Good cards are good. When determining the power level of a card, sometimes it’s easy to tell the card is powerful and there’s nothing more to really say. In cube, all the cards are good in one way or another, so what makes the good cards so much better? More specifically, what makes what is considered “power” to be power? Often this is confused to be the literal translation of the Power 9, but there are other cards which some consider are more or as powerful as these, and they are distinctly better than any of their counterparts that would be considered unpowered. This isn’t an article saying whether or not a cube that is otherwise unpowered should or shouldn’t run one or two power cards based on availability or choice, but to explain why the cards I consider power in cube are power. Also there are cards that are super strong that people might think as power and could be close to it, but are actually fine in an unpowered cube if you’re making a dedicated decision to stay power-free.
Also, I understand that this article will be a lot of “good card is good” talk. Some of this may be broken down into terms you already understand, but after drafti ng with dozens if not hundreds of cubes and seeing some of the non-budget choices cube owners have made their lists in both powered and unpowered cubes and how late some of the cards I thought were obviously power were passed, it’s apparent that not everyone sees “power: and says that it’s obviously the best card. This is completely understandable, as cube is full of amazing cards that were auto-first picks in their own respective limited and constructed formats, but are still way worse than the “power” of a powered cube. Elspeth, Knight-Errant may be the best white planeswalker, but a majority of the time it’s a worse pick than Mana Vault. Hopefully I can explain why in the following article.
Now, without further ado, let’s power up this article! (I hate me too.)
Sol Ring: This is probably the most popular piece of power, which is good and bad.
First, it’s the cheapest from a real-money stand point. This is good because everyone can afford one, with some available for as low as $3 and change. Giving many players an opportunity to play with what a lot of people consider to be arguably the best piece of power is sweet as for some players cube is about playing with the most powerful cards available and doing broken things in limited that they could never dream about doing in standard and what not. (Nevermind you, Stoneforge Mystic/Jace, the Mind Sculptor/Sword/Batterskull.) Sol Ring is one of my favorite cards not because it’s exciting or difficult to play with, but I am totally a power gamer and want to beat my opponents as fast and efficiently as possible and with as few decisions as I can. I don’t think I’m a horrible player, but I know I’m not good and can certainly throw a game with the best of them, so any time I can go into a game and steam roll with power cards sounds like a good time to me. Sol Ring has been printed a ton and Wizards does not fear reprinting it every time the Commander decks have been printed, so Sol Ring should stay cheap for the foreseeable future as well.
Unfortunately if you’re building on a budget, want balance, but also want to play the most powerful cards, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that’s both as cheap and as high impact as Sol Ring. These are the cards that people typically argue as the best with Sol Ring: Library of Alexandria, Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mana Crypt. If you’re not buying Collector’s Edition, which is still not cheap by any means to the average magic player, the cheapest of any of those cards is a little under $200. Unless you’re willing to do proxies which many cube owners aren’t, you’ve had the power for a long time which most new players haven’t, or are willing to put the investment into buying them which is tough since the investment is huge, it’ll be impossible to ever have a card in your cube that will be up to par with Sol Ring. Sol Ring will always be the best card in any pack it’s in, if not top 2 if you think there may be one card better. Sol Ring will almost always take over every game it’s played early with ruthless efficiency. Sol Ring will dominate and win just about every game it’s played in except when it’s a super late top-deck, and there are certainly big mana decks that’ll happily take an Ancient Tomb that costs 1 and deals you no damage later in the game. If you and your play group know that this is the case and are OK with some really one-sided games and drafts, then power to you—fun is defined by the players, not the forums. But a balanced unpowered cube should never run Sol Ring.
Why? Ok, you take the Jitte and pass the Sol Ring. Jitte could perhaps be the second best card in an unpowered cube with Sol Ring, might not even be up for debate. Now you play the Sol Ring opponent, you have your turn 1, and on his turn 1 he plays Sol Ring. On his t2 he plays a 4 drop. Next a 5 drop on t3. What deck can keep up with that amount of ramp so ahead of the curve in any color? You might have the removal for the first or even the second massive piece of awesomeness, but for the third? I understand that your opponent won’t always draw Sol Ring in their opener, but what if they do? How does your 2 drop Jitte on curve beat things that shouldn’t be casted for 2-3 turns? Jitte is great all game, but Sol Ring wins you the game when you cast it early. Giving any deck that much mana for such a low cost is absurd, and when other decks are already crippled in fighting that mana output when they don’t have the option themselves, they are at a severe disadvantage when the opposing Sol Ring is casted early. This generally leads to drafts where the Sol Ring player has so many more opportunities to effortless dominate the other players at the table, turning an unpowered cube into unfun for those who want balance.
