Welcome to this edition of Dragon's Maze Set Review.
Hmmm, that's not right. Let's try again.
Welcome to another edition of Cubers Anonymous.
Close, but this isn't a regular CA. One more time...
Welcome to Cubers Anonymous: Dragon's Maze Set Review!
Back with a bang—and for good this time! Instead of boring you with real life stories about why you haven't seen me since September, let's cut the crap and jump right in (we'll have plenty of time for that when I return in two weeks). It's that time of year boys and girls—spoiler season has come to an end again and delivered a bounty of new cards! It's kinda like a tri-annual Christmas/your-gift-giving-winter-holiday-of-choice, where everyone gets to lose their minds over presents we haven't really used but fully expect to be awesome or terrible and then argue with a family member over who's right and wrong while ultimately both looking like fools immediately after playing with the presents. Or is that just my family and the MTGSalvation forums?
Either way, when we last talked, I was making wild claims of how Return to Ravnica block would be the greatest block to ever grace every cube ever or some similarly grand announcement despite only seeing RTR so far. Well, Return to Ravnica turned out to be even better than I gave it credit for, while Gatecrash was far less heralded upon release but has ultimately turned out to be a fine yet completely average cube set. Now we have Dragon's Maze, which will either make me look like a fool or make me look like a fool who made a lucky prediction. Why don't we cut the small talk and find out?
Well...this is awkward. Instead of forcing myself to talk about a white card or two to fill space, I'm just gonna give it to you straight: I'm not interested in including a single white card from Dragon's Maze in a cube at any level, be it Powered, Rare, Peasant, or Pauper. I know I've used this joke before, but there is quite literally nothing to see here. Let's move on and cross our fingers.
Let's get something out of the way first: this card costs seven mana. It may show 4UU in the top right corner of the card, but in a time when every new creature has haste/flash or a moneymaking ETB trigger, a new age Morphling is just that. The cold truth is every creature you already have in your cube that is blue and costs six or seven mana is going to be more impressive more often than Morphling v2. I'm not denying its power once it does get active, but even then it sucks up your removal and counterspell mana to kill your opponent while they cast equally impressive creatures that exist in every deck now.
Verdict: Aetherling's time for Cube has passed before it even had a chance to get started. Only an astronomically sized (or Magic Online) cube could make room without cutting a better creature. It isn't bad by any means; it's just that every other option is better.
One of my favorite decks to draft in Peasant and Pauper cubes is Grixis Control, where like a Standard Grixis deck you kill everything that moves until you kill your opponent with a two or three powered creature. Uncovered Clues is excellent alongside red or black but worse than the underwhelming Divination beside green and white. I think this ultimately leaves us with too narrow a card to include anywhere.
Verdict: Luckily, most of the best raw card draw caps at uncommon rarity; unluckily, most of said spells outclass the selection of Uncovered Clues with power and efficiency. No place in all but combo-oriented cubes.
I love attacking for two. I love drawing cards. I love efficient creatures that do both, so obviously I hate Blood Scrivener because he sucks at both things. I know it says right there on the card that he attacks for two AND draws cards, but I'm here to tell you that he is the worst kind of modal creature. If you want to attack for two, go right ahead, but you're never going to get cards out of him. Want to draw cards? Go ahead and empty your hand, but be careful not to lose him in combat. Blood Scrivener is a homeless man's more homeless neighbor's Dark Confidant. He'll never do what you want him to do unless you simply want to attack for two.
Verdict: If you're interested in attacking for two with a 2/1 that costs 1B, treat yourself and play a creature that does it with some kind of evasion—black only has seven or eight of them.
[Editor's Note: As someone who forces Mono-Black in Cube a lot, I disagree with Justin a lot here. I believe Blood Scrivener to be the best of both worlds, and I'm very excited to wheel him in the coming months. We'll see who's correct here Mr. Parnell.]
