It's once again time for a Cube Review! I'll be breaking cards from Dominaria United by section, including cards that are going to be at home in most "goodstuff" Cubes as well as more niche applications. As usual, I've sorted the cards by approximate interest, but it isn't a definitive ranking and it will be up to your individual Cube's tastes. So, let's get started!
Serra Paragon is the Lurrus of the Dream-Den we have at home, but it does a decent job of being an evasive body if we need that, and being able to double-dip with fetchlands is also a nice feature (and a dream scenario with Titania, Protector of Argoth). It's a curve topper that can recur dead bodies if need be and feels like a must-kill in attrition-centric matchups; but, 4-drops should feel like that by default.
Archangel of Wrath - I'm listing it here, but only as a brief note that this and the other "tri-color kicker cards" are listed in the 3+ miscellaneous section (see link above) since the flying lifelink body itself is merely ok if not kicked.
Anointed Peacekeeper - A spiritual successor to Paulo (Elite Spellbinder), but one that's worse since it loses all of its value when it dies. That said, a 3/3 that peeks at the opponent's hand is still good, and generally, Peeks are underrated. But this is merely ok when compared to other 3-drops.
Guardian of New Benalia lets you get value out of cheap creatures that would incidentally chump attack to filter in to better draws, and the discard ability isn't bad if dumping cards in the graveyard as a resource is a benefit instead of a pure drawback. This is definitely a ways from Seasoned Hallowblade since its damage rate isn't great for aggro decks.
Defiler of Faith is a one in a cycle of finishers who suffer by being relatively high-cost with no immediate impact and overall middling bodies. Thus, it sits in the category of finishers that fall flat against the bevy of cheap removal in the format. The only possible exception is the Green one, which has some lasting impact by buffing the team with the trigger. Overall, these do too little for their cost, even if they make subsequent spells cheaper. Things like Greensleeves and the glut of 5-mana Green (and White, for this defiler) planeswalkers do the job so much better.
Temporary Lockdown - a Portable Hole for everything, somewhat like Divine Purge in Alchemy, but it's generally worse than Portable Hole. Counterintuitively, this is because Portable Hole usually has at least *something* to hit in the average Cube game but depending on your Cube's metagame, Temporary Lockdown may not be able to get a 2+-for-1 reliably, as the number of targets (cheap creatures, mana rocks) may make it either a hoser effect or something that you may want to maindeck. It needs to be something you're specifically looking for, but it might be right for you if your Cube's looking for another cheap wrath.
Resolute Reinforcements - Close to, but fairly different from, Raise the Alarm, but the pluses and minuses depend on how your Cube is built. Reinforcements is better with blink and worse with stuff that cares about the body itself (clone effects, cards that trigger on non-creatures being cast and cards like Polymorph that don't want the "Creature" type on the card.) In most Cubes, it's *probably* better than Raise the Alarm, but they're close enough in most environments where they're at about the same overall power level and thus, worse than most generic 2-drops in the environment.
Valiant Veteran and the other tribal lords are eh in Cube unless you're going deep for it. You'll likely know if you're in the market for something like this. Wait, didn't we record a podcast episode about talking about tribal cards in Cube for the Leaf-Crowned Elder preview episode?
Tolarian Terror is nice payoff for casting a boatload of cheap cantrips (which is generally a good strategy for Blue decks.) I like to keep my Cube reviews to a "goodstuff" POV, but the raw power of Tolarian Terror makes it an exception because of just how powerful it can be without a lot of effort.
Ward is quietly a great boon to this since it helps hold up cheap counterspells and makes "soft counters" more effective to protect this (kinda like with Hall of Storm Giants). Since it gets better in proportion to the number of cheap cantrips and counters that your Cube has, it can represent a clock that can come out super cheaply and can be defended cheaply in those same decks.
Tolarian Terror, Cryptic Serpent, and Sailors' Bane - and arguably Demilich and Pteramander - can represent a suite of finishers which reward Xerox-style deck-building, where you're able to deploy them and protect them cheaply, rather than relying on big-mana tap-out threats, if that's something you and your drafters are interested in.
Aether Channeler, on the other hand, is the best "goodstuff" universally playable Blue Cube card.
