Small update between sets
This is mostly an update to metagame changes. There are two themes in this update – fattie cheat support and reanimation support.
Cut: Nether Void, Sinkhole, Terror
Add: Exhume, Life // Death, Dance of the Dead
Reanimation did was not a successful strategy in this cube in a long time. I’m always torn between the need to dedicate slots to it and the fear that committing cube space to a failing underplayed strategy will reduce playability. Perhaps a critical mass is needed. Last draft someone was picking fatties and discard outlets yet did not see reanimation spells during the draft at all. Three spells is not a huge amount, barely enough for a single dedicated deck. But, we are all fairly sure new cubeable reanimator spells will never be printed again, this is the best we have got. If it will continue failing, it will be cut almost completely and for a long time. Reanimator should also enjoy some cross-pollination from other cheat strategies.
As for the cuts, Nether Void played more like Rule of Law than Armageddon for us (and we have been playing it for over 5 years). Also, an unpopular opinion, but in the last few years Armageddons dropped in power level (and my local increase in mana rocks count can be a big part of it).
Sinkhole is disappointing for the second time. It needs a really good mana base to shine, as the spell loses value rapidly after turn two. It faces two problems. One, there are relatively many cards that cost BB and the cube cannot support many of them. Two, it is hard to find space in decks for cards that are not threats, removal or card advantage, and that space is already quite full in black by targeted discard.
Terror is almost assuredly better than Fatal Push. But Push is new so it needs more testing. Push is certainly better for diversifying the curve and against aggro. Ultimate Price hits slightly less targets than Terror if we count manlands, but Terror has a large overlap of targets, with Shriekmaw, Doom Blade and Snuff Out.
This is a change that would happen independently of reanimator support, but nevertheless bolsters the archetype somewhat. Tutor is rarely played. It is very rare you need a specific creature that badly, you usually opt to play another threat. Plus, green has other better tutors. It is a bad topdeck for midrange decks, and even combo decks do not usually want it. It underperforms for the second time in this cube.
Wayfinder is a broadly playable filler. It fetches nonbasics lands, and is a body for Gaea's Cradle, Survival of the Fittest, Natural Order and Cratehoof Behemoth. Amonkhet added new graveyard synergies with embalm and aftermath. It is always a nice way to fuel Tarmogoyf!
Cheat strategies support –
The broad scope of strategies thst try to play giant creatures for cheap without paying their mana cost fairly with ramp is what I call cheat strategies. The main enablers are Sneak Attack, Show and Tell, Oath of Druids, Tinker, Channel, Eureka, Selvala's Stampede and Natural Order. I recently added Emrakul, the Eons Torn, several years after its release. I feared two things:
1. The card, not being reanimatable, is too narrow and will not see play often.
2. The card is uninteractive and binary – in games where you get emrakul into play you win, and there is very little your opponent can do about it.
Turns out both were wrong. Emrakul excites player, people want to break her. She is the sort of stuff decks are built around. Also, not being reanimatable was not a big deal, the other ways are more numerous even after this update. Turns out she is not as overpowering as I’ve thought. I’ve seen people survive and win more than once an Emrakul that was cheated with Through the Breach or Sneak Attack.
As such, I am less fearful of adding other powerful cheat-only fatties.
Titan has just a miserable body. A 7/10 without evasion is easy to contain, it is quite manageable to consistently stall until you get a creature or artifact removal for him. He is also a rather slow clock anyway, having no haste. Breaking the symmetry with his trigger is also hard and not that rewarding in reality against the average opponent. It usually destroys two lands per player. Clossus is a prime target for cheating, especially with Sneak Attack, but probably fair, as enough toughness in blockers renders that use of the card near meaningless. It is also by far the best Tinker target, which is somewhat of an unwanted side effect.
-Foundry of the Consuls, +Sensei's Divining Top
Foundry is a playable filler in many decks. That said, it dropped in value lately. There are less colorless costing cards now, and with amonkhet you have plenty more mana sinks with cycling, embalm and aftermath. Color intensive decks never played it, others probably will not really notice. Top is still a good card. It feels wrong to cube without him. Now that cheat strategies are on the rise, it also fills a role. It is of the few nonblue card selection outlets. It is great fodder for Daretti and Welder. I also noticed a gap at the curve of some decks with one drops, and this is a fairly widely playable one. It still has two downsides and those are time consumption and being overrated by some players. Oh well, at least Monastery Mentor got his old toy back!