Finally, a card I'm excited about! Here's how this card will get played 50% of the time: attack with random creature, no blocks? Bloodrush for 1R, get it back for 3, then attack next combat, don't bloodrush to create a bad block, then cast it as a 31/ for 2R that comes back every other turn. The other 50% of the time, you'll run it out on turn 3 as part of a small group and attack on turn 4 with a pseudo unblockable creature. If they block and kill it but didn't block even one other creature, its ability triggers and you can pay three to get it back at the end of that combat.
Verdict: This is a card that will rarely blow the door off a game or a draft but consistently be an excellent role-player for all mono-red and red/x decks alike for a long time. I'd add him in just about every cube.
Couldn't be less exciting, but what makes red good and often great in cubes is quality in consistency across tons of cards.
Verdict: Just a fine creature to have in larger Pauper and Peasant cubes. It's another French vanilla 2/1 for two, but as creatures get better overall, the average toughness of the most cubable ones go down, especially in non-rare cubes where combat is more important.
I feel like it's nearly good enough just because its converted mana cost is three and green has an obvious dearth of playable creatures in that slot. It isn't bad by any means, but it's not exciting either. In years past, Renegade Krasis would have been an easy include, but as it stands even a 4/3 for three doesn't do much in today's world.
Verdict: I would only include if you really feel strongly about having a constant number of cards across each converted mana cost. Otherwise, this is Just Another Dude.
Verdict: This is exactly what you want in common only cubes. This is a rare. Moving on.
I'm probably on an island by myself here, but this is the exact kind of card I want in a U/W deck in Peasant cubes. I have no doubt the Obscenity Value is very high on Ascended Lawmage due to hexproof and its "Aren't Those Backwards?" stats. The Obscenity Value measures a card's worth based on the number of obscenities verbalized by an opponent while dealing with any said card. Cards with high Obscenity Values usually do well in cubes.
Seriously, though, all you have to do is commit a single turn to playing this guy (no need to protect him) and then remove any potential roadblocks for a few turns.
Verdict: I would add this in uncommon cubes with at least four cards per multicolored section. I think it's that m*****f***ing good.
The Deputy (close to as sweet a name as The Baron, who we'll get to later) is likely a better Constructed card than Cube one, but that shouldn't stop non-rare cubes from giving it a shot. Namely in Pauper cubes where blue and white are all about bouncing their value creatures ad nauseum to bury opponents in virtual and literal card advantage.
Verdict: Should be a solid role-player in Pauper cubes for the foreseeable future, and I'd try to fit it in a Peasant cubes if you have more than six cards per color pair.
Miss Judge/Jury/Detainicutioner has a lot going for her surprisingly. She does exactly what every white-blue control deck has ever wanted out of a five mana creature: she kolds all the points parts of an aggro deck until you can untap with her, she shores up a terrible matchup in red without being overwhelming (remember this in two weeks), and she either successfully blocks the majority of creatures or trades with the best one. She can even turn into a five-turn clock in a pinch! I'll admit, she looks underwhelming, but for a color combination that has little going for it in the way of creatures, she may just be the best option.
Verdict: I'm pretty sure my first opinion was "No. Next?" I have to say that I've changed my tune after thinking it over. I'm gonna give it a shot in my powered cube, and I think most rare cubes should do the same unless you know of some W/U cards that I don't.
Verdict: I can't remain silent about how this is worse than the completely average Absorb.
I think the only way for me to pretend Blood Baron of Vizkopa is as good as it should be would be to pretend that Obzedat, Ghost Council wasn't just printed three short months ago. This color combination is stacked to the ceiling. A double protection 4/4 lifelinker would easily crack seven other color pair line-ups, but the depth is simply too great here for most cubes. It's easier to cast than Obzedat, which isn't terribly irrelevant, but pro-white and pro-black still doesn't stack up to protection from sorceries.
Verdict: This is a fine card, but you really have to be going deep, like double-digit cards deep, in each multicolor section to include "The Baron." Which sucks, because I really want a sweet card I can call The Baron. I'll enjoy playing this card in cubes bigger than my own.
