Welcome to the first half of the Cube Chronicles Quarterly for Avacyn Restored! Usman Jamil will be bringing you the second half of our review later this week, as we decided to split up the set to ensure each card gets its proper discussion.
Full disclosure on my part: Avacyn Restored didn't wow me. There are very few cards that jump out at me as stone-cold locks for all cubes, and a lot of the cards are seemingly difficult to evaluate. I enjoy Magic flavor as much as the next guy, but if ultimately Grave Titan has the same cost and abilities but is a Penguin Wizard, I'm not going to lose much sleep over it. So the 244-card version of the Divine vs. Demonic doesn't excite me too much in general. Of course if there are tons and tons of Cube goodies in a set, that's going to pique my interest.
Avacyn Restored looks like it has a lot of cards that are going to require test runs to determine their true utilization for a number of types of cubes. Before we jump into the (holy) waters, let's talk about the main mechanics in the set and what they mean for cubes in general.
Considering the higher actual casting cost, miracles have be really, really powerful to be good enough for most cubes. We have to evaluate these cards on their most often mode, which is going to be their regular casting cost. Based on the design of this mechanic, this is not going to be possible for most miracle cards. They better be impressive, because they're fighting an uphill battle. There are only five (reasonable) at most top-of-library manipulators in most cubes, so the effort you need to make these cards castable for the cost you want is probably better served on a card that does what you want at face value.
The single-creature mechanic, which is in black and isn't named, is really a strictly Constructed mechanic (and not a very competitive one at that.) The cost of drafting/creating a Limited deck around such a specific mechanic isn't easy, so the cards bearing this have to be really powerful to make it.
Soulbond is going to the mechanic that has the most misjudged cards attached to it. We've never really been asked to pay attention to when we have exactly two creatures before, so we can't imagine how these things play out in games. I'm sure I won't be immune from the difficulty of envisioning how these cards will play out, but I get the feeling that soulbond is a stark contrast from miracle. Meaning that miracle requires cards to be more powerful than average based on cost, and the creature-based ability will be more powerful than a cost suggests.
I've been thinking long and hard about the cards in these three colors, so enough with the pleasantries; let's find out what cards you'll be drafting around in the coming months! If I don't mention a card, you shouldn't waste your time.
Right off the bat we have a card that I feel people are going to feel pretty strongly about. I like both effects that Angel of Jubilation supplies, and it certainly has a reasonable body for its CMC. So you'd think that considering those things, I'd have some jubilation for this Angel.
But I just don't think this card is good enough. Not in any cube. What gives?
Competition and mana cost make it tough for Angel of Jubilation to make it anywhere. Four-mana white creatures aren't exactly scarce, and most of the dudes in that slot are pretty stout. Not to mention that there's a better (and infinitely more castable) one in the same set. If you have a deck that can reliably cast something that costs 1WWW mainly to pump your team, you should probably just be playing Celestial Crusader who trades an almost meaningless point of power and toughness for a simpler casting cost, split second, and flash, all upgrades to the reasonable yet unexciting no sac/pay life clause.
Long story short: if you can get this in play, you should have the Crusader instead.
Now there could be some cubes that go hard in the token direction as white's identity. That's really the only case where I can see this Angel making an impact. If that's your cube, just be sure to make note of what you're removing for it doesn't make the color weaker for the sake of newness.
Despite bearing a striking resemblance to Lady Gaga, like Elesh Norn, the set's namesake isn't much more than a big dumb monster, unlike Elesh Norn. She doesn't have haste like the barely Cubeable Akroma, Angel of Wrath, nor recursive like the also-aging Eternal Dragon. While her ability does have haste like Norn, it doesn't have nearly as big of an impact as her Praetor cousin. Eight power just ain't what it used to be. I'll pass.
Our first miracle card. Banishing Stroke falls under everything I said earlier about miracle cards. Do I like what this card does? Of course! Do I want to pay six mana for it? Hell no! I can only imagine what it feels like to flip this for its miracle cost when there are no targets to be had. Probably not as bad as the feeling when you realize you'll have to pay six to cast this card 90% of the time.
