This is my 48th installment of the "top 20" set (P)review articles! Just like the previous reviews, it will be in a spoiled top X countdown format, with each section having an image, a brief summary/description, and my verdict on what cubes I think it could potentially see some play in. I got a lot of positive feedback on the format from the last few articles, so I’m going to keep the “what I like” and “what I don’t like” sections.
Keep in mind (just like the others) that this is a set preview. Similar to draft predictions in professional sports, this list is an educated guess at best. Some cards I value highly in here may turn out to not last long in the cube. Other cards that are lower down on the list (or even missed entirely!) could (well, very likely may) turn out to be great cards. Even the great Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round! Again, this is not intended to be gospel, set in stone, or written as a review for posterity. This is simply written to be an enjoyable guess at cards I like for cubes, and hopefully it'll allow some cube managers to evaluate cards they may have otherwise overlooked and/or put some cards in perspective that may've been overhyped. Nothing more.
Lost Caverns of Ixalan is a great cube set! It revisits existing themes and keywords, as well as introducing a couple more that both have value in the cube. Map tokens are new consumable artifact tokens like Food, Clues and Treasures, but Map tokens allow you to sacrifice them for explore triggers! Additionally, they introduced a keyword called “Discover” that is essentially a fixed Cascade trigger, that allows you to play or draw the revealed nonland card (so countermagic and X spells are no longer blank hits).
What I Like: Supreme Will is a solid filler spell, and Riddle has been upgraded in two ways! First, it changes the counterspell to have a 4-mana counter clause, and it changes the Impulse effect into a beefed-up Strategic Planning that fills the graveyard with the unselected cards.
What I Don't Like: Three mana is a lot for a replacement-level effect by today’s cube standards, and it can be hard to find room for spells that cost 3+ mana and are just “solid”.
Verdict: If your cube is of a size or constructed in such a way that you have room for a 3-mana generic goodstuff spell, this is a very solid one, and is worthy of consideration. Cubes that are 720+ in size or those that utilize a lot of delve effects that want spells that can feed the ‘yard should give Riddle some careful consideration.
What I Like: A 1-drop that can grow throughout the game, has evasion, and can be sacrificed for removal deserves close inspection. Descending triggers whenever a permanent card goes into your graveyard from anywhere, so discarded cards can activate it in the same way that fetchlands, baubles, spheres/stars, and petals can. In cubes loaded to the gills with those kinds of effects, it can be possible to start growing the Stalker right away. Once the body has outlived its usefulness, you can sacrifice it to kill a small priority target, which adds nice utility to the aggressive body.
What I Don't Like: If you can’t reliably activate the Stalker early, it can spend the first few turns as a 1/1, which is not what aggro decks want to be doing.
Verdict: If your cube is constructed in a way that maximizes the number of early enablers for descend, and you support aggressive black decks, Stalker is worthy of attention. Particularly in cubes that run duplicates and triplicates of fetchlands, this creature can be quite the menace when you can reliably start descending as early as T1.
What I Like: No matter which way the explore breaks, you’re getting a decent card for your 1-mana investment. If you hit gas, you get an Isamaru and some card selection. If you hit a land, you get a 1-mana Elvish Visionary. In decks and situations where either outcome is desirable, it’s one of the more powerful 1-mana plays available.
What I Don't Like: The lack of control over the effect on T1 hurts the consistency. Not only do you need to find a deck that’s happy with both Isamarus and Visionaries, but you need to be okay with hitting either one when it’s played. Typically, decks trying to apply early pressure that want the Isamaru effect aren’t going to be happy playing an Elvish Visionary, and value decks looking for a 1-mana source of card draw don’t really want the 2/2 for 1 mana. Finding the situation where the deck is happy with either outcome is the real trick. Suffers a bit in the same way that Vexing Devil does; a card where both effects are above-the-curve in terms of rate and both effects fit the deck’s primary gameplan, but not getting the choice of which effect you get ultimately makes the card suffer in formats as volatile as the cube.
Verdict: In cubes where green decks will often be happy with the 2-power 1-drop OR the cheap value creature, I think Scout can shine. Worth a test in decks where that will be the case, though ultimately I think the consistency will hurt its long-term viability in the cube.
