Dom's Stream of Consciousness

I remain in awe of how we ended up with Core Sets named after years that weren't [current year] but I'm glad we don't have to worry about that here.
Apparently the reason why they name Core Sets a year ahead but keep Commander products on the current year has to do with how big-box retailers like Target and Walmart stock their shelves. If a product has a name with the past year, those stores will tend to stop stocking the product and might even put it on clearance. For a specialty product like Commander decks, that's fine because by the time the year rolls over, there shouldn't be more Commander decks in the first place. However, for the Core Sets, they stay in standard until the September of the year after they are released, so if they were named with the current year, they would be removed from shelves 9 months too early.

Dom Harvey


As well as the perennial Vintage Cube, Magic Online now frequently has a new novelty Cube that's up for a week or two (and may return eventually). These vary in both premise (Set Cubes, Format Cubes, specific colour combos like Temur Cube or a mechanical focus like Proliferate Cube) and origin (some designers are community figures with or without a Cube background, some are competitive players, some are game designers themselves) and have to meet the requirements of any online Cube - enough cards and variety that they compel people drafting a lot to keep coming back for more but accessible enough that the average user can stumble through a draft and still have fun. Not all of these Cubes pull it off but I like to dabble in each of them to get ideas and hopefully enjoy it for what it is.

The Pioneer Cube from this week has a clearly defined card pool deep enough to offer a range of themes to build around and enough redundancy on their core effects. Its creator is Tom LaPille, a game designer who used to work at WotC and got there after making some of the earliest Cube content in the late 2000s - you can find the list here, his writeup here, and Ryan Overturf's overview of the Cube here.

I was only able to fit in a few drafts but I enjoyed them a lot. The drafts felt much more 'on rails' than Cubes aim for around here - you stay open early to see what colours you can move into or take some flashy cards and look for reasons to cut their colours, and once your colours are settled you know the basic shape of your deck - but that's not inherently a bad thing. There's something very satisfying about imagining the Platonic ideal of a certain archetype in your head and seeing if it comes together - and then battling against a perfect example of another deck. Look at this:


I don't know if I could draft a deck like this in one of my Cubes - most of the pieces are quite generic and don't have higher aspirations. Maybe because of that, the sum of these parts feels more coherent as all the cards work towards a shared goal (while retaining their inherent flexibility). This deck cruised to an easy 3-0 and was a blast to play.

Something less conventional:

I'd wondered how to support a blue tempo deck that wasn't obnoxious and then I ended up with this in a Cube where it's not even explicitly supported! Pteramander and Faerie Vandal both impressed a lot - Vandal could become a substantial threat early but required some sequencing sacrifices to do it, while Pteramander would get a few points in early and then suddenly become the biggest threat around at your convenience. I had overlooked Vandal in particular with how powerful Throne of Eldraine was overall but I already like Jolrael and Irencrag Pyromancer so I'm glad I found backup for those. Having this many modal spells as well as other mana sinks like Spectral Sailor and Gadwick or just playing a threat and holding up mana for counters meant that flooding was rarely a bad thing.

The real star of both of these decks was Tempted by the Oriq, which is insanely powerful without contributing to the problem of punishing expensive cards more than cheap ones. My final game with the UB deck involved letting Liliana, the Last Hope resolve and then tick up so that I could steal + ultimate it immediately!

A cautionary tale came from this deck:

I had very high hopes for this deck but had to work to get my one win with it. The problem I kept running into was that, in addition to most of the threats in the format naturally lining up well against you, most of the removal in Pioneer is (only/) strong against cheap creatures - I had effectively three copies of the same card between Glass Casket, Silkwrap, and Suspension Field, while my opponents could fill their decks with Magma Sprays and Fiery Impulses that felt very targeted at decks like mine.

I was able to board into a bigger configuration with Mobilized District, Archangel Avacyn, and Wingmate Roc that I found more interesting regardless but this deck was a good reminder that it's easy to obsolete small creatures by accident with modern design trends.

By contrast, I picked up my other trophy with a delightful WG Tokens deck that I don't have the list/log saved for but I did get some screenshots:


Dom Harvey


The Modern Horizons sets threaten to blow the roof off any format they are legal in - Pauper is caught in a storm once again and Legacy is even more warped than it used to be. After hemming and hawing over how to rebuild my Cube, I decided to just wait until after MH2 because I expected such a high quality and quantity of new cards that I'd want to build around.

Curiously, the set gave me a great haul overall but not in the areas I expected. When I heard about the archetypes for some colour pairs - discard in UB/BR, delirium in UR - I was excited to get some juiced incentives to properly support those decks (or, for themes like counters in WG, to double down even harder). Instead, those themes were invisible at rare/mythic and don't really have flagship cards in the set (meanwhile there's a LOT for any Pauper/Peasant Cubes or just at a lower power level). The big hits are mostly stand-alones, support more narrow themes, or open up new ground altogether.

Let's start with the flagship cycle from the set:

Free spells are prone to warp a format especially if you can play them in high quantities (as reflected in any older Constructed format). This doesn't happen in the same way in Cube but here you might have a more ideological and specific objection: if Solitude is the only free removal spell in your Cube, do you want players to have to think about the threat of it at all points in a game or should the shields being down mean something? Free interaction is more obnoxious for players who aren't as familiar with the contents of your Cube, where these clear rules help to level the playing field.

The sorcery speed Incarnations avoid this issue and are the most appealing to me on the whole. Fury can still lead to big swings ala Pyrokinesis but the timing restriction makes that feel less obnoxious. The body is highly relevant, giving an incentive to wait until you can hardcast it.

The real star here is Grief. Discard is a core part of black's colour identity but the options for Cube vary widely in power level (the latest Memory Leak/Doomfall riff all the way to Hymn to Tourach) and the cheap options are limited - your low-curve black deck can't run a playset of Thoughtseize unless your Cube does - making it hard for discard to be a consistent feature of games. Grief is a strong discard effect that ties into the sacrifice/reanimation stuff in black, blink in white (such as the Ephemerate combo that hasn't actually caused the sky to fall in Modern yet), creature search/recursion in green etc without some of the frustrating play patterns from other formats.

The artifact theme in the set pulls you in many directions. The Modular stuff is underwhelming outside a Cube or section that's really dedicated to that (Arcbound Shikari aside). By contrast, the various artifact token themes are nicely woven together and Academy Manufactor in particular is a brilliant incentive card that I'm excited to take early and build around.

There are also compelling artifact 'glue' cards that give you a sufficient density of artifacts or reward you for getting there. One thing I found when pushing artifact themes before was that it was easy to find stuff that made or cared about artifacts but high-impact artifacts themselves were in surprisingly short supply. Nettlecyst is exactly the kind of thing I wanted, especially with the Thopter tokens and such these decks tend to create. Living weapon (or equivalents like Barbed Spike) is key for the WR Equipment deck that seems to be pushed in every recent set and hopefully can make the leap to Cube while opening up some less mainstream Blink interactions etc

Breya's Apprentice has to compete with Pia Nalaar or Thopter Engineer even in its specific weight class but the better stats on the main body as well as being an artifact itself gives it the edge.

Urza's Saga is... quite something. It excels in any shell that doesn't have tight coloured mana requirements but I see it as more of a lands payoff than anything else - there's finally a good land to Elvish Reclaimer for etc that isn't far too restrictive. Even decks that don't have a goal in mind for it or other stuff it ties into will be glad to play it as long as they have anything to get with the final chapter.

Token themes have received less explicit support in green than you'd expect over the years and MH2 makes up for lost time while providing a perfect tie-in to sacrifice themes. The squirrel gang in particular hits the sweet spot of making me want to take and build around them while being fine in a normal deck with a minor token/sacrifice commitment. Ravenous Squirrel feels like a love letter to me personally.

Verdant Command is frustrating - I'd love a green Raise the Alarm or this implementation with some more general options versus this random word salad - maybe Squirrel Dealer is what I need (everyone loves Squirrels, right?). Sylvan Anthem is exciting as a card that a green stompy/creature deck will love but which reaches its ceiling if you push tokens hard.

Partners in crime in Modern and Legacy, I love both of these for Cube. Ragavan is comfortably the best 2/1 for 1 ever printed but there's a cap on how easily those cards can run away with the game in an era of design where tokens clutter up the board with no effort and lots of cheap creatures have 3+ toughness. I've written before about how using your opponent's cards adds a unique variety to games (and taps into the distinction between synergy and good stuff) and there are more reasons to care about Treasure tokens than ever before. You can use strong equipment to help your 2/1s connect but there the power lies in the equipment and you just want a warm body to carry it - Ragavan's trigger is a good enough prize that you care about connecting with it rather than something else and can justify using removal or other tricks to force it through. It's also a rare cheap creature that you're happy to have in non-aggressive red decks, which is crucial for giving the colour more diversity.

Likewise, Dragon's Rage Channeler is a mighty incentive in its own right and I only wish there were more good delirium payoffs to push that as a theme in red. It's a great early game-changer for a spellslinger deck but the eventual payoff for one mana makes it worth it in a midrange deck with a wider spread of card types.

I'm in love with these cheap, flexible spells that still push you in certain directions. The sacrifice and graveyard themes in BR/Bx are each more than deep enough to fill out a section but tying them together is a bigger challenge and cards like Bone Shards are exactly what you need there. Hard Evidence is SO much more interesting than the fifth best blue cantrip you see in low-curve Cubes and has fantastic play patterns.

I expect the Converge cards will look better on paper than they play in practice but the General jumps out as a sorely needed gold incentive.

The Reanimator subtheme feels highly contrived for Modern - if you think about the typical components for the deck (discard or Entomb effects; reanimation spells; chungus), the best example of each of those is in this set. This isn't an existing deck that was almost there - it's a MH2 Block Constructed deck. For Cube, these are welcome additions to a larger roster that allow for reanimator to coexist with other stuff in a healthy way. Maybe you like having big stuff like Dragonlord Atarka or Elesh Norn in a Cube and want to support reanimation in some capacity but don't want T2 Atarka/Elesh ending games on the spot - Persist lets you square that circle. Priest of Fell Rites is exactly the enabler + signpost card the deck needed in WB and I love how well it works with the 'small' reanimation in W like Reveillark.