Mana Crypt: This is Sol Ring’s bastard brother who is better at a lot of things than Sol Ring. In fact, I think Mana Crypt can be a lot better than Sol Ring. Mana Crypt is a free Sol Ring that sometimes throws a lightning bolt at your face. Sometimes. If that statement only read “Mana Crypt is a free Sol Ring”, then no one would even consider any other card as top tier and Mana Crypt would be by far the best card. Free Sol Rings are insane, t1 Tinkers are insane, t1 3 drops, t2 4 drops, free Ancient Tomb…all insane.
The absolute biggest mistake players make when evaluating Mana Crypt is thinking that 3 damage makes this card a non-top-tier piece of power. That is a massive oversight to not only a non-guaranteed damage flip, but the slight detracts too much value from a card for a clause that isn’t even consistent. While the power of a card depending on luck kind of sucks, and having Mana Crypt deal something like 15-18 damage could lose you the game in a lot of spots, there’s such a little chance that you lose if you play Crypt early with card support to use the mana that the 3 damage is irrelevant. Against aggro decks Crypt can be awful, but hopefully you playing 2 mana ahead of curve since turn 1 should be able to stifle any sort of 2/1 and 3 damage barrage your opponent can put up. If not, it’s completely fine to turn Crypt into a land or another spell after game 1 if you really can’t stop them, but that still seems subpar to stunt your potential broken starts.
Mana Crypt is the most underrated card in cube. I say this for a lot of cards, and I’m sure down the line and in the past I’ve given the title to many other cards that could deserve the title. There have been a few moments that not only confirmed Mana Crypt’s criminally low rating, but actually inspired me to write this article. There was the recent poll that Sky ran where the number of picks for Jitte versus Mana Crypt were 4 to 1 or maybe even 5 to 1 from when I last checked. Perhaps someone was trolling the site and making multiple votes, but I think most people thought Jitte was a better card. Then there were multiple drafts on Cockatrice that not only was I passed a Mana Crypt 6th or 7th pick one draft, but it wheeled out of a p1p1 where Jitte and Sol Ring were the actual other choices I was thinking about, which is not OK even though my deck ended up being insane. (How do lose other than drawing bad with Sol Ring/Mana Crypt? How? HOW??!?!?! Answer: you don’t.) Like with Sol Ring, how does Jitte beat you playing 3 and 4 and 5 drops two turns ahead of curve? Perhaps Jitte is a better late draw, but cards like Mana Crypt and Sol Ring consistently win you the game when played early, and that 3-9 life you may have taken is unimportant when your opponent is scooping up his cards and you both are moving onto the next game.
Library of Alexandria: While I’ve lost the slightest bit of respect for Library because of how poorly it faces off against other power heavy decks and gets demolished by discard, those decks and draws are in the minority and most of the time Library of Alexandria is a land that draws you cards for no investment but a full hand. The clause is a tricky one sometimes, but what it essentially means is that when you have Library of Alexandria in your opener, it’s GG. There aren’t many cards that have such a minimal weakside with as mammoth of an upside. Library of Alexandria doesn’t even come into play tapped and taps for colorless mana no problem, only causing you a head ache if your mana base is actually awful. The good thing about Library though is it cancels out an awful mana base by drawing you a million extra cards to fix your mana with.
Library crushes so many fair strategies and is often able to out-draw the broken ones in some way if it can stabilize quickly. Unless a deck is attacking your hand, the bane of Library of Alexandria, only the fastest of starts will destroy a library start. Library can still deal with the aggression with by drawing into that wrath or pyroclasm to clear the board. In unfair strategies, dealing with a reanimated fatty or locked-down board state early is often enough to curb your opponent for a turn or two, reactivating your library and drawing back into more answers for their potential further dumb plays, or threats of your own to take them off their cheating gameplan. Library itself is fragile if your draws are awful, but if you can generate that extra 2-3 turns of free cards before you decide to put pressure of your own onto the board, you should be able to bounce back with more gas than what your opponent can put up against you.