This is going deep for tokens and not much else. Even then, five mana in that type deck should put the nail in the coffin, not prepare you for battle. This isn't a Crusade you'll enjoy going on.
It may surprise you, but I'm interested in seeing this card in action. I don't think you could fit it in cubes smaller than 720, but it's a neat trick in cubes that size. Rebuying an enters the battlefield ability is progressively getting better and better as we get creatures that enjoy getting blinked, not to mention a realistic combat trick for white. I would try it in bigger cubes and common cubes for sure, as these revolve much more about combat.
Oh Emancipation Angel, you are a clever girl. You seem like a nice little upgrade to the underrated Kor Skyfisher, with your extra point of power ready to start evasively bashing just one turn later. I'm sure I don't need to go into the difference between two and three mana, so I'll harp on something else. 1WW is worlds different than 1W, and I'm certainly not willing to sacrifice relative speed for a point of power. The sweetest plays with Skyfisher involve a turn 1 Mox whatever into a basically free two-power flier or some brew where you need the Kor flyer to pick up your Karmic Guide or Reveillark. I've met Kor Skyfisher, and you sir/madam are not Kor Skyfisher. I doubt there's room in your cube for a worse version of it.
Speaking of met you sir, the fact that this spell is being compared to Decree of Justice is a miracle in and of itself. The best part of Decree (cycling for value and/or imminent opponent death) is clearly absent from Entreat. What they've replaced it with is a third(!) white mana cost to actually cast, and the dreamer's favorite exotic border. This card is going to trick many people, but you don't have to be one of them. I'm not being a doomsayer with these miracle cards, just a realist. The mechanic name is miracle for goodness sake.
I like what this card does; I just don't want this effect on a 2/1 regardless of cost. Lifelink is best served for creatures that don't get taken out of combat easily, so the Pilgrim feels much more like a creature enchantment that can occasionally get in for two when the coast is clear than a real creature. The single point of toughness is the killer here.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner! This has to be my favorite card in the set for Cube, and for good reason. Awesome stats and flash make this a real creature, and the beautiful ETB ability make this a complete slam-dunk for any cube that can have her. This is a card that will keep getting better and better as creatures continue to progress. The four toughness is certainly a factor, making it super tough for red to deal with without spending two spells to do it. Awesome card!
I haven't played with this card, but it seems like the real deal and shows exactly what soulbond does during its best. The potential upside is monstrous, but the downside looks like you wait for another creature to come down and turn your pair into the King of Combat and his also awesome friend. Double strike is so powerful that it should really cost more than what it has recently, and we forget that because we haven't had a way to give creatures with more than two power that ability at a cost that's reasonable for a cube. This is reasonable. If you still have Paladin en-Vec in your cube, I bet I know who needs to replace him.
Play Hallowed Burial, which is an awesome card. This card is perfectly reasonable but worse than Burial. Easy choice.
That wraps up white, and I'll admit I'm tough to please. Maybe black and its Demons can promise me some power?
This would be better as a reprint of Inquisition of Kozilek with a new name. Your targeted casting cost discard is going in the wrong direction, Zombies! Pass; so many better options.
See my section about the exactly one creature mechanic. Apply here. Too hard to work for too little pay off.
I know people like this card, and I do too. Well, I like the idea of this card. Clearly undercosted but with a potentially brutal drawback. The two decks I want this body in are: aggro black (but can't afford to off my own guys) and blue or red/black control (where I don't want to lock out my other finishers). Having this guy stuck against a Bitterblossom would give me nightmares. I this this card is close and many will try it. I won't be among them.
This guy wants you to have other piddly little creature to keep him happy, but I don't like that you're forced to have them to have this guy be castable at all. That keeps him out of just about all cubes.
His name sounds like some delicious pork product, so it's appropriate that he's a tasty treat. His inclusion in your cube comes down to a very simple question. Do you support reanimator? This Demon is the king of the fatties in every way. Tough to remove, keeps you alive, and draws a crap ton of cards. He's tough to cast, but unlike the Avacyn, he puts the game away chump-blocked or not. Drawing seven cards is No Joke. Again, answer that simple question, and the Griselbrand will follow.
