In my Khans of Tarkir Cube review, I broke down the cards by mechanic. There aren't any overarching mechanics in Commander (2014 Edition), but I'll break down the cards by category:
These lose value for Cube because the commander text becomes useless, barring house rules, but I'll discuss their value in Cube. I won't talk about ultimates since they all take too long to reach—aside from Freyalise, LLanowar's Fury's, which is still not a big part of its value.
Nahiri, the Lithomancer, not to be confused with Nihari, has a decent +2 ability to create chump-blockers, much like other solid brick-wall Planeswalkers like Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. The plus ability being a +2 can be overlooked since it isn't common to see, even if it's just to make a 1/1 with Equipment bonuses.
There've been some Planeswalkers that have had a primary mode, such as Ajani Goldmane and Koth of the Hammer, both of which have been solid in Cube despite lacking dimensions—Nahiri’s her -2 ability is too situational to come up very often.
Teferi, Temporal Archmage – As this was the first card from the set that was spoiled, I tested it out for some time, and it failed to impress. Blue 6-cost cards are hard nuts to crack, and although Teferi can go to 6 loyalty when he enters play, it's still a bit too high of a mana cost for him being able to Sleight of Hand, as the minus is pretty weak. As discussed before, having only one ability isn't a Planeswalker killer, but as it's relatively inefficient for the mana cost and not that great compared to other things that are leaving Cubes—like Keiga, the Tide Star—it didn't last long.
Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath – Ob Nixilis is in an interesting situation since he's a black Planeswalker at 5 mana, both of which are weak slots in black, and this makes a 5/5 flyer with the ability for it to possibly make more (life-loss being a thing if there's enough of it, but it's more a deck-construction issue). Getting it to make two flyers isn't terribly difficult since the first one protects Ob Nixilis, and that value is absurd and combines nicely with things like Smokestack and Pox if they're big themes in black. It's a bit of a nombo with reanimation, but that's not a huge deal for a 5-drop.
Daretti, Scrap Savant – Red artifact decks have been with Magic since the days of Thran Dynamo, Wildfire, and Covetous Dragon, and Daretti fits into the odd space of red's 4s, whereas many of red's best 4s are attacking ones such as Hellrider due to the color's aggressive nature. Daretti works toward the Goblin Welder style of deck but ends up being a little too pricey for the Trash for Treasure effect. His +2 nicely allows the caster to limit looting, but that's not extremely likely to be relevant. Anthony Avitollo and I talked about the role of red in Cube and how to support its myriad roles, and this is another tool to support the slower, artifact-based decks, but it is hardly a staple due to how it's only really good in that one deck and Rakdos/Grixis reanimator.
Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury – Like Nahiri, Freyalise +2’s to make a creature, but it's better overall since, unlike Nahiri, all of its abilities are solid. A problem that I've found when people have evaluated Freyalise is focusing on her +2 making creatures that tap for mana—and thus focusing on that aspect, rather than her making creatures.
It reminds me of when Primeval Titan was dismissed because people thought of Library of Alexandria since the ability to toolbox is what people thought made it good, and Library of Alexandria is a pretty poor target, and focusing on it helping to cast 8- to 9-mana cards—when it really was used to help dump the other 4- to 6-mana cards in your hand. The Naturalize ability isn't the most efficient ability, but neither is Liliana of the Veil's Cruel Edict or Elspeth, Sun's Champion's Retribution of the Meek; it's mainly just there to help in situations where it's needed. It may find difficulty making it through green's historically strong 5-drops, such as Deranged Hermit, but it's better than you may think.
Unstable Obelisk was spoiled by designer Ethan Fleischer, who noted that the card was an inefficient ability for what it does, thus giving it a hard time cracking into Cube with a load of efficient artifacts. Cards like Everflowing Chalice and Burst Lightning show that inefficient but flexible cards can be good in Cube, but that's mainly because they do something decently well (mana rock at , Shock at ), but Obelisk does neither very well. It can help turbo-ramp decks destroy things, but overall, it's just way too inefficient to be worth it.