Sadly few pickups for a counters theme unless you go hard but Bannerhide Krushok is a standout as a permanent and flexible imitation of Ghor-Clan Rampager that any green creature deck can use to good effect at least once.

Some modest additions to a discard/graveyard theme but not what I'd hoped for. Chancellor is fine but not a game-changer; Master of Death is a nice replacement for Squee if you want that effect as I think it should come with a cost of some kind and Master is often good to cast whereas Squee is just cardboard. Cabal Initiate is a fine riff on Putrid Imp that feels like less of a throwaway.

These two are the real money cards for a discard theme that crosses over into artifacts (and specific Food fights if that's your jam). I would squadron these (you take Asmo + get Cookbook or vice versa) - during preview season people assumed Asmo was the main draw and you were priced into playing a Cookbook but the frictionless resource conversion of Cookbook proved important especially with stuff like Urza or Constructs from Urza and its Saga, and I think this package is only worth it when both halves are compelling.

I'll highlight a few individual cards that stand out to me:

Yes, it's an obvious reskin, but that's why I like it - I don't think a more 'Jund-appropriate' mechanic would have landed as well and red's cheap creatures really appreciate the boost in power. If I want to fill out a green section with mana creatures I now have a lot of options I can double up/down on that have more depth than the next Llanowar Elves.

A home run that might as well have been printed for me personally. 'Would Eternal Dragon be playable in this Cube' is a good litmus test for a Cube's power level but most of my designs tend to come in a fair bit above that - I'm glad I get to have it all now

The perfect cog for a fetchland-heavy format - there's no reason this should be the sole preserve of blue and now other colour combos get to enjoy this (green with cards like Courser of Kruphix)

I've wanted Naban to be good for so long and this is a large and welcome stride in that direction

Card dump for stuff that intrigues me:

Liquimetal Torque
Sword of Hearth and Home
Kaldra Compleat
Myr Scrapling
Blazing Rootwalla
Arcbound Mouser
Arcbound Javelineer
Esper Sentinel
Tourach, Dread Cantor
Legion Vanguard
Bloodbraid Marauder
Ornithopter of Paradise
Dauthi Voidwalker
Sythis, Harvest's Hand
Goblin Anarchomancer
Territorial Kavu
Flametongue Yearling
Arcbound Shikari
Yusri, Fortune's Flame
Breathless Knight
Chrome Courier
Rift Sower
Scurry Oak
Arcbound Tracker
Timeless Witness
Foundation Breaker
Aeve, Progenitor Ooze
Young Necromancer
Specimen Collector
Garth One-Eye
Orchard Strider
Archfiend of Sorrows
Murktide Regent
Thought Monitor
Sojourner's Companion
Ethersworn Sphinx
Scion of Draco
Squirrel Sanctuary
Dress Down
Fae Offering
Abiding Grace
Unholy Heat
Faithless Salvaging
Calibrated Blast
Mine Collapse
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
Dakkon, Shadow Slayer
Geyadrone Dihada
Discerning Taste
Late to Dinner
Graceful Restoration


Staff member
That card dump reads to me 'every other card in the set'. Set has been great as it's own limited environment as well.
I think Timeless Dragon is the posterchild of the set for RiptideLab. It seems that everyone here loves the card :D
Great writeup as always, Dom!

I think it's funny this guy ended up in the "tokens" part of the discussion since she's both one of the most unique synergy pieces in the set but also just one of the best Cube cards in general. The mill ability can help fuel a variety of strategies and cards (including Grist herself), the -2 is good removal on a "stick," and the ultimate can win the game without being oppressive. The Static "insect in all zones other than the battlefield" ability is also surprisingly relevant, as it makes Grist able to be CoCod, Unearthed or otherwise reanimated. I even was able to steal Grist with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver during my last Cube tournamnet.

I'm in love with these cheap, flexible spells that still push you in certain directions. The sacrifice and graveyard themes in BR/Bx are each more than deep enough to fill out a section but tying them together is a bigger challenge and cards like Bone Shards are exactly what you need there. Hard Evidence is SO much more interesting than the fifth best blue cantrip you see in low-curve Cubes and has fantastic play patterns.
These cards have been big for my Cube, they are really efficient at moving cards between zones and help to fuel a variety of strategies. I played with Bone Shards and Abundant Harvest in my last draft and I loved them. They were instrumental in fueling some of my awesome cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Ethereal Forager, and Delve Monkes.


The Reanimator subtheme feels highly contrived for Modern - if you think about the typical components for the deck (discard or Entomb effects; reanimation spells; chungus), the best example of each of those is in this set. This isn't an existing deck that was almost there - it's a MH2 Block Constructed deck. For Cube, these are welcome additions to a larger roster that allow for reanimator to coexist with other stuff in a healthy way. Maybe you like having big stuff like Dragonlord Atarka or Elesh Norn in a Cube and want to support reanimation in some capacity but don't want T2 Atarka/Elesh ending games on the spot - Persist lets you square that circle. Priest of Fell Rites is exactly the enabler + signpost card the deck needed in WB and I love how well it works with the 'small' reanimation in W like Reveillark.
I put most of these in my Cube (no unmarked or persist for me because my best targets are nonlegendary), and I've been loving them so far. Priest is a welcome addition to the Reanimator archetype, as it is a cheap reanimation spell that gives opponents a window to interact with something other than a late game heymaker. I'm really excited to get more reps with the new reanimator stuff, I think they hit the nail on the head with the power level of these cards.


Yes, it's an obvious reskin, but that's why I like it - I don't think a more 'Jund-appropriate' mechanic would have landed as well and red's cheap creatures really appreciate the boost in power. If I want to fill out a green section with mana creatures I now have a lot of options I can double up/down on that have more depth than the next Llanowar Elves.
It's really nice to have an aggressive mana dork that helps in casting Goblin Rabblemasters. I love it!


A home run that might as well have been printed for me personally. 'Would Eternal Dragon be playable in this Cube' is a good litmus test for a Cube's power level but most of my designs tend to come in a fair bit above that - I'm glad I get to have it all now
I love this card so much, it's awesome card advantage and a late-game finisher for White decks. It basically does everything I want out of a baneslayer-y creature. Great card, I think it's the best general Cube card in the set.

Again, great post Dom!
I think Timeless Dragon is the posterchild of the set for RiptideLab. It seems that everyone here loves the card :D
I think it's the posterchild of the set for Cube in general. Almost every Cube of every power level can run this thing except for some of the more "degenerate" Vintage Cubes with a heavy combo focus. Timeless Dragon is likely going to be a bona-fide "staple" given all of it's synergies and it's high, but fair, power level.

Dom Harvey

I put this one off for too long and now there's an entire new set out already wtf


I'm not the audience for this one - I need to be wowed by the cards, not the flavour. On that front this set was very disappointing for Constructed and seemed to miss the mark in general.

Over time I've revised my grade upwards. The set doesn't have flashy mythics that will take every format by storm but there are some quiet role-players that push certain decks as well as some slam-dunks I want in my Cube regardless. The list of promising cards is much shorter than for other sets but I suspect when I take stock in a few months it will have as many actual inclusions as, say, Kaldheim.

Thematically there are two main things to discuss. The use of ability words to frame the choices on modal cards took a lot of heat but I like it - I don't think the less experienced players who we worry about getting misled are actually confused by it and it's a nice way to add some flavour for ~zero cost. More generally, most of the power in the set lies in flexibility - there are a lot of traditional modal cards. With the modal DFCs over the past year (as well as the implicit modality of mana sinks etc) we're quickly reaching the point where there are more modal cards than you can realistically play and in-game it's easy to face decision paralysis where you have a bunch of options but most of them aren't real contenders - more experienced players can use their intuition to pare these down quickly but these marginal choices aren't inherently good and can make the Cube feel more complex in a way that doesn't feel interesting.

The other explicit mechanical tie-in is dice rolling. Some of the instinctual dislike of this was met with the rather uncharitable point that Magic has variance baked in - if you don't mind drawing a random opening hand or a random card every turn, why care about this? The answer for me is that so much of game design is about presenting or concealing variance from players in a careful way - just look at the eternal complaints and debates over the mana system. Miracle still didn't sit right with many players even though it's 'just' topdecking (that might be precisely why - the called shot Cruel Ultimatum or the $16,000 Lightning Helix is the natural culmination of a game, a brutal Bonfire of the Damned at the perfect moment is just how the Miracle mechanic working as intended).

That variance also operates differently. I don't know when I'll draw Lightning Helix and I don't know how good it will be when I draw it but I know what the card does and can plan accordingly. When a card's impact is necessarily tied up in a die roll, that lack of control is very overt (contrast with something like Collected Company, which has a wide range of outcomes but where you can build your deck with it in mind so you at least get your money in good). Alternatively, if all the outcomes are similar (see Djinni Windseer), where's the excitement? Ideally you want likely outcomes A and B to feel linked but distinct and jackpot outcome C to be flashy and memorable. The cards that are just A or B are the most extreme offenders here, not least because of the need to avoid the natural 1-10/11-20 split to make it actually different from flipping a coin even though changing those odds from 50-50 to 45-55 isn't something humans really perceive or care about.

Classes join Sagas as ways to obtain an advantage and chase a goal over several turns without the obnoxious play patterns that planeswalkers can often have. Having to pay mana but at a time of your choice versus a free but forced progression is a fascinating contrast with echoes of Suspend reframing costs in terms of time rather than mana. Many of these Classes are highly specialized - Bard Class is the engine of wacky combo decks in Historic/Pioneer but is impossible to get the right quantity/quality of Legends for in this context - but the more generic ones are appealing and Ranger Class is one of the strongest and most appealing cards in the set.