Verdict: This card is powerful, but often you're just going to be returning a creature, making Unburial Rites better. There are a shocking number of sweet enchantments to Aid up, not to mention grabbing your exhausted planeswalkers, but the times this will matter will be evened out by how often I expect this to be drafted in the dregs of the draft. Too much competition in B/W.
Sin Collector, also known as the Justin Parnell Invitational Card, is easily my favorite card in the set and one of the best for cubes of all shapes and sizes. It fits perfectly on the curve for white-black and only competes with Stillmoon Cavalier in the three spot for the color combo. I like it more than the Cavalier because it does more of what every white-black deck wants to be doing: limiting options and creating incremental value. It also completes the Death Curve of single B discard into Tidehollow Sculler into Sin Collector. Try coming back from that! (Hint: the answer is usually on the top of your deck.)
Verdict: If you have a cube, include it. If you don't have a cube, draft it in whatever cube you play.
Verdict: I've liked Syndic of Tithes, but this card is much worse is nearly every way. The lifelink doesn't make up for the difficulty to cast on time, and the single point of toughness makes it hard to take advantage of the lifelink. This will probably only make it in Pauper cubes because all the best B/W cards are uncommon or better.
Evan Erwin is making headway in erasing some previously over-hyped stinkers from the past by spoiling back-to-back insane Cube cards in the form of Boros Charm and Far // Away. This card is like Jilt on steroids, and it's in a color pair that makes it guaranteed to be drafted every single draft. It does what every black-blue deck ever wants to be doing, and it does it extremely efficiently. I shouldn't need to explain much further.
Verdict: Same as Sin Collector but in a much worse color combination—just add it. Enjoy ruining your opponent's combat steps for the next ten to fifteen years.
I don't really feel like playing the best-case scenario game with Notion Thief, but I'll do it quickly to appease the masses/MTGS forum users I offended in the opening: WHEEL OF FORTUNE! TIME SPIRAL! BRAINSTORM! SPHINX'S REVELATION!
Now if we can take back our seats in Realityville, I'm here to tell you that setting up a Notion Thief to split your opponent's big draw spell or your draw seven wide open is going to be both difficult and unlikely. The creature is subpar on its own; a 3/1 with flash for four without evasion doesn't cut it in today's world of hulking, undercosted monsters.
I think this is ultimately a subpar removal spell because you really need a grip to turn it into something resembling Doom Blade. On average I think you can nug a three or four toughness creature, but considering that it becomes the worst removal spell in your deck.
Verdict: The worst thing about this card is there isn't an easy way to combine Dragon and Overrun into one word. The second worst thing is blue-red as a color combination very, very rarely has the creatures in play to kill your opponent with the expensive Overload cost.
Dragon's Maze's only planeswalker does not disappoint. He is awfully aggressive for a blue-red planeswalker but can still take over the game whether he's in a control deck or an aggressive one. His ultimate (I'm accounting for Time Stretch—anything more is gravy) should win you the game, and every ability is relevant. Throw in the magical converted mana cost of four and you have the making of a beast of a planeswalker.
Verdict: At worst, he's the third best card in Dragon's Maze. Unless you limit the number of planeswalkers in your cube, it doesn't get much easier than including an awesome card to a historically weak color combination.
Another card that gets a bonus from being in a piss-poor color combination, Turn // Burn is basically the aforementioned Jilt with a twist. The fact that you can grab the Shock part of Jilt makes this a tad sweeter, but it does cost one more to get the full effect. Like Dragonshift, blue-red often doesn't have a ton of creatures hanging around to block that Grave Titan you just turned into a 0/1, but picking this early in a draft does make you want to grab more than normal.
Verdict: Not as good as Far // Away, but still dual removal good enough to make it in just about all cubes.
