Sunday, 26 March 2023

Lord of the Rings Preliminary Review Part 1


0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb

Gandalf the Grey 3

Cool design, I like the way that putting on top is sometimes a drawback and sometimes protection. It is certainly nice and flavourful. I always felt like even the Grey version of Gandalf would have a white mana component. I also somewhat assumed that Maia and Ainur would be planeswalkers. Perhaps the latter still will be. I don't mind if they are not, I am mostly just curious to see the various interpretations, it is not the sort of thing I would get my knickers in a twist over. Insulting pricing structures however... I have designed countless LotR Magic cards over the decades and so I am more interested than ever in what the professionals do. Much as this design is nothing like any Gandalf I had conceived I like it.  That being said, while the power level of Gandalf is reasonable it is not the kind that is well suited to cube. I feel like I am reviewing both design and cube suitability for this set and not just the latter! Apparently I feel qualified to talk about how well they have translated the ip despite not being Tolkien myself...  I may even end up not running any LotR cards and skipping this release if the pricing is given a hike above normal sets. I gave myself that out on the 40K cards and didn't do a preliminary review for them. That was not for card pricing reasons however and was simply because I was feeling a bit inundated with product at the time. I feel like I am locking myself into this set if I do the preliminary reviews as I will want to see what I got right and wrong. I guess at that point my protest will be to proxy as much as possible, buy as little as possible as late as possible on the secondary market and absolutely nothing on the primary. Short of full boycott that is about as good as you can do. 

The One Ring 8

Certainly a whole lot of power here. And rightly so, this is one of the most famed artifacts in all of fantasy. Not only is this cards up the wazoo it is a really solid turn of Solitary Confinement. Drop this, buy yourself a turn and get a couple of cards extra to help out with. Then, if you can stabilize from there you have all the cards you will ever need. It reminds me a bit of Necropotence. In decks that can handle the life loss this is one of the best card draw engines I have ever seen. This might be because you are a burn deck and you will assuredly win before The One Ring gets you. Or it could be because you have means to control the life loss, be that sacrifice and recur or flicker effects on the Ring. It is a bit like (several) Final Fortune meets some kind of super Ancestral Recall. You are at minimum seeing 3 cards for just one life cost. Assuming you make it to the next turn you will lose two more life but will have the option on three cards if you like! That is a whole lot of gas. It isn't even that savage of a clock that you have put yourself under. Six cards very quickly, and safely, for just four mana. A lot of decks can abuse this. I really like the design. I assumed it would be an equipment but it is suitably powerful and flavourful. It seems too good not to work in cubes, likely best in combo ones but in mine I cannot see myself leaving this out of any aggressive decks I might be playing. The fact that it buys you a turn even when you cannot really afford the life cost is a real perk and stops it being too narrow, which is really the only criticism I can levy on this card. 

Reprieve 8

I mean, this is white Remand. That is pretty nutty good. I do love that white now is allowed interesting cards. While this very much fits with the white colour pie it was not something I was expecting to see. Countermagic is never all that popular and so Wizards are reticent to print cards that are too good. Remand is a pretty tried and tested winner. It will be better in white as white has less of this kind of thing than blue while also having much better tempo plays so as to make this more punishing. A real kick in the teeth to any would be Supreme Verdict too! Just a great card that I think is very welcome. 

You Cannot Pass 0

Far too narrow. This wouldn't be playable if it was just "exile target creature if you control a legend", which this is still a long way from. Shockingly weak card. Notable alliance with source material over more modern cultural expectations of the ip which is at least promising.

Gollum, Patient Plotter 5

I shall assume the ring tempting me is effectively blank text here. It would likely need to be a positive thing for this to make it in cube. There is a nice degree of synergy here and so there are plenty of those kinds of decks in which I might want this guy. The thing is that he is not really a useful sac outlet because you need to get him in the bin first thus adding steps. It is also slow sorcery speed single activation sac and thus really limited in application. Self mill and discard are interesting and add to the potential for this guy when you have those exotic overlapping synergy decks. Beyond that you kind of need a sac outlet to turn this guy on as a sac outlet which is a bit useless. Sure, you can kill him off in conventional combat ways. It is nice to have a recursive dork you can block with. I suspect if I put Gollum in the cube there would be lots of upgrading weaker recursive dorks than can't block into Gollum so that he can. That is really the problem though, this is just a two mana 3/1 and thus recurring it is not exciting, it isn't worth 1BB to deploy nor really a card and 1B and that kind of means you need it to be an advantage sacrificing things for it to be good. Which in return means it won't be in far too many of the situations you might find yourself toying with the idea of Gollum. 

