I've been to Europe a number of times, but never to the motherland. London, and by extension England, has eluded me in my travels.
That's why I'm so stoked for this weekend!
For the first time ever StarCityGames.com® will be bringing their event-running expertise across the pond to host their first European Grand Prix in London. It is sure to be a phenomenal event, as SCG always hosts the best Grand Prix anyway, and I have no doubt they will be going at 110% for this one and pulling out all the stops.
Even better, SCG will be flying five of their most well-known personalities over as well, giving the European community a chance to meet the top SCG names that mostly play in events that are stateside. My bags are packed, and I couldn't be more excited to join Brad Nelson, Todd Anderson, CVM, and BBD for some awesome Standard action, live seminars, meet and greets, and great times overall.
The only issue is the minor typo on the event page where some careless SCG employee misspelled my name as "Tom Ross," but I'm sure they will fix that slight oversight very soon. It's a bit surprising that they wouldn't invite Tom, winner of not one but two Invitationals last year, but hey I'm not the guy making these choices.
So it's time to think about some European Standard! At Grand Prix San Diego last weekend we...
Hold on, I'm getting a call from Cedric.
Wait, what was that?
I mean, it was obviously a typo, right?
Oh, I see.
It was supposed to say "Tom Ross."
But I mean...
I'm already packed and...
Yes, I understand.
You don't need to yell, Ced, I...
Yes, I understand the Cavs are gonna win it all next year.
Uh, yeah sure, Paramore is the best band ever.
Yes, okay boss, I've…
Okay, I've gotta go. Just put the wine bottle down, you've got a flight to catch.
Have fun, I'll just be here...
So yeah, uh, I really hate flying anyway and London doesn't even seem like it would be that fun, so I think I'm just gonna stay home. I feel really bad that Tom wasn't invited so I think I'll just let him take my spot, no hard feelings of course.
So, I guess that just means...
A Weekend Off!
And if you know me, you know what time off means...
Many people have asked me about what Magic Origins has to offer Cube, and the answer honestly is a ton. Just like the huge impact Magic Origins has had on Standard, there are a ton of powerful cards for Cube as well. The best thing about Magic Origins is that many of its cards are thematic, and that fits the Cube perfectly.
I will of course be looking at cards from the direct perspective of my personal Cube, but that doesn't mean that the evaluations won't change from Cube to Cube.
One of the hallmarks of my Cube is how stingy I am with planeswalkers. There's only one for each color, with a few others to be found in the multicolor and colorless sections. The reason for this is explained at great length in the Compendium, but the long and short of it is that having too many planeswalkers in your Cube greatly alters how it plays out. Games get super midrange-y and end up being my three planeswalkers and support spells against your three planeswalkers and support spells, which greatly limits the variety among decks.
Of course, the Magic Origins flip-walkers are not your average planeswalkers. Because they need to be evaluated based on their front sides, they feel much more like creatures than planeswalkers. This makes them easier to interact with and less warping, and thus easier for me to include if they are worth it.
Amusingly enough, the only flip-walker to see zero actual play in Standard is the one that is the quickest inclusion. Kytheon, Hero of Akros is a very playable 2/1 for W, and while that's not good enough in Standard my Cube contains both Dragon Hunter and Mardu Woe-Reaper. Any Cube needs a reasonable number of quality one-drops, and Kytheon is just that with a ton of upside. The bar gets lower and lower as mana cost drops, and without question Kytheon is in.
Verdict: Welcome to the Cube!
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy has the early mantle as the best flip-walker of the bunch, and may even be the best card in Magic Origins. Jace is cheap, a good discard outlet, and offers good value on his planeswalker side without being oppressive. Jace is powerful, helps out graveyard decks, is a cheap blue creature, and a no-brainer inclusion.
Verdict: Welcome to the Cube!
Beyond Kytheon and Jace, things get a bit more complicated. Liliana, Heretical Healer is a very complex and complicated card that is hard to completely wrap your head around. She requires the most work of all the flip-walkers, but the payoff is also quite good. Unfortunately, this work is hard enough to assemble properly in Constructed. While one of the main goals of my Cube is to build cohesive decks that feel like Constructed decks, getting Liliana to work right seems like it would be quite the challenge. As such, Liliana's Cube prospects are definitely in question.
Despite Anthony Lowry's best wishes, Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh just isn't that great. She's certainly not bad, but most red decks just aren't interested in playing a three-mana 2/2 on turn three that needs to survive a turn to really do anything. I do like that Chandra is a different type of red card, and if she were to get in that would definitely be a defendable reason why, but for now she's simply on the outside looking in.
Verdict: Don't call us, we'll call you.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a fantastic Standard card. Of all the competitive formats, Standard is the one where you are mostly likely to get to seven lands and also the one where you are most likely to want a Borderland Ranger effect. As the power level of formats rise, however, Borderland Ranger becomes less and less impressive and games are usually decided before seven lands are reached. I think Nissa is an awesome card, but I think she's just on the outside looking in as far as Cube goes. It's very close, and I think if she could find any forest (meaning Taiga, Breeding Pool, and friends) that might push her over the top, but for now she's just not quite there.
Verdict: Maybe... (it's very close though)
Aside from the elephants in the set, there are also a ton of cards from Magic Origins to consider. Some are windmill slam inclusions, some not so much. Let's take a look.
