How Evolved Sleeper Will Change Cube Magic Forever

Of the recent Dominaria United previews, Evolved Sleeper has Ryan Overturf the most excited for Cube. What makes it more than just the latest one-drop creature for black?

Evolved Sleeper
Evolved Sleeper, illustrated by Jason A. Engle

After what may be the biggest lull we see for a while, preview season is back in full swing, gamers! That means that we’re all-in on Dominaria United content here at SCG for the time being. The set looks really awesome so far from a Cube perspective, and today I’ll be going over my thoughts on one card in particular that I believe marks a fundamental shift in how Cube designers will approach the color black going forward.

Evolved Sleeper is, frankly, a game-changer.

Evolved Sleeper

The Evolution of Black One-Drops

Black has received numerous one-mana creatures with Savannah Lions stats in recent years, but these creatures tend to have explicit downsides and upsides that are a bit specific. Meanwhile, white and red one-drops have been getting much better than mere vanilla 2/1s, which has kept the gap between black and the Boros colors as aggressive colors intact.

Evolved Sleeper not only doesn’t present any such downsides, it provides black decks with a powerful mana sink as games go long. I’m especially happy that the third ability is only double black and not triple, which allows the card to remain appealing outside mono-black decks. Evolved Sleeper complements Knight of the Ebon Legion well by providing another powerful, scalable threat for black creature decks, and for as much as I love Knight of the Ebon Legion, I believe that Evolved Sleeper is even more powerful.

To get an idea of what we’re working with, it makes sense to look at the similar cards that no doubt inspired the design of Evolved Sleeper. Figure of Destiny is a long-time Cube staple and the first card that comes to mind, but there are some other relevant reference points.

Evolved Sleeper VS Other Colors’ One-Drops

Figure of Destiny Student of Warfare Warden of the First Tree Hexdrinker Ascendant Spirit

Figure of Destiny, Student of Warfare, and Hexdrinker are all respectable cards even in the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube, and all five of these creatures have seen their fair share of Constructed success. Ascendant Spirit and Warden of the First Tree haven’t made the jump to Cube play the same way that the others have, albeit for different reasons. Ascendant Spirit suffers for its snow mana requirements, and Warden of the First Tree is arguably somewhat inefficient, but more damningly is multicolor. Evolved Sleeper’s efficient and easy mana requirements in a mono-color creature make it clear that we’re looking at something closer to Student of Warfare than Warden of the First Tree.

The Comparison with Guul Draz Assassin

Of course, black does already have a different one mana creature that bears a lot of similarities to this spread, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t draw the comparison to Guul Draz Assassin. If Warden of the First Tree is a little inefficient, Guul Draz Assassin is a lot inefficient. Guul Draz Assassin just requires too much mana before it become relevant, whereas Evolved Sleeper gets the better of 1/1s and 1/2s after one one-mana activation.

Guul Draz Assassin

Further, activating at instant speed is a huge deal for these scalable one-mana creatures. It’s fair to say that Hexdrinker is abstractly more powerful than Evolved Sleeper, but Evolved Sleeper does have the edge in cases where you have some reason to not want to spend your mana at sorcery speed. There are tons of reasons for this to come up; among the most relevant, sometimes the threat of activating leaves your opponents with bad blocks. Sometimes in these spots you’ll attack, they won’t block, you’ll get in your one or two damage, and then you’ll do something else with your mana after the fact. These small spots add up in big ways for aggressive decks.

Help from Friends

It’s also worth noting that efficient spells for aggressive black decks have been pouring in over the years as well, and many such cards will already be in a lot of Cubes whether they have aggressive support or not. You’re going to play Thougthtseize and Fatal Push in your aggressive black decks, at the very least as strong sideboard considerations. Cut Down will be joining these ranks with Dominaria United as another effective tool for giving black the edge in aggressive mirrors.

Cut Down

Evolved Sleeper won’t singlehandedly usher in an era of dominance for Mono-Black Aggro, but it does pick up a lot of slack for black aggro in Cube. It’s important to keep in mind that the third ability to draw cards can be activated more than once, especially considering that black is also behind red and white when it comes to curve-topping options. If your Cube supports black devotion, then cards like Lashwrithe and Phyrexian Obliterator are likely already present for this job, but I personally enjoy a less parasitic approach to black.

