Welcome to the last Cube Ten article of 2013! In typical end-of-year fashion, I wanted to highlight my top 10 cube cards released this year.
As far as sets go, 2013 was a pretty good year for cube additions. Gatecrash, Dragon’s Maze and M14 all brought a few gems to the table, but Theros was the real breakout set of the year for cube. I can’t think of so many cards that are not only viable on most cubes’ power levels, but also so fun to play. When you play Theros cards in cube, there’s just a certain feel-good aspect to them.
Here are my 10 picks for the best new cube cards released in 2013. Keep in mind that my evaluations are based on these cards being in your average powered cube:
Mana dorks are a dime a dozen, but Utopia-Tree-on-Crack does so much more than ramp. It gives pure aggro decks fits as a tough (but not too tough) blocker, and its Hexproof matters immensely in the early game when an aggro opponent wants to get it out of the way, or is trying to disrupt your mana ramping/fixing. I value Caryatid very highly just because it’s such a workhorse. It’s not flashy, but it does its job so very well.
I confess that I only added Ashiok to this list because it is so uninteractive – it is one of the least interactive cards up for consideration in 2013, barring True-Name Nemesis (which I’ll talk about later). While a turn-3 Ashiok is nigh unbeatable in Limited, there are ways of dealing with Ashiok in cubes of higher power levels – the question is whether or not you can deal with it in time. In blue control mirrors – not an uncommon occurrence given how deep blue is in most cubes – Ashiok can and will be a game-winner. Against more aggressive decks, Ashiok can buy you some much needed time. The downside of Ashiok is that he/she does little to dig you out of a bad spot.
It wasn’t that long ago that people were still running Erhnam Djinn in cubes – and look where we are now! Polukranos’ body is absurd for the cost, but the real reason why Polukranos makes the cut is its Monstrosity ability. Suddenly green has a way to fireball the opponent’s board, and what colour ramps better than green to help fuel the XX cost? The real threat of Polukranos is that at some point, it must be answered. You can’t really just chump block him, and you can’t let your opponent keep building up mana or else you won’t have a board left to protect you. The Monstrous ability makes him a great topdeck, and gives you more game than a random fattie if you’re behind. I think the best of Polukranos in cube is yet to come.
Orzhov is one of those colour combinations that I’d love to draft more – if only the mana of my BW decks wasn’t so terrible. Obzedat has become, in my eyes, a marquee card that definitely pulls me more in the direction of BW. It puts two types of pressure on the opponent: a fast clock in the form of a hasty 5/5 immune to sorcery speed removal, and a slow burn in the form of its ETB drain effect – both clocks are equally difficult to deal with, and for a more midrange-y player, the extra life is certainly welcome.Progenitor Mimic is one of my favourite cards of the year, period. Everyone loves a good clone, and while this one is a bit steeper in mana cost than most, I liken it to Spitting Image in its reach and ability to close out a game. Every successive turn the Mimic is on the board makes it worse and worse for your opponent – just set it and forget it! If you have just a bit of breathing space, it can pull you back if you’re behind, and if you’re ahead, it can put you really far ahead.
6. Ral Zarek
I already covered Ral Zarek in a previous Cube Ten article, but I still firmly believe he’s an understated asset in cube. He has a great amount of utility, is easily splashed and has potential interactions we are just beginning to discover.
I am likely going to echo everything that was said on The Magic Box podcast about this guy, but Lifebane Zombie does everything black wants for great value. It’s a reasonable clock, it reveals valuable information, and it potentially strips an opponent of a threat that would otherwise require more resources to deal with. Playing a Lifebane Zombie on turn 3 can drastically alter your opponent’s game plan. They must adapt their turns to deal with both a missing card and a 3-power creature aimed at their face. A solid, solid man/zombie.
Like Lifebane Zombie, Hero’s Downfall was a card that black needed. There are strong incentives to go heavily into every colour – black just less so. Cards like Hero’s Downfall make black much more appealing to jump into. Dreadbore was merely fine; Hero’s Downfall shines much brighter just for the added ability to kill a Planeswalker on your opponent’s end step. Murder alone is not enough to warrant a cube slot, and Vampire Hexmage is arguable; it’s the fact that this card puts both of them together – for a reasonable cost – that makes it a such a role-player in cube.
People who cube with me know that this, like Progenitor Mimic, is one of my favourite cards of the year (or perhaps ever). Very few non-green drafters mainboard enchantment removal, and barring a counterspell, slamming Legion and surviving for a few turns will swing the game in your favour. I, like most other people, cruelly underestimated Assemble the Legion when it was spoiled, but now I, like most other people, know better.
10. AetherlingAetherling is the blue control player’s dream come true, and a worthy successor of Morphling that would bring a tear to any old-school Draw-Go player’s eyes. Make no mistake: Aetherling is almost purely a finisher whose pseudo-vigilance can give you an edge in any race. Also make no mistake that Aetherling costs 7 mana in all but the most dire circumstances. Aetherling isn’t necessarily oppressive because it’s so mana-intensive (and blue mana-intensive at that), and also because it’s somewhat narrow in its role. But it is damn good at what it does.
Dishonourable mention: True-Name Nemesis
I have accepted True-Name’s existence in Legacy, but I hate the fact that this card will exist in cubes. I can understand the lack of interactivity in a card if it serves a greater function or purpose, such as Progenitus or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. True-Name is just uninteractive for the sake of being uninteractive. I don’t think this card is fun or serves any unique role. Blue doesn’t need a card like True-Name in cube. It’s not that it’s overpowered. It’s just boring.
Honourable mention: Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
The potential for absurdity for Nykthos is quite high, but at this point I feel it’s too early to tell whether or not Nykthos will be a permanent resident in cube. I see it working best in mono-white decks, and can potentially give mono-black the push it needs to become truly viable. Considering most cube decks are two colours, it’s hard to say if the switch to mono-colour for Nykthos is worth it. Then again, having only drafted it once, it’s possible I’m just full of it.
Did I miss any cards that you think should be included in this top ten list? Sound off in the comments!