Welcome To The Cube!
One of my favorite cards in the set, I was quick to preorder a playset of these at $2.99 each — good choice.
Aside from being a great card in the Standard Mono-Red deck, Abbot of Keral Keep is everything you could want in a Cube card. It's an easy-to-cast two-drop, it's great on turn two or turn eight, it creates interesting game states because its size is always changing, and it gives card advantage to a color that is severely lacking in that area. Abbot of Keral Keep is awesome and should be a very welcome addition to all Cubes regardless of size.
Another card I'm happy to say I preordered correctly, Hangarback Walker is not only a fantastic Magic card but it fits perfectly with the artifact theme of my Cube. Hangarback Walker is another example of a perfect Cube card, as it is very versatile, fits in a bunch of different decks, and can range from a two-drop to a big mana-sink of a win condition.
It's just a nice bonus for me that I get to add another quality artifact creature to my Cube to help out my artifact theme. Hangarback Walker should be in all but the smallest and tightest of Cubes, and it slots in just perfectly in mine.
Thopter Spy Network is one of my favorite cards in the set, and another card that is tailor-made for my artifact theme while also just being a powerful and versatile card. Jeff Hoogland showed us that we don't need a dedicated artifact deck for Thopter Spy Network to be good, which means it is more than flexible enough for Cube even without a prominent artifact theme.
With such a theme, it's a slam-dunk inclusion that can provide a steady stream of resources to any artifact deck. I've already experimented with Bident of Thassa in my Cube, and I'm extremely excited to be able to have a similar card that is much more powerful all around.
Harbinger of the Tides is a very awesome Magic card, and infinitely better in a format where it is difficult to play around. It is also quite versatile, as it can be a quick and effective two-drop or a pseudo Venser, Shaper Savant in the mid- to late-game.
The only major count against it is one of the death knells for any Cube card – a two-mana spell that costs two of that color. These cards are very hard to play consistently on turn two, and as such they are left unplayed fairly often. Because Harbinger of the Tides has a four-mana mode that is useful later in the game I could see it overcoming that, but right now it is certainly on the fence. I could see it being a fairly easy inclusion in larger Cubes, however, as any good blue creature is a welcome sight.
Ma and Pa Nalaar do a very nice Seige-Gang Commander impersonation for one less mana and give you tokens that are far more valuable. Two 1/1 flyers is no joke, and being able to sacrifice them (or any other artifact for that matter) is a very nice ability to have in the late-game.
Four power for four mana over three bodies is a very good rate, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar have enough other bonuses to make them a serious consideration. While on the border for most Cubes, I think the artifact synergies are enough for me to consider Ma and Pa in my Cube.
Don't Call Us, We'll Call You.
Sometimes it's not about how good a card is but simply whether you can actually cast it or not. Archangel of Tithes is a very powerful Magic card, but its mana cost is so hopelessly restrictive that it's almost destined to be a last pick in most drafts. Even if you're a white deck splashing black, it's pretty likely for your manabase to be Rishadian Port, Scrubland, Plains, Swamp on turn four and for Archangel of Tithes to be uncastable.
The four-drop slot in Cubes is generally already crowded, and while the three white mana symbols are great for Devotion in Standard they are an anchor around your neck in Cube. Archangel of Tithes only seems reasonable in the largest of Cubes.
I don't really think the goggles have what it takes in Cube, but I wish they did. Pyromancer's Goggles is one of the coolest cards in the Magic Origins, but I just don't think the tools really exist in Cube (or maybe at all) to make it playable. There are some awesome cards to copy beyond burn spells, but I'm just not sure if it's enough:
That's a rather limited selection, unfortunately. While it doesn't seem like Pyromancer's Goggles are reasonable, it's definitely the kind of card I like to just throw in for a few drafts and see what happens. I unfortunately can't really recommend it though unless your Cube has a TON of all different kinds of red spells.
Damnation is awesome, and it's the perfect end-all sweeper for a black control deck. Languish, on the other hand, is a very unreliable sweeper that is super punishing to aggressive decks and actively bad against control and bigger midrange decks.
Languish is a very format-dependent card; it can be very good or not so great depending on how the format shapes up, and this means you can play it as you see fit. Cube is such a varied and wide format, however, that it's very hard to be sure if it's time to Languish or not. As such, it ends up being a sort of super Drown in Sorrow that is great in some matchups and not so great in others.
I could see including Languish in some larger Cubes, but it is not a card I would be happy including in mine.
“Just Try It!”
Cubing is all about exploration, and you really need to get down in the trenches to figure out what works.
One of the most important mantras my old band used to have was “just try it!” When we would be discussing a certain way to play a part or structure a song, instead of just discussing for twenty minutes why it might or might not work, the best thing to do was just try each way being discussed and seeing how it worked in the real world.
Empirical data trumps all, and it's likely there's a card that I haven't mentioned that will end up in my Cube. It's also likely I will cut a card I thought was a pretty sure-fire inclusion. There's a lot of cards that interest me from Magic Origins, and it's impossible to theorycraft them all.
The most important thing to do if you are discussing or disagreeing about a card is to just try it. Throw it in and see what happens, and fairly often you will be surprised with the results.
What cards are you most excited to Cube with or add to your Cube?