‘Elp! ‘Elp! I’m Being Oppressed!: The Top 8 Most Oppressive Cube Cards of All Time
When I was first building my Cube, I presented a raw and massive list to my aesthetic consultant. He eliminated a bunch of cards for power-level concerns, then a bunch of cards that were mechanically dull, but he saved a special epithet for the cards that fell into both categories: ‘Jace, the Mind Sculptor,’ he said, ‘is game-ruining bullshit.’
Badly-designed cards are a ubiquitous part of Magic, as are badly developed cards. As with other rich games, like poker and capitalism, the whole point of Magic is that it’s impossible to do something perfectly, though the extent to which the design team uses this as an excuse for laziness is surely too high.
However! Most badly designed cards are harmless. They are harmless because they are bad. Never will Giant Adephage ruin a Pro Tour. Never will Wood Elemental transcend being the butt of a joke. The worst these cards will do is ruin a small child’s FNM draft.
Real problems arise when a badly designed card is too good. The careful ecosystem of the playables yields to an invasive species. It might be Tolarian Academy in Urza’s Block, Lin Sivvi in Masques Block, Jace and Stoneforge and Batterskull in more recent times, etc. The metagame becomes as flat as baseball or communism. Players leave. Things die out. Magic’s complexity is temporarily ruined.
Everyone who’s Cubed has had the experience of playing a haymaker and apologizing as a game, which once held the promise of decisions, depth, and interaction, degenerates into a one-sided slugfest. I usually take these cards out at the end of the evening. The following list is for the cards I take out immediately. Here are the top 8 instances of ‘game-ruining bullshit’ that every curator should consider cutting from their Cubes:
Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb.
8. Black Vise
It’s a common myth that ‘RDW is good in Cube.’ What people really mean when they say this is: ‘Control decks can be counted on to do nothing half the time, because their curves are too high and their mana sucks, so RDW will get all those free wins, and even if the control decks do have decent draws, sometimes RDW has Sulfuric Vortex or Black Vise.’ This brilliant card is so fun to play with and against that it’s banned in Legacy. It often does ten damage by turn three, which is the laziest imaginable way to bridge the power gap between Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Jackal Pup.
7. Wurmcoil Engine
The colorless Titan is good in most every deck, leading to easy draft decisions and easier games, once the lottery winner can tap six mana. Flexible to a fault and difficult to interact with, Wurmcoil Engine is what I have in mind when I rail against certain failures of NWO.
Don’t you love it when you start off with a t1 dork into t2 Cultivate into a t3 five-drop, then your opponent untaps and plays Balance? It’s just so exciting. Certain commentators have said Balance is ‘hard to set up,’ which is true in the sense that JtMS is ‘hard to play’ — sure, extracting every ounce of value is hard, but does it really matter when they’re fighting with Zeroes and you just dropped a bomb on Hiroshima?
5. Maze of Ith
One of NWO’s successes (though one that’s been pushed a little too far) has been the emphasis on creatures. The game is richer with a meaningful combat step. Dropping a Maze is a terrific way to make sure this never happens. I tell novice designers: ‘Maze is a Legacy-legal card. It does nothing against half the decks. The other half have some number of Wastelands to deal with it. It’s still insane against them. It’s still main-decked in that format. Why are you running it?’
4. Umezawa’s Jitte
As a Merfolk player, I know the best answer to Jitte is (editor’s note: was) another Jitte . There are no other Jittes in Cube. (See also: creatures, meaningful combat, hard to play optimally but impossible not to play well)
3. Recurring Nightmare
Once I was playing a friend here. He’d drafted the carefully supported red deck, and I’d just gotten one of his dudes with a Bone Shredder. I untapped, failed to pay the Echo, bashed for three with Kitchen Finks, played Recurring Nightmare, gained two life, got a 2/1, and killed his other dude. ‘Scoop,’ he said. Recurring Nightmare is no longer in my Cube. (Honorable mention goes to No Mercy and Parallax Wave in the ‘stupid enchantment’ category.)
Letting a friend draft this is like leaking nuclear secrets to Israel — you’re still friends, but you have certain reservations about what they’re going to do with it.
As impregnable as the Eyrie. The bad designs of the last seven cards all come together in Moat: it hoses creatures, it hoses aggro, it demands a specific answer that Cube decks typically have a hard time finding, and it can end the game on the spot. There is a place for cards like Moat — four-mana permanents that may do nothing or may end the game. That place is called Legacy. That place is not Cube. Plus, it has ugly art. I hate Moat.
The whole point of the doomsday machine…is lost if you keep it a secret!
There’s nothing that makes a format intrinsically playable. Vintage would suck without a Restricted list. Legacy would suck without a Banned list. Over the last couple of years, Wizards has been pushing Modern. To ensure a healthy diversity of decks, Wizards has not been afraid to use the banhammer. Why should Cube be any different?
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