My Dark Ascension Review for Next Level Cubes, Part 1: Lands, Artifacts and Multicolored Cards

Just as I did with Innistrad, I will talk about which cards I will (probably) acquire from Dark Ascension for my limited card pool to use in next level cubes. However, this time I will be a little more comprehensive, splitting up my review into several parts.

A reminder: I am on principle not using planeswalkers, double-faced cards, tribal cards referring to humans, cards with adverse tribal effects, cards requiring you to name cards, cards milling your opponent and enchant player cards – see my Innistrad review for explanations. Enchant player cards had another opportunity to convince me with Dark Ascension, but I’m still underwhelmed by the available selection. However, if this templating will be used more often in the future, I will probably revise my stance on this. Also note that double-faced cards play perfectly fine on Magic Online (at least in general), but my cubes are, of course, played with real cards, and here DFCs are still and will always be a pain in the ass, impeding drafting and playing enormously.

Let’s start with the lands (I assume you all have access to a card list or a visual spoiler, like – for example – this one from Gatherer):

Evolving Wilds: A reprint. I already use it.

Grim Backwoods: A useful utility land requiring two colors. I wish I could use a complete cycle of those, but for some color combinations, there are just no good candidates. This is neither too strong, nor too weak – perfect!

Haunted Fengraf: There was it again, the phenomenon that the brain makes you see what you expect to see. If this was worded like Buried Ruin, it would have been an autoinclude, but then I stumbled across the “random” part. I really try to keep additional randomness on cards away from my card pool whenever possible, especially when there is a chance that it plays out in a cumbersume way, like requiring a die, for example. I won’t use this.

Vault of the Archangel: I believe this is just too strong. Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion gave its bonus only to one creature, and I feel that would have been the way to go here as well. This leaves Orzhov as one of the color combinations without a utility land in my pool (Starlit Sanctum is only useful in a tribal environment) – the others are Dimir, Simic and Izzet.

Now to Artifacts:

Altar of the Lost: I will not make flashback so prominent in an environment that this card isn’t too narrrow.

Avacyn’s Collar: Out because it mentions humans.

Chalice of Life: DFC. I am glad they found a way to avoid printing another Serra Ascendant, by the way – that card is ridicolous in certain formats (but even more ridiculous are the casual players who use it)! I like the general design, though – a pity that they used the transforming template on it.

Elbrus, the Binding Blade: DFC. Also, utterly ridiculous. Might read flavorful, but plays horribly – either does nothing due to its high cost or gets completely absurd.

Executioner’s Hood: Now, that’s too weak. (Why exactly is it less cost-efficient than Neurok Hoversail and Cobbled Wings?)

Grafdigger’s Cage: This is a constructed hate card. No limited environment should ever need such a strong hoser, and it is also the wrong type, completely invalidating a eck strategy instead of just fighting it. I realize that no amount of hate is too much in constructed against a deck like dredge, but fighting a non-interactive strategy by stopping your opponent from playing his deck is unwise and desperate.

Heavy Mattock: Mentions humans. Also, while Vulshok Morningstar is certainly on the powerful side, I see no reason not to use it.

Helvault: Terribly swingy – nearly useless before you hit 7 mana, utterly broken once you do.

Jar of Eyeballs: A bit too unwieldy for my taste. Yes, it is a top-down design, yaddayadda, but there is so much bookkeeping for a Crystal Ball variant, and it is annoying that you have to use it as often as possible, because you always have to remove all counters. An activation cost of removing one eyeball counter with an effect of scry 1 would have been much cleaner and not at all less flavorful. I’ll stick to Crystal Ball.

Warden of the Wall: This is, mostly, a 2/3 creature with defender and reach which you can tap for mana, just worded strangely. It is, of course, perfectly usable in a cube, but I don’t like it – neither the defender which shuts down an opponent’s flying defense, nor the mana stone which costs three. While the combination of both of course strengthens the card, it will still play tenaciously with both aspects. Give me an honest wall or a cheaper mana stone instead.

Wolfhunter’s Quiver: Adverse tribal effect. Also, too swingy if an environment features werewolves and incredibly clumsy in general – I haven’t forgotten how often the much cheaper equipped Viridian Longbow, although highly prized by some pros, sat on the battlefield unequipped for tempo reasons.

Now the multicolored cards:

Diregraf Captain: A perfectly fine design for a tribal lord! However, I prefer to keep my tribal enhancers for zombies in Black – there is enough to chose from, and it would be strange if only a single one dipped into blue. That card with a mana cost of 1BB would have been an autoinclude, though.

Drogskol Captain: Like Lord of the Unreal, a case where hexproof isn’t too much of an issue, since it doesn’t affect the card itself, and that is not too hard to remove. Still pretty high-powered, but a usable spirit lord.

Drogskol Reaver: Without the card draw, this would have been a fine limited card. If it drew you a card once when it connected with your opponent, it would have been really strong, but maybe still acceptable. Barely. If it drew you a card each time it damages an opponent, I would probably already consider it too strong – two cards and a 12-point life swing on a succesful attack reads essentially “you win the game” to me. But this even draws you cards when it gets blocked, or blocks – and even if you gain life for any other reason! This is (insert hyperbole adjective here)!

Falkenrath Aristocrat: 4/1 flying haste for 2BR would already have been quite strong. Sacrificing a creature to make it indestructible until end of turn? Really, really pushing it (although indestructible isn’t what it used to be with a lot of exiling and toughness-reducing effects around). Putting counters on it? I should be glad it mentions humans, so I don’t have to agonize over this card, which I really like on one hand (ignoring its second ability), but probably shouldn’t use for power concerns.

Havengul Lich: That is utterly bonkers, even without the ability gaining.

Huntmaster of the Fells: DFC. A good thing, because I may underestimate that card a little – sure, there’s a lot of value here, just like with Solemn Simulacrum, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s broken – if it doesn’t transfom, it is just a good card, and even if it transforms once, it doesn’t reach a Daybreak Ranger level of brokenness. Well, its double-faced nature spares me the possibility of making a wrong decision here.

Immerwolf: References transform, which I don’t use, and werewolves, which I cannot use as a tribe because they make no sense without using transform. Seems fine otherwise, quite a powerful werewolf (and wolf) lord, but not too powerful. BTW, I just realized that I evaluate cards like Drogskol Captain, Lord of the Unreal and Immerwolf for next level cube environments, where removal is always plenty and accessible for all colors! Of course, in an environment with little removal, these cards might prove suppressively powerful. Environments with little removal always play badly anyway, though, so I won’t make them, and thus this isn’t a concern for me.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad: Planeswalker, and holy shit, is that card broken in limited! Well, most planeswalkers are.

Stromkirk Captain: Another reasonably balanced tribal card, much needed for the fledgling BR vampire tribe. Might push out Captivating Vampire from my card pool, whose second ability I don’t like at all.

That was it for now – expect five more parts to come up soon!

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