which has many decks capping out at three mana but they are still great in cube. The fact that a lot of decks do have four drops and higher makes these more interesting in cube. Regardless the quick lands sit comfortably within the top five symmetrical dual land cycles ever printed and that probably holds true for all formats. Quick lands are a clean design which is always nice to see on a well balanced card. One thing I love in cube is the complexity of land sequencing. It is complicated in a lot of formats but cube having so many lands with differing clauses rather than just the few best or the few currently legal ones it makes for a more varied and complex experience.
5. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Just to have Jace this low on any list feels like I probably need to shit-talk him for the whole paragraph to justify myself! That isn't really what I want to do, Jace is great, everyone knows this. Even in cube, his worst format, he is still one of the top tier planeswalkers and an all round great card. He is fifth because 2010 is bats and has so many core cube cards. Jace is weak in the same way that Wurmcoil is weak, they are so strong that things that answer them well are substantially elevated in power. It is obviously not just those two cards, lots of things that counter Jace will also counter other walkers well and lots of things that exile Wurmcoil also prevent nasty things happening on many other potent cards. Things that counter Jace are things with haste so that he cannot defend against them or things with EtB triggers so that he cannot profitably bounce them. Things that pass "the Jace test" as I often refer to. Indeed I think it was discussed in the bit on Wurmcoil. With so few cards in cube failing the Jace test and with cube chock full of token production, flash dorks, haste dorks and many more nasty things to boot Jace doesn't fare too well. On an empty board Jace seals a game up quicker than most but that is not the norm. On a cluttered board other walkers have their edges. Jace is not a great tool to combat other planeswalkers either and cube is the format where planeswalkers shine most. An odd inversion of trend, the format in which planeswalkers are the best the best planeswalker is the worst he is out of any format!
4. Arc Trail
This card instills fear in the hearts of cube players. In the fraught early turns of the game in a tempo driven environment Arc Trail is the earliest nail in the coffin you can produce. In any game, be it a 50/50 to start or a 60/40, regardless of where you fall on this scale, if you land a turn two or three (on the play) Arc Trail and kill two creatures with it your win percentage odds just went to over 90/10 in your favour. It is filthy, totally filthy. This continues for a lot longer than you might expect as well, that tempo tension often continues past turn six and Arc Trail still takes out a lot of things, perhaps taking out a dork and a token which in turn allows a clean attack kill on a walker etc. Currently I have Arc Trail as one of the most "confirmed kills" (of players, not cards) in cube. It is an arbitrary "statistic" I keep an eye on, just seeing which cards are those deciding games. In 2006 Force Spike was high on that list, in 2010 Baneslayer Angel was near the top likely taking the place of Elspeth. Force of Will has always lingered about the place. Arc Trail and Ashiok feel like the two biggest names on that list in this era of my cube and Arc Trail continues to improve. Part of what makes it so good is the limited amount of play around, sometimes your hand forces you to makes an X/1 and and X/2 and not doing so would be as much of a loss as feeding them to an Arc Trail..
3. Stoneforge Mystic
This is another card I feel will seem lower than public opinion would have it. It was a fantastic card on release able to get bomb cards like Jitte, Clamp and SoFI. It quickly got better too with the release of Batterskull shortly after! Back then just having the appropriate equipment was enough to win a lot of games and so Stoneforge being an extra copy in your deck of one of those combined with being a Squire to equip was pretty absurd. The Demonic Tutor Thraben Inspector! Since 2010 equipment has fallen off a lot in power. They don't add much to tempo if at all and they usually come with high risk. While it is still good it is not the game winning bombs that equipment used to be. Stoneforge is therefor also diminished in power. It is narrow because you need to pair it with equipment and you need to have a deck that therefor wants equipment. It isn't such an oppressive mana cheat with Batterskull because Batterskull is not so threatening any more and both it and the Stoneforge are pretty easy to kill or negate in the earlier portions of the game. Indeed, you can often negate the 2 for 1 feel of Stoneforge just by Shocking it because a naturally cast Batterskull is just too slow and cumbersome to get it done in a lot of cases. Stoneforge is probably still the best white creature ever printed but it has come down a lot in power to the point where it is a close thing.
2. Inquisition of Kozilek
This is made so premium due to scarcity rather than raw power. The card is indeed very very good but it is more to do with only it and Thoughtsieze offering that near total early game control. There is very few turn one plays that compete with Inquisition, even Thoughtseize is often worse, only showing its superiority over the course of a longer game. None is so universal either. A turn one Goblin Guide is great but it is rather linear, it is an aggressive opener exclusively. A turn one Serum Visions is nice but not a development in tempo nor a disruptive play. A turn one mana dork such as a Bird of Paradise is likely the other best turn one play but there is a significant amount of counterplay to that while there is not so much against the targetted hand disruption. If I make a Bird I am happy but I am mostly just hoping they don't have a Lava Dart or Oust. If I Inquisition I don't care that much what my opponent has, I am going to mess with their day and gain a pile of information to inform my game plan going forwards. If we are to be so bold as calling this the best turn one play you can make in an unpowered cube then surely it must be pretty poor later on in the game? Not overly, yes hand disruption doesn't scale brilliantly and yes, this does tend to scale a little worse than most of the other decent ones but not nearly enough to stop it being great! Most answer cards are viable targets and that tends to be what you are fishing for in the mid and late game. They tend to be the cards held back.
As a base line Inquisition hits 75% of spells in my cube and that might make it seem like it should be nearly that amount worse than Thoughtsieze but in practice you are trying to play these cards earlier in the game, in the first few turns where all the things that are going to be relevant plays are things that can be cast which in turn is basically only things Inquisition hits. Force of Will is one of the few exceptions.
1. Celestial Colonnade, Raging Raving and Creeping Tarpit etc
I spent ages toying with the ordering of this list as so many of the cards from this era feel like they deserve the top slot. In practice, the average of these lands wouldn't command the top slot but the merits of a couple of them comfortably do. It is really Colonnade winning the top slot and sharing the podium with Tarpit so that I didn't have to waste another slot in the list to talk about it separately! The other three are just here to enjoy the celebrations and get an honourable mention. Even Lavaclaw reaches has helped win a few games over the years! These lands are some of the most game defining cards in cube and have been since their addition. So many games it is the man land that ultimately made the difference. It was that one extra body to go wide with on that final alpha strike or that one threat able to evade removal and thus fend off the planesalkers. Indeed, planeswalker control is the main reason these lands are so much better in cube than in constructed formats, where they are still pretty strong! Both the blue lands from this cycle rank up there as two of the best answers to planeswalkers that you can find. Most walkers really struggle to protect against either meaning you can't even really cast planeswalkers until you have a way of containing the lands. Just having a Tarpit on the board means a few cards in their hand/deck are basically dead. Man lands are also typically a nightmare to remove. Most generic removal is non-land and any creature specific removal needs to be instant and needs the thing to be animated which in turn makes it quite easy to avoid as the controller of the land. These lands have impressive threat levels and impressive game ending potential. They control a lot of game elements without ever needing to be animated, oh and they fix your mana too! Sweet. They are also some of the most splashed for cards. They are a fairly painless splash and can be done with far less fixing than other splashes with them not resulting in a dead card without the mana to activative them.