In a cube without other pieces of power—unlikely, but you never know what random card a player may have from their uncle’s co-worker who was giving his cards away way back in the day and didn’t know—Library would just crush. Even though discard does exist, it’s only 5-6 actual cards in the cube early on, so any turn 1 Library will often dominate as it provides an extra x-many cards off a land. Unlike Sol Ring, most people don’t have Library of Alexandrias unless they’ve had them since the start, are willing to invest in them, or proxy. It’s one of the more respected cube cards by people who know its power, but if you’re playing with people who aren’t familiar with cube as a format and are new to magic, they might see land and ship it on over. New players underestimate how easy it is to have the full hand with Library, focusing on the negatives instead of the stupidly insane positives. Be sure to show them Library’s power so they don’t do that again.
Ancestral Recall: The top blue spell in cube by a large margin, this is another card that many people consider to be the best in cube. First off it’s blue, which is a positive point for any card. A card like Shoreline Thief’s only pro would be “It is blue”, because blue is the strongest color in cube, so Recall being the actual best blue card you could have is pretty nice since you literally can’t do any better. Second, it draws 3 cards at instant speed for a single blue, which is an insanely low rate. For perspective, here are all cards I’d pick pretty high if I was in blue or would see as a sign of blue being open as late picks: preordain, compulsive research, thirst for knowledge…see a pattern? They are all so much worse than instant speed draw 3 for U, and yet they’re all still very good.
At a single blue Ancestral Recall excels at any point in the game. Early on you give yourself more decisions for land drops or early game spells, and if you’re using your graveyard to any extent you can start pitching cards early when you have the luxury of having way more than 7 cards. Later in the game you get three cards for barely any mana commitment at all, potentially able to cast any of the spells you draw off the recall. In decks with counterspells or tons of removal, you can feign a small hand count when in reality you’re ready to dig three deep at any time, hopefully picking up the counter or removal when needed, or launching Recall off at the end of turn as your opponent plays around your counter spells. Not only is there no unpowered card that comes close to this amount of card draw, but there really isn’t a powered card that can draw you that many so quickly. Library will often draw you more than 3 cards, but not without a strict hand-size requirement and spending at least 3 turn to stay even with Recall.
Like how great Recall is because it’s blue, it could be argued against being the absolute best because it’s blue. Blue is the best color in a powered cube and there are so many reasons to jump into blue. I know that I am personally always trying to draft blue at least at the start, latching onto any signal I see. In a pack with Recall versus something like Lotus or Library, it might be worth considering passing the OP blue card for the OP colorless card, but if you’re choosing between the two it’s really hard to go wrong with either choice. A detriment like “being blue” is barely a detriment at all, since if you’re getting cut it’s not like Ancestral Recall is super tough to splash and cast, is stellar at every point in the game except situations where you have 3 or less cards in your deck, and even if you have 3 you can win that turn and not worry about the draw.
Time Walk: Another amazing blue card; it’s almost as if blue is the best color in cube and the best cards were printed in blue. Weird, huh? Anyways, there hasn’t been a Time Walk variant that has come close to Time Walk’s cost. The closest are Time Warp, which costs 5 and is fine but only really playable in the largest of cubes, and maybe Temporal Mastery but paying anything other than the Miracle cost was insane and ended up being way overcosted and unreliable for cube. Time Walk is insanely powerful, giving you a whole turn for 1U, giving you space in your current turn to play more spells if your mana permits if not be able to do what you want in the next.
Time Walk is so strong that it would still be an insane card if it costed more. At 2U for the same effect I would classify that as a powered ability because it is still a low enough amount that you can often have extra mana to play additional spells and abilities that turn if not have the option to play it earlier as a cantrip/ramper/extra little bit of damage. Even at 2UUor 3U a Time Walk variant would still probably be strong enough for an unpowered cube at least, as 4 mana is still pretty early and in the later stages of the game you will still have wiggle room with your mana. Considering both of those costs as reasonable, Time Walk at 1U is undoubtedly absurd. Time Walk is fine as an Explore variant on turn 2 where you have an extra land drop and card drawn, but at 2 it is so easy to set up Time Walk + spell for killer combinations of back-to-back turns.
