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. 


  1. Yep, this release had *so many* good cards beyond even these. Great retrospective on a set that 100% deserves it. This set was the best release of 2022 for Cube imo. (you could reasonably make a very strong argument for NEO-Kamigawa but I just can't believe how much W40K gives us to work with.) #Gobsmacked

  2. Any thoughts on Mawloc? It seems really good in cube.

    1. Yeah, Mawloc will absolutely be great in cube as it is basically just a better Voracious Hydra. +2/+1 in stats and the potential to draw a card is a pretty massive upgrade. You rarely use Hydra not in fight mode and so the only downside this has is being gold. That being said, the most attractive thing about Hydra is it being removal in green. As soon as we have access to red we can be talking about cards like Dragonlord Atarka and it gets a bit harder to justify Mawloc taking up slots.