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New Cube, New Phyrexia

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It’s that time of year! There isn’t much to do but sift through this huge dump of information to find those precious gems that are brilliant enough to make it into the Crown Jewels of Magic known as the Cube.

Phyrexian mana adds an interesting challenge to card evaluation, and I think all cards with it need to have special consideration. Aggressive cards like it more than control cards (as life isn’t as valuable a resource in the archetype), but anything that can be cast for little to no mana warrants a closer look.

I’m not going to rate every card out of the set; that would take way too much of all of our lives. I’m just going to comment on ones that I think will have an impact, other people think will have an impact, or that I want to make fun of. I will rate the cards on a scale of 1-5, with the following basic meanings:

1- Not good enough for any reasonable-sized non-specialty Cube.
2- Good enough in the largest of cubes (720+)
3- Good enough in the medium cubes (450+)
4- Good enough in the smallest of cubes (360)
5- First pick quality in any cube

Note: I reserve the right to change my opinions at any time! These are ‘testing in my head’ predictions, and I am never too proud to admit that I missed on a card evaluation or missed a card entirely. I’ll eagerly update you on any new findings in future articles.

As an aside, I don’t really like testing cards in the Cube before I actually have the cards in hand. I take a lot of pride in being able to obtain cards for my Cube, so I don’t want to print proxies and ‘taint’ my Cube with inkjet artwork. I’ll gladly listen to everyone else’s testing results with proxies, however.

So let's get started!

Karn Liberated

A colorless planeswalker! Sure to be loved by any deck capable of generating seven mana, Karn at his worst is a double Vindicatecapable of taking out the most protected of creatures (nice Sword of Fire and Ice on Stillmoon Cavalier…see ya!). At his best, his ultimate is a game-winning play much like Jace, the Mind Sculptor; it doesn’t say ‘you win the game’, but that’s exactly what is gonna happen 99% of the time. His most likely line of play? Alternating Vindicates and removing cards from hands depending on board state, while the rest of your cards mop up the game.

Rating: A solid 4, because of his high cost.

Blade Splicer

At four power for three mana, Blade Splicer is ahead of the curve; throw in first strike, and the deal is even sweeter. That said, this card doesn’t exactly get my blood flowing as something I feel the need to include. The 3-drop spot in white isn’t exactly devoid of talent; Mirran Crusader, Spectral Procession, Paladin en-Vec, and even cards like Mirror Entity and Mystic Crusader perform pretty well in most cubes.

I feel like your 1/1 won’t be attacking very much, so the whole four-power thing is a little bit of a misnomer even though first strike is very nice (if disrupt-able). Any other Golem tribal interactions likely begin and end with Precursor Golem, Lodestone Golem, and Mirror Entity, so there isn’t much value there. Conclusion: solid, but not spectacular by any means. Nice interactions with the blink deck, however.

Rating: 2, with a chance to be a 3.

Dispatch

A powerful effect, IF you have metalcraft. Leave this card for the Myr Servitor Cube.

Rating: 1

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Elesh has a super-powerful static ability, but with a really high mana cost. A 4/7 body isn’t all that great for all that mana, but this card will obviously stop most aggressive decks cold. The question is, will you live that long? If you are tired of Crovax, Ascendant Hero but like the effect, then Elesh is your…man? If you play multiplayer a lot with your Cube, then Elesh is your…bro? If you have a dragon/haymaker (aka slow) Cube, then Elesh is your…oh never mind, just play it. If you didn’t fit one of those criteria, then leave Elesh on the bench.

Rating: 2, with increased value for slower/multiplayer Cubes.

Exclusion Ritual

Six mana Maelstrom Pulse! Put it in a binder with Surgical Extraction, Meddling Mage, Cranial Extraction, Memoricide, and Lobotomy.

Rating: 1, unless you use the 4-of rule with cards like Squadron Hawk and Nissa Revane. If you do, then 1.01.

Inquisitor Exarch

2/2’s for two mana are fine, but here in the Cube we expect a lot out of our Grizzly Bears. While Exarch is neato mosquito with ‘blink’ strategies (think Venser, the Sojourner, and Momentary Blink), it has a LONG list of creatures ahead of him on the WW totem pole (Soltari Priest, Soltari Monk, Knight of the White Orchid, Knight of Meadowgrain, Eight-and-a-Half Tails…you get the point).

