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Cube Design – Dragon’s Maze Review

It’s set review season! Cube set reviews have historically been a little problematic, as the Cube format means many different things to different cube designers. I, however, run just a single cube. It’s an extremely fast, 360-card, mostly-singleton cube. Intentionally or not, my card evaluations are informed by this context. I won’t try to guess whether a card belongs in a 720-card cube. Or, as a friend recently put it, “I’d rather have a horse kick dirt in my face than read another rating that tells me [card]Boros Elite[/card] is a ‘630 staple.’”

That said, to keep things interesting and digestible, I will provide verdicts for each of the cards I discuss. Consider these to be evaluations for Cubes with a power level similar to my own cube’s.

[card]Ral Zarek[/card] [draft]ral zarek[/draft] [card]Ral Zarek[/card]’s casting cost and combination of abilities draw immediate comparison to Shards of Alara‘s [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]. I can’t help but feel that his design was intended as a “fixed” version of Ajani’s. In fact, that seems to be a recurring theme in Dragon’s Maze. What if we fixed [card]Mana Drain[/card]? While we’re at it, let’s print a fixed [card]Glimpse of Nature[/card], [card]Morphling[/card], [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card], and a hellbent [card]Dark Confidant[/card] for good measure. Part of my disappointment with this set is the fact that many of the designs simply fail to capture my imagination. For comparison, the entire Innistrad block has been on the shelves for a year now, and looking back I am overwhelmed by the volume of cards that really inspire me as both a player and a designer.

Back to Ajani and Ral. Ajani was printed during an era when Wizards was still trying to find its feet with planeswalker design. Like his set-mate [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card], some of these planeswalkers could really just be jammed into any deck and take over the game. [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] is so powerful that I rarely if ever pass him on to the next drafter. Once while drafting a UG Upheaval deck, I picked up a late [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] and proceeded to double splash for him, and in retrospect still stand behind the decision.

[card]Ral Zarek[/card] doesn’t bring that same level of raw power to the table. He doesn’t gain life for control decks, or tap down a land turn after turn in aggro decks. As a total package, Ral feels like a more appropriate amount of value for the price of entry.

I generally don’t find it productive to spend so much time comparing a card to another in different colors. However, in Cube design, all planeswalkers are in direct competition with one another. I am very conscious not to inflate my planeswalker density, and currently sit at 14 planeswalkers out of 360 cards. Further, my planeswalkers tend to skew towards the context-dependent, and not all of them see play each draft. Cards like [card]Chandra, the Firebrand[/card], [card]Karn Liberated[/card], [card]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/card], [card]Venser, the Sojourner[/card], and [card]Sarkhan Vol[/card] don’t always find a home. They require a certain kind of deck to be worth playing.

Not every card has to be context-sensitive, and cards like Ajani and Ral Zarek have their place in a Cube environment. The question comes down to what the needs of my set are. Currently Boros is a very commonly played color pairing, due to the overlap in their attacking philosophies and the extremely high quality of the Boros multicolor cards. Izzet, by contrast, sees comparatively little play. Part of the reason is that cards like [card]Electrolyze[/card] and [card]Fire // Ice[/card] don’t draw you into the color pairing the way [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] does.

My personal design goals in this regard are to give players more incentive to play Izzet while maintaining my planeswalker saturation. To make room in my Izzet section, I need to cut either [card]Electrolyze[/card] or [card]Fire // Ice[/card], and I don’t think the decision really matters much. The two cards are very similar, and I could see arguments going either way. As for my changes, I’ll be making the following switches:

In:
[card]Ral Zarek[/card] [card]Boros Reckoner[/card]

Out:
[card]Fire // Ice[/card] [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]

Verdict: Run it and love it, but watch your planeswalker density.

[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] [draft]voice of resurgence[/draft] [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] harkens back to the old days of “wall of text” card design, and is certainly one of the more interesting countermagic hosers Wizards has printed. This card creates a nice game play dynamic, as the control deck may want to aim spot removal at [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] to get their countermagic back online. Moreover, how often will it be correct to give your opponent a free token in order to counter some high-impact bomb like [card]Armageddon[/card]?

