Darksteele Cube – Best of 2010 and a Wish List for 2011

Tuesday, January 4th – 2010 was a good year for cube, and Thea hopes 2011 will be even better! What are your wishes for the new year?

I know, it’s a few days late for a retrospective, but this is part retrospective, part prospective. Or prospective-if-you’re-optimistic, maybe.

Last year was pretty great for the cube. I counted sixty cards from Worldwake, Rise of the Eldrazi, Magic 2011, or Scars of Mirrodin that made it into my 525-card cube. At least ten others are in common use in other cubes. That’s a sizable chunk! Choosing just ten for my list was difficult, so I tried to emphasize the cards that are not just efficient or auto-includes but are the best at what they do.

10. Lodestone Golem

Lodestone Golem is one of those cards that has an extremely obvious home but fits in other decks as well. He’s one of the best curve-toppers for aggro decks, since putting on pressure and slowing their answers is all you want to do. But Lodestone is more flexible than that because in reality, he’s good for whatever deck is winning. Playing control? If you’re ahead on board, he’ll help you stay that way and makes it more likely that your opponent can’t play more spells than you can answer. Playing aggro? You’re another turn away from Wrath of God and from your opponent being able to play a blocker and removal on the same turn.

9.  Student of Warfare

The first time I thought about this list, Student of Warfare didn’t even come to mind. It’s a more or less innocuous card, and you can’t miss the drawback. I don’t think many people were blown away when this card was spoiled. But it’s on this list because it’s also the best aggressive white one-drop for the cube. A leveled Student dodges most cheap red removal, and sweepers like Volcanic Fallout or a cycled Decree of Pain. Almost nothing that costs less than four even trades with Student of Warfare, and on top of that, it’s not a wretched topdeck like Isamaru or Savannah Lions.

8. Molten-Tail Masticore

Though it shames me to admit it, I was skeptical of this card at first. I was used to decks that abused the old Masticores as discard outlets or a way to take advantage of tons of card draw. But this guy doesn’t want you to reanimate or to discard lands. What you get in return is that he’s the only one that gives reach to non-red decks. A G/W deck can drop him near the end of the game when the graveyard is already full, and any deck can use him to do uncounterable damage to an opponent who has stabilized.

I like the design on this guy, too. He’s a riff on an old card but isn’t obviously powered down or up.

7. Sword of Body and Mind

I talked about this card

when Scars of Mirrodin was partially spoiled, and it’s proved its worth since then. In my cube, protection from blue has been relevant in getting past creatures that are otherwise great blockers, like Wall of Denial or a stream of Meloku the Clouded Mirror tokens. I’ve also won a few games through milling and with even more style through milling + Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni or Puppeteer Clique.

It’s no surprise that a card in this cycle made the list — I expect that W/R and B/G Swords will be among the best cube cards next year.

6. Worldwake Manlands

I’m considering these guys altogether, which has got to be the most common hack for making Top Ten lists. While Lavaclaw Reaches does the least, all of these lands earn their spots. Stirring Wildwood is particularly helpful, since G/W decks can usually use Wrath protection, and for some reason, everyone forgets that it has reach.

I also like these lands for the cube because they support creature decks in all colors. They’re better in a deck that doesn’t leave your opponent’s removal sitting in their hand. These lands encourage decks that want a reasonable threat density, as opposed to extremely reactive decks that can be less fun to play and play against.

5. Fauna Shaman

Mike Flores preview cards tend to be pretty good, and Fauna Shaman is no exception, even in a one-Vengevine world. Despite all the downgrades compared to Survival of the Fittest, Fauna Shaman makes this list because she’s still a much-needed first-pick for green. And like the manlands, Fauna Shaman supports something else I like in the cube — utility creatures and creatures with “enters the battlefield” effects. The better and more versatile your creatures are, the better Fauna Shaman is.

4. Grave Titan

A year ago, I thought Kokusho, the Evening Star might never be outclassed, but Grave Titan has done that — or at least equaled her. Grave Titan ends games within a few turns if unanswered and leaves four power of creatures behind even if your opponent has spot removal right away. Like most cube staples, he interacts well with any number of cards, providing an endless stream of bodies to hold equipment, sac to Attrition, or activate Opposition. Admittedly things get a little gnarly with Graveborn Muse, but we’ll let that slide.

3. Koth of the Hammer

At the beginning of last year, I felt that red was fairly weak in the cube. Koth has been a huge part of changing that. While Chandra Nalaar was solid in decks that could make red mana, her abilities (and cost) weren’t perfect for an aggressive red deck. Koth solves that problem — he costs less and lets you put pressure on the turn you play him.

