Category: Dom Harvey

Commander 2013 Card Spotlight

By: Dom Harvey


This is a clear staple for even the tightest power-max Cubes. While it requires a hefty mana investment to remove something ‘permanently’, the tempo boost makes this more than good enough most of the time. Typically the most flexible removal spells are sorcery speed; of the few exceptions, Beast Within carries a significant drawback and the most restrictive Abrupt Decay is a multi-format all star. Unexpectedly Absent will be a solid role player in Legacy and a valuable tool in Cube.


The choice of whether to include this card says a lot about the philosophy behind your Cube. Judging solely by power level, Nemesis is incredible. Does it lead to fun games, though? If you can stock the Cube with enough answers, or if racing against it proves to be competitive, maybe. Being under the gun against an untouchable 3/1 and forced to find a way to deal 20 in time can be exciting; when equipment and the like enters the picture, it isn’t.


This one is hard to evaluate. If played on curve it compounds any advantage you have, acting as an ersatz Bitterblossom. More often, your 2-drop will get killed or face an unprofitable trade and you’ll wish you had some guy – any guy – instead.


This is an excellent defensive card for any midrange black deck; either the opponent kills it on sight and still loses a guy to the Snake, or it lives and presents them with that same conundrum every turn. Note that it triggers on each upkeep; if you have a way to cash in a token for an instant-speed effect, it gets out of hand quickly.

Notable synergies include Attrition, Contamination, Mortarpod, Goblin Bombardment, Rusalkas


We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. A splashable, 3-mana mass removal spell that scales as you want?! The life loss can be an issue, and it’s much worse in the occasional ‘Damnation your one creature away’ line, but those are downsides I’m happy to live with. It greatly increases the value of creatures that live through it but which would die to a normal sweeper: T2 Tarmogoyf T3 Deluge will be a common play in Legacy, to the distress of Mothers of Runes everywhere.


Sulfuric Vortex is one of the scariest cards in Cube, and so a turbo-charged version of it sounds good on paper. The appeal of Vortex is that it’s perfectly costed for its effect; it fits neatly into the ideal start of the decks that want it, applying continuous and unstoppable pressure. Those decks have a much harder time mustering 5 mana, and when they do it’s for an immediate game ender like Thundermaw Hellkite or Zealous Conscripts, which fit in a much wider range of decks. Witch Hunt is a narrow tool that’s not really wanted by its target market; still, I think this is more than just a watered down Havoc Festival.


Restore is a home run: great art and flavour married to a cheap and exploitable effect. It doesn’t slot easily into your normal singleton Cube, however. If you have maybe 15 cards that it can return with any regularity (fetches, Terramorphic Expanse/Evolving Wilds, Wasteland/Strip Mine, Horizon Canopy), it’s going to rot in your hand or, more likely, your sideboard. For this to not be worse than Life from the Loam, it has to be a better Rampant Growth when it matters (that can randomly deliver a one-two punch with Strip Mine or bring back a manland for a second bout); when you double up on fetchlands, this starts to look realistic.

Card Spotlight: Master of Waves

By: Dom Harvey

Now that we’ve had time to digest the set, the consensus seems to be that Theros was a very disappointing set for Cube. To a degree this was inevitable – our second trip to Ravnica spoiled us as much as the first, so Theros was bound to be weak by comparison – but the more fundamental problem is that the set’s mechanics are inherently poorly suited to a Limited format that isn’t designed with them in mind. Heroic requires a density of targeted non-removal instants/sorceries that’s wildly unrealistic and gives you very little in return – how much needs to go right for Fabled Hero to be better than Silverblade Paladin or Mirran Crusader? On the other side, Monstrosity stands on its own but amounts to flavour text in a fast format with plentiful cheap removal where the other threats have much better base stats. Devotion awkwardly straddles this line: its effectiveness scales with the support you give it, but you can’t justify doing so if you’re trying to power-max. However, devotion does enable interesting mini-archetypes in Cubes looking for cards to build around, and today’s card is a great example:

Master of Waves

Master of Waves is a fascinating design, pushing not only devotion but tribal and token subthemes; it’s rare that we see crossover between these, let alone all of them brought together so neatly in one card. Some of the most fun ways to exploit it will involve touching on more than one of these; for now, the more obvious applications:

Master of the Pearl Trident Coralhelm Commander

Fans of the little fish that could have received some sweet gifts recently. If the card plays a role in Constructed, this is probably it. Outside of tribal or other exotic Cubes this won’t come up, though Coralhelm Commander is a fine man by himself.