Its obvious analog is Callous Bloodmage because Channeler's three modes mirror Callous Bloodmage's, but it's more of a huge upgrade on Man-o'-War - a class of cards that feel their age in a world where their mana inefficiency of being a Gray Ogre is more pronounced if you have nothing to bounce on turn three. Because of this, cards like Man-o'-War tend to be terrible in non-creature matchups; Channeler's variety of modes gets around some of those bad matchups, and does that job even better than Barrin, Tolarian Archmage did, who could bounce planeswalkers in addition to creatures, but still suffered if cast early.
Understandably, Aether Channeler's non-bounce modes aren't great on mana rate, since they compare to relatively mediocre creatures (Sandsteppe Outcast, a bad Priest of Ancient Lore), but they're nice modes to have because they tend to work over a spread of gameplay scenarios, and they're great when those game states happen.
Haughty Djinn - not terrible as a virtual 4-drop, to cast with a soft counter backup a la Remand or Lose Focus. Often seen in Standard with its friend Tolarian Terror, they work well together, but Tolarian Terror does the job better. It's a nice complement to those creatures rather than being a "bad Tolarian Terror" since it can turn the corner very quickly when the game goes to closing time.
Academy Loremaster - in my Kamigawa Cube article, when I talked about the set's ninjas, I talked about "blue-ggro" with ninjas and how they can be used to supplement tempo strategies for Blue in Cube. Academy Loremaster plays well with that gameplan, if your plan is to do barely anything on your main phase, since the drawback doesn't hurt you as much if you play at instant speed.
The drawback of the opponent getting first crack at drawing is definitely a real one, and gets worse when the efficiency of removal in a Cube is higher, since the opponent can just draw an extra card, and then kill it on your upkeep, like the old joke that Seizan, Perverter of Truth let your opponent Necropotence for 2 for the cost of you spending , which is like the Magic: The Gathering equivalent of starting your car early to warm it up (during the winter), to come back and find that someone has stolen it. I've found myself uttering versions of the phrase "this mainly depends on your Cube's instant removal suite" but that really is one of the defining contexts of your Cube metagame, and Academy Loremaster illustrates it very well.
Founding the Third Path - the first chapter pays for itself, the second chapter is almost flavor text and the 3rd is the payoff. It definitely gets better with more cheap cantrips and spells, but this is better served as another cheap blue card.
Silver Scrutiny is another in the line of "this set's big blue draw spell" but is slightly different since it can at least be an instant if cast for a small amount. Still, at the end of the day, there're plenty of better options out there, even with things as recent as Memory Deluge.
Cut Down - this set's removal option for small creatures. It works incredibly well in Cube since, like Portable Hole, it's able to at least kill something and has times when it can do more than killing a 2/2. It suffers against things like Disfigure since it can't serve as a combat trick, but I didn't find that mode used very often in the years when I Cubed it. Cubes with higher emphasis on "unfair" gameplay may find it lacking for targets, and thus, worse, but it's still a great card to supplement Black Cube decks.
Cult Conscript / Evolved Sleeper - both of these are Black aggro options, and you'll know if you're in the market for them. Evolved Sleeper does at least scale up well into the game with deathtouch and being able to draw cards with excess mana, which a lot of other scalable threats can't do. Like Shivan Devastator (coming later in the article), both aren't so much efficient as effective for having value later in the game. Sleeper may be the better of the two, but Cubes that want one generally want both.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse plays similarly to cards like Baneslayer Angel as something that can shore up aggro matchups (depending on how fast they're able to kill, four mana vs five can be the difference between living and dying) by being a life swing on a big body that has some upside in bigger creature matchups by having deathtouch. Usually, Sheoldred at least does something in a matchup, unless the opponent has instant speed removal to kill it in response to the trigger. There are better finishers, but this ain't too bad.
Braids, Arisen Nightmare showcases how expectations for returning characters can lead to odd realities. Braids, Cabal Minion was a long-time Cube card since decks that had ways to create multiple things to sacrifice to her were able to be utilized with cards like Smokestack - but in many Cube metagames, that's a memory of days long past. Her pedigree of being banned in Commander by being able to be Sol Ringed out and landlock the opponent also points to the new Braids being used in that role, but ironically, land is usually the worst thing to sacrifice to her. Does that make this new Braids bad? Not necessarily.