Rating: 1, moving to a 2 if you like White Weenie or blinking.

Norn's Annex

Good in an aggressive mirror, but I can’t see a lot of other reasons to play it. I also actively dislike cards that make aggro decks less viable in Cube (Moat, Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, et al). Might have some multiplayer value.

Rating: 1, higher if you hate decks that attack.

Phyrexian Unlife

If you are at one life, this card reads: 2W, gain 10 life. If your opponent has seven power in play and you are at one with no blockers, this card reads: 2W, gain 17 life. See what I’m saying? I still don’t think it is good enough, but like a lot of other cards in this set, it sure is interesting.

Rating: 1

Porcelain Legionnaire

As a 3-drop, Porcelain Legionnaire is fair. As a 2-drop, however, look out. This is exactly the kind of card aggressive decks want, and this particular one can fit into any color. When you are aggressive, the two life loss is almost a non-factor especially when your investment has a first strike that will kill most creatures that cost less than four. This card is the real deal.

Rating: A 4, with no reservations.

Puresteel Paladin

See Inquisitor Exarch, above.

Rating: 1, unless your Stoneforge Mystic REALLY needs a friend.

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

Ten mana? TEN MANA? Sure, you draw seven and your opponent can’t have cards longer than a turn. Who cares, it costs ten freaking mana and doesn’t win you the game. Unless I’m mistaken, it seems like a few blockers will actually cost you the game as you draw yourself out with the end step trigger. All bets are off if you can reanimate this on early turns.

Rating: 1, unless you are playing lots of multiplayer or dragon/haymaker. Save this for Commander, the land of Reliquary Tower and Library of Leng. Include it if you are a master, and you just reanimate this on turn 2-4 all the time.

Mental Misstep

No thanks. But I’ll gladly take any foils you open for this Legacy monkey wrench. Don’t get me started.

Rating: 1

Phyrexian Metamorph

The best Clone variant printed for Cube, to date. At four mana, Clone + Sculpting Steel is worthy of consideration, but like other Phyrexian mana cards, the reduced mana cost and colorless nature pushes it over the top. A great choice for a promo foil, as well, as all sorts of Cubes and Commander decks will want this.

Rating: 4

Psychic Barrier

Remove Soul and Essence Scatter aren’t good enough, and neither is this. But I bet it looks awesome in foil! [Editor's Note: It does!]

Rating: 1

Spined Thopter

Without paying life, this card is a 1. At two colorless mana, this card becomes a lot more interesting. Not interesting enough for me, but I don’t like the [card Stormfront Pegasus]pegasi[/card] [card Mistral Charger]brothers[/card] very much either. Sue me. [Editor's Note: I'm having my attorney call you.]

Rating: 2

Tezzeret's Gambit

I think this is a good example of a card losing some value by being a more of a control card with a Phyrexian mana cost that would make it worthy of consideration. Blue doesn’t want this card, and aggressive decks want to be doing other things for three mana. Proliferate isn’t a very stellar Cube mechanic either.

Rating: 1

Despise

An interesting Duress variant, as creatures and planeswalkers are pretty important commodities in Cube. It’s a bit narrower than Duress, and only slightly better than Ostracize in Cube (which isn’t good enough), but the extra cards it hits are important ones. For now, it stays out, but I feel like some further testing might be warranted. This is also an option if you find that Planeswalkers need a touch more hate, and is something that Inquisition of Kozilek - which I would include before Despise - cannot touch (unless your initials are J.B.).

Rating: 2

Dismember

It would be hard not to compare this to Snuff Out, which is a fine Cube card. For 1 extra mana, we get the ability to hit black creatures but can’t kill some fatties outright. We also gain the ability to be a bit more flexible in our mana cost, as this card seems fine at two mana plus two life as a cost. Also, it is a good replacement for Sudden Death if you don’t care about the split second (I do, so I'll find another way to include it).

Rating: 3, but with room to move up or down.

Geth's Verdict

Diabolic Edict is awesome. Chainer's Edict is very good. Cruel Edict isn’t good enough. Where does Geth's Verdict fit in? The instant speed is the allure here, but the BB mana cost could limit the amount of decks in which it sees play. The one life loss is too small of a bonus to be taken too deeply into consideration, I think.

Rating: I feel like this is somewhere between a 2 and 3: solid, but I’m not in a rush to include it.