Plumeveil Wistful Selkie Nightveil Specter

An obvious worry about devotion (and ‘Swamps matter’ and the like) is that it promotes committing to a plan early and never deviating: drafting becomes an algorithm to sort by mana symbols. Hybrid improves a Cube’s overall colour balance as part of a gold section and lets you take a risk on devotion without wasting a pick if it falls through. These three are the best of bunch, turning Master into 10 power for 4 mana as well as being fine cards in their own right.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner Spiketail Drakeling Vendilion Clique

Master’s biggest weakness is that it’s swept away by a thin breeze but leaves you without mana to save it. Kira, Drakeling, and Clique are preemptive safeguards that make finding and resolving an answer more necessary and yet more difficult.

Voidmage Prodigy Patron Wizard Azami, Lady of Scrolls Vedalken Æthermage

Master cares about Tribal in more ways than one! Conveniently, cards that care about Wizards tend to be very colour-intensive; Patron Wizard seems almost custom-built to team with Master. If your deck is set up to enable Master you want to see it every game, so Wizardcycling is at its most valuable here.

Void Stalker Shapesharer Flickerwisp

Let’s not forget Elementals either (well, not yet)! The P/T bonus on one creature may be marginal, but blinking or copying a Master isn’t. Speaking of which:

Phantasmal Image Sakashima's Student

While they don’t contribute to the initial devotion count, Clones chaining Masters will bury the opponent very quickly. They also provide valuable insurance, with each Master keeping the other’s spawn alive after it’s gone.

Thistledown Liege Grand Architect Glen Elendra Liege

Those  icons have never looked better. EOT Liege into 15 power? T3 Grand Architect, T4 Master -> Sundering Titan (or something ‘harmless’ like Sigil of Distinction for 10)? Seems reasonable.

Æther Adept Threads of Disloyalty

No wider theme here, just solid proactive plays that halt the opponent’s start and give Master what he wants.

Jace Beleren

Leading off a T3 Jace, Master lends a good board presence for defending him or applying pressure. If Master isn’t answered immediately, Jace cements your lock on the game while the opponent struggles to stay alive.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

Surprise! Adding 10 power to the board at your convenience is brutal when they don’t see it coming; and the beauty of Teferi is that they can’t do anything about it even if they do.

Barrin, Master Wizard

Barrin and Master were born to be together: Barrin boosts the devotion count on-curve, with Master giving him fuel to hose down the opponent’s board. If the game goes long, you can cash in a token to return Master and start the whole show again.


I don’t think this counts as saving the best for last, which says a lot about this card’s potential. Opposition into Master locks down four permanents a turn by itself, even before you account for any earlier plays. It’s nice that this is virtually immune to sorcery-speed removal as well.

Beyond this you have the usual interactions with Goblin Bombardment, Crystal Shard, Overrun effects, and so on. Competition among blue 4-drops, let alone blue cards in general, is very fierce, but if you’re willing to devote the effort to make it work the rewards are massive.

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Rethinking Red

By: Dom Harvey

Recently I’ve been exploring various ideas for new Cubes, and as part of that I wanted to rethink the assumptions we often make about each colour to see what interesting options are available. In a lot of Cubes, Red is probably the colour with the least variety: you can make a R/X aggro deck, you can sprinkle a few burn spells in your control deck, and – if your Cube supports it (and not many do) – you can once in a while draft the Wildfire ramp deck. Meanwhile, every other colour has both more things and more interesting things going on; only white really has the same problem, but it still manages to exhibit greater diversity. I wanted to try revamping red by pushing a bunch of themes and staying true to the design philosophy of prioritizing interesting cards/game states over cards which are powerful in a vacuum, without crippling the red aggro decks that help maintain that end of the spectrum in Cube. I don’t expect all of these changes to hold up, but hopefully some of these ideas will be useful.

