Scheming the Cube: M12 Cube Review

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Another year, another Core Set. As Cube builders we are fortunate to have yearly Core Sets that feature new cards, as well as give us some opportunities to pick up reprinted cards if you missed them the first time around, particularly in foil. Since the sets are less than 50% new cards, we also don’t have a ton of cards to evaluate–a nice departure from the other sets of the year in my opinion.

As I did with my New Phyrexia review, I’m not going to rate every card out of the set. I’m just going to comment on ones that I think will have an impact, other people think will have an impact, or I want to make fun of. The cards will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with the following convention:

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-sized Cubes (450-540+)
4–Good enough in the smallest of Cubes (360)
5–First pick quality in any Cube

As with any 'evergreen' format, all card evaluations need to be done relative to every other card printed. While some cards may be powerful in a vacuum, they may suck in Cube next to other older cards.

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 was wrong on a card evaluation, or missed a card entirely. I’ll eagerly update you on any new findings in future articles.

Off we go!


Aegis Angel

A 5/5 with flying for six mana is about right, but the effect just isn’t what I’m looking for in this type of card. When your competition is Sun Titan, Yosei, the Morning Star, and Akroma, Angel of Wrath, you better follow the immortal words of Floyd Mayweather.

Rating: 1, but pretty cool if you have an Angel tribal theme

Alabaster Mage

The power to converted mana cost (CMC) is right, but the ability is unexciting compared to the other Mages. No thanks!

Rating: 1

Angelic Destiny

A powerful, flavorful aura that can swing a game by itself, Angelic Destiny harkens back to Rancor insofar that you don’t always get two-for-one'd when it is in play.

The problems? It costs four mana, which is a ton for an aura. It's competing with cards such as Calciderm, Hero of Bladehold, and Hokori, Dust Drinker for a slot. It doesn’t have the same resiliency as Rancor because your creature has to actually die in game mechanic; getting exiled (Path to Exile), bounced (Capsize), or put back into the deck (Chaos Warp) means you will get two-for-one'd.

This is a powerful effect, but I'm going to pass on it.

Rating: 2, but once again awesome for that Angel tribe!

Armored Warhorse

Elvish Warrior for white! There is way too much competition at CMC 2 in white, let alone at WW.

Rating: 1, but much higher in Pauper/Peasant Cubes I imagine. [Editor's Note: Oh how quick we forget Veteran Armorsmith.]

Gideon's Avenger

This has very cool flavor (in conjunction with Gideon Jura's abilites), but just isn't good enough against non-aggressive decks to make the cut. While it's certainly neat with Icy Manipulator, Scepter of Dominance, or Opposition, corner case interactions do not a Cube card make.

Rating: 1

Gideon's Lawkeeper

What’s better than one Goldmeadow Harrier? Two of course, if you like that sort of thing. Personally, I want my 1-drops in white to be more powerful than just a tapper. Super neato in Peasant/Pauper Cubes, I bet. [Editor's Note: Yep.]

Rating: 2, but much higher if you don’t use rares.

Grand Abolisher

This guy is an example of the level of power I expect from double color requiring creatures in the Cube. A powerful effect attached to a reasonable power to CMC ratio, this guy is very close to being good enough in most Cubes.

My problems? He doesn’t fight very well in combat, the competition is really stiff at CMC 2 in white, and there are fewer combat tricks in Cubes compared to other formats (any sort of removal/destruction spell will just be used before he resolves). That said he is pretty cool, and allows you to just about have an uninterrupted turn (unless they have a counterspell).

Rating: 2, but I’d like to test him to see how much of an effect he has. Awesome for combo-oriented Cubes.

Timely Reinforcements

Reminiscent of Feudkiller's Verdict, Timely Reinforcements allows a control deck to possibly gain some life and get some creature support. I just don’t think that 6 life and three 1/1's are worth a sorcery-speed card with conditional effects. If this card were an instant I think it would be pretty awesome, however.

