The land of the Timmies has arrived, and with such big monsters comes a big cube review article. Before I dive into the cards of the set, I’d like to discuss my feelings about the specific mechanics of the set. This is to keep myself from rehashing points about cards that share mechanics, and maintain discussion on what the cards do. Here is an article explaining what the cards do from the mothership. Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Mechanics
It’s back again! I became more serious about Magic around the time that Amonkhet came out, and even then it was immediately apparent to me how great of a mechanic cycling was. It makes cards more useful in tons of scenarios, and can even be it’s own archetype using cards like Astral Slide. There are many versions of cards in this set that had cycling added to them such as Neutralize and Wilt, which turn already playable cards into great cube cards. If you have Cancel or Naturalize variants in your cube, consider replacing them with these cards simply because cycling is that good of a mechanic.
Another thing I’d like to mention here is fatties that cycle directly to the graveyard. Titanoth Rex is a fantastic peasant staple and potentially even higher. We’ve already seen how good a fatty with cycling is with Striped Riverwinder and getting more options in this vein is great to see. I love cycling and would be happy to add it to as many cards in my cube as I could.
Tying into cycling above, Ikoria introduces a new twist with keyword counters. Many of these can be obtained by cycling, which is nice, and I also find this to be a fairly simple to understand mechanic. One potential problem I see with this mechanic is book keeping. If you don’t have the right tokens around, people are going to be writing on slips of paper to keep track. This isn’t the biggest problem, however. Just add some counters to your token box and hand out deathtouch counters with the spirit tokens they need for their deck.
Mutate is a doozy of a mechanic. This is one of the most complicated mechanics to come out of Wizards recently and can make for some really unintuitive game play. You need a mini rulebook just to cover all of the corner cases that mutate can bring up, and cube is all about corner cases. Do enter the battlefield triggers happen when a mutate creature resolves? What happens if it gets flickered? There are answers to all of these questions, but it can slow down the game and make things difficult, and especially make the cube less appealing to new players.
Cube can deal with a complicated mechanic or two, however. My main issue with mutate is the non-human clause. This flavor works great on Ikoria but isn’t immediately apparent in a disparate environment. There are lots of humans in cube, and not a lot of mutate cards, which means many games will have a human getting mutated and nobody will realize until 3 turns later. Mutate can also be a parasitic mechanic. It gets better the more mutate cards you run, but outside of set cubes that is hard to do. I like mutate in concept, but there are a lot of small issues that start to make me dislike the mechanic. Hopefully in practice there are less issues than I am anticipating and it gives us some fun and balanced cards. I’m not holding my breath though.
Mythos of Nethroi
Ok, I know I’m cheating by putting this card in the mono-colored section but whatever. This whole cycle has the flaw of being mediocre no matter whether it’s mono-colored or multicolored. The flexibility of being able to play this card even if you aren’t in Abzan is good, but there are many cards that are better than Murder which means this will probably wheel. Even at their best they do effects that can be accomplished with less colors. When you are Vindicating with this, you could have just played Vindicate with less stress about mana fixing. Flexibility is important, but comparing these to other cards is not very exciting. Grade C+
Just like Nightmare Shepherd from the last set, this card can help your creatures get around dying at least once. Coming back with a flying counter means that they’ll even be stronger than they were before, and this card has some cheeky combos that are not immediately apparent. With an Undying/Persist creature and a sacrifice outlet you can infinitely sacrifice your creature by alternating between flying counters and the other counter. If creatures aren’t dying, however,
Mothra Broodmoth is a french vanilla 3/4. I wouldn’t cube it without the possibility to go infinite as there are a ton of white fours that can do just as much and more. Grade B-
This fast-boi brings an important tempo effect that has been hard to include in cube. Curious Obsession is a great card that has been an important roleplayer in Standard/Pioneer, but was hard to cube due to having severe drawbacks. You needed a blue section with a lot of evasive creatures, ways to protect them, and it opened the player to getting 2 for 1’d a lot. Staggering Insight took away some of the downsides, but had a bigger downside of competing with Azorius slots. Sea-Dasher Octopus is the most broadly playable Obsession effect that we have seen so far, being playable in both tempo and creatureless control. Curious Obsession may be a better card when built around specifically, but for cube I like this dashing fellow. Grade B+
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
Do I spy a build-around? Lukka screams combos, and is specifically very good in cube when your combo pieces can be redundant. If you end your curve at a specific point you can draft a huge fatty and use him to go and find your Eldrazi. This plays really well in Sneak and Show strategies, and forces the player to draft more strategically. Birthing Pod is one of my favorite cards in cube because it asks the player to really pay attention to their curve and Lukka does a similar thing. You can also play him as a midrange topper, and get a ton of value off of his +1 if you weren’t able to pull the combo together. Grade A–
Vivien, Monster’s Advocate