What I Like: Similar to Splicer, you get 4 total power for 3 mana (though the Evangelist’s is split between the ETB trigger and the death trigger). The bat tokens have flying, which is nice, and the battle cry trigger is nice when swinging on open boards in your go-wide aggro and/or token shells.
What I Don't Like: Unlike Splicer, flicker effects are far more lackluster on the Evangelist. Getting a 1/1 bat instead of a 3/3 golem when hit by a flicker effect is quite a bit weaker. I really wish the main body had flying. It would’ve made the battle cry a much more consistently valuable ability, which would’ve added so much more to its value as an overall package. Trading away in combat against everything in the cube kills the consistency of the trigger, which makes the card suffer overall.
Verdict: This is a solid 3-drop, but it’s in a super congested slot with a lot of powerful options. I couldn’t find room to squeeze this into my cube in addition to Splicer, but I feel that if my cube was bigger, it would be a much easier card to find room for. Worth a close look at cubes 630+ in size, those that are deep on the monarch/initiative subgame (where the flying on the bat token gains more value), or those that are big on the token/anthem plan.
What I Like: This is likely the best Fiend Hunter variant we’ve seen for the cube. It’s a 2-power flier with 3 toughness, has Ward for a bit more reliability, and it can hit both creatures and artifacts! It also has the ability to target your own cards if you’re willing to cash in a cheap artifact or creature for a treasure token.
What I Don't Like: Blue’s 3cc creatures are pretty competitive, so finding room can be hard. The opponent may also occasionally be able to use the treasure token to fix mana or ramp into a bigger threat once they’ve abandoned the idea of getting their first target back. And while it can target artifacts, the fact that it turns the target into a treasure limits how effective the Larcenist can be against artifact mana.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a way for blue to disrupt the opponent’s creature development, Larcenist is worth a go. It’s very likely the best Fiend Hunter effect that the cube has seen, so if you’re in the market for this kind of effect and have the free slot in blue, it’s worth a test. I would be able to find room for this at 630+ for sure, and there’s a good chance it could be a solid creature at 540 as it is.
What I Like: A 3/4 vigilant 3-drop is a decent-sized body, and generating a Map token on both ETB and every attack makes this a consistent source of card advantage, card selection, and +1/+1 counters. This is akin to Courser of Kruphix in that it’s a 3-drop with 4 toughness that can generate card advantage by drawing lands off the top of your library. This also has more power, can grow itself (and/or the team) over the course of the game, and creates artifact tokens for all the various synergies those can have.
What I Don't Like: Unlike Courser, this card can’t generate card advantage for free; you have to pay to crack the Maps. It also doesn’t gain you life. This card looks better on offense but worse on defense than a card like Courser.
Verdict: If you have the room for a value-generating 3-drop in green with an oversized body, I would suggest giving it a go. While I think it’s substantially worse than a card like Tireless Tracker, I think its about equal to a card like Courser. I’d be slamming this at 630+ for sure, and I’m still trying to find a good cut to give this a trial run in my 540.
What I Like: I think this is my favorite Mesmeric Fiend effect for the cube. In comparison to Freebooter, the Bat trades one extra toughness for both lifelink and the ability to hit any nonland card! Being able to pick the most important card from the opponent’s hand (even if it’s a creature) is such an important upside, I think it more than makes up for the missing toughness, and the lifelink is just gravy!
What I Don't Like: Similar to all the other creatures in this vein, it’s more about the disruption than the pressure. Being a 1-power threat will always feel pretty anemic as threat, so the power of the effect is tied into how critical the disruptive element is. One of these days we’ll see a mono-black version of this effect with more aggressive stats, and that will make it a better generically-playable aggro card instead of just a disruptive element.
Verdict: In cubes of any size that have a combo element to them, the disruption of these kinds of effects becomes valuable enough to overlook the lack of power they bring to the table. In cubes loaded to the gills with combos, I could see Bat being a great performer at any size. As a stand-alone goodstuff card, I think it’s an easy 630+ inclusion, and warrants testing at smaller sizes the more than initiative/monarch becomes a thing and the more combos are available for it to disrupt.
What I Like: The way that these new restless lands were evaluated was a combination of evaluating them as stand-alone cards AND in the context of how they compare to the existing manland option. Reef is a solid land. A 4/4 deathtouch for 4 is no joke. Self-milling 4 cards in the midgame can fuel your ‘yard a lot, and after multiple late-game activations you can really start to threaten the opponent’s smaller library even when the shark can get repeatedly chump-blocked.
