Hello, gamers, and congratulations on making it to the final Magic set release of 2023! I’m pretty sure! At any rate, it’s time to talk about the impact of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan on the world of Cube. Today I’ll be breaking down my list of the Top 10 most Cubeable cards from the main set, with a look at the set’s corresponding Commander decks and Jurassic World Collection next week.
First, let’s talk about the broad-strokes notes of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan.
There’s a bit of a theme of using the graveyard as a resource here, with caring about permanents going to your graveyard from anywhere as well as counting the permanents in your graveyard represented as mechanics. I was hopeful to see some awesome new cards in this space, so hopeful that I dedicated a recent article to evaluating these mechanics!
Sadly, the ceiling on anything to do with descend turned out to be pretty low in the set at large. The graveyard is a scary place, after all, so they played things safe. Some would say scared. I am saying scared. These cards will mostly find homes in Cubes that are trying to capture more of a Limited feel, which to be fair is a very popular sort of Cube.
Crafting and Caves
On the subject of more Limited-centric mechanics, we have crafting and Caves. Cards with craft give you a little something up front and then the ability to pay some mana in addition to exiling a certain type and amount of cards to get a little something more. Cards like Spring-Loaded Sawblades and Tithing Blade are close enough to cards that show up in some Cubes that I’d expect to see them around, even if the sum of the cards are more theoretically exciting than actually powerful.
Caves are a new land type with pretty minor support that in theory we’ll see more of someday. There’s enough going on that lower-power, land-heavy Cubes might already be interested in them, and the Hidden cycle does look pretty appealing as standalone cards for Pauper Cubes as is.
A new artifact token makes its appearance in Maps, which sacrifice for one mana to have a creature you control explore. Explore is generally considerably weaker than drawing a card, but when you do hit the land, it’s great, and sometimes the +1/+1 counters can be pretty strong, too. Even at one mana versus two, I would generally rather have a Clue, but a few Map generators come at a rate that reflects this and as such are pretty powerful cards. A few years back, Sentinel of the Nameless City would have looked pretty busted to me!
My one concern with Maps is that exploring is a fairly complicated and therefore inelegant thing to have tacked onto a token. It is a returning mechanic, so the burden on remembering what these tokens do isn’t especially high, but when players start controlling Treasures, Clues, Blood, and Maps, it gets to be a lot just in terms of general complexity to parse what’s going on.
Pirates and Merfolk and Vampires and Dinosaurs… Oh My!
As fans of the original Ixalan sets were surely expecting, we see support for all four of the plane’s primary creature types here as well. There are a lot of nice goodies for all of them, and each is realistically worth exploring as a relevant creature type in Cubes of low to middle power levels. For fans of the plane more generally, Throne of the Grim Captain is also a flashy and fun way to tie all four creature types together.
The Completion of the New Creature Dual Cycle
The new creature dual cycle started in Wilds of Eldraine gets rounded out with five more great members. I don’t like highlighting lands in my Top 10 lists, but Restless Vents would assuredly make it there if I did for having the widest delta in power level between it and its predecessor in Lavaclaw Reaches. I imagine that most Cubes will stick to one or zero creature duals for every color pair, but the more midrange a Cube is, the more interested it will be in just slotting in the full twenty members of both cycles.
Top 10 Most Cubeable Cards
Now that we have a feel for the nature of the set, let’s count down my list of the ten most broadly Cubeable cards in The Lost Caverns of Ixalan!
10. Molten Collapse
Dreadbore was due for an upgrade more than exciting to see upgraded, but all the same, it is welcome to see it actually happen. A one-for-one at sorcery speed is just pretty weak by 2023 standards, so the ability to get a little something extra is important. Descending isn’t terribly difficult, with fetchlands being the easy go-to and Rakdos Sacrifice themes offering a lot of ways to potentially get full value off Molten Collapse.