Time Walk is insane with Regrowth-style effects, letting you bank multiple turns back to back. Eternal Witness + Crystal Shard + Time Walk is a GG as long as your deck has a win con and the time to use it to kill before you draw through all your cards. Blue can mimic the Regrowth effect with Snapcaster Mage, chaining 2-3 turns in a row. One of the best decks I’ve ever seen drafted was drafted twice by two different players on close dates, and at the core was Chandra, the Firebrand + Snapcaster Mage + Time Walk. Between the two decks there was only 1 game loss. Taking a million turns while your opponent watches will win a lot of games.
Black Lotus: The true iconic card of the game, Black Lotus is the card that even non-magic players seem to know. Black Lotus is the epitome of expensive magic cards, classic in the lore-sense, and for good reason–it’s extremely strong! While a one-shot deal can be pretty painful when the pumped-out card is dealt with, the zero cost and ability to add mana of any color makes Black Lotus absurdly broken. 4 drops on turn 1 are dumb. Creatures may be fragile, but other than burn in some cases how many ways can you remove a planeswalker? Are they always going to have disenchant for you Phyrexian Arena? Do they have STP for your Hero to Bladehold or the appropriate removal spell if they’re lucky to be on the play?
Black Lotus can be super underwhelming in many parts of the game, and can be downright painful when answered. Sometimes you may think that your 4 or 5 drop will be able to last at least a couple turns to give you enough advantage, but then your opponent has that right piece of removal. But like with other cards that heavily accelerate you beyond reasonable points in the curve, your opponent just can’t always have the answer to the bigger threats in the game that early on. If you pump out a Cloudgoat Ranger, how do they deal with the 3/3 and all the 1/1s on turn 2 or 3? Are you always going to face a Viridian Shaman when you start Icy Manipulating them on turn 2? Lotus is also fine in the mid to later stages of the game. You can cast an additional spell that you may have drawn or held onto, allowing you swing the momentum further to your side without having all the lands needed to cast those spells. When a ceiling is as high as Black Lotus’ is, I tend to rate it higher than other regular “power” cards like Moxen or Mana Vault as you can do way more busted things, but drop it kind-of lower than more permanent boons like the card draw spells or Sol Ring.
Black Lotus is absolutely no card for an unpowered environment either. While Lotus is the most unlikely of cards someone is to have of the power 9 as it is the most expensive and sought-after, proxying one for your unpowered environment would be a massive mistake. Without any other deck even having the chance to catch up with Black Lotus’ mana capabilities, any opening hand with a Black Lotus and a bigger permanent is just about as close to a clinch as you can get. Thankfully Black Lotus costs 1 billion dollars, so most players won’t have the problem of deciding whether or not to play with their Alpha Black Lotus.
Moxen: A gem for each color, free lands you can play as an extra land drop are always a plus. While unexciting and pale in comparison to Sol Ring or Mana Crypt, the moxen are free and tap for a color, acting as an actual free basic, an off-color splash you’re going to play anyways, or a colorless land that helps you ramp for free. While there are many pieces of power I would take over the Moxen like all the previously mentioned and probably some more cards to come, they are still a top-tier pick since not only are explosive starts good for you, but passing the potential to your opponents who could be first picking power left and right seems awful and should be avoided. While it may be wrong, I would take mox over a top non-power card in my color through a lot of packs since the fast starts the mox is going to provide me will help me win games easier than the card I’ll have to cast on curve depending on the deck. Generally taking the cards that enable the dumb plays is better since the plays are usually only dumb because they are happening earlier or effortlessly.
The biggest mistake players make is counting the Moxen as a spell and not a land. They see the word “artifact” and a cost—even if it is zero—and are afraid of getting it destroyed and other fringe possibilities that exist but are not reasons for avoiding a card’s proper classification. Instead of looking at Moxen as a spell, think of it as an artifact land that says “You may play Sapphire Land in addition to your land drop any turn any number of times” or however you would word it; does it still seem like a spell? By making it a spell when determining your lands, you are giving yourself a bigger risk to flood out and take the place of another high-impact spell. So what if your land can get destroyed by disenchant—is that really enough to remove gas from your own deck in fear of becoming screwed because of an Uktabi Orangatang? Playing cautiously is OK, but this is borderline letting our fears detract from our play, which is no good. There are exceptions, like maybe in sideboarding after seeing tons of early artifact removal, but in those cases you should just add a land instead of taking the mox out since you can choose to not run out the mox until you are ready to use the mana.