What I Don't Like: No matter how good Reef is, it’s simply not going to compete with Creeping Tar Pit. So it’s going to be relegated to cubes that are big enough to play both cycles of manlands, or cubes that want to use it as a placeholder while they wait for other cycles to be completed (cough, allied Horizon Lands, cough).
Verdict: Worse than Creeping Tar Pit. Likely relegated to large cubes big enough to run two full cycles of manlands, or cubes using the extra Restless land as a placeolder until the rest of the Horizon lands are printed.
What I Like: Selesnya is lacking for great options, so when a 2-mana 2/3 that can draw extra threats every time it attacks gets printed, it caught my attention. The adventure isn’t mandatory, but the extra Map tokens are nice, and as long as you can fit Journey On into your curve without sacrificing pressure, you might as well grab the free value. The real power is in the main body of the card. A splashable 2/3 for 2 that can draw cards and/or provide card selection with every attack is quite good. And the interaction with Kellan’s ability and the Map activations plays really nicely together depending on what you’re digging for.
What I Don't Like: I wish it could draw creatures of any mana value instead of just ones with mv<4. It would also be great if you could crack Map tokens at instant-speed to explore as a combat trick. That’s not really Kellan’s fault, but it makes a particularly noticeable difference with his design in particular.
Verdict: Medium- to large-sized cubes looking to experiment with something different in a relatively anemic Selesnya section should give Kellan a close look.
What I Like: In comparison to Raging Ravine, Ridgeline activates outside of Bolt range, and when attacking alongside at least one other creature, it represents 5-power with its first trip into the red zone, and untaps your other attacker when racing.
What I Don't Like: The triggered ability is a blank when attacking alone, which is something that manlands do often. They’re prefect for threatening an open post-Wrath board, and Ravine does a spectacular job of this, and Ridgeline simply falls short on that front. Also, after multiple activations and attacks, Ravine pulls ahead of Ridgeline in the damage race, even when attacking with other threats!
Verdict: Worse than Raging Ravine. Likely relegated to large cubes big enough to run two full cycles of manlands, or cubes using the extra Restless land as a placeolder until the rest of the Horizon lands are printed.
What I Like: A 7/6 trample for 6 is a solid baseline for a monster that gets to “cascade” into another nonland spell w/ mana value 5 or less. The ability is an ETB trigger, making it a halfway decent reanimation creature since you get both the free value card and the 7-power trampler. It has a big enough butt to play well in Wildfire decks, if that’s still a thing in your group. Most importantly, it has a self-binning “channel” ability where you can blast a creature or ‘walker for 3 damage for 3 mana, as an uncounterable instant-speed effect. As far as big monsters go that have mechanics that can get themselves into the ‘yard, the Carnosaur is one of the better effects.
What I Don't Like: I wish it had one other thing baked into the overall package. Haste, for example, would’ve been outstanding, even at the cost of an extra mana. My ideal version would’ve been a 7-mana version with haste and Discover 6. That way I can discover directly into my Wildfire, because I want to be greedy and try to live the dream like that. While I’m wishing for stuff, a discard ability at 2 mana instead of 3 would’ve been hot.
Verdict: Overall, it’s a solid package that’s good at several things but not great at any one thing. I’m testing this at 540, but I could certainly see it not making the cut forever.
What I Like: In the later stages of the game, activating a manland that can contribute to a big alpha strike with an army of tokens or small creatures is valuable. Stirring Wildwood activates for 1 less mana, has one more toughness, and has reach …but it lacks any offensive firepower. I like the ability to shoehorn in additional anthem effects into the cube without having to dedicate a slot exclusively to that strategy, and Prairie lets me do that quite well. Plus, the art on the pack version of the Prairie is incredible! Llama Land!
What I Don't Like: This is a poor manland without additional creatures to pump, and a 4-mana activation for a land that always dies to Bolt is a steep ask.
Verdict: I really don’t like Stirring Wildwood very much, so I’m happy to take the opportunity to test out a manland that’s better for end game aggressive strikes and helps support go-wide token shells. I’m going to be testing this in my 540, and I’m relatively optimistic that it will perform solidly.
