Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
This article is one of our set prospectives, a series in which we survey the Cube community about the cards they intend to play in their cubes from a particular set. Our survey is conducted between the set’s full-spoiler and official release and is meant to measure and document Cube designers’ first impressions of new cards.
Magic’s latest expansion, Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, is the first set in the 28 years of Magic’s existence to use another fantasy game’s world and characters. To learn what the Cube community thinks of this landmark set, we at Lucky Paper surveyed over 200 designers. We have results from almost 180 designers with cubes not restricted by rarity (Unrestricted), over 20 designers with Peasant cubes, and 8 designers with Pauper cubes. These designers offer a diverse cross-section of Cube designers, as varied as a completely colorless cube, a Halloween cube, and many other backgrounds and goals. See where these respondents fall on the Cube Map.
Responses for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms were mixed — while exhaustion from the record-shattering Modern Horizons 2 tempered the community’s excitement, there is still a lot for Cube designers to like in AFR.
Unrestricted cube designers are testing a median of 6 cards from this set, putting AFR on similar standing with Strixhaven (8 median) and Kaldheim (9 median). For reasons concerning mechanics or power level, designers are cautious about the suitability of AFR’s cards, generally giving only 2 cards a rating of 2.5 or higher (strong contenders for their cubes). The maximum number of cards tested by any respondent is 61.
|Power Word Kill||46.9%||2.5|
|Den of the Bugbear||33.8%||2.3|
|Cave of the Frost Dragon||23.7%||2.2|
|Hive of the Eye Tyrant||19.3%||2.2|
|Lair of the Hydra||16.4%||2.1|
|Priest of Ancient Lore||15.0%||1.9|
|Werewolf Pack Leader||14.0%||2.0|
|Hall of Storm Giants||13.5%||2.0|
|Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar||12.1%||2.0|
|Monk of the Open Hand||11.6%||2.0|
|Boots of Speed||11.6%||2.0|
|Check for Traps||11.1%||2.0|
|Iymrith, Desert Doom||9.7%||2.1|
|Battle Cry Goblin||9.7%||2.0|
|Guardian of Faith||8.7%||2.2|
|You Find Some Prisoners||8.7%||1.9|
|Icingdeath, Frost Tyrant||8.2%||2.0|
|You Find the Villains' Lair||7.7%||1.9|
|You See a Pair of Goblins||7.7%||2.1|
|Zariel, Archduke of Avernus||6.3%||2.0|
|The Blackstaff of Waterdeep||5.8%||1.8|
|Hand of Vecna||5.3%||2.0|
|Lolth, Spider Queen||5.3%||1.9|
|Nadaar, Selfless Paladin||5.3%||1.8|
|Eye of Vecna||4.8%||1.5|
|You Meet in a Tavern||4.8%||1.9|
|Temple of the Dragon Queen||4.8%||2.3|
|Death-Priest of Myrkul||4.8%||2.1|
|You Hear Something on Watch||4.3%||2.0|
|Volo, Guide to Monsters||4.3%||1.8|
|Krydle of Baldur's Gate||3.9%||1.6|
|Kalain, Reclusive Painter||3.4%||2.5|
Power Word Kill is the most tested card of AFR, and yet its surprisingly low rating belies its power. Power Word Kill hasn’t garnered as much excitement as unconditional removal like Modern Horizon’s Damn or Ikoria’s Heartless Act, which had staggeringly high average ratings of 2.8 and 2.9, respectively. Instead, Power Word Kill’s lower average rating and a lack of strong consensus among Lucky Paper’s respondents resembles more highly conditional kill spells like Eliminate. The test rates of these cards mirror their ratings — while Damn and Heartless Act were tested by 63% and 70% of our respondents, Power Word Kill is being tested by a mere 47%.
“I'm looking forward to fewer inclusions to my cube after the expensive MH2 additions.”
Ironically, Power Word Kill is one of the least restrictive Doom Blade variants yet! Many of our respondents crunched the numbers using Cube Cobra’s “filter” feature to report how many creatures Power Word Kill could target, finding in most cases that our newest removal spell is extremely close to a clean Murder in many environments. It’s possible that the wordiness of Power Word Kill detracted from its reception, that designers are actively looking for more ways to cleanly deal with big Angels and Dragons, or that these effects are becoming less desirable as more versions are printed. The simplest explanation, though, is that the power-motivated Cube designers who were excited by Heartless Act were too burned-out or uninterested to fill out our AFR survey, thereby deflating Power Word Kill’s performance.
Similarly, Portable Hole is a new twist on well-known removal like Fatal Push and Oblivion Ring that seems especially well-suited for cubes which are fast or low-curving, but has received an equally lukewarm reception. Nabbing permanents of any kind gives Portable Hole utility even in slower formats, hitting a wide variety of highly played Cube cards, but the subset of Cube curators who responded to our survey are only testing the Hole speculatively, with low hopes for its performance.
