Battle for Zendikar – Cube Set Review by Ben Cottee

Battle for Zendikar – Cube Set Review by Ben Cottee

Hello Readers,

Back to my bread and butter after my dip into the financial world of Magic: The Gathering!

Battle for Zendikar, a new set and new cards to evaluate for Cube, but each new addition to the Magic universe puts pressure on the slots we have. I am a fan of jamming more new cards in than less just to try them out but they have to have some rationale for doing so, either taking a colour in a new direction, potentially supporting an archetype more closely or you just think it’s a better version of what it is replacing.

I will go through in by colour and I will pick out cards that at least peak my interest for Cube, mostly with an eye towards my own but taking into account Powered, Pheasant and Pauper along the way. The rating system is a lose one for a summary:

Run it – should make any Cube it is eligible for.
Try it – worth adding and testing but might not last.
Maybe – if you have a Cube of a certain persuasion but not in mine.
Just no – You won’t see many of these because I won’t tend to discuss them, but sometimes a card will look good/interesting but is actually just not good enough.

I will not look at reprints as they were already available to Cube.


Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

If this is the type of Ally Zendikar can call upon then I am backing them in the fight against the Eldrazi. Not since Liliana of the Veil have we seen such a great rate on a Planeswalker. All his abilities are relevant and he fits into any deck be it aggressive, pumping out tokens, pumping your team forever or just being a great beater who avoids sweepers, or control where he avoids your own sweepers and offers a win condition in only a few turns.  If you can cast a double white spell on turn four then you want Gideon which is perfect for Cube as I see four drops as the pivot point in the archetypes, which is why it gets so competitive.

The only problem that Gideon suffers is that White already has two fabulous Planeswalkers in Elspeth, Knight Errant and Gideon Jura if you are running light on Planeswalkers, something I encourage, then that’s some stiff competition. I feel Elspeth is still the best of the three but I think Jura exits if you only run two, while I think in the control deck it is a better card the new Gideon’s flexibility makes him a higher third pack pick.

Verdict – Run it

Quarantine Field

Part Oblivion Ring part Parralax Field this is another interesting option for White. Works better in a ramp shell which White tends not to utilise much but I think worth trying over one of the existing exile effects such as Banishing Light if you run them all. At 8 mana you get to exile the three best cards, I think the sweet spot is at 6, but the blowout if they deal with it is much higher.

Verdict – Try it



Blue has a tonne of sweet spells and my pick as strongest colour for Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) limited, but as for Cube cards it is a little lacking. The problem with the set is that it is inbred, it has a lot of abilities that care about each other and need critical mass to create a good overall deck. Cube tends to have quite closed doors to these types of card unless you can work hard to create a solid sub theme, instead it is normally efficiency and raw power that get you noticed. Ingest/Processsors and Ally’s for this reason find it hard to breakthrough. I will pay attention to the processors and especially White ones as they already have a lot of removal that exiles but even if a critical mass of exile cards can be met I am still not sure if any have the payoff worth the times they are not active. Awaken again is great for BFZ limited play but they are all underwhelming on raw power because they are built as modal spells for the limited environment in which the flexibility is worth more.

Retreat to Coralhelm

My pick for Blue card most likely to make it. Untapping a creature can be really good in Cube as many have a lot of good activated abilities and turns all your mana creatures into Lotus Cobra, tapping creatures down is good for a tempo/beatdown deck. The Scry is a nice backup when the first two abilities aren’t worth triggering. Other than very controlling builds I can see this making most decks with the best use paired with Green.

Verdict – Try it

Blighted Cataract

I reference the other lands towards the end but calling this out in the section I would put it in my Cube (needs Blue to activate) and because it is probably the best of the bunch. “Free” card draw is so nice and so is the instant activation speed. Blue already has Fairy Conclave and Shelldock Isle so more utility lands is a tough sell as you start to dilute on spell cards. I think the whole cycle is good for Pheasant Cubes.

Verdict – Maybe


Ob Nixilis Reignited

Ob Nixilis Reignited

Finally a Cube worth Black Planeswalker that isn’t Liliana. Ob Nixilis is the perfect card for a midrange Black deck offering board control in his -3 and card advantage in his +1. He curves perfectly after a Languish or Damnation. The ultimate is mostly fluff but is an alternate win condition but if you draw that many cards to get there you are probably set up nicely to win regardless. Second best Black planeswalker after Liliana of the Veil beating out the staple since my Cube’s induction Liliana Vess, Vess is better against control decks and in combo but Ob Nixilis affecting the board immediately while the plus one is not dead as Vess can be at the mid stage of the game makes him a better choice.