What I Like: There’s a lot to unpack with this creature. It’s a discard outlet that can put +1/+1 counters on your attacking bodies, it provides reach in the form of trample, and it converts your discarded cards into additional gas from the top of your library. It reminds me of an odd combination of Luminarch Aspirant and Containment Construct …with a repeatable rummager built in. If you can live off the top of your library, making land drops and casting gas from your exiled cards, Inti can spiral out of control and run away with the game. In decks that can utilize the discarded cards from the ‘yard, like aggro Loam decks and Bloodghast decks and stuff, you can mitigate the drawback, generate CA from the exile/play clause, and beat down hard with a growing, trampling threat. You can also activate the ability with a different creature, allowing you to get the +1/+1 counter, the trample, and access to the exiled card even if Inti doesn’t actually attack itself …including the turn it resolves. It’s important to note that the exile/play clause works with all your discard effects, so other looters can exile additional cards from the top which will occasionally lead to even more card advantage.
What I Don't Like: Luckily the first discard option is a “may”, because there will be times where you don’t want to discard cards to Inti’s ability. When you’re in a situation where pitching cards is bad (like sometimes on the first turn where you won’t be able to play the exiled card) Inti’s a pretty mundane creature. You really need to go all in on the discarding/exiling gameplan to be able to take advantage of all the value Inti brings, else you run the risk of it being a very mediocre threat.
Verdict: The ceiling on this card is absurdly high for a 2-drop. But it also has a very tame floor. I’m excited to test this out in my 540 and see how it does, because there’s a lot of promise.
What I Like: This is such a great manland. Cheap activation, evasion, and value in the form of the Map token generation. Celestial Colonnade is an amazing manland, and despite that, there will be decks where the Anchorage is better. Tempo shells looking to take advantage of the cheaper activation cost, and decks with a lot of expected combat that can take advantage of the explore triggers will be stoked to have access to this new land.
What I Don't Like: The only strike against this land is the competition. Colonnade is better in WU midrange and control decks, where it activates outside of Bolt range and hits for a meaningful 4 damage. It’s hard to compete against Colonnade, and that’s the task that Anchorage has in front of it when comparing itself to of the best manlands of all time.
Verdict: For some cubes, this will be better than Celestial Colonnade, and for those cubes, it’s a clear slam dunk. In other cubes, it may be worse than Colonnade. There it will likely be relegated to large cubes big enough to run two full cycles of manlands, or cubes using the extra Restless land as a placeolder until the rest of the Horizon lands are printed.
What I Like: This is a very aggressive take on Krenko. Since the tokens enter tapped and attacking, it represents more clocked damage than several of the slower Rabblemaster variants, including Krenko and Hanweir Garrison. Even when on the board entirely alone, it represents 19 damage by the end of combat on T6, which places it in the middle of the pack in terms of aggression. However, the attacking clause isn’t tied to Anim… it works with any attacking creature. So if you have another attacking body that gets value from this on T3 when its played, that representative damage jumps to 32 by the end of combat on T6, making it a faster clock than even Rabblemaster itself. And that’s an easy clause to satisfy that should happen relatively often. Unlike a card like Najeela that needs another attacking Warrior available to attack with every turn to outpace Rabblemaster, Anim can do it with any creature! It also has the upside of always having 3+ toughness if it’s entering the red zone, and the Gnomes it makes are artifacts in case that matters for Karnstructs and the like.
What I Don't Like: Competition in the Boros section is stronger than ever, and there’s already great cards on the outside looking in. But despite the competition in the 3cc creature slots in Boros decks and the strength of the other RW cards it’s competing with, the ceiling on Anim is so high and should be hit so consistently that it’s worth finding room, IMO.
Verdict: Another super competitive Boros option. I could see this card making the top 3-5 Boros cards, meaning it could be worthwhile in cubes of all sorts of various sizes and configurations. But as long as you’re not replacing Forth Eorlingas! with Anim, it should be a sidegrade at worst even against the most competitive of cards. This is a powerful Rabblemaster variant friends. Don’t sleep on it.
What I Like: I love this land. It activates for cheap, has evasion, has a 3rd point of toughness for tangling with Lions, Pikers, & Bears, and it has a triggered rummaging ability that provides card selection and feeds the ‘yard for all those BR decks that care about that. Everything that I want in a manland package, and the competition against its predecessor is probably the largest gap in quality between two of the lands.