Mount Doom 7

This plays very well with The One Ring, how convenient! This is very clearly design pushed in quite a money grabbing way. They know at the very least a load of EDH players are going to be all over the Ring and so this is a pretty solid card they can help boost the value and thus sales of raw product with. Anyway, as a dual land this is great. Remarkably similar in terms of power to a Canopy land! In cubes where BR only has aggressive strategies this is going to be good enough but I would tend to hedge with more all round lands in more diverse metas. The abilities are nothing impressive, the middle one is just poo, sure it will win the odd game but it is dull and mostly blank low power rubbish. The expensive one is incredibly costly and situational to boot. Absolutely something you can build and plan around but in EDH and not cube. 


The Shire 2

Amazing flavour, amazing art, fantastic design but alas not a cube card. This is slow, narrow, and not what could be described as powerful. I might be able to sneak this into the odd high synergy deck and it will be cute. Not impactful enough otherwise. Mostly just a less useful Gingerbread Cabin...

Samwise the Stouthearted 8

Great if you naturally get the trigger but quickly falling off in value if you either don't or you have to work and wait to get it. A free sac land back on turn two? Amazing. There is certainly a white Snapcaster Mage feel to this. A flash 2/1 for two that gets you a card back! Renegade Rallier is perhaps a more practical comparison. While this offers a much greater range of recursion targets to Snapcaster it is made much weaker due to the timing restrictions. Sure, if you want to use a Counterspell with Snapcaster Mage you have to hold up all that mana but if you just want to fire off a Ponder then it is all good and you can do so at your leisure. It is fairly hard to usefully sacrifice permanents at will. A bunch of things that do got rather better thanks to this. Urza's and Mishra's Baubles obviously always getting better! Urza's Saga too, especially given all the other things that seem to scale with both of these cards! Chromatic Sphere/Star speaking of. Cathar Commando is one of the few actually white cards that proactively works well. Sagas are the others I presently have in my cube but that is just white cards. Other colours have far more good proactive things to sac, especially black and red. The white Snapcaster is a powerful accolade and I imagine this will play very well in lots of places. Nice to be found in the colour of flicker effects too, lots of juice added to that archetype recently. Excited to play with this too so a big win there. Powerful but not unbalanced, and enticing. 

Frodo, Sauron's Bane 7

Cool name, and er.., seemingly a thing making ring tempting a positive thing. Samwise looking better and better! Set off some crazy tempt loop with Samwise and Gollum so that Frodo is a one shot kill! Mostly I see the BBB as a blank. It is pretty colour intense and either needs support from other cards or hopes that you can connect 4 times with a 2/3. If you can do that there are better ways to win.... So, is a 1/2 for W that can become a 2/3 lifelink for the cost of WW good? Not really. It is fine. It is worse than a Town Gossipmonger and Student of Warfare. This is one of those meta things. In a world where 1 toughness is a liability this is likely better as an aggressive one drop than the bulk of the 2/1 dorks however in a meta where that is not the case this probably isn't worth it. Would you pay WWW for a 2/3 lifelink dork? No? How about give it haste? Still not? How about you can split the cost a bit and pay some in black mana? Repackage this however you like, it doesn't ever really look all that good from any angle. A lot of tempting could push this to always good but that seems super unlikely. My cube is at least averse to playing one toughness dorks if avoidable and so there is a good chance this will last a little beyond just testing.

Tom Bombadil 2

Very cool EDH saga commander. Too top end, super gold, and narrow to be any sort of cube card but the power when this guy gets going is impressive. The flavour here is spot on as is the design. I want to build a saga deck. I want to have one ticking over each turn and getting a new one. Sounds awesome fun! 

Sauron, the Lidless Eye 4

Threaten on a 4/4 with some Trumpet Blast action. Sadly this guy lives or dies by virtue of your capacity to sacrifice. If you can flop this, smack face, and then pitch their dork for profit then you have yourself a super Fury or Glorybringer. Fail to do this and you have an OK card but a clunky gold OK card at five mana is a long way from the mark. Too narrow unless you have a dedicated sac theme in your BR cards. 

Aragon and Arwen Wed 1

Way too win more. Yes, this can dominate really hard and look like some kind of super Titan in the right situation. And yes, that is the kind of situation it is easy to get into as Selesnya. That being said, this can just be a 3/6 vigilance for 6 which is a bad limited common. Even if you get a couple of life and counters out of this and it does to a two mana spell you feel well behind. Really underwhelming card. 

Friday, 24 March 2023

March of the Machines Preliminary Review: Part 1

0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb

*commander cards that slipped into the review! 

