This past year has been crazy for cube with some of the most powerful staples to ever come out show up in just the past few sets. Now that we are approaching Standard rotation, a time of change in Magic, I feel it is appropriate to review the sets that came out in the last year and discuss which cards have become staples of the format.
Guilds of Ravnica
Guilds of Ravnica was one of the strongest sets we had gotten for years, and it was only the beginning. Testing 15 plus cards from this set in powerful cubes wasn’t unheard of, and someone else’s list of tests could easily be different from your list. Honorable mentions of the set include Conclave Tribunal, Experimental Frenzy, and Assasin’s Trophy. (Mini Disclaimer: Assasin’s Trophy deserves to be on this list, as it is a staple of cubes now, but it is easily replaceable with the plethora of Green Black removal spells and there isn’t much to talk about). If you’d like to read my original article on these cards you can read that here: Guilds of Ravnica Cube Review.
5. Risk Factor
Risk Factor was one of the most surprising tests from the set that proved to be extremely good. Browbeat has always been considered a bad card because your opponent would always choose the best option for themselves at the time and while you would get a lot of value, it never worked out in your favor. Risk Factor turns that paradigm around by simply giving it flashback. 4 damage for 3 mana is not a lot, but with Jump-start this one card can represent 8 damage. If they choose to let you draw 3 cards, those cards could all represent more burn than the 4 damage option, and they can be used to fuel Jump-start again. Not a lot of people were expecting this card, but it’s awesome to have a burn card that makes the burn matchup way more interesting.
4. Thief of Sanity
For years Dimir has been touted as having a terrible choice of cards in cube, but with the printing of Thief of Sanity (and many other cards in the past few years) Dimir is now one of the best color pairs in cube. Thief of Sanity was another card people weren’t expecting to be good in the set, as it’s ancestor Nightveil Spector performed much worse. Fortunately, Thief of Sanity plays much more like Gonti, Lord of Luxury due to the wonderful clause of “you may spend mana as though it were mana of any type to cast that spell”. There are so many powerful cards in cube and getting to choose from 3 of them gives you some amazing options. It’s an amazing source of card advantage, comes down early enough that it can be protected with counterspells, and is a very flexible win condition.
3. Goblin Cratermaker
Unlike the previous 2 cards, it was immediately prevalent that Goblin Cratermaker would become a cube staple. The versatility that Cratermaker provides for a Red 2 drop was unheard of, and he is a staple in both aggro and control decks. Decks need to fill out their curve, and Cratermaker nicely slots in as a versatile option for any deck. All 3 of his modes are very viable as well, Shock can clear the way for aggressive creatures or stunt opposing aggro, shatter that can also hit Ugin and Karn is extremely valuable, and a 2/2 creature is always appreciated. Goblin Cratermaker may not be the strongest card on this list, but his versatility is what grants him a slot in cube.
2. Knight of Autumn
If I was talking about how Cratermaker was a versatile card, Knight of Autumn is that on steroids. A strictly better Reclamation Sage is exactly the kind of card that any Selesnya deck would want, and it can do almost anything. Need a way to deal with their Nevinyral’s Disk? Done. Your opponent played turn 1 Goblin Guide? Make counting to 21 much more difficult and put a blocker in front of that Goblin. Your opponent tapped out for Narset? Get a 4/3 on the field and start putting on the pressure. And don’t even get me started on flickering it. Knight of Autumn is good against literally any deck and is a staple of any Selesnya section moving forward.
1. Doom Whisperer
Before Doom Whisperer was printed, the 5 drop slot was embarrassingly bad for Black. We were unironically excited for Night Incarnate as a 3/4 deathtouch was apparently one of the best options we had ever gotten. Then when this thing got spoiled, it was easily one of the most exciting cards in the set and was going to fill a very bad hole in cubes everywhere. Being able to Surveil at any time is very powerful as it can function as a nice little scry, or even dig you to your one out left in the deck. If they immediately try to kill it, doesn’t matter as you’ll be able to get some value out of it. But most importantly, this thing is just a beating as a 6/6 flample for 5. I honestly didn’t even know Black could get something like this without a downside. Great card, and it feels like it was designed specifically for cube.
