Theros Cube Review
Oh, hey there, everybody! It’s Elliot Raff, back with another set review for the Cube! Apologies for this being a little later than I intended. Let’s just say that school decided to kick me extra hard this semester. In any case, we’re here now, and Theros has a lot of spicy new offerings for us to be excited about, so let’s go!
Chained to the Rocks – This is a card that is quite exciting. It’s a conditional one-mana Journey to Nowhere, but requires you to be both red and white (or at least have Sacred Foundry or Plateau). RW has traditionally gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to Cube-worthy cards, but this is definitely a card that can fill that slot if you need a change. If you choose to include it, it should take up a Boros slot and not a white one. Overall, it’s an interesting restriction that should be at least be tested in most Cubes.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion – Elspeth has proven to be the champion of Cubes as well as Theros. Each iteration of her has been good in Cube at some point or another (though I, personally, have never been a fan of Elspeth Tirel), and the six-mana version is no different. Making three Soldiers while adding loyalty is no joke, and being able to come down, sweep your green opponent’s monsters and then make a defense next turn should be able to win most games. Her ultimate, though unexciting, will end most games if you get there, but if you get to untap with her, I can’t see too many decks being able to win through six tokens and a free turn, assuming they try to fight her. I would include her in pretty much every Cube, and try her over Tirel if you still run the five-mana Elspeth.
Fabled Hero – This is our Theros version of the 2/2 double striking monster for three with a relevant set keyword. This guy might have some of the best flavor text in recent memory, but that’s the only place where he outshines Cube staples such as Mirran Crusader. Unless you are somehow supporting heroic (unlikely), his fable will have to be sung elsewhere.
Gods Willing – I have seen a decent amount of people run Stave Off in their commons/uncommons Cubes. This card is strictly better, as you get a little card selection for your mana while you’re countering a removal spell.
Heliod, God of the Sun – I don’t expect most of the gods to be good enough for Cube. They certainly are unique, powerful effects, but a conditional indestructible 5/6 for four mana isn’t all that exciting, even if it does grant your team vigilance. Repeatable vigilant 2/1s will definitely win you the game, given enough time, but Cube doesn’t generally afford players time to sink turn after turn into making 2/1s.
Soldier of the Pantheon – Now that’s what I’m talking about! This card is strictly better than Elite Vanguard (but you should have room for both!), and is a welcome addition to the hallowed halls of cheap, efficient white weenies. His protection clause won’t always matter, but there are a lot of creatures this guy blocks well, and his ability to not get two-for-one’d with Electrolyze doesn’t hurt either. Another auto-include.
Spear of Heliod – I really like this card. Essentially, you are trading Glorious Anthem for one that can be blown up by red decks and that provides a pretty sweet effect if you ever get behind on board. Repeatable removal is no joke, even if you do have to take a hit from a monster first, and it can be a powerful deterrent that can randomly win you a lot of races. I would urge you to test this card. It’s been absolutely absurd in my Cube so far.
Omenspeaker – I have seen a lot of hype surrounding this guy for Cube, but honestly, he has been been pretty mediocre in testing. Unlike his most direct comparison, Augur of Bolas, Omenspeaker doesn’t offer any card advantage. I don’t remember being excited for Augury Owl, but I guess three toughness is enough to garner consideration in commons/uncommons Cubes. If you are in the business of slinging gold symbols, I’d steer clear.
Dissolve – For a counterspell to cost three mana in Cube, it normally has to have a very large upside attached. For this reason, Forbid is the only three mana permission spell I run in my large Cube. Dissipate doesn’t offer much over Cancel, and every other alternative is just not exciting. While scry 1 is definitely an upgrade over most other effects, including Dissipate, I would be wary of including this in a Powered environment. Uncommons and lower should definitely include this as an option.
Thassa, God of the Sea – Thassa is in an interesting position in Cube. On one hand, an indestructible enchantment that lets you scry 1 every upkeep is quite strong, and an indestructible 5/5 for three mana in blue is unheard of. However, the fact that she needs four other blue symbols to stick around in a blue deck is a real detriment. Short of planeswalkers, blue’s permanents don’t tend to stick around until the late game. Thassa certainly won’t be a 5/5 before turn five in the vast majority of Cube decks. While her ability to make a creature unblockable for 1U is quite powerful, I’m just not sure that strategy is where blue control decks want to be. She seems to be most at home in some kind of tempo deck, but even then, spending two mana to force through damage seems sub-par when what those decks really want to do is hold up countermagic. I’m going to test Thassa, as there is a real chance that my evaluation of her is just wrong, but I’m not convinced that Cube is the place for her to shine.
Erebos, God of the Dead – Like the other four-mana Gods, I can’t see Erebos making much on an impact in Cube. Most of the time, he will end up being a marginal downgrade to Greed, as he will rarely get to turn sideways, and the Everlasting Torment effect isn’t very useful when it’s not stapled onto Sulfuric Vortex. I don’t see him being good enough.
Hero’s Downfall – Let’s get one thing straight. Most of the time, this card is just going to be Murder. However, you’re going to run it in your Cubes for the small percentage of the time that it’s not. Short of Vampire Hexmage, black has not had an efficient way to deal with planeswalkers yet, so it’s good that we are getting this effect. Black is in an interesting position, most of the time, where it can’t simply turn men sideways and send Jace packing. A solid addition.
Read the Bones – Sign in Blood this card is not. It’s not even Night’s Whisper, which is starting to be cut out of most lists. In Cubes that pack rares, the third mana really kills this card. I’d consider running it in common/uncommon lists, but the vast majority of the time, I’d rather just cast Phyrexian Rager.
