Author's note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about both Cube in general and my own personal Cube. Thefirst article covered the basics of Cube design, while thesecond went into much further detail about my own Cube. The third began the in- depth look at the Cube starting with the white and blue sections. Today , we look at black and red.
Black - 50 Cards
Black is usually the most difficult color in Cubes, as it is oft regard as the consensus 'worst' color. Lots of clunky cards and confused themes often populate people's black sections, and it's been so bad that even the Magic Online Cube has taken drastic measures by adding a Vampire theme. However, I think leanness, which is a hallmark of my Cube, is what is mostly needed.
While most Cubes have given up on aggressive black decks, I've made them lower to the ground and given them some extra disruption to compete. Black has an ungodly nine one-drops and the lowest mana curve of spells by far. Aside from basic aggression, black is definitely the combo color of the Cube, sporting both storm and reanimation themes and supplementing other types of combo decks with a vast array of tutors. Black also contains some prison elements like Braids, Cabal Minion and Nether Void, and some powerful control cards like Grave Titan and Damnation. Black also supports a minor sacrifice theme that plays well with white's tokens.
Creatures - 23
There is certainly no shortage of black one-drops, and they also offer a variety of roles beyond just beating down. While Tormented Hero, Diregraf Ghoul, Sarcomancy, and Vampire Lacerator are mostly just bringing the beats, Bloodsoaked Champion and Gravecrawler also do so while being great cards to sacrifice to a variety of effects. Carrion Feeder is a very good outlet for that, while Putrid Imp provides decks that want an extremely cheap discard outlet on a reasonable body.
Blacks one-drops do a lot to define what the color wants to do, and they beat down rather well while avoiding catastrophic drawbacks.
There really aren't many good black two-drops, so we've dropped down to the bare minimum. There are plenty of awful black two-drops like Pain Seer and friends, so by trimming the fat we've come to a very lean section.
Vault Skirge is essentially a one-drop and is more for the artifact deck than anything, but Oona's Prowler and Dark Confidant provide the beats while doubling as a discard outlet or card advantage machine respectively. Nightscape Familiar, like his whiter brother, is a combo enabler that is also quite good in control decks as a Sapphire Medallion.
Bloodghast is one of my favorite Magic cards, and deserves a few extra words. Aside from being a good beater, Bloodghast is also just a fantastic all around Cube card. Discard it to Careful Study, Entomb it, sacrifice it every turn to Braids, Cabal Minion or Smokestack, Skullclamp it… the list goes on and on. A true Cube all-star.
Blood Artist is a late entry. It's a card I've considered for a while, and after writing a disparaging paragraph in the three-drop section about how mediocre Vampire Nighthawk is in almost all scenarios, I've decided to pull the trigger. I haven't tested Blood Artist yet, but it should be very good with the myriad of recursive creatures and sacrifice effects while still filling the 'black lifegain' quota for the Cube. I'm excited about this one.
We don't really see any truly aggressive options at the three-drop slot, as we are trying to keep the aggressive curve as low as possible, but we do see the sacrifice theme pretty heavily here. Xathrid Necromancer is the other part of the Human duo with Champion of the Parish and does a lot of good work. Ophiomancer is sweet for many of the same reasons that Bloodghast is, while Flesh Carver is a new addition that makes use of all this great fodder.
Another one of my favorite cards, Braids, Cabal Minion, is just gas. This is a card that, like Hokori, Dusk Drinker and Nether Void, people tend to find a bit lacking in average Cube drafts but is actually insane in mine because of how low the curve is and how lean the decks are. Braids is a monster by herself, but with all the awesome fodder in black, she is quite the force.
Shriekmaw is just a great value creature that fills the 'Doom Blade' slot fairly well, while Tasigur, the Golden Fang is just the perfect Cube card. Cheap, powerful, interesting, and with few other delve cards to fight for its attention, Tasigur is awesome. It is a bit awkward having him in the black section when he is at his best when also playing green or blue, but the hybrid mana makes him very hard to place otherwise. This is a placement I will be reconsidering as time goes on.
Black's pair of big boys are perhaps the best in the Cube. It's silly to say that a six- mana black creature is one of the most powerful cards in the Cube, but Grave Titan really is just that ridiculous. It is extremely hard to beat a resolved Grave Titan, and that's pretty much exactly what you want out of your six-drop finisher.
