One to win while having fun.
And the other to have fun while winning.
First up is Standard. Since it would be odd for you to have the internet under your rock, I assume you've heard about the dearth of Cruises for Treasure in our game. I'm a bit late to that party, but let's just say I'm glad that what happened happened. The more shake-ups the better.
The other headline in The Under the Rock Times is that Fate is being Reforged! And with it, tons of new cards have been released. As usual, I'd like to dial in my scope to focus on one card that has a rather unique effect for its color and just might be able to bring a certain little fan favorite, nay, fan-created card new light. Erm, I mean, darkness?
Read them both? Find the synergy? The pure unadulterated PG-13 synergy? While Standard might not have all the cards we need for this to be an actually tier 1 strategy (such as The Rack or Shrieking Affliction), let's see just how far we can get.
Well, we need more discard spells to give us some pin point defense against other "real" cards. While we're investing just over nothing to nab most likely the best card in their hand, our opponent hasn't invested anything in their cards yet, so the net exchange in mana and tempo is fairly minimal. Hopefully we have a Waste Not in play to eke out some kind of advantage.
Now for the classic black two-for-one, Mind Rot. Not so classic to be Mind Twist good but still good enough, and it even has Khans of Tarkir spin. In today's Standard, if you're not using the delve mechanic, you're doing something wrong (or just playing Mono-Red, which is fine too).
My biggest gripe with this card is the depiction of the Rakshasa in this block. Rakshasas are an old Dungeons & Dragons creature, and their notable feature (besides being anthropomorphic cat sorcerers) is that their hands are backwards, so that their palms are reversed from us "normal" humanoids. However, none of the art in this block depicts them anatomically correct in this way. While I'm glad that some of my oldest Dungeons and Dragons enemies are getting some screen time in Magic, I would like for WotC's creative departments to keep their facts straight across their two games.
If we're doing all this discarding, shouldn't we find ways to recoup our cards? If we're using one mana to get rid of a card, and then two or three to draw two more (perhaps with some selection), we should be doing alright, right? We have not one but two ways for black to recoup some of its disadvantage. No blue splash required!
Of course, one of the prototypical discard deck's many weaknesses is its inability to affect the top card of your opponent's deck, and alas, Dimir Charm already rotated. So we've got a few wide answers to planeswalkers or creatures that might slip through our relentless barrage of discard.
But how do we win? Well, we can't always count on our motley army of 2/2s from Waste Not to deliver us onward toward victory. More often than not, they'll be on defense, much like the Patriots were this past weekend from my newly acquired home team here in Seattle.
There, I've fulfilled my sportsball references quota for the year.
Well, in case our zombies need some help, we've got even more zombies where that came from when we Empty the Pits!
Oh, and since Fate Reforged is out and we're not a fast aggro deck, we're almost required to play with the biggest and baddest planeswalker around. I mean, if just his "Eye" could summon up Eldrazi, what do you think the rest of him could do!?
And this really couldn't be a Mono-Black deck without Liliana. Do you know what she'd do to me if she found out that I didn't have at least one copy of her in a deck that's almost tailor-made for her? *shudders*
So, now that you've met the players, here is the final ensemble:
The sideboard would contain your generally more defined answers to aggressive decks and a couple cards to bring in when your removal is no good versus the control decks.
Now, this is just a mere thought exercise to get the juices flowing. Standard is pretty much defined by three-color decks, and I see no reason why we couldn't splash at least one other color. What are our options?
Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Pearl Lake Ancient are nigh unkillable threats and would be a welcome addition. Whelming Wave bounces everything back to get discarded, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, does all Hooting Mandrills could ever do and more! This splash is the one I've considered the most.
Mogis is another hard to kill (but slow) threat. Tormenting Voice would allow us to pitch our dead discard spells for more hand and delve gasoline, and Tymaret could lead us down a more sacrificial theme (can anybody say Tymaret + Black Cat + Palace Siege?)
Ah yes, more planeswalkers. They go decently with our removal spells. Nyx-Fleece Ram helps keep our life total high while we Sign on the dotted line…. in Blood(!). It can even trigger raid! Wowzers!
