2022 Standard Rotation Cube Retrospective
We’re using the Magic milestone of the 2022 Standard rotation to look back at the sets from the past year, especially how the Cube community’s impressions have changed over time. For Cube designers, the evolution of Standard can be a good time to focus their interests, card evaluations, and take advantage of relevant price drops.
The 2022 rotation affects every Standard-legal set from Zendikar Rising to Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but we’d be remiss to omit several impactful, supplemental releases for Cube like Modern Horizons 2 and Commander 2021.
Our analysis has a simple goal: Did the Cube community’s spoiler-season predictions accurately reflect which cards they’re playing two years later?
We elect for a data-driven methodology here in order to minimize hindsight bias. During each preview season, our set prospective surveys give us data about the perceptions of a subset of the Cube community. We also have data about the present cubes of that same subset of designers, thanks to Cube Cobra.1
By comparing past and present, we can draw conclusions about how Cube perception has shifted on every card released during this time period. This isn’t the same thing as finding the “strongest” or “best” cards of the set. Instead, we’re finding shifts in perception and preference. We assess whether the prospective survey respondents grew more or less enthusiastic toward these cards over time, and whether those respondents’ perceptions accurately predicted Cube Cobra’s present-day play rates.
Mathematically, this shakes out to two numbers visualized in the table below2. The first number is the percent change in survey respondent play rate — in other words, how many survey respondents are still playing the cards they said they’d test during our preview-season survey? If this value is positive, it means that the card was initially overlooked; if the value is negative, the card was initially overvalued by our respondents.
The second number is the percent difference in the Lucky Paper prospective play rates relative to the general population of Cube Cobra — in other words, do the data from Lucky Paper prospectives over- or under-predict a card’s play rate across all the cubes on Cube Cobra? If this value is negative, it means that Lucky Paper’s respondents overvalued a card during preview season relative to the general Cube Cobra population today (and vice versa).
|Usher of the Fallen - KHM||2.8||77.5%||9180|
|Laelia, the Blade Reforged - C21||2.5||75.0%||4188|
|Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer - MH2||2.9||69.5%||5973|
|Ignoble Hierarch - MH2||2.9||67.5%||6909|
|Damn - MH2||2.8||65.4%||5760|
|Pest Infestation - C21||2.7||63.8%||2200|
|Sedgemoor Witch - STX||2.3||60.4%||5431|
|Elite Spellbinder - STX||2.4||60.0%||5664|
|Solitude - MH2||2.6||57.6%||5090|
|Luminarch Aspirant - ZNR||2.3||56.1%||7719|
|Prismari Command - STX||2.4||56.1%||5657|
|Grief - MH2||2.5||53.9%||3651|
|Baleful Mastery - STX||2.4||51.7%||3000|
|Grist, the Hunger Tide - MH2||2.5||51.5%||4688|
|Skyclave Shade - ZNR||2.3||50.5%||5347|
|Kargan Intimidator - ZNR||2.3||50.0%||2483|
|Dauthi Voidwalker - MH2||2.5||49.2%||4548|
|Power Word Kill - AFR||2.4||48.9%||2883|
|Lose Focus - MH2||2.4||48.5%||3848|
|Court of Grace - CMR||2.4||48.1%||2379|
|Rip Apart - STX||2.4||47.8%||4438|
|Fall From Favor - CMR||2.4||47.2%||2637|
|Thieving Skydiver - ZNR||2.5||46.4%||5474|
|Portable Hole - AFR||2.3||45.8%||3756|
|Flametongue Yearling - MH2||2.3||45.8%||4692|
|Nullpriest of Oblivion - ZNR||2.1||44.9%||4884|
|Subtlety - MH2||2.3||44.4%||2347|
|Fury - MH2||2.4||43.1%||3760|
|Abundant Harvest - MH2||2.5||43.1%||5704|
|Triplicate Titan - C21||2.2||42.2%||1883|
For most cards under consideration, the Cube community has cooled over time, generally playing the cards at lower rates than our prospective would suggest. Since our survey asks for a respondent’s subjective opinions about all the cards they test — even the provisional or speculative tests — we aren’t surprised that cube designers might have a high turnover rate to make room for the prodigious pace of set releases. (Wizards produces many cubes’ worth of new cards each year, after all!)
