M14 has been revealed for a bit, pre-releases have happened, and now it’s time to talk about some of the best candidates for cube inclusion! Unlike past sets, there are few cards that scream out “play me!” in this set; if budget is an issue, there are really only 1 or 2 cards that say “must play” on them. The rest add wrinkles that the face of your cube might not want to wear. Let’s get to it!
Liliana’s Reaver: This is one of the tougher cards in the set to judge in terms of cubability. 4 drops are typically a tough slot to fill in cube, but black has been rather lacking. The 4-drop section in black is the most open in terms of what you want to offer. Braids is there is you support pox and is fine on her own without that strategy, Desecration Demon is a cool pseudo-one-sided Abyss that can potentially swing in for a bunch of damage, Sewer Nemesis and Plague Sliver are giant beaters, and Nekrataal is a fine kill spell on a fair body. I could be missing some, but from that list nothing personally sticks out as “must include”; they’re all great cards, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you ran some and not others. Liliana’s Reaver offers a nice option at the 4 slot that is a bit different from the others, all while carrying some of the same elements.
At face value, a 4/3 deathtoucher for 2BB is pretty cool. By itself that wouldn’t be enough, but the body and ability will allow you to at worst trade with just about everything, if not get some free fogs and bad attacks/blocks from your opponent. Upon connecting is when Reaver gets silly, since he eats up a card from their hand if your opponent has any while giving you a Diregraf Ghoul. Because of this, I think Reaver is a bit stronger in cubes that run the Pox/Braids packages. While getting to 4 mana isn’t always going to happen in those decks, having this as your sole or one of few CMC 4+ permanent in your deck that also continues the deck’s plan is nice. Pecking at their hand while creating more tokens to either attack with or use as sac fodder makes a connection upon attacking pretty close to GG.
The biggest issue with Reaver is that his toughness is 3. The difference between 3 and 4 toughness is huge. There are a decent amount more red burn spells that do 3 damage than do 4, making him all that much easier to kill. 3 toughness also makes him much easier to double or single block for the same reason, as it’s easier to amass 3 power than it is 4. To be fair, cube is a format where 2 power guys run rampant, but there are also a ton of tokens that could combine to take down the Reaver. Regardless, I think Reaver is at least good enough to test whether or not 3 toughness is enough to take him out.
Garruk, Caller of Beasts: At first glance, I was unimpressed with this card. He reminded me of Domri Rade, a card that demanded a high creature count in a format that doesn’t always have decks that can reach that amount. It’s not uncommon, even in decks that run green, to have ~12 creatures. Is that enough to consistently hit on Domri Rade? No, and I made up my mind that Garruk, as a result, was ka-ka. I also thought that -3 wouldn’t be enough either—if I’m casting a 6 drop, what’s the chance that I have another? Wouldn’t I rather be playing a permanent that actually attacks?
But the more I thought about it, the more impressed with Garruk I became. For starters, even in a 12 creature deck, the +1 is likely to at least net you one card. If Garruk dies after that happens, then it’s a fairly sucky investment, but you are at least replacing him with a card. Any more than 1, though, and Garruk is bordering on “really good” territory. Since Garruk is probably in decks with other 6+ drops, on your next turn you can potentially play every creature in your hand by casting one of them and -3ing another into play. If you are running crazy Natural Order targets, he doubles as a second Natural Order in your deck, and if you have a lightning greaves out, it’s time to say goodnight.
The worst part about Garruk is that if things go wrong, he’s absolutely awful. If you +1 and hit nothing and he gets taken off the board, then he’s useless. If you’ve gone through a lot of the creatures in your deck by the time you get to him, he will do as close to nothing as possible. And he’s a terrible Planeswalker for the super friends planeswalker deck, making him kind of a weird entity. Because green tends to run more creatures than not in cube decks, I think he’s at least worth a look, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong about his power.
