Holistic Wisdom – New Phyrexia Review For Cube

Usman Jamil goes through all of New Phyrexia, scouting out the perfect cards for cube. Which ones make it in and which ones come close but don’t pass muster?

I’m back to discuss some of the cards from New Phyrexia from the depths of my testing labs, discussing cards to include in your cube, cards to ignore,
etc. Let’s go!

Before I talk about individual cards, I’d like to address the concept of Phyrexian mana. There are several ways to organize cards in your cube, and if
you look at mine, you’ll notice that I have cards like Crystal Shard and Vedalken Shackles in blue. While Vedalken Shackles may pretty obviously
scream PLAY ME IN DECKS WITH ISLANDS, Crystal Shard can be played in non-blue decks. However, since Crystal Shard will much more likely be played in
blue decks (there will be the occasional B/G 187 Rock deck that uses it, but many more Crystal Shard decks will use Islands), I include it in blue
since it keeps things on a pretty even scale.

Phyrexian cards offer a discount at the cost of life, and typically the cards will be used at the cheapest mana cost (Phyrexian Metamorph often will be
cast for three mana, as opposed to 3U), but there will be a good amount of times when the cards are cast for their full mana cost, and that factor
can’t be ignored. Therefore, I’m suggesting that all of the cards are used at their respective colors, but that’s always subject to change.

Here are the cards.


Karn Liberated

Karn is one of the most interesting cards in cube, and it’ll have a happy home in many cubes. As a colorless planeswalker, it can be played in any
midrange or control deck, but he’ll be happiest in green-based big mana decks, as those decks typically have to rely on other colors for ways to deal
with creatures and opposing planeswalkers. Granted, other colors can help to make up for this weakness, but the ability for green to exile things like
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is really nice.

Many times, Karn will Vindicate (or do even better than Vindicate, rather, against opposing Dragons and Wurmcoil Engine) a couple of permanents and for
seven mana, that’s not a bad deal at all. However, his best role is when he’s “riding the wave” of loyalty, by exiling something in play
and then alternately exiling permanents in an opponent’s hand and in play. Due to its ability to exile cards in an opponent’s hand, much like Liliana
Vess, Karn can decimate an opponent in the midrange and control mirror matches, since the card advantage ends up being pretty significant. Due to the
fact that Karn gains loyalty very quickly, it can be hard for an opposing control player to destroy him if the Karn player +4s him once he is cast.

However, don’t get caught up in Karn’s ultimate; it’s true that many of the cards exiled with his +4 ability are either useless lands or creatures that
are too expensive/irrelevant on the board state (both being excellent if the game resets), but when I tested the card, I found that when Karn’s loyalty
was in the double digits, his ability to exile opposing permanents was much better, as the Karn player could land a permanent into play and then exile
whatever stood in its way. Still, it’s really nice to start the game with a Myr Battlesphere and a land; just don’t think that it’ll happen all the
time, as having Karn take no damage and not get destroyed in three turns can be difficult.

Sword of War and Peace

As soon as I had heard that there was going to be a red and white sword, I knew that it was going to make it into cube, and thankfully, its abilities
aren’t slouches either. I feel that people are underestimating the sword’s triggers because they don’t have a direct impact on the battlefield, but
both abilities shine against different archetypes. Its damage ability generally is an absolute monster against opposing control decks that tend to have
a lot of cards in the hand (it’s not hard to have a sworded creature deal 9-10 damage to a control deck), and the life gain is more useful against
aggressively minded decks, since the sword player is in control of the cards in hand, making it easier to make sure that the sword controller is
gaining a good chunk of life. It’s also useful against opposing control decks, since they tend to pack a lot of planeswalkers, and the sword can hit
both a player and a planeswalker.

While the red and white protections are very useful, as both are commonly used for removal effects, much of red and white removal spells are at instant
speed, so that particular benefit is lessened, but it’s not by very much. I think this card is going to surprise people by how much damage it deals,
and it’ll be in cubes for a long time, like all of the other protection swords.


I might just be one the biggest living weapon fans that I know due to the fact it’s a brilliantly designed mechanic, so when I saw Batterskull, I
initially thought that I was overrating it because it featured one of my favorite mechanics. As it turns out, Batterskull is just a great card for
cube. Its base stats of being a five-mana 4/4 lifelink, vigilance is pretty good in the grand scheme of cube (paling in comparison to things like
Baneslayer Angel and Thornling), but its additional abilities definitely push it into cube staple territory. Recursive threats like Eternal Dragon and
Vengevine have gotten much love in cube due to their ability to bash again and again and three mana is actually pretty cheap to return itself to the
hand; although the equip ability costs a hefty five, it’s happened surprisingly a lot in testing because the slower decks tend to have some utility
creatures lying around (an Aether Adept that already bounced something, a Birds of Paradise), and those types of creatures tend to like having a huge
boost to their power and toughness.


