Avacyn Restored Cube Review, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Avacyn Restored Cube review! You'll find (Part 1 over here.) This is one of the deeper blocks for Cube design that we’ve seen in a while. Although many of the cards don’t stand out as must-includes, there are quite a few subtle cards that I am sure will eventually find their way into our lists.

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.

Red

Archwing Dragon
Archwing Dragon Hell's Thunder clone or the next Keldon Champion? Unfortunately, I don’t believe the new Dragon is either. For the same mana over two turns, it does two more damage than Keldon Champion, but it can’t dome an opponent on a clogged board and isn’t nearly as tricky. Good news is that if you’re still running Skizzik and dying for another hasty 4-drop, this is probably the better pick.

Verdict: Pass


Bonfire of the Damned Red has always been a great support color for big-mana strategies. If you run a Cube that supports Wildfire and/or Burning of Xinye, you will love Bonfire of the Damned. Bonfire is another example of a miracle card that is perfectly reasonable for its normal mana cost. Remember that you’re playing big artifacts like Thran Dynamo or a slew of Signets in order to ramp to big spells. You should have no problem getting this to deal 3 or 4 to everything. Being that red often pairs with blue, you should be more likely to get to cast this for its miracle cost, which further lends to its usefulness. Even in more aggressive decks, this can help clear the way for your own creatures in the late game and is always a welcome top-deck.

Verdict: Play


Burn at the Stake
Burn at the Stake At first, I wasn’t going to review this card, but then I had the good fortune of drafting it in Draft. I ended up with a pretty reasonable R/g aggro deck, and I won seventy-five percent of my games because of Burn at the Stake. Burn at the Stake rewards you for getting most of the way there with your deck. Deal most of the damage, and this will get you the rest of the way. This is probably the most aggressive curve-topper red has access to, but it’s also the most fragile. If your opponent is playing Wrath or a lot of removal, this might be more than a glorified Lava Axe. Its awkward mana cost means you won’t be splashing it in any white weenie or token decks. Until we see better token support for red or a format that doesn’t have quite so many Wrath effects, Burn at the Stake is destined for the on-deck binder.

Verdict: Pass


Dangerous Wager I was really amped to test this card as soon as it was spoiled, but I am becoming increasingly disillusioned the more I get to play it. This card may as well have the Serra Avenger reminder text that you can’t play it before turn three. It’s a pretty good top-deck, but it’s awful to have in your hand if you’re in any sort of favorable position. I love that red is getting more discard, but this doesn’t play well at all with other discard strategies such as reanimation. This is really only good in aggressive decks, and I think in many cases, I would just rather it be another targeted burn spell. Wager hasn’t been without its good moments, so it stays in for now, but I wouldn’t fault anyone for not including it.

Verdict: Test


Dual Casting
Dual Casting Normally, creature Auras that don’t have the text “You control enchanted creature” are destined for the crap bin. Dual Casting is such an interesting card that I think it’s worth mentioning. Usually, creature Auras that target your own guys are bad just because it’s so awful to be two-for-oned. Dual Casting is costed just well enough that it might be worth running as a midgame Fork that copies all your burn spells. The problem is that the more spells you run, the fewer targets you have for Dual Casting and vice versa. I don’t think this card will make the cut in many Cubes, but if you wanted a fun way to generate some extra mileage from your Fact or Fictions or Time Warps, Dual Casting might be fun to try out for a bit.

Verdict: Pass


Falkenrath Exterminator Red has been given a lot of creatures with the Slith Firewalker ability in the Innistrad block. At the cost of haste, we get splashability and a really good secondary ability. With just a couple +1/+1 counters on this creature, you can shoot down most of your opponent’s early blockers. None of the stats on Exterminator are exciting on their own, but together, they make for a very useful creature. I could see many Cubes replacing cards like Blood Knight, Slith Firewalker, or Stigma Lasher with this creature. Being splashable is becoming more important as players start realizing how good red is. You don’t want to be stuck with all the {R}{R} guys when you only have five or six other playable red spells. This is one you should definitely try out if you’re looking for a new 2-drop.

