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Set Prospective

Theros Beyond Death

February 3rd, 2020Jett 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.

With Theros Beyond Death finally released, it’s time for another cube prospective survey. This time around, we have 84 participants! Cubes of all varieties are represented. Most (72/84) participants have cubes that are not restricted by rarity, and these cubes include traditional unpowered/powered cubes as well as themed or variant cubes. A minority (12/84) have pauper or peasant cubes. We’d love to include more peasant and pauper cubers in the future, so if there’s a specific community we can reach out to, please let us know!

Results

Compared to Throne of Eldraine, one of the best Cube sets in recent memory, this set represents a significant reduction in power level for most cubes. Cube owners are testing a median of 9 cards from this set, with each user only giving around 2 cards a rank of 3 (cube staples). In comparison, Throne of Eldraine saw a median of 17 tested cards with each user giving around 9 cards a rank of 3.

Nevertheless, Theros Beyond Death might hold some hidden cube gems. While Throne of Eldraine had some obvious Cube staples, the consensus values for cards from THB are quite low, indicating that cube owners disagree on many cards. It’s likely that the true staples from this set will become clear only after community testing.

The results for each user can be found here, while the results for each card, split by cube type, can be found here. The discussion that follows is centered on the cubes that are not rarity restricted, although there is a short section at the end for pauper/peasant cubers. As we gather more data from different cubes, we can do more specific analyses.

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Nadir Kraken46/722.3
Phoenix of Ash41/722.3
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis38/722.4
Woe Strider34/722.0
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath31/721.9
Eidolon of Obstruction31/721.9
Shatter the Sky27/722.4
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse26/722.5
The First Iroan Games26/722.2
Thassa's Intervention26/722.2
Agonizing Remorse26/722.3
Omen of the Sea25/722.4
Storm's Wrath19/721.9
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger17/721.6
Thassa, Deep-Dwelling16/722.1
Tectonic Giant16/721.7
Shadowspear16/721.7
Anax, Hardened in the Forge14/721.9
Nightmare Shepherd14/721.8
Taranika, Akroan Veteran14/721.6
Wolfwillow Haven13/722.4
Thryx, the Sudden Storm13/721.8
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove12/721.8
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths10/722.1
Alirios, Enraptured10/722.0
Erebos's Intervention10/722.3
Underworld Breach9/722.3
Satyr's Cunning9/722.4
Ilysian Caryatid8/722.6
Eat to Extinction8/722.1
Heliod, Sun-Crowned8/722.0
Mire Triton8/722.0
Klothys, God of Destiny8/721.6
Underworld Rage-Hound7/722.0
Purphoros's Intervention7/722.2
Elspeth Conquers Death7/721.8
Thassa's Oracle6/722.0
Irreverent Revelers6/722.5
Kiora Bests the Sea God5/721.5
Polukranos, Unchained5/721.4
Cards being tested by fewer than 5 respondents not shown.
The Fan Favorites

These are cards being tested by a large number of surveyed players. Nadir Kraken is the most popular card of the set, with nearly 65% of powered/unpowered cubers sleeving it up this release season. But of these popular cards, it’s also the most contentious. Its ability to win the game by itself coupled with its low mana cost and synergy with many Cube cards make it a premier Cube candidate. Nevertheless, critics of the card cite its intensive mana requirements and inability to generate significant value without help. While I think the card is excellent, this is an example of a card that truly needs to be tested for proper evaluation.

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is one of the highest ranked cards, but it ranks 8th in terms of number of people testing it. This is due to a variety of factors, including a perception of it being a “boring” Planeswalker and the intense competition at the Dimir slot. The Cube community’s sentiments here are clear — if you don’t mind generically powerful effects taking precious guild slots, Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is an excellent option for your cube.