Blade Splicer

When I saw the list of cards for the set, I wasn’t too impressed with Blade Splicer, as it seemed like it just got me a fragile 3/3 first striker.
While it’s true that the 1/1 artificer dies to just about everything, Blade Splicer does a pretty good impression of Cloudgoat Ranger by being a mini
army in a can. Cloudgoat Ranger is a pretty universally playable card (although it tends to be better in aggressive decks), whereas Blade Splicer leans
more to the aggressive side. Just like Cloudgoat Ranger, Blade Splicer plays well with anthem effects and equipment, cards that are generally strong in
aggressive decks. I wouldn’t go as far as to consider Blade Splicer a staple by any means, but I’m a fan.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

One of the things that I stress in cube design is making sure to not have too many 6+ mana creatures, as the decks that use these cards
(midrange-control decks) only use a few of these creatures, making for wasted slots. So Norn’s got a good amount of competition! Does she compare well?

For the most part, her +2/+2 ability won’t have too much of an effect since aggressive decks with a lot of creatures generally don’t want to use a
creature that is that expensive. Her -2/-2 ability is, for the most part, an upgrade to Massacre Wurm’s, and the fact that it’s permanent can take the
2-for-1 out of creatures like Manic Vandal and Karmic Guide. The question remains of whether she’s good enough for cubes. She’s definitely not
better than Sun Titan and is likely worse than other non-Sun Titan finishers like Yosei, the Morning Star, Eternal Dragon, and other artifact finishers
like Wurmcoil Engine, Myr Battlesphere, and Sundering Titan.

She’ll likely be best in W/G midrange decks that can power her out with mana Elves and Birds and with other mid-sized creatures that can join her 4/7
vigilant body in battle, and that may make her good enough for cube, but I don’t see her making the final cuts in smaller (360-500) lists.

Inquisitor Exarch

Inquisitor Exarch plays roles in control decks by being a more efficient Venerable Monk and gives white aggressive decks a way to deal the final two
points of damage to win the game. But I don’t think that’s enough to make the white Exarch good enough for cube. A cube should have a good amount of
cheap and efficient creatures to help give aggressive decks the critical mass of creatures to win, but unfortunately, the board impact that Exarch
provides is just too small as a French vanilla 2/2. As mentioned in my hoser article, first strike is a surprisingly
useful ability, and that would likely push him over the top, but as is, his impact is too low. His life loss ability won’t win many games. In contrast,
his ability to gain two is definitely useful, but the WW cost is prohibitive, since the decks that enjoy the life gain are either control decks with
heavy mana requirements or black-based decks that use life as a resource through cards like Phyrexian Arena. I really wanted Inquisitor Exarch to be
good, but it just wasn’t good enough.

Porcelain Legionnaire

On the other hand, Porcelain Legionnaire is one of the best cube cards in the set. An “upgraded Blade of the Sixth Pride” may seem
unimpressive, but the efficiency provided by him is matched by few cube creatures. As efficient as the Blade and Accorder Paladin are, I found that
they tended to run into their fair share of 2/1s and 2/2s, and Legionnaire slices through them easily. The Legionnaire will almost always be cast for
two mana and at that cost, a three-power first-striker is very hard to deal with in combat, as there aren’t too many creatures with 4+ toughness (and
those that do cost a lot more mana than two!). I’ve been very impressed with his performance in cube, and I can’t see him leaving my cube ever.


Phyrexian Metamorph

Clone has always felt like a card that’s been on the cusp of playability in cube, but it gets muscled out of many cubes (mine included) because four
mana is just so competitive. Metamorph’s three-mana cost, however, puts it into staple territory. Most of the time, Metamorph will be copying another
creature, and the Phyrexian mana is generally useful when a big Clone target gets cheated into play, but due to the fact that it suicides if there
aren’t any other targets, Metamorph will have a decent number of times when it just gets cast as a 3U.

