The Avacyn Restored Cube Review, Part 1

Welcome to the Avacyn Restored Cube review! The Innistrad block has been very good for Cube designers, and this set does not disappoint! Unlike other third sets, Avacyn Restored (AVR) is a full-size set offering us a number of new and colorful options to add to our Cubes. I have been hard at work testing and tweaking my list to determine which cards stack up and which are destined for the trade binder.

Grading System

Pass – This rating is given to a card that might be fringe-playable or very archetype-specific. If you’re among the few who push the less supported archetypes or if it’s an effect you want an additional copy of in your list, by all means run it, but these probably aren’t good enough for most Cubes.

Play – I try to avoid using the word “staple,” as I am consistently surprised at how different Cubes look with each passing block. Cards I never believed would be cut from my list sit gathering dust in my on deck binder. That being said, this rating means you absolutely should test these cards out. They’re either best in class at what they do or testing has proven them to be more powerful than expected.

Test – Somewhere between Pass and Play is Test. Cards with this rating will greatly vary in value depending on the list. My list, for example, runs a lot of blue-based aggro/tempo cards as opposed to having blue play the role of the traditional control color. While some of the new flyers would be rated as Play in my list, your mileage may vary. Regardless, these cards are very powerful at what they do, so if you have an opportunity to test them in your list, you should!

There are quite a few cards that interact positively with tribal strategies. While I don’t specifically review these cards, most of the named-creature-type cards are more than good enough for tribal lists that push those creature types! Any unlisted cards were ignored for not being good enough for mainstream Cube lists or so specific to special Cubes (Zombie, tribal, flavor, etc.) that they weren’t worth mentioning. I also frequently reference cards in the context of being tested in my Cube, which can be found here.


Angel of Jubilation
Angel of Jubilation Avacyn Restored is [unsurprisingly] jam-packed with Angels and Demons. Angel of Jubilation is the first Angel on the roster up for consideration. Fighting for the 4-drop slot, this creature provides a very reasonable body with an Anthem effect attached to it. Compared to Kongming, “Sleeping Dragon” or Celestial Crusader, she has much better stats. The added sacrifice/life clause is what makes her awkward mana cost worth it.

This is a fairly tricky ability to evaluate. This shuts off sacrifice costs from cards like fetch lands, Pernicious Deed, and even Strip Mine. The pay-life clause shuts down shock lands, fetch lands, and cards like Necropotence. Even silly stuff like Carnophage or the alternate casting cost of Force of Will or Contagion aren’t possible with Angel of Jubilation on the board. You may notice this card is particularly good at thwarting black cards. If you have a strong mono-black presence, she has a bit more value. Angel of Jubilation is best in Cubes with token support and a strong WW/x (white weenie) strategy. If you currently run any of the other 4-mana Anthem creatures, I strongly advise making the swap. If you can get over the awkward mana cost, this is a solid creature that should be more than at home in your Cube.

Editor's Note: Kranny misread Angel of Jubilation here. It only stops players from sacrificing creatures to pay costs for abilities. Lands, and other permanents, can be sacrificed to pay for abilities.

Verdict: Play


Archangel Every so often, Wizards takes a card that has seen print only as a rare and changes it to common or uncommon and vice versa. This is a symptom of creatures becoming better over the years. For most Magic players, this doesn’t mean much other than opening those cards more frequently in Drafts. For Pauper and commons/uncommons (C/U) Cubes, however, this means access to new spells. Archangel provides a very powerful finisher for C/U Cubes. It’s one of, if not the largest flyers you can get for 7 mana in the format, making it a great reanimation target if you push that archetype in your list. If you’re looking for a good finisher for your control decks, Archangel should fill the role nicely as well. For typical Cube lists, Archangel is clearly outclassed by other options.

Verdict: Pass


Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Avacyn, Angel of Hope I would be remiss if I provided a set review without reviewing the set’s namesake. Avacyn, Angel of Hope is quite a creature! For 8 mana, you get 8 power of flying and insurance against Wrath of God and Nevinyrral's Disk effects. Her vigilance means she eliminates the attack step for your opponent and provides a very reasonable clock.