Shatter the Sky, despite its drawback, is a very powerful card and likely better than its more expensive counterparts like Fumigate and Realm-Cloaked Giant. Several users are choosing to forego this card because they feel that Wrath of God and Day of Judgement provide sufficient wrath density for their cubes. Others are cutting Supreme Verdict for this card to free up a guild slot. While many of those surveyed believe that Phoenix of Ash is worse than Goblin Rabblemaster and its cousins, the Phoenix is still quite popular, indicating that players want to diversify this slot. It offers a recursive threat for Aggro and Midrange decks alike, making it a shoo-in for many mid-sized cubes.

Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis is the most contentious of this bunch besides Nadir Kraken, and for good reason. Planeswalkers are already notoriously difficult to evaluate for Cube, and the presence of Escape makes it even harder to appraise. In general, the Cube community agrees that the card is good, but many are hesitant to call it a Cube staple. After testing the card for a few weeks, I believe the card to be worse than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Elspeth, Knight-Errant but better than commonly run options like Hero of Bladehold. The card pressures quickly, and the -1 into Escape and then -1 again is an option that has ended games out of nowhere.

Eidolon of Obstruction represents the first in a wave of anti-Planeswalker cards from Wizards R&D. The Cube community is in relative agreement—unfortunately, this card is serviceable but not amazing. While its floor is high enough to see play over weaker two drops in Cubes with a higher Planeswalker count, it will very often be a simple Youthful Knight, a card that does not see Cube play. This card is an easy pass in Cubes with a low Planeswalker density.

Agonizing Remorse is another card that bears mentioning here, as many respondents that are testing it rate it quite highly. This card is certainly the most powerful hand disruption effect printed at 2 mana, and it also has minor upside late game when most hand disruption is dead. Many of those surveyed are planning on running this card over Mesmeric Fiend and Brain Maggot, citing the vulnerability of those creatures. I am running it in addition to these cards, as I believe that hand disruption is absolutely critical for black decks, especially at higher power levels.

The Popular Controversies

These are among the most contentious cards of the set that are seeing a lot of play. Woe Strider is contentious because it is an archetype specific card. Without an Aristocrats or Persist-combo archetype, the card loses much of its luster and isn’t worth playing at smaller sizes. The controversy over Omen of the Sea is also easily explained — members of the Cube community vary greatly in how highly they value cantrips. Cubers that value redundancy and efficiency rate this card very highly, while others value variety and give it a low ranking. This card is an excellent option if you’re already playing the B list cantrips like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, and I know that a number of cubers are cutting Thirst for Knowledge for this card.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath is an interesting card. Simic decks are among the least likely to fulfill the Escape condition early, but its cast floor is bearable and much better than its cousin, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger. In general, the Cube community is split on the strength of Uro, although the average user does not rank it highly (1.9). If Simic didn’t get a major boost from 2019 in the form of staples like Hydroid Krasis, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Ice-Fang Coatl, I predict this card would have ranked significantly higher.

The most contentious popular card of the set is The First Iroan Games. The card has an incredibly high ceiling — if you’re able to draw 2 cards from it on curve, it will be very hard to lose. Evaluating its floor is more difficult; if they remove your 4/4 and you don’t draw cards, where do you land? If they use a 2 mana removal spell, you’re mana neutral on the exchange with the gold token. Unfortunately, this card is also a terrible topdeck, is slow to generate value, and is vulnerable to enchantment interaction. I believe that its floor is high enough, but many cube owners disagree. Only time will tell!

The Confident Minority

Every Cube season, there are a select few cards that are championed by a minority of cubers who have a high consensus on their rankings. For this set, these cards represent extra effects for those that seek to maximize redundancy in their cubes. Irreverent Revelers has been outclassed by Embereth Shieldbreaker, but for cubes where interacting with artifacts is important, it is a welcome addition. Similarly, Ilysian Caryatid and Wolfwillow Haven represent additional ramp effects for those that maximize low CMC ramp cards for green decks. Satyr's Cunning is a one drop that has additional utility late game, though there are many one drops that outclass it. If you’re looking to reduce variance in your Cube drafts, these cards may be for you.

