Set Prospective

Kaldheim

February 8th, 2021Jett Crowdis

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.

The release of every new Magic set is an exciting opportunity for Cube players to fine tune and push boundaries of their environments. Kaldheim is no exception, and as always, we at Lucky Paper surveyed the community on how they feel about the new set. We shattered our previous record with over 250 responses. We have results from over 200 designers with cubes not restricted by rarity (Unrestricted), over 30 designers with Peasant cubes, and 10 designers with Pauper cubes. Our community outreach continues to widen — we have respondents from backgrounds as diverse as a one-drop cube, an alliteration focused cube, and everything in-between.

Results

Designers are as eager as ever to improve their cubes, but compared to our Zendikar Rising results, Cube designers are finding slimmer pickings within Kaldheim. Relative to its predecessor, Commander Legends, however, Kaldheim sparks more interest.

Unrestricted cube designers are testing a median of 9 cards from this set, relative to 6 and 13 from Commander Legends and Zendikar Rising, respectively. While designers only rated a median of 2 cards greater than or equal to 2.5 (strong contenders), there are still a number of cards that have caught the Cube community’s eye.

With Snow being a prominent subtheme in Kaldheim, we also asked how and if designers supported Snow in their cubes. An astonishing 20% (55) of respondents choose to use Snow basics.

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Usher of the Fallen192/2562.8
Doomskar102/2562.3
Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor86/2562.2
Starnheim Unleashed86/2562.1
Bind the Monster69/2562.2
Esika's Chariot64/2562.2
Clarion Spirit60/2562.1
Behold the Multiverse54/2562.1
Dragonkin Berserker54/2562.0
Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway53/2562.7
Barkchannel Pathway // Tidechannel Pathway51/2562.7
Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway48/2562.7
Darkbore Pathway // Slitherbore Pathway48/2562.6
Halvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms48/2561.9
Cosima, God of the Voyage // The Omenkeel42/2561.9
Ravenform41/2562.0
Saw It Coming39/2561.9
Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield39/2562.3
Goldspan Dragon37/2562.1
Battle Mammoth33/2561.9
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider31/2562.0
Snakeskin Veil31/2562.1
Masked Vandal30/2562.2
Bloodsky Berserker29/2562.2
Sigrid, God-Favored26/2562.0
Poison the Cup25/2562.2
Eradicator Valkyrie22/2561.9
Koma, Cosmos Serpent22/2562.1
Firja's Retribution22/2561.8
Glorious Protector22/2561.9
Shimmerdrift Vale22/2562.1
Immersturm Predator22/2562.0
Sarulf, Realm Eater21/2561.8
Ascendant Spirit21/2562.1
Mystic Reflection20/2561.9
Toralf, God of Fury // Toralf's Hammer20/2561.9
Birgi, God of Storytelling // Harnfel, Horn of Bounty20/2562.1
Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire20/2561.8
Egon, God of Death // Throne of Death20/2561.9
Kaya the Inexorable19/2562.2
Showdown of the Skalds19/2562.1
Old-Growth Troll19/2561.8
Dream Devourer19/2562.0
Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge17/2562.1
Port of Karfell16/2562.1
In Search of Greatness16/2561.8
Binding the Old Gods15/2562.1
Kardur's Vicious Return14/2561.9
Littjara Mirrorlake14/2562.1
Svella, Ice Shaper14/2562.2
Maja, Bretagard Protector14/2562.1
Tormentor's Helm13/2561.8
Tergrid, God of Fright // Tergrid's Lantern13/2562.3
Blizzard Brawl13/2561.8
Rise of the Dread Marn13/2561.9
Niko Aris13/2562.0
Tuskeri Firewalker13/2562.0
Bound in Gold13/2562.2
Toski, Bearer of Secrets13/2561.9
Faceless Haven12/2562.1
The World Tree12/2562.2
Sarulf's Packmate12/2562.0
Sulfurous Mire12/2562.2
Ice Tunnel12/2562.2
Highland Forest12/2562.3
Dual Strike11/2561.8
Goldvein Pick11/2562.0
Tibalt's Trickery11/2561.8
Stalwart Valkyrie11/2562.0
Bretagard Stronghold11/2562.3
Woodland Chasm11/2562.4
Volatile Fjord11/2562.4
Rimewood Falls11/2562.4
Glacial Floodplain11/2562.2
Arctic Treeline11/2562.2
Avalanche Caller11/2562.0
Alrund, God of the Cosmos // Hakka, Whispering Raven10/2562.0
Snowfield Sinkhole10/2562.4
Draugr Necromancer10/2562.0
Jorn, God of Winter // Kaldring, the Rimestaff10/2561.9
Immersturm Skullcairn10/2562.1
Gates of Istfell10/2562.1
Kardur, Doomscourge10/2562.1
Demon Bolt10/2561.8
Alpine Meadow10/2562.3
Feed the Serpent10/2561.9
Aegar, the Freezing Flame10/2562.0
Crippling Fear9/2562.0
Orvar, the All-Form9/2562.2
Moritte of the Frost9/2561.9
King Narfi's Betrayal9/2562.2
Arni Brokenbrow9/2561.9
Giant's Amulet8/2562.1
Funeral Longboat8/2561.9
Rune of Might8/2562.3
Rune of Sustenance8/2561.7
Bloodline Pretender8/2562.0
Seize the Spoils8/2562.1
Magda, Brazen Outlaw8/2562.0
Frost Bite8/2562.1
Resplendent Marshal8/2561.8
Surtland Frostpyre8/2562.1
Great Hall of Starnheim8/2562.3
Gnottvold Slumbermound8/2562.2
Waking the Trolls8/2562.1
Fall of the Impostor8/2561.9
Battle of Frost and Fire8/2561.9
Arni Slays the Troll8/2562.1
Kaya's Onslaught8/2561.8
Koll, the Forgemaster8/2562.3
Quakebringer8/2562.0
Kolvori, God of Kinship // The Ringhart Crest7/2562.1
Skull Raid7/2561.9
Rune of Speed7/2561.9
Vault Robber7/2562.0
Weigh Down7/2561.6
Tyrite Sanctum7/2561.9
Skemfar Elderhall7/2562.3
Axgard Armory7/2562.1
Crush the Weak7/2562.0
Burning-Rune Demon7/2562.0
Cards being tested by fewer than 7 respondents not shown.
Single Card Discussion
Usher of the Fallen