Its ability to copy opposing artifacts is useful, but many of the prime targets to copy in cube, like Myr Battlesphere, Triskelion, and Sundering
Titan, are already creatures. Still, it’s always nice to be able to copy a sword or a signet, kill an opposing Jitte, or copy a generally useful
artifact like Crystal Ball or Mimic Vat. Blue’s a hard nut to crack in cube, but Metamorph is definitely good enough to do so.

Mental Misstep

Mental Misstep is going to make big waves in Legacy because it preys on so many targets (Brainstorm, Aether Vial, Goblin Lackey), and someone may think
that it’ll be good in cube because it hits those same targets. Unfortunately, Mental Misstep isn’t very good in cube because while Misstep does have
those same targets, the overall % of one-cost cards in cube isn’t very high, which makes it a bad cube card.



Cubeworthy creature destruction typically needs to be very versatile and efficient to cost more than two mana, and -5/-5 does kill just about
everything in cube (but then again, so do suboptimal cards like Rend Flesh), and Dismember works very well in cube because of its versatility in cost with its flexibility and the ability to represent and cast it at a big range of mana costs.

One of the nice things about Force Spike and Mana Tithe is that it’s easy to keep mana open for them without making it obvious that you’re holding an
answer—a U/B mage paying four mana for Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Abyssal Persecutor on turn 5 and keeping an Island open for Force Spike isn’t
making a very obvious tell, nor is the U/B mage jumping through hoops to represent it. Dismember works in the same way by being able to be cast at one
(and four life) or 1BB (or 1B) if need be. I am hesitant to put the staple stamp on Dismember, but I’ll say that it should easily make cube lists.


Sometimes it takes a little extra oomph to make a card cubeworthy. Shock is a card that I don’t suggest using in cube, yet I consider Burst Lightning
to be a staple because the base effect of two damage is something that isn’t too embarrassing to play in a cube deck (just like it wouldn’t be too
embarrassing to use a 1BB kill spell). Ostracize’s base effect feels like it could be good enough because of powerful creatures like Grave Titan and
Uktabi Orangutan, which essentially act like spells, but other lackluster targets tarnish the validity of this argument.

Planeswalker removal is definitely nice in cube, since planeswalkers are powerful cards in cube, but does the relatively small chance of hitting a
planeswalker make it turn Ostracize’s base effect into a cubeworthy one? Despise ranks below Thoughtseize, Duress, and likely Inquisition of Kozilek,
but is there room for another one-drop discard spell in your cube? It’s another one where the size of the cube may determine whether it makes it. It’s
something that may make it into cubes, but I’m not in a huge rush to get it into my cube, as black has gotten a pretty big boost in cube as of late.

Phyrexian Obliterator AND Lashwrithe

I include both of these cards here because they both suffer the same fate—they’re both solid creatures that are mostly good in mono-black and get
muscled out at their respective costs.

According to number crunching on MTGSalvation,
in a generic two-color deck, Phyrexian Obliterator will likely be cast on turn 6, putting it into competition with other more resilient threats like
Kokusho, the Evening Star and Grave Titan. One could argue that it’s a turn 4 creature in mono-black, but the question then becomes: how often does
mono-black/near-mono-black happen? And do you want to push that strategy in your cube? If it doesn’t happen that often, is it worth the slot for the
virtual six-drop? Probably not.

On the other hand, Lashwrithe doesn’t require BBBB when cast and is rock-solid in a generic two-color deck since it can piggyback onto other creatures,
but is it better than cards that a cube is already using like Abyssal Persecutor, Braids, Cabal Minion, and Skinrender? Lashwrithe is a good card, make
no bones about it; it just isn’t quite good enough to make it worthy of inclusion over the other four-drops, although Lashwrithe may make it into a
cube over something like Plague Sliver in mono-black, if mono-black is being pushed hard as an archetype to help give it a leg up.

Praetor’s Grasp

The grip is essentially a one-card Gifts Given, one of the best cards in cubes that use Un-cards and the holiday promo cards. I’m generally not a fan
of when people focus on differences when comparing two cards, but I feel that it is apt in this case, since a card like Gifts Given at least is a
2-for-1, whereas Praetor’s Grasp is a mere 1-for-1 (and the fact that it’s at sorcery speed and is at a more awkward cost doesn’t help to make up for
the cheaper cost). It can act as a Grim Tutor if the opponent shares a color with your deck, and it can nab opposing artifacts, but the overall effect
is just too inefficient to be cubeworthy.

