A listener of the podcast asked for an expanded edition of our 2018 Path to Cube awards. This will allow more detail on the honorable mentions than was done during the episode. As a reminder, eligible sets are Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, Magic 2019, Commander 2018, Battlebond, and Unstable. So, although a little late, here it is.
Most Overrated Card:
This was touted as the red Snapcaster Mage. It is not. It ends up being much too situational and dependent on the opponent’s actions to be powerful unlike Snapcaster Mage that allows the player to build their deck to optimize its power. Flash is a more powerful mechanic than first strike on a 2/1 body as well as on a value cards like Snapcaster Mage and Dire Fleet Daredevil. I would say Abbot of Keral Keep is still the best red 2 drop in a vacuum with Young Pyromancer passing it in certain situations.
This was clearly intended to see cube play when it was printed in Battlebond. However, it is just fine. There was some rumbling about it being excellent, but its not. That’s all.
This card might no have had a lot of community hype going into it, but it certainly had our hype. The card is good, but it tends to not do much on curve. It is great in the later stages of the game when you have 1G always open to copy creatures but pushing back casting spells to have the mana usually feels like the wrong decision. It also requires a further commitment to the board to be able to utilize the ability. It would be significantly more powerful as an enchantment or artifact with the same ability, like Mirrorworks but for creatures and cheaper, but that would provide worse gameplay. This section is about a card being overrated and this card was; however, I deeply enjoy the gameplay it provides and would hate to see it as an enchantment that would promote less interaction and tradeoffs in games.
This card is awful. It is on this list because there were some that had hopes for it. Every year there is a planeswalker that is completely overblown to how bad it is. Jace takes it this year.
Being a mox gets everyone’s attention. Mox Amber did just that. But most of the hype came from players wanting to break it in some form. I do think a legendary themed cube might have use for this card and it might even be good, but it should be completely ignored by everyone else.
Most Underrated Card:
Chart a Course is a two mana divination for very little work and with always having the option to cast before combat and get the discard for the times you want it. Players always underestimate how good card draw and card selection is. Chart a Course should be a mainstay in cubes as the best two mana blue draw spell now that designers are aware of its power.
Random effects have always been seen as a negative in Magic. However, they have been getting better and better. Rowdy Crew has reached that point where, even if the effect is random, the expected value is so high that it is worth the card. Rowdy Crew is a four mana 3/3 that nets a card. But better than that, it allows for the choice in when to cast. This optimizes the odds of discarding cards you do not want and keeping cards you do want. So, we can count that as more than a card. Combine with the fact that a deck is forty or so percent land and it can be cast after keeping some lands in hand, it becomes a four mana 5/5 that discarded two lands and drew three cards. Very few were on the Rowdy Crew hype train when it come out and, surprisingly, it still does not see many lists even though it probably deserves it. (Rekindling Phoenix being in standard for the same mana cost probably had something to do with it.)
This Saheeli looked underwhelming when it first got revealed. Many thought it would be weak like its predecessor, including me. However, it performs excellently. Turns out having two plus abilities that are useful and feed on each other are enough to make this card good without an artifact theme to back it up. With the theme, it is incredible.
Two mana 3/1 with indestructible. I do not know how people are not all over cards like this when they are spoiled. It does not matter the life cost of activating the ability. It is an aggro card. We will see if the community has learned next time such a card is printed.
Value and card selection are good; Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus too. Treasure Map is a mix of all. This one should have been obvious and even we missed it. Not only is it a good card, but it plays extremely well and is a winner of a latter category. The only down side is that it is colorless and can be an auto pack 1 pick 1 at lower power levels.
Most Powerful Card:
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has dominated standard for a year now. It has made its way onto modern. The card is incredibly powerful to the surprise of no one. The only question for designers on whether to run it is if they prefer it over Venser, the Sojourner. Their power levels are very close in most cube environments so designers can pick according to the gameplay they would like to see more.
Colorless four mana walker that draws cards, generates value on board, and has high loyalty. Most years it would be an auto win for this category. It is a testament to the power of Teferi that it did not win this year.
To reiterate on the honorable mention for Treasure Map above, value, card selection, Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus are good. Treasure Map is a mix of it all while being colorless. Designers should consider it good with or as an alternative to Sensei’s Divining Top if they want a different second copy, find it too powerful, or they do not like Top’s gameplay.
I would not be surprised if this is a permanent inclusion for high powered cubes. It is the best aggressive white three drop ever printed, and it will be hard for that to ever change. Any high-powered cube that wants white wheenie to be successful will include History of Benalia.
Best Build-Arounds for Gameplay:
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog does everything that a cool build-around should. It promises power with its gigantic 7/7 trampling body for four, it has extremely cool art that makes you want to play the card, and it clearly asks something of the drafter while not being too hard to accomplish. Knowing how we love Sigil of the Empty Throne, it is unsurprising that Traxos takes this category this year. Artifact themed cubes should consider this card.