My main objectives:

  • Move away from ‘mindless’ aggro decks by including cards that enable aggro-control or aggro-combo.
  • Let red play a bigger role in control and combo decks.
  • Find – and if needed/possible, double up on – cards that bridge multiple archetypes and/or colours.

Burning-Tree EmissaryPriest of Urabrask

My first move was to triple up on a card that I’ve been drawn to ever since I first entertained the idea of duplication: Burning-Tree Emissary. It does everything I want to do with this project: it works in multiple archetypes (Storm, aggro) and colours (fits perfectly well in G/X aggro or midrange) while being a good card in its own right, and creates interesting decisions in design, draft, and gameplay. If you draft two of these, for instance, weaker cards that can be played off RG start to become more appealing than objectively stronger cards; and in-game, there’s often a tension between deploying your board as fast as possible as Emissary wants you to do and playing around sweepers/reserving spells for storm cards; and Emissary by itself is very weak, so there’s a trade-off between the fast starts it enables and its weakness later in the game. In design, you have to balance the distribution of 2-drops between those that can be cast of RG, those that can’t, and the Emissaries themselves. For a card that has such a damaging effect on Standard, it’s surprisingly interesting in Cube.

Storm EntityGrapeshotHaze of RagePast in FlamesReforge the SoulMana Flare

Storm is a controversial subtheme; even some of the people most open-minded about experimenting in Cube are reluctant to try Storm, on the grounds that it’s unreliable, doesn’t lead to interactive games, and requires loading up on cards that have no use outside of that one archetype (thereby also letting people go on auto-pilot in the draft). I think some of those concerns are unfounded, and in any case they can be addressed by approaching the topic carefully. Burning-Tree Emissary, for instance, is fantastic with both Storm Entity and Grapeshot, and there’s an interesting tension between it and Haze of Rage – do I play out all my guys to maximize the power spread, or do I hold some back to boost storm? The fact that these cards can be played in aggro decks stops them being narrow and makes those decks more complex. The best Storm card, however, is undoubtedly:

Empty the Warrens

Empty the Warrens is good enough that I want multiple copies. Not only is it a good Storm finishes that nonetheless encourages interaction (a small or medium-sized Empty can be fended off by blockers, and there are enough sweepers to make it risky), but it’s also a nice curve-topper in an aggro-combo R/X deck. It also has a lot of incidental synergies and crossover with other archetypes. Consider a turn 4 of unsuspend Rift Bolt, Emissary, Empty; now consider it with a Carrion Feeder/Goblin Bombardment, cards that boost power (battle cry, Anthems) or anything that cares about having multiple creatures (battalion, Hellrider). It’s also rather nice with:

Greater Gargadon

Greater Gargadon is another card that does a ton of things well without getting boring. It’s a 1-drop for the red aggro decks that isn’t a dumb animal like Jackal Pup or Goblin Patrol (the dynamic a Gargadon ticking down introduces to a game is fascinating, and from both sides no less), it’s a sac outlet for various shenanigans, it’s the perfect finisher for the Wildfire ramp decks and in concert with sweepers in general (to say nothing of Upheaval and Balance), it can get people out of nowhere, and the 10 CMC can be surprisingly relevant.

Heretic's PunishmentBlazing ShoalBlast of GeniusRiddle of LightningErratic Explosion

This is one of the more outlandish twists I want to try. It’s more shallow than some of the other subthemes I’m trying, but it slots nicely into place alongside them: the miracle/library manipulation subtheme (giving targets for these cards – e.g. Thunderous Wrath – and setting them up respectively), the Sneak Attack/Through the Breach/Show and Tell/Eureka/Flash/reanimator package that wants high-CMC fatties, cycling/evoke cards, Blasphemous Act (more on that soon) and so on. It creates some awesome games at little cost: even Blazing Shoal, the card with most blowout potential, forces decisions: showing it once puts the fear of God into the opponent in future games, making combat a nightmare, and the investment required to ‘go for it’ is substantial enough that it requires setup and good timing.