Life’s Finale

Six-mana Wrath effects need to provide a huge benefit to be cubeworthy, as ones like Catastrophe and Akroma’s Vengeance provide a big boost in utility
to make up for the 50% increase in mana cost. Life’s Finale’s benefit is useful, but it’s mainly for opposing control decks that have few creatures.
Much like with Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, Life’s Finale will likely make the caster the winner in the control mirror, but the fact remains that
control-on-control mirrors shouldn’t make up a significant majority of cube matches, making this factor not as big as it may seem. Other black
mass-removal effects like Black Sun’s Zenith should perform better, but if your cube is big and needs another black mass-removal effect in addition to
what you’re using, Life’s Finale may be worth a shot.

Hex Parasite

When I saw Hex Parasite, I initially thought that it was going to be amazing, like Vampire Hexmage meets Gorilla Shaman. Gorilla Shaman’s strength is
its ability to hose its targets in an efficient manner—destroying fast mana like Moxen for one mana and Sol Rings/Mana Vaults for three mana. Hex
Parasite hoses a different class of cards, namely planeswalkers, and kills ones with low loyalty, like Garruk Wildspeaker and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
pretty easily. Much like Gorilla Shaman’s expensive ability to destroy signets for five mana and cards like Ring of Gix for seven mana, Hex Parasite
being able to destroy more expensive planeswalkers like Gideon Jura for nine mana (likely split into chunks) isn’t the most efficient way of doing so,
but, hey it’s at least an option that’s available

Hex Parasite also has interactions where you can take advantage of being able to remove counters from your own permanents like taking counters off of
Finks/Redcap/Smokestack, but how often will these pieces come together?

Is it worth a shot in your cube? I think so.

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Sheoldred is a card that is similar to Life’s Finale, as it’ll be awesome against opposing decks with few creatures; it makes it almost impossible for
those decks to be able to attack profitably while Sheoldred is still alive, attacking for six swampwalking damage per turn. Much like Debtors’ Knell,
she also requires being alive for a turn to make graveyard reanimation shenanigans happen (although it’s arguably easier to kill a 6/6 black creature
than an enchantment in cube), so getting return on your mana investment will be harder than with other creatures that provide a more immediate effect
like Grave Titan and Kokusho.

Much like with Elesh Norn, Sheoldred may not make it into smaller lists because of competition like Grave Titan, Kokusho, and Tombstalker muscling her
out, but she definitely has potential and is worthy of consideration. The tough question is what to take out for her if you do decide to use
her in your cube!


Urabrask the Hidden

I initially dismissed Urabrask for cube because it’s not a very good curve-topper in aggressive decks, as giving your guys haste on turn 5 isn’t going
to affect your creatures who have already attacked. It seemed like a bad Kuldotha Phoenix. Yawn.

Gavin’s recent article on Urabrask

did change my mind a bit.

Urabrask’s ability to provide haste does help your topdecked Plated Geopedes and Jackal Pups, which is useful when you’re trying to deal the last few
points of damage to kill an opponent. But I think that Urabrask’s cube home will likely be in red-based midrange decks that can better take advantage
of the fact that their Dragons and Baloths have haste and that opposing blockers are entering the battlefield tapped. I haven’t had time to test
Urabrask since reading Gavin’s article, but I think it’s got potential and is worth at least considering for cube, even if it doesn’t end up in final

Moltensteel Dragon

Much like Urabrask, I feel that Moltensteel Dragon is underrated, but I think that the Dragon’s power level is higher. Four mana in red (okay, in all
colors) is pretty stacked, and many of the red four-drops do something when they come into play—destroying a land with cards like Avalanche
Riders and Goblin Ruinblaster, likely destroying a creature with Flametongue Kavu, or making combat a nightmare with Hero of Oxid Ridge. As Moltensteel
Dragon doesn’t have an immediate effect on the board, people dismissed the Dragon, and I think he deserves a closer look.

Cards that convert resources without mana are usually worth a look (Bitterblossom, Necropotence), and while the one power for two life trade isn’t the
most efficient trade in the game, it comes on an efficient body that uses the free pump ability really well.

Remember the Hatred deck? It was a black-based aggressive
deck that used cheap creatures like Carnophage and Dauthi Horror to deal a ton of damage in the early game and then pumped an unblocked creature with
Hatred to win the game out of nowhere. The Dragon can usually perform the same role, acting as a catalyst for aggro decks to quickly deal the last
points of damage. I’m not just talking about using the best-case scenario where you’re in mono-red and the Dragon attacks for lethal on his own.
Instead, the Dragon acts as an evasive creature with a built-in Hatred effect to help deal lots of damage quickly.