Griselbrand is not going to be cast very often, but it is pretty much the best possible creature you can cheat into play in the entire Cube, be it Animate Dead, Sneak Attack, Show and Tell, or whatever.
Black is the only other color besides blue to have more spells than creatures, and it's pretty easy to see why. We've got a subset of tutors, hand disruption, and combo cards.
The tutors are Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Entomb. Tutors are very powerful, but all of these are quite difficult to use. Most fair decks are not going to want any of these effects, but they are also very important for the combo decks to assemble what they need.
Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek form a solid disruption package and don't need much introduction. Dark Ritual is Dark Ritual and an important cog in the storm deck, while Reanimate is the cheapest and most powerful reanimation spell.
Again, we see more of the same. Demonic Tutor is the best of the tutor bunch, and it's insane in fair decks as well as more broken decks, while Cabal Ritual fuels storm and Animate Dead fuels Reanimator decks. Bitterblossom is a very powerful card, but it serves extra purpose as a tool for token decks and a provider of fodder for sacrifice effects.
The disruptive trio of Sinkhole, Hymn to Tourach, and Smallpox all serve to tax opponent's resources as brutally as possible and to help to back up the slightly weaker creature base that black provides.
Like blue's three mana spell section, some of the best of the Cube lay in black's three mana spells. Yawgmoth's Will is a powerful card that is also the best storm enabler in the Cube, while Recurring Nightmare is a powerful reanimation tool that also offers infinite value.
Curse of Shallow Graves is a very interesting one from one of the Commander sets, and it offers a limitless supply of 2/2 creatures as long as we can attack. Given that it sets itself up (even if your first attacker dies, the token can attack next turn to make another) while providing a lot of creatures, Curse is an interesting and powerful card.
For a while I didn't want to have both Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence in the Cube at the same time, as I felt they were too similar, but I was frankly incorrect. Phyrexian Arena is a great grindy card, while Necropotence is an absurdly powerful and broken card draw engine that is extremely difficult to use properly but presents an absurd payoff. I like having both.
Do you know how World Enchantments work? Because there are two in the Cube, and they are both in the same color and mana cost. It's a somewhat annoying rule, but both cards are both awesome and very powerful, so I can deal with it. The Abyss is a very powerful and obtuse card that supports the artifact theme, while Nether Void is the black Armageddon.
Damnation needs no introduction and helps solidify black as a control support color, and Tendrils of Agony is the Cube's other storm card. Murderous Cut is all upside in the Cube with so few delve cards to fight with it.
A lot of the cards that create the 'black problem' in the Cube are not present in my Cube. Cards like Nekrataal, Hypnotic Specter, Vampire Nighthawk, Bone Shredder, Skinrender, and so on are all just extremely clunky and underpowered cards. They all cost way too much for what they do and are relics of the old power level of Magic cards.
There are a few cards on the cusp that I like such as Pack Rat, which may eventually find their way off the bench and into the game.
Red - 50 Cards
From one problem to another. While black is often considered the worst color in Cube, red is considered one of the best. The mono-red deck is often considered the 'fun police' of Cube drafts and exemplifies the red problem seen in most Cubes: Too many of the red cards are simply just aggro creatures and burn spells!
I've already spoken about this in the first two articles, so now we get to see the execution. While having an aggressive red deck be good is certainly a goal of the Cube, the goal of red as a whole is to have it have as many options as all the other colors.
Making sure each color has a low and lean mana curve so they can keep up with the speed of the fast red decks also helps solve the 'red problem.'
Beatdown masters like Goblin Guide, Firedrinker Satyr, and Zurgo Bellstriker really need no introduction, but there is a good amount of variety of the nine red one-drops. Grim Lavamancer and Monastary Swiftspear are both great aggressive cards, but they also fill out other roles as well. Reckless Waif is a good beater, but she creates interesting gamestates and plays very well with instants. Just like Champion of the Parish is great because there are so many Humans, so is Stromkirk Noble, which is already a fine card.
It's not all aggression, however, as Goblin Welder is an extremely fun and interesting card that helps the artifact theme. Greater Gargadon is fine without any help, but it fits great with white's token theme or black's sacrifice theme. It is also awesome in wacky Balance/Obliterate combo decks as well.
I'm usually rather stingy about double colored two-drops in the Cube as they are much harder to play in two-color decks, but both Ash Zealot and Eidolon of the Great Revel are powerful and fun cards. Eidolon especially can create some really great gamestates that are exceptionally interesting.