Ravnica Allegiance was admittedly not as good as Guilds of Ravnica, but it still offered plenty of solid hitters with playables that will last for a very long time. This set did a great job of giving Simic some fantastic cards, as it has been starved for good playables for years and now Simic finally feels like it has good cards to choose from. The honorable mentions for this set go to Pteramander, Rhythm of the Wild, and Spawn of Mayhem. If you’d like to read my original thoughts you can find that here: Ravnica Allegiance Cube Review.
5. Guardian Project
Guardian Project is a 4 mana do nothing enchantment that will eventually overtake the game. Adding “Draw a Card” to every single creature in your deck is really powerful as most cubes are singleton. Tapping out for this enchantment might be slow for some cubes, but as the game progresses this will draw you a ridiculous number of cards. This card manages to make Man-O-War even more awesome! Guardian Project isn’t going to make all cubes, but it provides a unique effect at the 4 drop slot and is a really fun card.
4. Light up the Stage
People were not expecting to get 2/3rds of Ancestral Recall in Red and this card is proving to be extremely powerful. In a deck with a low curve, it is really easy to activate the Spectacle cost (which is also one of the best mechanics from the set) and cast the cards that are in exile. In a worst-case scenario this still functions as a Divination which is far from unplayable, but more often than not it’s easy enough to get the 1 damage through and get this out for cheap. 2 cards is significantly less than 3, but it’s still a great card and gives another unique card that both aggro and control decks want to have.
3. Prime Speaker Vannifar
Birthing Pod is one of the most beloved cube cards as it creates one of the most unique draft experiences of having to watch every single card in the curve and making a value deck that has the right answer for any situation. The main problem with Birthing Pod is that in singleton cubes, all too often Pod would end up as the last pick in pack 3 and would rarely get to see the light of day. Prime Speaker Vannifar is another copy of Birthing Pod for many cubes and pushes the deck to play Blue as one of its colors which helps to focus the deck. As a huge fan of Pod decks, Vannifar is a very welcome addition to cube.
2. Judith, the Scourge Diva
Aristocrat decks are really fun to both draft and play and provide a lot of unique gameplay and Judith serves as a signpost card for these strategies. Giving all other creatures +1/+0 helps the go wide nature of the deck and having your creatures ping when they die is much, much more powerful than draining the opponent’s life total, and gives you many more options with how you can abuse your creatures dying. Unfortunately, she doesn’t trigger off of nontoken creatures, but those creatures are getting in the red zone with that anthem anyways. Judith is an archetype defining card and will see play in my cube for as long as I have aristocrats.
1. Hydroid Krasis
Just like Doom Whisperer felt like it was designed for cube, Hydroid Krasis fills a very similar void. Simic ramp has always been a popular cube archetype, but when your payoffs are UG Nissa, it kind of sucks. Hydroid Krasis smashes that limitation of ramp and gives you one of the best X spells ever printed. Getting a huge flample creature is a great way to end the game, and getting to draw the cards on the cast is so important for a ramp deck as their payoff can’t be easily counterspelled. Gaining life is also kind of important as one of ramps weakest matchups is aggro, and Hydroid Krasis can give the ramp deck the time it needs to stabilize. And while casting it for 4 mana is not ideal, sometimes it’s the right thing to do and knowing when to do that adds to the skill surrounding this card.
War of the Spark
There is no denying that there was a massive amount of hype around this set, and it somehow delivered on that hype and gave us some really sweet cards. Getting so many different Planeswalkers at different rarities gave us a lot of options to choose from as most of these Planeswalkers have turned out to be really powerful, but also really fun. Honorable mentions go to Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, Narset, Parter of Veils, and Domri, Anarch of Bolas. If you’d like to see my original thoughts you can read about it here: War of the Spark Cube Review.
5. Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
Vivien is, admittedly, more of a personal pet card but I still believe that she is one of the coolest cards Green has gotten this year. I have been trying to support a flash archetype in my cube for the longest time and I gave up until Vivien was printed. Giving all your dudes flash makes things so scary for your opponent, as they have no idea what you have in your hand and what is possible. Combine it with counterspells and Simic suddenly becomes a very scary archetype for your opponent as if they try to cast something it’ll get countered, and if they try to play around a counterspell you slam a beefy creature down and go to town. Being an “enchantment” that can also give your creature’s abilities such as Vigilance or can draw you cards is exactly what flash needed and Vivien has proven to be very powerful.
4. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
I can’t talk about War of the Spark without talking about Nicol Bolas, and this Bolas delivers. When this Bolas slams down on the table, you should feel the same dread that the gatewatch felt when he started absorbing all of the planeswalkers. His +1 is an absolute beating and is exactly the kind of card advantage that Grixis decks would want. The main thing holding this Bolas back, and the reason he isn’t number 1 is due to the awful mana cost. While cube mana bases can support Bolas, it is a difficult challenge. Fortunately, he does provide a pretty awesome payoff if you can reach it and it is definitely a fun challenge when you see him in pack 1.
3. Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
Krenko belongs to a tier of creatures otherwise known as the “rabblenots”. Gobin Rabblemaster was the first, and a few years later we suddenly have 5 of the damn things. Krenko is one of the slowest Rabblenots, but that doesn’t stop him from being insane. Being able to consistently swing in and make tokens can help make a Rabblenot really good. Krenko starts swinging as a 2/3 which matches Hanweir Garrison and only grows bigger from there. If not dealt with quickly, your opponent will have to answer both a wide and a tall board. And they synergies that Krenko can have with anything that change his power are super powerful, and provide fun memories. Slap a Grafted Wargear on Krenko and Berserk him and you’ll be hearing that story for weeks.
2. God-Eternal Kefnet
Blue is the color known for smaller creatures and card advantage. So why don’t we break that stigma in half and give Blue one of the beefiest creatures in the format? A 4/5 flyer for 4 is a super-fast clock, and getting to copy cantrips or removal spells off the top on the cheap is a great source of value, if a little unreliable. Not being able to be killed permanently is another great upside that control decks will value very highly. Honestly, the main draw to Kefnet is the beef and he can block super well for days, and then turn on a dime and start attacking when you need to close the game.
1. Gideon Blackblade
Thanks to the wonderful static abilities of the set, this is a Gideon that is attacking as a 4/4 every turn. Normally, with a lot of Gideons, it’s really difficult deciding to activate his creature ability but with this guy, you can swing in every turn and still have a relevant plus. Vigilance, lifelink, and indestructible are all very valuable keywords for different scenarios and can even combo with some other creatures. (Giving a Glory-Bound Initiate vigilance every turn is backbreaking). While Gideon may only fit in one deck, he excels in White Weenie and is easily one of the best 3’s to play on curve. A 3 mana 4/4 indestructible is probably already good enough, but this Gideon takes it a step even further and gives other creatures valuable abilities and even has removal packed in.
I thought the sets leading up to Modern Horizons were already strong enough, surely they’d tone it down a little, but nope they just had to go all out and make one of the best sets for cube ever. It’s honestly going to be really hard narrowing this one down. Honorable mentions go to Seasoned Pyromancer, Winding Way, Soulherder, and all the rare lands in the set. If you’d like to read my original thoughts you can find that article here: Modern Horizons Cube Set Review.
5. Deep Forest Hermit
Deranged Hermit has been a cube staple for years, but recently it was starting to show it’s age as Echo is an outdated mechanic that is really bad. Deep Forest Hermit is the new and improved Deranged Hermit and it greatly shows. You still get the same amount of squirrels and they are all 2/2’s but now it doesn’t cost 10 mana. Vanishing 3 is a downside, but that can easily be circumvented with an Ephemerate which gets you even more squirrels. (That should be in the honorable mentions too hmm). If you follow up an Opposition with this the game is just over. Deep Forest Hermit is a much-needed update and has a happy slot in many cubes.