Jin-Gitaxias 7

Seems pretty good. Five mana 5/5 ward dorks have done well in my cube. This one lacks flying and doesn't have a massive ward value but he makes up for it with all sorts of fluff! Mostly we are just passively drawing some nice extra cards with Jin. This is nice, it means you do not have to get into combat like you do with the good ward fliers to get that value. Jin can accrue value while sitting back on defence. The flip and the saga mode is cool but likely not something we will see often. Drawing 7 cards, especially after getting your hand back to seven in the late game, is likely decking you or close to. Much of the time you could do it you shouldn't and most of the time you won't be able to anyway! Draw seven is obviously insane for 4 mana but it isn't really four mana, it is 9 mana and a lot of time and other ifs. Bouncing everything is great but it is slow. You have to wait a full turn and you have to do it without your 5/5 and without 4 of your mana. That seems dodgy. Either the bounce is minimal or it is going to be too slow. The final ability is a blast too but is likely massive overkill at that point. Jin is a lot of fun but most of the card is the fun part. The good part is the stats, the cost, the ward, and the passive card draw. This should be a pretty popular EDH card as big effects and big draw goes a long way there. Cube wise it is just solid on theme top end blue. It does somewhat lack for reach without any evasion but I think that will be OK. Blue can find a way once stabilized and Jin helps to do that. I think this will not last long as a lot of the fluff here is useless. I would trade all of the flip for flying or an extra ward in a heartbeat. 

Moment of Truth 6

A reworked, and much improved, Telling Time. Keeping the best card of 3 is better than ditching the worst. It is a bit of an odd one, is the 2nd best card of three better or worse than a random card in your deck? Presumably very much the same. The thing is that The floor of what I describe or just of Telling Time is that much worse. If you see two lands you are forced into taking one or when you see only one land but really wanted two. Telling Time often doesn't do enough, it doesn't finish the job where Moment of Truth does. So, on the face of it while a similar looking effect Moment of Truth is substantially more playable than Telling Time and that is before we even get the massive benefits of filling up the yard. In a world were Thought Scour and Otherworldly Gaze see play, in one where Consider is much much better than Opt I don't think we need to spend too much time on talking about why putting a card from your library directly into the graveyard is so good. I think we can say that this is pretty clearly better than Anticipate let alone Telling Time. It probably even beats out Impulse in any deck that has heavier or more significant graveyard synergies. Much as this is a card I am impressed with I have not seen much two mana card quality getting action for a while now, it is just too costly on the tempo and is likely the preserve of combo focused or intentionally down-powered cubes. 

Heliod, the Radient Dawn / the Warped Eclipse 2

This is pretty bad. I thought gods were indestructible? If you are reliably getting back an enchantment with this it is OK. There are plenty of 4 drop gain a card dorks with reasonable stats, even in white. This is the sort of thing I want on a three drop. Without the enchantment recursion this is a very over cost dork with some fluff you can further waste mana on. Sure, the flip side is a bit more powerful and has some cool synergies. It even seems good for just three mana but that isn't what it costs, it costs a minimum of seven and is thus utter garbage, even if you do get the free enchantment back.

Breach the Multiverse 2

Great EDH powerplay but for heads up cube this is only something I can see playing in a build around deck, Titan's Nest perhaps. Seven is just too much for a card like this to be getting anywhere near enough play even despite the decent power it packs. 


Drana and Linvala 3

Sure. This is a fine dork that will sometimes own but mostly just mildly underperform. A bit aimless, random, gold, and risky for cube play. 

Yargle and Multani 2

18 is a big number, and six mana is feasibly cheap meaning I can see this in a variety of builds that abuse it in some way, Fling, Pandemonium, that sort of thing. 

Thalia and the Gitrog Monster 7

This has a bit too much in the way of positive text lines and stats. It looks like it should pass the Questing Beast school of having so much stuff it can't not be good! Thalia does lack immediate positive impact for you (beyond an extra land drop I guess which I am certainly not excited about on four mana) and is thus vulnerable to removal. They do however disrupt right away. Overall this is a very powerful card. I like it a lot more than Siege Rhino that is for sure. It is however a long time since Rhino impressed people and not only is this very gold, it is very polar. If someone doesn't have an answer to this it is going to murder them with disruption, impossible to win combat, and ongoing digging into the library. Power wise this has to be good enough but Abzan is not popular at present and even if it were I think I would still dislike the way games went with this out. I'll be giving this a test as that is the right thing to do but I expect to to see insufficient play and kind of hope it fails to perform. 

Chandra, Hope's Beacon 6

This is a lot of card but you would hope so for 6 mana. It should protect itself pretty well. The -X can take out two midsized threats if needed. The passive and the +2 can also take out a pair of threats assuming you have a cheap and suitable removal spell in hand. This might not be as consistent as dealing 4 damage to two targets but it will leave Chandra on 7 loyalty rather than 1. Chandra generates value through the passive and through removal so the +1 ability isn't super important. It adds punch to the passive and ensures you have stuff going on but isn't something you can use continuaously in 40 card decks. All in all I like Chandra. She is very nicely rounded and has a good array of controlling and value generating effects. Sadly I don't see her making the cut. Who wants six drops these days? Certainly who wants slow ones like this that take ages to do their thing. With both planeswalkers and six drops really struggling in cubes presently I don't think now is a good time for Hope's Beacon stock. A couple of years back this would have been an absolute bomb, a super Torch of Defiance but I fear it missed its time window to shine. 