Unfortunately for Avacyn, she’s very expensive, and while her abilities are very strong, she isn’t near as powerful as other 8-mana options in Cube. Compared to creatures like Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, or Sundering Titan, she isn’t a very exciting reanimation target. She’s susceptible to cards that bounce or exile creatures, and having her stolen with a Treachery or Control Magic is probably more devastating than typical situations (can’t Disenchant the Control Magic effect anymore!).

On the plus-side, unlike Akroma, Avacyn survives Animate Dead or Necromancy (no protection from black), and she is a much larger creature. If you have been looking for a new finisher in white, by all means have at the new Angel. For most lists, however, I don’t see her making the final cut.

Verdict: Pass


Banishing Stroke
Banishing Stroke Our first miracle card! The much-discussed miracle mechanic is unlike other mechanics we’ve seen before. We have very large effects with semi-reasonable casting costs attached to them and a miracle cost that makes you say “wow.” Banishing Stroke is an awful, awful removal spell at 6 mana, but it’s quite an amazing spell at {W}. Being that most Cubes cannot reliably play the miracle cost due to not ensuring that they will draw it when they need it, I don’t think this one isn’t aggressively costed enough to run in most lists.

Verdict: Pass


Cathars' Crusade Any time an Anthem effect is printed, I think it’s worth looking at to make sure we don’t miss out on the next Honor of the Pure or Eldrazi Monument. Cathars' Crusade plays out like a non-tribal Door of Destinies, but it has a much more awkward mana cost. Coming out on turn five, it doesn’t have any effect on the board, making it an awkward curve-topper. Untapping with this on the board and playing just one token generator puts you pretty far ahead, but is it worth the delay? I think you’d be better off playing a cheaper Anthem effect or Equipment than this. Had it been costed just 1 lower, I think we’d have a real powerhouse, but as is, it’s a pass.

Verdict: Pass


Cathedral Sanctifier
Cathedral Sanctifier Just when I thought the Loxodon Hierarch effect couldn’t be any cheaper, they go and print Cathedral Sanctifier. Mono-red is one of the best decks in many different Cube builds. It’s fast, it’s disruptive, and it eats all the slow and cute decks for breakfast. I believe that having a good balance of playable life-gain cards helps keep the red deck honest.

My current regimen is about one card for every one hundred twenty-five cards in your list. Sanctifier probably isn’t better than other options out there, but for 1 mana, it’s about as efficient as life-gain gets. If you’re playing Timely Reinforcements, perhaps this card might be a less powerful but suitable replacement that helps the white decks apply pressure and get those extra life points to hope to allow for one more untap step.

Verdict: Test


Cloudshift Our first Blink effect! Blink is a much beloved archetype in Cube. It allows for some very memorable decks built around cards like Reveillark, Avalanche Riders, Titans, or Kitchen Finks. Until now, all Blink effects have been costed at 2 or more mana. Cloudshift sets the bar pretty high by chopping off a colorless mana from the mana cost. That 1 mana makes all the difference. I think this card should be in most lists regardless of if you push Blink or not. It blanks removal, prevents unfavorable combat, and can even Blink an opponent’s creature under your control and return it to your control!

Verdict: Play


Defy Death If you look at this card and like what you see, might I suggest the instant-speed, easier-to-cast version of this card, Miraculous Recovery.

Verdict: Pass


Emancipation Angel
Emancipation Angel People have long been a fan of Kor Skyfisher, so it only makes sense to evaluate Emancipation Angel. The new Angel has an extra power tacked onto it for the mere cost of {W}. Yes, it’s a very aggressively costed creature, but I believe white decks aren’t able to bear the burden.

Emancipation Angel either comes down early and bounces a creature, reducing your board presence, or it returns a land, preventing the ever-so-critical 4 mana in the WW/x decks. This means your ‘Geddons, Hero of Bladeholds, and Ajanis have to wait an extra turn. It’s for this reason I stopped running Kor Skyfisher and why I will not be adding Emancipation Angel to my Cube. For C/U lists, you’re not going to find a creature this aggressive at this cost, and with the 4-drop slot being much less important than in typical lists, you should be able to offset the disadvantage.

