The newest Commander product has the highest percentage of Cube-worthy cards. A lot of cards were created specifically for multiplayer Commander games, but considering that 51 new cards were printed, this set has a lot of goodies for Cube. Today I'll be discussing the hits and misses in Commander 2013 for Cube.
In Sam Stoddard's preview article for Unexpectedly Absent, he noted how the card was created to be a versatile answer for Legacy's problems like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Batterskull. Granted, it isn't cheap to cast it to temporarily halt a permanent, but it's almost always worth it because of the flexibility of the effect itself and the tempo boost provided by the card. This flexibility fits well in white because white typically plays the support role in aggressive and control decks. I've found that it's a solid card for supporting all types of white decks, as even white aggro finds uses in temporarily getting rid of annoying blockers (especially if cheated out) for a turn or two to alpha strike an opponent.
Cards like Aven Mindcensor suffer because while there are a lot of tutors in Cube, the density of targets isn't anywhere near as high, making those kinds of "silver bullets" suffer. Due to the lower number of shuffle effects in Cube, it'll be harder to shuffle an opposing permanent into an opponent's library, like when people Submerge a Tarmogoyf in response to a fetch land activation in Legacy. This relegates Unexpectedly Absent's role to a tempo card, temporarily getting rid of threats, and it's extremely good in that role. I have found that sometimes pushing an annoying planeswalker or big dumb creature on the top of an opponent's library can be as good as exiling it.
I've also found that one of the better uses is similar to Azorius Charm in Standard by doing it for zero and temporarily getting rid of a threat and making a topdeck awful (nice Figure of Destiny, eh?) by doing it for WW, which can help close the door in a game. It's one of the more flexible cards that I'll be happy to draft in the future.
There aren't too many creatures in Cube with good "passive" non-combat abilities. There is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Griselbrand; and Sheoldred, Whispering One; Temporal Isolation is a better bet, and even that card has started to lose favor in Cube. However, Darksteel Mutation is a nice tool for decks to have if you feel that decks that cheat large creatures into play is a big part of the metagame, but there may be better options available already for you.
Serene Master is a wall, but it's a weak one whose ability can be seen from a mile away and doesn't protect itself very well. While the Terminate / Vindicate test shouldn't be used for two-mana creatures, it doesn't really do very much.
If Unexpectedly Absent doesn't take the throne for the best Cube card in the set, True-Name Nemesis will. It's essentially a 3/1 Progenitus for 1UU that wears pants (Auras/Equipment) like a champ. It's an Invisible Stalker that isn't awful on its own.
I've heard some discussion about how it may be too good in 1v1. In testing I've found that it is certainly good (and any deck that can cast a 1UU spell reliably should play it) but is beatable because it forces the opponent to race it due to the inevitability that it provides, which isn't impossible to do; it just forces the onus on the opponent to be able to deal with the clock that it can provide or lose.
Since it can shift from being a Fog Bank to a Sulfuric Vortex, it can switch from a defensive role to an offensive role very easily the same way as quality finishers like Aetherling and Vendilion Clique. It's a nombo with your own sweepers, but you can protect it by naming yourself if your sweepers are damage based like Mizzium Mortars and Earthquake. It's one of the best blue creatures that we've seen in a while, and even with the low creature counts found in many blue sections, it should have no problem fitting into your Cube.
You can't protect your own True-Name Nemesis from your own Mizzium Mortars, but its ability to dodge red damage-based sweepers can be a big strength versus red midrange and control decks that are reliant on using them to kill hard-to-target creatures.
Unfortunately, a lot of the other blue cards are either extremely low impact (Tidal Force) or are mainly meant for multiplayer (Illusion's Gambit), which means they won't be making many Cubes.
While this card's name sounds closer to a Bay Area thrash album than the best black sweeper after Damnation, it's true. One of the problems with black's sweepers is that its second tier (Decree of Pain, Black Sun's Zenith, Bane of the Living) pales in comparison to the plane-shifted trendsetter, and even without that inevitable comparison, they are extremely slow. Toxic Deluge is the opposite as the cheapest black sweeper available. I was initially cold on it, but when I looked at it in the context of it being an Earthquake variant that trades hitting an opponent (which didn't usually matter for a while in non-aggro red) for always only paying 2B, it looked much better. In testing it has performed well as an extremely cheap way of dealing with annoying small creatures like, well, True-Name Nemesis.
There was some overexcitement for Black Sun's Zenith's in Cube when it was first printed, a bandwagon I admittedly jumped on, but I don't think that's the case with Toxic Deluge because it isn't a nombo with your large creatures and unlike a lot of other black sweepers it's efficient. One thing to note is that black is a color that tends to have a lot of self-hurting effects, which is something to consider so that you don't end up with too many of them in your deck, but note that Toxic Deluge isn't a card that you'll want in decks with cards like Carnophage and Vampire Lacerator.
Black sections that focus on sacrifice and recursion are starting to be more popular in Cube, and Ophiomancer fits them like a glove while working well in generic black midrange and control decks as well. Since almost no Cube-worthy creatures are Snakes aside from Changelings, Lotus Cobra and Sakura-Tribe Elder (and if you have this thing out, you should have sacked STE already), it almost always guarantees a blocker when the opponent hits their upkeep.
Unless the opponent can get around the deathtouch creature, it is difficult for decks with non-evasive threats to deal with it since in order to get through the defense both the Snake and Ophiomancer need to die; unless the opponent is lucky enough to have instant-speed removal for it, you're guaranteed value with it. I've found that it isn't uncommon for an opponent to have to waste several removal effects just to resume attacking to kill both the Snake and the Ophiomancer, which works well with what slower black want to do—have time to get to the later stages of the game.
