They Come In Pairs: The Kaladesh Cube Update

Playtesting for #SCGINDY isn’t just about the run for glory to SCG Players’ Champion Jim Davis! He’s also learning what the individual power levels are for all of the new toys we have in Kaladesh! Which cards are above par? Which ones are surprisingly weak? Some of Jim’s discoveries are quite surprising!

#SCGINDY October 1-2!

I haven’t had too much time in recent months to work on my Cube. Life has been exceedingly busy, and it hasn’t left much time for the fun stuff like Cube maintenance. Embarrassingly enough, I missed the deadline to submit my Cube for the Magic Online Cube Contest. All the complaining I do about the Magic Online Cube and I missed my chance to make a difference— if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem!

Even with my relative lack of Cube activity, it’s hard not to get excited about what Kaladesh has to offer Cubes. Considering how significant the artifact theme is in my Cube, Kaladesh has even more to offer my Cube than most, and it’s great how smooth Kaladesh’s “artifact matters” cards are.

A heavy artifact theme is difficult to support in Cubes because mechanics like affinity and metalcraft require a huge commitment to artifacts that requires you to be all-in for them to pay off. Kaladesh has done a great job of making artifacts matter, yet doing so in a way that doesn’t require such a deep commitment to them. It also offers a number of great cards that just happen to be artifacts, which further can increase synergies across the board without feeling forced.

Our first two cards are simple but elegant. “Nerd Ape” (Inventor’s Apprentice) and “Toolcraft Nacatl” (Toolcraft Exemplar) are both one-drops that are way above rate if you control a single artifact. They don’t require an artifact to actually work and can work in decks that only have around five or six incidental artifacts as well as full-on artifact decks.

While it’s good to have a few big payoff cards like Arcbound Ravager and Eidolon of the Great Revel in your Cube for players who want to go all-in on a strategy, you can’t really afford to have too many of them. Cards like Inventor’s Apprentice which are great in the all-in decks but also very playable in decks with just a light artifact component bring a flexibility to the Cube that makes everything work.

These cards are also both one-drops in the Cube’s most aggressive colors, and quality one-drops are always a welcome addition to my Cube. White and Red both have a good amount of incidental support for the artifact theme (think Porcelain Legionnaire, Blade Splicer, Shrapnel Blast), and it’s hard to imagine Inventor’s Apprentice and Toolcraft Exemplar being anything less than slam dunks in my Cube.

Not every Cube has such a high artifact component as mine, but if you’ve got a reasonable artifact theme, both these cards are awesome.

I am grouping these cards together as a pair as well because they serve similar purposes: they’re both aggressive artifact creatures that help aggressive decks maintain card advantage in the mid-game.

Bomat Courier is the weaker of the two but offers a very interesting and unique effect. As long as you are able to punch it through a few times and empty your hand reasonably quickly, Bomat Courier can provide you with card draw not often seen in red for a very low cost. Bomat Courier being an artifact to enhance artifact synergies is also a nice bonus.

While the Raging Goblin body on Bomat Courier is a bit questionable, Scrapheap Scrounger looks more like a colorless Watchwolf. I don’t think you’d ever really want to play Bomat Courier in a non-red deck, but I could certainly see decks that would play Scrapheap Scrounger either without access to black mana at all or with a light splash.

Scrapheap Scrounger is a great aggressive beater. It hits hard and provides an aggressive deck with a recursive threat that keeps coming back for more. Scrapheap Scrounger can also slot into black graveyard/recursion decks pretty easily and is a great little package for two mana.

I’m not completely sold on Bomat Courier yet, but Scrapheap Scrounger is a lock.

If you’ve been testing for new Standard at all, it should be very apparent to you that Smuggler’s Copter is one of the best cards in the format. Smuggler’s Copter does it all. It slices, it dices, it attacks for three, and in Cube it can fuel aggressive decks, artifact decks, reanimator decks, graveyard decks… you name it.

There’s really not much to say about Smuggler’s Copter. It’s amazing, and it should be a lock for pretty much any Cube of any size. It’s that good.

Fleetwheel Cruiser is a little more fair, but still quite the bargain. Pretty much any aggressive deck would be happy topping their curve with Fleetwheel Cruiser, and it offers excellent protection against sweepers and sorcery speed removal. It’s great at pressuring planeswalkers, and again is an artifact to help support those synergies.

One of the issues with artifacts sometimes is that they don’t really have a great identity. If they are too good, they are simply wanted by every deck and whoever gets them first gets them first. Fleetwheel Cruiser is a great example of a powerful artifact that is going to be fantastic in some decks but also not wanted by others. That’s what makes a great Cube card and a fun drafting environment.

I’m excited and curious to see it in action, so for now Fleetwheel Cruiser is in.