Like the old Braids, she's best when able to break parity. Her body/CMC is much more in line with 2022 standards, but she's secretly more of an artifact and enchantment support card since she's able to easily break parity (and thus, draw cards) when you have a bunch of treasures and disposable artifacts hanging around. The tried and tried and true strategy of sacrificing random token creatures works with her too. It's easy to assume that she's bad because the opponent has a choice in sacrificing, but generally those evaluative metrics are overly reductionist and don't take actual gameplay scenarios into account, like pushing the opponent when they're resource constrained. Since it doesn't do anything until the end step, she can suffer against cheap instant speed removal, but she's not bad in aggressive decks.
The Raven Man - Nezumi Shortfang's 2022 model, with a better base body but with a much worse activated ability. I honestly don't even think it's even that much better than Shortfang by way of being a Disrupting Scepter on a body, but it's able to at least attack for 2 when the opponent is hellbent.
Squee, Dubious Monarch has some resilience which the Goblin Rabblemaster types don't have, which is nice since they too can suffer against instant speed removal. This one combines the best out of all of them - the creatures don't have to attack so that you don't get punked by chump attacking into a Batterskull, Squee doesn't have to wait to untap to make a creature, and it can even come back from the dead with its virtual "escape" text, although it doesn't have a way to get additional pump (like Rabblemaster's Goblin pump, Legion Warboss' Mentor, etc.) Expect to only return Squee once in a game, if at all, but getting use out of your burn spells is a nice upside. I'm a big, big fan of what may be king of the Rabblemasters.
Jaya, Fiery Negotiator is worse than Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but solidly a #2 behind her as a value-walker. Unlike a lot of other Red planeswalkers, which mostly focus on damage, Jaya plays similarly to Elspeth, Knight-Errant - which is a weird comparison, since EKE hasn't aged well. Because Jaya is able to "draw" cards with her -1, she's been much better as a ground-stall planeswalker. Generally, the tokens having prowess isn't as big of a thing as you'd think, but it plays nicely with burn as a combat trick, and digs if you need gas. The removal option is medium and usually doesn't kill things, but it's nice that the opponent has to respect it if you're able to win with her -2 and alpha striking.
Electrostatic Infantry - Trample is REAL nice for a grow-a-tog style card by making it so that the payoff that you're putting a bunch of spells into pumping doesn't just get chump blocked (although it doesn't stop it from dying to a Doom Blade). This is more of an Izzet card that wants to be played in a deck with a lot of cantrips and burn spells rather than your usual Red aggro Cube deck.
Phoenix Chick - There's a BIG difference between Copper Tablet and Sulfuric Vortex. This is one example of this giant gap; it has some resiliency by being able to come back, but a savvy opponent generally can board control well enough to make this not happen very often, which has made this more of a dream than something consistent. I generally advise Cube designers to include more 1-drops to make aggro better, but there are better ones than this.
Shivan Devastator is essentially this set's five-mana 4/4 flying hasty dragon that we get every few years, but having modality lets this be a flying Goblin Chariot to kill a planeswalker or opponent at low loyalty/life, if need be. Like many X spells, it's a jack of all trades but master of none, and relatively poor on a pure damage rate. Haste does help, though, since if it gets to attack twice, it generally pays for the mana value. That said, I'm pretty medium on it.
Radha's Firebrand - is as close as it gets to being a decent on-rate beater that isn't just for Mono-Red. It can be a domain payoff if needed, since it plays like a weird Earthshaker Khenra by getting a small blocker out of the way while providing the beats. Since you can't pump this more than once, it's harder to take advantage of the Domain ability but it's nice to be able to have some big turns. It gets better with fetchlands, of course, and with more land types - but it's worth considering for Red aggro if you find Red aggro decks aren't just the mono-color type.
The Elder Dragon War has some modality as a small wrath, or a dragon to hold the fort if you don't need a Pyroclasm. This makes it pretty good in attrition aggro mirrors, since all 3 chapters come into play in those matchups, but it's another "jack of all trades" outside of those matchups.