Phyrexian Obliterator

It’s everything Phyrexian Negator wanted to be when he grows up. The problem? Negator only had one black mana in his cost, whereas big brother has FOUR. BBBB is pretty rough, but the big question is: when are you going to be able to cast it? Turn four (or before) and this card is N-V-T-S nuts. On turn five or six, this card will be a nice curve topper for a primarily black aggressive or midrange strategy. The real problem? Never drawing the fourth black source. That is a very realistic scenario for any two color deck, which makes this card unplayable in anything resembling a three+ color deck. For me, that risk is too large.

Rating: 2 for me, but if you are pushing/want to reward mono-black as an archetype, then it is a 3 or higher.

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Another in a plethora of very expensive, very powerful, very slow cards that are better in multiplayer than 1v1 play, Sheoldred generates a lot of card advantage within even a single turn cycle. The 6/6 sometimes-evasive body is OK for seven mana, and unlike Jin-Gitaxias (TEN MANA?!?) you will likely live long enough to cast it. If you’re looking for another finisher in black, you could do worse…I just wish he had an enters/leaves the battlefield effect.

Rating: 3

Gut Shot

If this card isn’t good enough at least ten out of eleven times you draw it, you can’t Cube with it. I’m betting it is more like eleven out of eleven.

Rating: 1

Moltensteel Dragon

HERE is an interesting card that I initially overlooked. I think this card is very good and would be welcome in just about any aggressive deck, but functions best as a red finisher (duh). With Phyrebreathing™, this card is extremely dangerous in any deck, and WILL change how your opponents play. They just cannot tap out for a non-flier without doing a lot of math, because you can just Hatredthem out at any point. On turn five in mono-red, this card is capable of doing upwards of 10 damage (16 max without ramp, a 16 life total, and a fifth land). That’s a lot, and even if you never pump (you will) you are still getting a 4/4 flier for four mana and some life. And he's a Draaaaaaaagon!

Rating: I’m calling Moltensteel a 4, and time will tell if it could be a 5. Be glad he is foil in a preconstructed deck!

Urabrask the Hidden

A reasonably costed Preator! A 4/4 haste for five mana isn’t that spectacular, and the haste ability loses some value because most aggressive red decks will already have most of their creatures in play already by the time you untap after Urabrask. The creature Kismet is nice, but once again it seems to be too little too late for most red decks. There are a lot of 5-drops better than this guy.

Rating: 2, with a bump for multiplayer/haymaker cubes.

Beast Within

At first glance, I thought Beast Within was a staple. It is an instant speed Vindicate that is splashable and in a color that traditionally doesn’t get to destroy creatures? Yes, please! Then I started to think more about it. How many worthy targets does it really have? How highly will it be picked? How bad is the 3/3 drawback?

How many targets are OK with the drawback? Well, we certainly aren’t turning any 3/3s or less without sick abilities into a 3/3. We also aren’t hitting any basic lands under normal circumstances. We aren’t using it as a removal spell for non-flying blockers very often either, since it still leaves a sizable body behind to block. I’m likely never casting it on turn 3, either.

So the card seems like something we want to use on problem cards mainly: cards that will cost us the game if they stick around. What are those cards (and do we really want a card we are only using to react to bombs)? Umezawa's Jitte, Skullclamp, most if not all Sword of X and Y, high loyalty planeswalkers (like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker or Gideon Jura), problem creatures (Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Grave Titan, Meloku, the Clouded Mirror), and problem lands like Maze of Ith seem to be good targets; I’m just not convinced that it is enough. I also try to keep the number of purely reactive cards in the Cube pretty low, so…

Rating: 2 for right now, but this could change a lot after testing.

Brutalizer Exarch

A definite upgrade to Mold Shambler, but I don’t cube with that card either.

Rating: 2, for flexibility.

Mutagenic Growth

Free spells need to be examined when they have a real effect, and +2/+2 qualifies. Mutagenic Growth is likely 3rd or 4th on the list of pump spells, after cards like Vines of Vastwood, Giant Growth, Berserkbut likely better than cards like Stonewood Invocation and Briarhorn (saving four mana for a trick is SO much).

Rating: 2, possibly a 3.