Vizier of the Menagerie was a card that people got pretty excited for when it was first spoiled, but hasn’t really made an impact on the cube scene. Vivien promises what Vizer of the Menagerie tried but can also do more to progress your game state. Plusing to create a creature is really good, even if the loyalty is lacking. What I really like is that you can customize the beast token to fit the situation and keep her from getting snagged by a flyer. The whole game plan with Vivien is getting to untap with her, because you can -2, cast a creature (maybe off the top) and tutor for your silver bullet. If the +1 wasn’t Build-A-Beast Workshop, I’d be far more skeptical of getting to untap, but she will take over the game if she can -2 once or twice. Grade B
FORGIVE MY YELLING, IT’S HARD TO TALK OVER A SHARKNADO. THIS CARD SLAPS. THE ULTIMATE CONTROL WINCON, SHARKNADO IS SOMETHING YOU CAST AFTER YOU’VE WIPED YOUR OPPONENTS BOARD AND TAKE OVER WITH MASSIVE FLYING SHARKS. WHAT MAKES THIS CARD GREAT IS THE CYCLING. SHARK’S REVELATION IN COMBAT, EAT AN ATTACKER AND SWING FOR A BAJILLION. I DON’T THINK THIS CARD IS THE BEST OPTION FOR CUBE, BUT WHO WOULDN’T DRAFT SHARKNADO. GRADE B+
Reclamation Sage finally embraced a Gruul lifestyle and decided that smashing was the way to go. A 4/4 reach trample that also blows something up for 3 mana is crazy to see, especially considering that Reclamation Sage is still a powerful cube card to this day. It’s unlikely for you to have other mutate cards in an average cube deck, but the possibility is always there. The fail case of a 4/4 reach trample is also not embarrassing, and is only really awkward when you don’t have a creature to mutate onto and need to blow something up. This floor doesn’t seem too bad though, considering the ceiling is so good. Grade A+
This shark is eating something, whether on the stack or in combat. UG Flash has become a really popular archetype over the last year, and Greatshark slots into that deck very nicely. Thryx the Sudden Storm from Theros is a very similar card to the Greatshark, but was one that I deemed as being a solid but boring card. Voracious Greatshark also trends towards being boring, but there are more decision points of when to cast this that makes me like Voracious Greatshark just a little more. Grade B
Half-Name Nemesis offers a lot. If you manage to get the read on your opponent and name the right number, this will be a functional True-Name Nemesis in a color that will appreciate that effect a lot more. However, while this might be a good meta call in Pioneer where you know to name odd, cube decks are designed to have creatures and removal spells all along the curve. This may dodge a Lightning Bolt, but it can’t dodge a Lightning Strike. Protection from everything at that cmc also means that your equipment and auras may not be able to make it more threatening. The main problem is that when this card is good, it’s not fun, and when it’s bad it’s a vanilla 3/3. Grade C
Bastion of Rememberance
With Bastion of Remembrance we now have a Blood Artist effect that does not die to removal. Aristocrats decks can get overwhelmed by a ton of removal, and having one of your biggest payoffs in the deck not die to Fatal Push is pretty important. The biggest drawback to this card is that it costs 3 mana instead of the usual 2 for this effect. You also can’t do the usual things you can with a Blood Artist such as Unearth. If you feel like you need a critical density of this effect, this could fit the bill but it’s inefficiency makes me wary to test it. Grade C+
Kogla, the Titan Ape
A green 6 drop that doesn’t suck? Blasphemy. Kogla is a great top end for many different ramp decks, serving as removal for all sorts of permanents. Not having evasion is unfortunate, as even trample would go a long way towards making this ape fantastic. Even without evasion, you are probably still attacking with this every turn to blow something up and eat a token. The human synergy is notable and will probably come up, but isn’t reliable. Part of the reason I like Kogla is that it’s a simple yet effective 6 drop which green needs more of. Grade B+
Has Vampire Nighthawks time in the spotlight come to an end? Grimdancer gives off very similar vibes, but isn’t quite as good as Nighthawk. Having all 3 keywords at once is part of the reason Nighthawk is so good, and even though the body on Grimdancer is slightly better it can get outlcassed much quicker. If the game progresses to a point where the keywords you chose are wrong, Grimdancer loses a lot of value. All that being said, this card is only very slightly worse than Nighthawk, which still means it’s a great card. If Nighthawk is an all-star in your cube, expect Grimdancer to perform just as well. Grade B-
1B destroy target creature with a condition is a classic effect. None have ever come as close to plain old Murder as Heartless Act has. Even when this card isn’t just Murder, it doesn’t just rot away in the hand like other Doom Blade variants. Removing 3 counters from a creature is sometimes enough to kill it anyways, and if it’s not it’ll still take a lot of pressure off of you. If they turn their Gideon into a creature you might also get to take out a Planeswalker without Hero’s Downfall. This also combos really well with Thing in the Ice, another cube card that I love. Heartless Act is not only the best Doom Blade variant we have ever gotten, but also one of the most interesting. Grade A+
This is so close to being a staple. If this said any target, we’d have the best Searing Spear variant out there. Dealing 3 damage to target creature or planeswalker would have been an excellent removal spell in control decks. If it discarded the card instead of putting it on the bottom, it could function as a reanimator card. The limitations that this card has really hold it back from being an instant staple, but even as is, this is still in contention. Getting selection with your removal spell is fantastic, and I hope to see more of this effect in the future. Grade B-
Ikoria is really sweet, and there were a ton of cards in this set to cover. Even setting aside my inner Timmy, I really like what the set offers for cube. The cards defy expectations and are more than just big dumb idiots offering cool combos and powerful lines of play. I think there’s a little bit of something for every kind of player and every kind of cube. Ikoria is a multicolored set, however, which means we have only scratched the surface of what is yet to come. What are your thoughts on Ikoria? Do you like the set and what it offers for cube? Let me know down in the comments below.
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