Rating: 1


Azure Mage

Better than Alabaster Mage, and gives blue a power-to-CMC 2-drop with a relevant ability. However, Dimir Guildmage just wasn’t that impressive in his time in the Cube, and while he was ostensibly harder to cast he also had an extra ability (and point of toughness). Another pass from me.

Rating: 2, unless you are pushing blue aggressive strategies.

Jace, Memory Adept

Finally, an auto-include! Big shocker, with it being named ‘Jace’ and all. While the ultimate ability is useless in Cube, the other two abilities are both very good.

The first +1 activation takes you to five loyalty and says the magic words blue players love: Draw a card. The second ability is a straight-up three turn clock that is absolutely insane against control and midrange decks. Just two activations out of a control deck playing this card will likely be enough, too.

While most planeswalkers offer a game-winning effect at ultimate, this one does it without a minus.

Rating: 4.5, because he can’t have as high a rating as the best [card Jace, the Mind Sculptor]Jace[/card], can he?

Jace's Archivist

Why would blue decks want this, again? I feel as though this card is only good when you are losing to another control deck. No thanks.

Rating: 1

Lord of the Unreal

This is only good if you are jamming a bunch of illusion cards into your Cube. This set does come with a few extra options, but not enough.  However, he does turn your average Meloku the Clouded Mirror into a Spanish Meloku the Clouded Mirror!*

Rating: 1, unless you are forcing an illusion strategy.

Master Thief

A Sower of Temptation of sort for artifacts, Master Thief doesn’t come with the evasion that makes Sower a decent attacker. Oh, and he doesn’t take creatures. No thanks.

Rating: 1, but a 4-5 if you have an artifact Cube!

Mind Unbound

For six mana, you get a reliable card draw engine that is the most difficult permanent type to remove in most Cubes. What you also get, however, is nothing for your six mana investment on the first turn. Let’s take a look at how this breaks down:

One turn in play: nothing but a do-nothing permanent (six mana Darksteel Relic?)
Two turns in play: one card total (or, six mana Obsessive Search)
Three turns in play: three cards total (or, six mana Concentrate)
Four turns in play: six cards total. Finally, some good value!

I don’t really want to play something that requires six mana and four turns to generate the value I want from a Cube card. Some are comparing this to Future Sight; even though the type is about right (expensive enchantment card advantage machine), I feel Mind Unbound pales in comparison. Future Sight can generate one to three cards per turn (including the turn it comes into play), and expands your effective hand size by one when you reveal an instant. I’m not sure Mind Unbound could ever provide that sort of advantage.

I also feel like there could be a danger of drawing yourself to death with this card; control decks aren’t known for their quick kills, and the draw isn’t a ‘may’ ability. Maybe I’m over-reacting?

Rating: 1

Phantasmal Bear/Phantasmal Dragon

Once again, only if you want to push blue aggro. Their lord is unreal, however.

Rating: 1

Phantasmal Image

Cloning effects usually cost four mana (Clone, Rite of Replication) or more (Vesuvan Doppelganger and [card Vesuvan Shapeshifter]Shapeshifter[/card]), and we were ecstatic to get Phyrexian Metamorph last set because it can cost "three" mana and copy an artifact if we wanted. At only two mana, Phantasmal Image seems like a slam-dunk include even with the ‘skulking’ drawback.

The best use is to copy a shroud or hexproof dude ([card Simic Sky Swallower]SSS[/card], Troll Ascetic, or Sphinx of Jwar Isle), but copying any creature with an enters-the-battlefield effect (Form of the Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, or [card Flametongue Kavu]FTK[/card]) is going to give you more than enough value for your two mana investment. It can also operate as a Legend removal spell (for [card Thrun, the Last Troll]theirs[/card] or [card Kokusho, the Evening Star]yours[/card]), and at the low end of the value scale will likely trade 1-for-1 with another spell (they Arc Trail your copy of Arachnogenesis, e.g.). The real drawback occurs when they have a permanent in play that can target at will that isn’t legendary (Spikeshot Elder) or if you really want to equip it.