Verdict: Pass


 

Entreat the Angels
Entreat the Angels Our second miracle card is revealed, and we’re getting a little closer to playable! Unfortunately for this spell, we have a card that provides the same big effect at an additional mana but has the benefit of cycling for Soldiers. The card I am talking about, of course, is Decree of Justice. Again, being that you cannot reliably miracle this card in the early game, I am not excited enough about the base cost of making Angels to want to include this effect. If white is a big role-player in big-mana strategies or you’re just dying for another Decree effect, run it; otherwise, it’s a pass.

Verdict: Pass


Goldnight Commander This is a reasonable Anthem-like creature for C/U lists and could even make the cut in some normal lists if you really push tokens. Being that the effect isn’t permanent and this guy’s stats are pretty weak on their own, this card is probably a pass.

Verdict: Pass


Nearheath Pilgrim Soulbond is one of my favorite mechanics to come around in a long time and is going to make waves in Cubes of all shapes and sizes. Understand that the ability does not have to trigger when you play the spell. You can simply play your creature with soulbond and bind a creature that enters the battlefield when it’s most advantageous to do so. Unsurprisingly, these creatures play very well with Blink effects. Nearheath Pilgrim isn’t the most impressive creature on paper, but it can create big life swings. Compare this to something like Knight of Meadowgrain. Sure, Pilgrim doesn’t have first strike, but it’s still a 2-power 2-drop with a good ability, and he’s splashable to boot. If you’re still running Lone Missionary, I think I’d bump him to make room for the Pilgrim!

Verdict: Test


Restoration Angel
Restoration Angel One of the more powerful cards in the set, Restoration Angel is costed just about as low as you could possibly go for a 3/4 flyer with flash. Tack on the flash ability, and you have yourself a creature that makes the cuts in most Cubes and in nearly all varieties of white decks. As per most Blink shenanigans, the Angel helps reuse your Shriekmaws and Mulldrifters and creates a giant body to throw in front of attackers. It also provides a surprise blocker in a pinch, making it among the more swingy creatures in the Cube. I expect this to be in Cubes for years to come.

Verdict: Play


Seraph of Dawn A 4-mana flying lifelinker for 4 mana is a great addition for control decks in C/U and Pauper Cubes, but it’s just a little less aggressive than it needs to be to compete with 4-drops in regular lists.

Verdict: Pass


Silverblade Paladin This is among my favorite cards in the set and what I believe will be the second best white 3-drop, just behind Mirran Crusader. Consider playing this after resolving a typical 2-drop. You now represent 8 power worth of creatures by just spending a few mana. If you play this on three, don’t soulbond, and pass the turn. You can do some pretty insane turns when combined with hasty creatures such as Hero of Oxid Ridge or Keldon Champion. In the late-game, it becomes even better, making your Titans and Dragons hit for 10 to 12 damage—all for the cost of 3 mana. The fact that he double strikes on his own is gravy. Get this card and play it; you won’t be disappointed.

Verdict: Play


Terminus
Terminus Here’s the first miracle card that has a cost I wouldn’t feel awful about playing on its own. Funnily enough, it’s also the card that’s the worst when cast early. If you need another Wrath effect in white, try the other 6-mana variants such as Austere Command or Catastrophe. I have seen high praise for this card, but I don’t think this is good enough at 6 mana, and it’s not worth playing for its miracle cost alone. Are we seeing a trend yet?

Verdict: Pass


Thraben Valiant Valiant is a reasonable enough WW/x dork. It’s French vanilla and splashable. What more can be said about such a simple creature? Nothing, really. I wouldn’t fault people for running this over some of the other WW options.

Verdict: Test


Amass the Components A very fair draw spell for C/U and Pauper lists. It’s probably not better than the other 4-mana options, but it’s great for larger lists trying to find another effect at this cost.

Verdict: Pass


Deadeye Navigator
Deadeye Navigator Deadeye “The Machine Gun” Navigator is among the more interesting cards in the set. For 6 mana, you can attach the Momentary Blink effect to any creature bound to Navigator. This effect is downright scary with cards like Mulldrifter, Avalanche Riders, Kitchen Finks, and even innocent-appearing cards like Wood Elves.

