Commander 2016 is designed as a multiplayer set. However there is always something interesting for Cube.
Like in the previous articles, I’ll be breaking these down by mechanics and non-mechanic cards.
COMMANDER 2016 MECHANICS
4 Color commanders
- Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, Breya, Etherium Shaper, Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, Saskia the Unyielding and Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder
4 color aren’t explicitly new cards and not really any kind of mechanic. But, as the Nephilim have been miles from making many Cubes and with the new class of 4 Color legends being much better, there’s a question of whether you want to include them in your Cube. Tricolor cards tend to not have many slots in them for Cube as the number of decks that want to play them are quite low, since it requires hitting a specific triad and while you wouldn’t be surprised to see something like a R/W aggro deck or a U/B control deck, it’s more surprising to see something like a Mardu midrange deck in a draft pod. Because of this, the demand for 4 Color commanders is much lower. It isn’t to say that these cards are “bad” and unfortunately, the trend toward overly reductionist language tends to constrain critical thought into saying that these cards are bad, as when looking at a card like Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, a 4 mana 4/4 flier with the ability to proliferate and a bunch of other keywords is powerful in the decks that want to play it. But that’s where it really comes down to: not many decks are really going to want to play this and these cards being included in your Cube depend on whether you want to explicitly support 4 and 5 color strategies, and most Cubes really don’t, due to the opportunity cost of including something that can more easily fit into most Cube decks.
Unless you’re using house rules or errata for allowing commanders somehow, the Partner text, like the commander text on Daretti, Scrap Savant, is flavor text. Like with Daretti, Scrap Savant it loses some functionality. Most of the Partner cards, power level wise, just aren’t that great, but there’s one standout:
It’s true that Vial Smasher is a 3 mana creature that has no immediate board impact, and we’ll assume that it’s not going to be easy for decks to immediately have something to trigger its damage-causing ability, but over the course of the game, it should. Its stats aren’t really that great and it’s true that cards that have “if you untap with them, they do a lot” tend to look better than they actually play out. But taking that into consideration, how does Vial Smasher play out? I found that although it suffers from “dies to Lightning Bolt” syndrome, it isn’t hard for it to act as a recurrent damage source, and it isn’t out of the question for a B/R deck to play cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Fireblast, and Snuff Out, all cards with high converted mana costs that never get played for retail. Since a Blind Phantasm isn’t really that impactful on its own and if played in a deck like a B/R midrange deck, it dealing damage may not even matter that much. This makes it more for aggressive decks and despite having no immediate board impact, I’ve found the lasting impact that it has can be high. Rakdos has cards like Kolaghan’s Command and Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast, but aside from that, there isn’t really that much that’s very exciting. Don’t be surprised if this ends up making your Cube.
This is the only new common from Commander 2016 and thankfully, fits most Cubes (even non Pauper ones) like a glove. A lot of cycling cards don’t tend to see much play in Cube because while a lot of cycling cards operate on an axis of having a pretty mediocre card with cycling (so that it can be jettisoned if the game state dictates that it’d be weak) and the only one with widespread Cube use is Miscalculation, which operates on an axis that works well enough in most decks anyway in Cube. Obviously, Lay of the Land hasn’t been Cubeworthy since, well, ever but we’ve learned that when the overall package of a card works well, it doesn’t really matter if some modes aren’t very efficient. After all, is drawing a card from Miscalculation for 2 mana a good rate? Is casting Secure the Wastes for to make a 1/1 efficient? Not really, but having that option is nice. Like with the Bloodrush cards, while it does offer a few modes, you’re “locked in” after using it. Ash Barrens works similarly, since its primary mode is to basic landcycle and its secondary mode is to play it out as a land, as playing it out as a Wastes makes it a poor land to play, since it’s poor at helping to cast spells since it taps for colorless. Ash Barrens‘ secondary mode does help you to cast and enable Oath of the Gatewatch‘s Eldrazi, and while that’s a part of the equation, it isn’t a main draw to playing it out. I’ve heard comparisons to cards like Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds as both lands are common lands that are pretty slow ways to find another basic land. But the more I thought about how the card actually plays out, as an instant Lay of the Land, I realized that it acts more like a spell than a land. Experienced Cube players know to place Maze of Ith with their spells instead of toward their land count, since it doesn’t help to cast spells. When I looked at reviews of this card and asked people if they’d consider it a land, their context for evaluation was to treat it as a land, not a spell. It intuitively makes sense, because both modes make mana, but I found that evaluating the card in that context didn’t really show how it was playing out, since it was generally played as Lay of the Land primarily and only really played out as a land in rare scenarios. Like Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds, both go to the graveyard and can fetch (or act as) Wastes, so they act similarly in that way while subtly interacting with cards like Crucible of Worlds, delve cards like Dig Through Time and others, but in general, I’ve found Ash Barrens is more spell than land. So what does this really mean? Does it mean that it’s better or worse than the common fetchlands? Well, it isn’t necessarily better or worse, but different. Decks that curve out will have a harder time landcycling, but it’s a great way to make sure that those decks have access to fixing via another spell to do so and while it’s not incredibly efficient, it’s still great for those decks, so don’t be surprised to see this making an impact in Cubes for a while.
It is an high-cost mana rocks that don’t really do much when they resolve, but promise to reward you for that by getting you get a lot of value if you untap with them. In this vein, Crystalline Crawler can use mana from its counters to cast something to protect and can grow itself. The crawler could be an easy inclusion in your Cube. However, it may be hard to include in your Cube as we’ve already got 4 mana mana rocks like Thran Dynamo, Everflowing Chalice, and Hedron Archive, so don’t be surprised if you don’t have room for it, despite how well it plays out.
It is similar to Magus of the Wheel, which appears to have fallen out of favor in the past few years due to the recent solid additions to Red 3 drops. Black however doesn’t have this same embarassment of riches, so the Magus has a shot to make it into the Cube. How good is the card itself? Like with Magus of the Wheel, the opponent sees it a mile away and it doesn’t offer a cost discount, but being a creature lets it have uses by being a decently sized creature. Yawgmoth’s Will typically functioned like an X burn spell and Sphinx’s Revelation that could be cast early, but generally wanted to be cast later to get a lot of value and this being a body helps with that. That said, it can be kind of slow in decks that don’t have a lot of cheap things to bring back, which I’ve found through trying the card out, but honestly, that same thing would have applied with Yawgmoth’s Will. It isn’t absurdly powerful like some of the recent White 3 drops but then again, Black doesn’t really have many and can use the help that it can get there, making it a nice addition.
There is really nothing else that stands out for me in this set, but maybe there are some hidden gems i still have to find.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this analysis of Commander 2016 for Cube. Thanks for reading!