I am a sucker for core sets. M14 was when I got into the game, and there is so much nostalgia associated with this set. These sets are also great because they have the potential to print evergreen staples that will stick around for years to come. M21 already has plenty of exciting cards so lets dive into it. This is part 1 in which I’ll be covering the first half of WUBRG. I’m analyzing these cards in the context of a 360 unpowered legacy environment, specifically my main cube. (https://cubecobra.com/cube/list/tuesdaytastic). I will also be using a grading system that works as follows.
S: Instant cube staple with the potential to be banned to power. Examples inlcude Lutri, the Spellchaser, and Oko, Thief of Crowns,
A: An archetype defining card, or a solid playable that has a place in most cubes. Examples include Thassa, Deep Dwelling, Heartless Act, and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer.
B: A roleplayer that is more dependent on the cube environment to be great. Examples include Thassa’s Oracle, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, and Vivien, Monster’s Advocate.
C: These cards aren’t for every cube, but if you support the archetype they are a part of they will excel. Examples include Vivien, Champion of the Wilds, Cabal Therapist, and Lavabrink Venturer.
D: They have a lot of potential but have some serious flaws holding them back. A good fit for lower power environments. Examples include Narset of the Ancient Way, and Mox Tantalite
F: These cards are inefficient, underpowered, and not fit for a cube environment. Examples include Hour of Revelation, Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, and Bedeck // Bedazzle.
Finally, I want to stress that this everything I say is just my opinion. My cubes environment is not the same as yours, and what is bad in my cube might be good for you. If you disagree with a rating I give, let me know why in the comments below. Without further adieu, let us begin.
3 mana Planeswalkers don’t need a lot to be good. Basri, however, needs more than what he currently has. The hallmark of a great Planeswalker is one that is able to take over the game single handedly. Basri can’t take over a game without a supporting ensemble of creatures. If he gets played after a wrath, you aren’t doing much. On curve, the best he can do is make two 1/1 soldiers which pales in comparison to Rabblemasters. I’d much rather play a Gideon in his place. Grade D-
Mangara, the Diplomat
White card draw is something that EDH players have been wanting for a while. In a 20 life 1v1 format, it’s not as important and the card draw that Mangara provides doesn’t scale as well. A 2/4 lifelink body is sub-par these days, and it is fairly easy to keep your opponent from drawing any cards. Mangara is great for EDH, but was not designed for traditional Magic. Save him for your Boros commander decks. Grade F
Speaker of the Heavens
You need a very aggressive lifegain section to make this card playable. But, assuming you have that, this card can functionally be another copy of Serra Ascendant. Creating a Serra Angel every turn is a great payoff for getting to 27 life. In the meantime, equipping your vigilant lifelinker with a Bonesplinter will go a long way towards your goal. Speaker of the Heavens is a strong payoff for one specific archetype, and at one mana it is pretty easy to slot into your cube. If it did more for other archetypes I’d like it a lot more. Grade C
With how much text is on this card it’s beginning to look like Questing Beast. On an empty board, this is a 4/5 vigilance, protection from multicolored that creates a 2/2 when it dies. For four mana, that’s pretty good. But where this card becomes really interesting is with other +1/+1 counters. This, Good Fortune Unicorn, and a sac outlet creates infinite etb/dying triggers. While that is clunky to set up, it can still beat down in the meantime. Grade B
Now that all hounds are dogs (about time!), this lord is a little more interesting. Curving Isamaru into this means that your opponent is going to need a wrath asap. By itself, this is a 2/2 that doesn’t die in combat which means you can swing freely and buff this however you want. However, if you aren’t taking advantage of the lord effect, I don’t think this quite gets there. Once we get more dogs, however, I could see playing this good boy. Grade C-
Another lifegain payoff, Griffin Aerie is easier to setup than Speaker of the Heavens, but doesn’t close the game as fast. Triggering this once is not worth it, because I can get a 2/2 flyer in a lot easier ways. Trigger it twice and you have my attention, and more than that and you’ll probably win the game. However, gaining 3 life repeatedly can be hard to setup and the payoff isn’t very strong. And if your engine gets disrupted before you can ever gain 3 life, this was a do nothing enchantment. I want this to be good, but there are a lot of flaws that are troubling. Grade D+
A more efficient Generous Gift is appealing, but giving your opponent a angel replaces one problem with another. Being able to hit Planeswalkers is a huge draw to the card, and without it I don’t think this would be playable. Another thing to consider with this card is that it doesn’t need to target your opponents creatures. Play a 2/1, hit them with it, and on their end step surprise them with a flyer. I feel like this card will function best when used offensively, and if you have a way to bounce the token such as Brazen Borrower, this can also function pretty well on defense. I’m unsure of how the average case will play out but I’m interested in testing it. Grade B-
