Dragons of Tarkir – Simplifying the Cube by Ben Cottee

3459
Dragons of Tarkir – Simplifying the Cube by Ben Cottee

Hello readers,

This is what I hope will be a regular column centred around Cube: the format that so many players are now either building or playing with.

A quick introduction: I started playing in Mirage and took a long break from Magic between Mercadian Masques and Shards of Alara block, returning in Zendikar. I was predominantly an FNM Standard player, attending a few PTQ’s during the year, and qualified for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. I am now a more casual FNM player and my Magic time and finances are predominantly now invested in Cube. I am also a newly qualified Level 1 judge.

What is Cube – Cube is a Draft format you customise by deciding which cards are in the boosters that people can open. 360 cards would support a pod of 8 players. The more cards the more variety in your drafts, but more difficult to keep a good feeling power level/consistency. Magic Online now has a Cube that is released at intervals.

Cube is a very personal format, with a range of Pauper to Powered (Power Nine), Tribal- to Block-based, each one unique. My Cube, available to view on Cubetutor, is an unpowered rare Cube, typical of the greatest hits of Magic style. When I talk about cards and strategies in this column I will try to keep the insights open and transferable, but they will be coming from my own experiences with my Cube. Think Legacy Cube but with the guild signets, and swords of double elements, and considerably less Vampires.

For my first article I thought I would ease myself in with everyone’s current favourite – a Dragons of Tarkir set review (I won’t cover reprints as you already had access to these, unless a rarity shift is relevant to Pauper/Peasant).

Both Khans and Fate Reforged have brought a large number of cards to Cube. The former gave a good excuse to have a shard/wedge cycle. The latter was simply insane for a small set.

Dragons of Tarkir is not quite as good for my Cube, but does have a lot of cards worthy of discussion and testing. I will go through in colour order, grouping together some themes and cycles.

Dragons of Tarkir Banner

Morph

Morph and Cube have always had an interesting relationship. Until Khans of Tarkir you had a pretty good shot at guessing any morph played face-down as there were only a handful of playable ones. However if you were a new player to Magic or the particular Cube, then you had the disadvantage and feel bad of not knowing what it could be. The Tarkir Block has mostly ensured there are interesting and useful morphs in every colour, easing this issue.

Assuming you are not concerned about the new player barrier, then there are two ways to approach morph in Cube.

  1. Play only morphs that you consider powerful enough to compete over other cards for that slot
  2. Play 2-4 morphs per colour to give opponents that hidden “what could it be” mystery game and surprise value

Hero of Oxid RidgeAshcloud Phoenix

Currently the only morph in my Cube is Ashcloud Phoenix. It is better than the four drop I cut for it (Hero of Oxid Ridge) in terms that it creates more variety and interest in Red decks which is sorely needed. It’s played 99% of the time face-up, so completely removes the new player’s guessing game. I am open to playing morphs I consider powerful enough to compete with other cards, I just don’t feel one exists pre-Tarkir and don’t feel the flexibility of a Gray Ogre is worth the downgrade card for card.

Let’s take the iconic Exalted Angel as an example:

Exalted Angel

Baneslayer Angel for 4 mana, right?

Let’s compare its possible states:

  1. 6 mana 4/5 flying lifelink – one mana more than Baneslayer for worse stats, at six I have Sun Titan and Captain of the Watch, which I consider better cards.
  2. 3 mana 2/2 – compared to Brimaz, King of Oreskos?
  3. 7 mana (3, then 2WW) 4/5 flying lifelink – assuming this is before you can hard cast this on turn 6, it’s effectively eating two of your turns and potentially dies to removal.

Cube is a powerful format. I look for gameplay’s flexibility of cards that can go in multiple decks, not ones that shine in Powered decks only. You don’t get to durdle around with these guys.

That said, I can fully get behind wanting to run a large number of morphs for cool gameplay and decision making (Do I kill it or play around what I think it might be?). Dragons of Tarkir added some great new morphs to flesh out the numbers.

The rare 2/1 cycle – I will cover some other morphs as I go through the colours, but wanted to highlight these as punctuation to the morph in Cube discussion.

I like cycles in general in Cube, as they reduce complexity. You see one and then understand the rest. It’s easier to think of them coming in later packs and to manage lists.

I would place these in the best-to-worst order for Cube:

Stratus DancerHidden DragonslayerIre ShamanDen ProtectorSilumgar Assassin

Stratus Dancer ranks as the best, because its flip-up ability costs 2 mana and it’s a great effect. Hidden Dragonslayer has also a great ability, but it costs one mana more. Ire Shaman brings the next best value of body/flip. Den Protector and then Silumgar Assassin go way way back in comparison. Stratus Dancer is the closest to going in my Cube: the 2/1 flier is good in the more tempo Azorius/Ojutai decks.