Verdict: Test


Hound of Griselbrand
Hound of Griselbrand This card has been very aptly compared to Phantom Centaur due to how difficult it is to kill it in combat. The problem is that green decks have the luxury of durdling around in the later turns, while aggressive red decks have to continue to apply pressure. I do not like this in most red-based decks. I would much rather have any other hasty 4-drop that helps me seal the game up the turn I play it. Do I think Hound of Griselbrand is a bad creature? Certainly not. I think red deserves to get some of those midrange creatures. Hound is perfectly reasonable in R/G or R/B. It picks up and wears Equipment like a champ, and it’s downright scary when it undies. I’ve been pulling red out of the mono-red-only role and into more of a support color, and adding the Hound helps legitimize that strategy. Even if you push red as the aggro color, Hound may still have a place in your Cube depending on how large your list is.

Verdict: Test


Kruin Striker I initially dismissed Kruin Striker until I was able to play with it in Limited. It is incredibly easy to trigger this one or two times in the turns you need it to, and it’s no slouch on its own. The trample means that holding Equipment such as Sword of Fire and Ice is going to stop your opponents from chump-blocking. In tokens decks, he becomes exponentially better, playing out very similarly to Kiln Fiend. For Cubes that still play double-mana red creatures, I recommend giving this guy some testing.

Verdict: Test


Lightning Mauler
Lightning Mauler Red has always been given the short end of the stick when it comes to 2-mana creatures. White gets Stoneforge Mystic, black gets Dark Confidant, green gets Tarmogoyf, and blue gets Snapcaster Mage. For as long as I can remember, I have been waiting for red to get a cubable 2-drop that is able to hold a candle to these creatures. I was hopeful that Mauler could fill that role. After much testing and high hopes, it has not quite risen to Stoneforge status, but it has won my heart as my favorite red 2-drop. It’s aggressive, splashable, and good in and out of the mono-red deck, which has become increasingly important in how I evaluate red cards. It’s good on turn two and potentially good in the later turns of the game. This one is an easy win.

Verdict: Play


Rite of Ruin I have long been a fan of Wildfire decks and have been pushing them in some form since the first version of my Cube. As a result, I have tried every big-mana red card under the sun. Wildfire has always been a fantastic card alongside Rampant Growth and Signets. Rite of Ruin feels very similar. It is probable that the main mode will be to sac lands first, then creatures, then artifacts, making it just slightly over-costed for its effect compared to Burning of Xinye or Wildfire. On the other hand, it can kill any creatures of any size, and it can take out whichever card type is most beneficial for you. If you support big-mana strategies, this is one you’ll need to test to see if it’ll work for you list. I have been pleased with it in my list so far, but I have felt nearly any other of the Wildfire effects would have done the job just as well.

Verdict: Test


Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded This is an extremely difficult card to evaluate. I’ve seen people say it’s a great addition, and others say it has no place in Cube. As with all planeswalkers, the only real way to find out if it’s any good is to test it. This card is not bad, but it’s not great either. To me, it never feels that it does what you want it to do. If you’re running a deck that can take advantage of the early drop, it dies before you can deal any damage. If you’re running a deck that wants permanents on the board after a Wrath, it offers no real threat or clock on your opponent. If you have a reasonable hand, its +1 ability is very risky to activate.

My biggest problem with Tibalt is that in most cases, I would just rather have a card that does something. A burn spell, an Earthquake effect, a dude, or anything that actually affects the board. There are very few situations in which I want to draw Tibalt. Sure, on turn two against a deck that can’t interact until he goes ultimate, he’s a fine insurance policy, but beyond that, he takes up a valuable spell slot that could otherwise be used playing actual good spells. For me, Tibalt is just a draft or two away from going in the on-deck binder.