Tasigur strikes back! He'd be just as good here too. Restock and Nyx-Weaver would allow us to find our Empty the Pits easier and would lead us down a graveyard path. Don't touch the tombstones. I'm saving that pizza for lunch.
Like I said earlier, don't go touting this as the next big Standard deck. Siege Rhino, Dig Through Time, and Goblin Rabblemaster are all cards that actually do stuff and can be topdecked at the worst time to do us in.
You don't have to have the best deck every time. As long as you learn what works and what doesn't work, you have Not Wasted a thing.
Now to change gears.
Try to think of Magic as a three-dimensional object, with six sides each with the same area. You then get something akin to: a Cube (!).
Now I know I'm not the most qualified to discuss the matters of Cube. I'm more of a Commander sort of guy. But if I've got seven (or five) non-imaginary friends about, and we all have a hankering for Magic, I'm more akin to battle with 40 of Magic's best, which is more palatable for most people anyway. Curating a Cube is hard work. I created my own Cube environment with Danny West, but using existing resources to craft the perfect play experience is hard work.
The Cube that most of you are most familiar with, of course, is the current MTGO Legacy Cube! No Moxen and turn 1 planeswalkers here. You actually get to play Magic! While we've come a long way since Headhunter could be drafted, it's not perfect, as that's a foolish notion. A Cube is constantly evolving with new sets, new themes, and new experiences. The first time you Sneak Attack in an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, it's awesome. The 20th time? More commonplace than f.s> 3h > 214h > s > c.h > j.s > j.h > 63214H > RC > 63214H as Ky in Guilty Gear Xrd.
No? Hrm, perhaps the wrong audience.
At any rate, I've cherry picked a few cards I wouldn't mind taking out from the current Cube and replacing them. This is my heaviest Cube discussion ever! If I had a choice, I'd just Cube all day long with the right group. MTGO Cube is the most convenient one for me to battle with, and that's what I've been filling my days with until Fate Reforge is playable. It's almost like WotC lined up their Cube to be playable right before a new set is available to draft. Weird huh?
Land Tax doesn't actually do anything. The best case scenario is that you mulligan and are on the draw, and you get three lands and then you thin your deck. You can do better.
Boros Elite is only better than a 2/1 for one when you're already attacking with three creatures. So, when you're already in a good spot, he's good! Note: This is not how we want our Magical cards to function.
If you've ever seen Gather the Townsfolk cast during a Fateful Hour, you actually get a free pass to the undying lands with Frodo and Galadriel, that's how rare it is.
The Wayfarer gets you any land (read: Wasteland/Rishadan Port) and can actually attack!
Dryad Militant can also attack and has some minor splash damage against my native Izzet mages. If you're worried about the hybrid mana cost screwing up your numbers, you're focusing on the completely wrong thing altogether.
Thalia's uncle is a little slower, a little older but still punishes people that think they are being "too clever." It allows little white creatures to tangle with the big boys.
I might have too much of an infatuation with clones [you do.-Ed.], but with their ability to play off of your opponent, lead to new and different games, and give you access to lines of victory that you never planned for to create some of the most memorable Magic moments, I think they're swell. Clever Impersonator's only limit is your imagination. And the cards in play I suppose.
I know that Crystal Shard is in a lot of people's top Cube cards, and who doesn't love EtB effects? Simic decks love it!
Desertion is a whopping five mana. It's the kind of card that is easily played around but devastating when not. My kind of counterspell.
I understand what Stinkweed Imp is doing here. It's surprisingly not bad on defense, and there are a lot of "graveyard" matters cards in this Cube, just not enough for me to actually try to draft "the graveyard" deck. Call me back when Oversold Cemetery is on sale.
Bad Moon is just that. Black doesn't have tokens like white does so its need for anthems is much smaller. Black has recursion, it doesn't need no stinkin' moon.
'Ol Inky leads to some fun times and actually takes some finesse to use, unlike Grave Titan, who just dominates the field whenever he shows up. Plus she's got some sweet art. Bonus points!