Kalonian Hydra: First off, this card is the best card you can get in M14 limited. You pick this over anything else, and if you’re passing it in pack 1 or 2, you aren’t doing it right. An unanswered Hydra—and it’s possible he will go that way at least in game 1 if your opponent blows his removal early—will win the game on his own. Attacking with an 8/8 trampler on turn 6 is kind of nuts, and the progression of nuttyness grows exponentially as the game continues. In the pre-release I had a pretty incredible BW deck with Archangel of Thune, Liliana’s Reaver, the lifelink sliver in black, and other decent bombs and removal, and the Kalonian Hydra blew me out of the water. I unfortunately had no removal, and my creatures couldn’t even dream of trading even as a team effort.
In cube the Hydra will be a big, dumb beater; is he better than the other big-dumb options at CMC 5? Thragtusk is, of course, a staple and should be played in the smallest of cubes. Deranged Hermit is also a staple in my opinion, since he can be abused super easily while also able to swing in for insane amounts of damage on multiple bodies. You either want to run Acidic Slime or Indrik Stomphowler, and running both is definitely a legitimate thing. That leaves Thornling—which a lot of cubes count as a 6 drop—Wolfir Silverheart, and Vorapede. Is Hydra better than these?
Without a doubt I think he’s better than Thorning. To be honest I think Vorapede, Silverheart AND Hydra have outclassed Thornling, and he doesn’t really belong anymore unless you don’t have any of the 3 above options. Thornling is fine, and at times will outperform these three options, but overall the three better cards will consistently swing for as much damage and have some added benefits that use no mana to Thornling’s abilities. Vorapede is probably worse than Hydra. GGG, while pretty easy to cast in a green deck, is definitely worse than Hydra, and while he lives through more removal, the Hydra gets bigger and can end a game quicker and in situations where Vorapede might trade in an attack, the Hydra uses his many heads to laugh at the blockers in front of him. Versus Silverheart, it’s tough to say. Silverheart was a card that when it came out, I didn’t know what to think about it, but in practice has been outstanding. Upgrading useless elves into threats and turning already sizable creatures into monsters is crazy. Silverheart as an 8/8 is pretty awesome too. You can get blown out by removal when using Silverheart, but because you pretty much get, at worst, a 5/5 with haste when you play him, he is definitely worth inclusion. I’d say Hydra is on part with Silverheart, and should be played as such.
Chandra; Pyromancer: M14 is full of powerful cards for cube that aren’t apparent staples/must-includes; Chandra, Pyromancer is one of these. Like Garruk, her abilities seem kind of underwhelming, but when considering what color she is and what decks she’ll be played in, she seems a lot better. But all her abilities are ones that red decks, especially of the faster variety, would want to close out a game by the time those decks get to 4 mana.
Like Koth, Chandra is an aggressive-minded planeswalker. She is certainly not the worst in the non-aggressive decks, but red decks with a higher curve aren’t he best place for her. Her +1 ability is good for destroying x/1s, and can dismantle the green ramping decks, other aggressive decks based in white or black, and token themes. If her +1 ability doesn’t kill the creature, taking away a blocker so you can send your team in is often enough to clinch a game as you’ve hopefully done 10+ damage by the time you’ve reached 4 total mana to cast her. Hitting the player is really nice as well, giving you that little bit of incremental damage that often makes a difference when you’re trying to do 20 damage as fast as you can.
Chandra’s next ability, the 0, is better the lower your curve is. Hitting a spell you can’t cast—and you might need—off of a 0 activation is awful, but when all your other spells cost less than Chandra does to cast, then you have a red Jace on your hands. You’re allowed to play your spells from your library, building up gas in your hand in case the Chandra gets dealt with or she starts missing on the 0 activations. Her ultimate should win you the game in aggressive decks, since taking a lightning bolt or char and hitting them for 9-12 damage should win you the game, as you’ve already lasted with her out there for a long time. Her competition is tough, and I think cards such as Hellrider, Koth, and Hero of Oxid Ridge are certainly better than her, but she could find a place over Keldon Champion and what-not.
Elvish Mystic: Llanowar Elves are sweet. They are the lynch-pin to any good green ramp deck, are great in the mid-range green decks looking to drop 3 and 4 drops early, and in a pinch they can chump block, attack, or get eaten by a Skullclamp. Having another Elf is awesome.