It's still fine with me!

Rating: 4

Skywinder Drake

Only mentioned because of that blue aggro thing. Three flying power for just three mana is pretty good if that is what you are pushing as an identity for blue, but this is now the third functional reprinting (Rishadan Airship and Cloud Spirit).

Rating: 1, but much higher if you are pushing blue aggro

Sphinx of Uthuun

Really cool card! Anything that has Fact or Fiction stapled to it can’t be all that bad, but there are just much better finishers at six mana in blue. Sorry! Very nifty with blink effects, however.

Rating: 2

Turn to Frog

Why not just pay one more mana, give green access to it, and also draw a card? Oh wait, that's Snakeform. No thanks. Interesting note: I can believe that a snake can, but apparently a frog can also kill a [card Savannah Lions]lion[/card].

Rating: 1


Rune-Scarred Demon

See Sphinx of Uthuun. One more power for your seven mana, as well as a possibly stronger trigger. There is still too much competition for expensive black finishers (not even as good as the other one in this set!).

On a side note, I won a few games with this guy at the prerelease. Most of the time, he tutored up a Gravedigger for when they killed him, and then tutored up Sorin's Vengeance once he came back. Recursive giant evasive threats are good, at least from what I hear.

Rating: 2.

Vengeful Pharaoh

A home run flavor-wise, as far as I’m concerned.  It's pretty powerful, as you are getting five power of deathtouch for five mana (requiring triple black, though) and a good pass of the ‘Vindicate Test’. It's a little too narrow for Cube, however, unless you run Disentomb, Buried Alive, or an otherwise large dredge theme.

Rating: 2

Another Scrambleverse?!? NOOOOO!

Wring Flesh

I just wanted to mention how painful this card looks, like an rug burn for your back cleavage.

Rating: 1, [card Sonic Burst]unless[/card] [card Ad Nauseam]you[/card] [card Smallpox]have[/card] [card Inside Out]a[/card] [card Pulling Teeth]painful[/card]-[card Thought Hemorrhage]looking[/card] [card Tomb Hex]Cube[/card].


Chandra, the Firebrand

Hooray! A four mana red planeswalker and it can be splashed! All three abilities are good:

  • its first ability can help to protect itself somewhat
  • the second ability is a classic red ability that combos well
  • the third ability has the potential to end games (pre-alpha strike, e.g.).

Rating: 4

Chandra's Phoenix

While not as hard-hitting as other three drops, Phoenix is still pretty good with evasion, haste, longevity (no sacrifice trigger), and added value with the ability to rebuy itself for no additional mana. Not the greatest card, but definitely could be a role player for red decks to get some added reach.

Rating: 3

Crimson Mage

The best of the Mages, it has the cheapest ability as well as the best color for this type of body. Haste can be valuable, and this card could be very powerful in the right kind of deck (lots of 1's and 2's, with no real concern for under-dropping). Given red’s 2-drop woes, I could see this card making its way into some Cubes.

Rating: 2 or 3, with testing pushing it one way or the other.

Goblin Fireslinger

I’m just not that impressed with pingers anymore, especially ones that can only go to the face. Sure, it holds equipment, but the ability is kinda meh.

Rating: 1

Stormblood Berserker

Hey, another 2-drop for red! The first inclination is to compare this card to Scab-Clan Mauler, and I think the Berserker compares pretty favorably. Not being able to be blocked by less than two creatures is better than trample for pushing damage through (does a wonderful job getting around the CMC 2 walls), and the casting cost is obviously a lot easier. Red has a lot of ways to ensure the bloodthirst trigger on turn 2, and being an ‘attacking’ color will likely have lots of opportunities to make him 3/3 eligible later in the game. The evasion type can also help get the last few points of damage in versus the control decks with their non-Meloku finisher in play.

