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.
Zendikar Rising has been released, which means it’s time for another Lucky Paper cube prospective survey! This time, we had nearly 200 respondents, which is a reflection of both our increased reach and the strength of ZNR as a set for Cube. 173 of these respondents have cubes not restricted by rarity, while 14 and 10 respondents have Pauper and Peasant cubes, respectively.
Zendikar Rising is an exciting set for a variety of Cube designers. Respondents are testing a median of 13 cards from this set, a significant increase from M21’s median number of 6. The median number of cards ranked above 2.5 (strong cubeables) was 4, indicating that users expect that a fair number of these cards will survive testing in their cubes. However, there are no cards that have both a high consensus value and a high average ranking. This may be because our survey is reaching new parts of the Cube community, but it also indicates that no card from Zendikar Rising fits every cube (unlike, for example, the Adventure cards from Throne of Eldraine).
Nevertheless, Zendikar Rising is a landmark set for some cube designers. The median number of cards tested per designer is not significantly different from previous sets, but the ten users trying the most cards are testing an average of 48 cards, significantly more than they tested in previous surveys. This finding reflects their intense interest in the modal double faced cards (MDFCs) for Cube.
|Nullpriest of Oblivion||45.6%||2.1|
|Emeria's Call // Emeria, Shattered Skyclave||41.5%||2.3|
|Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt||40.0%||2.4|
|Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass||39.5%||2.5|
|Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood||39.0%||2.4|
|Kazandu Mammoth // Kazandu Valley||39.0%||2.3|
|Sea Gate Stormcaller||37.9%||2.1|
|Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary||34.4%||2.1|
|Jace, Mirror Mage||34.4%||2.1|
|Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins||28.2%||2.1|
|Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit||25.6%||2.2|
|Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale||23.1%||2.0|
|Glasspool Mimic // Glasspool Shore||22.6%||2.0|
|Feed the Swarm||19.0%||2.1|
|Needleverge Pathway // Pillarverge Pathway||17.9%||2.4|
|Cragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown Pathway||17.4%||2.3|
|Clearwater Pathway // Murkwater Pathway||17.4%||2.4|
|Brightclimb Pathway // Grimclimb Pathway||17.4%||2.3|
|Maul of the Skyclaves||17.4%||2.0|
|Riverglide Pathway // Lavaglide Pathway||16.9%||2.4|
|Branchloft Pathway // Boulderloft Pathway||16.4%||2.4|
|Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave||14.4%||2.1|
|Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn||14.4%||2.1|
|Inscription of Abundance||12.3%||1.9|
|Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle||10.8%||2.2|
|Valakut Awakening // Valakut Stoneforge||10.8%||2.1|
|Skyclave Cleric // Skyclave Basilica||10.3%||2.0|
|Sejiri Shelter // Sejiri Glacier||10.3%||2.1|
|Kabira Takedown // Kabira Plateau||10.3%||1.9|
|Khalni Ambush // Khalni Territory||9.7%||2.2|
|Archon of Emeria||9.7%||2.1|
|Nissa of Shadowed Boughs||9.2%||2.0|
|Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire||8.2%||2.0|
|Umara Wizard // Umara Skyfalls||8.2%||2.1|
|Kazuul's Fury // Kazuul's Cliffs||7.7%||2.2|
|Pelakka Predation // Pelakka Caverns||7.7%||2.1|
|Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager||7.7%||1.9|
|Ondu Inversion // Ondu Skyruins||7.2%||1.9|
|Yasharn, Implacable Earth||7.2%||2.0|
|Scourge of the Skyclaves||6.7%||2.0|
|Inscription of Ruin||6.7%||2.1|
|Archpriest of Iona||6.7%||1.5|
|Blackbloom Rogue // Blackbloom Bog||6.7%||2.2|
|Phylath, World Sculptor||6.2%||2.0|
|Akoum Warrior // Akoum Teeth||5.6%||1.9|
|Makindi Stampede // Makindi Mesas||5.6%||2.1|
|Song-Mad Treachery // Song-Mad Ruins||4.6%||2.0|
|Beyeen Veil // Beyeen Coast||4.1%||2.2|
|Vastwood Fortification // Vastwood Thicket||3.6%||1.6|
|Akiri, Fearless Voyager||3.6%||1.6|
|Inscription of Insight||3.6%||1.6|
|Scale the Heights||3.1%||2.1|
|Master of Winds||3.1%||2.0|
In every new set, there are a subset of cards that appeal to a variety of Cube design goals and power levels. As cards with “classic” effects, they are being tested by a majority of unrestricted cubers and are easier to evaluate relative to existing Cube cards.
Luminarch Aspirant is the most tested card of the set (110/173). While the Cube community agrees the card isn’t outstanding, it slots into a variety of different archetypes, including mono-white aggro in higher powered cubes and +1/+1 counter synergies in lower powered cubes. On an empty board, it is equivalent to a Watchwolf the first time it attacks, a fine floor. Putting its first counter on an existing attacker can provide critical reach, and its ability to break through stalled boards has Cubers interested.
