As you read this, I am somewhere out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
While most of you are spending your week preparing to cast Treasure Cruise at Grand Prix New Jersey this weekend, I am fully immersed in the experience on an actual cruise- right now, I'm likely sitting poolside on the deck of the boat, thinking about how nice it is to get away from it all.
Of course, getting away from work and other daily doldrums like having to feed myself is fantastic, but I'm also very happy to have a nice little break from Magic as well. I've been grinding hard all year to try and earn my berth at the SCG Players' Championship, which has had me travelling almost every weekend at either a SCG Open, Invitational, or some level of IQ. While I don't regret making this a goal for myself for the year, any activity done ad nauseam will eventually wear on you and burn you out. This reprieve is a welcome one, and I hope to come back refreshed and ready for the stretch run!
My advice for everyone this week is to take a break from Magic and life and go on a cruise! Take a vacation, you deserve it!
Thanks for reading, see you next week!
…Oh what's that? You can't just drop everything and go on a cruise?
Well there are other fun and relaxing ways to get away from it all, especially if competitive Magic has you down, and one of the best is Cube Drafting!
I've been so busy over the last six months or so that I haven't gotten a chance to really look at how the new sets released will fit into my cube, and boy are there a bunch of awesome cards in Khans of Tarkir. We even just got a brand new Commander product with awesome new cards in it as well and some of them are very interesting. Adding stuff to your cube is certainly an art, not a science, so let's look at some of the best candidates!
While I have zero interest in Commander or multiplayer, Wizards has done a fantastic job in making the Commander/multiplayer sets appeal to all players. They have provided us with Legacy staples like True-Name Nemesis and Council's Judgment, and more importantly, they give us very interesting cards for Cube that are perhaps too powerful for Standard but perfect for a singleton Eternal format.
While Hallowed Spiritkeeper does have some solid competition in the three mana slot and does not have evasion of any kind, its effect is quite impressive. Three power for three mana is certainly reasonable, and the combination of vigilance and a somewhat low toughness means this is going to be a fairly hard card for your opponent to ignore.
One of the biggest issues that white aggressive decks have in Cube is that unless they have an Armageddon effect they play far too fair without red's burn, blue's countermagic, or black's disruption. One sweeper or a few solid removal spells can nullify the initial rush and take the white aggressive player out of the game. Hallowed Spiritkeeper does a very good job of mitigating this, while also being excellent against decks that want to attack you back.
Hallowed Spiritkeeper seems pretty awesome and an almost automatic inclusion.
Malicious Affliction is a very powerful Magic card. Doom Blade is already a top-flight removal spell, so adding any upside to it at all is just pure value. While morbid is often more difficult to trigger, it seems the fact that it's just a bonus makes it all upside, and when it is triggered it is an absolute blowout.
First is the mana cost. I try extremely hard to limit double colored spells in my cube, as they are only easily cast by decks that are nearly mono-colored and that is not very common at all. Spells are only good if players can play them, and such a restrictive mana cost puts a real tax on drafters. Second is the 'non-black creature' clause, which is one I try to keep to an absolute minimum in my cube. It is the worst feeling in the world when you play against a heavy black deck and have to stare at the Doom Blade in your hand helplessly as you die.
Both of these are major counts against Malicious Affliction, as restrictive double-colored cards often end up going very late in most cube drafts for good reason. This is one I am going to try, but I will not be surprised if it doesn't make the final cut. There are tons of very powerful two mana double-cost spells that are not in the cube for good reason.
Flesh Carver is a very inconspicuous looking card with a lot going for it. On the surface, it is a 2/2 with evasion that will replace itself when it dies with another 2/2. While not extremely impressive, those are very solid base stats. However, when you add on the activated ability to sacrifice creatures to get larger, both of those base abilities become much better. Now you have a 4/4 or larger evasion creature that leaves behind a 4/4 if it dies, and so on.
Is this good enough? Probably not for every cube, but I have a B/W human subtheme in my cube featuring Xanthid Necromancer and friends along with a sacrifice subtheme as well, and there are plenty of great things to feed to Flesh Carver like Bloodghast, Gravecrawler, and Bloodsoaked Champion. This one might not make the cut, but I'm excited to try it.
Dualcaster Mage has received a ton of hype, but honestly I'm not seeing it. Your opponent still gets to resolve whatever spell they were trying to cast, and many times it is going to cost less than the three mana you spent on Dualcaster Mage. Your opponent also has to be playing a deck with enough worthwhile instants and sorceries to even copy.
Dualcaster Mage asks your opponent to play good instants and sorceries, and for you to leave open three difficult to assemble mana that you may never even use just to hopefully piggyback onto your opponent's spell that might still just win them the game anyway. Oh and you also get a bleh 2/2 to go along with it.