Imagine bonding this guy to an M12 Titan . . . shudder! Depending on how much your group likes these kinds of decks, I could see this guy making the cut on merit alone. If you have a tighter list, you’ll have to decide if you like bigger finishers such as Keiga or Palinchron or if you’re willing to sacrifice the control deck’s consistency for a card with a little more flare. This makes the cut in my six-hundred-card card list. For me, it’s a play, but this one is going to largely depend on what the Cube configuration looks like.

Verdict: Test


 

Devastation Tide
Devastation Tide When this card was spoiled, people were comparing it to Upheaval and dismissing it outright. I think this is a mistake. We know we’re never going to see another Standard-legal set print a sweeper as powerful as Upheaval, but Tide is a damn good card regardless.

For 5 mana, you get to return all planeswalkers, creatures, manafacts, Equipment, and tokens. The only other cards that come close to this effect are Pernicious Deed and Akroma's Vengeance. At 5 mana, this is more than reasonable. I think this card is exactly the kind of spell blue wants to be resolving. It resets the board back to a reasonable state and gives you a shot at stabilizing. It has perhaps the most elegant miracle cost of all the miracle cards. It allows you to play this spell, reset the board, and replay some of the cards you bounced back to your hand. Expect to see Devastation Tide show up in more lists as people stop comparing it to cards like Upheaval and start seeing it for the great sweeper it is!

Verdict: Play


 

Elgaud Shieldmate
Elgaud Shieldmate You can thank Wizards this creature doesn’t have evasion—it would be pretty insane if it did. Given how powerful hexproof is, I am half-tempted to try to give this guy a shot, but I just don’t think he’s good enough on his own to warrant inclusion. The effect is largely absent from Pauper lists, so I can definitely see him being good enough there and probably decent for C/U Cubes as well. Remember that these formats have fewer Wrath effects, and the spot removal tends to be better, making hexproof a pretty useful ability.

Verdict: Pass


Favorable Winds If you’ve read my article on Enabling Blueggro, you’ll know that I am a big fan of giving blue other hats to wear aside from the control hat. While I am unsure that this is an enchantment that blue wants in my current configuration, I am tempted to reallocate the creature slots slightly to allow myself to run Favorable Winds. This would involve removing trickier creatures for vanilla flyers such as Rishadan Airship, Cloud Spirit, Welkin Tern, and Spindrift Drake. If you currently push tempo and have a large selection of blue flyers, this could feel at home in your list. Unfortunately, without that support, it’s a pass.

Verdict: Pass


Fettergeist
Fettergeist While this creature isn’t quite Serendib Efreet, it doesn’t pack any less punch. At the cost of 1 or 2 mana, you get an extremely efficient creature that can clock your opponent or sit back and block 3-power creatures all day long. Most control decks should be able to shrug off the mana. Playing ’Geist in aggro/tempo decks feels like less of a deal as the upkeep gets in the way of playing more creatures, disruption, and equipping and attacking. That being the case, this should be an auto-include for anyone pushing traditional control in his or her Cube.

Verdict: Play


Ghostly Flicker Double-Blinking is an effect we haven’t really seen before. The closest we get is something like Ghostway. Unlike Ghostway, Ghostly Flicker can blink artifacts and lands, and it returns them to the battlefield immediately. Obvious 187 creature interactions aside, other tricks you can pull include resetting a Tangle Wire or Smokestack, saving land from a land-destruction spell, or resetting a living weapon Equipment. Since the creatures return to the battlefield immediately, it makes for a great combat trick, providing not one, but two surprise blockers. If you’re a big supporter of Blink in your Cube, you will definitely want to add Ghostly Flicker.

Verdict: Test


Gryff Vanguard
Gryff Vanguard After the first few Blink effects were spoiled, I was really hoping to see a Mulldrifter variant. Gryff Vanguard certainly is no Mulldrifter, but he’s a reasonable creature that could make it in larger, non-rare lists. Unfortunately, without the extra power, additional cards, or some other trick, the Vanguard probably doesn’t make the cut outside of Pauper.