Paladin Class - I've been on the hunt for good Anthems and Innistrad 3.0 may have solved that problem for me but this is a strong candidate. The default mode of taxing spells on your turn is surprisingly annoying for opponents who need that one removal spell to break up the big turn you're building towards. In longer games the final Level pushes a go-tall strategy that offers a different incentive to the previous Level's mass pump effect - I like finding ways to go tall and wide at once

Ranger Class - Just the perfect blend of so many themes I want to push - a noncreature spell that creates a token and can be bounced/blinked for another while pushing +1/+1 counters and letting you dream of highrolling off the top of your deck

There are some strong artifact payoffs in the set, largely in colours that don't get to do the Treasure stuff that's everywhere in the file

Ingenious Smith - A solid artifact aggro card that cares about quality/quantity and wears equipment well while digging for specific high-impact artifacts (which are still sadly in short supply but that problem is slowly being fixed) and working with Blink effects and so on that care about creatures. I'm keen to try this in the WG Counters deck as it fetches some of the better threats while acquiring counters itself

Portable Hole - Overshadowed by Prismatic Ending for Modern but Portable Hole is a mostly better Cube card and having this effect on an artifact is key for making stuff like Smith more useful. I feel happier supporting cheap, busted stuff like Earthcraft or Survival of the Fittest knowing there are flexible answers that won't necessarily trade down on cards/mana

The Blackstaff of Waterdeep - The best Ensoul Artifact variant by a mile unless your Cube is so artifact-centric that you want all of them. The nontoken restriction is a steep cost as the plethora of Clues, Treasure etc in recent sets is a big part of making the other artifact matters stuff viable but artifacts that actually enhance other artifacts are very valuable

Teleportation Circle - Follows in the footsteps of Conjurer's Closet, Thassa etc but is in the main colour for blink and is direct and exclusive in what it does. There used to be fewer good ETB triggers on non-creature artifacts than you'd think but the recent crop of living weapons and equivalents (Barbed Spike, Nettlecyst) goes a long way there

Deadly Dispute
Shambling Ghast
Unexpected Windfall
Kalain, Reclusive Painter
Treasure Vault
Prosperous Innkeeper

The Treasure stuff is a big draw to me, though they aren't too adventurous with it here. I like Deadly Dispute in particular as a versatile engine card/resource generator and I have visions of sacrificing Shambling Ghast to Phyrexian Tower or Priest of Forgotten Gods to turbo out some big nonsense. Prosperous Innkeeper has powered various creature combo decks in Constructed. I wish Kalain had a 2nd point of power and that there were some more explicit incentives ala Goldspan Dragon but this is a nice start. I love that Treasure opens up some greedy splashes but only as a one-off, prompting decisions about how long to hold Treasure

Loyal Warhound- The comparison with Knight of the White Orchid is interesting - Knight is better in slower decks that are trying to use Knight to catch up, especially if that involves a double-spell turn

Monk of the Open Hand - Very strong in the Cubes with hyper-compressed mana curves that are increasingly common (this isn't actually related but I saw one Cube that's all cards with CMC 2 or less - Monk is outstanding there). Along with the old Oketra's Monument stuff and Clarion Spirit/Shrine of Loyal Legions you can build a white aggro/midrange deck that explicitly aims to cast a ton of spells (or just my main man Kor Skyfisher over and over)

You Find the Villains' Lair - My favourite of the small modal cards, this is a nice alternative or side-grade to Supreme Will if the act of drawing or discarding means anything to you

You See a Pair of Goblins - Both halves predictably work well in a tokens deck but red is so good at making tokens at three mana that this has stiff competition at every power level

Ebondeath, Dracolich - One of the stronger large + recursive black threats we've seen and the flash makes it somewhat appealing even in a creature-light reactive deck

Wight - I've seen little hype over this card but that's the appeal - it's not flashy, just straightforward and solid if you're into that sort of thing

Minion of the Mighty - Not realistic but I'd love to play a Cube where you can dream of doing this

Orb of Dragonkind - A much better 'Dragon payoff', I can see this one in Cubes with specific build-around Dragons as finishers (Goldspan Dragon, Velomachus etc)

Zariel, Archduke of Avernus - Fairly balanced and tame for a planeswalker that clogs the board, decent support for a red tokens deck

Battle Cry Goblin - A fantastic two-drop that's a template for how tribal can work in Cube - you want cards like this that reward other creatures of their type but also create/help them in a self-contained way. Having a useful mana sink or trying to unlock the Pack Tactics bonus is fun and so is going off with Siege-Gang Commander or similar

Werewolf Pack Leader - A hard-hitting two-drop that's also a great mana sink and incentive card - a total package that's hard enough to find in a gold card, let alone one colour

Minsc, Beloved Ranger - The bar is high for any Shard/Wedge card but there are barely any choices in Naya. This is a good token maker that's less obnoxious as a Blink target since the token is legendary and I like that it does more stuff beyond just making more bodies. The pump ability is a mana sink that requires some tactical commitment and has synergies with +1/+1 counters and Threaten effects (since you can activate with X=0 to kill a creature - also nice for popping off something like Reveillark or Murderous Redcap)

Orcus, Prince of Undeath - A flashy enough pair of choices to feel meaningful. I like this in a ramp-focused sacrifice deck (Treasures or otherwise) if you have enough good 1s and 2s that 5-6 mana gets you a good return - easier said than done for 1s

Lair of the Hydra
Hall of Storm Giants
Den of the Bugbear
Hive of the Eye Tyrant

The manlands are the big hits of this set. The G/B/R ones are invaluable for proactive decks in their colours that want to cast cheap coloured spells without taking a turn off for Treetop Village and friends while Hall of Storm Giants is an incredible finisher in blue - the biggest manland ever and one that feels like a true game-ender. I'm told there's a white card in the cycle but it's in white so probably sucks

There are Commander products for this set too but the cards aren't good, see you soon!

Dom Harvey


I have more reservations about yet another visit (two of them!) to Innistrad than most. The first Innistrad saw the most overrated Limited format of all time and a bunch of cards that made Constructed miserable. The second visit had some real bangers and Eldritch Moon is an all-timer. In contrast with Zendikar, I was hoping this one would build on the sequel.

So far I'm pleasantly surprised. We have officially moved past the era of completely pushed nonsense but there's a ton in here to get excited about.

Let's talk about Werewolves. I think these can be an excellent foundation for a format - they encourage you to play instants and cheap spells while forcing sacrifices sometimes. They were an issue in OG Innistrad Limited because there simply weren't enough cheap spells to make that a choice rather than an outcome and you were punished even harder for stumbling or missing a colour (as you often will in Limited, especially a format with such poor fixing as that one). In a Cube built with them in mind, they can be delightful.

I like the Day/Night implementation more than most - it could be set up more clearly (ok, it becomes night 'next turn'; when do my 'when it becomes night' triggers happen?) but there's more you can do with it than the OG Werewolf flip condition and it's much more flavourful. I don't find the 'you need a Day/Night marker' objection convincing - this isn't Dungeons (which I somehow forgot to mention in my AFR review!) where you need a convoluted diagram, just use a coin or Magic card or something! The problem is the awkward lineup with the old Werewolves - the condition is different (no spells from both players or two spells by one player on the turn vs no spells/two spells from the player whose turn it is for the originals) and that might be annoying enough on a mechanic that already requires bookkeeping to force a choice between old and new Werewolves. I like Duskwatch Recruiter enough that I'm not sure about that.

Brutal Cathar - Fiend Hunters usually die on sight so the first trigger here feels optimistic - let alone a second - but having the cleaner mana cost of Fairgrounds Warden and a better body/type is already enough.

Gavony Dawnguard - A lot more work than the humble Militia Bugler if you just expect one trigger but 3/3 + Ward 1 are respectable stats and as covered in the AFR review it's increasingly easy to play several spells in a turn to flip Day/Night.

Suspicious Stowaway - A perfect upgrade to Looter il-Kor if you're willing to stomach Day/Night. Was Looter even good anyway? It feels like one of those cards that has stuck around in Cube and Cube alone but mostly as a nostalgic relic that wouldn't survive a look from a critical eye at higher power levels. I like that this can actually block and the unblockability is explicit here rather than implicit in Shadow.

Reckless Stormseeker - A terrifying card even without Day/Night, which is worth chasing here. A slam dunk that makes any Baneslayer without haste much better and lets you find a way to punch a threat through blockers.

Tovolar's Huntmaster - For all the green six-drops people like to debate, you'd think something like this would have existed before but this is a very welcome addition (and perfect Winota hit if you're into that - I wish there were more 'cheat Humans' cards like a cheaper riff on Angel of Glory's Rise).

Arlinn, the Pack's Hope - There's a LOT going on here but I think this is my favourite RG planeswalker (other than the WAR Domri mini-walker) despite clogging boards in the way they often do.

I like Disturb as a mechanic - cleaner than Embalm/Eternalize, a more direct link to Flashback that still 'casts' a spell and lets you reset the whole thing with a bounce spell like Kor Skyfisher - but Dennick, Pious Apprentice is the only compelling card there for me (maybe Lunarch Warden as the best Soul Warden ever?). Hopefully more in the Commander decks?

I love the Adversary cycle - I increasingly want my 'big cards' to have some early relevance (a lot has changed since the days of 'it doesn't matter what 6-drop you play so just play the ones you like'). This wording over something like kicker opens up so many more ways to use them - blink, reanimation, even stuff like Aether Vial!

Intrepid Adversary - I was asking for good Anthems just last week and all my prayers have been answered. An absolute home run for white.

Spectral Adversary - I'm still confused by the return of phasing after it was held up as the classic example of a confusing, antiquated mechanic for so long. I like what this one does (including protecting your own stuff!) but I'd need to be sure it's grokkable as the only Phasing card in a Cube.

Tainted Adversary - Discussions here always start with a very unfavourable comparison to Grave Titan when in reality 1B for a 2/3 Deathtouch is a solid rate and the flimsy one-shot attackers are just a bonus. I think this one has the Kavu Titan/Grizzly Bears factor ( )

Bloodthirsty Adversary - Fantastic; I've always had a soft spot for Goblin Dark-Dwellers but simply didn't get many chances to use it. The 1R buyout makes this palatable for aggressive red decks which also mostly prefer haste over a slower, bigger body. I'm looking forward to lines like Unearth on Adversary -> pay 2R to Unearth something else.

