Now that I’ve had a little time to test Return to Ravnica in the Cube, it’s time to talk updates. As always, Cube is a malleable and customizable format, so even though I may decide to forego a particular card, you should still try whatever strikes your fancy. As long as the format you create is fun for your players, you’re doing it right.
Angel of Serenity
Angel of Serenity faces stiff competition as a white finisher, and may yet prove to be the best of any of them. I’ve had to explain the full range of her uses more than any other card—and that very broad flexibility is what makes her so potent. A Cube-worthy 7-drop offers stabilization, a game-ending threat, and postmortem value (compare to Karn Liberated, Cruel Ultimatum, Avenger of Zendikar). Angel of Serenity is carefully designed to meet these requirements (though a little confusing as a result).
To find room for a new 7-drop, I decided to cut [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card]. -2/-2 isn’t necessarily a sweeper like it was in Standard, so you aren’t guaranteed value against a removal spell and lowly 3/3s. Angel of Serenity’s kills, while possibly temporary, are assured. And in a format where “enters the battlefield” is the most common keyword, her Disentombs will have an even more pronounced effect than they would elsewhere.
Verdict: A certified auto-include with a long tenure. Easily the best Cube card in the set (Maybe I should have saved the best for last?).
This card was briefly enticing, but the best-case scenario is a free 1/1—not enough to justify a WW cost on a 2-drop.
I struggle with this latest addition to the modal family of bounce spells. At 7 mana, you do get a powerful yet not necessarily game-winning effect, and the polarity of the two options gives you a different kind of flexibility from the workmanlike Into the Roil and Repeal duo (I chose to replace the latter). Moreover, one of the most reliable plans against blue is to construct a board state of sweeper-resistant permanents such as planeswalkers and enchantments which Cyclonic Rift works to invalidate.
However, Upheaval is so prized for exactly that reason. It’s an emergency reset when things go sideways, and an inexorable way to finish the game. Cyclonic Rift could add an annoying layer of redundancy—it’s not Upheaval, but that a blue player has “one out” may make for a more pleasing state of the environment.
Verdict: The effect is desirable and balanced, but possibly frustrating. Add it, then keep an eye on it.
Jace, Architect of Thought
I always look closely at new planeswalkers before adding them to the Cube. They are the most dominant card type in the format, and I try to minimize their impact by holding them to a higher standard than I would other potentials.
Despite that, Jace’s Frank Lloyd Wright turn impressed me. Only in Cube do you really get the most out of each of his abilities. Creatures are plentiful and usually have 2 power, so his +1 routinely gains life or affects combat. The high card quality makes for difficult -2 splits (a pile of Shriekmaw, Thragtusk, possible 5th land is a recently observed, headache-inducing possibility—and we’re hardly in Magical Christmas Land). Similarly, his -8 actually does win the game. The best spell from your deck should at least be a 6-drop of some magnitude, so the rest is just gravy.
Verdict: Wizards’ streak of Cube-worthy Jaces continues (though Jace, Memory Adept remains a farce of a Limited card), and the latest iteration offers more than enough to make the cut—but PW saturation remains a concern. If you’re at an unhealthy number, you can skip him.
We’ve come a long way with this card emotionally since he was spoiled. At first, he looked like a cute, quirky card—not yet the groan-inducing Limited spoiler he’s become. Still, there’s no chance he’s oppressive in Cube—sweepers and cheap removal are commonplace.
If you favor the value-oriented brand of Reanimator, you’ll find Pack Rat a welcome option as a discard outlet that plays defense and threatens control. It’s yet to be seen whether he deserves a spot on his own merits.
Verdict: Great enabler for grindy Reanimator, probably not if Entomb is more your speed. Test him with your expectations adjusted accordingly.
This enchantment generated some enthusiasm based on the flawed assumption that Phyrexian Arena is a great card. Phyrexian Arena is a mediocre Cube card, and the extra mana really does add up.
Verdict: Feel free to test it, but it’s on notice out of the gate.
While strictly worse than Go for the Throat in Cube, it’s still a high quality removal spell. The vast majority of artifact and multicolored creatures aren’t prime targets for removal in Cube, so you’ll get what you pay for most of the time.
Verdict: Obviously good enough, but merely playable. There are a ton of 1B removal spells, so finding the right mix is part of the challenge for you as a designer—leaving this out is no crime.
Guttersnipe begs to be made an engine, but unfortunately it’s just not the kind of sleek, streamlined card you want to include in an aggressive red deck (the most likely to take advantage of such an ability). You can’t really afford to pay 3 for a 2/2 that doesn’t do anything until you untap in Mono-Red any more, though it does look like a lot of fun.
You can try to design around it with Gitaxian Probe, Pyrokenesis, and Gut Shot, but those aren’t very good cards in Mono-Red either, so you’re taking a deck that thrives on its redundancy and introducing very situational effects.
Verdict: Pass, with hang-dog look. *kicks dirt*
A superb addition to the stable of red 1-drops, and we can finally say goodbye to Goblin Patrol. Plus, it’s a-dorable.