Verdict: Test


Vexing Devil
Vexing Devil If you actively push mono-red burn, there is no doubt in my mind that Vexing Devil is good enough to include. The thing is that too many mono-red cards makes for a really boring red section and leads to a lot of red cards tabling and forced red decks. Like Tibalt, Vexing Devil has had a number of articles and well-thought forums posts written about him in favor or against. 4 damage for 1 mana is about as efficient as the effect can be, and it’s a pretty great worst-case scenario for the burn deck. It’s a really boring card outside of that deck, and it’s probably not worth running in most well-tuned lists. For me, this is definitely a pass, but if you like red cards that deal damage to the dome, you may want to run this.

Verdict: Pass


Zealous Conscripts Ladies and gentlemen, red has finally been given the 5-drop it has been waiting to have for years. Zealous Conscripts is the best red card in the set and definitely in the top three cards in the set for Cube. This card steals everything. Need to sneak some extra damage in? Why not take your opponents best attacker or a piece of Equipment? Upset at that Jace getting ready to go ultimate? Why not ultimate that bad boy for yourself, and, oh, while you’re at it, have your opponent take 3. This is easily the best red 5-drop and can be played in quite literally any deck that plays red. Given that it’s an enters-the-battlefield ability means you can run some serious shenanigans with cards like Makeshift Mannequin or Recurring Nightmare. Get this guy in your list.

Verdict: Play

Green

Champion of Lambholt
Champion of Lambholt Champion can make things difficult for your opponent very quickly. This is an easy enough inclusion if you support green-based aggro decks. Unfortunately, the double-green means this isn’t going to be splashed in the red or white aggro decks. That all but kills it for my list even with as much token support as I have. I would rather focus on pumping my army of dorks rather than making them unblockable. It’s also a little awkward if your opponent kills Champ in mid-combat.

Verdict: Pass


Somberwald Sage Dear Wizards, I would like to resolve 7-drops on turn four using only one card.

Sincerely, Kranny.

Verdict: Play

 


Triumph of Ferocity
Triumph of Ferocity Green doesn’t often find ways to gain card advantage outside of ramping, and to date, it hasn’t had a good way to repeatedly draw cards. Triumph is a fantastic follow-up to a turn-one mana bug. When resolved early, Triumph puts your opponent on the ropes and makes him deal with your threats in a way that might make him overcommit or waste removal unnecessarily. The problem is that when you aren’t doing well, Triumph is a total dud. In most cases, Lead the Stampede does everything Triumph does. This is probably a better card in commons/uncommons lists where Wrath effects aren’t so rampant and green gets to play more fatties as opposed to value creatures. For most lists, however, this is a pass.

Verdict: Pass


Ulvenwald Tracker Another effect green doesn’t often have is removal. Being that green typically outclasses other creatures early on, Tracker presents a very serious threat to other aggro decks. Sure, Tracker has a giant target on its head, but since you only had to invest 1 mana, you’re not going to feel awful if your opponent Doom Blades it. This should make the cut in most Cubes regardless of size or make. You may want to pass if you’re solely focused on big-mana strategies, but even then, it’s a great midgame spell to take down cards such as Hero of Bladehold and other big, value creatures that give green decks a hard time.

Verdict: Play


Wolfir Avenger
Wolfir Avenger I’m just going to come out and say it. I think the extra toughness plus the flash ability makes me like this more than Troll Ascetic. I cut Ascetic long ago for being uninteresting and not splashable, so this isn’t likely to see play in my list any time soon, but I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone for running it. I just don’t like aggressive green cards that aren’t splashable. Green just doesn’t have the chops to head up the aggro effort. If you push aggressive green strategies, on the other hand, this is a great addition. It’s also a fine replacement in common/uncommon lists still running Simian Grunts.