The catch here is that one-mana, noncreature, nonland permanents aren’t a terribly abundant category in a lot of Cubes. That said, there are so many ways to generate noncreature tokens these days that there will often be something to destroy: a Treasure, a Food, a Map, or if you’re really lucky a Clue. Finally, a clean answer to Thraben Inspector! The ability to destroy these tokens definitely makes Molten Collapse a relevant upgrade to Dreadbore, and I expect to see it in a lot of Cubes.
9. Confounding Riddle
Supreme Will is perhaps more of a Peasant Cube card than anything, but Confounding Riddle offers a meaningful improvement on both modes that I believe makes it a contender for non-rarity-restricted and higher-powered Cubes. Looking at one extra card might seem minor, but you only have to look at the play history of Anticipate as compared to Impulse to know that something worth paying attention to is happening here.
Three-mana counterspells are pretty unappealing in higher-powered Cubes with how many powerful options there are at two mana, but the modality goes a long way here. I’m confident that Confounding Riddle would make it into many of my Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube decks, and I’d go so far as to pick the card highly in the Arena Cubes.
8. Deep-Cavern Bat
Whether your reference point is Mesmeric Fiend or Kitesail Freebooter, or I guess Brain Maggot, Deep-Cavern Bat offers some nice improvements over cards that are there or nearly there for a lot of Cubes. The second point of toughness on Kitesail Freebooter is nice, but not nearly as nice as being able to take creatures, and the additions of flying and lifelink over Mesmeric Fiend are both massive.
A 1/1 flyer is a little annoying as an attacker or potential blocker, but the lifelink is what really puts Deep-Cavern Bat over. All of these discard creatures are generally at their worst against aggressive decks, so being able to attack your opponent and leech a little life while holding their best card hostage can do a lot to swing a race. Peasant Cube, Arena Cube, Vintage Cube, I like this card everywhere.
7. Kellan, Daring Traveler
Now for something in a more novel space. Kellan, Daring Traveler is remarkable because it’s a Selesnya card that is generally playable! It is cheating a little to make it so that the card is cheap and well-statted for Mono-White Aggro, but it does move the needle on the pick order of Savannah for me, so it counts!
Journey On is a fairly low-value card, but it’s a good return on investment when your opponent does control an artifact and is something you’ll obviously cast if you just have the extra mana anyway. Notably, exploring synergizes very well with Kellan’s attack trigger by clearing any lands out of the way and helping you find some cheap creatures to put into your hand.
The draw ability is a bit on the random side, but I would expect creatures with mana value three or less to be abundant in the sort of deck that wants an aggressive white creature. The third point of toughness is what really makes the card by creating a formidable blocker in addition to a potentially value-generating attacker.
6. Hulking Raptor
I’m honestly pretty exciting by most creatures with ward 1, and ward 2 is definitely a big deal. Will Hulking Raptor die to Lightning Bolt? Sure. But even then you’re only trading down one mana. Hulking Raptor isn’t the most powerful green four-drop in terms of attacking and blocking, but attacking and blocking is hardly what I want my green four-drop to do anyway!
Generating two mana a turn and jumping you from four to six or seven offers a potentially massive advantage. Hulking Raptor accelerates you to Primeval Titan, Titan of Industry, and Craterhoof Behemoth with relative ease, and is pretty good at attacking down planeswalkers at the same time. I would happily play this in my green ramp decks in Vintage Cube, and the card seems like it could really take over games in lower-powered environments when paired with a couple of expensive spells, too.
5. Bartolomé del Presidio
Carrion Feeder and Cartel Aristocrat are two all-time great sacrifice outlets, and Bartolomé del Presidio is something of a cross between the two. The ability to sacrifice artifacts is definite upside, though having only one base toughness is a strike against the card.
The best cards for Sacrifice decks are ones that are just good enough on rate to show up in creature decks more broadly, with Woe Strider being a standout in this regard. Bartolomé del Presidio doesn’t quite fit the bill there, but is an easy staple for any Cube with a supported Sacrifice theme, and I would expect to see the card in almost any Peasant Cube.