Usher of the Fallen is among the highest rated cards in the history of our Cube prospectives, with its average rating of 2.8 matched by only three cards: Questing Beast, Bonecrusher Giant, and Murderous Rider.1

Happy that it's a light cube addition set compared to the past several sets.
prowens, one of 13 respondents testing only Usher of the Fallen

Usher is the quintessential example of a card that achieves widespread Cube popularity. Most Cube designers understand how Savannah Lions fits within their design goals, making Usher easy to evaluate, and it is more appealing than its ”boringcounterparts. Broadly popular Cube cards also tend to have an adaptable power level, allowing them to function in cubes with different design goals. Usher is extremely strong in power-optimized cubes alongside a critical mass of white aggressive creatures, but cubes at a lower power level can forego deep aggressive sections to restrict the card’s strength.

Perhaps most importantly, beloved cards like Usher tend to support a variety of play patterns and archetypes. Usher's boast ability creates interesting gameplay decisions around timing and provides late game relevance. It is among the most powerful aggro one drops ever printed, yet it also plays well in slower microarchetypes like Aristocrats and Tokens. All these factors combine to make a card that 80% of eligible designers are testing this spoiler season.

Barkchannel Pathway //
Volatile Fjord

New dual lands tend to do well in our prospectives because they function in cubes of all power levels and are often more affordable than their more efficient cousins .

The Pathways are no exception, with 25% of respondents planning testing them at an average rating of around 2.7. Notably, the Pathways of this set rank significantly higher than the rest of the cycle from Zendikar Rising. This is likely because Cube designers prefer to support complete cycles of lands in their cubes. While the tapped snow duals are being tested by very few designers, these designers are excited for the cycle as a way to support snow without switching basics.

A Slice of the (Color) Pie
Doomskar
Starnheim Unleashed

One unique aspect of Kaldheim for Cube is that its reception is extremely color-skewed. Of the top ten most tested cards for Unrestricted cubes, five of them are White. Along with Usher of the Fallen, Doomskar and Starnheim Unleashed fill out the top three of this set. While their number of testers (102 and 86) and average ratings (2.3 and 2.1) are significantly lower than those of Usher, many in the Cube community are excited for their potential.

Foretell is my favourite mechanic in a long time. It feels a lot like Suspend mixed with Cycling for helping smooth curves and stagger your mana costs.
Trinity, survey respondent

Doomskar has been compared favorably to Shatter the Sky, although surprisingly its average rating is somewhat lower (2.3 vs. 2.4). This is may be a result of its additional complexity and the community’s reluctance to play Foretell in cubes without a deeper Foretell density. Supporters point out that aggressive decks often can’t afford to play around a turn three wrath even if telegraphed, and the efficiency of Foretell enables playing spells post-wrath in later turns. Many in the community think this card will do well.

Starnheim Unleashed is perhaps this set’s flashiest mythic, but with an average rating of 2.1, a portion of the Cube community is lukewarm on it. It isn’t a great topdeck compared to existing token makers like Secure the Wastes and Finale of Glory in higher powered environments, but scaleable and modal cards often play far better than they read.

Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
Dragonkin Berserker
Esika's Chariot

When Cube designers assess new cards, a common heuristic is to compare to similar cards in existing roles. Red three drops are often compared to Rabblemaster, while Red five drops always draw the Thundermaw comparison.

With 84 testers and a 2.2 average rating, Valki has been compared to Mesmeric Fiend variants. These cards are quite contentious in the community, even among cubers with ostensibly similar design goals. Some value the disruption they provide, while others criticize their frailty and inability to effectively attack. Valki, the newest example of this class of cards, is more difficult to evaluate as a complex mix of effects. Missing noncreatures is a significant weakness (Duress is far more played than Divest), but supporters claim the benefits of two power, his activated ability, and his planeswalker half put him over the edge. Unlike strict improvements over known effects like Usher of the Fallen, the community often struggles with complex variants like Valki, and I have heard conflicting early playtesting experiences so far. I am excited to see how the community’s perception of him changes over time!

Similarly, Dragonkin Berserker is the latest in a line of red two drops with a keyword and marginal upside, and it receives a lukewarm rating of 2.0 from its 50 testers in this survey. Community discussion of this card and others like it often revolves around the relevance of its upside. I have noticed that the community prefers early relevance compared to larger late-game relevance — for example, both Heartfire Immolator and Kargan Intimidator were more popular and had higher ratings (2.3) compared to Berserker. Yet Berserker's supporters point out that aggressive creatures, as components of a critical-mass archetype, often don’t need individual quality and that creatures that can contribute when flooded are valuable.

Esika's Chariot is slightly different in that it defies attempts to directly compare with existing green 4-drops. It can snowball like Planeswalkers but cannot generate value in the face of blockers. It is resilient to removal but requires a steady stream of creatures to remain relevant. It ranks as the 5th most popular card in the set with a respectable rating of 2.2, though it is slightly more contentious than other popular cards. I think the ultimate fate of this card depends on playtesters’ answers to questions like “how often will I have non-cat tokens to copy?” and “how reliably can it be crewed when my opponent removes the Cats?”

A Winter Wonderland?
Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield
Ascendant Spirit
Avalanche Caller

Perhaps the most unique feature of Kaldheim is that it has intensified discussion in the community about Snow in cube. As mentioned earlier, 55 (20%) of our respondents choose to cube Snow basics. 37 of these designers also provided links to their cube, where I found that 84% of them appeared to be power-optimized cubes already cubing Snow cards from Modern Horizons like Icefang Coatl and Icehide Golem.

I just don't feel these cards are enough to justify explaining why my basic lands are also snow lands every draft.
amschock, survey respondent

While our survey is not fully comprehensive, this finding may reflect a pattern of how Snow is often used in the Cube community: to push power level. I have also noticed that these designers are also more likely to cube custom cards, break singleton, and play cards from unsets (my cube, for example, does all three). These designers represent a subset of the community that has a less rigid approach to fulfilling their design goals. In the comment section of the survey, other designers expressed reluctance at supporting Snow, reasoning that Kaldheim Snow cards are not strong enough or that Snow adds too much complexity for new players.

Reidane is the only Snow card being tested by both designers supporting Snow and those that are not. Surprisingly, while 24/39 of Reidane's testers are cubing Snow basics, they give her the same rating as those not on Snow basics: around 2.3. This may reflect that designers cubing Snow basics are often operating at a higher power level, where Reidane faces stiff competition even with its additional upside. Nevertheless, designers of both groups are excited for the card’s disruptive capabilities, and it is the 3rd highest rated nonland card of the set with over 30 testers (behind Usher and Doomskar).

Ascendant Spirit and Avalanche Caller suffer from being only playable in cubes that support Snow, and even within these cubes their number of testers (20 and 10) and average ratings (2.1 and 1.9) are mediocre. Both suffer from a common reason cards rate poorly in prospective surveys — they fall outside the color’s typical role in most Cubes. Ascendant Spirit is an aggressive blue threat, while many may believe that Avalanche Caller does not properly contribute to Blue’s control plan at higher power levels.

How Low Can You Go?
Bind the Monster
Clarion Spirit
Bloodsky Berserker

In most sets, there are a subset of cards that are heavily valued by designers that hold efficient, decision-rich gameplay as a primary design goal. These designers often value low mana curves as a way to maximize decision trees within gameplay and will often cut expensive spells for those that are cheap.

Bind the Monster is an excellent example of such a card. While it is being tested by a significant portion of the community (20%), the rating given by designers is significantly correlated with the average nonland mana value of their cubes.2 In lean, low-curving cubes, Bind offers a cheap form of interaction that enables double spelling, but in slower cubes, removal can afford to be slower and less disadvantageous.