Well, unlike poor blue-red, black-red is lousy with terrific cards, especially at the exact mana cost of sweet little Exava. The other two ladies of the night (Olivia Voldaren and Falkenrath Aristocrat) do what they do better than Queen Rakdos here. Don't get me wrong, this is a very powerful creature, but it becomes tough to justify a third creature at a mana cost greater than three that functions nearly identically to another creature in that section. I will say that the haste-granting bonus is not irrelevant, and it's the only creature of the three that will get better over time due to new cards being printed that can work with that.
Verdict: If you have room, I'm very happy for you. Most cubes won't, and that will leave Exava the third wheel. For now.
Verdict: You only get one best-case scenario game per article, and you used it back there on Notion Thief! Will this creature put people to one life? Yes. Will this happen over 5% of the time this appears in a draft? No. Will you ever see this card in my cube? Moving on.
The card that has created the most debate in the Magic community since its spoiling is going to be no less controversial among cube owners. Before I give my opinion, let's look at some facts regarding Sire of Insanity. It has very strong competition among other black-red cards, but none at its exact converted mana cost. It's best when it's an active part of your deck's plan or course of action, like it will be in Constructed. It can end the game almost on the spot against non-planeswalker control but is pretty bad against planeswalkers. The most damning: it's not a natural fit in the most common black-red archetypes.
Black-red decks tend to go three ways. Just B/R (or B/R/W, with one of the three as a splash) at a fairly aggressive stance—his deck want's Sire's effect the most, but its converted mana cost makes it unplayable. The next is big B/R, most often Grixis, and this deck needs its hand too much to lose it. The third is midrange B/R, often Jund, which tends to play more of a value game by trading and recurring resources and creatures. This is easily Sire of Insanity's best scenario as it plays into the grindy midrange game. The question is "are its positives enough to outweigh its negatives?"
Verdict: In my cube, Sire will be sitting out. It'll get a trial run in the second wave for me, but I think there are just too many cards in black-red that fit the color's identity and are therefore more draftable across a wider array of archetypes. This is the one card in the set I could easily flip my opinion over once I play with it.
I love attack. You love attack? Attack attack attack attack.
Verdict: If only this were an instant. For six mana, you'll likely getting around eight damage out of it, which isn't terrible. This seems to be a card where the fuse is simply greater than the sum of its parts, which is a shame for such a sweet design. It's just a bit too slow/overcosted for cubes. Maybe in larger Peasant cubes this can find a home.
I'm going to be completely honest: I have no idea if this card is good, great, insane, or unplayable. What I do know is I'm going to find out! I think this card is a value machine and could be the kind of card that can both be built around and grabbed late in a draft to great effect. Binning a fourth of your deck is no joke, but the upside is a personal Howling Mine / Debtors' Knell mashup. I hate to sit on the fence on anything, so I'll go with my gut and say this card is the real deal.
Verdict: Since this is such a difficult card to evaluate, I hate to give you advice one way or another. I'm going to test the hell out of this card, so check back in a later article or my Twitter feed in a month or so for a more informed opinion!
Valroz, on the other hand, I do think is legit. As Greater Gargadon lovers and Standard Aristocrats will tell you, sacrificing a creature at will remains the most undervalued mechanic available in Magic. Valroz is damn near impossible to beat in a fight, and having it play into exactly what black-green wants at every stage of the game. Varolz does have a very clear downside against blue, so unfortunately it doesn't help those type decks gain any edges against the bounce spells that always beat them up. However, Varolz does allow spreading the wealth across your whole team and is best friends with Tarmogoyf.
Verdict: I'm giving Varolz a shot in my first run and have moderate expectations. Black-green has gained a lot from this block, and Varolz fits right into the new parameters of what the color combo can do. Should be able to fit into mid-sized and up cubes with at least five cards per section.
This card seems like the real deal in Peasant cubes, where you form a nice trifecta of super powerful cards at 2RG with Bloodbraid Elf and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Any curve of one-drop, two-drop, three-drop, Gruul War Chant seems like a nightmare scenario for any deck regardless of defenses.