Yavimaya Steelcrusher is filler, but can attack for a decent amount of damage if you have fallow creatures lying around. It's mainly worth considering if you need more artifact hate. That said, unlike in the days of Torch Fiend, a 2-power creature for isn't a great statline for 2022 standards and usually isn't something that aggro decks are looking to maindeck, but isn't the most embarrassing if they need a warm body that can kill an artifact (something that may become more relevant with Brothers War, if that set gives us more good artifacts.)
Greensleeves, Maro-Sorcerer from Dominaria United Commander works as a 2022 model of Rampaging Baloths by having a decently-sized and cheaper body and some occasionally relevant protections. Although its tokens are smaller, Greensleeves itself gets bigger as the game goes on, and being a mana cheaper lets you more consistently make creatures from it, as Rampaging Baloths usually had a "casting cost" of , which is hard to hit outside of mega-rampy decks.
Quirion Beastcaller is a nice beater for Green decks that lean aggressive, since casting one creature makes it a very good value for the mana cost by making it virtually a 4/4 worth of stats upon death. It's pretty medium in your bog-standard Green midrange Cube deck, though, but it's worth noting for decks that can beat down and reliably cast this on turn two.
Llanowar Loamspeaker's activated ability turning lands into 3/3s helps with the times when you have nothing better to do, but generally, you can do better with the bevy of 1-mana accelerants (play Utopia Sprawl and Abundant Growth, even though it doesn't accelerate, over this) and other 2-drops.
Silverback Elder is poor compared to existing 5-drops, Greensleeves included. No immediate impact is super awkward in the face of cheap removal, although it's not bad if you're able to get multiple triggers with it consistently. The consistency of hitting multiple triggers is the main determinant of whether it'll be a good fit for your Cube metagame, since unlike with Quirion Beastcaller, usually only getting one trigger with this isn't worth the mana cost.
Tear Asunder may just be the best disenchant in Cube. Being able to kill artifacts on the cheap (especially nice against equipment) is nice, but also being an Utter End helps with scenarios when you don't need a Disenchant. I've played a variety of Disenchants over the years in Cube and it can be annoying when you're stuck with one in hand, yet also feel compelled to have one in your maindeck if the format has powerful artifacts. This may, however, just be user error.
It's just a very good removal card.
Ertai Resurrected - Admittedly, I'm probably biased because Flash is one of my favorite keywords, but cards with Flash are generally better than they look.
Essentially, Ertai is an odd mix of a Ravenous Chupacabra style effect meets Venser, Shaper Savant. Although there have been a ton of Nekrataal and Flametongue Kavu variants over the years, there are very few creatures that enter the battlefield and can kill a planeswalker: Graf Reaver, Murderous Rider (kinda, if you count it as a 6-mana Chupacabra), Chaos Defiler, and general ETB permanent destroyers like Angel of Despair and Terastodon, most of which cost a ton of mana.
While giving the opponent a card is generally not a great proposition, essentially this is exchanging a card given to an opponent for having flash and a ton of flexibility. As Arne Huschenbeth pointed out when the card was shown:
It's easy to look at something like this and assume that giving the opponent a free card is a bad deal, since it almost always is. However, the tempo gained by having a 3/2 on board means that the opponent has less time to utilize that resource by virtue of having a medium-sized clock on board. Sometimes the right call is just casting it as a 3/2 at end step to either threaten an opponent/planeswalker or trade in combat - which usually feels off but it's useful more often than you'd think.
The other modes - stopping activated/triggered abilities, and killing your own cards - is a niche ability if needed, but I've found that this doesn't tend to happen very often.
Again, I may like this more than I should, and when compared to things like Lim-Dul's Vault and Baleful Strix, this is quite a ways below them, but this is better than the likes of Hostage Taker, and is better than you may think.
Rona's Vortex - One of the better bounce spells in recent memory, since it can act like a removal spell at four mana; but, if you absolutely need to stop something from killing you, you can toss this for a Blue mana. Both modes tend to complement the Dimir Cube strategy of staying alive to the late game. Another card that I probably like more than I should.