Noxious Revival

Regrowth is awesome. Nature's Spiral wasn’t good enough. Noxious Revival is instant and possibly free, but you are losing a card on the deal. That said, I think this card is soild. There are lots of tricks to be played with it:

Cast Reanimate on Kokusho, the Evening Star? I'm sorry, that card isn't there.
Cast Makeshift Mannequin to get a blocker? I'm sorry, what blocker?
Topdeck an answer for Baneslayer Angel? Actually, how about a nice Jungle Lion?

Did I mention it was fast and free? Kinda like your *insert important person*.

Rating: I’m going to call this one a 3 until I get some testing time in. I feel like it is a nice spell, though, and likely worthy of inclusion.

Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger

A fatty with a body smaller than its mana cost, an ability that does nothing impressive if you don’t get to untap with it, and only has pseudo-evasion. Also, if you have eight mana available, do you really need sixteen next turn? Save this for Commander/multiplayer games.

Rating: 1

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer

Fine card, with good converted mana cost to power ratio but only worth it if you can guarantee metalcraft on a regular basis. Jor probably ranks somewhere around tenth place of W/R cards, which isn’t close to good enough in most cubes.

Rating: 1

Batterskull

This card is siiiick. 4/4 vigilance lifelink for five colorless is pretty cool, but when you add the fact that it can be equipped to make your own Baneslayer Angel (albeit for a steep cost) AND be returned to your hand in order to make more germ tokens (really neat with Stoneforge Mystic, by the way), you have a card that is pretty awesome for cubes of any size. Cut Sword of Vengeance if you haven't yet for it. Or maybe even Basilisk Collar (unless some call you...Tim?).

Rating: 4

Hex Parasite

Having answers to Planeswalkers is always good, and unlike Vampire Hexmage (apparently 'hex' now means removing counters, in case you didn't realize), this card gets a benefit from removing counters and can do it multiple times. Question is, is it worth it? How many targets do we really get, both in total and ones that are effectively answered by Hex Parasite?

Good Targets: Planeswalkers, Lorescale Coatl, Skinrender (if target doesn’t die), Kitchen Finks, Glen Elendra Archmage, Murderous Redcap, Student of Warfare, Kargan Dragonlord, Joraga Treespeaker, Parallax Wave, Smokestack, Tangle Wire, Countryside Crusher, Greater Gargadon, Aether Vial

Not-so-good Targets: Triskelion, Umezawa's Jitte, Engineered Explosives, Etched Oracle

So while the first list contains some powerful cards, they only number about 30 or so: that is less than 10% of the smallest cubes, and only goes down from there. While you may be picking up more cards with which it can interact favorably in larger cubes, the increased number of total cards will likely reduce that percentage even more. I don’t think these types of percentages are high enough to include the little bugger, as a 1/1 for 1 just isn’t that impressive on its own.

Rating: 2, but only because of the power against Planeswalkers (even though high loyalty PWs will still be a pain).

Lashwrithe

If you support mono-black as an archetype, go for it. Otherwise, this card just isn’t that impressive as a 3/3 of 4/4 living weapon for four mana, even if it does have a Phyrexian mana equip cost.

Rating: 1, but a 2 or 3 if you support mono-black heavily.

Myr Superion

T1 Joraga Treespeaker, t2 level up, Myr Superion anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Rating: 1

Spellskite

This might be the most interesting card to me of the set- not because of the power level, but because of the possibilities this card has when it comes to being a GIANT pain. The size/cost ratio is right on par with other cube-worthy walls (0/4 for 2), and the flagbearer-type effect is pretty annoying. For those of you who played in Apocalypse limited, you might remember how annoying it was to play vs. Coalition Honor Guard.

The 4 toughness was a giant pain, and I don’t see that changing much for Cube. This card is usable by any color, even though it really shines in blue…oddly enough, a control color that would probably like a 0/4 for two mana! Even though it cannot interact with equipment (I assume it is not a legal target), it does screw with almost every removal spell, almost every aura, and lots of abilities (Grim Lavamancer, e.g.). As a side benefit, it also holds equipment/auras and can attack as well since it does not have defender. And I bet it looks cool in foil.

Rating: I’m calling Spellskite a 3, with a note to test it as soon as possible.

Sword of War and Peace

Yikes. Possibly the second-best sword after Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of War and Peace has an incredible ceiling of power. By itself, it can generate huge life swings even with reasonable hand sizes (6 total cards between players generates an eight life swing by itself- two for the sword, six for the trigger) and it goes up from there. While not as spectacular as the other swords in topdeck wars (read: still good), the other thing it does is help to put control decks under more pressure while simultaneously putting control decks PLAYING the card a similar advantage…neato! In reality, this card is pretty freaking good no matter what deck is playing it.