Goro-Goro and Satoru 3*

Powerful effect but somewhat overkill and very much on the situational, fiddly, and narrow side. No evasion is a bummer, two mana to haste things up is expensive. Are you playing this with Raging Goblins and removal? How about cheap evasive dorks so that you can give haste to them with the ability, or how about things like Lightening Greaves to try and trigger itself. Seems like a viable EDH plan and an absolute shitshow in formats without commanders. Goro-Goro and Satoru does have a good solid floor and an impressive ceiling but I fear it sits too near that floor too often to be of any real interest or worth building towards. I do now see the different symbol implying this is a commander product card and thus very well placed and designed at least.

Slimefoot and Squee 8*

This is just a good card. It is the mini Grave Titan. Half the cost and half the size with half as much of the half sized guys on the various triggers! Sadly no half deathtouch but in its place a rather more interesting recursion mechanic. This half Grave Titan thing would likely be good enough for cube by itself if it were mono coloured so slapping on a powerful recursion mode rather raises an eyebrow. It is almost turning this card into something I actively want to sacrifice so that I can get value bringing it back from the yard. It feels like a kind of Recurring Nightmare! Much better tempo and value but at least a bit easier to disrupt. Despite being a massive three colours this has all the trappings of a top tier cube card. It just does all the things without really having any drawbacks. If we were really pushing it we could say that it was vulnerable to mass removal but that is kind of the point with mass removal, and the solution is playing better, not having cards that dodge it for the most part. This is a three mana 4/4 which is high tempo, it can add 1/1 of stats to the board each term representing ongoing value and growing threat. It is multiple bodies allowing for good defence, good scaling, and some security against spot removal. The recursion mode is so powerful you are almost always doing it if you can. It is only one more than the already good value to cast the card and you get another dork back with it. Unless you are loading up on Memnites that is always value. Sometimes egregious value. This card has a very high floor and a pretty extreme ceiling. Good job it is avoiding most constructed formats frankly! This reminds me of Leovold and is easily comparable power wise in my cube despite that not being the cast in your vintage and legacy settings! For cube this is better tempo and security than Leovold and thus should perform better.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Flash, Ward, Haste


Flash, ward, haste sounds a lot like "hands, face, space" - an old UK government anti covid spread mantra. It is however seemingly the advice I would give regarding threats in cube. Your Baneslayers rather than your Mulldrifter cards at least. If you are getting enough value out of the EtB effect from your play then this doesn't apply anywhere near as significantly. Sure, these things still improve a card that is mostly about the EtB, especially flash, but a top end Baneslayer like threat without one of haste, ward, or flash, is a bit of a non-starter in cube these days. Not at least without some other form of security that isn't ward, such as the recursion on The Scarab God and that sort of thing. Flash, ward, and haste all in fact help a creature with a "when this attacks" trigger to have it act much more like an EtB trigger.

Why creatures with these three keywords are so much inherently better than those without all comes down to the risk inherent in a big mana play. If you invest five mana in a Baneslayer Angel and they answer it with a standard two, or even three mana removal spell then you are significantly down in mana. Your big power play is gone and trying to deploy it put you behind. All in all, pretty devastating. Obviously big EtB effects mitigate this by providing some instant return on investment and thus reducing the blowout potential of answers. Proper 4 to 6 mana game ending threats in midrange cube however tend not to have much in the way of EtB effects. It is simply hard to design cards where both the body and the EtB effect are wanted simultaneously and still have the effects worth the mana. I want my 5 drops to be able to win me the game so if I am getting 3 or so mana worth out of the EtB trigger then my remaining couple of manas worth of dork is hardly likely to be much of a threat!

Back in the day a lot of the better threats had on death triggers that would help to protect against removal but such things are unreliable these days with vast swathes of exile quality removal in most colours. Either it needs to be a leaves play effect or it needs to be a small part of an otherwise playable card. Too much investment in an on death effect is asking for trouble. 

Protection effects have always been powerful, as have flash, and haste. There just wasn't that much of it and you had to pay a lot for it. This meant that it was not common to find these things on many sufficiently powerful top end threats. Now that we have plenty of options to chose from between lots of sufficiently playable and powerful cards we can afford to be picky. When being picky it becomes clear that cards with certain mechanics rise to the top, and so here we are discussing those most buoyant of mechanics. 