Boros ReckonerBlasphemous Act

Boros Reckoner is exactly the type of card I’m looking for. It’s an excellent card in its own right, and it’s best against the type of decks that would want a Boros Reckoner, meaning that doubling or tripling up on it doesn’t make red aggro decks much more powerful at the expense of other strategies. In addition, the combos with the card are all nice against control decks as well, meaning that there are multiple dimensions to the card depending on how you want to use it. Its mana cost is one of the subtle things that makes the card so interesting: it rewards people for committing to red or white (or both) while being flexible enough to see play in other decks (in particular, the fact that it’s good at most stages of the game, especially if you’re using it to do silly things, means that it isn’t as much of a hindrance). The card is also just a ton of fun – it’s inexplicably satisfying to One-Hit KO your opponent by loading damage onto a Boros Reckoner.

Cards that combine well with Boros Reckoner include include Devastating Dreams, Sickening Dreams, Firestorm, Kindle the Carnage, Blasphemous Act, Chandra Nalaar, Spitebellows andRolling Earthquake.

Faithless Looting

The final red card I want in multiples is Faithless Looting. This is what ties all of these loose ends together. It’s unremarkable in the sense that everyone knows how good it is, but it performs a much-needed function and does it as efficiently as you could ask for. Having Looting gives you the freedom to take chances with some of the niche cards listed here, as you can dig for them when they’re wanted and cash them in when they aren’t.

Seismic Assault

Lastly, Seismic Assault. I don’t need to go into how good it is with Life from the Loam, but it’s easy to overlook its interactions with cards like Land Tax, Meloku, the Clouded Mirror, UpheavalSunder and Memory Jar. By itself, it’s a recurring source of uncounterable, instant-speed damage that allows you to get value out of dead lands. Flame Jab  is a neat card in the same vein that also helps build up a storm count.

Assorted Cards:
Flamekin Harbinger sets up Changeling Berserker/Titan, Vengevine, Avenger of Zendikar, Wolfbriar Elemental, Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, Spitebellows, Mirror Entity, Reveillark and more.

Changeling Berserker fits into any tribal sub-theme you’re pushing, is great with 187 creatures, lets you tuck things away to insure against sweepers.

Devastating Summons  is a cool top-end card that’s cheap enough to be incorporated into a storm chain and to set up a Summons-sweeper turn. The fact that it scales at will makes it very skill-intensive.

Chandra, the Firebrand gets a bad rap, but can be used to set up some truly sick plays.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an obvious tribal theme waiting to be explored in the form of Goblins, and less obvious ones like Elementals or Giants, and I’m sure there are many ideas I haven’t even considered yet. As I started tinkering with my Cube’s red section, one obvious problem arose: how can I properly support these themes without diluting the pool of cards necessary for red aggro or swelling the size of the Cube? To a degree this can be done by cutting some ‘redundant’ burn spells or some of the weaker creatures, but this will only go so far. There is a solution, however: give those cards to other colours!

Figure of DestinyRakdos CacklerFigure of Destiny

By doing this you improve not only aggressive decks in those other colours, but red aggro as well! The downsides of this approach also don’t apply as much to aggro: the problem, if you want to call it that, is that duplicating cards decreases variety, but aggressive creatures in Cube are largely interchangeable. Sure, you don’t want to switch out Grim Lavamancer for another vanilla 1-drop, but is your play experience really enhanced by having a Rakdos Cackler and a Jackal Pup instead of two Cacklers? The other worry is that the red section becomes bloated, taking up a disproportionate amount of space in the Cube. This is a legitimate concern, but it’s just as relevant for ordinary colour organization: we should adhere to colour balance in Cube construction not for its own sake, but because we think that it’s likely to ensure that all colours are draftable and no one colour dominates.

This may be an intuitive method of grouping cards, but it doesn’t acknowledge basic principles of deck construction. Are Carnophage and Griselbrand ever likely to be in your deck together? Not if your deck has a prayer of winning a match. A Swamp that just cast a Carnophage is about as likely to cast Griselbrand as it is to cast the 12th-pick Qasali Pridemage in your sideboard. How does it make sense to treat the two as the same in an important way when building your Cube? If very different red cards are each being put to their own ends in a wide range of decks, the fact that they have the same mana symbol in the corner is irrelevant. This is a larger topic best saved for another time, but I think it’s worth mentioning now so that we can consider these ideas free from ingrained prejudices.

I hope some of these ideas prove useful for you; even if you don’t end up adopting any of them for your own Cubes, the main take-away from this is that there is a lot of largely unexplored design space to play around in, both for red and in general. Thanks for reading!

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