We also have to consider the breadth of Cube Cobra’s 50,205-cube database compared to our hundred-odd survey respondents. Many of Cube Cobra’s lists are rarely updated compared to our ultra-engaged respondents, or they might be based around themes or restrictions where these sets didn’t fit. This supports the general trend we see where Lucky Paper responses tend to be overconfident relative to Cube Cobra.
Considering these quirks in our data set, the odds are stacked against an individual card seeing an increase in play rate over the last two years. In the rare instances where this does occur, it is a signal that something unique or surprising is responsible for that card’s long-term success.
Many overlooked cards for cube simply exceeded expectations in competitive play. Our survey respondents tend to test powerful cards at higher rates than Cube Cobra more broadly, as our second retrospective metric above indicates. Therefore, the biggest trends in our respondents’ cubes over time tend to track fairly well with Constructed results.
Other sleeper hits hailed from unassuming supplemental products like Commander precon decks, which don’t receive the same level of community scrutiny during preview season.
Zendikar Rising introduced Modal Double-Faced Cards and revisited the popular plane of the Eldrazi. Nearly two years later, our respondents are still playing a median of 9 cards from this set, a relatively large number likely buoyed by the defining role ZNR’s cards played in its Standard format.
White Aggro was a major pillar of ZNR Standard and heavily featured Luminarch Aspirant and "Sky Maul". When a card sees Standard play, it is simply more visible to Cube curators through professional commentary, the Arena ladder, or word-of-mouth from fellow Cube designers. This won’t explain all of the significance in this data, but it’s a good start.
Preceding the White Aggro deck in Standard was a much more infamous deck centered around the surprisingly castable Omnath, Locus of Creation. Omnath’s ban in Standard and ongoing contributions to the Modern format likely contributed to it appreciating among our respondents. Relative to Cube Cobra, our respondents are fairly receptive to these format-defining power outliers.
However, not every card from ZNR saw increased play after the set’s release. The much-hyped land MDFCs generally saw modest decreased play over time, as did the snowballing aggressors Kargan Intimidator and Nighthawk Scavenger and three-mana card draw engine Jace, Mirror Mage. Wizards prints a high volume of relatively interchangeable 3-6 mana threats and tools, often as safe bets for Standard. A common pattern identified during last year’s rotation (and repeated this year) is that our survey respondents tend to cycle through such cards quickly.
With a relative lack of survey engagement, Commander Legends saw most of its cards fall from favor (hey, no pun intended) with Lucky Paper prospective respondents — the median respondent has only one card from CMR still in their cube. This is a snub to the Monarch mechanic, represented on two of CMR’s most-tested cards which have since fallen from grace (oops, another pun). Hullbreacher alone remains, as the most-played card of the set on Cube Cobra.
Kaldheim has seen a median of 5 cards survive long-term testing among Lucky Paper respondents, an amount comparable to Theros: Beyond Death from this time last year. Among the cards that have seen increased play are a trio of Standard powerhouses: Esika's Chariot, Showdown of the Skalds, and Clarion Spirit. Much like ZNR above, it’s likely that the increased visibility of Constructed play boosted the interpretability and appeal of these cards among our respondents. Our prospective respondents at the time tended to favor these powerful cards more than the average Cube Cobra user — just because a plurality of our respondents enjoy these cards doesn’t mean it’s normative for all our respondents, or for Cube Cobra more broadly.
On the other hand, several cards that came in hottest on Kaldheim’s prospective survey largely were largely overvalued by our respondents. Doomskar and Starnheim Unleashed both garnered respectable results at survey time, but they appear to have been overvalued.
Strixhaven has seen slightly better retention than Kaldheim, with the median cube designer still playing 5.5 STX cards. The most-overlooked cards was Expressive Iteration, a multi-format all-star that slipped under the radar. Other Standard pillars, Elite Spellbinder, Sedgemoor Witch, and Prismari Command, have only seen modest decreases in play among Lucky Paper respondents, but we play them at a far higher rate than the rest of Cube Cobra.
Several of Strixhaven’s more tenuous tests were overvalued. Whether these cards simply overstayed their welcome or have been outmoded by newer effects, the rest of Cube Cobra is also playing these cards at a lower rate than our respondents did initially.
Despite the middling cube retention of STX itself, its accompanying Commander deck, Commander 2021, boasts a median of 2 retained cards among our respondents. This is significant considering the different design focus and small number of original cards in a Commander release. Laelia, the Blade Reforged has seen a modest decrease in play over the last year, along with other C21 hits like Triplicate Titan and Pest Infestation, but even more telling is how strongly Lucky Paper respondents over-predicted Laelia’s adoption among the broader Cube Cobra community. Our receptiveness towards Laelia was not reciprocated by the average cube curator — a reminder that Lucky Paper’s survey respondents are ultra-engaged relative to the average Cube Cobra user.