Due to the fact that the opponent can see the “Hatred trick” coming from a mile away, it won’t come as a shock like the trademark spell,
but on the other hand, it doesn’t do that much to mitigate the Dragon’s effect. If the opponent is at a low enough life total to where the Dragon can
firebreathe to victory, the opponent has to always have something that can deal with the Dragon (like a creature with flying/reach), represent
instant-speed removal (like Dismember!), or deal with the Dragon ASAP. An opponent that could die from a phyrebreathing Dragon can’t tap out for
something like a Genesis or an Ob Nixilis, the Fallen since the Dragon player can go, “Oh, that’s nice. Pump red mana into it, phyrebreathe
ftw?” Granted, even if the Dragon player gets to the point where the phyrebreathing isn’t an option, it’s still an efficiently costed flier!

Of course, there’s definitely a risk and that needs to be taken into consideration (going all-in vs. a white mage with 1W open isn’t the best idea)
when phyrebreathing, but using these kinds of cards is all about the risk/reward. Go big or go home!


Beast Within

Beast Within is a card that I have been testing a lot, and it’s a card that I like, at least in theory. It gives green an answer to creatures outside
of combat, and it’s one of the cheapest ways for it to deal with planeswalkers. There are a lot of impressive targets to hit with Beast Within; turning
something like Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Gideon Jura into a 3/3 is just about the greatest feeling ever.

A lot of the arguments around Beast Within assume that there’ll always be something to deal with the 3/3, and as I said when I gushed about Porcelain
Legionnaire, it isn’t as easy to deal with a 3/3 as you may think. Beast Within will perform best in decks that can easily deal with a 3/3 without
expending a card to do so, either by ignoring it with evasion, creatures, or mass removal. I don’t see Beast Within as a card that will go in every
green deck, as not all of them will be able to easily deal with the 3/3. Just like it can’t be jammed into every deck, Beast Within also feels more a
“bomb control” type of card than outright removal, as the drawback makes it so that you have to be careful when choosing what to destroy,
and that threshold will be different for various archetypes (a G/B midrange deck can more easily deal with a 3/3 than a R/G aggro deck, so the G/B deck
will be more willing to destroy things with Beast Within).

Brutalizer Exarch

Brutalizer Exarch is an upgrade to Mold Shambler, as the ability to fetch creatures in green-based midrange decks is better than Mold Shambler’s
ability to be cast as an emergency 3/3 in a pinch, due to the fact that midrange-y green decks tend to have creatures you want to tutor for (187 dudes,
Titans, etc.) and the fact that it’s splashable, which is useful when splashed in black and blue decks that have problems dealing with permanents like
planeswalkers and non-creature artifacts. The overall cost is relatively high for a small creature, but it has a lot of flexibility.

Replacing Mold Shambler with Brutalizer Exarch is pretty easy. The main question is whether you still want to run Mold Shambler in addition to
Brutalizer Exarch; in my cube at least, I’m choosing not to, as I don’t feel that effect is needed. (By the way, can we have a huge green cubeworthy
creature that isn’t a Rootgrapple on a stick but rather a huge scary creature?)

Mutagenic Growth

Initially, I thought that Mutagenic Growth was going to be a great cube card. It’s a growth effect that’s free! But the more I thought about it, I
realized that it’s not worth the slot, even if it’s free, because it takes up a card in your deck (and cube). Wait, didn’t I already go over this concept?

Noxious Revival

Noxious Revival is a card that I believe has potential. Much like how Burst Lightning typically acts as Shock, Noxious Revival will usually be cast as
a free Reclaim, which isn’t a bad effect. Its ability to act as a one-card Misinformation is also nice, as lots of things go to the grave in cube
(random donks from turn 3, fetchlands), which is useful in the topdeck wars and also has promise to be used in control decks to bring back 2-for-1s
like Shriekmaw and Kor Sanctifiers.

Its best use when targeting the opposing library will be as a graveyard hoser that’s available to any color. In my cube’s beginnings, I used to use
cards like Heap Doll and Relic of Progenitus and wondered why they would routinely end up being 15th pick. After all, they could go in any deck! The
problem is that when not used against reanimation decks, these cards were very bad and weren’t worth the slot in anyone’s deck.

So does that make this free spell worth the slot in cube? Indeed! Is it worth running in your cube? Not necessarily, but it’s worth considering.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of New Phyrexia and how it’ll affect cubes. It brought a lot of powerful and unique cards and will bring a lot to the
best format ever.

May your opening packs contain Sol Rings!

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