Myriad Landscape – Like Evolving Wilds, it's a solid land for two-color midrange and control decks that don't mind the enters-the-battlefield drawback and should have no problem finding the two lands since it can result in card advantage, albeit slow card advantage. As with Daretti, it's a card that can help bolster existing archetypes and a non-staple.
Malicious Affliction – We've seen plenty of 2-mana, black, spot-removal spells, and Malicious Affliction's the new one. A problem with morbid cards like Tragic Slip was that it just wasn't good at removing blockers or stopping attackers, and Brimstone Volley was best as a Lava Axe post-combat (but it was pretty good at that). versus is a cost, and being easy to cast can be a premium for spot removal since reaching while stumbling to reach can mean death if it lets a Hero of Bladehold live, but that cost hasn't been enough to make cards like Searing Blaze or Searing Blood bad. It isn't hard to set up board states on which this can act like an instant-speed (Pauper Cube staple) Ashes to Ashes by letting a creature chump-block. Like Burst Lightning or Everflowing Chalice, its base mode is solid, unlike the embarrassing mode on Tragic Slip and the mediocre mode on Brimstone Volley. Overall, I'm a fan.
Flamekin Village plays decently well in aggressive decks that want to give their early beaters more late-game reach, but its home may be more in lower red decks that don't mind it entering the battlefield tapped, due to the low red Elemental count, and the drawback of it requiring the use of . It's among the best red utility lands we've seen, and a Cube running Teetering Peaks may be able to use Flamekin Village as a more flexible support land, but like Myriad Landscape, it’s hardly a staple.
Song of the Dryads is another card like Beast Within that can help to deal with cards that matter at the cost of ramping the opponent. It's a flexible answer to cards like Swords, and like Chaos Warp, when it finds a land, turning an opposing creature or Planeswalker into an extra mana isn't a big drawback, more so in a color that lacks in creature removal.
Jazal Goldmane is a creature that functions somewhat similarly to Mirror Entity, trading an inefficient body with sweet ability with a sizable, 4/4, first-striking body with an inefficient ability. That said, it does have threat of activation written all over it, and it combines incredibly well with white decks that go wide with tokens rather with a big creature, and while the ability isn't as efficient as Mirror Entity's, it's still a nice bonus. This was a recent example of a Cube Draft with him:
R/W Jazal ? Cube | Usman Jamil
- Creatures (14)
- 1 Figure of Destiny
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Mirror Entity
- 1 Monastery Swiftspear
- 1 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Soltari Champion
- 1 Soltari Trooper
- 1 Steppe Lynx
- 1 Student of Warfare
- 1 War-Name Aspirant
- 1 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 1 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 1 Jazal Goldmane
- 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- Spells (8)
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Unexpectedly Absent
- 1 Council's Judgment
- 1 Journey to Nowhere
- 1 Parallax Wave
- 1 Shrine of Burning Rage
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
Jazal Goldmane's competition isn't cards like Armageddon or Wrath of God, but second-tier white 4-drops like Sublime Archangel and Emeria Angel. In the deck above, either Jazal or Sublime Archangel would be similar in power level, but Sublime Archangel does its thing faster and for free, making Jazal harder to include for smaller Cubes.
Hallowed Spiritkeeper – Hallowed Spiritkeeper works well in white aggressive shells that curve out, as it’s a threat that can act as Wrath protection because it, at worst, replaces itself as a 3/2 Doomed Traveler, and its vigilance is surprisingly relevant for racing situations. It also works incredibly well in the late game as a way to stabilize with a decent body that works well in white aggressive shells and even as a solid card in decks like Selesnya midrange, which have a high number of value creatures. However, nowadays, 3-mana creatures are highly competitive, with cards like Silverblade Paladin starting to be taken out of Cubes, and with it included, it's the weakest white 3-drop that I run.
