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Cube Review: Magic Origins

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It's the last core set, and it's a powerful one for Cubes. Like Dragons of Tarkir, there aren't a lot of obvious inclusions, but there are a lot of deceptively powerful additions. I'll go into what each color gains for Cube.

White

White's marquee addition, Kytheon, Hero of Akros, headlines white's additions for Cube by giving white some new options at the lower end of the mana curve, topping out at 4. Aside from Kytheon, they're in pretty competitive mana slots though.

Kytheon, Hero of AkrosGetting a better Savannah Lions was a happy accident, and it's an easy inclusion as arguably the best white 1-drop in Cube.

Saboteur creatures without evasion like Liliana's Reaver have typically looked better than they perform, and ones like Stromkirk Noble were good, as they were cheap enough to go under blockers.

Consul's Lieutenant
Relic Seeker

Both of these cost 2 for 2-power, both of which go along with what white aggressive decks want to do. Relic Seeker's the better of the two since it's easier to cast, but both bolster aggressive decks as cheap threats that push forward momentum as 3-power creatures once they push through and are cheap enough to feasibly to so.

Archangel of Tithes

Archangel of Tithes's attacking ability makes blocking awkward, but since its attacking trigger requires a turn to use, it's relegated to slower decks to punish attackers. This doesn't bar it from Cube, but it'll be harder to include due to high competition for white 4-drops.

Vryn Wingmare is a nice way to bolster white disruptive 3-drops if that's a theme being pushed through cards like Aven Mindcensor—since it's a bit low-impact to make it on pure power merits (like Blade Splicer.)

Blue

Blue's additions aren't so much for pure blue control, like Aetherling, but they work well in all kinds of blue decks. These additions are highly flexible and universally playable for blue control and tempo.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a riff on Merfolk Looter with some upsides, such as being able to dodge removal by transforming. It can act like Ajani Vengeant by +1’ing for marginal value and then -2’ing twice. Although the +1 is low-impact, it and the 5 loyalty do help to defend the card. Like Jace Beleren, he mostly just toggles between his first two modes. Merfolk Looter's always been just shy of Cube inclusion, but the Planeswalker mode pushes it into Cube-worthy range.

Day's Undoing loses the combo potential that Timetwister has, but it still works very well in other blue decks that make good use of Timetwister. I've found that the ending-the-turn drawback isn't that difficult to get around since those decks have use for mana on their opponents’ turns through flash creatures, countermagic, or instant-speed mana sinks. Your opponent does get to act first, which was a big factor on Time Reversal, but the cheap cost helps make holding countermagic up feasible, and it's been solid since trying it.

Harbinger of the Tides has somewhat been pigeonholed as a tempo card due to its aggressive bear stats, but it's just a great blue card. Its flexibility on being able to be cast on 2 or 4 allows it to be utilized as a cheap bounce creature or an attacking trick.

It's easy to discount flexibility because it's easier to just quantify the individual modes since there isn't really a way to quantify flexibility.

I've played it for 4 mana more than for 2 mana, but the bear mode is still a great mode to have to either push through damage or to curve out against a stumbling opponent.

Whirler Rogue plays like Cloudgoat Ranger in control decks by making a lot of blockers, but it can have immediate impact as well on attacks by tapping her Thopters, not even taking into account its synergy with mana rocks and Equipment. Since blue 4-drops are so competitive, it may be a hard inclusion in smaller Cubes, but it's worth it.

Black

Unlike white, black's Origins Cube contributions are on the higher-mana end of the spectrum, giving some added strength to some underrepresented areas in Cube. Decks that focus on sacrificial strategies (Pox, Braids) gain an added boost as well, but many of these cards work well without that support as well.

Liliana, Heretical Healer
Liliana, Heretical Healer helps to shore up a weakness in black: attacking 3-drops. Although she doesn't transform from token creatures, she works very well as a pseudo-Flagbearer who can also make attacks awkward if it could result in your creature dying. Your opponent should be making the right blocking decision, but she tends to make it so your opponent may need to make awkward plays to do so. Since many Cube value creatures are 3-drops, with some exceptions, she can be used as weird reanimation spell, but the main draw is her +2’ing with the symmetrical discard, helping to give black aggressive decks another angle of attack (through recurring threats) as well as working pretty well in black midrange decks.

Despoiler of Souls plays like Bloodghast as a recursive aggressive threat. Its graveyard ability allows use of a resource that may otherwise just be dead, and even getting one recursion on it is getting your mana's worth since those resources may just lay fallow, like there being unused a Dark Confidant or a Rakdos Cackler, making it a great tool for black aggro decks.

Languish helps to provide a third solid mass-removal effect to supplement Damnation and Toxic Deluge. I've found other cards like Black Sun's Zenith to be inefficient, but like those two, it isn't difficult for your control decks' threats to live through it. Smaller Cubes may have hard time finding room for a third black Wrath, but most shouldn't.

Priest of the Blood Rite gives black an unprecedentedly large amount of power for the cost that creates interesting combat scenarios due to not wanting to kill the 2/2. Most spot removal will just go for the Demon, but the Priest works well with symmetrical removal like Smallpox and Wildfire. Black 5-drops have been on the thin side, and this helps.

Last, Demonic Pact ends up being low impact for the drawback.

Red

Lately, Wizards of the Coast has been looking to diversify red's role into other nonaggressive things, and Magic Origins shows this as well for Cube. Red still has some great aggressive cards, but more artifact and nonaggressive red support is given as well.

