The Urza Block was ridiculous. Cards were free, there were insanely strong spells at the common and uncommon slots, and the art was simply incredible. Like my other set reviews this is a, uh, set review. Let’s just get to it!
Albino Troll: This guy is pretty nice in the aggressive green decks. A 3/3 for 1G is kind of nutty, and being able to regenerate him can lead to some serious damage. Troll isn’t exactly the most insanely exciting creature, but that’s ok—he’s a beater, and he definitely beats. Echo is kind of a big problem. Unless it can be beneficial to not pay the echo (Derenged Hermit, Karmic Guide) or the guy is so big and powerful that it’s worth it (Crater Hellion), Echo cards in cube are fairly painful to justify as your mana is a tight resource and it’s tough to hit your curve and lock the game in when you’re paying what is essentially 2GG for a two-drop. Albino Troll does outclass pretty much every creature at that spot otherwise. As stated, 3/3 is a big beefy dude, and regenerating him can lead to some awkward blocks. I’m not exactly sure if he’s been outclassed at this point, but he’s not the worst by any means.
Arc Lightning: This is a pretty sweet card and probably a cube staple. 3 damage kills a lot of creatures, and when you arc the lightning onto a bunch of other dudes, you can get a 2-or-3-for-1 pretty easily. The mana cost is worth the effect; at 1R it’d be one of the stronger cards in red, but at 3R it’s unplayable. This is one of the better designed “fair” cards in cube, in that it’s about how much you’d be willing to pay in the cube environment to do that ability. Arc Lightning should find its way into a lot of cubes without question.
Catastrophe: Wrath of God is nice. Armageddon is nice. Why not both? Catastrophe takes the two and crams them into one spell for 4WW, and it is awesome. The control decks that want this will mostly be using the wrath side, but what makes Catastrophe so sweet is that there are times where if you destroy all the lands, you can ride your win condition to the end. Better yet, if you’re playing a deck heavy in artifact mana your catastrophe turns into a pseudo one-sided armageddon, destroying all their stuff while keeping 2-3+ mana sources on your side of the board. I love this card, as it’s exactly what the midrange-to-slower white decks want. In aggressive decks I’m less inclined to run it since I hope I never get to 6 mana, but I have been crazy enough to do it in the past.
Crater Hellion: This guy is really cool. If your cube runs 2-3 red finishers at 6+ mana, he should be one along with Inferno Titan and Bogardan Hellkite. While the Echo is incredibly painful, the effect he has is extremely strong. 4 damage kills a lot of creatures. Hellion is awesome in the Wildfire decks because of this, since you’re building a deck that focuses around creatures that can survive the 4 damage anyways. I could see Hellion being outclassed soon, if he’s not already outclassed now and the better card is out of mind, but for now I think he’s pretty nice. Players are hesitant to run him because of echo, and echo is pretty awful, but I think it’s a price to pay for a wrath on a creature that doesn’t kill that actual creature.
Dark Ritual: There are players out there who think this is a card meant for storm and storm alone; while Ritual is really nice there, it’s also nice in the heavy black decks. Ritual acts like a black lotus when you’re trying to play turn one lilianas, hypnotic specters, and other 3 drops. Dark Ritual is much better the earlier you can use and abuse it, especially if you’re playing something like Liliana that is a lot harder to kill than a creature, but it is certainly fine if you’re casting 4 drops on turn two or 5 drops on turn three. You don’t jam Ritual into any deck that plays black, but the heavier the color commitment the better.
Diabolic Servitude: This is a sweet one with a tiny caveat. If you support reanimator, I think Servitude is great. The card is sweet because you can use it multiple times, working like a funkier Recurring Nightmare. The big issue is you can’t keep on reanimating the same target, as they get exiled when either the creature or the servitude leaves play. And if the creature is bounced, you have a servitude on the board, doing nothing. I imagine this card was bonkers in limited, as you could keep on returning all your dudes back into play once their time is over the first way through, and in cube when you’re bringing back Griselbrands or Akromas, your targets are much sweeter and hit for more beef.
Disenchant: Classic cube card. Boring, but every deck has artifacts and a lot of them have enchantments, and these cards are usually all good targets. While there are a bunch of disenchants on a stick, the surprise of an instant-speed disenchant allows you to take advantage of a player over extending or attacking into you with a sword that they though was good enough. I’ll almost always run Disenchant in the cube decks I draft.