Rating: A solid 3, with a chance of bring a 4 with testing.

Wall of Torches

I bet it looks cool in foil!

Rating: 1.


Arachnus Spinner

Combined with Arachnus Web, the absolute grand slam of flavor in M12. Tap a spider to shoot a web? If the creature is strong enough, it can break out of it? Awesome!

How about for Cube? How about no?

Rating: 1.

Dungrove Elder

Green loves its 3-drops, as the play sequence of turn 1 Elf-thing, turn 2 3-drop, turn 3 4-drop is a popular, and optimal, line of play for a lot of decks. Dungrove Elder’s problem is that you need actual Deep Forest Hermits in play for him to be good, not just green mana (unlike Leatherback Baloth). While he could be insane in a mono-green deck, that is just too narrow of an archetype to warrant inclusion.

Rating: 1

Garruk, Primal Hunter

Is GPH (no relation) more expensive than OG [card Garruk Wildspeaker]Garruk[/card]? Yes. Is GPH harder to cast for most decks because of the triple in the cost? Yes. Is GPH worth it?

Oh, yes.

His first ability is the very definition of ‘protecting itself’ by producing a sizable creature and raising loyalty. The second ability provides card drawing, an ability that green rarely sees in bulk without sacrificing (card) a creature (card), and it can work in conjunction with the first ability. Finally, Garruk’s ultimate ability is the type of game-winning effect we have come to expect from the best planeswalkers. Not much more to say!

Rating: 4, with the possibility of earning a 5.

Hunter's Insight

Another way to draw cards in green, this one also has the advantage of not having to sacrifice something. What it does do, however, is leave you open to getting 2-for-1d by a removal spell or take a huge tempo loss from a bounce spell. It is a neat combat trick, however, and can definitely help a green deck keep momentum (at least card-wise) with control decks. I’m just not convinced that green needs this card in the Cube. I’d rather have the last card listed for green card drawing!

Rating: 2

Jade Mage

With an incredibly useful ability in Limited, Jade Mage draws an understandable comparison to Selesnya Guildmage for Cube purposes. Both have pros and cons, but one thing they both share is a mana-hogging syndrome to make 1/1s. Jade Mage seems like it would be awesome in Peasant Cubes, but I’m not convinced it belongs with the rares.

Rating: 2, higher if you have a strong token theme in green.

Primordial Hydra

My first inclination upon seeing this card was that it would just be chump-blocked all the time (which is why Scute Mob found its way out of my Cube). Then I read the rest of the card and thought, “Oh cool, it actually can’t be chumped forever, good design!”

Then I considered how much mana and time it would take for this card to do anything resembling useful on-curve, since it doesn’t have any sort of way to protect itself, and wasn’t impressed:

1GG: starts as a 1/1, attacks for 2, then 4 (6 damage over 3 turns, no evasion)
2GG: starts as a 2/2, attacks for 4, then 8 (12 damage over 3 turns, no evasion)
3GG: starts as a 3/3, attacks for 6, then 12 (18 damage over 3 turns, evasion on 3rd turn)
4GG: starts as a 4/4, attacks for 8, then 16 (24 damage over 3 turns, evasion on 3rd turn)
5GG: starts as a 5/5, attacks for 10, then 20 (30, with evasion on first attack)

While some of those damage numbers are impressive on the higher casting costs, it is important to keep in mind that the lifespan of creatures is typically perilously short in Cube drafts (especially when said creature is imediately ‘[card Lightning Bolt]bolt[/card]-[card Incinerate]able[/card]’ unless you spend six mana right away), and you cannot rely on creatures to live very long without some sort of protection. Casting this card as a 3-drop is really awkward, as he doesn’t grow to a reasonable enough size to be useful in combat unless he stays in play for a full three turns.