Peasant and Pauper Cubes

While only three peasant Cube designers were surveyed, all gave high ratings to three cards : Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Omen of the Sea, and Agonizing Remorse. Given that these cards rank favorably even among unpowered/powered cubers, they’re likely to make waves in these cubes.

The pickings for pauper Cube designers are more slim. The only card that was rated a 3 by more than one cuber was Daybreak Chimera, and 4/9 cubers gave no card a rating of 3. Nevertheless, Voracious Typhon represents a recursive threat that is appealing to most pauper cubes, while Mire's Grasp is seeing play in a minority of cubes as well (3/9).

Conclusion

In general, Theros Beyond Death has a few options for smaller, higher powered Cubes. Nadir Kraken, Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, Shatter the Sky, Phoenix of Ash, Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis, Eidolon of Obstruction, and Agonizing Remorse are the most popular cards from this set. Most cubers are trying out these cards as well as a subset of Woe Strider, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Omen of the Sea, and The First Iroan Games. Here are some of my own thoughts:

Uro and Kroxa are underrated

These cards are finishers that will always affect the game, which is an underrated quality. The issue with expensive cards like Consecrated Sphinx and Inferno Titan is that some games they do worse than nothing by never being cast. The mana and graveyard requirements for Uro and Kroxa are significant, but most decks will be able to Escape them at least once. They are also excellent top decks. Because they exist in competitive guilds, I’m unsure if they will survive testing, but I do expect them to play better than the cube community thinks.

The First Iroan Games plays better than it reads

The ceiling on this card is so incredibly high that even with a mediocre floor it will still be worth cubing. It asks a great deal of your opponent on curve — remove the 4/4 or fall very far behind. It also gives you the opportunity to play a follow up 4/4 if they remove the token after attacks, and new cards like Nightpack Ambusher and Questing Beast make this plan more reliable. Time will tell if it remains in my cube after extensive testing, but I have high hopes.

Eidolon of Obstruction will be overplayed

If your opponent doesn’t play a Planeswalker, this card is just bad. The card probably starts to become mediocre around two Planeswalkers in your opponent’s deck and becomes actively decent at three. After analyzing 400 decklists of my own Cube drafts, I’ve found that the average number of Planeswalkers in my cube decks is around 3 (and on the rise). Thus in my own cube I would consider this card average, but I also run more Planeswalkers than most cubes of my power level. I would caution you to consider if the benefits of running this card in your cube outweigh its floor.

We are firmly in an era of guild disparity in unpowered/powered Cubes

By this, I mean that some guilds are far stronger than others. The recent printing of Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and Teferi, Time Raveler have emphasized this difference. Dimir, for example, has seen 4 powerful options in a little over a year, while Orzhov hasn’t seen a Cube staple since 2012, when Lingering Souls was printed (Kaya's Wrath was close but ultimately too narrow for many cubers). I have noticed that many cube designers are compensating for this by unbalancing guilds in their cubes, choosing to play more cards in powerful guilds like Azorius and Dimir. Additionally, cubers are having to make hard choices within these powerful guilds — should they Cube generically powerful options like Fractured Identity and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, or go for a tempo route with Geist of Saint Traft and Spell Queller? This question has always been present, but recent sets have intensified the issue.

Community Reviews and Discussion

Here is a list of various other content sources on Theros Beyond Death for Cube. I do not vouch for the opinion or quality of these sources; I am merely presenting them so that you can make your own assessments.


Individual Card Discussion
Card
MTGS link
Reddit link
Agonizing Remorse
Anax, Hardened in the Forge
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Eidolon of Obstruction
Elspeth Conquers Death
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis
Heliod, Sun-Crowned
Klothys, God of Destiny
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Nadir Kraken
Nightmare Shepherd
Phoenix of Ash
Polukranos, Unchained
Purphoros's Intervention
Shadowspear
Shatter the Sky
Storm's Wrath
Taranika, Akroan Veteran
Tectonic Giant
Thassa's Intervention
Thassa, Deep Dwelling
The First Iroan Games
Thryx, the Sudden Storm
Underworld Breach
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
Woe Strider

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