Thieving Skydiver is the highest rated card in the set (average ranking 2.5). Its ability to steal early Moxen and Signets make it a strong contender in power-focused cubes, but it also functions as a tempo threat in lower powered cubes. Scaleable cards tend to play better than they read, and while this one needs a specific board state to be exceptional, the Cube community is optimistic.
Skyclave Shade is well-received because it functions as an aggressive threat while also being an enabler for Aristocrat archetypes. Less popular than the Shade, Nullpriest of Oblivion functions best in midrange decks that can use all of its features—an early roadblock against aggro, a menace threat against control, and a critical 2-for-1 in the late game. Skyclave Shade is exceptional in power-focused cubes and synergistic cubes alike, while Nullpriest is a strong option for slower, more value focused cubes.
Kargan Intimidator and Nighthawk Scavenger are relatively vanilla cards that still appeal to many Cube designers. The Intimidator is exclusively an aggressive threat, but the community thinks it has a slot in most cubes with an aggressive red section. Like its little brother, Nighthawk Scavenger has a committal mana cost and generates no immediate value, prompting many power-focused Cube designers to forego the midrange threat. Others with larger or less powerful cubes are excited to cube this card, as it will often attack for 3 or more relatively early.
The modal double faced cards (MDFCs) have generated the most discussion in the Cube community in recent memory. The community has struggled to find a consensus on MDFCs. Some believe all of them to be incredibly powerful, citing their unprecedented ability to mitigate both mana flood and screw. Others believe them to be largely overrated, claiming that this flexibility does not offset their over-costed effects. The median number of MDFCs that are being tested for each user is 7, though some are testing as many as 36!
The community generally believes the mythic MDFCs to be quite strong, as four of them have an average ranking of around 2.4 (the exception, Sea Gate Restoration has a ranking of 2.1 and is only being tested by 16% of respondents). Shatterskull Smashing and Turntimber Symbiosis rank the highest (2.5), as the former is castable in the mid game while the latter offers incredible redundancy to ramp decks. While Agadeem's Awakening and Emeria's Call are less likely to be cast as spells, the Awakening is a serviceable top end for aggressive black decks and excellent in midrange value decks, while Emeria's Call is an solid control and midrange finisher. That this functionality comes with the floor of being an untapped land for three life is powerful, and the community agrees—if you’re interested in optimizing power level in your cube, these cards are excellent options.
Despite their power, or perhaps because of it, the mythic MDFCs are only being tested by around 40% of respondents. This speaks to the incredibly varied nature of Cube as a format. Cards that can slot into cubes of any power level or design goal, like Luminarch Aspirant and Skyclave Shade, tend to be more popular than powerful, non-synergistic cards like these mythic MDFCs.
While they have a more mixed reception from the community, most designers are testing 2-3 of the non-mythic MDFCs. With an on-rate front half, Kazandu Mammoth ranks almost as highly as the mythic MDFCs (average ranking 2.3), and the community sees an asset in its ability to apply early pressure in a land-heavy hand. Hagra Mauling is the next highest ranked (2.2), and it poses an interesting question for Cube designers. Does the flexibility offered by this card make it better than cheap Doom Blade effects? I’ve noticed in online discussions that many seem to think so.
The community generally thinks that front halves of Glasspool Mimic and Bala Ged Recovery don’t offer enough immediate value relative to other MDFCs, and they both have an average ranking of 2.0. Self-clone effects like Glasspool Mimic have historically suffered in power-optimized cubes, and Regrowth as a card has been seeing less and less play at high power levels. In general, it appears that designers need a reason to cube these cards — self-clone effects get better with blink archetypes, while Regrowth effects are significantly stronger when you can rebuy overpowered cards like Time Walk or Ancestral Recall.
Jwari Disruption and Tangled Florahedron round out the commonly tested MDFCs, but unlike other MDFCs, they are terrible late game topdecks. As a result, many designers are not testing them, and those that are give them an average rank of around 2.0. Other designers still value the flexibility they offer, reasoning that mitigating screw or flood in even a marginal way is a net positive in their cubes. A subset of the community is testing even more MDFCs — these designers are responsible for the relatively high ratings of Beyeen Veil , Umara Wizard , and Khalni Ambush .
Finally, unrestricted Cube designers are testing an average of two out of the four cards shown above. Bloodchief's Thirst has a fairly high ranking (2.3) despite its smaller number of testers (44%), indicating that a subset of the community values redundancy in removal and scaleable effects. Sea Gate Stormcaller represents the hail mary of the set for many designers, who are unsure of how well it will perform. The card functions best in powered cubes, where copying Time Walk and Ancestral will end the game, and in slower cubes where you can afford to delay casting spells for value.
Receiving an average ranking of 2.1, Skyclave Apparition is likely the best Banisher Priest variant ever printed, though that effect has lost its luster in many cubes. Some designers value its ability to cleanly remove planeswalkers while remaining at board parity, while others point out how bad it is when removed at instant speed during combat. Like Bloodchief's Thirst, Roil Eruption is appealing to designers that look to maximize redundancy, though its kicker effect is causing others to consider it as well.