Verdict: Add. Snuggle.
Rakdos Shred-Freak, Ash Zealot, Gore-House Chainwalker
What a set this was for mono-red! The 2-drop section in red was long its weakest, and while it was slowly improving, Return to Ravnica gave it a huge boost.
I waited patiently for them to print Shred-Freak, and I was pleasantly surprised when they hybrid-costed it instead of the RR cost I expected (a small point—it‘s still RR for all intents and purposes). Then they sent an extra point of toughness, first strike, and an irrelevant hate-clause barreling down the pipe to really drive it home how overdue Shred-Freak was—power creep passed it by in its own set.
Verdict: All three of these are automatic inclusions, and with that Return to Ravnica single-handedly checked off one of my Cube wishlist items.
Abrupt Decay, Detention Sphere, Dreadbore
That makes two Cube wishlist items. Planeswalkers rule the Cube, and not in small part due to its dearth of answers.
Abrupt Decay only answers mini-[card ajani, caller of the pride]Ajani[/card], [card jace beleren]Jace[/card], and [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card], but at 2-mana it trades favorably with Swords and [card oblivion ring]O-Rings[/card] as well. It trades on curve with Signets and [card survival of the fittest]Survival[/card]. It should do everything you expect of a spell this cheap and flexible.
Verdict: Run it. The cost could be prohibitive, but I’m willing to say that is unlikely. To make room, I cut Putrefy.
Detention Sphere is, yes, simply another Oblivion Ring, but Oblivion Ring is an excellent card. Compare instead to Maelstrom Pulse: They have almost the same ability—what you give up in vulnerability to enchantment destruction you gain with the surety of exile. I frequently splash for Pulse, and Detention Sphere is in a much more natural color combination.
Verdict: Easy inclusion, don’t let the snarks dissuade you. To make room, I cut Dismantling Blow.
Dreadbore gives black/red an out to planeswalkers it previously only had in the first-pick-quality (if even included) Chaos Orb. It’s now the cheapest way to off a [card gideon jura]Gideon[/card], which is no mean feat. That it kills any creature means it’s a strong weapon in every matchup.
Verdict: An obvious and important addition. Terminate made way for this one.
Cube is the perfect home for the flexibility of Charms, and previously only Esper Charm could potentially overcome its prohibitive cost. Here, Izzet Charm is easy enough on the mana to earn a spot, and should excel in every matchup. It fights aggro and control equally well in the early game, and gets you deeper in the late game.
Verdict: UR is tougher than it sounds (you want to use the first 2 modes as early as possible), but the flexibility should be worth it. If it doesn’t earn a permanent spot, that ought to make everyone very sad.
Not as strong as its Niv-Mizzet-begotten counterpart, Selesnya Charm does offer appealing options. A 2/2 vigilance on curve is respectable in Cube, and combat tricks are actually several magnitudes better—no one plays around them. The ability to
destroy a planet kill a Titan that stands in the way of your beatdowns is a nice panic button-type feature.
However, green/white doesn’t really beat down—it fills the board until it can go over the top. So this probably doesn’t have a home in Cube.
Verdict: Try it, but do recognize that it doesn’t mesh well with green/white thematically.
Much like Pack Rat, this is a good enabler for value Reanimator. As a no-cost discard outlet, it does fit into combo Reanimator as well, albeit with increased mana difficulties. Also like Pack Rat, it lets you block against aggro and beat down against control, but bear in mind that a card of Putrid Leech’s quality couldn’t make the cut at this cost.
Verdict: Test, and pay careful attention to how often it is passed or left in the sideboard whenever a Reanimator deck is drafted.
Vraska the Unseen
I’m glad I decided to write this article now, because it looks like people have finally come down on Vraska. I didn’t even bother testing this card—I try to keep the bar for planeswalker entry high, and this doesn’t come close to meeting it.
If you’re behind on board, they can likely just ignore her. When that’s the case, this is a five-mana Doom Blade that gains 2-4 life—hardly a Cube playable. Just play Doom Blade—you probably get more life by killing the creature before it does any damage.
If you’re ahead, you get to suspend 2 Maelstrom Pulses. That’s not bad, but you have to be ahead! Swinging the tempo back in your favor is the most important play in Cube, and this doesn’t do that.
I love this card. It lets you play anything you want, and building crazy mana bases and casting Sprouting Thrinax into Jace into Wrath is a joy you can really only experience in Cube.
That being said, I’m not including the Lantern. While it is strong enough by any measure, I had to make a design consideration. Basalt Monolith, Pristine Talisman, and Coalition Relic make up the 3-drop mana rock section of my rather small Cube. I don’t want four, and none of them are effects I’m willing to part with.
Verdict: If you like it and have the space, go for it!
If you have a question about an evaluation or anything I left out, feel free to inquire in the comments, or @andycuberfauss. Remember, Cube is an ever-changing format, and what I deem unplayable today may be a staple next year.