Hey guys Tim Pskowski here. You probably haven't heard of me or have forgotten who I am but I've recently gotten back into Magic. And by Magic I mean Cube. I've had a cube for going on five years now which blows my mind. I could tell you all about why my cube is great and about all the foils I have or brag about getting all my friends to cut Jungle Lion for Utopia Sprawl but frankly it isn't relevant to most of you. (But seriously Utopia Sprawl is great and Jungle Lion can't even intercept.)
So what is relevant to everyone reading this article? Drafting a cube. I think too many articles about Cube are focused on building and tuning them. Trust me as I cube owner I understand and love that tweaking and tuning. However many more people draft cubes than build them. I figured I should target the bigger audience so here we are. If you're interested in building or tweaking a cube I'd recommend the excellent and ongoing work on this site by Misters Parnell and Jamil.
Unquestionably the biggest Cube development in the past twelve months was the introduction of the Magic Online Cube. This has made Cube Draft more accessible than ever. Well more accessible than ever for a few weeks of the year. With the Magic Online Cube available for a couple weeks I thought this would be a great time to help people new to drafting cubes or even experienced cube drafters.
Rules for Cube Drafting
- Have fun.
- I'm serious have fun.
Unless you're cube drafting at the Magic Players Championship (and even if you are) your first goal should be to have fun. How you do that is up to you.
More than any other Limited format Cube encourages pet decks. The most well-known example is LSV's continued and committed love of Mono Red in cube. LSV is not the only one with an affinity for Mountains; alterist Eric Klug is seldom without three of four spells mentioning "deal 3 damage" in his Cube decks.
Personally I'm a huge fan and advocate of U/G Ramp. Upheaval is my favorite spell in the cube and I love Wall of Roots as much as any man can love a Plant. When I open my first pack while cube drafting my eyes are always drawn to ramp cards and sweet blue spells first.
In short: draft what you love.
- 1 Palladium Myr
- 1 Court Hussar
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
- 1 Wall of Reverence
- 1 Wickerbough Elder
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 1 Vendilion Clique
Should I Just Force My Favorite Deck Every Draft?
I wouldn't recommend it. While I love U/G there are countless cards from other colors that I love. Attacking with Hero of Bladehold is awesome and Ajani Vengeant is one of my favorite cards in the cube. If I open one of these cards I happily say "Goodbye Cultivate and hello Path to Exile."
Forcing the same deck every time will inevitably lead to disappointment. While cube packs are much deeper than the packs in a normal draft the cards won't always be there for you to draft your pet deck.
It can also be very fun to draft a deck outside your normal patterns. There are a lot of sweet cards in the cube. Here is a deck I drafted last week after seeing a bunch of awesome expensive spells:
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Abyssal Persecutor
- 1 Court Hussar
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Vampire Nighthawk
- 1 Wall of Omens
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Ah the old 5/5/5 land split. A sure sign you'll never have mana trouble. Or something... This is far from the best deck I've ever drafted but it was really fun and a break from my normal decks. Not only did I have a blast with this deck but it has led me back to drafting five-color decks in my cube by focusing on planeswalkers which has been really effective.
By no means am I saying that traditional drafting strategies are invalid. A frankly stronger strategy is to treat cube like a normal draft: pick powerful cards then see what's open. If you're willing to jump ship from that shiny Elspeth Knight-Errant you first picked when blue and black seem wide open you will be in a very good position.
Many players sit somewhere in between these two extremes. They don't have a pet deck but don't have the desire or discipline to stay open. These drafters are happy to go all-in on their first pick. This method works much like pet decks but I will give the same warning: know when to get out.
When Do I Jump Ship?
If you're midway through pack 2 and your deck isn't coming together that's a pretty big sign that the deck is just not open in your seat. I try not to switch archetypes later than this but you should always have an escape plan. If I'm trying to draft U/G Ramp and I'm snapping up ramp spells but blue cards are just are not coming I'll hedge my bets. I'll take that 12th pick Magma Jet in pack 1 which could set me up for a 5th pick Inferno Titan in pack 2. Rather than having a bad U/G deck I suddenly have the makings of a good G/R deck.
Conversely if you're in red and you're piling up the burn but can't find creatures mono-red aggro is not for you. Look to switch to something like a Boros Aggro deck or U/R Counter-Burn. At the end of packs 1 and 2 don't hate draft or take the most powerful card in the pack. Take something that you might use if things don't work out.
Always have an exit strategy.