Verdict – Run it

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Welcome back to Cube Drana, I cut her original incarnation Drana, Malakir Bloodcheif recently with the influx of good five mana Black creatures that give immediate benefits over DMB slow but extremely powerful ability. This new three mana version of Drana offers so much that Black has been missing from its three drops to support Aggro. Firstly as a 2/3 first striker that will grow herself she is great as on turns 3-4 it is unlikely that the opponent can favourably interact with her on defence. With a curve 1-2-3 she is disgusting making your early drops relevant later in the game to keep punching in. She also works great in the Black and Red/White token strategies.

Dran’s inclusion most likely spells the end for Hypnotic Spectre a card that probably overstayed its time based purely on historical Magic relevance and personal meaning to me. I could see some Cubes and spots where you wouldn’t want a 2/3 flier for three so mileage may vary.

Verdict – Try it

Ruinous Path

A couple of years ago this would have been a home run to help keep Planeswalkers in check, but as I have managed Planeswalker numbers and included Hero’s Downfall among other newly printed answers I think we have reached the point where we don’t need to auto include these. The awaken is nice for control decks but opening your 6th land up to destruction is not all upside. I cannot see cutting any of the two mana creature kill spells for this so difficult to find a home for me. In larger Cubes or ones with large numbers of Planeswalkers this is probably necessary still.

Verdict – Maybe


Barrage Tyrant

Barrage Tyrant

Ok I freely admit I am reaching here, but Red in this set has a sorcery 3 point burn spell for 3 mana…

I call out the Barrager because of the strengthening Welder deck archetype I am trying to get going in my Cube. Being able to reanimate and throw around Myr Battlespheres or sacrifice your Hangarback Walker seems nice but probably too win more.

Verdict – Just no


Greenwarden of Murasa

Greenwarden of Murasa

Oh the value! I can see this returning so many cards over a game, looping with Eternal Witness. Woodland Bellower is probably the competition in the slot as they are both value creatures with no evasion. I could see them both as a rotating cast both being slightly better and worse in different scenario’s.

Verdict – Try it

Landfall Beaters Scythe Leopard and Snapping Gnarlid

I have struggled for some time with giving Green a viable beat down plan because all everyone wants to do is ramp. I think these two creatures offer Green something else to do with Bounce lands and offer a viable one two punch to start crafting Green Agro around. They represent 2/2 and 3/3 on curve in the first 5-6 turns and I am excited to try bringing back some support cards that got forced out to give people to chance to push this. The fact it is taking so much work means that it might not be worth the end result but I think Green needs the secondary identity so it is worth trying.

Verdict – Maybe


Kiora, Master of the Depths

Kiora, Master of the Depths

Under two years ago Born of the Gods brought us the first Kiora, the Crashing Wave, now a new challenger for chief Simic Walker has arrived, herself! While both versions are very different in their use this new Kiora seems to have more power in Cube.

The plus one with a mana creature in play is basically the best part of Garruk Wildspeaker which is already great. The ability to untap Gaea’s Cradle or any creatures with tap effects is great and can be built around. The minus is close to a draw 2 in decks taking it into account and the fact that the unchosen cards go to the graveyard helps set up Delve cards, reanimator, dredge and other shenanigans. The Ultimate is the place where the original Kiora is better, and in fact was the main reason to draft her as dropping turn 3 off an accelerant and then pushing for the ultimate was usually game ending in only a few turns. While three Octopus fighting is great the higher loyalty requirement and the natural pattern of ticking up and then down for cards makes me believe this will be a very infrequent occurrence. I already have my playgroup lamenting that they can no longer Release the Kraken!

Verdict – Run it


Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Not often this gets its own section but Eldrazi are a running rampant. Also other than just stating a couple of cards I wanted to tackle the whole group for a little while.

Colourless cards in Cube are dangerous. They are included because they are good and being colourless they can be used by everyone, this is why Sword of X & Y and Jitte were cut from the online Cube as they were universal dominant picks. It is almost always correct to take Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine over any coloured card as they are so much more likely to end up in your deck regardless the colours you end up in and leave you more open to the colours being passed to you.