Ranking the moxen is fairly negligible since their power level is all relative and one is really only better than the other in context of your deck and the direction your draft went, but there will be times where it’s one moxen versus another, and who doesn’t like a little negligible rating sesh? If all 5 were in a p1p1 and they were the clear choices, Mox Sapphire would have to be the first. I’m totally willing to “commit” myself to blue early one since I end up in blue more times than not. Even if it’s splash for card draw or a tenuous grasp on a few stellar cards, blue just tends to be my favorite and has the highest ceiling. 2nd would be Mox Jet since Mind Twist is a card I never want to pass and in powered cubes the decks with the Tutors that have multiple copies of the insane cards often are the best. It may be ridiculous to rank a mox higher than other based on the potential of one card, Mind Twist, versus all the others, but this is a ridiculous scenario anyways so you need to be rigid in your criteria. The black removal is all relevant too, as it is mostly all only costing one black symbol. After that it’s a toss-up between white and red, with green being last. Other than the multicolored cards you are never really looking to splash for a green card. Green is kind of a focused color that requires a bit of a mana commitment to really use it’s colors and spells, and lacks any of the removal or easy to cast card advantage the other colors have.
Mind Twist: Speaking of Mind Twist, this is easily the most under-valued of the “power” cards in cube. You tend to pay the most for what you are receiving compared to the other cards, but you really get what you pay for. Paying 6 mana for a 5 for 1 is pretty absurd, especially when the cards are random and it knocks out their entire grip. While Mind Twist is not always going to be the stone cold nuts as it does not directly affect the board, stopping your opponent from having cards and completely derailing their plans will put you ahead way more often than not.
Mind Twist plays best when combined with the other power or ramp in general, as accelerating out a mind twist means you’re nailing more cards way ahead of the curve, curbing any chance your opponent could have to cast spells or even develop a mana base. At an early enough point in the game, Mind Twist almost acts like a one-sided balance, knocking out creatures, spells, and mana sources without prejudice. In any green deck I will find a way to splash for Mind Twist, since it gives green an excellent way to disrupt their opponent while using their mana, all for a pretty easy splash cost.
Whether or not Mind Twist should belong in an unpowered cube has been debated heavily, and I could see both sides of the argument. On one hand, you need to be in a specific deck to abuse an early Mind Twist, i.e. a ramp deck of sorts. Unless your UB control deck has artifact ramp, it’s unlikely you are going to wipe out their entire grip of 5-6 cards in quick fashion. In a powered cube, it is entirely possible to explode with a fast start in most any deck since the artifact mana is abundant and easily placed into many archetypes. That same UB control deck could have a Mana Vault and a Sol Ring in it and that gives Mind Twist so much more weight in power. On the other hand, it’s really hard for any player in any type of cube to recover from a Mind Twist that knocks out everything. Unless you have Obstinate Baloth or your top decks are bonkers, the game “ends” at that point if they are not ahead on board, and it’s really hard to keep most leads without any cards. Such an oppressive, single-turn kill is too strong of a glass cannon for me, considering that 3 cards at random is still a reasonable cost all things considered, so a smaller Mind Twist is still gross. Drawn out power throughout the course of a game–like in a Jace, the Mind Sculptor– is a lot easier for an opponent to handle since you are still giving them many turns to fight back theoretically. Blasting them in the face for utter destruction in one shot is a bit much.