Phyrexian Missionary - Surprisingly not bad, since, like Aether Channeler, its modality gives it some matchup spread. It's a way to stay alive and/or a way to peck at walkers if cast for (and the body's nothing to sneeze at, efficiency-wise) and/or a Gravedigger if flooded in the late game. It lags behind the good removal in but it's a nice creature if you're looking to diversify.
Battlewing Mystic - This isn't bad with low-to-the-ground Izzet decks. Also "fine" as a for 2 in the tempo decks. You can "splash" the Red side if that's something Blue decks in your Cube do.
King Darien XLVIII - I didn't consider this card until I started thinking about it as a riff on Benalish Marshal with a mana cost that isn't super awkward outside of Mono-White. The counter ability isn't flavor text either, as it can be a nice mana sink if the game goes long, but due to its high cost, it isn't something that's done outside of board stalls or threat of activation scenarios when attacking.
Meria, Scholar of Antiquity - Gruul is certainly one of the worst color pairs for this type of effect, but it gets much better if your Cube is able to pair her with a lot of artifacts and payoffs; a Cube deck with Meria and enough artifacts to reliably trigger metalcraft (8-12?) is deadly by being a decent beater that can Howling Mine if you need to dig for gas. The impact in your Cube will be very context dependent on how often she can reliably be paired with a lot of artifacts.
Stenn, Paranoid Partisan plays very oddly in Cube since it can't name creatures, but it can act as a virtual mana rock for instants and sorceries, making this absolutely absurd with "soft counters" that only have in their mana cost (Remand, Condescend, etc.) Because of this, it's mainly at home in Blue tempo strategies, like the ones mentioned in the Blue section.
Yavimaya Iconoclast is what it says on the package as a hasty gruul beater; depending on what your Cube does for Gruul and -containing strategies, this may either be an all-star or too small to matter.
Joint Exploration would have been in consideration in a lot of Cubes several years ago, but with cards like Uro and Oko, and even without them, we have so much better now.
Runic Shot is cheap removal, but being sorcery speed and only hitting tapped things makes it worse than a lot of other options. Arguably, this is worse than Sunlance, even with the Blue kicker taken into account.
Ajani, Sleeper Agent is mostly wort considering as a weird version of Domri Rade (if cast with Phyrexian mana) with considerably worse minus modes. It was an old joke to refer to Ajani Goldmane as a planeswalker with one ability (the minus) and this may just be taking that joke to another level.
Benalish Sleeper - A filler card, but one that's for more aggressive builds of rather than the midrange direction that Phyrexian Missionary points to. It's less powerful than Missionary, but it's a nice thing if you want another tool to fight cheaty shenanigans.
Lagomos, Hand of Hatred - Only include this if deliberately you're including it for power level concerns and wanting to spice up from being a pile of removal cards.
Archangel of Wrath - I talked about this earlier, with the context that it's not good as a Mono-White card. But as a tri-color Mardu card? It's not bad as a Flametongue Kavu style creature that can hit walkers, but it's a bit inefficient on-rate. Still, it's very nice to stabilize against small creature decks.
Urborg Lhurgoyf, Vodalian Mindsinger, and Stronghold Arena, however, aren't really worth dipping into triple color and don't punch that well above their mana weight class. Vodalian Mindsinger, in particular, looks poor compared to just about all of the control magic variants, even Sower of Temptation.
Shanna, Purifying Blade is mostly a standalone card that has X=3 for its trigger, and should be viewed mainly on that merit for Cube, since a lot of lifegain cards just aren't very good. That said, if you want to make it a build around, it works well with the few good lifegainers out there.
Soul of Windgrace - Greedy multicolored strategies tend to work well with having many fetchlands in their deck, by virtue of being able to cast spells consistently. So, Soul of Windgrace doesn't require a lot of setup to work. Being able to ramp with its trigger is nice, but its abilities are mostly mediocre. Still, its body isn't too bad for the rate and being able to do something with dead draws is nice, but you can likely do better with your tricolor cards.
Sol'Kanar the Tainted, on the other hand, is a card that mainly looks solid in Standard compared to its competition but gets much worse when you have the game's history to choose from, with just about every Bolas aside from the ones that cost a thousand mana being better. At least this won't kill you like Demonic Pact, and being a creature makes it easier to kill (for you and the opponent.)