Three mana artifact ramp that produce a single mana of any color with upside is exactly where I like my artifact ramp to be. Think Cultivator’s Caravan. Dragon’s Hoard does exactly that while having a ridiculously high upside of drawing multiple cards in a game. A deck with just five or six dragons can turn it into a bomb. The fact that it does not look like much also draws in some additional points as it rewards players that are able to evaluate it properly. Unfortunately, even 360 cubes might require fifteen or more dragons in their list to be able to run it and have a drafter be able to reliably acquire enough for it to be great.
The Cycle of Legendary Sorceries (only the white, blue, black, and red)
This cycle is extremely cool and, while two of them are awful, the rest of them are great. If they were printed without the legendary sorcery component, they would regularly be seen in cubes. Which is why I like them. The power rewards the extreme difficulty of casting them and asks drafts to commit heavily towards the legendary theme. Cubes with such themes should be running these four cards if they are not already. Designers that might want to implement such themes can look at these as a great reason to do it.
Wackiest Playable Card:
It is hard to remember what Path of Mettle does even right after you read it. It does such a range of different things and it check for such a specific collection of keywords that it is in contention for the weirdest card of the year with Grothama, All-Devouring. However, it is actually playable and offers interesting gameplay. If you can get passed the weird collection of abilities, much like Bow of Nylea, it offers good gameplay.
Flipping coins to double power and draw cards while having partner with is already wacky. The fact that each flipping works for both and they continue until you lose makes this pair of cards extremely unique. Zndrsplt is the better half, but since one draws the other they are both worth running if you are in the market for something weird.
Unfortunately, I do not have enough date from playing with this card to determine if it provides excellent gameplay or not. It has been interesting so far, but it could prove to be solvable later. However, it is certainly wacky and only printable in silver-boarder. If you are not opposed to silver-boarder, this is as whacky as it gets while still maintaining a competitive environment.
Brass’s Bounty is by far the least wacky on this list. It has shown to be surprisingly playable. Designers should know when they want such an expensive card for the effect of doubling available mana, but they should run it if it is what they are looking for. It has performed well in my playing.
Leads to the Craziest Games:
Zndrsplt draws so many cards on an ability that is not a may ability. Okaun does not have trample and is inconsistent in its power so it often does no damage. This leads to some insane almost decking games that can come down to just a few coinflips going the other way. Designers that like Smokestack and Luminarch Ascension should try running these two cards.
This card often becomes a giant clock to the opponent even if it has not flipped yet. The threat of it flipping into three damage a turn is enough that it often causes the opponent to have to completely change their gameplay and try to end the game quickly. Similarly, to how Luminarch Ascension forces attacks to prevent counters. It is certainly worse than Outpost Siege but more worth it in gameplay.
Turns out forcing players to do things in certain turns forces unusual actions to happen (such a surprise considering the two cards just mentioned above and cards like Luminarch Ascension and Smokestack, the titans of this category.) Contraptions are great at doing that and can often force unusual circumstances that lead to crazy games. If a designer is okay going a little into silver-boarder, contraptions can be an exciting inclusion.
Planeswalker of the Year:
Three mana, does not lead to insane advantages, and benefits from being a build-around but is not absolutely necessary. These are the ideal characteristics to a planeswalker. Sarkhan Fireblood had won this award the moment he was printed.
Saheeli, the Gifted has been excellent in terms of power and gameplay. It places its power not solely in raw card advantage but in the flexibility its plus abilities have. It would be better if it did not slowly generate card advantage in its thopters and was more like Sarkhan Fireblood but compared to most four mana walkers, it is near the top.
They have the uniqueness of the partner mechanic on planeswalkers and do powerful things but are not too oppressive. Good reasons for inclusion of expensive planeswalkers. Most cubes cannot afford to run two somewhat lack luster planeswalkers at six mana, but massive cubes should look into them.
Biggest Disappointment Given Expectation:
This magus was already expected. Just like this year, where we will get the green one of the cycle that will most probably be the magus version of Channel, Eureka or Natural Order. However, the white one was clearly going to be Balance and the number for it are just too high for cube. If the activated ability costed 2W, then it would be great. As is, it is just a missed opportunity.
This card suffers from the cycle printed in Ixalan being cool and appealing while most of its cycle in Rivals of Ixalan is also cool and appealing. It just feels like it was a missed opportunity for a cool card that was playable and still transformed into the same backside.
Biggest Success Given Expectation:
There are several success here. First, the symmetry in casting cost, miracle cost, and name with Entreat the Angels. Second, it is a black ability, unlike Entreat the Angels which could really go in different colors with some flavor changes. Lastly, it is not only playable, but it is not overpowered and feels less oppressive than Entreat the Angels. It requires some set up so drawing it early is worse or even uncastable while the big threat of drawing it late still exists and it is more castable when not using the miracle ability than its predecessor. WotC should learn from this success (including the success of other returned mechanics in C18) and continue giving us more throwbacks to old mechanics and old cards.
Players had been wanting a good Vraska and a good BG planeswalker for a while. Although we recently got yet another Vraska in Guilds of Ravnica that I would rather run, Vraska, Relic Seeker is the most powerful and faithfully succeeded in satisfying its fans. It is the best BG walker to choose if the most power is desired.
