Welcome to another edition of Cubers Anonymous!
Welcome to another edition of Cubers Anonymous! Theros is upon us, and I'm sure by now you've seen tons of articles talking all about the shiny new Theros cards.
Good! Because you're going to read another one, and it's going to thematically tie into my topic today. (For the fact that it actually ties in and the fact that you've read a bunch about Theros already. Sense a theme?) First, I want us to look back to my article from a couple of months ago regarding rules and why they should be important to your Cube experience. Don't worry—we're not talking about rules today, so you don't need to start scrambling for the back button on your browser.
At the end of that article, I told you that I believed the rule of having any single card only appear once in a Cube is important to me, as it helps define my Cube experience. This doesn't mean that I like the fact that there is only one of cards important for archetypes like a Green's Sun Zenith or Hymn to Tourach, just that I'm unwilling to break my own rule of one copy of each card—no exceptions. Luckily Magic is growing at a torrid pace, and the good folks in Renton have ratcheted up the power of cards in general over time, so when you want more copies of a card in your Cube, chances are a similar card is coming down the pipeline.
Interestingly enough, Magic's latest expansion has two different kinds of cards: brand-spanking-new cards and cards we've pretty much seen before. Both are clearly important to Cube, but let's check out the new stuff first. This isn't going to be a traditional review by any means, as Usman has you covered for that with his article last week. Instead I'll be looking at Theros in a big picture kind of way.
The More Things Change . . .
Theros is mechanically comprised of four parts: bestow, monstrosity, heroic, and the Gods. Let's start from the top of the mountain and work our way down.
City Of God(s)
I've talked with and read about what lots of Cube lovers throughout the community think about the Gods of Theros, and people seem to be all over the place. I feel differently about all of the Gods since they vary greatly despite having the same requirement of five devotion before they start bashing your opponent. There is one thing in common with each of them though—that devotion is awfully hard to get active. I've been tracking how often each God would become a creature through devotion for about five weeks in random Cube matches, and four of the five would come up very short very often. As such, I'm forced to evaluate the four Gods that don't hit it often as how they'd operate in enchantment-only form.
Heliod doesn't excite me despite the ability to churn out badass looking tokens with two power. The cost of the first of these tokens is 4WWWW, which isn't much critical analysis when we can look at Sacred Mesa and Mobilization in the past for similar cards. Now, clearly the upside of 2/1s and an indestructible 5/6 can't be ignored, but the mana increase and inconsistent creature form leave Heliod wanting in all but the largest Cubes.
Thassa is in a similar situation as Heliod regarding her creature form, though she is incapable of winning the game by herself. Outside of a Control Magic effect being on the battlefield, Thassa very rarely is a 5/5. Without the upside of her being able to attack for five, the combination of the other two abilities don't even cut it in mid-sized Cubes.
I won't spend much time on Erebos, as his enchantment abilities are close to worthless in most Cube matches. In my opinion, the worse the deck, the more often he's becoming a creature since the decks that commit black permanents to the board often have trouble breaking through against more effective creatures or are winning without Erebos' help anyway. I'd pass in all sizes.
Like in Standard, Purphoros is the most interesting God in Cube for me. This doesn't necessarily mean he's the best (I don't think there is a best), just that he has the most potential to have a long stay if things go right for him in my Cube. Purphoros is the only God that has two relevant enchantment abilities without turning him into a creature. I have a strong token theme in my Cube, and this is where the God of the Forge shines as a build-around card. Based on recent history, Wizards is going to continue to print powerful token-based cards, which gives the red God the most room for growth. He's similar to the others in that he rarely takes creature form, but with token support he hardly needs it.
Now we come to the God of the Hunt. Unlike the other four Gods, Nylea tends to turn into a creature with semi-constant regularity. Her other abilities are not exciting but not terrible, though they certainly don't come close to meriting inclusion by themselves. So we have this indestructible 6/6 for 3G that can attack sometimes. Worth it? I'm personally not even interested in such a card, as green has plenty of more interesting and more splashable green dumpy monsters. If you feel like you need something else for the four-mana slot in green that is a straightforward attacker, Nylea might be the God for you.
Bestow is in a rough spot for Cube. All of the bestow costs are (correctly) astronomical, so despite their dual nature they are tough sells for Cube owners. I like the white, blue, and green bestow Nymphs for commons-only Cubes and think Boon Satyr is powerful enough for rare ones. The Nymphs don't need much explanation at that rarity level, but we can dig deeper on the Satyr.
Green is surprisingly light at the three-mana spot on the curve, and as we've seen with Wolfir Avenger, flash is very useful in taking out opposing planeswalkers when attached to a reasonable attacker. I don't think the Satyr is a world beater by any means, but the size, mana cost, and bestow cost all line up for me in a neat little late-pick package.
Nothing else from this mechanic even makes me take notice—though I was very wrong about Hopeful Eidolon in Theros Limited, so I wouldn't say it would be a stretch to be wrong about its inclusion in Pauper Cubes either.
From Zero To Hero (Kinda)
I'm going to be blunt: Heroic is just not a good mechanic for Cubes of any size. We have access to (and use) the best removal that has ever existed, and as such there are very few non-Equipment ways to target your own creature due to said removal. If you feel like you really want to go down this road/have a massive Cube, Agent of Fates and Fabled Hero are miles ahead of each other hero, with Anax and Cymede coming in a distant third. I'm only going to be including Tormented Hero in my first go round (strictly due to its power and toughness though) and will keep an eye on the first two for my second wave of cards to try. Also, Lightning Greaves. Just saying.
