Yesterday, I discussed the viability of mono-colored Ikoria cards in cube. Many of those cards were real contenders, but the real meat of the set lies in the multicolored section. Ikoria is a wedge based plane featuring the likes of Mardu, Temur, Abzan, Jeskai, and Sultai. Many cubes don’t have slots for these 3 color cards, due to how hard they are to draft, but Ikoria has found some clever workarounds to the wedge problem.
Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt
One thing that I’ve struggled with in cube is finding good tri-color cards. You need a very specific deck to play a card with 3 colors and as a result these often end up being the last card in every pack. This cycle of legendary mutations skirts around this issue by actually being 2 color cards. You’ll almost always want to mutate this card and the others in the cycle which means you’ll be looking at the 2HWW mana cost rather than the 1RWB. If you have a Boros/Orzhov deck it’s much easier to pick this up and consider picking up a shockland so that you can cast this on turn 4 if you need to. This is fantastic wedge design, and draws people into these colors much more successfully.
Snapdax also draws people to play Mardu simply because he’s really powerful. Having a 3/5 Double Strike that Flametoungue Kavu’s a creature or even a Planeswalker is huge, and gaining 4 life is just the cherry on top. If you mutate on anything better than a 3/3 or something with a keyword you get a creature that punches well above it’s weight. Even a Spirit token giving this flying is really powerful. Rather than trying to create a Mardu slot to fit this in the cube, I’d be happy replacing one of my many mediocre Boros cards with this absolute banger of a card. Grade A–
Illuna, Apex of Wishes
Illuna is much less exciting for me than Snapdax. A 6/6 flying trample is certainly good but doesn’t play as well with other abilities as double strike. Its mutate ability also has no guarantee of being good. Anything from an elf to an eldrazi is possible making this difficult to control. The competition that Illuna faces in Gruul/Simic/Temur slots is also much harder to overcome than Boros for Snapdax. It’s still a good card, but far less exciting. Grade B-
Nethroi, Apex of Death
This is a very splashy effect but needs a huge mana investment and a lot of setup to be good. In regular limited you can get away with creature combat and playing one land per turn for this card to be good (and it will be very good in limited), but cube is a different beast. You’ll want to accelerate this out early while also stocking up the yard and praying that when you mutate this the elf your mutating onto doesn’t get bolted. That is a lot to ask, and even though it promises a lot, it may not be enough to make it in cube. Grade C
Vadrok, Apex of Thunder
Now this is a card that has a lot of potential. Jeskai for a 3/3 flying, first strike is comparable to Mantis Rider and it has the advantage of it’s mutate being good in either guild it can be played in. Boros, of course, is happy to have a decent card and even flashing back a Lightning Bolt is good enough for that deck. Izzet also has a surprising lack of good cards which this can also be slotted in for. (Or just slot Snapdax and Vadrok as Boros cards, they’re probably better than most other options). They also didn’t have enough room in the text box to say that this mutation exiles the card which means Snapcaster Mage can pick it up later. Grade A
Brokkos, Apex of Forever
5 mana for a 6/6 trample anywhere, anytime. Brokkos is not Broko like the previous Simic Mythics that we have gotten, but he’s still a solid card that provides a neat payoff for graveyard strategies. I don’t think a Colossal Dreadmaw that is hard to keep down will be making the rounds in the vintage cube, but for lower power levels I think this card fills a unique niche for graveyard decks. Grade C-
Narset of the Ancient Way
This Narset is such a disappointment. I may end up casting her and seeing that she plays much better than she reads, but it’s hard to see. Pulling a drafter into 3 colors is really hard, and you need to pull them in with powerful effects. +1 to gain 2 life and mana that is conditional isn’t exciting. To kill something meaningful with her -2, you have to discard something meaningful. Her being so close to her ultimate is nice, but comparing this ultimate to something like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and it’s just disappointing. Honestly compare the whole card to Chandra and it shows how weak this card is. Grade D
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy
Elves, mana rocks, and more rejoice! Kinnan can turbo out some crazy plays with relatively normal hands. Turn 1 elf, turn 2 Kinnan and a signet means that on turn 3 you will have 7 mana which is just enough to activate his ability and find your payoff. In Vintage cubes, this gets even crazier with Moxen and busted mana rocks. Cubes that feature storm will love this card as a super ritual. Not every environment will want Kinnan, but when he is right for your cube he is incredibly dangerous. Grade A-
Winota, Joiner of Forces
I’ve mentioned several times in this article, Boros cards are in a poor place. Winota aims to break the notion of bad Boros cards. In my cube, my white section is almost split down the middle when it comes to humans, and red is closer to 30 percent humans. This means that you are very likely to hit off of her trigger, especially because it triggers for each non-human that is attacking. Slap her down after a Goblin Rabblemaster and you’ll get to tutor through your entire deck for humans. This can turn Winota into a bit of a combo card if you put Agent of Treachery into the deck. Not having any abilities herself is disappointing, but she promises a lot with very little setup. Grade B+
Chevill, Bane of Monsters
As an attacking or blocking creature, Chevill is kind of mediocre. A 1/3 deathtouch just isn’t doing much. Do bounty counters elevate this card into playability? I’m hesitant to say that it does. The bounty counters don’t do anything themselves, and work much better in a multiplayer environment where you can convince other people to use their removal spells. Instead you have to first put a bounty counter on their creature, have Chevill survive because they do nothing without him, and fire off a removal spell of your own. Gaining 3 life and drawing a card is good value, but it is inconsistent and the value train can be stopped at any time with a Lightning Bolt or even if you don’t draw removal. Grade C