Dear readers, meet Chrono, the orange polydactyl cat.
He's become a bit of a meme to describe... many things, one of which is playing greedy decks that splash for everything. Sometimes decks that have many colors are affectionately referred to as "Chrono decks" or "Chrono piles." Dominaria United brings Cube offerings for the orange polydactyl cat in all of us. The viability of these kinds of cards gets better as you have more fixing (of course), but like with other "macro" discussions with ways to take your Cube, these may provide payoffs for making Chrono piles a thing.
Leyline Binding is, by far, the best card for domain payoffs, since it's such a good removal spell once you get to three mana as a Banishing Light with Flash, and just gets incredibly absurd under that cost. The recurring theme of these Domain cards is that they generally punch above their weight class, but Leyline Binding is the equivalent of Evander Holyfield taking on a 5-year old, because it punches *that* much above its class, as Leyline Binding at one mana compares well even stalwarts like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile.
Mana Cannons - I generally use 8-12 as my metric for cards that care about other cards, but that bar may be lower for this one. Generally, you want to cast at least 3 things to get your mana's worth, and in most Cubes you won't hit critical mass. But, in Cubes that are looking to make Chrono piles a thing, this is a very good build-around payoff.
Nishoba Brawler doesn't quite punch above its weight class like Leyline Binding, but it's closer to Tarmogoyf than you may think in a Domain deck, since it usually punches for 3+, and trample helps make sure that "extra domain" against chump blockers is a relevant clock.
Two-Headed Hellkite pays off on its first attack and just about wins the game if it gets two attacks in (which is helped with it having haste and evasion.) Multicolored decks generally tend to be more in the market for a high-cost finisher than a beater, but it's still a relatively expensive beater at the end of the day. Still, it's nice if you can get it to consistently attack twice.
Drag to the Bottom - Another wrath and one of the few that isn't Damnation that can kill things with 5 toughness. The need to hit 5 land types isn't as needed on turn four, since most things with 5 toughness aren't (generally) going to hit the battlefield until turns 5 and after, but a Triome turns this into a Languish pretty easily.
Shadow Prophecy is similar to Painful Truths and being an instant is nice, but it's still worse than raw cards, even though this gives a lot of selection. It's a card that's been underrated, and compares very well to old Cube cards like Phyrexian Arena, which take a while to convert into cards.
Herd Migration and Llanowar Greenwidow - unlike with Leyline Binding, they don't really scale that well even with domain; being able to "cycle" Herd Migration as a weird Lay of the Land is fine as a way to dump it if need be. Llanowar Greenwidow gets to be a decent value when you get to 4 land types (and you don't have to hit 4 land types quickly, just eventually) as a recursive "Unga Bunga" style Green finisher that doesn't get punked by cheap removal, but Herd Migration never really feels like it is ever worth the payoff for domain and generally is a low pick for that reason.
Tl;dr there isn't much for colorless in this set for Cube. Mishra's Foundry just stomps all of the colorless stuff here and I assume that there'll be much more.
Thran Portal's value mainly depends on how many turns your Cube games lasts, since its pinging drawback may not be as much of an issue if it only deals a few damage over the course of a game (if played in fast decks) so it's entirely context dependent to your Cube's speed, and may be something you could see drafters siding out in attrition-based matchups.
Golden Argosy - mainly as a blink support card, being able to "overcrew" this is nice for big plays if you have multiple creatures with ETB triggers out; if your Cube has decks that can reliably be re-triggered by being crewed by this boat, it's something worth considering.
Timeless Lotus - Gilded Lotus was mostly useful in decks that could afford to go from five to three mana on that turn by having things to do for greater than or equal to 3 mana (interaction, or just other things to do) by being able to "go off" with mega-ramp. But for high-cost mana artifacts, you can do so much better.
Weatherlight Compleated - Quest for the Gravelord is now a Vehicle. This at least does something while "on a quest" but this isn't as good as you'd think, even in decks that have a lot of cannon fodder.
Karn, Living Legacy's best function is as a Ghirapur Aether Grid with Suspend that comes with things to tap with his + ability, but he's just so glacially slow that it's a hard sell in Cube with better artifacts and artifact payoffs.
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