I know people are saying a lot about copying Treasure Cruise with this in Legacy, but I don't even think Dualcaster Mage will make a mark there. One thing is for sure, it will not be making a mark anywhere near my cube.
Catching Up With Khans of Tarkir
Khans of Tarkir is a very powerful set and has made waves across virtually every format. This is awesome for us, as multi-format all-stars is what cubes are made of!
The biggest issue that Khans of Tarkir presents us as a cube designer is these five cards. There is no doubt that these are five of the most powerful cards in the set, and honestly five of the most powerful tri-colored cards ever printed. As Standard has shown us, these cards are extremely undercosted and impactful and are true powerhouses.
But the question is how do they fit into the cube? I am extremely stingy with multi-color cards in my cube, as too many of them leads to a very messy drafting experience where you feel forced to just go the colors of whatever gold cards come your way. Gold cards are also often just brute-force power cards that are so good it doesn't really matter what deck they go in as long as you can cast them, and that leads to many boring deckbuilding choices.
Because of these issues, I currently only have five cards in my cube that are more than two colors:
Either the very best or the most fun was the goal of my tri-colored section, and now Khans has come along and thrown a wrench into my plan. While Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino seem like strict upgrades to their precursors (Lightning Angel and Doran), the other three are much more difficult. Are they better than the three currently in the cube? Should I enlarge the section to fit them?
Of the three remaining Sidisi intrigues me the most, but I may just throw all three of them in for a tryout to see which ones perform best.
The biggest thing that Khans has given Eternal formats is the expansion of the delve mechanic, and as I alluded earlier, this Saturday will likely be know as Grand Prix Treasure Cruise. The power level of these cards is just off the charts, and they are extremely easy inclusions.
The best part is that they will be harder to use in a Limited format, which will really put a premium on proper deckbuilding and card evaluation during the draft- two things that I value extremely high as a cube designer. These cards are the perfect mix of power and skill testing, and I can't wait to add them. I'm also very excited that black gets another non-conditional removal spell and that combo decks get a big boost with Dig Through Time to help them assemble their combos.
Like multicolored cards, planeswalkers are also a card type that I like to keep a safety valve on in my cube. Too many of them will detract from the overall play experience and devolve the format to revolve around them completely. Because of this, planeswalkers must be extremely good to make the cut in my cube as I only allow the best. There is only one mono-colored planeswalker in each color in my cube, and a smattering of multicolored ones alongside Karn Liberated.
Sarkhan, The Dragonspeaker will have no problem passing this test. Chandra, Pyromaster is the current red planeswalker of choice in my cube, and Sarkhan just blows her out of the water. Sarkhan can be the top end of an aggressive deck, an amazing midrange threat, a versatile control finisher, or even the linchpin of a fun Wildfire/Obliterate-based deck. While Sarkhan is a bit expensive for Eternal formats, the singleton nature of Cube fits him perfectly. A definite first rounder.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor, on the other hand, is likely not even better than his direct competition- himself. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is a very good card that supports the white/token strategy while also being an interesting midrange card as well, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor does not have what it takes to take him down.
Man, Khans of Tarkir really does have something for everyone! Planeswalkers, Legacy power level card draw, three-color monsters, and even awesome one-drops!
One-drops are one of the most important parts of my cube, as any aggressive deck simply has to start on turn 1 to have a chance. The average mana curve of my cube is lower than most, and decks that try and durdle around with too many expensive spells will be severely punished. Good one-drops aren't printed that often, however, so whenever we get to add some new ones I am very happy.
And boy do we get some good ones!
Bloodsoaked Champion might be one of the best black one-drops ever printed, if not the best. His raid ability is so easy to trigger he can actually trigger it himself! Like Gravecrawler before him, good luck getting Bloodsoaked Champion to ever go away. He plays perfectly with all sorts of sacrifice synergies, he beats for two, and is a resilient threat against control decks. I honestly couldn't ask for more. He isn't doing very well in Standard right now as he does not match up well against huge, undercosted three-color midrange creatures, but don't deny Bloodsoaked Champion's power level.
It took all of one event for Monastery Swiftspear to take down a major Legacy event, and I doubt we've seen the last of her. Fantastic in burn decks or spell-based aggressive red/blue/x decks, Monastery Swiftspear is also solid in almost any deck as the mere threat of a spell makes her difficult to block and interact with. Another easy shoo-in.
Even with all of these easy inclusions, there are still even more cards that could make the cut! Khans of Tarkir might be one of the best sets released for cubes in a very long time. Of course the best way to find out if a card plays well is to actually, you know, play with it, so get building and try 'em out!
While I love competitive Magic and am an extremely competitive person by nature, sometimes it's just awesome get together with some friends, enjoy some adult beverages, and cube until the wee hours of the morning. Cubing reminds you of how fun Magic can be, completely detached from top 8s, prize money, or pro/Open Series points.
Give yourself a cube vacation, you deserve it!