Verdict: Pass


Into the Void This is a great effect at a so-so casting cost. If you want this effect in blue, try Undo or Withdraw.

Verdict: Pass


Latch Seeker Early iterations of my blue tempo build included creatures such as Cloud Spirit and Rishadan Airship, making Latch Seeker feel right at home. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that blue really lacked the aggressive 1- and 2-drops to abuse this guy at the top of the curve. This is the same reason we see cards such as Dauthi Marauder struggle in black. The aggro support just isn’t all the way there yet.

Verdict: Pass


Mist Raven
Mist Raven Mist Raven is somewhere between Man-o'-War and Riftwing Cloudskate in power level. It’s not quite as useful or efficient as its brothers/sisters, but it wears Equipment well, is good at applying midgame pressure, and is easily abused with cards such as Reveillark, Birthing Pod, and Recurring Nightmare. I would much rather see a list with this in it than cards such as Echoing Truth, Capsize, or even Repulse. Raven is a definite a play if you have room in your list.

Verdict: Play


Nephalia Smuggler I am in love with this creature. I never liked Mistmeadow Witch just because of the awkward activation cost. I like that this can come down early, bash in for a few, and be downright dangerous in the late-game paired with any good 187 creature. If your opponent doesn’t answer this card, he’s going to pay for it later. Since you only had to invest a mere 1 mana, and you probably got a few hits in with it early, you should have no problem with your opponent Doom Blading or Swords to Plowsharing this guy off the table. I hope we see more playable 1-drops like this in blue. It’s going to be harder to justify Smuggler’s inclusion if you have a very control-heavy blue. If your blue decks are good enough at branching outside of that role, this is a definite play.

Verdict: Play


Tamiyo, the Moon Sage It may come as no surprise that Tamiyo is among the most powerful cards in the set. This is the best planeswalker we’ve seen at 5 mana since Gideon Jura. Weighing in at 4 starting loyalty and bumping to 5 on the first activation, Tamiyo is a tough planeswalker to get rid of.

Her +1 ability provides the Frost Titan effect, providing some serious protection. This means your control decks should have enough time to Wrath the board, and your midrange decks will always be able to tap down your opponent’s biggest threat. The −2 ability is very elegant. If you’re down, you can use it to draw cards to dig for an answer (targeting your opponent). If you have a dominant board position, you can target yourself and give you more than enough fuel to win the game.

As with most planeswalkers, the ultimate should spell game over for your opponent. This essentially gives all your spells buyback {0}. Have a counter? Counter everything the rest of the game. Have a removal spell? Feel free to machine-gun the board. Have a ritual effect? Enjoy your infinite mana. Tamiyo is a fantastically designed card and should be at home in most Cubes of all shapes and sizes.

Verdict: Play


Tandem Lookout
Tandem Lookout We’ve seen a lot of Ophidian clones from blue in recent years. Scroll Thief, Vedalken Heretic, Cold-Eyed Selkie, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, and Neurok Commando all try to fill the shoes, but only Edric makes the cut in most lists. Tandem Lookout is very similar to Edric in that he provides the effect to more than one creature.

Like most soulbond creatures, Tandem Lookout has tested better than he appears on paper. If you play him on a tapped-out opponent, you’re always going to draw a card out from him. He’s not as powerful as Edric, but he’s easier to splash, and he still packs a mean punch. As it is, I think he should make the cut in any list supporting blue-based aggro/tempo decks. It’s less exciting for more control-oriented builds.

Verdict: Test


Wingcrafter Here’s yet another creature that provides fuel for blue-based creature decks. Blue pairs very well with other aggro colors, but usually just to provide extra fuel or disruption. The more creatures blue gets like Wingcrafter, the easier it will be to justify blue as an actual aggro color. No one is clamoring to include Flying Men any time soon, but Wingcrafter is a perfectly reasonable choice if blue gets some better aggro support.