Mana Vault & Grim Monolith: The weakest of the heavy, early game “power” accelerators, Mana Vault is still power because you can play it turn 1 and on turn 2 you’re casting 5 drops. In comparison to the other power ramp, this seems like a pretty bad version. You get the 3 mana usage once early on, you can only untap it during your upkeep, it deals you damage…what a sucky deal! Alas, the pain is worth the beatings you give, as giving any deck that type of mana boost is asking a lot of your opponents. The mana may be a one-shot, but if your one-shot is dropping a Tamiyo or a Cloudgoat Ranger, that seems pretty dominant on turn 2 or 3. There will be times where your opponent has answers for your big threat or can come back at you with better, repeating power, and that’s where Mana Vault really lacks. There will be awkward turns where you have to decide whether to untap for a spell next turn or to leave your mana open for a top deck, and making the wrong decision there can cost you the game. Mana Vault should still be considered power because that type of one-shot effect is so stupid when you can do it on turn 2 and will win you the game more often than be answered and kill your tempo.
Grim Monolith, on the other hand, is OK to be run in an unpowered cube, even though once it’s in play it’s technically the better card. Why is that? Pretty simply, coming down a turn earlier is so much better and dominant, and the non-repeating clause is a lot more fair if the card costs more. By turn 3, there is a whole slew of removal that can deal with what Monolith brings to the table, way more than what there is to choose from on turn 2. The card quality drastically improves by then, other decks can do their own ramping, and the super-fast start isn’t the same. In the long-run of a game, Monolith tends to be better since you aren’t taking damage and you can reset the Monolith with such ease, untapping it whenever you feel like spending 4 mana to do so. Grim Monolith’s ceiling is much lower than Mana Vaults, enough so that you can totally run it in an unpowered cube where it will be a top-tier card but certainly not leaps and bounds ahead of the next contender. The difference between turns 2 and 3 is huge, and Monolith’s extra turn makes it a worse card.
Timetwister: This is a strong card, but not “power”. Yes, I know, technically it is power 9, but as you can already tell from this list power means something different in cube, whether that’s if a card that isn’t power is “power” or vice versa. Timetwister is the only piece of power that I wouldn’t consider power in a cube environment , as you’re not in most cubes consistently building decks that can abuse the draw 7 ability to give it a more symmetrical feel. There are archetypes you can support like storm combo or big mana decks with artifacts or green ramp that can turn that draw 7 into a ton of spells to clinch a game within a turn, but those are focused decks that are almost build around a draw 7 like Timetwister.
Outside of the glass-cannon decks, your opponent can untap and with a new hand of 7 cards that can spell serious trouble for you. Not every blue deck wants Timetwister, as you need to have the extra mana open for protecting yourself against what your opponent can bring against you when you cast Timetwister. More often than not I’ve seen players unfamiliar with how symmetrical Timetwister can be and ended up getting blown out as they cast Timetwister, have no mana available to protect themselves on the next turn, and then immediately lose. Their opponent has 7 cards in their hand, is not threatened by any of your spells, and they crush. That is a sucky situation to find yourself in, and why you must be cautious about including Timetwister into your decks.
Not only am I comfortable running Timetwister in an unpowered list, but I also think it’s a pretty great-yet-balanced card there. The colorless fast mana that powered cubes bring to the table can help Timetwister be a massive blowout early. Whether it’s a refreshed hand from a storm count, a trillion quick-mana to lead in an Upheaval, or any of the broken way that powered cubes can generate a multitude of mana to reset your empty hand and shuffle in your opponent’s original keep, it’s more likely in the powered environment that the draw 7 of a Timetwister will end up being absolutely ridiculous. Unpowered cubes can produce decks that generate a ton of mana as well, but the artifact mana shouldn’t be nearly as broken which largely limits the types of decks that can make this mana. Timetwister is great in UG build where the extra ramped mana or something like Channel can push you over the top, or if you’re in a control build where Timetwister is a later draw 7 that you can cast and fill up your hand to protect what you’ve resolved or continue to draw the game further with your own counters. But it’s not like that comes easy for the blue control decks, or that the blue tempo decks that some cubes support can casually be at a large mana capacity so early. The unpowered lists that run Timetwister need the card to either fit into the deck or be built around to a point; you can’t just throw it into any deck that can make blue mana and expect positive, one-sided results.
Umezawa’s Jitte: This is one of the weirdest cards to evaluate in cube when determining whether or not it’s too strong for an unpowered environment or not. Jitte is probably the absolute strongest card I would allow in an unpowered cube, and that’s by a large margin. In fact there isn’t any p1p1 involving Jitte in an unpowered cube where I ever take anything but Jitte. In any format where there are decks with creatures and life totals, Jitte tends to be stellar, picking apart boards and pumping creatures until one side scoops up their cards. After the first counters are placed on Jitte, it’s extremely tough to slow down that ship.