Everybody Knows I'm A . . .
Large freaking monster! Hundred Handed One, Fleecemane Lion, Stormbreath Dragon, and Polukranos, World Eater are the cards that interest me with monstrosity. I believe I've ranked them in reverse order of relative power, with the first two fighting enormous uphill battles against other cards on the spot in their curve/color pair while the latter two are about on par with other offerings.
I'm going to take the opportunity to allow Polukranos to permanently put Genesis in the graveyard in my Cube and slot Stormbreath Dragon right beside his thunder-loving partner in crime. The actual monstrosity on these cards is both fairly and realistically costed. Despite that, Stormbreath Dragon will most certainly operate in Thundermaw mode more often than not. Seems like Theros offers quite a few cards similar to what we've seen, no?
. . . The More They Stay The Same
If you want to glance back up at the card images at the beginning of the article, you'll see very similar cards that have different names. One row depicts cards exclusively from Theros; the other shows various commonly used Cube cards throughout Magic's history. Notice anything . . . similar?
Theros has hands down the most "reprint" type cards for Cubes of any expansion we've ever seen. The images above don't even show reaches like Slagstorm and Anger of the Gods or Dissolve and Dissipate. And you know how I feel about all of those cards existing?
I absolutely love it!
Redundancy in Cube is one of the more important aspects to archetype building, as you need access to a certain type of card more often for some decks to operate at maximum capacity. Just look at a list of (non-exhaustive) pre-Theros redundant effect that are probably in your Cube as we speak:
Elite Vanguard vs. Savannah Lions
Kodama's Reach vs. Cultivate
Man-O-War vs. Aether Adept
Carnophage vs. Sarcomancy
Incinerate vs. Searing Spear
Llanowar Elves vs. Fyndhorn Elves vs. Elvish Mystic
Flames of the Firebrand vs. Arc Lightning
Plus tons more that aren't as identical as these! Aggro decks in particular need as much in the way of redundant creatures as a Cube can muster, and the three 2/1 creatures in Theros are a welcome addition to most Cubes. It's always important to evaluate why you want another copy of a card in your Cube and if you want to add it alongside a similar card rather than make what you feel is a strict upgrade and remove the first one. Don't be lazy and make the easy switch; think about why you have the old card in your Cube in the first place and ask yourself if you'd like that effect more often than you see it now!
The only card from the above list I'm making the direct swap is Ashen Rider in for Angel of Despair (I don't want two of them!). Lightning Strike will be sitting at home for me; I only want two of that effect (Incinerate and Searing Spear), though I imagine tons of larger Cubes will welcome the third one. Everything else is going in alongside the old cards, and I'll be making the tough cuts sometime in the next couple months to see what is going to come out.
More Theros Thoughts
When Elspeth, Sun's Champion was spoiled, I immediately thought of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite shows. Then when Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver was spoiled, it became clear that we have an It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan that names cards in Renton. At least make it a little harder for us folks. No clue what I'm talking about? View and enjoy.
I like to call this flavor tee ball.
On a Cube relevant note, I think all of the planeswalkers are going to be very solid in Cubes of many sizes. I initially pooh-poohed Ashiok based on a snap judgment, and if you listen to the most recent Third Power Podcast all about Theros, you'll hear me make a very hasty dismissal of the card. Well, after playing with the card in Constructed, I can happily say I was way off base and feel like Ashiok is exactly what U/B decks in Cube want a cheap "threat" that is good against multiple archetypes and can't be ignored even though it appears the opposite. If you can land Ashiok and sit back and kill/counter/maim your opponent's spells, it does the work by itself for you.
Theros was not kind at all to Pauper (common only) and Peasant (common/uncommon) Cubes. Other than the cards I mentioned above, only Gods Willing, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Read the Bones seem like solid adds for Pauper cubes, with an eye on the sneaky good Returned Phalanx. Everything else is at higher rarities.
Uncommon Cubes do get a few spicy ones, like Burnished Hart (!) and Pharika's Mender in addition to Read the Bones as a common and the aforementioned Tormented Hero. I'm trying Spellheart Chimera and Mogis's Marauder in my Powered Cube, so I bet they fit nicely in Peasant Cubes too! The Marauder may seem like an odd choice for a Rare Cube, but haste and intimidate are powerful abilities. And with my retry of black aggro, the Marauder seems like it could do very well at pushing through damage. Either way, I'm going to try and see!
On that front, here is the huge list of cards I'm going to be testing in my first run from Theros:
Xenagos, the Reveler
Chained to the Rocks
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Soldier of the Pantheon
Spear of Heliod
Whip of Erebos
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Polukranos, World Eater
Champion of the Parish
You'll notice that Champion of the Parish and Xathrid Necromancer are not Theros cards, but they are getting called up to the big leagues to see if Humans can be a thing in my Cube. With the inclusion of two black aggressive Humans and a white aggressive Human, now is the time to give the archetype a shot. Check out my Cube list later to see the full update! Let me know what cards you think I missed in the comments. (Hint: not a typo that Sylvan Caryatid isn't on that list!)
@JParnell1 on Twitter
My and Ali Aintrazi's Custom Cube Project Facebook Page