-Sorin, Grim Nemesis, +Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Large Sorin is a fine card, but doesn’t compare well to six drops. It is not great when you are behind against the common diverse cube boards. If you kill something meaningful, Sorin will die to any attacker. The lifegain is nice, but still capped and arrives late to the party. Sorin is also a reliable win condition, but slower than all other six drops in that role.
Sphinx is a new toy for Daretti and Goblin Welder. It can also be reanimated. It is basically unanswerable to red and green decks, but cheat decks need some favorable matchups, especially given how much life you usually lose with Reanimate or Life // Death. Such cards already exist in cube, Elesh Norn is unanswerable for red aggro, but in small numbers it should be fine. Also unwillingly boosts Tinker.
Decimator was a failed experiment. Decimator requires board presence, and his emerge has counter synergy with his effect. He is also green intensive. A major strike against him is that he doesn’t work well when ramped into, when cheated or reanimated and he cannot even just be a big body for Green Sun's Zenith or Natural Order. Now, Avenger basically suffers from the same problems, but at least it has strong synergies going for him and more game-winning potential. Avenger is great with Recurring Nightmare, Gaea's Cradle, Opposition etc. It is still more feasible to ramp into him, and he offers better value if you are creature light.
-Renegade Rallier, +Vial Smasher, the Fierce
Revolt, like morbid, is inconsistent in cube. Vial Smasher has a high damage output ceiling, with some cards like Tasigur or Fireblast. Still, it is a 2/3 body without ability that does nothing the turn you cast him. A risky experiment.
Time for the Hour of Devastation and Commander 17 update. Some leaked cards from Ixalan have been added as well. Currently red aggressive decks are slightly underpowered. It was never a chief concern for card addition or omission in this update, but it did pull weight.
-Town Gossipmonger, +Adorned Pouncer
Gossipmonger was not played often. Requiring another creature to be there, and the tap, is situational and costs too much tempo. Gossipmonger is not a real one drop. A resounding fiasco. Pouncer is not amazing, but probably about midway among white two drops. It provides mass removal protection and has cute double strike synergies.
-Cataclysmic Gearhulk, +Parallax Wave
White had too many five drops, it was clear one had to go at some point. Gearhulk was too hard to break the symmetry for. It plays badly with many of the white removal spells that leave an enchantment behind. It also has negative synergy with numerous mana rocks.
Parallax Wave was played before for a long time in the cube. It was not cut for low powerlevel, it was cut due to lack of space in white four drops and we needed the space for testing something in that mana cost. Time to bring it back.
-Hidden Dragonslayer, +Stalking Leonin
Dragonslayer has two bad modes. A 2/1 lifelinker for two is cute against opposing aggro decks, but nothing more. A 2/1 first striker probably does more for you in that matchup. Against large creatures it is another removal spell, but an expensive and slow one. Leonin is a potent defensive spell. It might be cut not for powerlevel, but because a defensive play like that will not be needed if aggro continues to be somewhat weak.
-Bygone Bishop, +Kimalla's Sunwing
Bishop always had a great body, but his ability was too slow and conditional in practice. Sunwing is very impressive. She combines the good body with an active and relevant disruption ability.
-Fragmentize, +Seal of Cleansing
I still like Fragmentize in theory. In practice, it was still mostly a sideboard card and not a maindeck one. A small part of that is due to Cast Out and Forsake the Worldly being printed. Another hit against it is that more Gearhulks survived the testing period than anticipated and not answering them is a big drawback. Seal is tried and tested, and has synergies with Sun Titan and Enlightened Tutor.
-Dissolve, +Supreme Will
I think Will will see play in every permission deck. It is not busted, but it does what you want to do in blue counter heavy decks and it is easy on the mana. Having three 1UU counters proved too much. You basically never want to play two of them in the same maindeck. I still think, as a player, that Dissolve is better than Disallow. As a cube designer however, I like the possibility of countering activated abilities to be there. It will cause memorable stories, and hopefully now that it is paired with Nimble Obstructionist, will cause players to doubt their activated abilities or triggers when they see three mana open.
-Stratus Dancer, +Nimble Obstructionist
Dancer was always an odd fit, a proactive counter. It saw play, but I don’t remember it doing much more than being a way to minimize options of loss when you are ahead. Obstructionist fulfills similar roles. It is a cheap aggressive creature with evasion, but has flash. It has a reactive ability. I do think Obstructionist is currently overrated, but I do think it is a decent card that will make you feel clever sometimes.