Verdict: In rare cubes where green is an aggressive color, this could even make a splash there for the same reasons listed above. I like this card quite a bit and expect it to cause many a concession in the coming years. Should make all Peasant cubes and rare cubes with aggressive green.
Ruric Thar is kinda just another big dumb guy. Its six damage clause does hit like a ton of bricks, but its forced aggression will put it in bad trading situations and it's tough to use burn spells to clear the way when Ruric won't even bow to its controller. If you're a red creature and cost five or more, you better have haste or a sweet ability as soon as you jump on the battlefield to compete with the big time players down the curve.
Verdict: Red-green is a full department in rare cubes, and I just don't think Ruric Thar brings enough to the table in cubes any smaller than eight or nine red cards per section.
Verdict: I would have pegged Alice Cooper as more Golgari, but he seems to be doing just fine in the Gruul Clans. This is a gift for Pauper cubes and even Peasant cubes with larger red-green sections. It does exactly what you want in a midrange deck—ramps and puts a tiny bit of pressure on the opponent at the same time.
I feel like I'm going to be alone on this one, but I'm just not impressed with this Legion's Initiative. This is an Honor of the Pure for red creatures, as the toughness is a nice bonus when you have white creatures around but doesn't affect whether you're playing the card or not. If I'm holding up two mana on my opponent's turn in a mostly red deck, I really want to be gripping burn rather than trying to protect my likely bad creatures from sweepers. The fact that you have to drain an entire turn into casting it and leaving up R/W goes against every R/W deck's plan is what dooms this card to the dregs of the draft and occasional sideboard use. We can do better.
Verdict: Definite pass. We've passed the time where you can be a subpar red-white card and make the cut by default of your combination sucking.
Verdict: I have no doubt Tajic will spend a non-zero amount of time attacking as a 7/7 unkillable hulk, but I know that it's going to spend a much greater amount of time as a 2/2 unkillable average Joe for 2RW. I think we can do better.
Speaking of better, I would rather have this lizard than the Boros general, as it at least attacks for four right out of the gate before fading into average-dom. I know Tajic is indestructible, but Viashino Firstblade didn't get its name for nothing; it'll have dished out eight damage by the time Tajic can swing for a best-case scenario seven.
Verdict: Pretty easy include in all non-rare cubes, it probably only makes rare cubes in much larger sections close to double digits.
The "bad Lightning Helix" is simply more appropriately costed and is still a fine card. This one is pretty straightforward—you know exactly how it'll play out. Great for the top end of aggro or a very nice control card.
Verdict: Somewhat surprisingly, my pick for the best R/W card in the set. Since red-white continues to be on the weaker side (though not as bad as it was pre-Gatecrash), the new Lightning Helix should make most cubes with at least six cards per multi section.
Verdict: I'd rather this just come with a 2/2 body in Duergar Hedge-Mage.
I didn't ever think I'd see the day where a 5/5 for four with flash wouldn't excite me, yet here we are. Being a token these days is dangerous business, but if you do happen to be in the business of being a token, the end step is a good safe place to start. The card is powerful, but these days damn near everything is powerful, so you really have to do something special. Is flash special enough? I don't think Deadbridge Goliath is good, and Spellbreaker Behemoth is even worse, though the Wurm token does have trample. In Cube we're in a world with no playable populate, so the card stands alone as a 1GGW 5/5 with flash and trample. Why is it so hard for me to talk myself into that?
Verdict: Probably because green-white is full of dumb monsters. It's the ones that can be tricky like Knight of Reliquary and Kitchen Finks that make the lasting impression. I'll likely give it a shot in my second wave of testing, but for now it sits out. Should make most large cubes and cubes where people like vanilla creatures more than I do.
This is the card that Peasant cubes have been looking for in green-white. Top of the curve powerhouse is the best way to think of Trostani's Summoner. The fact that it can be blinked and recurred to great effect is part of the magic. Party in a can!
Verdict: Too expensive for rare cubes, in Peasant cubes it'll be a game changer. Should fit all sizes in that format.