4. Inti, Seneschal of the Sun
Now and again a cheap red creature with some neat ability for more specific environments pokes its way onto my lists, but Inti, Seneschal of the Sun is actually among the most powerful red two-drops for Cube of all time. Being able to discard excess lands or burn spells without meaningful targets for +1/+1 counters as well as the potential to play a relevant card off the top of your library is a big deal. This ability relevantly triggers off of any attack and can pump any of your creatures, allowing Inti to get in something resembling a point of haste damage.
This card has uses in any Mono-Red Aggro deck that offers the potential for additional synergies. Human and Knight are both well-supported creature types, and while you don’t need to generate value off the cards you discard to happily play Inti, I can only image the blowouts that can happen if you actually do pair the card with some madness spells and other graveyard shenanigans! This is an immediate Spooky Cube staple and Vintage Cube consideration.
3. Get Lost
Fateful Absence is a solidly playable Cube card, and Get Lost is a massive improvement over it. I was already of the belief that Ossification and Planar Disruption both served as better options than Fateful Absence even at sorcery speed, but the instant-speed upside and not being an interaction-vulnerable permanent do matter. Adding enchantments to the list of possible targets makes the card more live more often, but the real selling point is that Maps are of less consequence to give to your opponent than Clues.
For multiple reasons, exploring just isn’t drawing a card. When you do draw the land, that’s awesome. When you put the card into your graveyard, that can be kind of nice too, but a +1/+1 counter is on-average just not worth a card, and to the extent that it is or that drawing a land is literally a card, it’s very likely not worth whatever card you’re actually using a card like Get Lost to destroy. Beyond that, you need creatures on the battlefield to even activate the ability of a Map, which can only happen at sorcery speed, unlike Clues.
If Get Lost isn’t widely adopted, it will be because reactive cards like Dreadbore have lost their luster in a world full of value-generating cards with long text boxes, not because giving your opponent Maps is too big of a downside.
2. Malcolm, Alluring Scoundrel
I may be generally cold on blue aggressive creatures, but when you give them flash, a looting ability, and an absurd ceiling beyond that, I’m there! Needing to connect in combat is a relevant downside on a looter in some respects, but an evasive body with two power can matter in terms of trading with creatures an attacking planeswalkers. The ceiling on Malcolm, Alluring Scoundrel may very well be higher than that of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but it takes longer to realize and does require some more specific things to go your way to make it happen. Specifically, Jace doesn’t care about flying blockers.
Malcolm is powerful in a variety of shells, which is what will cause the card to show up in a lot of different Cubes. Having flash and being a looter puts Malcolm right at home in blue Reanimator decks, and Cubes with aggressive support for blue will absolutely want a high-ceiling two-drop such as this. And if you’re big on Equipment like Sword of Fire and Ice, then Malcolm is all too ready to wield them for you.
There’s enough rate here for almost any blue deck to be happy playing Malcolm, though cards like Lingering Souls will make it a candidate to come out in spots where other Merfolk Looters would perform better. It’s only fair that the card has some downside!
1. Bitter Triumph
Speaking of downsides and cards that are powerful in Reanimator decks, Bitter Triumph has quickly found a way to replace Infernal Grasp as the most appealing two-mana black removal spell. Having the option between discarding a card and paying life makes Bitter Triumph play excellently whether you’re an aggro deck that will be fine paying life, a combo deck that will generally discard a card, or a control deck navigating which option works best for you at the time.
Three life is admittedly a steep cost, but being able to hit planeswalkers more than makes up for that in a lot of Cubes. I could see Peasant Cubes eschewing the card due to the nature of threats in those environments, but even there, using it as a discard outlet for something like Unburial Rites puts it right back into the conversation! This is one of those cards that I’m personally going to need four or more copies of just for Cubing.
My disappointment around the graveyard mechanics in the set notwithstanding, The Lost Caverns of Ixalan offers a deep well of awesome cards for Cube for niche and high-powered environments alike! There are a lot of gems in the Commander decks and the Jurassic World Collection, too, and I’ll be back next week to tell you all about them!