Primal Adversary - Effectively has another set of modes on top of the natural 2G/3GG/4GGG scaling since having the animated land be tapped vs untapped matters a lot. The result is a very strong, scalable finisher ala Wolfbriar Elemental (an underrated classic IMO) that has a fine 3-drop base case.

Adeline, Brilliant Cathar - I've seen the uneasy Brimaz/Rabblemaster(/four other Rabblemaster variants) comparisons but I think those sell this card short - it's more dynamic than most of those and a good blend of wide/tall.

Ambitious Farmhand - A really neat bridge card for lower power levels. Like many mechanics I wish Coven had some super pushed cards to really push the envelope - Modern Horizons 3 (Return of the King) maybe?

Cathar Commando - I'm almost shocked this saw print but I love it. Good types, flash is a great ability especially as white gets more and more cards with it to widen your range, and this can come back with the 'small reanimation' subtheme that white leans into these days.

Sigardian Savior - In that vein, this is a very powerful card that doesn't have and probably won't gain the same nostalgic attachment as Reveillark etc.

Sungold Sentinel - A solid Coven card, does good work but not super exciting.

Sunset Revelry - Timely Reinforcements is a completely messed up card that hoses some opponents and does nothing against others. This is a lot more balanced in the strictest sense of that word in a way that makes this really appealing to me. I especially like that most of this card is a good catchup mechanism on the draw but on the play you can try to empty your hand to cycle this if it's bad or pair that with another upside. The tokens are even Humans!

Consider - More than enough as an upgrade for Opt but I think it hits the sweet spot of keeping the card selection that makes Opt just good enough while still hitting graveyard notes for decks that care about that a little bit (but not enough to prefer Mental Note/Thought Scour instead).

Memory Deluge - The Cube community at large seems to have soured on 'bigger' card draw spells like this but I think they serve a useful purpose and I'm glad to have this one joining the ranks. Fact or Fiction is an iconic card for me but the subgame I love about it can be alienating to newer drafters so this is better on that axis at roughly the same power level.

Sludge Monster - All Magic boomers love Ixidron, as they should!

Champion of the Perished - The easiest slam-dunk possible and I'm glad they nailed it.

Gisa, Glorious Resurrector - The static ability is very relevant especially as you get deeper into sacrifice/graveyard themes (Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a staple for me at this point) and the second ability turns that around in a very fun and flashy way. I'm a fan!

Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia - A very clever design that gives you a recurring source of material without clogging up the board or being inherently repetitive. A Human that makes Zombies connects the two tribal themes I'm most keen on too!

The Meathook Massacre - Having your Blood Artist effect on a non-creature makes it much harder to fight through with removal and this is yet another payoff for the ramp/sac hybrid deck I like so much.

Burn Down the House - The best 'big sweeper' red has seen so far. I think they could have got away with this making a 4th Devil but oh well.

Cathartic Pyre - As someone who pushed discard/graveyard stuff hard in red, I'm still not excited about this one. Being card-neutral can already be tough on these effects when you're just spinning your wheels and this one putting you down on cards is brutal if other Looting effects are already doing the same thing.

Falkenrath Pit Fighter - Great if you need some pushed 2/1s in Red but I think the effect isn't that strong in that style of aggro if you can't reliably activate it off other Vampires - hopefully Crimson Vow gives us enough new ones that this and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord can do some damage together.

Moonveil Regent - One of those cards that's clearly brimming with potential but it's hard to visualize how that would work or realize it in practice. Maybe just having enough cheap cards and gold cards is enough to make this an Experimental Frenzy-style effect on a well-sized creature that even leaves something behind on its way out - a bargain by most standards. I like that this is a gold incentive that isn't as explicit and on/off as something like General Ferrous Rokiric.

Smoldering Egg - Love the name Thing in the Egg, don't love my odds of flipping this in a reasonable time frame (still more so than TITI though) but hopefully I'm wrong?

Augur of Autumn - Markedly worse than Courser of Kruphix for any defensive applications and a fiddly Coven goal doesn't change that for me.

Briarbridge Tracker - A very solid card that has a lot of competition even for its niche of synergistic midrange 3s in green.

Deathbonnet Sprout - As my Cubes get more and more creature-centric this becomes easier to flip but also easy to obstruct as games go long. Similar cards in this space never stuck for me but this one gets an audition I guess.

Storm the Festival - Promising in green sections with a heavier planeswalker focus (imagine getting Nissa, Who Shakes the World and... well, anything).

Willow Geist - I'd love to pull off some obscure combos with this (Psychatog?!) but not here I fear.

Wrenn and Seven - Maybe it's a mark of how low I am on the lands theme compared to where I want to be that this doesn't do it for me.

Angelfire Ignition - An excellent virtual Aura for a Prowess/Heroic deck - you get two shots at it or can load up two different creatures to make them into formidable threats - or just a good way to suddenly increase your clock or swing a race in an aggro deck with decently sized creatures.

Can't Stay Away - Fine but there's an awful lot of this stuff now!

Dire-Strain Rampage - I wonder how often this will be used to target your own stuff or what % of players will parse it correctly...

Faithful Mending - A good way to tie together spell/graveyard themes in WU and the life buffer lets you justify taking off a turn or two for this.

Fleshtaker - The two-mana sac outlets/payoffs that require mana are invariably worse in practice than on paper. I like this only if it's also an explicit lifegain payoff, but that crossover requires some careful tuning.

Join the Dance - Solid bread-and-butter card - if you want a two-drop that unconditionally makes two bodies then you're looking at some Raise the Alarm variant anyway so maybe this is the one you want.

Siphon Insight - Absolutely love this - it can be the Think Twice that smooths your draw (including hitting land drops with their cards!) and lets you use all your mana or the flashy steal-your-girl card that is the only theme that draws me into UB these days.

Dom Harvey

Building Bridges Backwards

The default and correct advice for supporting archetypes in any type of Cube is to find cards that belong in several archetypes and bridge the gaps between them. Usually this process is secondary - you decide which archetypes you want and then go looking for the connective tissue. What if we flip that? 'What are some good flexible/crossover/crosspollinating cards' is a topic that every Cube community has discussed to death and usually without shared assumptions on which archetypes to support so those suggestions give you a broad sweep of crossover cards. I've compiled a list of the common recommendations:

Looking at the patterns here offers a framework for 'free' themes where a lot of the work is done for you, justifying some more narrow payoffs or enablers to add real emphasis.

- Many of these are Mulldrifters in a fairly literal sense, splitting the value of the card between the base body and another effect - a lot of implicit support for a Blink/Clone theme

- Often this effect makes other creatures, giving you the ability to go wide with mass pump or fodder for a sacrifice deck

- Many of these creature/non-creature extras are artifacts to set up anything that counts or cares about those

- There are graveyard tie-ins throughout; some of these are flashback etc, which give some spellslinger support

Once we determine that we want a bunch of these cards anyway, some seemingly narrow cards become a lot more feasible. For example, a tokens theme - with populate, Woodland Champion, Esika's Chariot, Rhys the Redeemed etc - becomes easier to push than you would think. When you consider the tokens and counters crossovers here there are a lot of hits for Doubling Season...

Alternatively, we can look for some less explicit patterns here and build outwards from those. Anax and Murderous Redcap care about power and pair well together; Flesh Carver wants its own power boosted and offers a sacrifice outlet. With enough ways to boost power we can weave in cards that explicitly check for that - Flamewake Phoenix (also wants sac outlets!), Crater's Claws - or effects like Embercleave/Berserk.

Chris Taylor

I get that you write about magic professionally but you didn't have to flex on us this hard :p

Please do though.

I find it encouraging how many of these cards I do run already, and you convinced me to try deep forest hermit.
I think it was you and Jason who were talking on the podcast about having the best cards in your cube actually support the archetypes you want, so that doing the most powerful thing is also the right thing (here "right" meaning building a synergistic deck rather than a good stuff pile).

Alternatively, we can look for some less explicit patterns here and build outwards from those. Anax and Murderous Redcap care about power and pair well together; Flesh Carver wants its own power boosted and offers a sacrifice outlet. With enough ways to boost power we can weave in cards that explicitly check for that - Flamewake Phoenix (also wants sac outlets!), Crater's Claws - or effects like Embercleave/Berserk.
For me, the challenge with these strategies is that they don't have a power outlier to pull you into that direction. Anax, Redcap, Carver are all very serviceable, but rarely picked very early in my experience.

So without a clear pull towards the archetype, does that mean that the power matters archetype in your example really exists and adds replay value and depth to the draft format or is it a pipe dream that exists only theoretically?
This second layer of archetypes that can be enabled through careful support is a space I have never thought about before, hopefully the question makes sense!
I drafted a few times and enjoyed the experience. Here is some feedback based on limited experience with your list, so take with a grain of salt!

A few things surprised me about the list:

1. The small colorless section, particularly the lack of equipment. There are 3 in the list (2 are colored) and I'm curious about that decision as they tend to give a lot of resiliency to aggressive decks (particularly those that aren't Black and don't have recursive threats).

2. I see good support in Green for tokens and counters, but only hints of GY and lands stuff. Is this on purpose?

A few things I disliked:

1. The treasure cards in RB (Strike it Rich, Unexpected Windfall, Deadly Dispute, Skullport Merchant). I think they are below your general power band and you don't really support artifacts matters enough to warrant running them IMO.

2. There doesn't seem to be many discard matters payoffs in Red compared to the amount of enablers (I'm thinking of cards like Anger, Conspiracy Theorist, Glint-Horn Buccaneer, Avacyn's Judgment, and so on).

A few things I liked:

1. Lots of utility lands/MDFC

2. The wolf tribal subtheme in Green is well executed IMO and looks fun!

3. The amount of glue cards that allow decks to mish-mash themes and still be coherent.

4. The +1/+1 counter theme. I am still waiting for a few more glue cards, but seeing your list, the option seems to be there already at higher power levels.