Again, we see some more variation. Imperial Recruiter is an awesome value card and tutor, and is the Goblin Matron of the Cube. You can use it to search up all sorts of stuff, and it creates some interesting paths to take. Squee, Goblin Nabob is cut from the same cloth, as you have to work to figure out what you want to do with it.
Goblin Rabblemaster and Chandra's Phoenix are a bit more straightforward but are both awesome cards in their own right. Also note how good the constant token generation is with cards like Greater Gargadon, Blood Artist, and Carrion Feeder.
It's amazing that Flametongue Kavu, once a format-defining Magic card, is almost not even worthy for the Cube, but he's still a good value creature. Ravenous Baboons is much better than Avalanche Riders and will almost always have a target, as there are a ton of non-basic lands in the Cube. Hellrider just brings the beats and is great with tokens.
Thundermaw Hellkite is a monster, as is Inferno Titan. Both cards are better suited for midrange or ramp decks, or even as finishers in control decks. A well-drafted red deck in my Cube is not really going to be interested in five or six-drops.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is a really fun and powerful wild card. It gives the Cube a two-card Splinter Twin style combo kill with Restoration Angel and also combines with an absurd amount of cards to be a value machine. Nothing is as awesome as Kiki-Jikiing a Mulldrifter.
Spells - 24
Of course, we have your expected burn spells like Lightning Bolt, but red's spells go a bit deeper.
Faithless Looting is a very powerful card for graveyard strategies, while Gamble is a powerful but difficult to use tutor. Firestorm is another obscenely powerful card that is a great discard outlet and use for cards like Squee and Life from the Loam. No Lava Spikes here.
Again we see an attempt to balance out the burn spells. Magma Jet and Sudden Shock are fine cards in an aggressive deck, but they are also very reasonable removal spells in a ramp or control deck. Shrapnel Blast helps the artifact theme, and Searing Blaze is just too damn good.
It seems like most colors have their best cards in the three-mana spell section.
Sulfuric Vortex is one of the most powerful cards in the Cube. Even with the rest of the Cube having a lower curve and red being more balanced, there's something to be said about how difficult beating turn 3 Sulfuric Vortex is out of a reasonable aggressive red deck.
Wheel of Fortune is a great card when the mana curves are so low, as it can simply refill you or help to power a combo deck. It's not unlikely for an aggressive deck to empty its hand by turn 3-4 and then use Wheel of Fortune to reload. Seething Song is also around for combo implications.
Lastly, Molten Rain helps to provide the disruption that is so important for the aggressive decks. Every color has some way to throw a wrench into their opponent's plan, and cards like Molten Rain and Ravenous Baboons are huge for red.
Stoke the Flames is just an awesome burn spell, and Sneak Attack is another fun build-around-me card. Do not underestimate the power of Sneak Attack! Griselbrand, Angel of Serenity, Ashen Rider, Emrakul, Grave Titan… the list goes on and on for awesome things to sneak into play.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker weighs in as red's planeswalker, as he is the most versatile and powerful against a variety of decks. Hitting just as hard as Koth but also being great in control decks, Sarkhan is where it's at.
Fireblast is just the nut.
At the highest mana costs, we again see what else red is capable of.
Wildfire is one of my all time favorite cards, and it is an amazing card for artifact decks and big green ramp decks with huge fatties. It's not easy to use, but it's completely devastating to pull off in the right deck. Sudden Demise is extremely powerful in addition to being a great Earthquake variant.
Obliterate is one of the cards I get the most comments about in my Cube, but I've always been a staunch supporter. It is definitely not a straightforward or overly powerful card, but if set up properly, it is completely unstoppable. Maybe you cast it with an Outpost Siege or planeswalker in play, or with a Bloodghast in the yard, or with a Greater Gargadon on suspend, or with a Darksteel Citadel and a Flagstones of Trokair in play. The possibilities really are endless, and that's why it remains.
Again, we see omissions of the slow and clunky. Cards like Prophetic Flamespeaker, Countryside Crusher, and Avalanche Riders are just far too clunky for what you want to be doing. Pillage was a nice one but also got pulled in the de-clunking process. Cards like Fire Imp and Arc Trail were just too bad against too many decks to really be worth it.
We will continue next week with green and multicolored cards!