Black may not have blue's prowess for card draw, but it can hold its own for just a small pittance of life. Cube has yet to be completely afflicted with the delve bug like Standard has, so Skeletal Scrying still has time to breathe. Or whatever it is that skeletons do.
The four-drop slot is red's heavy hitters. Koth of the Hammer, Hellrider, Hero of Oxid Ridge, Chandra, Pyromaster. These cards all speed the background music up, a la Street Fighter when somebody is about to die. Leave the chief back in Vintage Masters Draft.
Goblin Bushwhacker seems like a good man. A two-mana anthem. And then that's it. Ranger of Eos aside, I'm just never in the market for the little guy. I'd rather have a burn spell or another one-drop that actually has two power all the time.
I've cast Fire Imp in Mental Magic more times than I'd like to admit, and I think I'd always be happy to have Flametongue Kavu's little brother on my team for the rare red two-for-one.
Slice and Dice is blowout city. Being a six-mana conditional wrath isn't what it's drafted for. Token cleanup plus a little draw power is a unique effect that puts Arc Lightning to shame. You don't have to play all your x/1s into it, ya know.
Troll Ascetic loses much of his charm when there are no Swords of X and Y running about. A 3/2 hexproof for three isn't really impressing anybody nowadays.
Awakening Zone is slow, and the tokens rarely ramp me into something. They are more often assigned to permanent chump-blocking duty.
No green mage has ever been happy drafting and casting Curse of Predation. It's more of a Boros thing.
As mentioned earlier, Mulch gives me no real draw to cast it. Oftentimes people get scared to draft it, as it might mill over a good card!
For a color that's known to make tons of mana and huge creatures that often get chump blocked, Nylea is strangely absent.
Creeping Mold and Bramblecrush remind people that when it comes to killing noncreature doodads, green has got you covered. I, for one, relish the ability to craft a g/x control deck in my Cube drafts. Options are good, but don't widen your lens too much or Phantasmal Bear might come and get you.
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is our go-to replacement for Birthing Pod in Modern. No? Well at least he can tell some good stories, like the time I beat BBD in an M15 draft when my Yisan accrued seven verse counters and tooted out a Hornet Queen. Ah, good times…
Has anybody ever looked at Gerrard's Verdict and gone "Oh Golly! I'm certainly going to go black and white now with this swell card!" No. No, they haven't.
Brago needs a lot of set up to be playable, and he needs a metric ton of set up to actually be good.
Goblin Electromancer has so much potential, but you have to have a deck full of expensive spells, draw this guy on turn 2, and have him survive for him to even give you a bit of value.
If I could name one card to define the word "solid Magic card," Utter End would fit that bill. Somebody paying four mana of two different colors to exile any nonland permanent is a fair deal from both ends and is just a nice thing to have.
Here we have Sir Daxos of Meletis, who, much like a clone, rewards you differently in every game you start him! Now, he's easier to get killed than Geist of Saint Traft, and he's harder to get through than Lyev Skyknight, but he's more fun, so adjust accordingly.
The Greatest Thief in the Multiverse's Greatest Trick in the Multiverse was convincing the world that he didn't need to be in Cubes. Because he totally does. The loot ability in tandem with the artifact theft clause combines to make one of the best three-mana planeswalkers ever. And I'm not biased at all, I swear.
Magic is all about checks and balances. Pithing Needle is so innocuous but has saved my life more times than I can count. You can even flex your Cabal Therapy muscles and blind name a card. Then, and only then, a Jedi you will become.
My changes are but one simple country planeswalker's suggestions for his idea of a Cube. This isn't even taking in to account all the new cards from Fate Reforged that will be appearing in Cubes all around the world (I'm looking at you, Ugin and Soulfire Grand Master). All this Cube talk has got me wanting to start work on that blue and red Cube I've been milling about in my head brain.
You're still reading this? What are you doing? Go play some Magic, and maybe someday you too can beat BBD with Hornet Queen!