While they are being tested by fewer respondents and the effect is not as strong, the ratings of Clarion Spirit and Bloodsky Berserker are similarly correlated with lower mana curves.3 The ability to leverage these creatures’ abilities increases with the abundance of cheap removal, creatures, and cantrips.

The influence of cube environments on the community’s impressions of these cards is clear in the survey data — Bind the Monster and Clarion Spirit have the lowest consensus ratings of cards with more than 40 testers. Collectively, these cards demonstrate that community opinions of new cards (and their eventual performance) is heavily influenced by the context of individual cubes. Notably, mana efficiency is only a single component of context in Cube design: desired gameplay, playgroup preference, and other factors shape how we evaluate new cards. Formalizing your design goals and context when discussing new cards is sometimes tedious and always difficult, but it remains an important component of online discussion.

Peasant and Pauper Cubes
Poison the Cup
Snakeskin Veil
Behold the Multiverse

Kaldheim doesn’t deliver nearly as many goodies for Peasant and Pauper players as Commander Legends, but there are still a handful of interesting cards for this subset of the Cube community. Usher of the Fallen, Clarion Spirit, and Bind the Monster are all cards these cubers are excited to try.

Peasant cubes also gain Poison the Cup (average rating of 2.5), an efficient removal spell that often has upside. Pauper cubes gain access to a powerful draw spell in Behold the Multiverse (average rating 2.5), a card even tested by 37 unrestricted cube designers. Some Pauper and Peasant cube designers seem excited to test Snakeskin Veil, a new pushed combat trick.

Conclusion
Cards are getting way too complex. MDFCs should not have full paragraphs on each side.
KitsuneCurator, survey respondent

In the comment section of the survey, designers expressed emotions ranging from disappointment to relief that Kaldheim has less to offer than the sets of 2019-2020. The survey results agree with this assessment — while the set offers more than lower-powered or themed sets like Commander Legends, it falls short of Zendikar Rising or Throne of Eldraine. Many designers also expressed dissatisfaction with the increased complexity of Kaldheim designs, specifically calling out the modal double faced cards in the set.

In summary, Kaldheim is an average set for most cubes. But given that testing and updating cube changes has been difficult in the midst of a global pandemic, maybe that’s okay.

Here are my own thoughts:

Avalance Caller is being underrated by designers that use Snow basics.

I too gave Avalanche Caller an initially low rating (1.7), reasoning that it didn’t fit Blue’s identity in my cube. After seeing its performance in initial testing and in Kaldheim limited, I have since changed my tune. While control decks do not need to quickly pressure life totals, the card is an extremely compact win condition that creates resilient threats and is defendable, as it is easy to play Caller and hold up countermagic. I predict it to be a powerhouse in my own cube.

The context of cube is widening.

In many of these prospectives, I mention important classes of cards that pose questions for Cube designers. In Core Set 2021, Basri Ket and Garruk Unleashed motivated designers to evaluate the increasing density of playable yet “uninteresting” planeswalkers. Other sets have highlighted guild disparity, prompting more designers to unbalance their multicolor sections. Commander Legends and Kaldheim encourage designers to make decisions on Monarch and Snow respectively, and the rise of modal and scaleable card designs prompts designers to consider the role of flexibility in their environments.

Couple this with the variety of self-imposed restrictions already present in the Cube community, and the result is a widening of approaches taken to achieve design goals, even in cases where those goals are the same. The MTGO Vintage Cube, for example, does not support Monarch or Snow cards, has balanced guild sections, and supports Storm. I choose to cube custom and unset cards, support Monarch and Snow, and break singleton for dual lands. Without extensive experience in both environments, it is very difficult to assess how those design differences affect gameplay and even harder to verbalize a shared context for discussion.

Of course, context has always mattered in Cube discussion (unpowered vs. modern cube, 720 vs. 360, etc). Yet as the card, mechanic, and design spaces widen with more sets, it has become even more imperative to consciously reflect on how your own environment’s goals and context shape your opinions.

The Esika’s Chariot promo art is worse than the regular art.

Despite me being a promo fanatic, Kaldheim marks the first set where I have chosen a card’s regular art over its showcase. I just like cute cats. Sue me.

Community Reviews and Discussion

Additional Resources


  1. It also bears mentioning that Throne of Eldraine was our first ever prospective, reaching a far smaller subset of the community. I find it likely that if the Eldraine survey was released today, these cards would rate below Usher of the Fallen.

  2. Of the 52 designers testing Bind the Monster, 38 of them provided cube links. A spearman correlation between the cube’s average nonland mana value and the designer’s Bind the Monster rating gave a ρ of -0.52 and p value of 0.007, meaning that designers with low average mana value cubes are more likely to rate the card highly.

  3. The correlations of Clarion Spirit and Bloodsky Berserker with average mana value are -0.35 and -0.16 respectively, although neither achieves statistical significance.

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