The Eldrazi cards requiring coloured mana to cast were considered in the sections above and as you can tell with their absence I wasn’t very keen. BFZ is taking us back to Battlecruiser Magic and for that to be a possibility in Draft then you have to slow the format down significantly. So to enable BFZ draft many of the cards are somewhat clunky, overcosted and low impact lower in the curves to make the big bangs more epic.

That said with ramp in Cube being great and cheating big guys into play very much a thing the Eldrazi still get to come and play as long as the payoff is worth it.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

My current Cube includes Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre they are both castable in the ramp decks, hard to reanimate and where cheating them into play you don’t get the cast triggers which makes them slightly more bearable as removal for both is plentiful. Annihilator is still ridiculous. The new Ulamog seems much better than his predecessor as the cast trigger is more than twice as good due to Exile and he can be reanimated. However it is Ulamog’s unending appetite that has me concerned.

There is only one card that I deem too powerful for Powered Cube and that is Jace, Memory Adept. Jace is a 2-3 turn one man winning machine in the limited format that is difficult to interact with (Planeswalker). Ulamog will win the game in 1-2 turns depending on when he turns up and is indestructible. I will put him in and see what results we end up with but I would in no way be surprised if he needs removing quickly.

Verdict – Try it (could be too good!)

Void Winnower

Yes someone has made that joke before yes its still amusing, no don’t overegg it!

Pun value aside I have no idea if this does enough to warrant inclusion, it will sometimes completely hose your opponent and crush them and sometimes they shrug kill it and make another bad pun!

Verdict – Just No

Blight Herder

This is probably the first Processor I would look to include as it can go in any deck that has already drafted an exile spell (I don’t think you draft it until then. If you end up with it late then you can slightly prioritise exile effects as the payoff is very good.

Verdict – Maybe


This is probably the most interesting section in the whole set for Cubes of all shapes and sizes.

Battle for Zendikar Expedition Land Promo Foils Magic The Gathering

Yes these are very pretty but the description as full art lands is a little misleading (compare to the basics for example). If you have the bankroll to fully foil out then go for it they are definitely the most sought after versions, if I am lucky enough to get them I am trying to get set foil Zendikar fetches I am missing! Also as has been expressed in many places by many good people don’t shark the kid that pulls one.

Lumbering Falls and Shambling Vent

Well that’s money spent at wishing wells that have paid off, since the original allied colour creature lands have existed balancing land bases in Cube has been really hard. I even had them in the gold sections of the colour pairings at one point due to how unfairly they skewed things. But now the circle is complete and there is balance in the Cube. Or at least once Shuffling Crag and friends are printed in the winter set.

Verdict – Run them

Battle Lands

Battle for Zendikar Tango Battle Lands Magic The Gathering

This seems to be the Wotc preferred name however fond of Bob Saget, crowd and charm as the alternatives (just not Tango). These lands will not see play in my Cube and I think even at 720 size these are far enough down the pecking order to not see play. My reasoning is that the Buddy lands are just better in most cases that do not involve a fetchland, and we already have 20 lands to fetch with only 10 fetches.

Verdict – Just No

For those interested here are the Guilded lands I am currently running (assuming all 10 creature lands) in my 500 Cube and in order of how good I think they are:

  • Fetchlands, Alpha Duals, Shocklands, Creature lands, Buddy Lands.
  • I think the fifth slot should actually be filterlands but I will wait for a reprint to pick them up, Temples and Bouncelands I think then all come before the new Battle lands. If you aren’t OCD on cycles then the last slot could be a nice mix and match of the best colour specific ones. Temple in control, Bounce for Green and B/W filter etc.
  • I do think both the common and uncommon land cycles are extremely good, they just don’t edge out in any one colour other utility lands I include. For Pauper and Pheasant I think these should be strongly considered.

So that’s my set review, not the longest list I have had to cover and I have mentioned some of the reasons I think for this and I have very high hopes for the Battle for Zendikar limited format. I have probably missed something so please fire away with your views in the comments.

I am active on social media and happy to have Cube dialogue I can be contact at:

Twitter – Carboreeta
MTG Salvation – Carboreeta
Reddit – Carboreeta
Facebook – Benjamin William Cottee
Cubetutor –

Until next time enjoy the Legacy Cube being Vampire free and stop passing Opposition!

Community Question – Do you think sets built for a great limited environment mean that power level for constructed ends up being lowered?

Do you think sets built for a great limited environment mean that power level for constructed ends up being lowered?

Thanks for reading,

Ben Cottee

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