However, the ability to constant replace the Snake gets even better if you have a way to exploit that recursion through cards like Braids, Cabal Minion; Mortarpod; or Greater Gargadon. Black three-drops are pretty thin, so I wouldn't be surprised if this stays in Cubes for a while, and even on its own merits it provides enough value throughout the game to make it a card that I'm a fan of.
This Curse works in the same vein as Ophiomancer by having the ability to constant spit out threats, but it's more in the aggressive spectrum. A hurdle with cards like this is that when your board is empty the card isn't very good, while it is quite good when you have a creature since the Zombies that it creates feeds its own trigger. Because of this, cards with this type of "rich get richer" effect can look better than they are. Consider a card like Pyrewild Shaman, which was quite nice when you could recur it or if it happened to get in the last three points of damage but poor if it was your only creature or worse if it was stuck in your graveyard since your subsequent threats are either not being drawn or keep dying.
That said, I have found that if you can keep the Zombie train going and causing the threat of Zombies to increase, it can be hard to stop, but the ability for it to be a dead draw can be quite awkward. As was said before, black three-drops are thin, but if I were to predict the single three-mana black card to have the longest Cube tenure, it'd be Ophiomancer. But as a black aggro and/or a recursive threat Curse is a solid one.
Tempt with Vengeance
The problem with many of the "Tempt with" cards is that they don't have effects that scale well for 1v1. 4B is too much for Zombify, 5W is too much for mass pump (when a card like Meadowboon does the same thing for four mana), and assuming that the opponent isn't playing suboptimally, the "tempting offer" is a drawback since you'll almost always get the worse end. Tempt with Vengeance is the exception since its effect is good enough for 1v1. I almost never found the "tempting offer" to be a drawback unless the opposing deck needed tokens to block bigger guys you had (3/3s, etc.).
Whether it makes it into a Cube depends on how well decks can use the tokens in a non-generic fashion. In other words, I found that it was pretty mediocre as a generic aggressive or midrange finisher ala Mistcutter Hydra unless the deck it was in had ways to abuse the tokens like mass pump, Equipment, sacrifice, etc. It's similar to Purphoros in that it doesn't have enough impact for its mana cost in a generic role in aggressive decks but decks that have multiple cards to utilize it are able to use it better. Coincidentally, both of those cards support each other very well, and as such if you want to support that strategy, Tempt with Vengeance works very well in the supporting role.
The life-gain hosing clause is more relevant than just flavor text, as Sulfuric Vortex has taught us, but a problem with Witch Hunt is that aggressive decks only have room for a few five-drops. One could compare it to a role that a four-power creature with haste and flying would perform, but it'd be like looking at Sulfuric Vortex as a Chandra's Phoenix analog, which works to an extent but ignores the fact that Sulfuric Vortex is so good because it makes the opponent deal with it or lose—they cannot durdle around while a Vortex is in play. Witch Hunt works similarly but with a faster clock.
A few important distinctions are that since it switches players you can't use it to kill opposing planeswalkers and it can be sacrificed to opposing effects (Smokestack), but it mostly plays similarly to a bigger Vortex.
Obviously, it's worse than Thundermaw Hellkite, but as that's the gold standard of red five-drops, it's a bit unfair. A more apt comparison may be something like Stormbreath Dragon, which Witch Hunt favorably compares to because it can be extremely difficult to deal with. It can be splashed, which can be overstated, but it's a nice bonus if you're in a deck like G/W and want something that can help close the door quickly.
I'm not a big fan of this because multiple damage dealer cards like Mizzium Mortars perform its role better. It's too expensive for what it does, and although you may occasionally get the dream scenario of hitting two things with it, it more often than not will be a weak and clunky removal spell. It also can't kill artifact creatures, but that's more just the bad equivalent of gravy than an actual reason to not play it.
Much like with Curse of Shallow Graves, a problem with Curse of Predation and almost all Crusade effects aside from Spear of Heliod and Ajani Goldmane is that they can be abysmal if the opponent has dealt with your threats and can be a dead card in those scenarios. Gaea's Anthem is hardly played in Cubes, but I've found Curse of Predation is better and a solid card.
Because green has a plethora of mana dorks, it isn't difficult to get an opponent Cursed on turn 2, and even if that doesn't happen, the ability for the counters to stack can turn small creatures into large threats, especially if an opponent is reliant on walls and defenders to stymie your assault. This can cause small creatures like your mana dorks to get out of hand and can help turn your value 2/2s into larger threats, so even with the risk of the card becoming dead with no cards it's worth it due to the ability for threats to go over the top. It's a pretty innocuous card but has been pretty solid, especially in aggressive decks with lots of mana dorks. It's like Gavony Township but not limited to G/W, and given the available fixing and how aggro it is, it isn't the most embarrassing splash either.
Bane is a card made mostly for multiplayer that may look like it could have a shot of being in Cube, but the dream of hitting multiple targets is a bit too expensive for 1v1, especially since cards like Indrik Stomphowler and Wickerbough Elder exist. Those cards do the job much better for single targets, and there doesn't tend to be an opportunity to hit multiple things.
Lands tend to hit the graveyard in Cube but the density of lands hitting the graveyard isn't high enough to make this worth it, much like with the lowered density of tutors making Aven Mindcensor worse in a Cube context than it may be in a more tutor-heavy format like Modern or Legacy.
Since the competition in this section pretty steep, many of the tricolor cards will have problems making it into Cubes. The exceptions are cards like Naya legend Marath, Will of the Wild, a value 3/3 that can turn into an Arc Lightning / mini Saproling Burst, since the competition is Wild Nacatl (if you have it as a Naya card) and things like Uril, the Miststalker, which isn't that great. The Bant legend, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, suffers a lot from not being able to utilize the recastability like the others in the "command zone" cycle.
May all of your opening packs contain Sol Rings!