-Serendib Efreet, +Champion of Wits
Efreet had a long career in cube. It is a victim of powerlevel. Three drops across all colors got extremely competitive, and there is little reason to play a weaker one from your splash color (blue is usually the splash in aggressive decks). Efreet is pretty much Herald of Torment. It has an easier casting cost and more toughness, but Herald of Torment is cast in its other probably a bit over 50% of the time. I am not sure a colorshifted Efreet would see play, perhaps in black but not likely in white. Efreet could be brought back if blue tempo becomes stronger in the future.
Champion of Wits is a curve filler, but a generally broad one that fits blue better. It is a discard outlet for reanimator and delve, and has synergies with Revillark.
-Hieroglyphic Illumination, +Deep Analysis
Illumination was terrible. It was cycled almost all the time, the 4 mana mode was too much of a win more as for when you can afford it. Not worth a space in decks. Deep Analysis is tried and true. It will be better today than ever before due to the higher number of discard outlets in the cube.
-Meloku the Clouded Mirror, +As Foretold
Meloku is a relic of the past, a control finisher that did not age well. It requires mana, costs you tempo and is vulnerable at all stages. It is clear As Fortold is a strong card, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a good cube card. I consider this a high risk test. Some cube groups report great results from this card.
-Plague Belcher, +Ammit Eternal
Belcher had two mediocre modes. As a 3/2 menace for 2B it was not good enough, and as a 5/4 menace that kills you another creature it opened you to a two-for-one too easily, while being weak to bounce. Eternal is harder to stop offensively due to afflict. I am not excited by the card, as it is a bad blocker, and can be shrunk to irrelevance sometimes, but it probably a fine rolefiller. Zombie count here remains the same.
-Wretched Confluence, +Bontu's Last Reckoning
This is a swap I am already starting to regret and might be shifted. I will explain the rationale however. Reckoning is the only mass removal costing three, and it still seems better than mass removals that cost five (so far it was not true). Confluence is redundant with Demon of Dark Schemes and Massacre Wurm both proving an Infest, and I wanted to slightly help red aggro.
-Ruinous Path, +Doomfall
Having three Hero’s Downfall effects is too much. They are all black heavy, and that is a major problem. The second is that you do not really want playing two such effects in the same deck, they are expensive. Doomfall was a test, that I already feel is starting to fail. It seemed like a board card, but so far it had a hard time fitting into decks.
-Release the Gremlins, +Abrade
Major upgrade. Abrade is a maindeckable answer to artifacts. A good card to include in most red decks. Release is a sideboard card and not a great one either.
-Thriving Grubs, +Burning-Fist Minotaur
This is an end of an era. Ever since Gore-House Chainwalker was printed, red has at least one 3/2 dude for 1R with downsides. Borderland Marauder is the most famous and cleanest creature of the bunch. Now, not so many years after, they are almost all gone (War-Name Aspirant can count or not depending on the judge). This just shows how much red two drops have advanced.
Minotaur has a useful base body against most early game creatures and the threat of activation will let it connect more often than it should. It is of the few red card able to trade with midrange creatures. It is also a discard outlet.
-Mizzium Mortars, +Insult // Injury
We got a new creature-only red burn spell in Abrade. Mortars is not terrible, but also not great and quite narrow, as it is not a good fit for aggressive decks. I heard great things about Insult from other cube owners and I want to try it out. It represents a lot of damage for the mana, and is described as a red Overrun.
-Goblin Dark-Dwellers, +Ramunap Ruins
Dark Dwellers are a five drop red value creature. Red is not a big midrange color, and Dwellers depend on having useful spells in your graveyard. Not that hard to do, but it makes GDD not a good ramp card. Glorybringer really puts this card to shame. The only times I remember Dark-Dwellers being great was with Time Walk, and that is no good measure of the card. Ramunap Ruins is a free include for red aggressive decks. No other deck will touch it, so it will table, they will always play it.
-Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, +Shrine of Burning Rage
Grenzo is a bit of a win more. Not only is the casting cost difficult, the body is wimp. His ability requires creatures, preferably multiple creatures, attacking. I also dislike the Goad having no reminder text, with it being still a rather obscure ability. I wanted to keep this spot for red-heavy support. Usually that means an RR creature, but honestly we’ve tried them all and none were impressive. The closest was Eidolon of the Great Revel. I still like that card somewhat, so he might be back someday. Anyway Shrine also fills similar roles. It gives a lot of reach to the red deck, and a sort of inevitability. It is also one of the few ways of red decks to kill a Baneslayer Angel if things go dire.