Duress: Planeswakers. Enchantments. Artifacts. Wouldn’t it be nice for black to have an answer to all of these? A well-timed Duress IS that answer. While not always dependable, and one of the worst top decks you can pull in the mid to late game, Duress is pretty nice and you’re almost always either taking out a card worth more or killing their tempo. In regular limited formats it’s a lot worse as you’ll end up running way more creatures than non-creatures, but it’s pretty typical for a cube deck to have 5-7+ high-impact non creature spells along with a variety of other mana stones, removal spells, and what not. I’ve played with Duress as long as I’ve played cube; it’s part of the whole deal in my eyes.
Exhume: This is another card players are afraid to run in their reanimator packages, but if you built the true reanimator deck then it is quite sweet there. Putting a creature onto the battlefield without the accompanying enchantment attached means that your fatty isn’t nullified by a disenchant. There are times where you opponent will also be able to bring a creature back, but you are almost always outclassing theirs when you build this deck. Plus, if you go entomb into exhume, there is a minimal likelihood that you’re going to even face another creature on the other side of the board. If you don’t support reanimator, like with Servitude, this is a lot worse, but in that package Echume is quite nice.
Exploration: The MTGO and some other cubes run this. I think it’s unplayable. Sure, with Life from the Loam or Meloku it’s pretty nice, and with excessive card draw it’s cool, but how long is this card relevant for? 1 turn? 2? Are you willing to spend a card spot playing a card that is only good in your opener, and even then might just be a lesser explore for G? (I don’t think Explore is good enough for cube, by the way, since it depends on your own gas instead of finding it in your deck.) With some cards you can achieve some nice synergy, but I’d always rather play mana dorks or explore for another option to play.
Fog Bank: This guy is the ultimate blocker. Does cube really need an ultimate blocker, one that really isn’t ultimate when it comes to trample and the like? In super controlly decks he’s OK, but I’d rather my spells be proactive instead of a road bump.
Gaea’s Cradle: This card is pretty cool, but ultimately gravy in my eyes. If you have enough creatures out there where this is tapping for a ton, why do you really need that extra mana? If you have all the elves out there, is tapping for that extra 3 or 4 really going to make a huge difference? I’m not denying that the card is super strong and that there are decks out there that use the mana efficiently, but I wouldn’t throw Cradle into every green deck. I either want to be playing a GW tokens build or a deck with a lot of mana dorks and a big gap in the curve from 3/4-5/6+ so I can hit that ramp easily.
Gilded Drake: In cube, where there are a bunch of bounce and blink effect, Gilded Drake is pretty great. When they play their huge fatty or win condition, you trade them a 3/3 flier for it. If they tapped out and you have a crystal shard or erratic portal out there to get it back, you have another Switcheroo-on-a-stick. This of this less as a creature and more of a Beast Within type of card, especially since they can’t get their creature back if they only destroy the Drake. I’m surprised this card doesn’t get talked about more, because it’s awesome.
Glorious Anthem: This is one of the backbones of the mono white/heavy white aggressive deck. White decks lack the reach to get in their for that last 4-6 damage, a gap that aggressive decks sometimes have trouble closing. That gap is one of the main reasons why red aggressive decks are so good, since their burn can double as both removal and a finisher. I think the card is slowly getting outclassed since three is a lot of mana and doesn’t really do anything if you don’t have any creatures out, but pumping the entire team and attacking can be the difference of 4-5 damage, which can be enough to win.
Goblin Cadets: I think I saw this on the MTGO unpowered list. This card is awful. I’d rather run Goblin Patrol.
Goblin Patrol: 2 powered one drop. Pretty weak, but attacking for 2 isn’t. Hopefully this will be outclassed soon, as it’s kind of a necessary evil.
Morphling: For a long time, this guy was a boss. Flying, Shroud, 0/6 or 5/1, and he can untap so he gets in for the damage and comes back for another of those rock jocking beats. (I’ve used that line before; I grew up in the 90s, I’ll use it again.) Unfortunately for Morphling, two things have happened since he was printed: damage was removed from the stack, and Wizards printed better cards. If damage was still stacked, Morphling would still be a top dog since you can pump him to the lethal amount of damage to kill the blocker, and then make him a 0/6 again when the damage is waiting on the stack. The newer Aetherling, and a lot of creatures in between, are better than the original ‘ling, though, so he stays on the sidelines.
Phyrexian Processor: I’ve written about this card before, and I don’t think it’s bad, but there are too many disenchant effects to invest too much life into it, and having to pay 4 for the creature is a little too much.
Pouncing Jaguar: I’m not a fan of green aggro. All the green one drops save a couple that aren’t elves are pretty lacking. A 2/2 is fine, but the echo really stunts what you want to do on the next turn. It’s not like the Albino Troll which is a 3/3 and can regenerate, but instead pretty vanilla. In my opinion, I like green “aggro” to be dropping 3 drops on turn 2, not dropping subpar one drops on the first turn.
