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.

The processed data from the survey is available on Github.

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Usher of the Fallen165/2102.8
Doomskar102/2102.3
Starnheim Unleashed86/2102.1
Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor84/2102.2
Esika's Chariot63/2102.2
Dragonkin Berserker54/2102.0
Bind the Monster52/2102.1
Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway52/2102.7
Barkchannel Pathway // Tidechannel Pathway50/2102.7
Halvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms47/2101.9
Darkbore Pathway // Slitherbore Pathway47/2102.6
Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway47/2102.7
Cosima, God of the Voyage // The Omenkeel42/2101.9
Clarion Spirit42/2102.0
Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's Shield39/2102.3
Behold the Multiverse37/2102.0
Goldspan Dragon37/2102.1
Saw It Coming34/2101.9
Battle Mammoth33/2101.9
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider31/2102.0
Ravenform29/2102.0
Sigrid, God-Favored26/2102.0
Bloodsky Berserker24/2102.1
Firja's Retribution22/2101.8
Eradicator Valkyrie22/2101.9
Glorious Protector22/2101.9
Immersturm Predator22/2102.0
Sarulf, Realm Eater21/2101.8
Mystic Reflection21/2101.9
Koma, Cosmos Serpent21/2102.1
Toralf, God of Fury // Toralf's Hammer20/2101.9
Egon, God of Death // Throne of Death20/2101.9
Birgi, God of Storytelling // Harnfel, Horn of Bounty20/2102.1
Ascendant Spirit20/2102.1
Masked Vandal20/2102.2
Kaya the Inexorable20/2102.2
Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire19/2101.8
Old-Growth Troll19/2101.8
Dream Devourer19/2102.0
Showdown of the Skalds19/2102.1
Poison the Cup17/2102.1
In Search of Greatness16/2101.8
Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge15/2102.1
Toski, Bearer of Secrets14/2101.9
Shimmerdrift Vale14/2102.0
Rise of the Dread Marn13/2101.9
Snakeskin Veil13/2102.0
Niko Aris13/2102.0
Tergrid, God of Fright // Tergrid's Lantern13/2102.3
Faceless Haven12/2102.1
The World Tree12/2102.2
Blizzard Brawl11/2101.7
Tibalt's Trickery11/2101.8
Alrund, God of the Cosmos // Hakka, Whispering Raven11/2102.1
Demon Bolt10/2101.7
Avalanche Caller10/2101.9
Jorn, God of Winter // Kaldring, the Rimestaff10/2101.9
Draugr Necromancer10/2102.0
Crippling Fear9/2102.0
Quakebringer9/2102.1
Orvar, the All-Form9/2102.2
Arni Brokenbrow8/2101.8
Resplendent Marshal8/2101.8
Battle of Frost and Fire8/2101.9
Bound in Gold8/2101.9
Magda, Brazen Outlaw8/2102.0
Waking the Trolls8/2102.1
Binding the Old Gods8/2102.1
King Narfi's Betrayal8/2102.3
Ice Tunnel8/2102.4
Sulfurous Mire8/2102.4
Highland Forest8/2102.4
Maja, Bretagard Protector7/2101.7
Dual Strike7/2101.8
Kardur's Vicious Return7/2101.8
Cosmos Elixir7/2102.0
Burning-Rune Demon7/2102.0
Svella, Ice Shaper7/2102.0
Goldvein Pick7/2102.1
Port of Karfell7/2102.1
Frost Bite7/2102.1
Rune of Might7/2102.3
Glacial Floodplain7/2102.4
Arctic Treeline7/2102.4
Woodland Chasm7/2102.6
Snowfield Sinkhole7/2102.6
Volatile Fjord7/2102.6
Rimewood Falls7/2102.6
Cards being tested by fewer than 7 respondents not shown.
Single Card Discussion

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.

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

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.

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?

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?

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 converted mana cost 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

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


  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 cmc 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 cmc cubes are more likely to rate the card highly.

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

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