This is a fine man/beast/Demon, but much like Angel of Jubilation earlier, he falls victim to competition at the six-drop spot in most cubes. It's nice that you can't do any sort of chump block without filling up your opponent's hand, but for his mana cost that really isn't enough. He needs to impact the board immediately, and being a no-ability (come on now) 5/5 for six just doesn't cut it in the post-Titan world.
Prepare for me to kill your hopes and dreams, because this type of card is the trap-iest of traps. In fact, this card is such a trap that I'm positive Tim Pskowski lunged from his slumber the moment this card was spoiled and scream "IT'SATRAP' in wide-eyedAkbariness. Killing Wave will rarely kill what you want to kill. At very best, this is an expensive Damnation or Black Sun's Zenith with an opt-out clause for your opponent. You'll probably get to kill some of the smaller guys (and your creatures too!), but never the ones you really want. If your favorite Magic card is Browbeat, I'm sure you'll love Killing Wave in all of its unbridled mediocrity.
This card is very reasonable for common/uncommon cubes. A black Trained Armodon with upside is respectable, and for the power level there his three power for three mana is solid. It's not an auto-include, but if you're making a go at black aggro this guy deserves a look.
I feel like for both black and white, the flavor of the set overwhelmed their identity in this set. Maybe green can save us?
Oh the Champion, she's a tricky little lady. Make no mistake, the first ability on the card above is very powerful. There are tons of utility creatures that populate cubes now with low power and toughness. Don't forget how powerful Hero of Oxid Ridge's no-block clause is, because the Champion turns it up to eleven. Even with just two +1/+1 counters on it, you're blanking a lot of blocking. The fact that this fierce lady can grow and become a threat herself is really just icing on the cake. Most cubes should give her a shot.
I love the effect on a creature, especially a hasty one. But eight mana is simply too much.
This is the most obvious inclusion to tribal cubes ever.
This little guy is interesting. His power isn't obvious, but deathtouch is a useful ability on smaller creatures. With it, he clearly doesn't mind getting into combat for free pings while giving something else pseudo unblockability. I don't think I'm going to be trying him, but I won't be surprised if I'm wrong on this one.
Even with a sweet name, I think I'd rather have Prime Time Titan. Same stats and draws your cards (kinda) with less work. For a longer description, glance back over how I feel about Harvester of Souls in the black section and replace the colors appropriately.
Hmm, this is the effect I want in a green soulbonder, but I want bigger. Where can I find that?
Closer. Just a little bigger...
Perfect! This guy is complete badass. Don't be fooled by his simple soulbond, +4/+4 is a lot. Tons. That is plus eight power for just having another creature on the battlefield. Even if you just play a 1/1, that's going to be thirteen points of power ready to demolish anything in its path, especially your opponent. The guys is absolutely brutal, and my (second) favorite soulbond creature. Usman is talking about my first. Can you guess it? This guy is very close to an auto-add.
I know green removal when I see it, and I'm seeing it. A repeatable Prey Upon is welcome, and you can start picking off creatures realistically by turn 4. I like two-drops that are effective later in the game, and this guy is reminding me of Master of the Wild Hunt. He doesn't make his own army, so that's a mark against him, but he can take over games quick with the right posse. I'd try him in larger cubes.
Last but certainly not least is Wolfir Avenger. I was a big fan of Simian Grunts in my early Magic playing days, and this is a good reminder as any of how far creatures have come. Blue haste is always welcome on green creatures, especially ones that can ambush better creatures and live to tell the tale. I think this guy is awesome and is an auto-add in common/uncommon cubes. He should make the cut in most others too.
That wraps it up! It looks like green saved the day, having some general but sweet spells to go along with the nice stuff that red and blue got this set. A couple each from black and white make sure you have something new to try out for each color. This really is a normal set for Cube, but we've been so spoiled lately that it seems down when it really isn't. To review, these are the cards that I'm highest on:
...with the rest ranging from no-go to give it a try. The six above I really recommend adding to all cubes they apply in. Thanks for reading my review for Avacyn Restored, and be sure check out Usman's review of the rest of the set later this week!