Haste is pretty clear cut. It lets the dork do what the dork is supposed to do. It does that quicker and while also being harder to stop, on at least that first hit. Haste is just than mini personal Time Walk for that dork that really helps up the tempo, value, and surprise factor. Glorybringer without haste would be powerful still but it would be a lot worse, being slow removal and giving a big opportunity to respond. I doubt it would be in the cube without that haste but with it the card is one of the very best creatures. 

Flash functions a lot like haste in that they will need instant speed interaction to stop it for that first attack and it has a good surprise factor. In tempo terms flash is worse than haste but in interactive terms it is a lot better. Flash allows you to deploy these cards very safely and it also allows you to impose the fear of open mana on the opponent. This will often make them take softer lines so that they are not devastated by your potential Settle the Wreckage or Mystic Confluence etc. The more reactive your deck is with answers and instants the better flash is relative to haste. Conversely the more aggressive and proactive your deck the more haste is the place to be. Both are great. Both add a lot to the party in terms of answering walkers or upsetting your opponent's plan for the game. They do not scale with each other very well but that is of no matter, you only need one to elevate good dorks to great ones!

Flash and haste have always been good. No shock there. Ward however is newer and the power and application of the ability was not as well understood by me. Obviously it is a perk, a kind of soft hexproof. Ward is good on any card but it does have very interesting scaling, in part because ward can come as a life cost, a mana tax, or a card cost. Each of these finds itself better suited to certain strategy and card types, and might as well be a different mechanic in terms of what it is doing for the card. On the big threats I wish to keep in play I am most into the mana tax costs, especially in decks with spell disruption. Iymrith is arguably blues best threat at present because it is so hard to shift. Sticky reliable dorks that allow you to build game plans around are great and ward is a relatively cheap way of helping your cards to be as such. Hexproof and indestructible are so powerful and tedious to play against that including them on most 4-7 mana cards comes at too much of a cost and the rest of the card is typically unimpressive or overly restrictive. Ward however costs less to deploy and leaves enough space to have a really meaty dork for the mana cost as well. Ward mimics the protective effects of hexproof or protection without costing the earth, sucking in terms of game play, and being a bit random. Ward as a mana cost ensures you are not going to get blown out in terms of tempo for making your big play and that is the main risk of those big plays. As such it makes such things a lot more accessible which is exactly what we are looking for in this kind of design space. Ward plays well in an interactive way and opens up the design space of the game. 

Ward as a life cost or card cost play into the tempo and value elements of the game. They make cards better suited to their task or more rounded. Ward as a card cost taxes value and means that if they want to get a tempo swing on you by killing your threat it is going to cost them in value. You used to want a lot of your midrange cards to have an EtB value generation effect so that you could keep up the value pressure. Card discard ward is a bit like the opposite of an EtB card draw. It gives you the same kind of security but very much from the opposite side of things. Mostly what it lets you do is have a card much more about the body than the EtB effect but with the same sort of insurance policy. Again, more design space opened and more ability to make creatures that are creatures 1st and not really just spells with a tagged on body. 

Lastly we just have the ward as a life cost. This Makes cards more threatening and punishing. It makes threats better threats. They are always doing something towards their goal unless mass removal is used on them. It is akin to haste in the way that "ward - discard a card" is akin to EtB draw a card. A life cost ward dork with haste and "ward - pay life roughly equal to its power" is a kind of super haste we have only seen before in the likes of unglued! 

Life payment ward is the least interesting of the wards as it is a bit more linear but it is none the less a fine ability to be able to tune a card with. It will add a nice dynamic to the game, naturally people will shy away from lines that pay life if they can avoid it. This kind of card is interesting because of the choices and lines imposed. This is one instance when the old adage of "giving your opponents a choice is always bad" is incorrect. The reason for that is because in this case the way we don't give our opponents a choice is with hexproof and as discussed, that is worse for the game overall. Hexproof is more powerful but power is not what we want, it is good games. Ward gives you the things you want from hexproof without making the game worse, a happy medium between protection and interactive gameplay.  

Mostly this essay is just an ode to ward and what a great new mechanic it is. I have disguised it as good advice on what you want your meatier threats to be doing but somehow instead I seem to have just harped on about how ward is getting me going. I am always just delighted when such a great new thing can be added into the game despite it being so old. Scry impressed me about 10 years in, menace impressed me whenever that showed up. All those food, clues, treasures, and the like showed up about five years ago and were a big old boost to the game and design space. Ward is just the latest of what I hope continues to be impressive innovation.   