Tormented Hero – Is one fewer toughness worth the Heroic ability? In most Cubes, that answer is a resounding, “No, thank you.” More than anything, what is going to keep this little aggro guy out of most Cubes is his creature type. Being a Zombie is starting to matter more and more, so he’ll have to die and return before being considered for inclusion.
Whip of Erebos – Like Erebos, his whip isn’t poised to make a huge impact in the Cube. While your creatures having lifelink is no doubt a powerful effect, it just doesn’t do enough at the four slot. When I tap out at four mana, I either want to be winning the game as an aggro deck, stabilizing or providing a threat as midrange, or sweeping the board in a control strategy. Whip of Erebos doesn’t provide enough utility to be a major player in any of those strategies as a mediocre unearth effect, even if it is repeatable.
Ember Swallower – It’s a testament to how far we have come when a 4/5 for four doesn’t garner heavy consideration for Cube. Although he is quite strong in the red decks that seek to utilize Wildfire effects, since he both survives the signature spell and can add some insult to injury, the lack of flexibility (no evasion, no haste) really hurts. I can’t see him making that much of an impact in Cube.
Firedrinker Satyr – It’s neither a Jackal nor a Pup. Flavor fail! But in all honesty, this guy is going to be a huge help for aggressive red decks. At its absolute worst, it is going to be Jackal Pup that can trade up in combat (albeit at a steep price). Its ability is somewhat expensive, but the tradeoff is well worth it. A good addition to the red one-drops.
Lightning Strike - Not much to see here. We now have the third Incinerate, and a functional reprint of Searing Spear. Smaller Cubes might not want to include the trinity, but larger (540+) Cubes should have no problems.
Purphoros, God of the Forge – As has been covered by multiple renowned pros, Purphoros is an undeniably powerful card. This does not mean, however, that Cube is the right place to utilize his power. More so than any of the other conceivably powerful Gods in Cube, Purphoros requires a lot of other cards to be effective. Tapping out at four mana to do essentially nothing immediate is never something that I want to do in my red decks. This doesn’t mean that the God of the Forge will never have a home in Cube, but the time isn’t right for him right now.
Stormbreath Dragon – Siege-Gang Commander, Zealous Conscripts,
Thundermaw Hellkite: The newest red five-drop has some powerful competition. Stormbreath Dragon is certainly strong, but he doesn’t hit as hard as his counterparts, and his protection clause isn’t as relevant as it will be in constructed formats. His monstrosity can dome a control player in a hurry, but it is very expensive and will not always be relevant. I would have a hard time including Stormbreath in Cubes in the near future.
Boon Satyr – Ah, another one of those “really good if green aggro is your thing” cards. I like Boom Satyr in constructed, but Cube is probably not his place to shine. The value he provides is definite, but having two toughness really hurts him.
Polukranos, World Eater – To use obvious terms, Polukranos is a monster. I’ve had him proxied up and in my Cube ever since he was spoiled, and he has more than lived up to expectations. A 5/5 for four mana might not be as big a game as it once was in Cube, but being able to come down as early as turn three, activate for two on the next turn to remove a blocker, and bash as a 7/7 is pretty absurd. He scales incredibly well into the late game, and his ability to be used as a combat trick when he comes down to clear the way for your army is supremely useful on a green creature. I’ve been very happy with him so far and would recommend his inclusion in Cubes of all sizes. For the first time, I’ve found that I like his Duel Decks art more than the set foil—let me know if you agree!
Sylvan Caryatid – Remember how you’re always supposed to kill the mana dork? Well, now you can’t! Take that, Lightning Bolt! In all seriousness, Caryatid is the real deal. Not only does it fix for any color, it also blocks red decks all day long without fear of getting blown out by some random removal spell. Do you like Farseek that can block? Hell yeah, I know I do!
Ashen Rider – Angel of Despair! How much more powerful you have become! This is an upgrade that should be quite welcome in Cube. For one more mana, you get to exile the permanent instead of destroy it, and you get that same effect again when it leaves. Oh, wait, did I say for one more mana? I’m sorry. Who ever paid full cost for Angel of Despair?
Xenagos, the Reveler – I’m not impressed by RG’s newest offering in the “hey, look, loyalty counters” department. While it’s true he churns out a lot of 2/2s with haste, that really seems to be his primary ability in Cube. If I need an RG walker to win me my control matchups, I’d sooner be casting Domri Rade, which is much closer to a two-drop than anything else in everyone’s favorite format.
The Scry Lands – At first, I dismissed the scry lands. I thought they were slow, didn’t fix very well, and had negligible value. After testing, however, I’ve come around. The first five have replaced the Shards of Alara tri-lands in my large Cube, and I can even see these replacing the Vivids if you still run those. Simply put, these are the best cycle of ETBT lands that you will find outside of the Worldwake dual lands, and it didn’t take much to convince me. They smooth your draws and fix your mana; it’s a little absurd just how good the effect is. I don’t know if smaller Cubes will have room, but larger Cubes should make way. The first time I added “scry 1, then scry 1″ to a Primeval Titan, well, let’s just say I didn’t lose that game.
Well, that’s all we have for Theros. I’m super excited to play with this set, and Magic Online finally did something right and added Theros cards on release weekend! Not sure if that makes up for them not cutting Channel yet though, grumble grumble…
I’m taking a bit of a break from judging (strange, I know) but school comes first! I have some sweet ideas for Cube theory that I’ll be able to fire off articles for in the meantime, though.
When I do return to the tournament floor, it will be at the StarCityGames Open Weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 23–24. I am very excited for that particular event, as the Standard Open will be head judged by my good friend/roommate/judge mentor/general degenerate Casey Brefka, and, oh yeah, I’m the Head Judge of the Legacy Open! It’s a mere one week after Grand Prix Washington D.C., so if you haven’t gotten your Legacy fill (as if!), come join me for what is sure to be an awesome event.
Until next time,
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