Stratus Dancer might allow you to cut a conditional counterspell or a weak two drop (Phantasmal Bear). White and Red colours are usually well off for two drops, so I would look further up the creatures curves – maybe cutting a three drop as these are more likely to go down morphed. Green could cut Regrowth if you have it. Black’s two drops in general are pretty bad, so any of them could go! The Assassin isn’t so bad (and Black is not well off for morphs), so if you add these I would consider the set.

Sorry for the aside but I felt it was best to cover morph heads up. Now onto the rest of cards.

White

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

I have heard people ask why she can’t trigger off tokens. The answer is because she would be broken in half otherwise. This version of Anafenza is a very good card and I always pay attention to Legends – as the “Legend tax” doesn’t tend to impact Cube as a singleton format. Here she is an obvious fit for White Weenie deck, offering a nice continuous bonus as the game progresses. However, the WW casting cost is one I would be concerned about. Having too many of them pushes players into one specific deck, because casting her in other deck is too difficult. Anafenza also works nicely with persist creatures potentially wiping away the -1/-1 counters. Anafenza competes with Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and Precinct Captain along with creatures with shadow in Powered Cubes, so it may be a case of close-but-not-quite.

Dragon Hunter

Dragon Hunter

Another set, another 2/1 for W. Every time I think the time of Savannah Lions has come to an end, we get another one. This time it’s a Human, so it’s a more relevant sub type (think of Champion of the Parish and Xathrid Necromancer). Every deck that wants a 2/1 one drop also wants to play two more of them on turn two. So I find myself cutting two drops or other cards to fit each new one in, but this could be the final Lion tamer. The card text can mostly be ignored in a Cube, if it’s one containing 2-5 Dragons max.

Myth Realized

Myth Realized

I consider this to be a Control finisher of sorts. The investment is very low and the upside looks huge. However, it’s a very low impact late game play regardless of the ability to pump on counters. It lacks evasion/protection to put the game away and costs you a card, which doesn’t pay you back for a long time. I cannot see this making the cut but is worth a try.

Ojutai Exemplars

Ojutai Exemplars

This card is strong in formats like this, no two ways about it. Exemplars offer so much gameplay with all those abilities, but the four drop slot is the most contested in Cube – no more so than in White. Hero of Bladehold is raw power. Restoration Angel, Ranger of Eos and Sublime Archangel all offer value the turn they come in. I think the most of Examplars’ power lies in the blink ability (the third one), but in Cube there are very few value ways to trigger this outside Blue card draw – combat tricks are usually sub-par. I think this card deserves testing, but cutting anything for it will be a very hard job and I don’t think jamming another four drop cutting elsewhere.

Orator of Ojutai

Orator of Ojutai

I will cover all the other Dragon-related cards here: unless your Cube is Dragon tribal-themed, they are all bad versions of other cards. Don’t do them.

Secure the Wastes

Secure the Wastes

This fails to impress against other token generators at most points on the curve, but instant speed does help it out. I think I would play White Sun’s Zenith before this card. Worth consideration if you are really pushing tokens theme in a larger Cube.

Blue

Icefall Regent

Icefall Regent

Part Dungeon Geist, part Frost Titan, but worse than both as a package. Control Magic effects are generally better than the lockdown effect in Cube. Also, Blue five drop slot is already great. Close, but not quite.

Mirror Mockery

Mirror Mockery

Cube is all about efficiency. Lots of the creatures have ETB (enter-the-battlefield) effects, so this low mana cost card looks interesting. I support a blink theme in Blue/White which doesn’t play nice with Auras and you do have to have to attack with a creature to get value. You do get to block a Tarmogoyf for days and I think is worth trying out to see what it can do for you.

Profaner of the Dead

Profaner of the Dead

Four mana 3/3 is a tough sell but this hits tokens hard. Exploit works well in Cube thanks to small bodies and tokens lying around, but Profaner needs a better body to help him out. I can see this card pairing with Wall of Roots/Wall of Blossoms in Green/Blue. I think the question is how good this sacrificing effect itself is. If it’s good, then I would run it. But Blue four drop is as competitive as in White, so making a cut will be hard.

Shorecrasher Elemental

Shorecrasher Elemental

That mana cost is hard, the Mono-Blue deck in Cube is great (mostly thanks to Vedalken Shackles), but cards with these mana costs mean no-one else will pick it. Megamorph is a bit friendlier, so we could splash it much more easily. Then again, 8 mana 4/4 kind of Morphling does not impress me that much. I think this Elemental sits on the bench.

