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Fun Cubed: A Conflux of Additions

 

Every time a set is released there’s plenty of buzz around many cards, may it be for tournament playability, the potential to be a new deck center piece, or a new Timmy style creature. The group I find myself in for assessing new sets is quite the minority of the Magic player base. The first thing I mull over is any potential impact the newest additions to the game may have on the Cube format. So what makes looking at cards through the lenses of Cube different?

Obviously, the very first thing you look for in Cube cards is overall power level, and since we’re talking about a format that’s already high power level, the bench mark for cards to be considered is rather high. The entire Shards block is centered on cards that work within a multicolored theme and Cube isn’t as centered on multicolored cards so the jumping off point for assessing cards for Cube consideration is skewed. While Shards had what I considered to be plenty of inclusions for Cube despite the handicap of being a block about multicolored cards, I found myself taking a microscope to the Conflux spoiler. There were plenty of cards worth considering for inclusion despite most cards being joined to a shard in the set.

As a side note, Shards block has made categorizing cards difficult for Cube. Is a white artifact considered a white card in Cube? Is it considered an artifact and thusly put in the artifact section? Are cards that are one color but have activated abilities or bonuses from other colors considered to be multicolored cards? I thought long and hard about these distinctions when Shards was released and I think I’ve come to a good conclusion about how to separate cards that may or may not be playable without another color. Using Wild Nacatl as an example, I’d say without doubt that it’s a green card. When deciding that it was a green card, opponents to this stance stated that a green one drop that was a 1/1 without playing another color isn’t Cube worthy, but a 3/3 for one that’s consider G/R/W is. While this argument makes sense, I’ve played Wild Nacatl in many more decks that didn’t have cards from all the colors referred to from its bonuses. I’ve since it played as a 2/2 for one many times over, and I’ve seen coincidental dual lands make it a green 3/3 in many games. Making these distinctions was important to color balance the Cube, and directly affected a couple of decisions on cards that entered the Cube from Conflux.

We’ll start with white. The card that seems like an obvious auto include for all Cubes since it was spoiled is Rampant Growth. Yeah, it’s as good as everybody thinks it is or maybe even better. There’s the obvious Swords to Plowshares comparison, swapping life gain for Rampant Growth, effectively giving white access to two copies of the same spell in Cube. While I’ve seen Swords to Plowshares played in a defensive posture to give yourself life and stay in a game, Path to Exile functions in a similar fashion when cast on your own creatures, making it all the more versatile and powerful. Since you can at end of turn trade a guy for a splash color land in your deck or accelerate for your following turn, Path gets cast every game it gets drawn. Of course removed from game is also very relevant in Cube format between Genesis, various reanimation spells, and a hint of threshold interactions.

The less obvious inclusion for white was Martial Coup. This card now his the distinction of being the most expensive white wrath effect in my Cube, but well worth the price. Kirtar’s Wrath was on the fence for a long time with its ability to clear the board and leave a couple of men to win the game with, but now there’s a card that ups the ante for board clearing and replacement. I think of Martial Coup as Decree of Justice that has a trade-off; for playing as a sorcery you get to kill all other creatures in play, which seems like a good deal to me.

Blue was initially underwhelming for possible Cube cards. Esperzoa was the first card I stopped and stared at from the list, hoping I could live the dream and return either Tangle Wire or Duplicant to my hand every turn during a game, but after trying it out for a short time it just never came together enough to make the cut in most decks that drafted it. Air Elemental, on the other hand, was a card I didn’t see making the cut at first–partially since it was an artifact, partially because it required two other colors to really be effective–but after having it in Draft a couple of times, I see how Air Elemental can randomly either win or live long enough to find the missing puzzle piece to become a machine gun in the air. There aren’t very many answers to enchantments in Cube, so finding one that’s potentially playable in a blue-based deck seemed like all the more reason to include it. Anytime there’s a change to blue’s creatures in Cube, it’s worth taking note of as well. Since blue is heavy spells with only a third of its cards being creatures the spots are tight and it really takes a strong card to break in.

Black actually doesn’t get any cards from Conflux. Considerations started with Nyxathid; while there isn’t an abundance of discard in Cube, this card actually stood out to me for its potential impact in beatdown on beatdown matchups. However, after a closer look, Nyxathid had far more shortcomings, since Blue seems to own this card without trying, and it was easy to play around in most draft archetypes, it quickly became dismissed. Rotting Rats also seemed like it had potential on the surface. Making opponents discard two cards on a 1/1 body sounds good, but it isn’t as easy as that to come by in game play scenarios. From testing Rotting Rats, it never really had a positive impact for the caster the majority of the time it came down.

Banefire was almost as obvious of an inclusion as Path to Exile, as this new-school Demonfire is better six days of the week. There hasn’t been an X damage spell in Cube that hasn’t had its moment in the sun, and I’ve seen Cube lists that run almost every card that’s similar to Banefire. I’m also of the mindset that anytime you can put in a card that’s coincidental blue hate without being too narrow, then you should include it in Cube. Brooding Saurian or Vexing Shusher might be the closest to a hoser in Cube, so slipping a card like Volcanic Fallout in and putting a little hurt on blue makes the inclusion feel even better. I chose not to include any other red cards from Conflux, and the only flack I’ve received from my play group has been about the exclusion of Volcanic Fallout. I have never been a fan of Pyroclasm or its variants, and while it seems like I’m immediately contradicting what I said about finding ways to get at blue without it being obvious, I still don’t think casting a field-wide Pyroclasm answers enough cards. At some point in the future, I could see Fallout finding its way in if a Pyroclasm-style card is needed.