Verdict: Do you want another Armadillo Cloak? Did you want the first?
This is the kind of tricky creature that I like green-white to have. Although its stats don't jump off the card, it makes your opponent play Magic differently just from being in play. The natural enemy of these types of decks are blue and blue-black control decks that make their living at the end of the turn. When doing that comes at the cost of handing your opponent a 3/3 or 4/4 creature, you have to find a way to remove it on your turn. Since the target on the Elk's (whatever that thing is) head is astronomically large, it's not a superstar, but it does replace itself often with a larger creature than was there before.
Verdict: Not amazing, but I like it better than Gaddock Teeg as a blue punisher. Should make the cut in cubes with around seven or more in each section.
Verdict: UUGG is a hell of a mana cost for any spell. Of course, most spells don't allow you to jump to your end game after shutting down your opponent's play. This is more powerful than Voidslime, but the added green mana isn't irrelevant. I still think it's worth the tradeoff. Solid upgrade to that Mystic Genesis you added in February too.
Clones have become much more powerful with the improvement in the creature department, but of course that comes off the heels of the two best Clones ever printed in Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph. Still, if this thing sticks around to your next turn, it starts going off. I like that you can grab it with Natural Order (shhh, it's better than Tinker) and get some flash love with Yeva, Nature's Herald. It's not nearly as difficult being green as Kermit would lead you to believe.
Verdict: This is an easy upgrade to an old favorite of mine, Spitting Image. Green-blue doesn't have much at the top of the curve, and a Clone with upside is exactly what the color combo wants. It isn't competing with much else and should find a home in most cubes with five cards per multi section or more.
Two-Guild Split Cards
Verdict: If I'm paying 4GUUW, I better be getting the Bant version of Nicol Bolas, not four cards and some doves released at a Dominarian wedding. Beck is nice, but it's likely not nice enough to escape its narrowness in most lists. This is better served in Constructed.
Verdict: Couldn't care less about Breaking on its own, but is Entering good enough by itself? I don't think it beats Sire of Insanity to cube lists, but this is the type of card I love to cast. Haste is nice, but again, when we're talking Nicol Bolas mana, the man himself better show up. Even as a standalone, Entering is more likely to be leaving.
Since you're reading this after the Prerelease, this was my pick for Card Most Likely To Make You Want To Quit Magic, Dragon's Maze Prerelease Edition. It seems like the key to these darned split cards is that both halves have to be good! Wait, we figured that out twelve years ago? Well then...
Verdict: Both sides here are playable, but neither is stellar. If you're still running Crime // Punishment in your cube, this is a fine replacement that will be more relevant more often. May fit larger cubes with hefty multicolor sections, but not much else. Will remain a blowout regardless of how few times people put it in their decks.
The Cluestones are really only considerable in Pauper cubes, and they're outclassed by the Signets. BUT some cubes prefer not to allow easy fixing via Signets, which is a respectable choice. Since the Cluestones are a full turn later, I think they fit perfectly for the common cube owner who is looking for some extra fixing without giving control free turns with little remorse.
And that wraps up Dragon's Maze! So how crazy was I in my proclamation of excellence regarding the Return to Ravnica block? Maybe we'll go back over how everything fared once we see how it shakes out at the end of the summer.
I think I've taken up plenty of your time today, but I'll see you in two weeks, when I get something off my chest that I've wanted to talk about for a while!
Let me know in the comments whether I'm crazy right, way wrong, or completely missed the card you think is great!
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I'm with the Orzhov Syndicate. Not only do I love playing the color pair more than any other, their ideology makes the most sense to me. Just like anyone who owns a cube, the Orzhov want things done their way--and convincing others that their way is best. Everything is up for debate, and nothing is set in stone, just like a cube list. In my everyday--and yet again, cubing--life, I have an obsessive need for things to be an exact way, even if it only makes sense to me. Orzhov and I both do whatever we need to do to get the job done. If you love controlling every aspect of a cube, you might be aligned with Orzhov as well!