Dom Harvey


A fine but unremarkable set, Crimson Vow falls flat as Innistrad's grand finale for me. I like some individual cards and even the gameplay of this set's new widget but the wrapping up a multi-block arc of a beloved plane is a nigh-impossible especially after the tonal and conceptual shift of Shadows/Eldritch Moon to Lovecraftian horror and the warped nostalgia with which people talk about the original Innistrad. A certain crowd has whipped themselves into a frenzy over Odric being underwhelming but I'm mostly sad we didn't get a new Thalia and the old one we did get outshines the rest of the set (the Mina Harker version is a great new art though!)

The mechanics are a mixed bag. Disturb returns in an interesting new form that I think they used well. Cleave appeals to part of me but again makes me wonder how loudly Ken Nagle would yell at you if you had submitted this for the Great Designer Search. I love the return of Exploit and I'm glad it gets some pushed cards this time (though I'd like to see it have even more room to breathe). Training is cool, especially for Limited, but doesn't really get me going here.

Blood tokens are odd in form but great in function. They help the elusive artifact/graveyard crossover even further and my graveyard-themed decks love instant-speed discard/filtering (mostly in black which has a surprising lack of those effects otherwise). There's some concern about the growing number of random game objects you can accumulate without really trying - keeping track of your Clues, Treasures, and Blood tokens all at once can feel like you're playing some convoluted board game instead - but I'm one of those freaks who likes that accounting.

By Invitation Only - Simple but deep design that has the most play of any of the five-mana sweepers. This is Wrath of God when you need that (and gets around stuff like Selfless Spirit in the process) but is a build-your-own-Duneblast for creature-heavy white decks that want to press their unique advantage while ahead.

Welcoming Vampire - Mentor of the Meek was always cumbersome and Bygone Bishop is showing its age so this is a welcome upgrade. There's a lot of grumbling about the 'once a turn' rider on white card draw but it's a necessary balance so that stuff like Deep Forest Hermit isn't totally deranged (trust me, I've Cubed Ineffable Blessing before) and I like looking for ways to trigger this on both turns in a single turn cycle (Retrofitter Foundry is a standout here as always).

Wandering Mind - I like effects that give you more access to your build-arounds without the certainty of a direct tutor but these can be hard to come by - the Augur of Bolas/Glint-Nest Crane family of cards are generally restricted to one card type and show you a small number of cards so you won't hit reliably unless you are full to the brim with those (doable in an Artifact Cube for Crane, less so in a Cube juggling lots of themes at once). Wandering Mind fixes both of those problems while being a solid target and enabler for Blink or other stuff that cares about creatures - Wandering Mind finds Dollhouse of Horrors which returns Wandering Mind which finds...

Dollhouse of Horrors - A delightful card that has the same exciting playstyle of God-Pharaoh's Gift without the hefty sticker price (though it encourages Mulldrifters over Baneslayers even more strongly).

Concealing Curtains - Compared to the signature interaction for every other colour, the pool of Cube-worthy discard effects in black is depressingly shallow. In particular, the creatures that carry that effect are mostly fragile Mesmeric Fiend variants that topple over in a light breeze. Concealing Curtains brings both strong discard and the pressure you need to back up discard - it's the ideal threat against slower decks and Kraken Hatchling with upside does good work against aggro.

Overcharged Amalgam - Blue doesn't have the deep well of sacrifice fodder that every other colour does but there's more than enough to give this a look. One issue with cards like Mystic Snake is that the body is weak enough that you never feel good about running it out without getting the proper value from it but if Villain is staggering their plays to avoid this you can gladly get to work with a 3/3 flier.

Fell Stinger - Such a clean design and the perfect piece for any sacrifice strategy. There are natural comparisons to cards like Midnight Reaper but Stinger is a good mix of enabler + payoff even if its ceiling is lower.

Graf Reaver - My Cubes generally don't have enough planeswalkers that I'm actively looking for a card like this but it's an absolute slam-dunk if you do.

Blood Fountain - An ideal cog for enabling the fiddly and fun nonsense that gets us going around here.

Cobbled Lancer - A neat tool for creature-heavy graveyard decks (and a Zombie if you care about that) and I like rewards for having cycling creatures. The card draw is a minor rider but a nice one.

Reclusive Taxidermist - Werebear has had a real glow-up; I don't have a good sense of how often I can get the bonus but I love it anyway!

Undead Butler - A useful blend for graveyard/sacrifice themes; again, black is much lighter than you'd think on good Disentombs.

Scattered Thoughts/Thirst for Discovery - When I was getting into Magic, Compulsive Research was the go-to card draw spell in Standard and Fact or Fiction was spoken of in hushed tones as an iconic card of the early 2000s that was still great in Extended. Now we have general upgrades to both of those at once (with Memory Deluge edging out Fact or Fiction in Modern from the previous set!) and nobody bats an eyelid - not a bad thing in itself, just a sign of the times.

Manaform Hellkite - Written off by the usual suspects because it doesn't compete with the other red 4s on absolute power but you can do some messed up stuff with this (and end the game before you get to do too much of it).

Ascendant Packleader - More than a Jungle Lion but only at the point where a 3/2 is often just as obsolete as a 2/1. I do like the counters tie-in (especially as that deck in my Cube has a lot of scalable cards that can trigger this like Hangarback/Ballista/Stonecoil/Voracious Hydra) and funny ways to cheat the system like Fury or delve but a little cool on this one for now.

Hullbreaker Horror - Already terrorizing Standard and it has some brutal play patterns there but as a big dumb idiot to end the game in blue it's hard to do better than this.

Ulvenwald Oddity - A solid midrange threat and terrifying mana sink later for green creature decks - despite having two sides it's less wordy and more appealing to me than something like Questing Beast.

Anje, Maid of Dishonor - A lot of tribal trinket text (assuming you don't support Vampires, which is still tough to do despite this set sadly) obscuring a nifty sacrifice finisher/payoff with otherwise decent stats.

Voldaren Epicure - Not quite the Thraben Inspector I wanted but maybe??

Card dump:
Cemetery Protector
Hopeful Initiate
Alchemist's Retrieval
Jacob Hauken, Inspector
Patchwork Crawler
Fleeting Spirit
Path of Peril
Dread Fugue
Stormchaser Drake
Dying to Serve
Falkenrath Forebear
Headless Rider
Henrika Domnathi
Voldaren Bloodcaster
Cemetery Prowler
Dig Up
Kessig Wolfrider
Hiveheart Shaman
Eruth, Tormented Prophet
Brine Comber

And a few from the Commander decks:

Occult Epiphany - One of my favourite new cards from this year and even beyond. There's a lot of raw power here but it's also a delirium-adjacent card that makes you think carefully about what you hold in hand in advance of Epiphany and weigh the merits of getting an extra Spirit by discarding a unique type versus keeping that card. The base case of 1U - 1/1 Flying, Draw + Discard as an instant is fine and is great setup for reanimation; the dream of tearing through a ton of cards and making an air force out of nowhere is worth chasing too.

Donal, Herald of Wings - These four-drops that key off creatures being cast or dying always get a lot of hype during preview season and end up underperforming, and blue isn't usually a colour that goes for fiddly creature stuff like this but I'm kind of into it despite myself.

Dom Harvey

ALCHEMY (Innistrad)?!

The Alchemy announcement is a crucial milestone in Magic development but isn't really relevant or accessible to paper Cube owners (beyond its indirect implications for how cards are designed generally) and the first batch of cards is a mixed bag for people willing to put the work in to translate some of that experience to paper. I'm going back to posting card images rather than hyperlinks for this because I can't assume people will have come across these cards in the wild, which is one concern with including them in the first place.

The problem with this mini-set (and possibly a fundamental problem with the whole concept) is that the most appealing designs are ones that could be replicated with a little more work in any normal set - the digital efficiency is part of their appeal so we shouldn't discount that (especially if trying to port mechanics like Seek into paper) - and other designs are overcomplicated for the sake of having something exclusively digital (feast your eyes on Grizzled Huntmaster...). The most intriguing of these cards push the envelope on what you can do (or just what you are doing) on a card and Unfinity explicitly straddling that line is what makes me excited for that set. In the meantime, the Alchemy releases that accompany every set will be an occasional drip of new tools in that space.

Spellbooks (where 'drafting' means selecting three cards at random from a list of fifteen and then choosing one to add to your hand) are a perfect example of an idea that's much more seamless online than in paper - this has all the overhead of Lesson/Learn and none of its other virtues. If it presents you with interesting choices or an exciting form of randomness, that might be worth it - but the contents of many of these spellbooks are similar versions of cards you wouldn't be excited to play in most Cubes. I don't really care which of Bring to Trial or Collar the Culprit I get and would prefer almost anything else over either.

The big exception is Key to the Archive, which has a spellbook full of bangers from the Strixhaven Mystical Archive on top of being a great mid-game mana rock. The cards in there are strong enough to get excited about and also more likely to be familiar to an audience, making that bar easier to clear. Part of me likes the thought of handing over the 'booster' with all the Archive cards in it for people to rifle through when they see Key for the first time.

These are two of the most appealing cards in the set but the 'twenty or more' rider is an inelegant but probably necessary way to stop them being too degenerate in Constructed. For Cube those conditions are effectively impossible to meet so I'd have to scratch that clause entirely to make them work. Once I'm issuing errata to cards that already don't exist properly in paper, they are all but custom cards and the question becomes whether I want those at all.

What does it say about the seek mechanic if the main intrigue is finding ways to remove the randomness (not a rhetorical question)? You saw some of that with Cascade but Seek offers the intellectual puzzle you want there without the 'Cascade into the same spell every game on T3' play patterns. I think the Cascade logistics of flipping cards from the top until you hit an eligible one is the cleanest way to implement Seek in paper.

It's really difficult to justify a six-mana draw spell with no board impact in most Cubes these days but this lets you get the same thrill of a Storm deck without having to fill your Cube/deck with a bunch of Rituals etc

One of the most impressive cards in Alchemy so far and a fine consolation prize for the white aggro decks smarting from the downgrade to Luminarch Aspirant. I like having white care about both creatures and 'casting spells' (stuff like Clarion Spirit or Shrine of Loyal Legions) and this ticks both boxes while being a wonderfully flexible mana sink in longer games.