2. Wurmcoil Engine

What doesn’t this guy do? While Grave Titan made this list by passing the Terminate test — having an impact even if your opponent can kill it right away — Wurmcoil Engine leaves behind six power even after a Wrath. If you deal with it in combat, your opponent is up nine life, and you’re down at least two creatures in the end. You don’t win many of those games.

1. Jace, the Mind Sculptor

We all knew it would end this way. While Wurmcoil Engine is one of the best six-drops in the cube, Jace is just one of the best cards, period. And if you needed something else for him to do, Unsummoning your own creature tends to be a more relevant option in the cube than in Constructed. Yeah, I really love Reveillark decks.

Honorable Mention: Arc Trail, Joraga Treespeaker, Mimic Vat

Looking forward, here are the things I’d like to see for the cube in the coming year. With four expansions plus Commander deck cards to pull from, I imagine a few of these will get crossed off. In making this list, I tried to stick with those that felt plausible based on recent design trends.

10. Set mechanics that work in the cube

Maybe I’m being selfish, but it’s hard to get as excited about spoiler season when major themes like infect and metalcraft aren’t particularly relevant in the cube (unless you support them specifically). One thing I enjoy about the cube is the mix of mechanics from different sets. I’ll be happy when we get back to mechanics like landfall and exalted that work without a ton of support.

9. Burn that hits multiple targets

Lately I’ve really been loving cards like Arc Trail (so much that I nearly found room for it on my top ten list) and Searing Blaze. It’s really powerful to do damage to the face while clearing the board for your attackers. Since Searing Blaze, Forked Bolt, and Arc Trail are all new in the last year, I’m hoping there’s a little more where that came from.

8. Successful cycles (or maybe just one)

My unscientific assessment is that the Titans from Magic 2011 are the most successful cycle ever, in terms of balance and power. While Primeval Titan isn’t common in cubes, none of them are unreasonable. The Commands from Lorwyn and the Kamigawa Dragons don’t come close to that level of balance. And surprise, surprise — it’s the white, blue, and black ones from both of those cycles that are commonly used in cubes. Wizards clearly did a great job with the Titans, and while I’m not looking for more excellent six-drops, I hope that whatever big cycles do get printed have a similar level of evenness.

7. Non-equipment artifacts

A lot of equipment is good enough for the cube, but it’s not all super-interesting. Just from the last year, Basilisk Collar, Sword of Vengeance, and Sword of Body and Mind are all cards that are good because they grant a long list of abilities. On the other hand, cards like Perilous Myr and Mimic Vat have worked their way into many cubes, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that would be case. For whatever reason, I think that non-equipment tends to be good in a more subtle way, and that’s a good thing for the cube.

6. First-pick worthy cards in green

I like green well enough as a supporting color in the cube, but there isn’t much that makes me want to be in green from the start. Survival of the Fittest is there for sure, and Eternal Witness is as well. That’s not a long list. I’d like to see something powerful enough to commit to green early. Of course, since green has seen a reasonable amount of play in Standard, this might not be the year to hope that green gets really pushed. But that’s what a wish list is for, right?

5. Card draw in green

Creatures with card draw attached are pretty much my favorite thing in green. It’s no secret that I loved Masked Admirers, but Ohran Viper and Hystrodon are also high on my list. I’d love to see a card like Elvish Visionary pushed a little more — a Liliana’s Specter equivalent.

4. Aggressive red creatures

This one is practically a given, since the last few years have seen Hellspark Elemental, Goblin Guide, Ember Hauler, Plated Geopede, and more, but it’s still on my wish list. Red is still a few one-drops shy of consistency, at least in a mid-sized cube like mine. And more and more, I feel that every color is benefiting from cheap dudes to carry the excellent equipment that are being printed.

3. Life gain in black

Black wants to be an aggressive color but struggles from the fact that the drawback to everything is life loss. I’m guessing there’s no functional reprint of Vampire Nighthawk coming, but another quality creature or piece of removal with life gain attached would be welcome.

2. Cube-worthy cards with Disenchants attached

One thing I’ve tried to deal with this year is the tension between needing enough Disenchants such that a resolved Umezawa’s Jitte doesn’t end the game and not giving up spots that could be devoted to a more exciting card. What I want is more cards like Qasali Pridemage, Smash to Smithereens, and Maelstrom Pulse. All of those cards are completely at home in your maindeck because they fulfill another role.

1. A bomby black planeswalker

Black needs the Koth treatment in a big way. Cost is a huge part of playability for planeswalkers, in any format, and every other color has a planeswalker at less than five mana. And while Liliana Vess and Sorin Markov are both reasonable in the cube, they both have their flaws. Liliana can’t impact the board until she hits her ultimate, and Sorin is color- and mana-intensive.

Thanks for reading! Do you have a favorite cube card from this year that I didn’t mention? What are you hoping for in the next year? Let me know in the forums.