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

A Retrospective Look at Good 40k Cards in Cube


Primaris Eliminator 8.5

Power wise this dork is just fine, at best being either an over cost Chupacabra or (one sided) Infest. Neither mode sounds over powered but nn practice the card is just a bit too good in a midrange cube setting. It is always useful and almost always a 2 for 1 with tempo gains. Even if it is just killing a two drop you are probably about even on tempo and up on cards. What makes this card egregious is how swingy and powerful the modal sweeper is. If you clear their board, even partially, that swing is often unrecoverable. That is fine when it is on clunkier situational cards like Wrath of God but when it is on an otherwise strong and playable card it is a problem. A Wrath you expect to some extent and can play around it. Equally a Wrath can only be played in some deck types. Eliminator is the kind of card you just play anywhere. It is never bad and it comes with a healthy does of free wins. It is just one of those cards that is really really well suited to performing well in cube. I do not love the design as you cannot really afford to play around it, black has so many potentially blow out pseudo mass removal cards from Massacre Girl to Finale to Extinction Event that trying to play around them without some specific information on the matter is overly detrimental. This all results in somewhat swingy gameplay. Oh, you had the card, guess I lose then. Not the way I love to play magic. This is just a bit too all round, you need some downside on cards or deck building gets dull and things start to look samey with a pile of auto include cards and bombs facing off against each other. 

Necron Deathmark 7.5

This is very similar to the Prismari Eliminator. It trades the utility of having spot or mass removal for just being a very powerful 187 dork. Impressive statline assures significant tempo swings regardless of what it hits. Unrestricted targetting assures the card is always useful. Flash is what pushes it over the edge, it gives you a low risk reactive tool that still affords tempo and card advantage. There is no real downside here. The closest I can come to naming one is that it is five mana and as such you can sit with it dead in hand for a while, perhaps even lose the game before it is online. You can only have so many top end cards and you need reach (the capacity to end the game, not the ability to block fliers) on them. This is not a bomb as such but I am pretty much always playing this. It is so rounded and convenient. Even the mill is pretty powerful and offers good utility. It can threaten to deck your opponent in a long game or more usually just fuel up and dig for your various escape and other recursive cards.  

Ultramarines Honour Guard 7.5

These have impressed me a lot more than I was expecting them too. Celestial Crusader has not impressed in cube and so I imagined this to follow a similar path given its lower floor. Honour Guard is a little more playable buffing non-white dorks as well but losing flash, split second, and flying is massive cost that I did not expect squad to make up for. Turns out I was incredibly wrong and squad, especially squad on this badboy is a total game changer. Sure, you can play this on four and just have an immediately relevant play that your opponent probably needs to answer. It is not the most efficient anthem but it is suitable. At six and eight mana however Honour Guard gets very out of hand. A pair of 3/3s and a Dictate of Heliod sounds like a very good deal. Game swinging power. And of course the triple 4/4! These are not as uncommon as you might think as you can plan with and hold back Honour Guard. If you need a little boost to get you over the line then flop it down on four. If you need it to utterly dominate the game so as to have enough raw power to overcome your opponent then you slow roll it and do other stuff while you build up your mana. Honour Guard won me a lot of games. It is really a top end threat card with a lot of reach but it is also a versatile card that can be relevant in the game a lot sooner than other cards with comparable threat, power and reach. I am not in love with the card as it is a little swingy. The squad cards have a habit of dominating games and ruining the long ones somewhat. They scale just a little too well with time. 

Royal Warden  6

While not an under-achiever this is certainly one of the few cards in this set I overrated initially. While still a solid card things have moved away from just bodies in play being the be all and end all. This is just stats. It is a lot of them and they are nicely and usefully spread across many bodies. It is just vanilla beyond that. You need some other cards that are scaling up with that to really make that exciting. Given that Grave Titan recently got culled you can see why this dork is living on the edge. It feels like a support card, like a Lazotep Reaver or Seasoned Pyromancer but also a five drop. It doesn't offer reach and in a world where mass removal, plenty of it one sided, can be found in abundance and in most archetypes, not all that much value either. It is a bit expensive for an aggressive deck and the tokens coming in tapped stops it being as good for board stabilizing in the slower lists. Warden has a place but it is a long way of an exciting or powerful card. I am sure I will cut it for space reasons soon. It is absolutely one of the best tools in black for doing what this does, but that sort of thing is going out of fashion fast, or at least beyond two in the mana curve...

Old One Eye 8.5

This is a pretty foolish magic card. It would be contained in other colours by being a six drop but in green you see this on all sorts of unreasonable turns before 6, too often turn 4. It is effectively a Grave Titan and a Scarab God all in one with some ever so handy evasion thrown in for all and sundry. This has the grind of the God, the big board presence from the Titan, and then the trample just ensures that the game is going to end rather than stall. This ticks all the main boxes you want from a threat; power, reach, value, security. Obviously on turn six this is still a great card but it just has a higher ceiling thanks to the colour. You need to answer this fast and you really need to exile it else it is going to kill you, just later. And if you want to try and race this you better have a big old head start and some evasive dorks of your own as Old One Eye is pacey and hard to get past. Giving out trample to all your other dorks will often be a game ending swing in its own right, often green will have the biggest board overall but will be unable to sensibly attack due to chumps and swing backs and gang-blocks. Trample puts an end to most of that, and the pair of massive blockers helps too. Unless they have haste, in which case it is game over sooner and in a different sort of way! This is that scary marriage of high power and spot on suitability that ensures it will be a staple to all those wishing to travel with their cubes to universes beyond! Old One Eye has significantly improved the value of cards than generate value in the form of lands and cards that self mill, say Life from the Loam on both accounts. These dig you into finding Old One Eye and then help fuel the recursion costs. Much as this is a cool card I am a little resentful as it is arguably just too good. Cards without downside take a lot of the interesting choices away from drafting and building while also just reducing variation. 