On the heels of AFR’s removal spells is a cluster of roleplayers, including all 5 of the set’s creature-lands. Compared to the most recent cycle of creature-lands from Zendikar, AFR’s cycle trades color-fixing for the potential to enter play untapped. Despite these differences, both varieties of creature-land offer flood insurance at minimal deckbuilding cost — a recipe for success in a wide variety of Magic formats. The main drawback for many cube curators isn’t on the basis of power, but rather how unappealing these lands can look during cube construction and draft, which may suppress the number of testers.
“Started playing D&D during the pandemic, so it's been fun seeing the spells and keyword flavor.”
Finally, the other standouts from AFR are a smattering of spicy cards that offer novel combinations of game text and play pattern. Ebondeath, Dracolich promises an evasive clock and Aristocrat shenanigans, not to mention the flavor oozing from its “Legendary Zombie Dragon” typeline. Ranger Class is the most appealing example of the Class subtype to many designers, offering a guaranteed floor and high upside. And Dancing Sword reinvigorates Equipment-matters and White Weenie archetypes while injecting a flavorful design into an environment.
The most conspicuous aspect of this survey’s results is the absence of brand-new mechanics in designers’ testing lists. The two headlining mechanics of AFR, "venture into the Dungeon" and dice-rolling , can only boast a single card tested by 10 respondents: Nadaar, Selfless Paladin. Part of Nadaar’s appeal is that it’s possible to get many Venture triggers in a single game without any additional support, unlike many other Venture designs.
“As a designer looking to create an, accessible, streamlined experience, I will be avoiding Dungeons.”
The most significant factor in our respondents’ dislike of these mechanics was their wordiness, comprehension complexity, and logistical overhead. For many designers, the fun gained by venturing into the Dungeon simply isn’t worth the time and effort to support these outside-the-game components. We at Lucky Paper might be big fans of critical fails, but not to this extent!
“This is a really good set for a peasant artifact cube - treasure tokens are perfect for the environment and the lower power level jives nicely.”
While rarity-restricted Cube curators are no more excited than the rest concerning the Dungeon and dice-rolling mechanics, AFR offers some excellent new options for pushed cards on rate. Boots of Speed’s low equip cost makes it the most appealing common Equipment in the set. Priest of Ancient Lore offers card draw in a color which has precious little access to this effect. And Battle Cry Goblin may be the closest thing rarity-restricted Cubes have to a snowballing aggressive Rabblemaster .
Other rarity-restricted designers eschewed these “rate cards”, instead opting for more archetypal inclusions tailored to their unique environments.
Comments in the survey expressed the bimodal nature of Adventures in the Forgotten Realm. Designers who primarily evaluate cards based on power were disappointed (or relieved) that the set offered fewer pushed cards than Modern Horizons 2 or Zendikar Rising, while curators who valued D&D flavor and accessibility were largely excited by the inviting, easy-to-understand flavor and designs.
“I didn't like the flavor words at first. I thought they added unnecessary complexity, but they grew on me. In testing, my newbie players actually understood the modal options easier, because they had an image they could grasp.”
In summary, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is a below-average set for most cubes, but even with the lack of splashy new bombs, there is a lot of hardworking utility and spelunking flavor to love.
Here are my own thoughts:
Utility lands aren’t glamorous, but they are powerful.
Magic’s game engine is build around a single core tension: Play too few lands, and you can’t cast enough spells (mana screw); play too many lands, and you won’t draw enough spells (mana flood).
Utility lands like the cycle of creature-lands in AFR attack this tension from two directions at once. Drafters and deckbuilders can include flood insurance in their decks in the form of utility lands, without decreasing their overall land count. They may look weak because they rarely deal the 20th point of damage, but in fact they are a subtly powerful “break in case of emergency” tool for drafters.
AFR’s creature-lands are only the latest options available to Cube curators, and they stack up well to utility lands throughout Magic's history . Try seeding your favorites into your next Cube Sealed event or grid draft and give them a few quick tests — if you’re like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by these workhorses.
Complexity and flavor are perfectly good reasons to avoid a card/mechanic.
We Cube curators like to tunnel-vision onto Power as the sole metric for card evaluation (it’s how we evaluate cards for Constructed — not to mention, it makes for the best Tweets). But there are other metrics which can be equally important for Cube design, such as complexity, accessibility, or even just the quality of art and flavor. Many designers who responded to our AFR survey rejected or included cards mainly on the grounds of their complexity.
Other designers (myself included) may not like the art and flavor of marginal upgrades like Power Word Kill enough to edge out existing options like Terror or Doom Blade.
It’s hugely encouraging to see the community recognize that power may tell us what is good in our Cubes, but it does not tell us what’s good for our Cubes. Keep on playing cards you like!
Community Reviews and Discussion
- Cultic Cube’s Set Review
- Wtwlf123’s AFR Set (P)review
- MTG Cube Blogspot’s AFR Preliminary Review
- The 540 Podcast’s Cube Review
- SteveMan64’s AFR Hot Takes
- Solely Singleton AFR First Impressions
- MTGSalvation AFR Testing and Includes Thread
- Riptide Lab’s AFR Testing & Includes Thread
- Lucky Paper Radio’s Set Review