In my opinion, for Hydra to get the most value you need to spend a minimum of 6 mana on it. That’s a bit high for my tastes, even if it does make a wonderful late-game topdeck. If you have a way to protect it, however (a Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots, perhaps), Primeval Hydra can become a very real problem for your opponent.

Rating: Asymptotic to 3.


For two mana and a mana to be named later, Skinshifter provides a good attacker for the cost in rhino form (the "best case scenario" is attacking for four trample damage on turn three for three total mana, 8 trample total for four total mana), a flying attacker in bird form (which green seldom gets), or a Kim Kardashian in plant form (probably not that useful). Seems pretty solid to me, and should likely be included from the start for testing.

Rating: 3, with a long shot at being a 4.


Swiftfoot Boots

This card is actually pretty cool. The problem? Lightning Greaves is ice-cold, and is now more accessible than it was previously thanks to the Commander decks. I feel like small- and medium-sized Cubes only have enough room for one of these types of equipment (especially with the recent equipment boom), but I could see it finding a home in a larger artifact/equipment section.

Rating: 2, but could be a 3 if your group likes this kind of effect.

And that’s all, folks! This set seems to be stuffed full of cards that might see play in larger Cubes, but really only a handful of outright auto-includes (the three planeswalkers, Phantasmal Image, Stormblood Berserker, Skinshifter, Chandra's Phoenix) for the mid-sized and smaller ones. It makes my trade binder sad that only one of those is a non-rare non-mythic!

May all your squares be three-dimensional!


*Printings of Meloku in Spanish originally made 2/2 tokens due to a proofing error!

@Antknee42 on Twitter
Co-host of The Third Power Cube podcast with Usman Jamil!

3 thoughts on “Scheming the Cube: M12 Cube Review

  1. As the owner of a 720 cube, I think you underestimate what it takes to make the cut. There are LOTS of amazing cards out there, and not just every reasonable tournament staple or big fatty can go in. The 4s and up as well as a few of the 3s are on my list. None of these 2s are anywhere near consideration for me.

    Just as a note in the future for you because I really like your analysis, what would be more helpful than reading about cards that ultimately aren't good enough (1's by your scale) would be getting a list of the 5-12 cards that DO make the cut and what you'd cut for them. Not every cube is the same, obv, but there are some global staples that get outclassed.

  2. Hey Chas, thanks for the comment! Let me take a moment to clarify my rating of 2.

    Cards that I rate as 2's are ones that might be good enough for the largest Cubes, of which 720 is the absolute smallest of the category (720+). I know people with 810, 950, and 1080 card Cubes, and I wanted a score that would reflect possible inclusion in all of those, and not just cards I think are pretty bad (which garner a score of '1').

    Even though my 2's might not touch your 720, I know of at least two '2' rated cards that are making other peoples' cubes. Some people really like Goldmeadow Harrier and Lightning Greaves, and like to have a second copy (or close to it). I think those are reasonable, but I just don't like them for my cube (and you for yours).

    I do like your idea of suggesting cuts, but I'm just not sure how useful that information would be. Everyone's Cube is so different and needs/wants/likes different things for the playgroup, I'm not convinced it is worth the effort (unless you think people would like to know what I'm cutting from MY Cube). For example, people are thinking/planning to cut Harmonize for Garruk2 but I prefer to have two decent card-drawing spells in green. Some people might have too many 5-drop creatures, and would rather cut one of those.

    I'm sure there are cards I don't need to rate, but I like to make fun of cards/talk about some cards that aren't going to make the cut! Some of the 1s are important to discuss, however, because I have seen/heard talk about them and want to address them (Mind Unbound and Timely Reinforcements, specifically this time).

    Hope that clears up some of my reasoning! Would love to hear back about the 'suggested cuts' part.


  3. As with any ‘evergreen’ format, all card evaluations need to be done relative to every other card printed. While some cards may be powerful in a vacuum, they may suck in Cube next to other older cards.

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