A fascinating riff on Squadron Hawk that dodges the deckbuilding issue that card presents for 40-card Limited decks. A lot of white decks would prefer the efficiency of something like Battle Screech but there's a lot more room to explore with this and I hope future Alchemy sets take this even further.

Love all of this - it's easy to care about sacrificing creatures and moderately difficult to care about Blood tokens but this is a great enabler for either and Brushstroke itself is a good thing to flicker or sacrifice (while boosting your raw permanent count, devotion to black, or other small things you might suddenly care about).

This hits the sweet spot of tribal incentive that is fine at the base case and scales well - a bigger Metallic Mimic of sorts. If you care about artifacts or equipment (or just having random material on the board), this starts to look pretty appealing.

I aim to have this shuffle a set of Beta Lightning Bolts into my deck some day.

This is a good poster-child for this set: a cool card that you'd bet on appearing in a Commander product because there's nothing digital about it. This extends the 'creature sight' idea to colours like white that tend to have a lot of cheap creatures but is a bit out of place in an aggro deck so you have to find a good home for it. Sweet design though!

Another appealingly non-digital card, this is a great tool for both low-curve and more midrange red decks

Not a good one-drop in the conventional sense but a great setup card for a Stompy deck or any creature deck that's willing to go a little bigger. An off-beat thing to blink or pick up and replay too.

I'm really starting to appreciate Ulvenwald Oddity and this is another great card in a similar space. I don't think the loss of hidden info from foretell if you don't have other cards with the mechanic is a big deal but this pushes me in the other direction of wanting to have a few more to add to the sense of foreboding there.

This has the substantial overhead cost of Daybound/Nightbound (where you can't even flip the card over to read the other side easily!), the 'fake card' reaction, AND the logistics of getting a random spell from the opponent's deck to overcome... and despite all of that I adore this card. I desperately want more cheap red threats that are relevant in combat and in longer games without 'just' being aggressive and it's worth putting the work in to make this connect. Good double strikers are in short supply in red but are solid gold for any Equipment/Berserkers subtheme, and you can picture a UR deck that is happy to pass while holding up interaction and turn this into a formidable threat.
I'm with you. Ultimately, the issue I have with most of these cards is just how wordy and inelegant they are. Being digital doesn't make that barrier any better, it just allows them to be playable despite suffering from a massive design flaw. I'll be honest, I've played against a good bunch of these cards online and I haven't bothered to read the full text book because I have better things to do with my time.

I remember playing with some of the spellbooks and they don't really work. I remember one where you would draw one card from set of one-mana staples. If you drew several Swords to Plowshares, you would win the game. If you drew Assault Strobe, you wasted your time and mana.

Personally, I think the only good design here is Suntail Squadron.

Dom Harvey

Dropped onto Page 2 deservedly after a long hiatus from posting but circumstances forced me out of retirement! Some members of Chris' playgroup wanted to Cube but we didn't have one to hand so I volunteered and scrambled to reassemble my paper Cube that had been split in half in service of another project. After rifling through my box of Cube playables to sleeve up enough a full pod of 8 (!), I ended up with a Cube pool that bears little relation to any of the CubeCobra sketches I agonize over but still seemed to yield good times with fun decks - a useful warning against perfectionism in design.

Highlights starting with the undefeated deck:

Jeskai Spellslinger


(didn't record fixing here)

The drafter worked in some Welcoming Vampire/Militia Bugler/Reveillark synergies too but the core here is recognizable and seems quite reliable now. Smoldering Egg stood out as an appealing payoff that could be flipped with one or two cards (Sevinne's Reclamation/Blast from the Past + flashback, overloaded Cyclonic Rift), freeing up room for other threats.


I keep flirting with the Blue Devotion deck and it came together here as a happy accident! Nykthos really shone here, allowing a colour that doesn't get conventional ramp to churn out giant Gadwicks and Occult Epiphanies - blue has a lot of great mana sinks as showcased here so you can support a 'big blue' deck if you find on-colour ways to ramp (normally artifact ramp but you can get more adventurous too). One memorable turn involved Saheeli and Urza teaming up to help a hand full of spells pay for themselves while building a formidable board. I want to give a specific shoutout to Hall of Storm Giants, which has massively overperformed as a finisher in blue decks (and is the perfect thing to find with your Primeval Titan in a more colourful ramp deck). Seeing the Mirrodin block trio of Crystal Shard/Vedalken Shackles/Oblivion Stone teaming up with modern hits like Urza and Thassa warmed my heart.


A solid, relatable midrange deck with some sweet counters + lands synergies I explicitly support when I can. I don't know if Greater Good is great or even good but I want to foster a format where it's at least the latter.

Last but not least, my hot mess:


This might look like a stipulation draft gone wrong but it's a good example of the 'rainbow Reanimator' deck that exists in my fever dreams - a variety of enablers, types of reanimation, and reanimation targets spread across all colours.

Dom Harvey

They printed lots of Magic cards this year and there's more to come!


I started playing Magic in the middle of the original Kamigawa - my first experience of buying cards was the guy working at the toy store (now a Konami bigwig) insisting I buy the Rat's Nest theme deck and watching my eyes pop out on stalks as I read Umezawa's Jitte (my card evaluation skills on the whole took time to develop - I opened several Burning Wishes in Judgment packs and didn't understand what they did so he eagerly traded me some Myojins for them). As I quickly immersed myself in the game, I fell in love with the block - my fandom even survived the ultimate challenge of Saviors of Kamigawa being my first preview season.

It's safe to say I had a healthy cloud of nostalgia warping my expectations for this block, for better or worse. I have complicated feelings about the 'futuristic civilization + ancient history' trope and this set is very ambitious - if I have one criticism, it's that there's so much that some of it doesn't have much room to breathe. I think a lot of that is down to the current set schedule - this set could easily have been a full block ala Innistrad Midnight Hunt/Crimson Vow (where I'm not sure we needed one set, let alone two).

With all that in mind, I'm very happy with how the set turned out. I wasn't expecting this to be the big boost for artifact themes/Cubes this year but it already set the bar high for Brothers' War; on the other side of modernity, enchantment themes got some much-needed gifts too. I'm a sucker for Sagas and this set took those to the next level.

Reconfigure is an inventive and fun solution to the problem of equipment or other modifiers needing creatures once you get past some of the rules quirks. Rabbit Battery is an excellent one-drop that doesn't lose its luster later; The Reality Chip is a great way to pack a goal worth chasing at a low cost justifiable because of the risk involved.

The modified batching feels a bit more natural than e.g. historic (artifacts + legendaries + Sagas) and finally gives some mechanical identity to +1/+1 counters even if it's not clear what they really 'represent' compared to equipment or Auras. It's still tough to support more than a handful of Auras beyond a certain power level but counters are easy and there's (now?) enough strong equipment that you can build around having some. This set didn't do much with this grouping but hopefully other sets can take this further.

The DFC Sagas take the mechanic to a new level of complexity in one sense but for some reason it feels like less of a further step than DFCs in general - maybe because that outcome is guaranteed eventually so you're encouraged to stay aware of it, compared to the Kaldheim/Strixhaven DFCs where they feel like a very wordy extra mode sometimes.

Some of these specific designs have massively overperformed in Constructed - Fable is the best card in Standard and is being tried into any Pioneer/Historic deck that can support it too. It's both a generically good/versatile card and has a lot of ways to hook into various synergies - the recipe for a perfect Cube card!

The return of Ninjas feels understated with everything else going on but there's enough here to nudge me into trying it as a theme in UB again. It's a sweet mechanic in its own right and ties neatly into a lot of other stuff I like supporting so why not? Satoru Umezawa is the weird Ninja/Reanimator crossover I didn't know I needed this badly.

Biting-Palm Ninja is a hit for me - I'm always on the hunt for more playable discard in black and this one is an unconventional but strong candidate. I like that it's just large enough that the body doesn't get obsoleted quickly (my issue with cards like Ninja of the Deep Hours in the past). Note the synergy with cards like Winding Constrictor or proliferate - you get to chase another damage trigger and it's easier to do since it still has menace.

Channel returns as a clean and easy way to nail reverse-Kicker with added variety. In conjunction with the incidental artifact/enchantment typing, you can unlock a lot of synergies without really trying - it's trivial to get extra mileage out of a Twinshot Sniper somehow.

With such a bounty of good artifacts, I've been more inspired to sketch an Artifact Cube so the list of considerations there is very long. For my more mainstream Cubes there are lots of cards I expect to cycle in and out:

I fell in love with the original Spirit Dragon cycle and was excited to see a new set even if they didn't carry the same nostalgia. I think the green one is actually the worst again, which would be a hilarious callback. Atsushi is priced to move (though it feels like the two most common red effects recently just stapled together) and I overlooked Kairi at first but it fills a useful niche for my blue decks that want a resilient finisher like that.

These new legendary lands are phenomenal and reignite the DFC debates over the value of a marginal Cube slot - you'll definitely play one of these lands in any deck of its colours (and just handing them out to drafters for free might be a fun idea!) but to what extent do they compete with another spell, especially if you already have competition for coloured land slots?

Finally, the planeswalkers in the set are all interesting designs that don't fall prey to some of the more annoying PW play patterns. Tezzeret is an excellent incentive for an artifact deck and 4/4 is enough of a downgrade from 5/5 that it doesn't share the Agent of Bolas issue where thwacking them with something is usually more appealing than more complex lines - but the condition on the cost reduction is easy to miss (since mana abilities from artifacts count) until after you've already made some illegal play.

The Wandering Emperor is one of the most tactically interesting PWs in a long time. It's easy to get tired of in Constructed but I'm not sure if it's more or less tolerable when it's a one-of that may or may not be in their deck or the draft at all - is it better when you know about the threat and it makes some sense to play around it? The card is a lot stronger when you can use the +1 effectively in combat and so it's a perfect fit for the WG Flash deck that I wrote about in this thread many years ago.