[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] is a minor insurance policy against the random blowouts that can occur due to opponents blowing up equipment at instant speed or flashing in a blocker like [card]Restoration Angel[/card] or [card]Wolfir Avenger[/card]. In most matchups, however, [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]’s value hinges upon how large of a token you actually get when Voice hits the bin. At worst, we have a mana-intensive [card]Safehold Elite[/card]. On the other end of the spectrum, getting a 3/3 creature token feels like a reasonable high-end for most games. Getting a 3/3 is roughly analogous to undying. Look at [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] as a comparison.

All told, considering the bar for gold cards, [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] feels pretty borderline for a three-card multicolor section. I have [card]Dryad Militant[/card] and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] jammed into mono-color slots, and [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] and [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] are locks in my current layout. This puts [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] up against the likes of [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card], [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card], and [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]. [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] may look like a strange inclusion, but I’ve found my biggest worry when playing Selesnya was keeping my opponents’ planeswalkers and board wipes from hitting the table.

Verdict: Try it. I’m running [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] as my third Selesnya card for now.

[card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] [draft]advent of the wurm[/draft]

I really like [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card]. Green/white decks are often short on removal, and a beefy body at instant speed will often eat an opposing attacker in the right deck. [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] likely benefits from environments with a high degree of fixing, as passing with four-mana open will look less suspect in, say, a Bant deck. Neither [card]Yeva, Nature’s Herald[/card] nor [card]Deadbridge Goliath[/card] fit my current set’s needs or power requirements, so a card with similar stats in a gold section is unlikely to fit the bill.

Verdict: Pass. Even if [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] didn’t fit my current [card]Birthing Pod[/card] archetype so well, I suspect I would run [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] before [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card]. A solid option if you’re looking for an interactive Selesnya card, though.

Far // Away

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuse is a great and intuitive mechanic, and one that looks like it’ll be a blast to play with. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that any fit the stringent power requirement of a 360 Cube. The edict half of Far // Away is pretty unappetizing. Aggro decks are in need of cheap removal in order to remove blockers without sacrificing too much velocity. Control decks, on the other hand, are looking for edicts like [card]Innocent Blood[/card] in order to minimize damage.

From another angle, Far // Away can be seen as yet another two-mana bounce spell with an upside. There we find [card]Into the Roil[/card] and [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card], with most small Cubes only finding room for one of the two.

Verdict: Pass. I don’t think any of my Cube decks would play this card.

Turn // Burn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Far // Away, Turn // Burn is far too slow for my Cube’s pace. If I was in the market for a potential 2-for-1 removal spell, I’d turn to [card]Agony Warp[/card] or a second [card]Arc Trail[/card].

Verdict: Pass.

[card]Blood Scrivener[/card] [draft]blood scrivener[/draft]

Ever since this card was spoiled, I’ve been trying to pay attention to how often my environment’s aggressive decks are naturally playing empty-handed. Hellbent doesn’t exist in my Cube, and with cards like this you’re mostly looking to see whether it fits into a preexisting archetype. A single card that rewards me for an empty hand isn’t enough to make me alter my deckbuilding.

There seem to be two types of decks that may want this effect. The first are the hyper-aggressive decks known for emptying their hand quickly. The main question you have to ask is whether the game is over by the time these decks empty their hand. I suspect the hyper-aggressive decks would just prefer a 2-drop that applies more pressure than a [card]Goblin Piker[/card].

[card]Blood Scrivener[/card] fits more naturally into the [card]Pox[/card] and [card]Smallpox[/card] decks that are gaining traction in the Cube community. Smallpox decks create low-resource games through symmetric resource-denial effects like [card]Wasteland[/card], [card]Smallpox[/card], [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and in the case of my Cube, [card]Rotting Rats[/card]. [card]Blood Scrivener[/card] adds to the number of ways these decks can break the symmetry.

Lastly, he’s a Zombie, which is one of the only relevant creature types in Cube. My own Cube runs 4 [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s, which ups [card]Blood Scrivener[/card]’s stock considerably.

Verdict: I think everyone should at least test [card]Blood Scrivener[/card]. You may be surprised, whatever your expectations.

[card]Scion of Vitu-Ghazi[/card] [draft]scion of vitu-ghazi[/draft]

I like the design of this card a lot more than [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card]’s. Populate is a fun mechanic, and it always feels very satisfying to populate a random Beast or Angel token. Scion gives you better value than [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card] after any sort of removal spell, on a token or otherwise. My personal preference when faced with two similar cards is to run the new one for a while, if only for a change of pace.