In larger Cubes most of the Gearhulks could be reasonable inclusions, but my Cube is very tight with its spells that cost five or more. Six is a ton more than five, so the only Gearhulks I am considering are Cataclysmic Gearhulk and Verdurous Gearhulk.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk is interesting because it provides such a unique effect. Cataclysm proper hasn’t been in the Cube for a very long time, but that’s because it was so difficult to use. It was a Wrath of God / Armageddon that didn’t actually kill the most important things, and very few decks would want access to both of those effects.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk is different because it doesn’t mess with your lands, and you get a large and well-costed body to go along with the effect. Cataclysmic Gearhulk will be bigger than most things on the battlefield anyway, and it does a good job of punishing the lower-to-the-ground decks that tend to populate my Cube. Of course, this can be a bad thing too, as while it’s good to provide a foil to common decks in my Cube, it may end up being too polarizing and annoying to play against. Cards that are borderline unfair in some situations (against the all-creature deck or the all-artifact deck) while being only mediocre in others don’t usually make fun Cube cards.

As it stands, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a card I am going to try. However, I would not be surprised if it was cut by the time Aether Revolt comes out.

However interesting Cataclysmic Gearfulk is, Verdurous Gearhulk is that straightforward.

Verdurous Gearhulk is simplistically huge and makes your other things huge as well. Does that make it a good Cube card? My instinctual response is no, but it is so much better than other Wolfir Silverheart cards that perhaps it warrants a slot. I will try it but not be surprised at all if it ends up getting cut rather quickly. Five-mana creatures have a very high bar, and I’m not usually a fan of five-mana creatures that do nothing but put a bunch of power onto the battlefield.

Our next pair comes straight from Value Town.

Glint-Nest Crane is a card that a lot of people have looked over, probably because cards like it have always been so bad.

Remember Nerouk Familiar? Well, no one else does, either.

Yet the package you are getting with Glint-Nest Crane is quite good. A flying Augur of Bolas for artifact decks that gets to see four cards instead of three? Where do I sign up? I expect Glint-Nest Crane to see a lot of play in Standard, and it seems like a very serviceable card in any Cube with a reasonable artifact theme. It’s a lot of value for two mana!

Filigree Familiar, I am less excited about. It’s definitely a nice little package that is reminiscent of Solemn Simulacrum, but overall it feels like it just doesn’t do enough. Against aggressive decks it’s a nice roadblock, but against non-aggro decks it just feels like a Gray Ogre that isn’t big enough to make a difference. Solemn Simulacrum was a four-mana ramp spell that had the chance to be a three-for-one, but you got the desirable aspect up front. Filigree Familiar really needs to die for you to get the value you want out of it.

Glint-Nest Crane is definitely in for now, but the Fox will not be making the cut.

Mother and daughter, both looking for a slot in the Cube.

I’m not going to lie: Chandra, Torch of Defiance has not impressed me at all in my initial #SCGINDY testing. Chandra looks good, but in practice she is often just awkward. Her card advantage +1 could not be more restrictive: you can’t play lands, you must cast the card right then and there, and if it’s something too expensive to play or you have other plans for the turn, you have to settle for a Shock. The other abilities are reasonable, but most planeswalkers live and die by how well they create card advantage and Chandra does it in the most awkward way possible.

I am very stingy with planeswalkers in my Cube, only allowing one mono-colored planeswalker per color. Is Chandra, Torch of Defiance better than Chandra, Flamecaller? Probably, but that’s more because the bar isn’t really that high.

Don’t get me wrong; Chandra, Torch of Defiance is good. I just think that it’s currently vastly overrated.

Mama Nalaar is a very solid role-player type of creature, but it is also very similar to Thopter Engineer, another great role-player. I try to avoid unnecessary redundancy in my Cube, which eliminates them from being in together, so the question ends up being, “Is Pia Nalaar better than Thopter Engineer?” I’ll be trying Pia Nalaar out, as frankly I’m not sure.

Forget pairs, how about five of a kind?

I’ve been waiting for the completion of the fastland cycle for years now, and couldn’t be happier to add it to my Cube.

There’s really not too much more to say.

Role-Player’s Fair

Kaladesh doesn’t really offer any groundbreaking Cube cards, but it is full of great role-players that help to push the themes already present in my Cube. Of course, if your Cube does not have a prevalent artifact theme, many of these cards aren’t going to help you much, but maybe it’s something you should consider.

The support is there, and having a good artifact theme in your Cube can add a whole new dimension to your Cube draft experience.

Challenge Thursday

Last week’s Challenge Thursday was a difficult one. “Kick It Old School! Play UW Control in Standard” was the challenge, submitted by @Polstein, and there’s a reason why Control has had it so bad in Standard lately.

We played a bunch of close matches but came out on the losing side more often than not.

This week there will be no Challenge Thursday, as I will be en route to beautiful Indianapolis for the first Standard Open with Kaladesh! Make sure you tune in to SCG Live to see what I and the boys in Team MGG cook up!

And don’t forget you can submit your challenges for Challenge Thursday at any time to me on Twitter! Keep to Standard or Modern, use the hashtag #JDCT, and be creative!

#SCGINDY October 1-2!