Ixalan transform enchantments & artifacts
Anytime transform cards make a comeback, the expectation is high. Ixalan was no different and it certainly delivered. The transformation into lands was a huge success for most of the fifteen cards printed. Certainly only half or so are cubeable, but that is to be expected from any collection of cards with a particular mechanic. They play excellent and should be considered by all cube designers.
The long-awaited implementation of contraptions was a big success. Unfortunately, since it was done in silver-border, most players and designers have stayed away from it. Personally, I think it is a big mistake and we should see more cubes with contraptions. It does require a large amount of design space, which will always keep too many cubes from having it, similarly to how madness sees limited cube play, but it should be present in more cubes than it currently is.
Our Favorite Card:
Sagas are excellent. The Flame of Keld ask a lot of a deck to warrant inclusion and plays very differently from most cards but creates extremely intense moments. Combine those two and it is obvious why this the card of the year. The next time Sagas come back, and they certainly will, designers should be on the lookout for the ones like The Flame of Keld.
As stated above, an extremely playable three costing mana rock is always great. It helps that this one makes you want to play with more cool dragons and has the very real reward of drawing cards. It is a cool build around that surprised most players on how well it plays. It would be nice to see more mana rocks like this in the future.
What this card asks for in its alternate win con is entertaining, but impossible. If it required a different creature type, it would be more realistic but then it might also lose some of its appeal. Always be on the lookout for alternate win con cards, especially the ones that do something else along side it that is already powerful.
Flip walkers will always grab attention when they are printed. They are excellent for gameplay and provide the best gameplay for planeswalkers and it will be especially disappointing if they ever print one that is not cubeable. However, that does not mean they should win this award automatically. It will take a special one to be able to take this award and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is a little shy of that. Maybe when they print an Ugin it will win this award.
Worst New Mechanic: Historic
The year was excellent for mechanics which is why there are no honorable mentions for this award. There might not have been one if history had not been so lackluster. Usually, I like mechanics that just keyword some form of trigger or status of a card, like constellation or devoid. It makes it easier to talk about such triggers or statuses. However, the range of different cards that work for historic is just too great. It makes it more complicated for new players than it needed to for cube purposes as missing the occasional saga with a historic card will be common place in a few years. The mechanic was fine for limited play, but this award is all about cube.
Best New Mechanic: Sagas
Sagas play close to a planeswalker where both players know what the next activation will be and puts a limit on how much value you can get out of it.
Honorable Mentions: Contraptions
This is the third time contraptions have come up in these awards. It clearly is a good mechanic, just not as good as Sagas; at least not during its first implementation. Maybe next time they return, it will be even better than sagas.
Legendary Sorceries are just cool. Their casting restriction makes them hard to fit into cubes, but they are interesting and fun when they do. It would be nice to see more in the future that are associated to different planeswalkers.
Worse Card for Gameplay:
Frustrating cards that have no way to play around like Squee, the Immortal have no place in cubes. They are always irrelevant or oppressive and never produce interesting gameplay. Avoid such cards like the plague.
This was a surprise that it turned out so powerful. Our review of it was more hopeful as we thought it would get some value when cast and offer meaning full decisions of when to be cast. Turns out it plays out extremely linear and offers little decision-making while being extremely frustrating to play against. Reminds me of Wurmcoil Engine
Best Card for Gameplay:
The winner of what could be considered the most prestigious award on this list surprised me at first. But drawing more cards, filtering your deck, and having access to more mana all in a reasonable and not overpowered way simply leads to better games of magic. The colorless aspect can hurt it in lower power levels where it is a pack 1 pick 1. However, it also rewards players that can recognize and fully utilize its power. It gives many decisions during a game that greatly rewards better players while still being completely playable by weaker players. Cards with similar qualities, like Vendilion Clique or Thoughtseize, are some of the best cards for cube already and will continue to be.
Dark-Dweller Oracle offers late game on a two-costing creature. It is never dead of the top and allows for some meaningful decision during the game. It also plays well at all points of the game. The cheap activation cost allows for the ability to use it to come up more often but comes at a tradeoff to holding it open since it is not free. Dark-Dweller Oracle warrants consideration from all designers.
I have been extremely surprised by Admiral’s Order. It plays well and the inclusion of it in a cube means that players must be wary of its presence and choose whether to play around it or not. Much like the presence of cards like Stiffle or Force Spike. It also punishes players for doing certain things at instant speed when there was no need for it and offers a good teaching point to new players. Designers should consider if they can spare space in their three mana counterspells.
Trading Post is awesome. Lots of choices where one is always relevant as well as providing a mana sink in late game situations. Retrofitter Foundry is like Trading Post. It is a little narrower in the requirements to activate its abilities which does place it lower than Trading Post, but it plays well, too. Artifacts that are templated with the four abilities that build on each other and are properly casted will always be worth consideration; and, if designed well with relevant abilities, they will always be worth inclusion in cubes.