Adanto Vanguard has been a staple ever since it was introduced, and I am excited to have another version of it. 3/1’s that can gain indestructible are very annoying to deal with, and Seasoned Hallowblade can actually play defensively unlike the Vanguard. For aggressive decks discarding a card is a bigger downside than paying 4 life, but thanks to threat of activation you won’t always have to pay. In certain decks, such as reanimator the discard is even an upside. Tapping as part of the activation means that “killing” it before combat renders it useless for a turn, but everything else about this card more than makes up for it. Grade A
Teferi, Master of Time
I have wanted to see a Planeswalker that you can activate at instant speed for the longest time and Teferi finally breaks the mold. Uncontested, this Teferi can ultimate in a very short time frame, and being able to wait until your opponent declares their attackers makes him much more difficult to deal with. That being said, his actual abilities are underwhelming. Looting two cards each turn cycle is comparable to Dack Fayden, but costing one more mana hurts it. Phasing is also not a strong defensive ability as they don’t have to reinvest mana into the creature. The novelty of looting in response to their Kiki-Jiki activation sounds like fun, even though this isn’t on the same level as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Grade B
Key to the City is one of my favorite underappreciated cards. I ran it in my cube a while ago and was pleasantly surprised by it all the time. Getting a similar effect stapled onto a body is such a good value, with good creature types to boot. This is a card advantage engine that is paired with an evasive body that also functions as a discard outlet for reanimator. Supporting combo, tempo, and control all at once is great to see and tells me that this card is going to be a strong roleplayer for many different cubes. Grade A-
Barrin, Tolarian Archmage
I was not expecting to see a better Man-O’-War anytime soon but here we are. Bouncing planeswalkers is absolutely huge, and totally justifies the 1UU mana cost. The trinket text about cards being returned to your hand is nice to have and will come up in the late game when you need to outgrind your opponent. I have always loved Man-O’-War as an effect, and it’s great to see a version that fits the power creep better. Grade A
Mystic Confluence is one of my all-time favorite cube cards, and Sublime Epiphany is surprisingly close. At minimum this can counter a spell and draw a card, but at it’s best it can counter an Eldrazi titan, stop it’s cast trigger, bounce their threat, draw a card, and create another Torrential Gearhulk to do it all over again. I love the versatility and flexibility of this card, and while it is expensive, if you can get to six mana it is going to be hard to lose with it. Grade B
Izzet spells is arguably the most popular cube archetype out there, and Stormwing Entity fits this strategy perfectly. Best case scenario, you cast a Gutshot or a Manamorphose and get this on turn 2. Most of the time you’ll be casting this turn 3 or 4, and if you top deck this late it’s not embarrassing at 5 mana. I like how you can fit this all across the curve, and get a strong evasive flyer with prowess. This is not the strongest card, but it’s fun and that has to count for something. Grade C
See the Truth
On it’s face this is a sorcery speed Anticipate, which isn’t great. However, getting a density of cantrips is important for many blue decks and this really shines when you can do unexpected things with it. Cascade into it, flash it back from the yard or find some other obscure way to cast it in a unique way and you have a near Ancestral Recall. The game of figuring out how to draw 3 cards looks like a fun puzzle that is worth having a bad Anticipate. If this were an instant, I’d probably give it an A. Grade B-
Waker of Waves
While this will never be as powerful as a Griselbrand, getting to discard your fatty by itself is very useful. To me this is a cantrip that supports reanimator strategies, in a similar way that Strategic Planning does. A vanilla 7/7 won’t end the game, but it is a respectable target that is easy to get into the yard. While this isn’t a card for every cube, it’s definitely worth looking into if you need more cantrips. Grade C
Liliana, Waker of the Dead
If you ever needed a budget Liliana of the Veil, this is finally an option. And you’ll probably be able to get her for really cheap because this is nowhere near as strong. For one more mana you get a slightly better +1, a conditional removal -3, and one more starting loyalty. Having that removal being tied to the creatures in your yard makes it really hard for it to kill anything meaningful. Coming down a turn later also means that you’ll be facing much more dangerous threats. This Liliana will still be functional, but if you also have Veil in the cube you’ll feel the difference. Grade C-