Silumgar Sorcerer

Silumgar Sorcerer

Some Cubes run Essence Scatter or Remove Soul. I like this card better as it can be played end of turn to help battle planeswalkers that are so strong in Cube (another future topic). However, it’s a bit unlikely that you will have some spare creatures to sacrifice in a Blue deck. Maybe too cute, but possible.

Youthful Scholar

Youthful Scholar

No, it’s not Mulldrifter (there can be only one). It’s cute, maybe too cute, but the value here is real. If he eats a removal spell or you can trade him off in combat, you just got a 3-for-1 deal. With the strong Black sacrifice theme, cashing him in for value shouldn’t be too difficult. Imagine looping this guy and Mulldrifter with Recurring Nightmare! A slam dunk for Peasant (UC/C) Cubes.

Black

Corpseweft

Corpseweft

If you just exile 2 creatures, that’s a 4/4 for 5. Not great. Once you get past that, the rate is getting better. Black has many ways to dump creatures to the yard, Gravecrawler always appreciate more friends and you could even support Zombies as your Black Aggro variant.

Damnable Pact

Damnable Pact

I don’t get the amount of wasted breath and ink on this (I will keep this brief, then). Fireballs are generally bad in Cube, as they scale badly as removal and are dead cards until late game. Up to this time another card could lower opponent’s life total down. The card draw mode is worse than all the other options on rate. Another example where flexibility doesn’t outweigh the power drop.

Pitiless Horde

Pitiless Horde

If you support the often maligned Black Aggro archetype, then this is an auto include. It hits really hard and the disruption/removal Black has should get it through easily. Also, dash mechanic is strong in Cube. The three toughness is fragile to a lot of burn spells and Burn decks, but you can’t have it all. If you don’t support Black Aggro, then this is splashable to support two colour Black/x Aggro strategies. Try it, you will like it.

Rakshasa Gravecaller

Rakshasa Gravecaller

Black has some token support and a sacrifice theme – both of which are supported by Gravecaller and a dearth of good five drop creatures. Shadowborn Demon has been very bad in my Cube and I was happy to get an opportunity to cut him. This is very much Grave Titan light, but that is no faint praise as Grave Titan is one of the best cards in Cube. So, even a pale imitation shines.

Risen Executioner

Risen Executioner

If you run a Zombie Aggro theme and some delve spells to clean out your yard, then this guy is a consideration. Otherwise, the efficiency isn’t there.

Shambling Goblin

Shambling Goblin

Now, you may think I will go over the Zombie bit again – which is true – but also fits well with sacrifice effects. However, this cute guy doesn’t make my Cube due to the effect he can have on Aggro decks. Against Red and White (the popular Aggro colours) he is a near guaranteed 2-for-1 for one mana, which is a little too efficient. Aggro in Cube is necessary to keep the Mono Durdle/Ramp/Control decks from being the only thing happening and all your games going to time. Aggro keeps everyone honest so I am careful to give other decks too many easy tools to punish it.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

This is the Black five drop I wanted. As mentioned before, exploit plays well in Black and Demonic Tutor has always been a high pick. I actually think the effect is better here when played later in the game. Then you know what you need to get, you have more mana to play the searched card right away, as well as a 4/6 deathtouch body on the battlefield is really huge!

This is the number one card you should be putting in your Cube from Dragons of Tarkir.

Red

Dragon Whisperer

Dragon Whisperer

Win-more alert! As a two drop, the flying option is nice but not likely to be activated until later in the game and the pump similarly. Formidable means you should probably be winning this game in Cube anyway.

This competes at the tough RR cost with Ember Hauler, Mardu Scout, Eidolon of the Great Revel and Kargan Dragonlord and I do not advise you run them all. The most direct comparison is Kargan Dragonlord, which I prefer because the mana you sink in keeps hanging around, it works better as a single card on the battlefield, and as a topdeck is a little better.

Impact Tremors

Impact Tremors

I know of Goblin Bombardment and this ain’t it. This is a bad topdeck. It’s a suspicious tempo play on turn 2. It cannot go after creatures. I could see this in Pauper that doesn’t have access to mentioned Bombardment or Purphoros, God of the Forge.