Cube packs are deeper than normal boosters. This means that you can abandon picks without doing as much damage to your deck. I'll take speculative picks like Tinker with no artifacts or Stoneforge Mystic with no equipment. The risk is small and the reward is big. If your first pick doesn't work out or you get no support for that Fauna Shaman you took in pack 2 don't beat yourself up about it. There are plenty of good cards remaining.
It's not uncommon for someone to finish drafting the cube and sit down with a stack of forty cards in their colors to build a deck with. While this gives you a lot of options it's not necessarily a good thing. What did you pass to pick up the dozen cards you'll need to cut from your deck?
Rather than take a so-so card in your colors take an off-color bomb or a land for a speculative splash. On the same note rather than taking your sixth four-drop take a weaker three-drop. Mana curves are very important so make sure they inform your picks.
Cube revolves around archetypes more than other Limited formats. While some normal Limited formats are focused on archetypes most allow you to draft "good stuff" decks. You know the kind: a fair bit of removal a couple too many bomb rares that sort of thing. Generally speaking trying to do this in Cube doesn't work. Removal is worse bombs are less bomb-y and archetypical decks can really punish you.
What is a Cube archetype? Cube archetypes are commonly drafted decks with defined colors and defined game plans. Some examples include Mono-Red Aggro U/W Control Reanimator and W/B Aggro.
The archetypes you can draft vary from cube to cube. The Magic Online Cube includes cards like Empty the Warrens so you can draft the Storm archetype. Just because another cube has a card like Dark Ritual or Lotus Petal is not a sign that Storm is supported. If you're drafting a cube for the first time ask questions of its owner and try to avoid assumptions. Black aggro is another great example. My cube has zero one-mana black creatures so if you draft a deck assuming you'll get some Vampire Lacerators and Gravecrawlers you'll be disappointed.
Speaking of Vampire Lacerator here is a deck drafted by Eric Klug from his own common/uncommon cube.
- 1 Ashenmoor Gouger
- 1 Carnophage
- 1 Dauthi Horror
- 1 Dauthi Marauder
- 1 Diregraf Ghoul
- 1 Fledgling Djinn
- 1 Gathan Raiders
- 1 Hypnotic Specter
- 1 Mesmeric Fiend
- 1 Nezumi Cutthroat
- 1 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
- 1 Pulse Tracker
- 1 Rakdos Cackler
- 1 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 1 Vampire Lacerator
Eric didn't just draft this deck because he was feeling like Black Aggro. He had just added Sinkhole Rain of Tears and Choking Sands to his cube. He picked Sinkhole early knowing that he could follow it up with more land destruction. The fact that Sinkhole was not an isolated good land destruction spell but part of a package allowed him to draft a deck with four land destruction cards and get some free wins off playing two in a row.
Learning how to draft and play a range of archetypes is very important. Not knowing how to draft Mono Red well when Lightning Bolts are coming 12th is a problem. Knowing how to play a deck is just as important. A deck like U/R Counter-Burn can be a rewarding to play as it has very thin margins. Every life point for both players is important and one misplay can cost you a match. While it isn't my favorite Cube deck some of the best games of Cube I've played have come from U/R decks.
Another way Cube differs from most Limited formats is that matchups are much more important. While more variable than in Constructed matchups are something you should always keep in mind.
To use U/G Ramp as an example the deck is very vulnerable to red aggro decks. Knowing this I keep an eye out for any cards which are good in this matchup. This is one of the reasons I love Wall of Roots; it simultaneously advances your game plan while shoring up your weaknesses.
Matchups aren't set in stone and you should do everything in your power to improve bad ones. If you have a slow deck you should be sure to pick cards like Wall of Omens and Vampire Nighthawk to improve your early game. A green/red ramp deck might have severe problems with counterspells making cards like Thrun the Last Troll and Genesis go from solid to essential.
Knowing a matchup is not only important during the draft but also when playing. If you are piloting a midrange deck facing down a blue control deck you're typically in deep trouble. However some cards are very useful in this matchup. Often your best line of play it to try and bait counterspells and land a hard to remove threat like a planeswalker or something like Vorapede. To go a step further with Vorapede you shouldn't play it into a Control Magic effect—only play it when you know you can kill it or the Control Magic. Losing to your own fatty can be pretty depressing.
I know that I didn't get into too many specifics in this article but there were a lot of basics I wanted to cover. I'd love to get more in depth on drafting and playing some specific archetypes but I want feedback from you on what would be helpful.
With the MTGO Cube back I'm aiming to record a ton of drafts. Hopefully they will cover a wide range of archetypes.
Please let me know specific questions you have decks you'd like to see or any other comments.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @timpskowski if you're interested in complaining trolling and the occasional tweet about Magic.
Thanks for reading!