-Bosh, Iron Golem, +Combustible Gearhulk
Bosh played poorly. Paying 4 mana to sacrifice proved really expensive. It never did something the turn it was played. It provides poor defense. Even in the artifact decks he was not great. Combustible reads poorly, but fills a similar slot – a heavy red artifact for Goblin Welder and Daretti decks. So far it was better than anticipated. In the types of decks where you play him, the average converted mana cost is high, especially if you hit another reanimation target. Sending cards to your graveyard is also a benefit in those decks. A 6/6 first striker will be better on the defense than a 6/7, and it is much cheaper. Still far from a stable include though.
-Stoke the Flames, +Territorial Hellkite
Hellkite seems very powerful, I am excited for that card. The cut should be a red four drop creature, likely one of Hero of Oxid Ridge and Hazoret the Fervent. As Hazoret had little time under the sun, I am going to delay that decision for now and currently play both. Stoke was unimpressive. Many burn spells deal 4 damage, and most cost less and are more splashable. Convoking creatures to pay for Stoke was rare, as it was far too much tempo to lose to be worth it.
-Grapple with the Past, +Ramunap Excavator
No one was interested in Grapple. It is a fine card selection card but low impact and always feels excessive. I want my mana ramp and creature threats more. Not being able to get back spells is a big downside compared to Regrowth. Excavator will be cool for a while with Strip Mine. Unless it proves itself as a fine value creature without the combo, it will also get cut.
-Nissa, Vital Force, +Champion of Rhonas
Nissa is a very fine card, but there are too many Nissas. One of the drafts a player had 5 Nissas in his deck! One had to go, and Vital Force is the least powerful card in the most contested part of the curve. Champion is another test – I can see him being great in the great cheat decks with all the eldrazi.
-Creeperhulk, +Carnage Tyrant
Super upgrade. Tyrant makes Sagu Mauler look bad. It is what green lacked – a beatstick costing six mana. It fills a vital role in the weak matchup of green ramp decks against blue control decks.
-Tezzeret the Schemer, +The Scarab God
This tezzeret is not amazing It does see play in the specific Dimir artifact deck, but that deck has two more tezzerets, that do the same sort of stuff but better. The Scarab god fills a weak spot in the curve of both blue and black and is rather high powered. It is slow, it is expensive, but it also grants inevitability, with the scry, life drain and ever increasing army.
-Spell Queller, +Fractured Identity
Queller is a good card, is fun, but a victim of space. Geist of Saint Traft and Reflector Mage cost exactly the same, and are best in the same places, in this small guild. White and blue are not lacking in three drops. Identity is a busted card, and could be the most powerful in its guild.
-Filigree Familiar, +Crystalline Crawler
Familiar is weak against decks that are not aggressive. If your opponent’s deck does not have to attack with small dudes, this card is thoroughly unimpressive. Also, as stated above red decks do not need the hate currently. Crawler has a high potential. It on average will be a 4/4 for 4 the turn you play him, reasonable defense. Next turn it can ramp you by four mana, of any color. That is a lot of burst. It is dirty with Upheaval. It means you can play and always have counter backup. You can play it turn four and immediately cast a Tinker. Worst case, it will be a decently size beater.
-Blightsteel Colossus, +Cursed Scroll
I’ve changed my mind on Blightsteel. I do think it will make Tinker decks too powerful and in general is not an interesting card to add to the environment. It did not even see play, it is that narrow. Perhaps Sundering Titan will make a comeback soon. Scroll was there to fill a curve gap of artifacts at 1 CMC. Daretti decks want cheap artifacts. It is also a recurring source of removal for control decks, and nowadays pinging planeswalkers is good.
-Westvale Abbey, +Sorcerous Spyglass
I did not see abbey flip even once. Her ability was seldom used. In general the value of the colorless lands dropped significantly and I’ll cut Gargoyle Castle soon as well. There are several reasons for that. First, there are less cards with colorless costs now in the cube. Second, we have got more mana sinks in later sets. The full manland cycle, clues, and now all the cycling cards from Amonkhet. There are more useful ways to use excess mana late game.
Spyglass is better than Pithing Needle in this format. I card I am more likely to maindeck and is less likely to entirely miss.