Modern Horizons 2 was record-breaking for Lucky Paper’s Set Prospective survey and continues to define a multitude of formats. With a whopping 18 MH2 cards still in our median respondent’s cube, Modern Horizons 2 has nearly twice the long-term cube impact as the next-most impactful set we’ve ever studied, Throne of Eldraine.
Many of the cards seeing increased play are basic Magic effects with a little boost of power. Unholy Heat, Prismatic Ending, and Bone Shards are flexible removal spells that have all seen some degree of Constructed play, while Abundant Harvest gives Green powerful card draw at a low price.
Other cards simply slipped under the radar in a preview season dominated by monkey business. The Blue mage’s favorite 2-mana 8/8, Murktide Regent — previewed in 2021 by Cube aficionado and Magic pro Dom Harvey, along with Ari Lax — didn’t get pre-release hype proportionate to its impact (not even on the aforementioned preview episode). Esper Sentinel, a backbone of the popular “Hammer Time” deck, was dismissed as a Commander plant. Dragon's Rage Channeler, previewed by the longest-running Cube podcast on the Internet, was evidently envisioned by Wizards as a Cube card. The exception is Urza's Saga, which overperformed the already-high expectations set for it during preview season to become the most-overlooked card of this time period among all new sets.
All of these cards have had stints among Modern’s premier threats, giving our audience a firm grasp on the cards’ power level and play pattern. Those who play these cards one year later do so with increased confidence relative to preview season.
Not every card from Modern Horizons 2 has seen increased play among our respondents. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, the highest-rated card of all time on our Community Set Reivews, was modestly (but significantly) overvalued by our respondents, and his Community Set Review results significantly over-predicted his success in the general Cube Cobra population. Contributing factors may be the price of the monkey, Ragavan’s omnipresence in Constructed Eternal Magic, or the potentially polarizing play patterns of having a turn one threat that demands an answer. Other cards which tended to be cut over the last year included the runt of the Evoke Elementals litter, Kaldra Compleat, and Goblin Anarchomancer.
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Magic’s first crossover IP set, has seen a median of 4 cards retained among Lucky Paper respondents. AFR’s creature-land cycle is holding fast with negligible changes in their play rate.
Most other AFR cards were overvalued by our respondents, just like the midrange options of other sets. Forgotten Realms: Commander likewise saw very little testing and sees very little current play, with the median Lucky Paper respondent playing 0 cards from the set.
We (still) aren’t good prophets of our own preferences. We Lucky Paper survey respondents aren’t too hot at predicting how much we’ll like cards (myself included! You should have seen how high I was on Bind the Monster, of all things). It’s not always about power level, either — we all knew Ragavan was pushed, but still we overestimated how much we’d enjoy the card. This unreasonable optimism is totally normal human psychology, but awareness is the first step to growing past it if needed (e.g., I’ve learned to stay away from “Blue Swords to Plowshares” effects).
Constructed gives more than one type of feedback to Cube curators. When we see strong overlap between Standard hits and cards with increased cube rates, it could mean that Constructed has given more clarity about power level, but it may also point to play patterns. Many of the hits we analyzed only made waves in Standard, but it may be that playing with these cards in Constructed was enjoyable enough to earn them a spot in Cube.
Magic prints far too many midrange threats for a Cube to hold at once. It always surprises me how many 3-6 mana “interchangeable threats with impressive text-box” fall by the wayside over two years. These cards form a vital part of rotating Constructed formats, so they’re likely to keep coming, but for a custom format like Cube, we can pick from Magic’s whole history of such effects. It’s okay to seek out some novelty, but curators looking to cube on a budget should consider prioritizing their preferred play pattern and devaluing novelty when it comes to these midrange effects.
Browse the first impressions and view the full survey data from each set:
- Data collected July of 2022.↩
- In calculating these two metrics, we only consider Lucky Paper respondents whose self-reported Cube Cobra links were valid then and now. The other descriptive data (average rating and testers from the prospective, and the number of current Cube Cobra cubes for each card) include all applicable cubes. “Testers” is given as a percentage, since the number of survey submissions changed from set to set.↩