Top Cube Cycles In Magic: The Gathering’s Modern Horizons 3

The first set of Modern Horizons 3 previews offers a feast for MTG Cube fans! Ryan Overturf analyzes the Flare cycle of free spells, double-faced planeswalkers, new Eldrazi Titans, and more.

Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student (detail)
Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student (detail), illustrated by Evyn Fong

Howdy, gamers! Official Modern Horizons 3 previews kicked into full gear yesterday, so today I’d like to offer some first impressions on what we’ve seen previewed so far!

Modern Horizons sets are packed to the gills with Constructed and Cube goodies alike, and I couldn’t possibly highlight everything worth discussing just by using my usual Top 10 lists. We’ve already had a few cycles previewed from the set, and that strikes me as a great focus for a preview season article. Let’s dig in!

Free Flares

Flare of Fortitude Flare of Denial Flare of Malice

Flare of Duplication Flare of Cultivation

The first two Modern Horizons sets offered us cycles of free spells that pitched cards of their corresponding color, which is a categorically more powerful option as an alternate casting cost than sacrificing a nontoken creature of that color. From the jump, this cycle is already lagging behind both the Force and Incarnation cycles. The Incarnations also offered bodies when hard-cast or just something to blink or reanimate, which have proven to be huge deals. To properly evaluate this cycle, we’re relying on just paying full retail for a one-time spell as an important aspect of these cards.

When you put it that way, we have an expensive protection spell, Cancel, an expensive Edict, an expensive Fork, and Cultivate.

Flare of Cultivation

Of those, Cultivate is actually kind of in-bounds as a playable card! Notably, though, Flare of Cultivation is the only sorcery member of this cycle. A big part of the appeal for this alternate casting cost is that some of these Flares can be used to sacrifice a creature that would be dying anyway, but sacrificing a Llanowar Elves to Cultivate isn’t nearly as appealing when you can’t do so in response to a Lightning Bolt. There are some cheap creatures that can pair with the card to generate value, with Veteran Explorer being the best combo that comes to mind. It might not be outrageous to pair it with Young Wolf, either!

Flare of Denial

I’ve seen a number of players mistakenly assume that you can cast a Snapcaster Mage and sacrifice it to flashback Flare of Denial for two mana, but Snapcaster Mage doesn’t actually turn on the alternate cost from the graveyard; you’ll only be able to pay the 1UU cost if you want to flash it back. A counterspell that doesn’t cost mana isn’t nothing, but this card is a far cry from Force of Will and Force of Negation. Perhaps Sea Gate Oracle enjoyers can make lemonade here, and I’d be willing to believe that Silvergill Adept is a nice pairing with the card, too.

Flare of Malice

There’s actually something to be said for black being long on sticky creatures like Bloodghast to pair with Flare of Malice. Whether an edict that otherwise costs four mana is a desirable effect for a sacrifice deck is going to be format-dependent, but that strikes me as the sort of thing that could be powerful in a Legacy- or Modern-style Cube.

Flare of Duplication

Flare of Duplication is, in my estimation, the most difficult member of the cycle to evaluate. In a creature mirror, you could use the alternate casting cost to fire an opposing removal spell back at one of their creatures, but that move’s actual power will be very contextual. In higher-power Cubes, red creatures tend to be less powerful than spells, and Fork isn’t a non-starter as an effect when you expect your opponent to do something like draw a bunch of extra cards or take extra turns.

For more proactive approaches, something like Voldaren Epicure plus Shrapnel Blast could be an awesome space to experiment with, and red has a fair amount of value-generating bodies like Seasoned Pyromancer to fuel the alternate cost more generally. I’m not optimistic that Flare of Duplication, or really any member of this cycle, will have any consistent kind of staying power, but there is definitely fun and interesting stuff to explore here.

Double-Faced Planeswalkers

Ajani, Nacatl Pariah Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student Sorin of House Markov

Ral, Monsoon Mage Grist, Voracious Larva

The double-faced planeswalker cycle in Modern Horizons 3 is a little closer to something we’ve seen before, and is a little more obviously powerful. These are very reminiscent of the Magic Origins cycle, with the main difference being that the planeswalker sides have two-color identities and one ability that cares about having a permanent of the color added when the card transforms.

Ajani, Nacatl Pariah

Ajani is the most straightforward of the bunch here, offering three power, three toughness, and two bodies for the low price of two mana. Transforming Ajani will be relatively easy, either through some means of sacrificing the 2/1 token or by the 2/1 token dying the way that Savannah Lions typically do by attacking and threatening the opponent’s life total.

Ajani, Nacatl Pariah Ajani, Nacatl Avenger

The +2 and -4 abilities on the back side aren’t anything to write home about, but being able to churn out Cats every turn is a lot of upside on a two-mana card, and the bonus from having a red permanent will threaten to close games very quickly. With white aggressive decks as well as token support being very common in Cube, Ajani strikes me as a tremendously Cubeable card.

Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student

I’m similarly big on Tamiyo, which isn’t something that I often say about one-mana blue creatures! An 0/3 flying blocker isn’t the worst if it comes to that, and when you have the ability to attack and generate Clues, you’ll quickly get your mana’s worth. Whether you take the long road and Crack clues to transform Tamiyo or just fire off a Brainstorm, the back side does some powerful, if slow, things as well.

Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student Tamiyo, Seasoned Scholar

The first turn the card transforms, you’ll have to use the +2 to get any amount of working loyalty, but given that the front of the card generates card advantage, this is less significant than it might seem. Once unlocked, the -3 and -7 abilities should be able to significantly swing games. Tamiyo definitely benefits the least from the bonus offered by green instants and sorceries, but the card is quite strong all the same. I also expect that, in a lot of games, you’ll just want to keep cranking out Clues and wait to transform Tamiyo until it’s easy or you don’t have other plays. Whatever your gameplan is, Tamiyo delivers a lot for a very low price of admission.

Sorin of House Markov

Sorin is a solid brick wall as a 1/4 with lifelink for two mana, and having extort on both sides of the card is a nice upside. Gaining three life via extort isn’t as much of a given as the previous entries in the cycle, but there are plenty of cards that can pair with Sorin to easily cross this threshold. Deep-Cavern Bat and Blood Artist are two Cube all-stars that immediately come to mind.

Sorin of House Markov Sorin, Ravenous Neonate

The ability to immediately use the -1 ability to do three damage to any target when you transform Sorin is huge, and the plus two to make Food offers a lot of loyalty and a lot of life to give your opponent fits. The existence of the -6 will also make it very difficult for your opponent to come back once you’ve taken control of the game. I don’t see Sorin as a Vintage Cube-caliber card, but he seems awesome for environments that are higher-powered and more creature-centric. I’ll be getting a copy for Spooky Cube for sure.

Ral, Monsoon Mage

Ral is the member of this cycle that I’m least excited by. You don’t have much control at all over when Ral transforms, and every time you make an attempt and fail, he deals you a point of damage!

Ral, Monsoon Mage Ral, Leyline Prodigy

Transforming being a may ability when you win flips is kind of nice as you can try to set up Ral with more loyalty, but the -8 is fairly underwhelming. Needing a blue permanent for the -2 to be a full Electrolyze also means that you have to work pretty hard to make Ral work, and even then he just won’t be the most consistent. If you like a little chaos, this is a fun design, but Ral won’t be making any of my Cubes.

Grist, Voracious Larva

Finally, we have Grist. Grist is very specific, requiring you to care about creatures entering the battlefield from the graveyard, but a 1/2 with deathtouch is a fine body, and Unearth enjoyers should rejoice at this printing at least!

Grist, Voracious Larva Grist, the Plague Swarm

It will be kind of frustrating to play against Grist’s +1 ability, with the difference between a 1/1 and a 1/1 with deathtouch being massive and tied to a somewhat random effect, but from the perspective of somebody trying to play with Grist, the card offers a lot of loyalty and solid value for a small mana investment, even if there are some hoops to jump through. The -6 looks busted and fun. I could see running into issues regarding both complexity and power trying Grist out in Spooky Cube, but the Spider Spawning enjoyer in me has to try.

Eldrazi Titans

Ulamog, the Defiler Kozilek, the Broken Reality Emrakul, the World Anew

Modern Horizons 3 has what is looking to be a pretty major Eldrazi theme, and as such, we’re getting new versions of all three Eldrazi titans! The most important thing to note is that all three of these new printings have a lot of their power level tied to cast triggers, which means these aren’t the most exciting cards for Reanimator. We’re looking for Channel, broken fast mana, or games that last 100 turns. You know, Commander Cube games. If you want these cards, you already know.

I do specifically want to highlight Kozilek, the Broken Reality for “only” costing nine mana, making it the “cheapest” of any of these characters printed to this point. The ability is also weaker than some other Eldrazi that you can get for ten mana, but it is worth pointing out that forcing your opponent to manifest two cards from their hand is kind of like Mind Rotting them in a lot of spots.

I only point this out because there are enough games where you get to the phase where you deploy giant spells and your opponent only has one or two cards left in hand, among them a haymaker to try to swing the game back. Does that really matter when we’re talking about a spell that costs nine? For most players, for most Cubes, no. But it’s not nothing.

Modal Double-Faced Lands

Witch Enchanter Witch-Blessed Meadow

Finally, we come to what will very possibly be the most impactful cards across all of Magic from this release. Modal Double-Faced lands reinvigorated combo decks across multiple Constructed formats when they were introduced in Zendikar Rising, and plenty of these cards see significant Cube play as well. New cards in this vein with the ability to enter as untapped lands are a big deal.

It remains to be seen exactly how many of these cards we will see, whether we just get an uncommon cycle, more or less, but Witch Enchanter at least is really solid for Cube. Disenchant is a borderline maindeckable card in a lot of environments, and tying the effect to a card that can just be an untapped land helps players to cheat on lands, which leads to more powerful and consistent environments.

Disciple of Freyalise strikes me as much less likely to be cast, but you can expect to see a lot more copies of Garden of Freyalise on the battlefield in Constructed. Oops, All Spells! players and Amulet Titan players searching for a land with Summoner’s Pact are very excited, and I’m similarly excited to see what else we’ll get in this space!

I can already see that I’ll need a lot of cards from Modern Horizons 3, which isn’t at all surprising, given the history of these sets and their impact on Cube. I’ll be watching previews very closely for upgrades to my existing Cubes and ideas for new Cubes alike! For Cube designers, Christmas is coming in June this year.


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