Imposing Sovereign: It’s nice that white has gotten some disrupting two drops as of late. Thalia was printed and became an auto-staple, turning off control decks and punishing other decks that want to ramp into early spells. T3 signets and farseeks are awful, and not being able to counter a hand-emptying turn because of Thalia is back-breaking. Oh, you have a wrath? Sorry, you’ll be dead by t5.
Imposing Sovereign is not as much of a shut-down card as Thalia, but she is a perfect compliment in decks that want them both. One of the biggest problems with white aggressive decks is that they lack reach. Without red, they have a hard time getting in there for those last bits of damage unless they’re rocking the Soltaris, which aren’t impossible to deal with. Sure, white removal is a thing, but because it’s often considered the best it’s not a guarantee you’re going to get the pieces you need for your deck. Sovereign is a decent body appropriately costed as “playable” while also clearing the way for your lions and vanguards to get in there. Sometimes those extra bits of 2-4 damage you get in because their wall ETB tapped will clinch the game for you.
That being said, Sovereign is fragile, and against control decks and decks looking to play non-creature threats such as planeswalker, then he is pretty awful. Even though token producers are pretty bad, the planeswalker still soak up enough damage if they get answered that, when the tokens do untap, you’re left in an awkward position where their 1/1-3/3 can trade favorably if not just straight-up block your team until you’re in a bad spot. I still think it’s worth running in mid-size cubes, but I’d rather be running evasive beaters at a smaller size.
Shadowborn Demon: I’m not as high on the Demon as others are. At worst case scenario he’s a murder plus a fog, but that’s not what I’m really looking for in a 5/6 flier for 5. I want him to attack without the possibility of him being alone and dying. In token decks I could see the Demon being awesome, but there are two many boards in games I’ve played in the past where I see the Demon over another creature in my mind and think about how awful he’d be in those spots. Some people will disagree with me here, but I think he only has a spot in the biggest of cubes. I’d rather run a cheaper creature or a larger bomb over him. I could also be completely wrong about this, so I’m excited to read about other people’s experience with the card as well.
Young Pyromancer: This kid has a lot of friends. For starters, he passes the “does this creature have 2 power?” test. This is one of the more important hoops for a card to jump through. If you want to add a card that has an aggressive play style, it either needs to be swinging for 2+ damage or have an effect that makes up for it. If it’s one of the few creatures in your opener and you can’t drop other guys–and in Pyromancer’s case, poop out his own–then they need to be relied on to get in for a lot of damage while your other non-creature spells in hand either beef him up to “unblockability”/bad blocks or clear the way so he can get attacks in.
The reason you include Pyromancer is because in the aggressive decks where he finds a home in, there tends to be a lot of instant and sorcery speed burn. The burn doubles as removal and final reach, making it a key part to the deck’s composition, and with Pyromancer you’re allowed to poop out a lot of guys. There will be times where your non-creature spells are planeswalkers, equipment, and vortexes, making the Pyromancer much worse, so you need to be aware of your instant and sorcery count when adding him. I think 5+ would be a good number, since there’s a good chance that when you have your Pyromancer out you’ll either have or be able to draw into one of those spells. Any lower and the chances drop enough that Pyromancer ends up being a 2/1 for 1R, which is fine in a pinch but not exactly up to snuff in cube if that’s all he brings to the table.
Young Pyromancer reminds me a lot like Blood Scrivener, in that you need to ask yourself as a cube owner “will I be happy with a 2/1 for 1X some of the time?” The difference is it’s much more difficult to continually have no cards in hand in the aggressive decks than it is to draw into spells or have them for your third turn. There will be plenty of times that you’re stuck on 3 lands and you have a 4 drop stuck in hand, or you have a removal spell that is doing nothing against what your opponent has. Pyromancer also gains you value while you’re being proactive, not after the fact. If you make an aggressive play to empty your hand with a Blood Scrivener and they deal with him, it’s tough to get back from that game with zero cards. But once Pyromancer has stuck long enough for you to cast an instant or sorcery, he’s already at least netted you a portion of a card just for playing another. I think Pyromancer is pretty good, and going off with him seems like it can end games quick.
There are probably some cards I missed—some definitely playable too—so if there’s anything you think I forgot let me know in the comments why I should’ve included that card. Thanks for reading!