Divine Verdict: If you’re still running [card]Cloudgoat Ranger[/card], give the shepherd a much needed reprieve.

[card]Pyrewild Shaman[/card] [draft]pyrewild shaman[/draft] [card]Pyrewild Shaman[/card] is painfully slow. Five mana to reuse a pump effect is not where any attacking deck wants to be. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and run [card]Reckless Charge[/card] instead.

Puppet’s Verdict: Nope.

[card]Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch[/card] [draft]exava, rakdos blood witch[/draft]

Exava is certifiably insane, but it’s a testament to power creep that she’s not making the cut in my Cube. [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] is a more powerful and more synergistic alternative. That said, I do think a card like this should make people start to reconsider their views on color classification. Rakdos is loaded with high-caliber hybrid spells, and letting [card]Murderous Redcap[/card] or [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] keep a card like Exava out of your list feels a little counterproductive.

The rationale for limiting the number of multicolor cards should be based on concerns for your sets structure. There’s no right or wrong answer, but broadly speaking, gold spells are harder to cast than mono-color spells, and hybrid spells are easier. They have completely opposite effects on your environment.

Gerrard’s Verdict: Exava is super powerful. If your Rakdos decks need a boost, shove some hybrids around until you find room.

[card]Renegade Krasis[/card] [draft]renegade krasis[/draft]

Green is notoriously weak on three-drops, and [card]Renegade Krasis[/card] likely deserves some consideration. There are a number of cute synergies to provide bonus value:

[draft]Ajani Goldmane
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Rakdos Cackler
Stromkirk Noble
Gore-House Chainwalker
Stormblood Berserker
Experiment One
Scavenging Ooze
Strangleroot Geist
Vorapede
Lotleth Troll
Carrion Feeder
Undying Evil
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed[/draft]

Terashi’s Verdict: Play it if you’re running light at the green 3-drop slot.

[card]Sire of Insanity[/card] [draft]sire of insanity[/draft]

In a fast Cube, it’s hard to justify running a six-drop if you’re not a control deck, and control decks would have to be insane to desire this sort of effect.

Geth’s Verdict: Pass.

[card]Aetherling[/card] [draft]aetherling[/draft]

I am not at all excited for [card]Aetherling[/card]. I know the throwback to [card]Morphling[/card] holds a lot of nostalgic value for some players, but as a relative newcomer to the game [card]Aetherling[/card] isn’t exactly pulling on my heartstrings. By modern design standards, Aetherling isn’t all that appealing.

For one, his stats are abysmal. In this day and age they’re handing out 4/4s for three mana and 6/6s for four mana—a 4/5 for six mana isn’t turning any heads.

But, you say, those guys don’t have the self-blinking protection ability that [card]Aetherling[/card] has. Well, neither does [card]Aetherling[/card]. At least, not out of the box. Unless you’re casting [card]Aetherling[/card] with a mana open. That puts him up against the seven-drops, and the comparison is even more unforgiving there. At seven mana we’re looking at the likes of [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] and [card]Karn Liberated[/card]. Even the seven-drops I’m not running put [card]Aetherling[/card] to shame. Hold [card]Aetherling[/card] up next to [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card] or [card]Sheoldred, Whispering One[/card] and tell me you’re feeling great about [card]Aetherling[/card].

Sure, once [card]Aetherling[/card] gets online he’s potentially an 8/1 vigilance unblockable killer, but before you win the game you must first not lose the game. [card]Aetherling[/card] simply doesn’t play great defense. The first sign of trouble and he’s out of commission for the remainder of the turn. [card]Doom Blade[/card] might not kill him, but losing a defender may well kill you instead.

[card]Aetherling[/card]’s a bit of a disappointment. I want to like him. I’d love to have more powerful finishers that aren’t as mindless as [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] and [card]Grave Titan[/card].

Supreme Verdict: Pass, regrettably.

As always, first impressions can be quite off the mark. Even the great LSV famously gave both [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] and [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] 2.0 out of 5 in his set reviews! Think I botched my evaluations? Sound off in the comments and help to rectify my foolishness immediately!

Jason’s Cube Discussion Group – www.riptidelab.com

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