Thunderbreak Regent

Thunderbreak Regent

That tricky four drop slot again, no less competitive in Red as White or Blue. Let’s compare this to the Ashcloud Phoenix I added back in Khans. Both are four power fliers and punish your opponent for a removal spell. The Regent does this well as many effects in the Cube exile. However, the Phoenix gives you more staying power and provides something to do with your mana later in the game. The “a Dragon” text of Regent really only triggers on itself. The Regent supports a burn-them-out approach more closely than the Pheonix. In summary, I think the Red Regent is a perfectly acceptable use of the four slot, but doesn’t beat out any of four drops I already run, including the Phoenix. Why? It plays worse with Wildfire effects and doesn’t give the added gameplay to Red-based decks that I want to encourage.

Zurgo Bellstriker

Zurgo Bellstriker

While White may be reaching saturation point for good 2 power one drops, Red is not. This is mostly an Isamaru, Hound of Konda with an upside in an agressive Red deck – Dash is really good and blocking is a losing proposition. I have cut Stromkirk Noble in my list to make a room for this, but arguments for Jackal Pup could also be made.

Green

Assault Formation

Assault Formation

I am not sure how much work it would require, but adding this and Doran, the Siege Tower in the Abzan slot opens up a supported archetype. On its own this is an expensive mass Firebreathing effect that can let your walls go beatdown. Probably too off-the-wall for “normal” Cubes, but a fun one to play around with.

Avatar of the Resolute

Avatar of the Resolute

Green is known for ramp and fatties in Cube. Attempts to support heavy Green Aggro have worked out poorly. It performs better as a support for Black and/or Red. The Avatar is nice as a glorified Garruk’s Companion, but neither needs to be in a Cube supporting Green Aggro (think Nettle Sentinel), or a +1/+1 counters matters theme – which isn’t that far off to shine thanks to outlast and bolster mechanics.

Deathmist Raptor

Deathmist Raptor

A 3/3 deathtouch isn’t far off as Green three drops are pretty bad. But unless you are heavy in morph/manifest, I think you need to steer clear of it.

Shaman of Forgotten Ways

Shaman of Forgotten Ways

Talking of Green three drops. One drop into this, into 6-7 drop is the dream. However, Green offers abundance of creatures that bring something tangible to the battlefield. This one can miss activating formidable and doesn’t offer too much flexibility in the draft are strikes against this. The card for comparison is Somberwald Sage: it was never very good. I am not sure the stat boost and an additional 11 mana ability are that good, but I would definitely try it for its weird late game kill condition against Control.

Surrak, the Hunt Caller

Surrak, the Hunt Caller

Hulk smash! This guy is the epitome of Green Midrange: he wants to beat down and hard. I think you can draft this card assuming that formidable is on and giving haste to your Kalonian Hydra or Wolfir Silverheart is very nice. The four drop in Green is really good, however. The choice what to cut is a hard one, again. After a bit of varying, I think Polukranos is the most likely to be on the chopping block. But again, how much you support Green Aggro alongside Ramp may dictate what you run.

Gold

The amount of gold cards support in your Cube is a decision that every Cube builder faces and you will have to adjust your selections and my comments with that in mind. I run 5 of each Ravnica guild in my 540 list, which I feel is about right. I recently found cuts to get from 6 to 5, but going lower I would find very painful.

The gold cards in consideration for a Cube are the Dragonlords and their Commands.

Dragonlord SilumgarDragonlord AtarkaDragonlord OjutaiDragonlord DromokaDragonlord Kolaghan

Dragonlords I would rank in the following order for Cube consideration:

  1. Silumgar
  2. Atarka
  3. Ojatai
  4. Dromoka
  5. Kolaghan

Dimir (Blue/Black) is one of the weaker guilds, so making a cut here was pretty easy with Agony Warp leaving. Dragonlord Silumgar is a big beefy Sower of Temptation that also happens to steal planeswalkers that are ready to ultimate. Doing this with Zealous Conscripts is so dirty and now people will have to adjust accordingly against a Dimir deck as well.

Dragonlord Atarka would join the ranks of Green fatties to either cheat out or ramp into. She holds her own against the other big Green guys with a very nice cleanup ETB ability. But what I really want from her is haste – Generator Servant or Surrak, the Hunt Caller could send this over the top. Gruul (Red/Green) is centered on the good four drop creatures and I could see any of these making way for some beef.

Dragonlord Ojutai doesn’t lack power, in fact it’s probably the best Dragonlord in Constructed. But in Cube he doesn’t provide a different line of play that I look for in my gold cards. He is just another Control finisher in a colour combination of Azorius (White/Blue) that doesn’t lack them. Hexproof on defence isn’t so good, because most of the three drops up can at least trade with him in combat.

