I like writing about things I like—who doesn’t?–so here’s another installment of me talking about some of my favorite cube cards.
Baleful Strix: I have an unhealthy obsession with the Strix. Any time I build a UB deck, Strix will probably make it in without fail. In the slower builds, Strix is a cantripping roadblock that can stop pretty much everything minus first strike and relevant protection. In the tempo builds, he’s fine as a two drop flier that gets in consistently as your opponent might not be willing to trade their bigger guy for a 1/1. In the combo/recursion builds is where he shines the brightest. Bringing him into play over and over will generate you so much card advantage. He can be better than one of the walls (Omens and Blossoms) in that your opponent will be less willing to attack into your board when you can trade with one of their guys instead of just simply blocking.
I think it’s one of the best dimir cards, actually. I value universal power and utility pretty highly in cube—the more cards that more decks want to play, the better. There are the super powerful archetype build-around cards, but when it comes to a card that’s better in one archetype but not the best card in that archetype versus a card that’s good in a bunch of different decks but is never insane in those color combinations, I value the latter higher. Baleful Strix is not insanely powerful in a vacuum, as you’re not going to win a bunch of games in cube by attacking for 1 in the air, but because so many decks can use a Baleful Strix and his ceiling is extremely high, I would run it over cards that need to be in certain styles of decks to be the best. For example, I like Strix more than Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Bolas is really sick in the artifact deck, and when you’re playing a powered cube he becomes quite nuts. Turning your signets and moxens into 5/5 threats ends games pretty quickly. But outside of the artifact deck—which isn’t always going to be a popular deck depending on the playgroup, whether that’s by lack of interest or many players interest in drafting as many artifacts as possible—he’s pretty mediocre. Strix, on the other hand, is perfectly fine and a good role player in that artifact deck, along with his spot in the variety of other UB decks he can find a home in. I’m not saying Tezzeret is bad, in fact I think the card is quite amazing itself, but I’m happier to consistently rely on Strix making decks than Bolas sitting in a lot of sideboards until he pops up in the draft where his services are needed.
Noxious Revival: This is one of the more underrated and severely underplayed cards in all of cube. While technically card disadvantage since you’re pitching a card in your hand for one you still need to draw, instant speed Regrowthy effects that are, for all intents and purposes, free can be so nuts. There have been enough games where a player is fighting against some insurmountable beast, like a Wurmcoil or a Planeswalker, where it takes them a bunch of cards and plays to remove the threat. They think they’re all done and then, WOOP, troublesome card back on top. At instant speed, you’re allowed to wait until the end of the turn, letting them think they just gave your the business when really they’re about to go bankrupt.
The silliest part about Noxious Revival is that it’s free. 2 life? PSSHHHT. I’ll happily pay 2 life to get back a Jace, the Mindsculptor or a Jitte that my opponent had to slog through a bunch of turns to either make enough bad attacks to remove or dig through the deck while they got eaten alive for that piece of removal. When your opponent answers key combo or build-around pieces, like Recurring Nightmare, Dream Halls, Balance, and the like, Revival can allow you to try again, perhaps tricking your opponent into overextending back into a board you can destroy. Noxious is also fine in aggressive red decks with lots of burn too, since it essentially acts as a copy of a random burn for 2 life, letting you pick through your graveyard instead of depending on your top decks. If you run a bunch of miracle cards, it’s really sick to be able to re-set them, and if you have multiples it’s nice to use your graveyard as a swiss-army knife of removal, turns, or threats. Noxious Revival is a card I’d consider a cube staple.
Sphinx of the Steel Wind: I love giant creatures. There is something that seems so cool to me about putting a massive creature or thing onto the board that has to be dealt with or your opponent will essentially lose the game. Sphinx of the Steel Wind is one of my favorite for these types of creatures. While there is a decent amount of black and white removal, along with blue bounce, that takes care of Sphinx, none of the green or red artifact destruction can touch her, along with the random burn that typically isn’t relevant but, hey, it sometimes is and is worth mentioning. If you can untap with a Sphinx and make it to the end of your combat phase with her still there chilling, you are likely to win the game. 6 damage at first striking speed with life link that doesn’t tap because of vigilance—at 8 mana in cube, your investment needs to be worth it, and there’s no question with that stat line that the Sphinx is definitely worth it. She eats alive so many creatures while delivering a steady stream of brutal beatings.
Sphinx goes into a lot of decks as well, something you want from a 3 color card. At the very worst, she is a fine finisher in the Esper control decks. This is where she is at her least ideal power level, since 8 is still a lot for hardcasting a card in a deck that doesn’t ramp in cube, but if your control deck has some mana stone elements or all the removal in the world to last that long, she can perform quite well in that spot. In Show and Tell/Sneak Attack decks, she’s fine too. In Sneak Attack he’s pretty subpar, but those decks usually have a way to recur creatures from the graveyard. Show and Tell she’s quite cool since you’re only going to see 1, maybe 2, decks that pack their own set of creatures that could outclass Sphinx. In the Tooth and Nail decks she’s pretty nice too, though it’s tougher to build the Tooth and Nail deck and be able to hard cast her if you can’t find the TaN when you need to or you lose it somehow. She’s awesome in reanimator, since cheating out an early beater that has protection from most of the early artifact removal is tough to get rid of. Where sphinx is the all-star in the Tinker deck and, if you run her, should be considered part of that “package”; that is, when you talk about Tinker’s place in your cube, you should recognize Sphinx and whoever else is specifically thought of to be put in there, like Inkwell Leviathan or Blightsteel Collosus, because “Hey, tinkering out a Sphinx is pretty sweet.”
Stormblood Berserker: Now I’m making this statement without thinking too hard into it, but Berserker could be one of the better cube cards printed in the last few years. Berserker is the type of 2-drop red aggressive decks want, which is red’s primary function in cube. He’s an easily casted beater with pretty unique evasion that gets better if you’re attacking with a one drop. In decks without an abundance of one drops he seems pretty lack luster, but if you’re playing a red aggressive deck with a low amount of one drops then your deck is probably overall not the best. You want to be curving out with Besrerker, but even then he’s still a nice turn 3 or 4, where 3 power that is tough to block can still decide a game for you.
Compared to a lot of my other favorite cube cards, Berserker is quite boring. You can’t go infinite or end games in only a couple turns with Berserker. There’s no chance he’s going to reanimate everything in my graveyard or be so feared that my opponent’s eyes with glow with fear when they see him. But that’s what I love about Berserker. A lot of the time, an opponent will think “I can just double block him and only take 2 next turn from that one drop.” That’s a fine plan, until you get blown out with instant speed burn during combat, or your guy dies before then and the 3/3 gets in without a problem. Berserker is a beat stick that seems innocuous—you only need 2 creatures!–but in a deck that is looking to finish the game sooner than later, getting to two creatures and keeping them on the board while letting in the variety of other attackers is a losing effort.
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