White and red both have a laundry list of powerful four-mana threats, and red is long on reach to end games outside of combat as they go long. I’ve loved Sorin the Mirthless as a controlling option, but it’s a lackluster curve-topper for aggro decks. Similarly, Ravenous Chupacabra is a good card, but a medium aggressive one. Black could certainly use more tools on these fronts, though there are options to include in Cube as Evolved Sleeper’s welcoming party.

Sacrifice Decks

The most obvious and commonly implemented way to support aggressive black decks in Cube is through sacrifice decks, and that’s where you do see some powerful fours in black. Evolved Sleeper doesn’t loudly fit into sacrifice decks, but these decks will happily play a handful of one-mana creatures as fodder, and the fact that Evolved Sleeper is just a powerful standalone threat makes it a great addition for these archetypes. You sacrifice it for value when your opponent tries to kill it or when it doesn’t seem worth investing mana into, and you pump it up when the situation calls for it. Similarly to attacking first and pumping later, you get considerable agency in these situations as a player.

Four-Mana Threats

Once you’re on the sacrifice plan, you get a nice range of options for four-mana threats in black. Without going too deep, here are the cards that first come to mind:

Rankle, Master of Pranks Braids, Cabal Minion Henrika Domnathi Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

There’s a range of power levels here, and it would be a bit odd to see all four of these cards in a Cube together, but given that Evolved Sleeper strikes me as the kind of card that is playable from Arena Cube possibly all the way to Vintage Cube, it makes sense to pitch cards for different environments. The difficulty in supporting black aggressive decks is much more pronounced in higher-powered Cubes than lower-powered ones considering that you have a lot more agency to just remove powerful cards until whatever thing you like is good in lower powered environments, so it makes more sense to me to focus on Evolved Sleeper being a card that opens the door for Braids, Yawgmoth, and Rankle to shine in higher-power Cubes.

While not exactly a four drop, it’s worth pointing out that The Meathook Massacre has proven to be a very powerful top end for black decks since its release. Whether you’re primarily using the card as a sweeper or you’re interested in casting it for X=0 to just get the Blood Artist-esque effect, the card has been a serious performer. You can often enough cast it to kill your own creatures off and close the game outside of combat, which is an awesome tool for sacrifice decks to have in their back pocket.

Cult Conscript

Conveniently, another great one mana threat for sacrifice decks is hitting the scene with Dominaria United: Cult Conscript.

Cult Conscript

Cult Conscript does its job as a Savannah Lions, but it also has a very efficient and not very restrictive recursion ability. The most obvious application is combining Cult Conscript with Priest of Forgotten Gods and any non-Skeleton creature, ideally a Bloodghast, to completely shred your opponent with card draw and Edicts. I don’t believe that Cult Conscript is a hard sell if you already have a Sacrifice them in your Cube. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that if you don’t support any black aggressive archetypes or sacrifice themes in your Cube because they haven’t been powerful enough in the past, the release of Dominaria United will be a serious time to reconsider that.

Stronghold Arena

The last Dominaria United card previewed so far that I want to talk about today is Stronghold Arena. It’s not a card that I personally believe in, but I think it’s good for preview season content to feature a healthy mix of hype and sober analysis. Stronghold Arena is the sort of card that’s theoretically exciting, and that would fit into black aggressive decks if it fit anywhere.

Stronghold Arena

The problem is, I don’t believe that the card meaningfully contributes to these archetypes. Cards like Cult Conscript and Evolved Sleeper give these decks access to card advantage in one way or another without relying on you already being able to connect in combat. These cards allow you to use your mana or your creatures to eke out an advantage without first asking if you already have good attacks. Players who enjoy playing aggressive decks know that, once you have good attacks, you’re already winning. You want cards that help you set up good attacks, not cards that reward you once you already have them.

This is not to say that there’s no home for Stronghold Arena anywhere. I could see it fitting into a Cube with an evasive theme like Ninjas. It combines decently well with a low curve and Changeling Outcast. If we’re talking about higher-powered Cubes, though, then we’re looking at a card that rewards you when you’re already executing your gameplan and that feels like a mulligan when you’re not. A classic “more cool than good” situation.

Back in Black

The release of Dominaria United looks like a big deal for black in Cube, with sacrifice decks specifically getting a solid bump. Evolved Sleeper is a tremendous gift for any flavor of aggressive black decks. It’s a card that I personally intend to Cube with a ton, and it’s one that contributes to a dramatically increased viability for black aggressive decks in Cube broadly.