Keyword tribal is slowly picking up more support as time goes on, and this is one of the better deathtouch lords we have seen so far. Having a Hellrider effect stapled on each of your deathtouchers is pretty strong, and getting to destroy Planeswalkers is very valuable. There are a lot of good deathtouch cards in cube, but if you decide to run this you might have to start scraping the barrel for playables. I’d only run this if you had a cube that could support it, and if you do, it seems like a fun build around. C+
Kaervek, the Spiteful
Kaervek returns, and as a much more playable card than his previous iteration. That being said, he’s not significantly better. Night of Souls’ Betrayal doesn’t really see much play in cube, and stapling it on a body doesn’t do much to help it. A playable version of this effect is Plague Engineer, which costs one mana less and can be one-sided. Kaervek gets an additional point of power, loses deathtouch, and also hurts your board. While I love the simplicity of it’s text box, it needed more oomph to make it in cube. Grade D+
Liliana’s Standard Bearer
Drawing cards when creatures die is black’s specialty. Problem is, the timing to draw cards off of this effect is pretty tight. It’s hard to hold up 3 mana, and you’ll hopefully want to draw more than one card off of this when it enters the battlefield. Not getting to draw for your opponents creatures dying is also unfortunate. Compare this to Midnight Reaper, which is much more consistent at drawing cards even if you lose life to do so, and is a must answer before they wrath your board. All these minor difficulties with the card add up to me not being a fan of it. Grade D-
Thieves’ Guild Enforcer
Mill, rogue tribal, flash, deathtouch, and black aggro all in a neat package for one mana. This card promises to do a lot if you can support it. There are plenty of rogues in blue and black, and while mill isn’t extremely popular, cards like Drown in the Loch can help support a more balanced mill archetype. That being said, 8 cards is a lot to ask for, and until then this is simply a 1/1 with flash. If you aren’t interested in supporting mill, rogue tribal, flash and deathtouch matters, and black aggro don’t run this. However, with a few tweaks to your cube this can easily become one of the strongest cards in it. Grade B
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
This is the cheapest version of this effect we have gotten and is a very efficient way to weaponize lifegain. If you’re playing this, it is purely for the first line of text as that activated ability isn’t going to come up often. Including this kind of card in the cube signals to me that there might be a combo deck involving Exquisite Blood. This is a card that only specific cubes will want, and it’s playability depends on how deep you go into lifegain. Grade C
This is a pretty strong aura all things considered. +3/+1 and flying will end games quick even when put on a 1/1. Getting to cast this from the yard means that your recursive threats will also have a recursive way to make them threatening. That being said, this is still an aura and a removal spell can really hurt your tempo even if you can bring it all back later. High risk and high reward are all in black’s wheelhouse, however, and if you’re supporting black aggro this is a really sweet late game for the deck. Grade B-
This is not a card that most cubes will want. However, for the cubes that are archetype focused (specifically lifegain, sacrifice, and graveyard focused) this is a fantastic support card for each of those strategies. I love finding cards that play well in multiple archetypes which makes it a card that every deck wants even if it isn’t going to define the decks it’s in. While this is not a 360 staple, in the context of weaker cubes, I am extremely happy this card exists. Grade B-
I personally am not a fan of putting removal spells in my dual colored slots, but Abrupt Decay is one effect that usually makes it in anyways. Eliminate is a mono color version of this effect which is fantastic to have. A cheaper Hero’s Downfall with a few restrictions is still very playable, and the fact that this is still an instant feels amazing. We’ve come a long way since Terror, and this is another staple in black’s toolbox. Grade A+
A one mana Altar’s Reap is honestly really great to have. An instant speed sacrifice outlet is really useful at one mana. Respond to removal to draw two cards, steal their creature and sacrifice it, and flash it back with Snapcaster Mage to build your own Divination. The utility of this card goes pretty deep, and the more effects you include that let you steal your opponents creature the better. I’m happy this effect exists, and expect to see it across a wide variety of cubes. Grade B-
Cards I will be testing from M21. https://cubecobra.com/cube/list/1np
Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis > Basri’s Lieutennant
Oblivion Ring > Angelic Ascencion
Benalish Marshall > Seasoned Hallowblade
Brineborn Cutthroat > Ghostly Pilferer
Man-O’-War > Barrin, Tolarian Archmage
Dream Eater > Sublime Epiphany
Cryptbreaker > Thieves’ Guild Enforcer
Fatal Push > Eliminate
Cavalier of Gales > Agent of Treachery
Chart a Course > Looter Il-Kor
Hostage Taker > Drown in the Loch
Fact or Fiction > Into the Story
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