Containment Priest – As with Aven Mindcensor, this is another disruptive white creature; it's a card that suffers in Cube because the density of effects that it hoses is much lower than in Constructed formats. Like Aven Mindcensor in Cube, it can be used as a tool to act as a sideboard tool to certain decks against cheaty-face cards like Show and Tell, Tinker, and Reanimate to attack those decks if those decks need something to keep in check—its Ashcoat Bear stats don't really cut it on pure efficiency's sake.
Reef Worm works well as a Moat-type of effect since it can deter attackers, and it works especially well if the controller has ways of sacrificing or otherwise killing it. However, it's hard to justify something as one-dimensional as that with blue 4-drops being as good as they are since most blue 4-drops are universally powerful in all decks—Opposition aside—and that works well because it's absurd in the decks that use it well. Overall, this is a miss.
Flesh Carver may be the best card in the set. It's a mono-black, evasive Voice of Resurgence or Xathrid Necromancer that replaces itself with extremely good synergy with token generation. There are not many attacking 3-drops in black, but this is a very good one, and it’s probably the best one (although Ophiomancer may be the best overall one).
Dualcaster Mage – Snapcaster Mage has taught us how powerful cloning spells is, and while Dualcaster Mage is no Snapcaster Mage, it's still a powerful card for red decks. There's a question of whether Dualcaster Mage fits into the traditional R/X aggro decks, and while a 3-mana 2/2 isn't what we think of as optimal for the archetype, especially given the deluge of 3-mana non-attackers in red (Manic Vandal, Squee, Goblin Nabob), but here's an example of a 3–0 Izzet deck with it from a recent Cube Draft.
U/R Dualcaster Mage ? Cube | Usman Jamil
- Creatures (13)
- 1 Coralhelm Commander
- 1 Dack's Duplicate
- 1 Dualcaster Mage
- 1 Goblin Guide
- 1 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 1 Legion Loyalist
- 1 Rakdos Cackler
- 1 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 1 Tattermunge Maniac
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Dack Fayden
- Spells (11)
- 1 Lightning Bolt
- 1 Remand
- 1 Searing Blaze
- 1 Searing Blood
- 1 Staggershock
- 1 Firebolt
- 1 Upheaval
- 1 Wheel of Fortune
- 1 Control Magic
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Sword of Body and Mind
The deck was able to copy an opposing Mind Twist in one match and to be able to kill an opponent at 6 with it and Lightning Bolt. Howl of the Horde was a Cube miss; being able to copy opposing spells is a nice upgrade, and strapping a creature onto a spell has helped creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Goblin Rabblemaster into Cube staples. It's better with power cards like Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Mind Twist, but it’s still great when copying Chain Lightning, making it a welcome add to red.
Feldon of the Third Path is another non-attacking, 3-mana red creature. Like Mimic Vat, it has a high potential to generate a lot of value, but it can be slow and may end up leaving a Cube if red non-aggro slots are at a premium; decks that use it won't have a problem finding ways to abuse it, assuming that it lives for a turn. Spending 3 mana tends to be the sweet spot for a value creature that needs to live for a turn to generate value—most removal spells that target it tend to cost 2 to 4 mana.
Last, here are some reprints to look into:
|Decree of Justice||Modern border, old art|
|Martial Coup||M15 border, same art|
|Sacred Mesa||Modern border, new art|
|Exclude||Modern border, new art|
|Stroke of Genius||Modern border, same art|
|Abyssal Persecutor||M15 border, same art|
|Chaos Warp||M15 border, same art|
|Goblin Welder||M15 border (non-judge promo), same art|
|Skullclamp||M15 border, new art|
|Wurmcoil Engine||M15 border, same art|
|Thran Dynamo||M15 border, same art|
|Worn Powerstone||M15 border, old art|
|Tectonic Edge||M15 border, old art|
Overall, there weren't many slam-dunk inclusions, but there are some solid additions. There are a lot of other cards that I haven't covered here, but I can cover them in the comments. Thanks for reading!
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