Verdict: Test


Wolfir Silverheart There is a long-standing question as to how much power you could make a vanilla 5-mana creature before most Cubers would Cube with it. The answer is 12. This card has single-handedly won more games than any other Avacyn Restored addition so far. In most cases, I’ve seen it bond with a mana bug early on and seal the deal with just a few swings. Like other soulbond cards, it becomes better when paired with bounce and reanimation. This is a great 5-drop for green and definitely worth running over other options. If you still have Kodama of the North Tree or even something like Ghoultree, I urge you to make the swap.

Verdict: Play

Multicolored

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight You don’t realize just how devastating this card is until you’re sitting across from it. Your Lightning Bolts deal 6. Your Sword of Fire and Ice deals 4. Your Flametongue Kavu deals 8. Your Ajani Vengeant deals 6. Your creatures essentially have double strike. What I am trying to say is that if you untap with Gisela and have even a little bit of gas, it should be enough to get you where you need to go. It’s an interesting color combination, but it’s certainly not impossible in the W/U control decks. My hope is that the more creatures like Gisela we see, the more we see red start to branch out into other support roles.

Verdict: Test


Sigarda, Host of Herons It’s pretty simple: Resolve a Sigarda, and your opponent has four turns to find a Wrath or he dies. Pair her with any Equipment, and she’s nearly unstoppable. She should find a home in most Cubes, as she’s better than most of the G/W options out there. Be sure not to hastily cut a G/W card with few replacements. I’ve seen a few people cut Mirari's Wake, for example, to make room for Sigarda. I would much rather see something like Gaddock Teeg or Wilt-Leaf Liege take a seat on the bench. Either way, most Cubes should find room for Sigarda, as she is very flexible and easily worth splashing.

Verdict: Play

Land

Alchemist's Refuge
Alchemist’s Refuge I don’t think Winding Canyons suddenly becomes playable if you chop a mana off the cost. On the other hand, I like that you can resolve spells such as Ponder or Control Magic at instant speed. I could definitely see building a deck around this card similar to Isochron Scepter or Opposition, but I don’t think it’s nearly as powerful as either card. This card’s success is going to largely depend on the makeup of the Cube. If you run a slower Cube, this could be an all-star. For most lists with any sort of aggro presence, I think it’s a pass.

Verdict: Test


Desolate Lighthouse This is exactly the kind of card the U/R decks want. Most of my reanimator and U/B/x decks end up being Grixis, and Lighthouse just oozes usefulness. As long as you’ve drafted a reasonable mana base, there is virtually no cost to running this in your deck. Need to draw an out to an opponent’s threat or turn those extra lands into good cards? Lighthouse is a fantastic answer. I love the synergy is has with graveyard strategies. Pair this with Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds, and you can build a really good card-advantage engine. Draft something like Living Death, and you can set up a huge combo turn. The possibilities are endless, and the cost to enable it is very low. This should beat out virtually all other options in most U/R sections. One hundred percent play.

Verdict: Play


Slayers' Stronghold
Slayers’ Stronghold Here’s the last card in the set and the card I think I was most wrong about when I initially evaluated it. I thought turning all my 1-drops into Lightning Elementals was going to break this land in half. What I found out was that my white decks didn’t want to waste extra mana they could be using getting ready for a big Armageddon. My red decks didn’t bother drafting this over other burn spells and creatures. Stronghold has tabled more than any other spell tested so far. I don’t doubt that it’s a useful card, but it requires you to have extremely tight mana to take advantage of it early, and it’s nearly useless in decks wanting to resolve bigger creatures. Bigger lists shouldn’t have trouble finding room for this very powerful land, but you have to ask yourself whether you want this land or if you’d rather have another spell in your list. This is one you’ll definitely have to test to see if it’s right for your list. It’s by no means an auto-include.

Verdict: Pass


Thanks for tuning in for Part 2 of the Avacyn Restored cube review! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I will be happy to answer them. Happy cubing!