Power Sink: I think this is one of the better x-counter spells. Players are often looking to do something with that extra x amount of mana that is less than you X cost. The scry on the other x counter spell is really sweet, but I like denying them the mana and screwing up their entire turn (and potentially their plays on my turn) with the Power Sink. It’s not insane, and I can understand valuing scry more, but if you’re looking to run two x-spell counters than Power Sink should be one.
Rewind: This card is alright, but am I really willing to play a counterspell that isn’t going to replace itself at 4 mana? Untapping all your lands is nice, but if this is the only counterspell in your hand then who really cares? I’d rather play Dismiss or Cryptic Command and potentially dig deeper into my bombs or more counters than have mana open to dick around with. I don’t think I’ve ever played with this card, and I hope I never have to.
Show and Tell: One of the more known cards from the set, this card is really nutty if your cube is built to support it. When you’re cheating in Eldrazis, Blightsteels, or Griselbrands for 2U, then things start to get crazy. If you go really deep and cheat in a Debtor’s Knell or Form of the Dragon, then you’re looking to have a brand of fun that isn’t always associated with this card and cube but is definitely a great possibility. The best part of this card is you can play it at 5 mana, leaving two mana open to protect your beast that should be winning you the game soon enough. If you play Eldrazis and big creatures in your cube, then Show and Tell should be necessary.
Smokestack: This card is cool, but pretty tricky. You either need a deck that doesn’t care about losing its resources, can gain back its resources easily, or produces more resources than your opponent. Tempo builds, token builds, those types of decks like the Smokestack. The biggest problem I see players new to cube face is they try and force Smokestack into every deck like that. Don’t! Pretty soon you have decks where you can’t afford to sac lands or creatures in and your Smokestack is more of a hinderance than a help. Stack your smoke with caution, as it will be powerful then.
Sneak Attack: Like Show and Tell, if you run Eldrazi then you need to run Sneak Attack. Sneak Attack is a really neat card, and becomes really dumb when you have any bounce, like Shard or Portal. Bringing your guy in, swinging for a bunch, and then returning him to your hand before he dies is kind of crazy. Sneak Attack also works in the reanimator builds, getting a bit (or a lot) of value out of your dude before he dies and comes back for good again. You really need to build around Sneak Attack, and your cube needs to be built to support Sneak Attack, but when it is Sneak Attack is a lot of fun and can kill players—and better decks—out of no where.
Time Spiral: The Storm Decks love this card; other decks should love it too. While giving your opponent seven cards can hurt, untapping the six lands nullifies this issue as you can play your own game changers while still being able to protect them with counter magic or removal. This is a card that goes really late in online drafts, as players don’t think paying 6 mana for a Timetwister is good or whatever, but the power and options it allows you is crazy good. I like this card and think it should be played in more cubes.
Tolarian Academy: In powered cubes, this card is nuts as there are tons of moxen and cheaper artifacts which can make this tap for 2-4 really early. In unpowered cubes, I’d say it’s unplayable as you can’t take advantage of it as early as you’d like. The smaller the powered cube, the better, as it’s easier to get multiple moxen. In a 360 cube I’d go as far as to say Academy is one of the better non-power cards.
Voltaic Key: If you run the Time Vault combo, this is necessary. Otherwise, I’ve found untapping an artifact is usually unexciting, gravy, or irrelevant.
Wildfire: Along with Burning of Xinye, this is an archetype. Essentially you are building up your mana base with ramp and artifacts, playing creatures with toughness greater than 4, and then destroying everything but those artifacts and creatures. You can add planeswalkers to the mix to make the card extra sick. This is a card that players who don’t have a lot of experience with it are hesitant to use it or misuse it; you can’t just play Wildfire with one huge creature and one Planeswalker. You want to ensure that you’ll have a monster out there or a planeswalker when you Wildfire, as it’s tough to come completely back from a Wildfire without having that beast or planeswalker out there.
Yawgmoth’s Will: I used to think this card was the nuts; I’ve calmed down a bit since then. The card is strong, and in the combo decks it’s even stronger, but I’ve found that when you have a lot of mana you’re either casting cards way below the curve or you can’t afford to cast the cards you want to. Your bombs end up being too expensive and your little guys end up not being enough. Still, I like the card and try to make it work, maybe out of nostalgia or perhaps I’m crazy. I like to think it’s still great, though.
Holy shit this set was huge, but it was fun to rake through. Thanks for reading, and sorry for the spelling mistakes; I want to get this up before I run out the door, and I should probably proofread it better, but doesn’t the internet exist to correct spelling?