The dual land cycle of this set, the Pathway lands, are just outside playability for most smaller cubes. They are being tested by only 20% of respondents, though these users rate them highly at 2.4. While untapped duals are incredibly valuable, many rank the painlands above them and cite the Pathways’ inability to effectively enable splashing.
This set has a handful of strong offerings for Peasant and Pauper cubes. Bloodchief's Thirst is highly rated by some Peasant cubers as an efficient removal spell, and half of them are testing Bala Ged Recovery . The card with the most number of testers is Fearless Fledgling because it fulfills several archetype roles (and has incredible art).
Some Pauper cubers found a windmill slam in Roil Eruption, but the most popular card is Akoum Hellhound. An efficient aggressive threat that has mostly been priced out of higher powered cubes, it offers a boost to red aggressive sections. Other tested cards include Feed the Swarm and Gnarlid Colony.
Zendikar Rising is a set that offers many options for cubes of all power levels and design goals. Most cube designers have found testable cards among those with “classic” effects like Luminarch Aspirant, Kargan Intimidator, Skyclave Shade, and Nighthawk Scavenger. Cubes looking to optimize for power level found a proverbial gold mine in the MDFCs, and these designers are somewhat confident that the mythics and a handful of others will survive testing. Cubes looking to maximize redundancy in removal have good options in Bloodchief's Thirst and Roil Eruption, while those looking for splashier plays have Sea Gate Stormcaller. Here are my own thoughts:
The unpowered/powered part of the community is underrating the mythic MDFCs
The MDFCs understandably don’t fit many Cube design goals, but designers seeking to optimize power level in their unrestricted cubes are underrating these cards. Ironically, I place myself in this group — when I submitted the survey, I gave Shatterskull Smashing a 2.4 (lower than the 3 I gave Kargan Intimidator!) I instantly realized my mistake the first time it was cast against me, when it effectively ended the game on turn 3 after killing my elf and unleveled Hexdrinker off a turn 2 signet. While that is clearly its ideal scenario, its flexibility should not be underestimated. The same can be said of the other mythic MDFCs — in another game, Emeria's Call easily stabilized my opponent during a topdeck war. If you’re skeptical of the power level of these cards, I urge you to try them out!
I suspect the cube community is more accurate with their assessment of the non-mythic MDFCs. While Kazandu Mammoth is likely underrated at 2.3, most of the others have effects that don’t scale well. Still, modality is often underrated, so I will continue to try many of them.
The reception to Nighthawk Scavenger could be the death knell of Baneslayers in power-focused cubes
Like its namesake , the term “Baneslayer” refers to a card that generates no immediate value. Many designers that optimize for power level feel that Baneslayers have lost their luster in Cube. Nighthawk Scavenger is the true test of this hypothesis. The card is incredibly efficient at 3 mana and cannot be effectively raced — if it stays in play for several turns, you will win. If this card cannot compete at higher power levels, it likely spells doom for its Baneslayer cousins. Nevertheless, I am hopeful for the card, as the ability to come down early enough to pressure Planeswalkers may make the lack of immediate value worth it.
Skyclave Apparition is being underrated
I like Skyclave Apparition specifically because of its ability to interact with Planeswalkers in a way that recoups card advantage and tempo. The danger of instant speed removal against this card is very real, but a vanilla token is usually less threatening than whatever you removed. Certain midrange decks that play this card will often not care much about the token, and it can be abused with blink and sacrifice effects. The original rating I gave it (2.8) may be too high, but I believe the community’s ranking of 2.1 is too low.
The rise of modal card design is changing the Cube format
MDFCs and the Adventure mechanic are excellent examples of WOTC’s shift to reduce variance and maximize modality in card design. Modal cards tend to perform well in Cube, but their strength is often difficult to evaluate. Furthermore, opinions within the Cube community on the topic of modality vary wildly. Some point out that modality introduces more decision points, leading to a greater feeling of control for players and a more interactive experience. Other Cube designers reason that while modality can be an asset, powerful and more direct effects are often what make Cube fun.
These are not the only opinions about modality in the community, nor is any one school of thought “correct”. Given that Kaldheim and Strixhaven, the next two Magic sets, are confirmed to have MDFCs, Cube designers will need to decide how they personally value modality. Testing Adventure cards and MDFCs represents an excellent way to explore what you and your playgroup enjoy. My playgroup, for example, has enjoyed Order of Midnight and Embereth Shieldbreaker as flexible tools at a higher power level.
- MTG Cube Blogspot’s Zendikar Rising Preliminary Review
- Hipsters of the Coast’s Zendikar Rising Early Cube Picks (Derek Gallen)
- Wtwlf’s ZNR (P)review Article
- MTGSalvation ZNR Testing and Includes Thread
- Solely Singleton’s ZNR First Impressions - Part 1, Part 2
- SteveMan64’s ZNR Hot Takes
- Reddit Tests and Inclusions Thread
- Cubism Zendikar Rising Review