Sporocyst 6

Three mana for a ramp card is a hard sell, especially in green. I was thinking that the times you dumped this for 5 or 7 mana would make it enticing enough to get over essentially being a three drop ramp spell but it kind of doesn't. It means you draw too much ramp or your ramp too late. It doesn't often line up in such a way that this as a five or seven drop does anything all that exciting for you. Defender is also not ideal in your dorks reducing the value of this as a body. So yeah, cool card with some flexibility that just isn't powerful enough where you need it to be or useful enough elsewhere. 

Termagant Swarm 5

This hasn't as yet found it's place in cube. People seem to like it but they do not seem to play it. It doesn't have that high tempo punch I want from my costlier cards at one end of things. At the other end of things green just isn't commonly seen in the aristocrat style decks that are just after bodies. At six mana and above this is a cute contained little Hydriod Krasis. Nice and rounded being card neutral, nice and fat, and a little bit sticky. Either they need to kill it twice or use premium removal on it. A good value sort of thing but not very threatening. A sort of Thragtusk kind of fail. Versatility is helpful but this is just kind of unexciting for a variety of different reasons at all points up the curve and so that versatility is a bit lost. In a world where green has a strong sac theme this is an amazing tool. In my cube this is found wanting. 

Chaos Defiler 8.5

This is one of those cards that the rules brake a bit for when in a 1v1 situation. It is just a super Ashen Rider. It is spot removal 1v1 and spot removal that doesn't have to target at that. This comes down, kills their best thing, and is then a big scary threat that is hard and uncomfortable to answer. This is disruption, tempo, and a three for one. It is these things quite reliably and as such it is a bit of an egregious magic card! Given that Ashen Rider gets some action while costing three mana more and offers very little to really demonstrate much more than a mana's worth over Defiler.... Sure, flying beats trample. Sure, exile is probably better than untargetted destroy, but it is certainly not directly better and it is a lot less unique. And yes, we have a whole extra toughness on Archon. But Archon could just cost 1BBWW and not 4BBWW and the colour intensity alone would make it seem awfully comparable to Defiler. So yeah, stupid card that costs stupidly too little for 1v1 play. Really swingy and unfun in much the same way that Fractured Identity isn't all that fun in cube. I will say that I have had a lot of games where Defiler only kills one relevant thing, like that is the norm between funky answers and only having a target when it comes in and none when it dies. It is also often a bit clunky and slow against really quick or wide aggro decks, and fairly easy to play around as control. It is the midrange decks that just fold to this and that is good at present with them dominating my meta but also kind of weak in that this card is super polar. 

Biophagus 7

Much as I thought this was going to be oppressive it is turning out to be just fine. Yes, if you drop this and curve a few aggressive dorks after it the tempo is pretty nutty, especially if there is any scaling going on with those counters. In reality however Biophagus eats a lot of removal and when not the mana is often used on none creature things. There is also a fair amount of the counter not mattering much. A 3/3 Oracle of Mul Daya is still not getting into combat very often. A 5/5 Questing Beast is still either killing you or dying to a Doom Blade. The common 2/2 mana dork still every bit as useless on turn five. This card looks good and does have a high ceiling but in practice it is probably just worse than the survivability of Paradise Druid. There is a reasonable argument for other two drop mana dorks being better than this too although Druid is the best of the creatures at two. Even when Biophagus is going super smoothly it isn't as good as a Joraga Treespeaker or even a Devoted Druid most of the time. That second mana is a lot lot more valuable than the counters. Extra toughness is nice but not nice enough. This is certainly a cube worthy card, and a desirable one if you have a counters theme but it is certainly not the bomb it looks. 