4. Wrenn and Six
Wrenn and Six to me highlights the return of a cube archetype that I have wanted to have for years. Lands Matters is extremely fun but was hard to support in Cube for the longest time. However, with Modern Horizons, RG Lands is much better supported. Prismatic Vista is another fetch, we now have the horizon land cycle, there are a lot more cards that care about lands, and most importantly of all, we now have a Crucible of Worlds at 2 mana. Recurring a Wasteland every turn is something that Legacy is struggling with right now and is now something you can do in cube. I still don’t know if the archetype is strong enough to be a mainstay of cubes, but I’m happy to say that it is in a much better place moving forward.
3. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
It feels like this card can do everything. He can kill your opponent’s creatures, draw you cards, sacrifice your creatures, proliferate, and even has protection against humans for some reason. Yawgmoth is the king of the aristocrat’s archetype and serves as a powerful pull into the deck. Even in decks that Yawgmoth can’t be abused as easily, you still have a commanding presence over the battlefield with Yawgmoth out. If they cast a board wipe you can easily draw several cards in response. Proliferate your planeswalkers if you are feeling up to it, and have a generically powerful card that goes even better into sweet cube decks like Aristocrats.
2. Urza, Lord High Artificer
Another deck that’s similar to lands in that it shows up in cubes but could be considered too weak in many cases is Tezzerator. Artifact based cube decks are hard to build as there can be a lot of disparate cards that make the deck lose a lot of focus. Urza serves to tie together all of the artifact decks, as just like Yawgmoth, he can do basically everything. He makes a massive construct that can serve as a win condition, can offer a huge source of ramp to power out cards like Myr Battlesphere, and has Mind’s Desire built-in for some reason. Urza is a great card for the artifact deck, and serves as a great signpost card for a really fun deck.
Hexdrinker serves as a versatile win-con that can come down early, and then abuse the massive production that green can make is a great card for the archetype. Green one drops have been primarily elves, so getting something that isn’t a dork on turn one is nice. This also serves as a great 4-drop as a 4/4 protection from instants is almost a Thrun, especially with so many removal spells in cube being instants. Hexdrinker does a lot of things, and it does them all really well. He’s a great aggro, midrange, and ramp threat all rolled into one neat little package, and level up makes for interesting gameplay and is tense when you are trying to get him to level 3. A well-designed card, and a fun one for cube.
Core Set 2020
At this point in the year, I felt like a core set could introduce anything that would get me excited for cube. I’ve honestly been pleasantly surprised by what this core set offered, and I believe that it has a lot of great playables, particularly in the common/uncommon slot. Honorable mentions go to Brineborn Cutthroat, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, and Corpse Knight. If you’d like to read my original thoughts on this set you can find that here: Core Set 2020 Cube Review.
5. Chandra, Awakened Inferno.
When I first reviewed this Chandra, I was really down on her, but after a month I think I’ve come around on her. Her other abilities aren’t worth wasting time on as the gameplay with her is simply ticking up to 8 and trading away your creatures and ticking up again. This Chandra is a game-ender and will double the clock that counts down to your opponent’s death every turn she is alive. I do think she is kind of boring as a 6 drop, and is competing with cards such as Wildfire and Inferno Titan, but in cubes larger than my 360 she’s an excellent 6 drop and deserved more respect from me.
4. Rotting Regisaur
When Rotting Regisaur was first previewed, everyone laughed at the card and thought it was a joke. I loved the card and thought it was super cool, but even I agreed that it was kind of a meme. But, as it turns out a 7/6 that early in the game is actually terrifying and even though it doesn’t have any evasion there aren’t any creatures that’ll be able to deal with it early short of deathtouch. Discard can also be an upside in many cases, pitch a Griselbrand and if they deal with Regisaur bring back a different 7 power creature. And for any cubes that have zombie synergies, Regisaur is obviously a slam dunk. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this spooky dinosaur.