Dragonlord Dromoka comes with an impressive body and shutting down opponent’s counter spells and combat tricks is a very good thing to do in Cube. A tough sell is her six mana casting cost that doesn’t provide real value against removal. Selesnya (Green/White) stays in a funny place in Cube as it does a variety of things with no clear purpose. I wouldn’t falt jamming this in the mix.

Dragonlord Kolaghan hits very hard and kills ‘walkers, however the last sentence is flavour text in Cube. The turn after you play her you probably do not have many more creatures to play to give haste to. Add in that Rakdos (Black/Red) is pretty stacked for options and this card can be passed.

Kolaghan's CommandOjutai's CommandSilumgar's CommandAtarka's CommandDromoka's Command

Commands I would rank very differently to their commanders:

  1. Kolaghan
  2. Ojatai
  3. Silumgar
  4. Atarka
  5. Dromoka

In a Powered Cube or Cube with guild Signets like mine, Kolaghan’s Command is like a Stone Rain/Shock fuse card. Add in instant speed discard and a Raise Dead and you are guaranteed a 2-for-1 every single time. I like it in Cube over Blightning as a better top deck with more versatility.

Ojutai’s Command is dependent on if you can trigger the return a two drop part. Otherwise it is too expensive for what it gives, but it is never a dead card – which is good. Countering a four-plus drop and returning Wall of Omens or Phantasmal Image makes this look amazing. Azorius is a crowded place, so making room may be hard.

As an opposite and a reason why this takes third place, Silumgar’s Command can not be “cycled”: you need two targets for it to be played. But any combination of these successfully fired off should usually net you mana and there is the dream of hitting two planeswalkers! Far // Away would be the most obvious card to get replaced in this guild.

Atarka’s Command is at its best when you are using the +1/+1 effect which Gruul doesn’t lend itself to in Cube. So you are looking at a Skullcrack/bad ramp spell which seem too narrow and low power for Cube.

The best command in Standard is the worst in Cube? There are actually a dearth of enchantments and artifacts in Cube, but there are better and cheaper removal spells. The instant fight mode can be more dangerous, but it’s nothing better than anything else this colour combination has going on.

Planeswalkers

Narset TranscendentSarkhan Unbroken

Narset Transcendent & Sarkhan Unbroken

Another quick aside as we close in on the end of this review and one that I plan to go into in a future article in more depth.

Planeswalkers are good, very good in Cube. They used to be even better, but luckily the number of answers for them has gotten much better over the last few sets. Planeswalkers are limited in set releases to a handful to keep them special and not dominate the Standard landscape, however I see that many Cubes – the online Cube included – throw in an extremely high number of ‘walkers. Including those that probably shouldn’t be there on power consideration. I have limited planeswalkers in my Cube to three per colour and one per guild. Add in tri-coloured and colourless – that is 28 total. This averages nearly one a pack, yes, but keeps battlegrounds from being littered by them.

So let’s see if the new ‘walkers break into the elite.

Narset Transcendent‘s competition in Azorius is Venser, the Sojourner. Venser supports the blink archetype, creates some cool gameplays, and occasionally uses one of his other abilities. Narset comes down earlier, has a huge loyalty, and offers up a decision to use either of her first two abilities. There are some very cool spells to give rebound to in Cube. I think Narset’s inclusion revolves around the number of decks that can make use of her +1 ability. In a spell-based tokens deck or a Control deck with 15+ non-creatures you are still short 50% to hit. However, without a cool creature to flicker Venser isn’t doing much for you either. Narset has high upside and should be tested, but it may be she does nothing enough to justify the cut. Also, Narset is really money-expensive, so I will take my time to grab a copy.

Sarkhan Unbroken is notable as only the second three-coloured ‘walker after Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Guaranteed card draw and ability to protect him make him awesome. The ultimate will not come up often. I think as long as you are running enough fixing – I have 6 duals, the Signets, City of Brass and friends – then he is a very easy inclusion and a very good one.

In summary, I will leave you the list below of all the cards that have made the cut in my Cube for sure:

[draft]Dragon Hunter
Youthful Scholar
Pitiless Horde
Rakshasa Gravecaller
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Zurgo Bellstriker
Dragonlord Silumgar
Kolaghan’s Command
Sarkhan Unbroken[/draft]

So there you have – my set review. Please let me know, if you think I missed anything that you have added to your Cube (please, write also what type of Cube you run, it’ll help me get the context right). I will be very much doing my utmost to be engaging with the community as it may help my own Cube. General feedback on the style and content is also welcomed.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Cottee

Community Question: With my comments about Morph in mind, what do you prefer: Power or Flexibility?

Morph in mind what do you prefer Power or Flexibility

Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways