Welcome to the first installment of C(ube)+C(ommander) Magic Factory, a series specific to these two popular casual formats. The focus of C+C will be on card selection, strategy, and budgeting. For the casual player, you will find lists, strategy, and a theme of optimizing on a budget. For the non-casual player or financier, this series will serve as a window to casual tables and the cards that are getting played there, which I hope can help the community get a better sense of card evaluation and demand for casual markets.
This column will examine recent Magic releases and assess their impact on the Cube and Commander formats. For the next several weeks, we’ll be looking at the Commander 2013 decks. C2013 has been hugely relevant for casual players, contributing to overhauls in my cube and many new commanders popping up at tables. Coincidentally, the first iteration of my cube was built from MODO set redemption, leftovers from my early paper days, and the Commander 2011 decks, with the latter providing some low-cost reprints and cube-worthy unique cards. Commander 2013, in my opinion, is even better for cubes and EDH players, so let’s get into the analysis!
The grading system I will use is outlined below and is an attempt at reflecting the way cards are played in and chosen for Cube and Commander; cubes generally want cards which are extremely powerful or support at least one archetype. Commander decks want their cards to shape the play experience. The first grade for each card is a Commander grade, the second a Cube grade.
The Grading System
[A+]: Best in Class. These cards are at the top of the list for any deck wanting the effect.
[A]: Excellent card according to two or more of: power level, size-of-effect, card interaction, or politics.
[B]: Excellent card according to one of: power level, size-of-effect, card interaction, or politics.
[C]: Solid role-filler or theme-supporter.
[D]: Playable, but better options exist.
[F]: A knife at a gun fight.
[A+]: First-pick card on power level alone or tier-one for associated archetype(s).
[A]: High-powered alone or in the context of two or more archetypes.
[B]: High-powered in the context of one archetype.
[C]: Role-filler in a niche archetype or mid-powered utility card.
[D]: Might see play in large or restricted lists (e.g. peasant)
[F]: Not playable in Cube.
Jund Deck: Power Hungry
Commanders: [card]Prossh, Skyraider of Kher[/card] [A+]/[D], [card]Shattergang Brothers[/card][C-]/[F] and [card]Sek’kuar, Deathkeeper[/card] [D+]/[F].
While I have only seen one Shattergang deck, I have seen several players build Prossh and the dragon looks to be very pushed in terms of power level and potential for card interaction. Prossh is the perfect general for any deck running a sacrifice theme and will continue to become more powerful as more cards are printed. Prossh does three things very well: threaten large amounts of commander damage, provide sacrificial food, and act as a zero-mana sacrifice outlet. In my opinion, Prossh is this set’s [card]Kaalia of the Vast[/card] and players will be brewing Prossh decks for a long time. Sek’kuar is similar to Prossh, but even if the tokens dealt commander damage, it would still be worse in every way except mana cost. Shattergang is deceptively fair, as sacrificing one of your permanents for one of each of your opponents’ merely brings you to parity. To really have fun and abuse them you need to cheat on both mana and food which is difficult in a game where players will disrupt you once they see your plan.
None of the cards can be considered for cube, since for the few cubes that do have a shard section there are better options in Jund like [card]Hellkite Overlord[/card] ([card]Reanimate[/card]/[card]Natural Order[/card] target) and [card]Broodmate Dragon[/card] (value), though Prossh may synergize better with a list supporting a sacrifice theme.
[card]Fell Shepherd[/card] [D]/[F]
While way too clunky and underpowered for cube, this card could find a home in weak EDH lists until he gets unfavorably compared to [card]Sheoldred, Whispering One[/card]. Either bringing dudes back into play or not having the “this turn” clause would be enough to get him some love but as is he’s too little value for too much mana.
Literally and figuratively a rattlesnake card, Ophiomancer functions much like a black [card]Ghostly Prison[/card] in the early game and as a combo enabler in sacrifice decks. The card is much worse if you don’t want both applications as the effect is not always big enough. In cube, Ophiomancer is being adopted in lists supporting [card]Pox[/card]/[card]Braids, Cabal Minion[/card] strategies, though it can also be slotted into control or equipment-based aggro decks as three power spread across twp guys. As a black three-drop that comes with value and synergy, expect him to stay in lists for quite a while.
[card]Primal Vigor[/card] [A]/[D]
This card is getting played in EDH and some players want it in multiple decks, indicating strong demand for the card even if it compares poorly to [card]Doubling Season[/card]. The symmetrical nature of the card, as well as limiting it to tokens and +1/+1 counters, may make Primal Vigor seem more innocuous than it’s older brother. But the fact is, it enables most of the combos Doubling Season does while making you less of a target. This, [card]Marath, Will of the Wild[/card], and all ramp seems like a good deck, which demonstrates the scope of applications outside the Jund deck it comes in.
In Cube, this could find its way into lists that really want to support tokens, though the symmetry comes with additional risks. I run Doubling Season on power level and synergy with planeswalkers, two ways in which Primal Vigor fails.
[card]Widespread Panic[/card] [D]/[F]
Some players are down on this card because you don’t shuffle in the card that goes on the library, but this shouldn’t really influence whether or not this card is good since losing the worst card in your hand versus drawing it again but losing a random card from your library aren’t very different outcomes. This is decent disruption against a ramp deck, but does so little so late without furthering your game plan, so it’s not seeing play. This card is even worse in cube as there aren’t enough shuffle effects to make it good.
[card]Tempt with Vengeance[/card] [C]/[A]
Tempting offer is an interesting political mechanic in that it models a turn-based prisoner’s dilemma. Usually the correct choice is to never take the offer, though for a table there has to be some implicit trust since to be the only opponent to take an offer gains that player an advantage over everyone but the offering player. If the first player takes the offer then everyone who follows is pressured to take the offer to keep up, but if the first players decline the offer then the player in the final seat has an opportunity to take that advantage at no risk. What neuters the mechanic somewhat is that the boost gained by being even the only player at a large table to take the offer is negated by the greater advantage gained by the offerer, an advantage gap which widens the more people take the offer. I am looking forward to seeing these cards played, but with the exception of [card]Tempt with Discovery[/card], they have not yet caught on in my groups. The value and enjoyment to be had from these can vary widely depending on how your group solves the subgame and if there can ever be any expectation of accepted offers.
All of this basically asks the question: “Do you want this card even if no one ever takes the offer?” For [card]Tempt with Vengeance[/card], this is a yes if you are playing a token theme or especially a Purphoros deck. There are opportunities for abuse, making this is one of the better tempting offer cards in my book.
In Cube, this card is excellent. In one-on-one duels, there is almost no consequence as to whether the offer is taken or not so the card becomes predictable yet still excellent, functioning as a burn spell that has the potential to do more than X damage over multiple turns while synergizing with many tier one red cards like [card]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/card], [card]Hellrider[/card], and [card]Hero of Oxid Ridge[/card]. I cut [card]Red Sun’s Zenith[/card] for it and have been very happy, since X-burn spells feel like a necessary evil but are underpowered compared to [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] variants at almost every point in the game.
[card]Endless Cockroaches[/card] [C-]/[D-]
This recursive effect is something that both graveyard-centric EDH decks and cube lists would want, but this card compares so unfavourably on mana cost with the available options that I don’t see it being run for very long once those options are discovered. Interestingly, if this card cost 1B, it would get included right alongside [card]Reassembling Skeleton[/card], as coming into play untapped offsets only returning on death.
[card]Hooded Horror[/card] [D-]/[F]
As a pseudo-unblockable creature, this card could represent four damage a turn to a player who has the board gummed up. This, however, is the best case scenario and the other scenarios are pretty bad. In cube, the mana cost is too high for the effect, even though the clause is more controllable and many decks would want an unblockable 4/4.
[card]Curse of Predation[/card] [C]/[A]
In Commander, these curses really want four or more players at the table to do their thing. l think they will slowly make their way out of players’ decks unless large games are routine. This curse is good enough in a weenie/token deck that it can be taken advantage of without the political angle, though the incentive is significant.
Curse of Predation is excellent in Cube as it’s a superior anthem effect to the alternatives and in a colour that loves to get use out of its mana dorks once they’re off ramp duty. Green aggro is becoming an unsupported archetype and what makes this card so great is that it enables that strategy all by itself by giving all the mana dorks legitimate P/T. That it’s uncommon is nice since now C/Ubes have access to an anthem.
[card]Curse of Shallow Graves[/card] [C]/[A-]
Politically, this curse is probably worse than Curse of Predation since most decks can leverage larger creatures more than they can a random 2/2. But both cards should play similarly since the incentive is tangible and the deck running the curse can be built to best use the token.
In Cube, this curse is another great inclusion since it supports both aggro and sacrifice themes. It’s sweet in B/R or B/W all-sideways, all-the-time decks since your dudes are all the same size and the token just replaces whatever gets blocked. This card also shines in graveyard strategies, allowing you to grind value off [card]Bloodghast[/card] and [card]Gravecrawler[/card].
[card]Curse of Chaos[/card] [D]/[F]
Unlike the previous two curses, where the incentive is worth approximately a card, looting is not worth a card. This may be useful in a Grixis reanimator deck but will generally be tough to leverage. It will incentivize your opponents only when they have dead cards to get rid of. In cube, this effect needs to be on a two-mana creature to compete.
In a multiplayer game, this can reliably get you a [card]Terramorphic Expanse[/card] or panorama and should be thought of as another [card]Rampant Growth[/card]. In a higher-powered meta, you can expect to get fetches and [card]Strip Mine[/card]s. In Cube, there just aren’t enough reliable ways to get lands into the graveyard by turn two, or enough ways take advantage of them once they get there.
[card]Mass Mutiny[/card] [B]/[F]
Fixed [card]Insurrection[/card] is still great against most decks and won’t lose you the friends needed to make this card good. Instead of killing the whole table, you get to take out one person, actually have the chance to play with their toys and benefit from attack and damage triggers, making this a more fun card. In one-on-one duels, including Cube matches, this is a bad [card]Threaten[/card], and Threaten doesn’t make the cut.
[card]Hua Tuo, Honored Physician[/card] [C]/[F]
Since Hua Tuo doesn’t cheat on mana or cards, what you’re recurring with him has to be so good that you don’t care. While [card]Genesis[/card] is better at grinding value, Hua Tuo is better at protecting a game plan revolving around oppressive and expensive creatures. However, being fragile, expect him to die once it’s clear that his next activation will be the broken one. Since the Cube deck that might want this effect is black, the 1GG casting cost hurts him too much to give him a real chance.
[card]Goblin Sharpshooter[/card] [A]/[C]
Goblin Sharpshooter plays so many ways for a little 2R 1/1. He shuts down token strategies, can combo the table, acts as a rattlesnake card, and can clear out a large swath of creatures with surprisingly few death triggers. Suit him up with a [card]Basilisk Collar[/card] and watch the carnage. This is a super reprint that will likely climb in value as more people get the chance to play with him and want additional copies, potentially even preferring the C2013 version for the sweet art.
Most Cube lists have one or two pingers, but this guy is usually beat out by [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] and [card]Cunning Sparkmage[/card]. The non-untapping clause hurts him more in Cube, as you can’t always draft a way for him to go off, but I could see him being the second pinger with proper support, like [card]Goblin Bombardment[/card].
[card]Goblin Bombardment[/card] [C]/[C+]
This card is bad if you’re playing fair and will win the game if you’re cheating with it. Zero mana for the sacrifice is what makes Bombardment tick, and if you have ways to load up on tokens or recur cheap creatures, this becomes a great addition.
Many cubes run [card]Mortarpod[/card] and/or graveyard recursion so there is clearly a demand for this type of effect. Being black would make it more desirable, as a straight red deck would have a tough time taking advantage of the card beyond [card]Squee, Goblin Nabob[/card] or a token theme.
[card]Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder[/card] [B]/[D-]
Though Endrek’s body is fragile, his ability has lots of potential as can be seen from its inclusion here. Endrek Sahr into Prossh threatens at least 18 commander damage. Being legendary is also nice, as he can act as a commander, though needing to untap for value makes him weaker. This together with the mana cost hurts this card for Cube. Playing it alongside [card]Braids, Cabal Minion[/card] or [card]Smokestack[/card] seems great, but coming out after those prison cards could be bad.
Sharing this effect with the table is fine if you’re set up to draw the most, a task made easier with the new commanders. [card]Howling Mine[/card] sees significant play in EDH, and this card is lots better when you want it to be. Be careful not to run it out blind, since if an opponent can abuse it then remove it, he will likely be much further ahead than the one card doled out by the Mine. For Cube, we see another card with a desirable effect for a black recursion deck but in a color that doesn’t fit the theme. If you can get this card to support a second archetype, it may be worth the slot in a larger list. After all, it is splashable and drawing lots of cards is fun.
[card]Inferno Titan[/card] [B+]/[B]
Titans are the defacto value creatures in EDH games and this one comes in a color that doesn’t usually get card advantage. Inferno Titan doesn’t synergize with what most red decks are trying to do, but it can get a spot on power level alone. Titan would probably be an A if it had “Creature Type – Dragon” printed on the card. All the titans have been included in rare cubes since their printing and a reprint here makes obtaining one even easier for a cube builder. Inferno Titan can be the top of a midrange/aggro deck that can get to six mana and is also a high pick for [card]Wildfire[/card] decks. Again, it is sad that the best (and often only) red six-drop in cube isn’t a dragon.
Overall – Value: [B+] / Playability: [A]
Power Hungry comes with a tier-one Commander, the best P3K reprint, the best tempting offer card, [card]Restore[/card], [card]Goblin Sharpshooter[/card] (with sick new art), a casual staple in [card]Primal Vigor[/card], and the two best curses. It also has a Cube staple in [card]Ophiomancer[/card] and is said to be the deck that plays the best right out the box. Of all five precons, I believe this to be the one with the most casual appeal. It could be the slow gainer once all the hype surrounding [card]True-Name Nemesis[/card] and Mind Seize has died down.
Join me next time when I review Mind Seize!
email: djkensai at gmail dot com