Rating: 5, for sure.

That’s it! In general, there seem to be a lot of big mana cards that might see play in Commander or other multiplayer formats. The set has a few big auto-includes (Karn, Sword, Dragon, Legionnaire, Metamorph) and some nice possible role-players as well. More than any other recent set, I feel as though there are a lot of ‘test me’ cards that need some quality time before we know how good they really are. Playtesting is usually repetitive at best, but you don't have to twist my arm to Cube again!

May all your squares be three dimensional!

-Anthony Avitollo
@Antknee42 on Twitter
Co-host of The Third Power Cube podcast

6 thoughts on “New Cube, New Phyrexia

  1. First off I like the rating system*. Overall this was my favorite cube set review, good work. I do of course have some nits to pick so…

    *The big issue with it is the fact that some borderline cards are better at 360 than at 720. Hex Parasite and Dispise are two great examples from this article.

    RE:Urabrask – "There are a lot of 5-drops better than this guy."
    How many are in red?

    RE: Noxious Revival – Isn't Reclaim a better "similar but not good enough for cube" card than Nature’s Spiral?

    RE: Batterskull – I wouldn't really consider Basilisk Collar as a good cut for this. First off I think Collar is pretty bad and should have been cut a while ago. More importantly while they're both equipment that have lifelink they are very different cards at very different mana costs. I'd be looking to cut a 4-6 mana artifact though cutting a 3 cost equipment if you still have something like Sword of Vengeance is fine. Bonehoard is also another good cut if you're running that in a smaller cube.

  2. Tim- While that may be true that some cards are better in smaller cubes, I don't think that Hex Parasite qualifies (or Despise, but there would be double PW density…just not sure how relevant that is), because it is still mana-intensive and still a 1/1 for 1 that could be blank. With less slots available in a 360 than a 720 (half, heh), I'm not convinced that the increased quality is enough to overcome the decreased room.

    Cubable 5-drops: Siege-Gang Commander, Ancient Hydra, Kumano Master Yamabushi (run all three of those), Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Arc-Slogger (used to run it), Caldera Helion (lots of people like this one), Gathan Raiders (used to run it), Jiwari, the Earth Aflame…I'm sure there are more, but those are all 5-drops in red that are used/have been used by myself/other people. I think SGC, AH, Kumano, Kiki-Jiki, and Caldera Helion are all better.

    Revival- I never ran Reclaim but I tried Nature's Spiral, which I think is better than Reclaim because you don't lose a card or brick your draw phase.

    Batterskull- There is only so much room for equipment, and in general people like to take out similar card types for others of the same type. Sword of Vengeance is MUCH more awkward in practice than theory, and qualifies as 'expensive' equipment, hence the comparison. Collar was mentioned because of the lifelink, like you said, and you already have Loxodon Warhammer. For all these reasons: type similarity, lifelink-having, already having an equip w/lifelink…that is why I suggested it as a cut.

    Honestly, you can cut whatever you want for the most part, but you should be including Batterskull. And I'm not cutting Bonehoard for it, either. That card is too nice, and better than both Collar and SoV.

    Thanks for the comments!

    -AA

  3. I still stand by saying Despise and Hex Parasite are "stronger" in 360. I'm not saying they should be run in 360 but Hex Parasite is a card I'd be much happier picking in a 360 draft than in a 720 draft. It's the same as something like the Tezzerets or even Life from the Loam (sac land density).

    As far as red 5s I guess we just disagree. SCG is the only on that list I still run (have run all the others in the past) and think it is the only card better than the hasty 4/4.

  4. So wait…if those cards are 'stronger' in 360 but still aren't good enough to be run, then what is the point of mentioning it in the first place? If they aren't good enough for 360, then they aren't good enough for 360 amirite? And if the quality of the card is worse at 540 or 720 than at 360, then it stands to reason that a 2 seems to be about right (at the moment). I know you said you were nitpicking, but I feel like we just ran in place for no reason.

    And yup, just disagree on the red 5s. If red had a more mid-range strategy, then Urabrask would be pretty darn good, but it doesn't (in my cube) so it isn't. 🙂

    -AA

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