Trample tribal is officially a thing now, and it looks sweet. Even without other creatures on the board this guy is a single card engine, creating X/X’s by himself. If you can pair this with other trample creatures such as Managorger Hydra he gets even better and gets psuedo-haste. In some ways this is a win-more card, however. If you are creating an X/X every time you are dealing damage, you aren’t going to create that many X/X’s before the game is just over. I think it’s a good option for lower powered cubes that feature a decent amount of trample creatures, and may even have a dinosaur theme. Grade B-
I wanted to like Stormchaser Mage when it was in my cube, but it was consistently awful. Every time I drew it I just wanted another spell as it could never get big enough to be a serious threat. Sprite Dragon has me a little more hopeful for the spell slinging archetype. +1/+1 counters seriously changes the dynamic surrounding this card. Suddenly it’s much more appealing to UR control decks that can let this slowly become a threat. Aggro decks can blow their entire hand in a single turn, and have the huge flyer stick around for lethal the next turn. In many ways, this is the tall version of a Young Pyromancer, which really elevates this card to a cubeable status for me. Grade A-
This is not the strongest Golgari card by a longshot. But no other card is nearly as versatile, and can fit into so many different archetypes. It’s a mana dork, engine, and beater all rolled into one. Graveyard strategies need enablers, and the more useful these enablers are outside of their narrow strategy the better they are for cube. Skull Prophet does everything I want in a card, besides taking up a precious gold slot. Even with that said, if I had a specific vision of my cube and needed a versatile graveyard enabler, I’d be happy to make room for this card. Grade B
Let’s take this one step at a time. HH for it’s mana cost is fantastic, and allows it to be played in decks that only have one of the guilds colors. Boosting itself for each creature in the yard is a good effect and the more graveyard focused your deck/cube is the better this card will be. Being limited to creatures is not as good due to how hard it is to get them in the yard, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Then we get the Birthing Pod/Green Sun’s Zenith effect, that is also unique in it’s own way. Having to pay full mana to find the creature means you can’t continue to develop the board alongside it’s tutoring, but a repeatable tutor effect on a 2 drop is still pretty good. Grade B+
Lutri, the Spellchaser
It’s about time that I discussed Companion. This mechanic breaks a ton of conventions in Magic and explores brand new design space. Typically, when exploring new design space in this way things tend to get broken. Out of all the companions, none even come close to Lutri in terms of viability in cube. Easily the best Izzet card out there, if your deck can play blue or red mana there is no reason not to run her. Even if your deck has no instants and sorceries, you’ll still want to copy the Lightning Bolt that they are casting or threaten to ambush their creatures with a 3/2. Getting all of this for free is ridiculously good and pushes her to S tier status.
The question then comes around whether you think Lutri is a good fit for your cube. If you’re playing no holds barred Vintage cube, where all the broken cards go to live Lutri is a great fit. Without Vintage power level, Lutri might be too much. Getting a free card in your hand just for drafting her is powerful, even if she was just a 3 mana 1/1. She’s actually a playable card, however, and I’d only add her if you were already doing broken things. Grade S
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Now that we got the broken Companion card out of the way, I’m sad to say that most of the other companions are pretty disappointing for cube. The restrictions that they offer a really hard to achieve even with dedicated drafting. It’s nearly impossible to draft a deck with 1 and 2 drops only, and while Lurrus is powerful they are just going to remove him on sight.
The same can be said of the other companions and their restrictions. Keruga loses too much early game tempo, building with odd or even mana costs only is hard, and requiring your deck to have all of a certain card requires a lot of luck. If you want these cards to be playable in your cube, you have to design the cube to work with the restrictions that they offer. If there isn’t a high enough density of cats, elementals, nightmares, dinosaurs, and beasts then don’t bother with Kaheera until that is addressed. In a typical cube I don’t see much reason to play these without heavy changes. Grade C-
The madlads at Wotc did it, and gave us the easiest cards to fetch possible. Each one of these cards can be fetched by 9 out of 10 fetchlands (for example, Verdant Catacombs is the only one that can’t grab Raugrin Triome). This makes the drafting portion much easier as you can pick a Triome and be comfortable with whatever splash you want to make. As a designer though, do you want fixing to be that easy to obtain? I really enjoy 5 color goodstuff decks when they are rare occurrences.
I cut signets from my cube because it was too easy to make a 5 color deck. These Triomes threaten for many different decks to start becoming 4 or 5 color decks just by picking one up. If you don’t balance your land section properly, it can also hurt aggro decks as they will have less untapped lands to choose from. I think these are strong cards that deserve consideration, but may push the design constraints of the cube so far that they no longer provide interesting decisions. Grade B+
When I first heard about Ikoria, I didn’t expect much to be honest. I assumed it was going to be the land of great big monsters butting heads into each other and not much in the way of cube. But, the designers at Wizards know that they have to appeal to all of their audience and I really feel like Ikoria hit it out of the park. Timmies, Johnnies, and Spikes all have something to be happy about. Vorthos even gets two books instead of one! (I feel so bad for you guys. Fingers crossed that these books don’t suck). I’m curious to hear what kinds of cards in Ikoria have piqued your interest, whether it be cube related or not.