With some product delays earlier in the year, it’s a very busy time for supplemental releases in Magic. Unfinity previews are swinging into full gear this week, and we just got the full preview for the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks last week. I’ve had these products on my radar for some time, though I was uncertain how relevant they would be for Cube. The jury is still out on Unfinity, but the Warhammer decks have far exceeded my expectations. Commander releases don’t typically get a lot of attention from me, but there are more than enough goodies in these decks for a proper Cube Top 10 list.
My focus, as always, is on Cubes designed for two-player games, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s a ton going on in these decks for Commander Cubes. The Commander precons are a great place for those who maintain such Cubes to pull inspiration from, and these decks are considered by many to be the most powerful set of precons we’ve ever seen. While my Top 10 lists generally consist of cheaper spells that cost one or two colors, the well of relevant cards for those interested in casting more expensive spells runs much deeper.
Even just looking at these decks for one-on-one gameplay, I do have a few honorable mentions. I don’t typically do this for Standard set releases, in part because we’ll see the relevant cards from those sets in some way or another over time, which is less of a sure thing with supplemental products. It seems appropriate to me to dig a little deeper into these decks and offer some cards that have a little less broad appeal for Cube, but that will fit some specific Cubes very well.
Triumph of Saint Katherine
These decks mark the debut of creatures with miracle, with two showing up. Triumph of Saint Katherine is much flashier than Zephyrim, though I could see Zephyrim showing up in some Cubes as well. The main appeal of Triumph of Saint Katherine is in higher-powered Cubes that still have some focus on combat. I’m thinking of the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube, and specifically slotting it in over Baneslayer Angel.
In that context, you get most of what you want if you pay the full five, and a ton of stats for two mana when you hit the miracle. Miracle tends to be too swingy for many Cubes, but the card’s full cost being about right makes this one a compelling consideration, assuming that there are more powerful things than casting cheap 5/5s going on in your Cube.
Out of the Tombs
Out of the Tombs is a build-around that I could see being very fun, but it’ll require a Cube that gives you time to crank up eon counters while also facilitating decks that are competitive against the sort of engines that make a card like this worth playing. I really like the idea of this card for graveyard-centric Cubes, and the obvious combo with Thassa’s Oracle is space warranting exploration. My gut read is that Out of the Tombs is pretty firmly in the “more cool than good” space for most Cubes, but that’s a totally fine sort of card to get excited about.
One of the earliest cards previewed from these decks, Noise Marine was the first sign that I was going to have to pay attention to this release. Noise Marine screams Peasant Cube staple, and I’m looking forward to cascading into Bloodbraid Elf and really going off. Some lower-powered non-rarity-restricted Cubes will want this potential three-for-one as well. Noise Marine is mostly a nice little value card, but it also has some potential as an oddball Storm card. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreaming of cascading into Tendrils of Agony.
Honorable mentions out of the way, let’s get to my Top 10 for broader Cube consideration!
10. The Golden Throne
The Golden Throne has one of the coolest lines of text of any Magic card, which will turn some heads on its own. Of course, not losing once is ultimately just another form of lifegain and isn’t really worth a four-mana investment, but the way the card reads gives it a wow factor that will make people want to play it.
Ultimately, it won’t be worth doing so if your deck doesn’t have some manner of sacrifice theme and ways to use the extra mana, but Magic has been incredibly long on both of those things for years now, and sacrifice decks show up in more and more Cubes all the time. The Golden Throne offers a unique effect and is a sacrifice outlet with a mana payoff that will be relatively easy to take advantage of. This card is far too cool for me to not give it a shot in Spooky Cube.
9. Sceptre of Eternal Glory
Sceptre of Eternal Glory is a little easier to take advantage of than The Golden Throne, unless of course you’re a Triome addict. My first thought upon reading this card was that it would be awesome in the Mono-Blue Broken archetype that I love drafting in Vintage Cube. This one is certainly for higher powered Cubes, but a discounted Gilded Lotus is most welcome there.
My one reservation about Sceptre of Eternal Glory is that in more traditional environments it’s most likely just to be played in blue or green decks, which already have a way of leaning towards “mana and stuff” decks anyway. I’d love to see a Cube that uses this card to push something like mono-black decks casting giant Demons, and I’m confident that such a thing is possible. The stock on this one goes up significantly in color-restricted Cubes.
8. Space Marine Devastator
Lately we’ve gotten some nice Oblivion Ring-style white creatures, with green getting the Reclamation Sages of the world. Space Marine Devastator costs a little more than Reclamation Sage, but it has better stats and the squad ability is a really nice mana sink. Whether you just want to churn out more 3/3s or you’re waiting to have six mana to hit two targets, it’s always nice to get a card with some scalability.
White fours occupy a pretty crowded space, but there’s enough going on with this card for it to be a desirable Cube option in any environment with powerful artifacts and enchantments. It would certainly make my Vintage Cube decks some of the time, with lower-powered Cubes opening up more space to include the card over things like planeswalkers and the Warrior creature type being relevant to boot.
7. Callidus Assassin
Callidus Assassin is kind of like a six-mana Control Magic with flash. It’s not a perfect comparison with things like indestructible creatures and Callidus Assassin entering the battlefield tapped, but this is still a great tool for Dimir decks to have in their arsenal. The closest comparison is going to be to Dragonlord Silumgar, and there’s some give and take between the two.
Obviously stealing planeswalkers can be very powerful, especially if you can ultimate them right away, but Callidus Assassin’s flash, as well as the fact that it destroys the creature rather than having your opponent get it back when it leaves the battlefield, are significant as well. Whether to include one card over the other comes down to specific environments, and larger Cubes could certainly facilitate both, but the point is that Callidus Assassin is a very real card for control decks that would like to spend their turns leaving up mana for counterspells and removal.
6. Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph
Ghyrson Starn is one of those cards that I believe is much more powerful than it reads. Ward is a relatively new mechanic, and it’s proven to be very powerful, especially on cheaper threats. A three-mana creature with ward 2 is going to at least eat your opponent’s mana production for a turn if they answer it, or let you do your thing if they don’t, and Ghyrson’s thing is definitely worth doing. Worth noting is that Ghyrson doesn’t turn one damage into two; it deals an additional two damage. That means that your Forked Bolt becomes two Lightning Bolts.
The list of cards that get dramatically better in tandem with Ghyrson isn’t short. Electrolyze and casting Bonfire of the Damned from hand are two that immediately come to mind. Young Pyromancer tokens also get very threatening when you control Ghyrson. Any one-power creature plays, and I already love Looter il-Kor.
Ghyrson is great, and I could see myself needing multiple copies. I’m also fond of Pink Horror and Zoanthrope, but they’re less efficient and don’t really do anything that can’t be done some other way. Ghyrson is quite efficient and unique, and synergizes well with tons of cards that are probably already in your Cube.
5. Necron Deathmark
There are actually three great five-mana black creatures in these decks, which made it tough to choose a standout. Primaris Eliminator and Royal Warden both offer a lot to like as well, and I could see all three of these creatures existing in the same Cube, but Necron Deathmark gets the nod from me on having the highest abstract power level.
Building an army and slaying one are both well worth doing, but it’s the flash that puts Necron Deathmark over. Ravenous Chupacabra with flash and significant stats is a big deal that can really turn the tide of combat. Whether being an artifact is upside or downside will vary by format and game, but either way that’s another aspect that can either push or balance the card, which any Cube designer can appreciate. The mill ability is of very little consequence by my estimation, but that’s another thing that can matter in certain contexts. Notably, you can destroy your opponent’s creature and mill yourself.
4. Ultramarines Honour Guard
Ultramarines Honour Guard is a strictly different Intrepid Adversary. The inability to cast it as a Blade of the Sixth Pride is a pretty serious point against it, but the squad ability means that once you’re spending six mana, your Anthems are spread across multiple bodies. It’s a weaker card than Intrepid Adversary in absolute terms, but it will have its moments. The barrier to entry is similar to that of Space Marine Devastator with so many great white fours around as options, but Ultramarines Honor Guard more easily fits into the traditional proactive skeleton that white tends to have in Cube.
The card would be a lot more appealing as a Human, but Warrior is a relevant creature type, too. The fact that Ultramarines Honour Guard works just as well as a curve-topper for lean environments as it does as a big finisher in environments like Live the Dream Cube is what earns it such a high rating from me.
3. Knight Paladin
I had to read this card a few times, though not because it’s actually broken; it just delivers a lot more in the stats department than I would expect. Five mana is a point on the mana curve that can get really congested, especially when it comes to slots for aggressive decks. You want a big curve-topper sometimes, but not always, and it’s pretty common to see five-mana threats go late in the draft.
What Knight Paladin allows you to do as a designer is offer a big five-mana threat to anybody that wants it, regardless of what colors they’re playing, without having to go heavy on one of the least desirable points of the mana curve. This is especially relevant as black establishes itself as a legitimate aggressive color.
Crew 1 on a giant Vehicle that damages the opponent when it enters the battlefield is a great way to keep the pressure on without committing further into a sweeper. I’m confident that I’ll be including this one in some Twoberts, and it easily clears the bar for even a 540-card Vintage Cube for me.
Gruul is a really tough color pair in Cube. Some of this is because red and green will often support diametrically opposed strategies, but some of it is also that most of the specific Gruul cards that exist are pretty weak. Mawloc isn’t broken or anything, but it’s a very solid rate. It’s a threat that’s always on curve, is a two-for-one if it wins the fight, and is a three-for-one when you’re able to generate tons of mana, which sort of bridges the gap between the card being playable in an aggressive red deck or a mana ramping green deck. I love this design.
This card is right at home in my original Twobert design, and is one that would make some of my Vintage Cube decks. It’s easy to see it fitting into all kinds of Cubes in-between. Mawloc is a standout both in these decks and as a Gruul card.
1. Chaos Defiler
Rakdos is somewhat more desirable as a color pair than Gruul, but it has its shortcomings. Most notably, Dreadbore shows up on the short list for “powerful” Rakdos cards to include in Cube. Dreadbore is a sorcery-speed one-for-one. It’s more or less the definition of “fine.”
Chaos Defiler is a fairly substantial threat that comes with a more versatile removal effect than Dreadbore stapled on with it enters the battlefield or dies. The card reads oddly when it comes to games where you only have one opponent, but that’s what it boils down to. Most notably, this effect can be used to destroy enchantments. Personally I wish it could destroy lands, but being able to hit any nonland is pretty significant when we’re talking about Rakdos removal.
Chaos Defiler will be awesome in Cubes that are about attrition, and I expect it to be a significant player in any planeswalker-heavy environment. It’s also the sort of threat that’s nice to have at the top of the curve for a Sacrifice deck or as a solid threat in midrange builds of Reanimator that plan on casting their creatures some of the time. Chaos Defiler can hang in Vintage Cube, and will likely find homes in many mid- to high-power environments.
The design team for these decks aimed high, and really knocked it out of the park. This product is awesome for Commander, and features more than enough Cube goodies for me to endorse it. If this is the future for Universes Beyond, then the future is bright.