Green is the color that got the most cards added to Cube from Conflux. Starting with that other card that seemed like it was on the top of lists for the best in Conflux before the entire spoiler was released; Noble Hierarch is a lot more than just a three-fifths version of Birds of Paradise. Cementing green as the color of both mana acceleration and color fixing, Noble Hierarch also brings a touch more of the exalted ability to Cube. Accelerating early while still adding to the attack makes Hierarch a plus on all fronts when played. Thornling started as a pet inclusion since Morphling and Torchling were both seeing play, and I thought why break tradition with this variation. Initial response to seeing Cliffrunner Behemoth in Cube was more of a negative than a positive from players, as the majority felt he was too expensive to cast for his abilities. I looked at him as a six casting cost creature, just like his siblings. Once you get to untap with him he can really go to town on your opponents, even more so than each of his previous incarnations. Attacking with a 7/1 trampling, indestructible creature makes short work of your opponent’s defenses.

The last green card to make the cut is Cliffrunner Behemoth. This juggernaut has the potential to hit the table with either haste or lifelink the vast majority of the times it gets cast, making it a well above average play. Considering the Juggernaut himself is still a formidable card in Cube, running Cliffrunner into play with the assistance of red or white permanents makes him a deal. While three toughness isn’t exactly the magic number for dodging removal, since almost every red card deals three damage, I really like Cliffrunner because it adds a touch of lifelink to Cube, which as you might guess isn’t running rampant across many cards currently included. We all know life gain isn’t the best strategy in Magic, so finding cards that have an impact on the game and also gain life make for great inclusions.

Despite Conflux being a multicolored set, only two multicolored cards made it into Cube. Shambling Remains was an easy inclusion for the Red/Black section. With more power than casting cost and the first Cube card to have unearth, this beater should definitely win a few games after coming out of the graveyard on an empty board. The other multicolored card to make it into Cube from Conflux was one I didn’t know how I felt about until I first saw it cast in a game. Sure enough, the poster child of the set himself gets just a little more play in Cube than on the Pro Tour. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is just as much a game-ender as you’d imagine he’d be in any other format. The fun part about having this card in Cube comes from seeing him early in a draft and having the opportunity to build your whole deck around getting him into play, which however easy or difficult it may end up being is a lot of fun. When you know you’re playing against the player with Nicol Bolas in their deck and they play Grim Monolith into Coalition Relic on turn two, you start to play scared, which can still be fun in a game of Magic despite how much you might be cringing on the inside. Of course, when it was first spoiled, I laughed at the card, considering it extremely Timmy-stylized and not worthy of seeing play in any “real” format. It wasn’t until I was worn down by friends and coworkers that I even gave him a shot, but I’m glad I did because he’s quickly become one of the most fun cards in all of Cube.

My Cube is fairly friendly to players who try to play three or four-color decks, and since my Cube is often Winston drafted as much if not more than booster drafted, I’m always looking for lands that assist players in being able to play off-color spells. Conflux had a surprisingly short list of lands that were fixers, and the only one I really liked was Unstable Frontier. While I wish it could target any land, I’m still pleased with its fixing ability without any drawback. I consider it a Prismatic Lens that doesn’t require casting, and I consider it a high pick in decks that I’m playing three to four colors in.

All in all, I was surprised at the number of cards from Conflux that found their way into Cube. A small set with a multicolored theme didn’t seem like it would have much impact on the format a couple of months ago, aside from a couple of very high-power level cards. Now I’m confident in saying that riding in on the back of the new Swords to Plowshares, I’m sure that every Cube out there will have no less than one Conflux card included from this point forward. So until next time, this is Tristan Gregson hoping your top decks are live and your lethal damage always resolves.

5 thoughts on “Fun Cubed: A Conflux of Additions”

  1. One of the cards that we have included in our cube that has been an absolute blessing is Hellspark elemental. Granted, our cube can support a mono-red archtype, or mono red splash black/white. However this card merits serious consideration.

  2. Wow, an actual cube analysis I can get behind. While I haven’t cubed much recently, I can definitely get behind most of the inclusions/exclusions. I don’t see Adjudicator at all, and would never come close to adding him. Ditto Unstable Frontier. The other lands are just so much better. I also like Hellspark Elemental (Hell’s Thunder is also good in my cube) and Scepter of Dominance/Fugue.

    I don’t have Shambling Remains due to my gold restrictions, but I have the other cards you have, and I’m happy with what I’ve added. Fallout (and all Pyroclasms) suck.

  3. My cube does have a few red creatures that I wouldn’t consider all-stars and while an additional Ball Lightning variant could give a boost to red I see to many scenarios in my Cube where Hellspark Elemental is more Lava Spike and less Ball Lightning. Too many white first strikers, green fatties, red burn effects to make it a solid addition to my Cube, but a solid card none the less.

  4. fallout: 2 damage to the opp for 3. still relevant, paired with a 3 damage spell that they let resolve to kill a 5/5? I killed a morphling with fallout (granted, my opponent was not particularly bright), but it also was very useful against the control players playing and planning on protecting bitterblossom and decree of justice dudes, especially when my strategy for winning is just launching eternal burn spells at my opponents heads. It reminds me a little bit of sudden shock in that sense, because cubing usually happens at 2-3 am anyway, and players usually don’t counter the first burn spell in favor of countering what it was likely baiting. fallout in that sense beats sudden shock, because while the shock is better at nailing welders and confidants and (more specifically) psychatogs and mongrels, the fallout isn’t alsways a 2 for 1 when paired up with another red spell.

    fallout certainly deserves more consideration than that.

    Then again, I like fallout mostly because I almost always draft artifact blue with no creatures, or reanimator, neither of which even activate top in response to that chaff. I love it when there are players picking red cards around me, especially red spells that cost 3 and do 2 damage.

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