But unlike a lot of the other power, which gives headaches because of the other cards they are able to pump out ahead of turn or insane card advantage they pull off on their own, Jitte is a pretty easy card to deal with if your deck has answers to artifacts. The turn 2 Jace or Elspeth off the Sol Ring can be dealt with, but you still have a board with a Sol Ring and a ton of mana. The turn 2 Jitte or the Jitte that gets 1 or 2 hits off is killed by Viridian Shaman or Disenchant, letting your opponent gain some life and maybe kill one or two of your creatures. After Jitte is gone, there is no more real “tangible” benefit left behind, beyond whatever damage the card did while it existed and any potential activations if there are counters on the Jitte. That Jitte counter-chaos is not to be taken lightly, but a dealt Jitte is ultimately dealt with. There are a lot more options to dealing with a Jitte as well than something like a Mind Twist or a Library of Alexandria, and it’s rare that a cube won’t have a multitude of answers if it’s built correctly.
Without that answer, Jitte commonly wins the game on its own, slowly giving you 2 free spells after combat each turn to do with what you please. Racing a Jitte is nearly impossible whether through the lifegain or the boosts/burns the tokens dole out, and suiciding creatures into the defense is much more feasible when you can use the Jitte counters to work towards an easier-to-swallow trade with maybe an additional X/1. I would rank Jitte higher than moxen because of this, since while moxen do give you broken starts they’re awful later in the game whereas Jitte is a star any time you have creatures that deal combat. Yet, I would not play the moxen in an unpowered cube because it allows any deck to jump far ahead of the curve, a much more vulnerable spot to be against than a Jitte without the ability to immediately equip & attack with it. You can sandbag the moxen in early turns until you need to gain your advantage, whereas you always need four mana available to play the jitte & equip with it. This is not the say Jitte performs less favorable than a moxen in a powered cube at times, but it’s much easier for the same answer to deal with the early jitte than it is to deal with both the mox and the problem it brought to the table.
Mana Drain: Counterspell is good. Never insane, but a solid catch-all answer to most every card that finds its way to the board through the stack. Counterspell which ramps you for free on your next turn is actually nuts. You can build around Mana Drain, playing it in an artifact/big mana deck where you’re looking to cheat in spells like Karn, Liberated, Wurmcoil Engine and other artifact monsters, or play multiple smaller artifacts and colored spells. Mana Drain’s power really resides in your deck’s ability to use the mana, but it’s rare even for the heavy blue decks to not have sorceries and creatures that need to be played. Gaining 2 extra mana for your third turn means you have Compulsive Research another 2 mana counter up, meaning Mana Drain let you cast a card in your hand almost for free. You can go through so many different cards to show the power of what free mana can do.
Mana Drain can be misevaluated easily within a small sample. Hitting big spells with a Mana Drain can change games, but there’s no reason to let serious early threats resolve if you have no way to deal with them otherwise. Not every Mana Drain is going to be more than “Counter target spell.” The floor can appear to be more common than the ceiling in performance, but a card that with so little effort can take over a game is no card for an unpowered cube. A counterspell on the draw on your opponent’s turn 3 is nice; Mana Drain in that spot means you can have up to 6 mana available if you have a 3rd land drop. If your control finisher is a creature with hexproof/an ETB ability or a tough-to-kill planeswalker, or if you have something like Force of Will or Daze, then there is little your opponent can do to dig out of that spot regardless of the deck they’re playing. Mana Drain is no place for an unpowered cube because of how little you need to do in order to reap the benefits of playing the card.
After this point, I don’t think there’s much of an argument for any other card to be considered power. The non-powered cards listed above are either really strong, top-tier cards in the unpowered environments and in some cubes are even banned for being too strong, or are Timetwister which is commonly and understandably confused as power because it absolutely is Power 9. There are a lot of cards that feel like “power” when set up correctly, but they need to set up in order to be completely broken. But what do you feel like I missed? Is Jace, the Mindsculptor the 4th best card? Is Balance the most unbalanced card in existence? Let us know, and thanks for reading!