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh mainly transforms through attacking and casting a red spell, as it's hard to chain two red spells together in decks outside of mono-red. Her payoff of a one-sided Sulfuric Vortex is highly efficient with the ability to hit smaller creatures if need be. Red aggressive decks have historically suffered for aggressive 3-drops, and while she has no immediate impact, she does somewhat get around brick-walled board states by going into ping mode, giving another angle of attack.

Scab-Clan Berserker can be very binary—she can be brick-walled since she costs 3 mana and lacks evasion, and that means she hits an awkward time when she can be stopped by spot removal and 2/2s. But her impact on the game is high when she connects. I'm cooler on her than many, but I'm including her and keeping a close eye just on how often she delivers.

Goblin Glory Chaser is the best renown creature, as its 1-mana cost lets it act like Stromkirk Noble to get under removal and blockers to become an evasive threat. It can't snowball and outpace blockers like Stromkirk Noble, but the evasion more than makes up for it, letting it supplement Jackal Pups well.

Abbot of Keral Keep is a lower-tier 2-drop that we would've welcomed years ago, but it suffers now due to competition because, even with flexibility, it doesn't really offer a good “base mode” as Burst Lightning does.

Exquisite Firecraft's spell mastery can help red aggressive decks close out the game when in burn mode against blue decks, but even in nonblue matches, it's a decent burn spell, but not a staple by any means due to it having sorcery speed and an odd mana cost.

Like Whirler Rogue, Pia and Kiran Nalaar can be played in attacking red decks if need be, but it's more at home in slower red decks because red 4-drops are typically more immediate in impact. Like with Siege-Gang Commander, it doesn't really need additional artifacts, but unlike Siege-Gang Commander, those slower red decks typically tend to have artifacts lying around. Its ability is a bit pricey, but the evasion more than makes up for it, making it a great 4-drop that isn't a power downgrade from other non-aggressive 4-drops.

Pyromancer's Goggles is too expensive for agro, but it works well in bigger red decks that have at least six red spells, which isn't too hard for nonaggro red decks.

Green

Like black, green's additions are more for slower decks, but they're necessarily mana-intensive, like a lot of green's more traditional engine and ramp cards. It also shores up some weaknesses like black did and gives some nice engine and synergistic cards.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a riff on Civic Wayfinder, which, despite losing the ability to mana-fix, still provides card advantage and helps the green ramp game plan with an absurd second mode. Think of how often you've flashed back Chainer's Edict as opposed to the times when you've not and how you're still happy to play it because the base mode works well. Its transformed mode is incredible as a card-draw engine; but even if it doesn't transform in a game, it's a great backup plan and supplements green ramp well.

Conclave Naturalists is a strict upgrade to Indrik Stomphowler, which can come in handy to pressure board states when just a Durkwood Boars is needed. If you've but Stomphowler though, the may ability isn't enough to bring it back.

Evolutionary Leap is a great engine card; despite randomization, it allows for green decks to gain value out of creatures that were going to die anyway through combat or spot removal. It's not a tutor machine as much as it’s a value machine that becomes better with tokens or recursive threats, but that is by no means necessary to make it good.

Woodland Bellower is good green 6-drop that outperforms lackluster ones like Rampaging Baloths. The key to Woodland Bellower is, like Stoneforge Mystic, to make sure that the deck has a proper toolbox for utilization. Most tend to be 3-mana creatures anyway, and I've found good Bellower toolboxes tend to have flexibility, like a Viridian Shaman, Eternal Witness, and a Scavenging Ooze, making it a welcome addition to green ramp decks.

Honored Hierarch is more an aggressive beater than a green ramp card (since it takes a while to be able to ramp)—acting more like Goblin Glory Chaser whose vigilance and mana abilities are nice upsides to the 2/2. Because of this, Honored Hierarch's inclusion will be determined by whether you're playing aggressive green cards—like Jungle Lion, it works best there, not in midrange.

Other

The miscellaneous section doesn't receive any real windmill-slam inclusions, but some solid adds to boost artifact decks. It doesn't really push a new archetype like Izzet artifacts, such as in Magic Origins Limited, but the cards work well in existing Cube archetypes.

Bounding Krasis was Joy of Cubing's spoiler as a nice tempo creature. It's the most combat-ready one for creatures outside of Edric, Spymaster of Trest, as it can come down at the end of tur and tap a blocker; it loses the ability to tap down counterspell/removal mana, and because of this, it sits alongside cards like Trygon Predator rather than replacing them.

Hangarback Walker is a flexible creature whose base mode is as a Myr Sire that makes a flyer when it dies, mitigating spot removal and acting as a mana sink later by casting it for large X values if need be. This helps with its growing ability, which allows it to come down early and hold down the fort while either holding open countermagic or spot removal mana and then eventually turning the corner.

Bounding Krasis
Hangarback Walker
Sword of the Animist

The key to Sword of the Animist is to make sure that the equipped creatures stick around so that the land advantage can snowball, either through countermagic protection or evasion, and it works well in decks that have flexible, cheap threats that can make use of the extra mana or to ramp into bigger things. It's not a tier-one Equipment, but a nice supplement to the all-stars.

War Horn gives the best part of an Anthem (power) with ease-of-cast and impacts all creatures, unlike Hall of Triumph. However, it may end up in aggro sideboards due to their space constraints for noncreatures.




I hope you've enjoyed this review of Magic Origins. Feedback from the new cards has been great, and you'll find that a lot of them will be great in your Cube.

Thanks for reading!

@UsmanTheRad on Twitter

My blog, featuring my recently revamped Pauper and powered Cube lists

Cube podcast, The Third Power, that Anthony Avitollo and I host


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