Thunderhawk Gunship 8

Another one of these spot on finisher cards. This is 10/10 in stats over three bodies. It has board control, value, tempo, and a whole lot of reach. This is fairly hard to answer all in one go and will do a good job of killing you if you don't answer it at all, or indeed, simply stop you from killing them. Just nothing bad to say about this card. It is rounded, reliable, effective and powerful. It isn't utterly egregious, you can answer it, it is a six drop, you do expect those to win games. This can be raced. Occasionally Power level wise this is fine, good even. It is the general suitability I am against, this is just a card I am going to play over most alternatives most of the time and that is going to become less than enjoyable with some speed I suspect. As a six drop I don't often play it in my more aggressive decks and it is not a great control card as you are giving flying to little and relying a little too hard on a pair of 2/2 tokens to crew. Also, tapping down six mana at sorcery speed in control for this is a horseshit thing to do. So being a midrange card will help to keep this from being absolutely everywhere but then again, being colourless undoes a bunch of that work. 

Helbrute 4

This is fairly medium by cube standards now which is mental as this would have been a complete bomb in the format until at least Amonkhet. This hits reasonably hard and fast and can just keep coming. Lack of any evasion and being quite a big chunky investment keep this out of contention as a premium threat but the card is still perfectly playable. 

Triarch Praetorian 7

A cute little Mulldrifter of a card where you kind of get both parts. A cheap little flyer on the front end that is just useful to have around and has a low cost to include in your deck. Then later on you can cash it in from the bin for a couple of cards and a couple of damage all round! Not super powerful but really well on theme. Proactive board development early and a gas providing mana sink late game, all wrapped up with some nice self mill and discard synergy. This is fine filler in a lot of decks just at that but the Praetorian has a few cute synergies that help it move from OK in many decks to good in some. Lurrus lets you play this for 2 mana and still get the cards, and it lets you do this repeatedly. Lots of cards let you recur small dorks from the bin in a cost effective way and this is very much one of the best you can pair with those effects. This is a synergy and support card at heart but it is very playable just by itself and has a fairly wide range of things it pairs nicely with. It is certainly one of the fairer and more interesting cards from the set. 

Sicarian Infiltrator 8

While a long way from a bomb this card is a super Muldrifter. At three mana it is better as it is far less of a tempo hit, yes, a card is better than a 1/2 but one of each is generally better than two of one. At five mana it is better as you are getting 2/4 in stats and two bodies. At seven or more mana it is easy to see why Muldrifer isn't keeping up. Yes, Muldrifter flies but this has flash which is likely better in blue, even if not directly better. I find I simply never want to leave this out of my list. It is just such a low cost and risk inclusion with amazing scaling. The perfect filler card. Early this helps you hit your land drops and curve out while taking the sting out of opponents pressure. Late game is it just huge value. It is a card you are happy sitting on in hand as it ages very nicely however you are equally happy tossing it out as soon as you have nothing else to do. I have found a lot of games that were close stop being so when a squad load of these show up! The flash is what pushes this over the edge. It would be playable filler without it, there would be a real cost to playing it, and cards like Sea Gate Oracle would look like significantly preferable at three. With the flash the card not only avoids getting in the way of other cards like countermagic but also does a good job as a surprise blocker and typically gets more value than Oracle ever does in combat. This is really the perfect filler card.   

Night Scythe 7.5

While a long way from the most powerful card released in this set this little vehicle remains my favourite. It is a real hit on balance, simplicity, utility, playability, and power. Many of the best vehicles now come with crew which makes sense. The issue with things like Esika's Chariot is that it is oppressively good. Night Scythe gives you all that nice low risk vehicle quality without ruining the game! Scythe is great on defence and offense requiring two removal spells to fully clear, and potentially swinging for five the turn after deployment. Toss some flying onto half of that and the whole package really starts to impress. This is not the highest tempo play you can make but in pure board presence terms it is one of the safest tempo plays. There are plenty of three drop value dorks you can play to gain tempo safely but that is a general safety where by if the dork is removed you still got your card or whatever. Llanowar Visionary springs to mind. Night Scythe however somewhat assures you will still have some tempo out of the play and that is the way it is low risk. This all makes it a really good midrange tool that can keep aggression at bay while still being a useful and meaty use of your three mana. 

Shadow in the Warp and Pink Horror are cards I have not picked up and played with yet and so do not want to do a preliminary style review of them here. Shadow looks a little narrow but also tediously good. Horror seems much cooler but a little bit costly and gold for where my cube is at. 

So there we have it, the cards that seem viable for most drafting cubes. As ever there are a selection of cards that are interesting from a build around and constructed perspective only that I didn't bother too look at here. Given the size of the set there is an impressively high quantity of cards I think are playable in limited cube. While the power level is high and there are a couple of really interesting cards I dislike the design philosophy in general. The cards are simply too convenient. When there is no downside to a card it takes away your choices and makes the game less good. This is why Negate is a "better" card than Actual Counterspell! Certainly it isn't more powerful but it is a whole lot more interesting. Much as I like the look of this set and have found plenty of cube worthy powerful spells I can still see myself cutting them from cube eventually just because I am sick of seeing the same things over and over again. That is the problem when powerful and generic meet.