3. Dread Presence
Lands matters cards have popped up a lot in this article, because it is an archetype that has been pushed for across multiple sets. Dread Presence and the next card are both great examples of that. Dread Presence functions as a good card in the devotion decks (an archetype that is going to be pushed really hard with Eldraine and Theros) and is also great in any decks that mess around with lands a lot. Having it be restricted to Swamps is one of the things that kills this card for me, as if it were just Landfall I’d be extremely excited to play with it. As it stands, nonbasic Swampfall is still pretty good and creates an interesting draft constraint for anyone who wants to play the RG lands deck. The verdict is still out on this one as it’s still pretty recent, but having the option to either draw a card or shock-helix something has proven to be pretty good. (It’s also a secret 5 drop in the same way that Tireless Tracker is a 4 drop, which Black can definitely use more of).
2. Elvish Reclaimer
A cheaper Knight of the Reliquary is really cool to see and has a lot of potential. In a focused lands matter deck, it’s really easy to get this to a 3/4 which serves as a good wincon. The main draw to this is the repeatable Crop Rotation effect, which can find some really nasty cards. Of course, actually putting the deck together during a draft might prove difficult, but if worse comes to worst you can still smack them with a 3/4. Elvish Reclaimer can be a little narrow, but it provides good value to the lands deck and is still valuable in a deck that packed a lot of fetchlands.
1. Cavalier of Gales
This was another card that I was pretty down on, and I’m just going to blame the other sets power level blinding me from why this card is pretty good. I’ve come around on more difficult mana costs as Theros has been spoiled, and the idea of a devotion set sounds awesome. Cavalier of Gales fills an important hole at the 5 mana slot which has Mulldrifter… and that’s about it. A 5/5 flyer that brainstorms is great value, and if you throw it in a deck with Kefnet you’ll be killing your opponent in no time.
I kind of hate how the Core sets and commander don’t match. As for the actual cards in the set, Commander 2019 was pretty bad for cube actually which is a relief as it meant we didn’t have to buy more cards. Many of the cards in the set worked much better in a multiplayer format and just weren’t good in 1v1. As a result of this, I am only going to talk about 3 cards from this set. If you’d like to read my original thoughts on the set you can find that here: Top 10 C19 Cards for Cube.
3. Chainer, Nightmare Adept
Chainer is not the best Rakdos card but he is a neat one and can enable a lot of cool decks. Rakdos midrange loves this guy as you can discard a land in the late game and recast whatever card died earlier. He can also enable reanimator, and even give the reanimated creature haste, but at 4 mana that is kind of a slow plan. I like Chainer because he encourages decks that you don’t normally see in Rakdos, but he is slow and very weak.
2. Ohran Frostfang
Ohran Frostfang is an interesting 5 drop to test as it is great in go wide decks. If multiple tokens can get through with this guy out, then you will draw a ton of cards. They all have deathtouch as well which makes connecting with the opponent much more likely. A 2/6 body is also one of the best butts I have seen on a creature and can block almost anything. If you support Selesnya tokens or any go wide deck featuring Green, Frostfang could be a good pickup for the deck.
1. Anje’s Ravager
Anje’s Ravager provides so much potential card advantage if you can make use of the 3 cards it draws you every turn. In a deck that is low to the ground and efficient, drawing 1 land and 2 spells per turn is a guaranteed path to victory. The 3/3 body tussles well, although the attack every turn clause can hurt it. However, getting to draw the cards before damage means that if you draw a bolt you can clear the way for even more damage and cards down the line. The madness is just gravy.
This year started off incredibly strong and for a while, it only felt like the cards were getting better. It ended with a whimper in Commander 2019, but honestly, it was a nice relief from all of the fantastic cards that were made this year. Cube has never looked better, and a lot of awkward spots in the curve were filled with great cards and old favorites were updated for a new world. I’m really excited for the next year of cube and I believe that WotC is paying attention to our format. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!