Verdict: Pass


Blood Artist
Blood Artist After playing a lot of Innistrad Limited, I have come to realize how powerful Falkenrath Noble is. Noble is just barely not good enough for most lists by 1 mana or power. Blood Artist comes down earlier but poses no immediate threat to the board. I think that all but kills the possibility of including it in most Cubes. Perhaps it can find a niche if black gets some more token effects. It does pose a pretty significant life swing once the engine gets going, but it probably won’t do more damage than something like Blood Seeker.

Verdict: Pass


Demonic Taskmaster I want very much for this creature to be good enough. Unfortunately, the cost is probably too much for even low-creature-count control decks to handle. Having your creature locked down under an Ajani, Frost Titan, or Faith's Fetters sticks you with a one-sided The Abyss. There are probably Cube builds that can take advantage of this creature. More token support certainly helps. This could end up being like Abyssal Persecutor in that it looks awful on paper, but in practice ends up being pretty good. As it is, I am testing Taskmaster, but no one has had the guts to pick him up yet.

Verdict: Test


Demonlord of Ashmouth
Demonlord of Ashmouth It’s the third card in a row that would be better if black had more token support. Give us one more Bitterblossom or Spectral Procession, and we’ll be in business. If you are able to stick this monster, you have one serious clock on your hands, but at what cost? Most midrange decks should be able to afford to sacrifice a random wall, used-up 187 creature, or mana dork to get the clock going. I like that you don’t have to sacrifice when he undies. One thing to note is that if more creatures like Demonlord are printed, I can see bounce and Pacifism effects run over traditional removal especially as the Cubes get larger. Keep in mind that this isn’t for every deck. If you’re only running eight to ten creatures, Demonlord might be more than a liability than he’ll help you. It’ll take time to see if he beats out the creature he moved to the bench (Abyssal Persecutor), but he’s doing well so far.

Verdict: Test

Editor's Note: Kranny misread Demonlord of Ashmouth here. You will have to sacrifice it if it enters the battlefield from undying, but is the only creature you control.

 

Driver of the Dead
Driver of the Dead Traditional Cubes already have access the harder-to-cast Crypt Champion and he has seen very little play. Driver is fantastic for Pauper lists. Acting as a mini Reveillark, he’s better than Gravedigger in aggressive decks and can do some pretty neat things alongside reusable reanimation or Raise Dead effects.

Verdict: Pass


Gloom Surgeon The 2/1 that never dies. I like seeing black aggro get some love, but unfortunately, this really isn’t better than the competition. Consider that most Cubes aren’t running the full suite of evasive 2-drops a la Nezumi Cutthroat, Vampire Interloper, Fledgling Djinn, Foul Imp, or even Spined Thopter, I don’t see Gloom Surgeon making the cut.

Verdict: Pass


Griselbrand Any time a good reanimation target comes out, it’s worth looking at. The sets other flagship character is one monster of a . . . monster.

Griselbrand
With fantastic stats and the ability to pass the Terminate test with flying colors, Griselbrand is everything black has wanted at the top end for a long time. Even just honestly casting this shouldn’t be an issue for the ramp deck. A couple mana dorks and a ramp spell could see this come down on turn six fairly reliably. Once you’ve activated him once, you’re in a winning position. If you get to attack and connect with him, you’ve all but sealed the game in your favor. This one is a definite win.

Verdict: Play


Harvester of Souls Man, after discussing Griselbrand, it’s a little difficult to look at another big creature on the top of black’s curve, but Harvester of Souls is no slouch. While the deathtouch seems almost unnecessary, this is pretty decent Wrath protection and not a bad finisher. I don’t think this is what you want to be doing with 6 mana. I’m glad they didn’t push the power level on this creature given how ridiculous the Titans have been, but it’s disappointing that it won’t make for a good Cube card.

Verdict: Pass


Killing Wave Punisher mechanics don’t typically do well for Cube, and this card is no exception. In the late game, this card is obviously very good, but this card does little to nothing on a board with a couple of creatures. There are other Wrath effects that I would run well before I would include this including Decree of Pain or Life's Finale. Splashability is nice, but it doesn’t make up for what this card lacks in power.

Verdict: Pass


Editor's Note: You can expect the second half of Kranny's article to be up sometime soon. And, of course, if you have feedback or thoughts please let Kranny know in the comments below!