By contrast, this set was a big letdown for me. I hoped the first Shard-themed set in >13 years would finally deliver some pushed tricolour cards in those combinations in line with modern design philosophy - instead, the set's impact on Constructed mostly consists of the Triomes + Ledger Shredder while I'm told the Limited format is highly imbalanced and not really a tricolour set, felling short of the high standards the last few years of releases have set for Limited (even while some of them were wrecking Standard at the same time). You can play Naya or Jund in Standard but that's mostly a choice of whether you want Meathook Massacre or Wandering Emperor + Wedding Announcement with your Esika's Chariot and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker instead of an actual debate between tricolour payoffs.

In thinking about the individual mechanics for this writeup I found I liked this skeleton for the set but wanted it taken much further - my summary of a lot of mechanics these days.

I LOVE Hideaway and I was pleasantly surprised to see its brief return. Fight Rigging is the only one of the cycle that catches my eye but that's one more than I expected coming into spoiler season - and it's cool as hell.

Connive is both a great mechanic by itself and a perfect fit for Esper. Raffine is one of the few Shard cards to actually make a mark in Standard and Shredder is tearing up every format but there are nice examples in all the Esper colours. Raffine's Informant is what I wanted Professor of Symbology to be without the Lesson/Learn baggage for a colour that almost never gets to do this; Body Launderer might be the sacrifice + reanimator crossover I want.

Alliance/'creaturefall' is such a natural mechanic that I'm surprised it took this long and I like this implementation - just not the cards with the actual mechanic. This is where I really want some Modern Horizons-esque supplementary product that can give us some juiced Alliance cards before this set's time comes in a few years (the Commander decks can be that - and this batch gave us a decent haul - but only incidentally).

I was a big fan of Dash and Blitz is a worthy successor. I sympathize with Andy of Lucky Paper Radio in getting my hopes up for every new promising black two-drop only to walk away disappointed every time but Tenacious Underdog is the real deal - I want cards that bolster a sacrifice deck without being exclusive to that deck and the graveyard tie-in and decent aggro stats make this perfect for that. I'm less certain about Jaxis but it can set up some truly berserk turns out of nowhere.

When I was exploring the Spellslinger archetype in Grixis the top of my wish list was more ways to bridge the gap between spells and creatures - casualty does that well and my biggest complaint is that we don't have more of it. We have the 'staple effect + [set mechanic]' un/commons at one end and a brain-melting PW at the other but not much in between.

The 'tri-brid' cards are another tantalizing glimpse of what's possible. This set's first run are all on-brand for their family so they are a bit more specialized than their casting costs would suggest but many are playable with minimal support and suggest a future direction (I like supporting token themes in Mono-G as well as RG/WG so Jinnie is right up my alley).

Treasure tokens have quickly become a near-universal currency in Magic - they are on theme for this set but we'll see if this density continues in the future. With enough playable Treasure producers, splashing becomes much more trivial - YMMV on if that's a good or bad thing.

The New Capenna Commander decks were a goldmine - literally I suppose for Prosperous Partnership, the most obscure card on this list but one that won me over immediately. Lethal Scheme is that rare point removal spell that feels like an exciting event in the game rather than just a means to an end.
New Capenna was really disappointing because it followed a mechanically interesting set (with tons of overlapping themes) with a pretty standard "here are the five factions, with their five faction mechanics" set-up.

Dom Harvey


Some thoughts on how to create more varied experiences in Cube:


The first answer you hear to 'what types of deck are there?' usually involves aggro, control, and... something. In the early days of Magic this was combo, with a suggested rock-paper-scissors relationship of aggro > control > combo > aggro that was always somewhat tenuous and relied on the Platonic form of a control deck that you could build at that time - your deck with 16 counterspells, card draw, and 1-2 win conditions would predictably beat the A + B combo deck and fold to Savannah Lions + Soltari Priest. Magic design has trended away from that for good reason and you can't replicate it in Cube unless you go out of your way to ensure that. In this original schema, midrange was a failure - your deck ended up there if it wasn't coherent enough to fit into another category and these midrange decks needed to boast an overwhelming advantage against aggro to make up for inherent weaknesses against both control and combo.

These days, it's combo that feels like more of an aberration - the midrange > aggro > control > midrange dynamic is more natural and accurate. This isn't just midrange being recognized as a distinct archetype - it's that midrange has swallowed up space that aggro and control used to occupy. Many aggro decks in Constructed feel like midrange decks that get on the board quickly and have a faster nut draw; many control decks are just bigger midrange decks that are more likely to have reactive cards. The decks that proudly identify as midrange aren't the clunkers of old that hoped not to draw the wrong half of their deck - they are tighter, more well-rounded decks that can compete at each stage of the game.

It's sometimes said that in Limited every deck is midrange until proven otherwise and that's how it often feels even when your deck successfully leans into its colour pair's assigned archetype. That partly reflects the power level of the average Limited deck and how Limited design operates but it's also a feature of the drafting process - unless an archetype is seeded and pushed strongly, it's hard to find a deck that departs enough from the midrange template to be called something else. The 'good cards in my colours' deck that is the easy default is almost always a midrange deck - even if you'd rather players be doing something more ambitious, you need to know what this deck will look like.

Beyond that the hybrid categories get weird. Aggro-control does the job but if you examine it closely it's tough to pin down (and that's before you get to the dreaded t*mpo). Combo-control is a very strong archetype in Constructed and tends to be the default for combo in Cube since you don't have enough redundancy on actual combo pieces to be all-in on one plan. Aggro-combo is elusive but very satisfying when it works. Some mostly Constructed-exclusive archetypes like Prison live in their own world.

Big games vs small games

One of the most illuminating questions you can ask to understand a deck/matchup/format is: what size of game are you hoping for? Parker did an excellent job exploring some of the nuances here and these two articles by Sam Black are what sparked my interest in the concept initially (as sketched in this post) and are required reading IMO:

Modern Magic design votes emphatically for big games at every opportunity but most Cubes encompass cards from a wide range of design eras/philosophies and as a Cube designer you can choose a mix that works for you.

How quickly are your players amassing resources and what does this look like? Pauper Cubes (or high power/complexity retail Limited formats) tend naturally towards big games but it takes a while to get there - it's hard to apply pressure quickly and end the game before it becomes a Mulldrifter slugfest. At low rarity few creatures have impressive stats in their own right and you don't have planeswalkers or planeswalker-esque cards that threaten to dominate a game by themselves so you care more about raw resources than anything else.

This contextual fact about Pauper joins a general fact about longer games - Magic's game engine gives each player a gradual but continual drip of extra resources. A slow back-and-forth between mana-light draws will turn into a bigger battle between mana-heavy draws over time. When the game engine and the nature of the format scale in this linear way, it's easy for games to fall into a familiar rhythm.

You can have faster games that still scale in a predictable way - many Constructed ramp decks were strong because they amassed resources quickly but they did so in a way that usually hit each checkpoint at a certain time even if their payoffs actually threatened to end games. Commander exists in a weird liminal space here - the combination of a unique rule set designed to prolong games and strong social norms against doing anything means that players can acquire resources quickly (Sol Ring is legal in this format, people) but don't stop others from doing the same or do much with those resources themselves.

(Planeswalkers are an interesting example of predictability. You know what they are capable of and the abilities are generally costed so that activating them every turn isn't overwhelming by itself unless you paid a lot of mana up front - in one sense they lead to these progressively bigger games over time. On the other hand, the threat of the ultimate or another use of the minus ability often becomes the most contested part of a game that reaches that point. Sagas are predictable insofar as you know what they will do and they are hard to interact with barring removal but they have an in-built crescendo towards the final chapter that changes the pacing of the game)

Faster games can also scale quickly or unpredictably. Legacy and especially Vintage can be good examples - fast mana like Moxen and top-shelf card draw like Ancestral Recall break the rhythm set by the draw step + one land per turn system. At the other poles of Vintage you have Shops - whose namesake card gives it a massive mana jump to immediately constrict the opponent's access to anything via lock pieces - and the Bazaar decks, who subvert the resource system as we know it and replace it with a totally different game. If I Dredge a Golgari Grave-Troll and everything in my deck keys off the graveyard in some way, is that... card advantage?!

This sets up the first type of variety I like to encourage: rapid expansion/contraction of resources. To some extent this only registers if it's forced upon you - if your opponent makes some trades early and refuels with Escape to the Wilds or something, that's a classic play pattern but not one you have to struggle with yourself. If your expectations are shattered by a semi-symmetrical Wheel of Fortune on one extreme or a Cataclysm on the other, you have a new puzzle to solve quickly.


Where is the battle being fought? In smaller formats like Standard, barring the T5feri control decks of recent-ish past or some of the broken aberrations like Wilderness Reclamation, the answer is the battlefield - look at the most recent Set Championships and you'll usually see cluttered battlefields screaming out for simplification.

In older formats none of this can be taken for granted. I find Legacy coverage frustrating to watch sometimes in part because so much of the format revolves around decisions in the hand/library thanks to cantrips or tutoring effects that often becomes hidden information unless you have a platform/tech setup that allows full info and commentators who know their stuff. I'm less sympathetic than most to the cantrip-heavy Phoenix/Delver style of gameplay for this reason - it often feels like someone spending a lot of time spinning their tires on their own with the goal of removing future variety from the game.

This question is another way to look at differences in how an archetype manifests across formats. A UW Control deck from the draw-go era of the 90s - where you can count on one hand the number of non-land permanents - will feel very different from the tapout control decks of the mid-2000s or modern control decks that are keen to play to the board. A red deck full of burn spells where the creatures are themselves glorified burn spells will look and feel different from red decks that use their creatures as permanent damage sources and top off with cards like Embercleave.

Tall vs wide

This is a crucial distinction for proactive creature decks - are you aiming to go tall or wide? At a first pass your colour identity answers this - green tends to go tall, white and red go wide. It's a lot more complicated these days - you can easily build a green token deck that floods the board and converts those into other resources or a Berserkers-style Wx or Rx deck that banks on having the biggest creature on the board. Some pushed threats let you do both at once - Adeline or some of red's various Rabblemasters come to mind. Being able to pivot from one to the other makes your deck more resilient and offers up some fun tactical choices (this is part of my case for Embercleave - it lets you go wide as a means of going tall more easily, making you think about how to combine those goals).

It also has a big impact on other creatures and interaction in your environment. Rotting Regisaur is great if it's brawling with important but smaller creatures and much weaker if it's colliding with an expendable 1/1 every turn. Targeted removal wants to be aimed at creatures that took some investment rather than trading down on mana for yet another creature.

This overlaps closely with another infamous distinction I'll come to shortly but note that this isn't just about individual cards - a white aggro deck emptying its hand to cast a bunch of Savannah Lions is going wide in a way that can be punished differently than the same deck going wide with Blade Splicers and Spectral Processions.

B*nesl*yer VS M**********

The Baneslayer vs Mulldrifter distinction is all too familiar at this point and wasted no time taking over Cube discourse - go back ten years and you can find forum threads on creatures failing the Terminate/Vindicate test. I think LPR did a good job reframing this as Tarmogoyfs vs Elvish Visionaries, taking Baneslayer's hefty sticker price out of the picture and focusing on what part of the card is important.

Pauper Cubes can feel like a pile of Mulldrifters by necessity. There are absurd new Baneslayers printed every year but the bar for their inclusion in many Cubes gets higher and higher. Many of the best new cards are Mulldrifters by default and spill over into that third category of Titans - Tarmogoyfs that also give you a Mulldrifter's worth of value or more.

I think a more relevant divide these days is how much you care about the body on your Mulldrifter. Attaching any body to a spell generally expands what you can do with it - you lose some spellslinger synergies but open up a world of blink and reanimation over here or green 'find a creature' effects over there - but at some point these bodies start to feel like needless clutter. I need Satyr Wayfinder to be a creature and it probably has to be a 1/1 but what can I do with that beyond exploiting the type line?

I like Satyr Wayfinder more than Elvish Visionary because it makes you care about details - am I just looking for lands or a specific land? How important is filling my graveyard? - but the most precious example for me is Jadelight Ranger. It can be a 2/1 that draws two (land) cards, a 4/3 that does nothing else, or something in between and you need the context to determine which you want. Woe Strider is a good recent example of a card that straddles this divide neatly - its body and ability are threatening enough that they want to remove it, it leaves something tangible behind when that happens but that thing is the least relevant additional game piece possible, but there's the looming threat of it returning later if the game lasts that long.

Would Blade Splicer be a stronger card if it was a 3/3 that made a 1/1 (first strike aside)? Would it be more interesting? I don't think there's a clear answer to the second question but this alternate universe Splicer plays quite differently against removal - if most of your Mulldrifters look more like that, the incentives in your Cube will change.

Uniqueness vs redundancy

Some themes are so deep that it's hard to choose which cards to support them with. Others don't give you that choice - you play what you're given and make up the numbers somehow. At the far end of that spectrum you have unique build-around cards that allow no imitation.

It's impossible to fill out a Cube completely with these true singletons - there aren't enough of them to go around, you can't be solely committed to a singleton in Limited even with good card selection, and most of them require (often non-overlapping) support. At the other extreme, you can certainly build a Cube around redundancy but you then lack an appealing hook - I remember the Cultic Cube on MTGO was panned for its ruthless focus on redundancy at the expense of all else, such that the average deck was a less exciting/ideal version of an archetype you'd seen a hundred times before.

With the right care and setup, the unique one-ofs can use their slots much more efficiently than the next marginal red aggro or green ramp creature. In Vintage Cube the Sneak Attack deck is a fan favourite that mostly asks for cards that were in the Cube already and the one copy of Sneak Attack.

I think Storm is a difficult archetype to integrate well but at its best it turns redundancy into uniqueness - because each new win condition or mana engine functions in its own way and adds a new dimension to the deck, you can double down on Storm enablers without the 'I've run out of newly named Searing Spears' problem of a hyper-redundant red deck.

Goodstuff vs synergy
Synergy as shared goal vs synergy as combination

The apparent tension between synergy and 'goodstuff' is a well-worn topic in Cube design. It's hard to escape even if you want to focus on synergy - you need the successful synergy deck to be better than the average goodstuff deck for it to be worth the effort. Prioritizing one over the other is an early statement about how your Cube will play and how it should be designed.

Synergy is a murky concept, though. We tend to think of interactions between specific cards (Grand Architect is great with Master of Waves!) or membership of an archetype (I'm adding these to support the BR Sacrifice deck) but you can also frame cards having synergy as them sharing a goal (Goblin Guide and Fireblast don't have any explicit tie-in but help each other to get Villain dead ASAP).

On this reading, a tight list of red aggro or green ramp is in fact a highly synergistic deck. One way to see this is to contrast these ideal examples with the kind of muddled decks you see from less experienced drafters - I still dwell on the white deck that curved perfectly from Savannah Lions all the way up to Sun Titan against me a decade ago.

Here, the 'goodstuff' deck fills the same role as the 'midrange' deck in the aggro, control etc taxonomy - the default that a deck becomes when it doesn't have another identity. If the general power level is low enough (retail Limited almost always falls into this category but some Cubes will too), decks are necessarily confused - the aggro decks are only so fast and the slower decks will still have some Goblin Pikers. There's an old maxim that in Limited every deck is midrange - or goodstuff, even though this is only possible because the cards are bad.

Flip this around and you have the decks that have dominated many recent Standard formats - flexible midrange decks that can use the same cards to apply pressure or grind as needed. Here there isn't one shared goal - the goal is whatever it needs to be and your deck can adapt to that because your cards are so flexible. This can bring its own form of variety - the same cards being repurposed for different ends - but can also crowd it out if cards with a narrow skill are obsoleted by cards that do that same thing almost as well on top of everything else.

A key realization for me was that goodstuff can be a distinct archetype if the rest of the Cube is sufficiently synergy-driven. Not all colour pairs or archetypes are created equal and it's hard to fill in the gaps sometimes if you're working from the 'colour pair XY does Z' template - being able to fall back on WB Normal Cards as a breath of fresh air can be very useful there.

Swings vs even pros

How sure do you need to be of what will happen when you put a card in your deck? On the stack?

One of the things I associate most (hopefully fairly!) with Andy of Lucky Paper Radio is a strong emphasis on a card having a high floor and a baseline level of consistency - if a card is capable of great things but doesn't have a near-guaranteed use case that's worthy of inclusion by itself, that's a big mark against it. If it has that but also has amazing upside if things break right, that's just a good card - the tricky cases are where the ceiling is high but the floor is oh so low.

Sometimes a whiff of variance is enough to damn a card even if the average output is alright - Bloodbraid Elf is on the chopping block in many power-focused Cubes because why risk flipping a dud when there are so many strong fours in R, G, and RG that do exactly what they say on the tin?

I'm a big fan of these cards with explicit variance and high upside because they lead to those all-time Cube moments you're still talking about months later - hitting exactly the right card off your Cascade or the Magic equivalent of spiking the one-outer on the river. The game engine lends itself to a lot of that naturally (and attempts to make it in-your-face like Miracles fall flat for many players) but there are vocal Cube designers who try to stamp that out where possible - your cards and decks will work as advertised in roughly the same way most of the time.

This distinction exists at the archetype level too. Your ideal midrange-ish Cube deck aims to 'play Magic' every game - you play some threats, hope you can line up your interaction properly, etc. By contrast, the all-or-nothing version of Reanimator that exists in Vintage Cube either dominates the game or barely participates in it - in one sense there is a wider or sharper range of outcomes here, and there is also a perceived lack of agency that will scare off some drafters

Here we have a kind of variety at work at each stage - the range of outcomes of individual cards, the strategic goals of archetypes, and the philosophical direction of the Cube designer.

Power band

I'll finish this scattered meditation with the obvious example - the power band. Every format has one but as the Cube designer you get to choose how loose it is. Consider retail Limited, where the presence of bombs serves useful roles (allows less experienced players to win games, offers a direction in the draft, creates satisfying moments where you draw your bomb at the perfect time or manage to overcome theirs etc) but has to discover this purpose for itself because this is also the main pipeline for getting the desirable cards in the set to players and selling packs. You know the set will have some planeswalkers in it and that they will often be tough for your motley crew of commons and uncommons to beat - that's part of the experience.

When you have sole discretion over what your goals are and how you approach them, it's easy to find excuses to push the power band. New Cubers often end up with such a wide power band that the average card is a dangerous joke. Old Cubes many have outliers that don't fit the rest of the power band on either end because they have some sentimental or other value - and that's a good thing!

It's rare to find arguments in favour of having these outliers - at best you get an instrumental case that the easiest way to support a failing archetype is to give it some juicy on-theme reward - but these taking over a game is a memorable moment or source of tension in itself and this is a useful building block as long as it does that in an interesting way. I'm not a fan of powered Cube in general but I've seen some Cubes that keep the Moxen but cut Ancestral Recall/Time Walk where my instinct would be to do just the opposite - the Moxen aren't compelling in their own right whereas Recall/Walk are exciting to cast and can be built around to some extent.

To build on a point made in my LPR episode (see post above!), any Constructed format is defined by its power outliers - even in singleton formats with >60 cards, games often revolve around finding specific one-ofs. In even a small Cube, one copy of [design mistake] can only be so bad - and if it does ruin a game in paper, you can shuffle up and play again while the other matches finish (vs the Constructed experience of losing an important match in a brutally unsatisfying way).

As long as those power outliers have a selling point that other cards couldn't bring and don't entirely crowd out the interesting stuff at the regular power level, I think sprinkling some in judiciously can add a useful kick to your format.
Quick note as I run out the door...

If you're uninterested in supporting midrange, the axis you should be looking at is Power vs. Synergy.

You want to dissuade people from drafting 5c goodstuff? Make 5c goodstuff suck.

Homework: find a way to do so that's actually fun.