What I Don't Like: Lands entering tapped isn’t ideal for Rakdos. It’s still definitely worth it, but it’s one of the combinations that feels that drawback of the design the most.
Verdict: This is a great land, and I’d be happy running it in pretty much every Rakdos deck. If your cube has room for a manland in the Rakdos section, this one should be it.
What I Like: This is my favorite tempo looter in the cube! In comparison to its predecessors like Looter il-Kor and Suspicious Stowaway, Malcolm always has 2 power, making it a much more impactful threat in tempo shells. And while the evasion isn’t quite as absolute, the flash makes the effect so much more reliable because I don’t have to cast my creature and pass the turn before using it. Being able to surprise flash this in at EOT, and untap and swing will make this a very consistent looting effect, and have it play better into the plan of the reactive tempo deck even better than its counterparts. Not to mention that this can build up counters and ultimately cast your discarded loot cards for free. Won’t happen often, but it’s certainly not impossible.
What I Don't Like: Attack trigger vs connect trigger would’ve gone even further to advance the consistency, but that’s a big ask.
Verdict: This is a great tempo creature, and the best of the aggressive looter variants. I’m going to happily play this card at 540, but I could see folks making room for this at 450 for sure.
What I Like: I like instant-speed 2cc removal that can answer multiple types of permanents. The closest comparison is probably Fateful Absence, but by comparison, Get Lost hits a 3rd type of permanent, and gives up two Maps instead of one Clue. Overall, I’d rather give the opponent the Maps since they’re not always worth a card and sometimes they’ll be lacking for explore targets, so it’s a clear upgrade in my eyes. It’s important to note that you can always target your own card with this in case it’s ever worth getting the Maps for yourself.
What I Don't Like: Situations involving complex combat-heavy boards will be tilted in the opponent’s favor if they hit critical +1/+1 counters off their Maps. Luckily the Maps have to be cracked at sorcery-speed, but it’s still something to keep a watchful eye on.
Verdict: This is a solid removal spell with a great name for a staple removal effect of its kind. Happy to slam at 540, would test at 450, and I could see smaller cubes experimenting with this as an inclusion too. Very decent removal spell.
What I Like: Strictly better Dreadbore wasn’t on my checklist, but I guess I’m happy to have it. Collapse is a modal spell with one of the two modes being a straight-up Dreadbore. The other option you can pick from destroys any noncreature, nonland permanent with mv≤1. For powered cubes, this option kills every Mox, Crypt, Vault, Sol Ring, etc. in the cube. Not to mention a handful of other powerful targets to get rid of like Skullclamp. In my cube list, this extra ability destroys ~30 targets, and in addition to the premium mana artifacts it removes, it can also remove the utility artifact tokens like Maps, Clues, and Food if needed. The nicest part of the spell is how easy the descend mechanic can trigger. Pop a fetchland and suddenly you can kill their Oko and their Mox Sapphire for 2 mana. I’m in for that.
What I Don't Like: I loved the alter on my Dreadbore, and now that card has been replaced.
Verdict: This is well above average Rakdos removal spell. Dreadbore is a solid Magic card, and adding on the ability to destroy fast mana and utility artifacts on top of the effect is great. Then give it a clause so you can have both? Sign me up. I think this is easily a top 3 Rakdos card for powered cubes, and is likely still a top 3-5 card for unpowered ones, so I could see this being a 360-450 cube card without question.
What I Like: This is a premium black removal spell. This is everything I ever wanted Infernal Grasp to be in the cube. It hits both creatures and planeswalkers for 2 mana at instant speed, and you have the option of either paying the life or discarding a card to pay for the drawback. This also allows Triumph to function as a 2cc instant-speed discard outlet when your opponent has a target so you can discard your robots in your Welder decks or your fatties in your reanimation deck.
What I Don't Like: In decks that can’t afford to discard cards to it, the 3 life can be a steep cost when you're on your back foot.
Verdict: This is a premium removal spell for cubes. I can’t imagine not cubing this at any size, even all the way down to a powered 360 card cube list.
Thanks for taking the time to read through the article! Feel free to post your comments here for discussion and share your feedback.
You're welcome! It's a very solid Stifle effect for the cube. About on par with something like Nimble Obstructionist for our format since the value of Stifle effects (and in this case pseudo-Needle effects) can be inconsistent.