My good friend (and frequent co-streamer) Adam Prosak wrote about the Magic Online Cube back in June talking about the ugly the bad and the good parts of the cube. I'm not going to follow the same format but I'll discuss the changes in the second edition of the Magic Online Cube and how I personally view them.
If you have no idea who I am I can hardly blame you. I'm a frequent cube drafter in the Seattle area when I'm not playing hilariously bad Legacy decks in an attempt to repeat as the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open: Seattle champion. (To be honest I think that Esper Stoneblade deck with Stifles has something going for it. I started 4-0 only to crash and burn but if I had drawn more Stifles throughout the tournament I would have put up a better finish—it was that good for me.)
Anyway unlike my friend Adam I do NOT try and force bad Storm decks on a regular basis preferring to play what I believe the best color combination in the cube is: U/B Control. Adam's point about blue being the best color in the Magic Online Cube is certainly true but I don't know this is necessarily a bad thing. Adam's assertion about Cube Draft is that you want to have the 720 best cards in Magic (with some rules of course) and if this is the case then blue is obviously going to be overpowered.
Changes I like:
- Delver of Secrets – A staple of Constructed Magic it's a solid addition to have in the cube to represent formats crossing. It's also decent enough in most blue control decks to play as one of your last additions.
- Dungeon Geists – This card is an extremely good Control Magic type effect which are inherently some of the best cards in the cube. Getting your hands on two pieces of these kinds of cards will put your blue-based control deck on the fast track. (Other options include Control Magic Vedalken Shackles Treachery and Sower of Temptation.)
- Brain Freeze – Having another Storm kill card is important as the cube was lacking in them to begin with.
- Tamiyo the Moon Sage – Tamiyo is a very good planeswalker in cube and also serves a dual role in that it gives players more exposure to Avacyn Restored cards which will be relevant when the 2012 Magic Players Championship is played with these cards in public.
Changes I don't like:
- Temporal Mastery / Time Warp – Look I get it—Wizards wants to push miracles. However this is an incredibly large downgrade on top of an inherently unfun mechanic that is hard to trigger intentionally and when you do it's one of the least fun feelings. Watching your opponent take free turns because of a set up miracle sucks and being a lucksack and peeling it is equally infuriating. As you can tell I'm not a fan of this mechanic.
- Tandem Lookout / Court Hussar – I initially loved Tandem Lookout but after playing with it in aggro-control U/G and U/B decks I have no problem leaving it on the sidelines. The 2/1 body it brings is blanked by nearly all other decks you'd bring it in against leaving the soulbond portion of the card as the only effect you get for 2U. Losing Court Hussar for this card is tough too; blue lacks three-mana walls already. In future editions I'd like to see Tandem Lookout cut in favor of Augur of Bolas.
Overall blue still stays way ahead of the rest of the colors in the cube.
Changes I like:
- Restoration Angel – I played one of these in my Legacy Esper Stoneblade deck and my only regret was not playing two or more. This card is not only very very good but is a skill testing and a fun card as well. It fits all the criteria of a great well-rounded card.
Changes I don't like:
White remains one of the weaker colors in the cube since it tends to be over-drafted by the less experienced drafters in the cube.
Changes I like:
- Hellrider – A great card that sums up what red haste decks are all about; it's always a solid addition to a red-based aggro/burn deck.
- Plated Geopede – One of the best two-drops you can have in aggro red decks this card does work on defense against bad aggro decks and is essentially unblockable when it's attacking.
- Bonfire of the Damned – Miracle may be a mechanic I don't like very much but nothing gets the haters more furious than when you peel this card and Flame Wave their board. Just watch Cedric Phillips' stream for evidence of this.
Changes I don't like:
- Vexing Devil – Every game my opponent has played this card against me they've lost. They play this card on turn 1 and it's a single-shot effect that does four damage. They play it late in the game and it's a meaningless creature. This card is much worse than Jackal Pup.
- Tibalt the Fiend-Blooded – I'm not going to justify this with any more text than is necessary. I'll summarize my opinion of this card with this: pls.
- Skizzik – Cutting this card really? It's a staple in red burn decks which is already a thin archetype in the Magic Online Cube.
- Pillar of Flame / Firebolt – Firebolt is nearly one order of magnitude better than Pillar of Flame. This has to be a politically motivated exchange.
- Rite of Ruin – Zac Hill tried to convince me this card was good. Sure it's better than Destructive Force but that's like saying Chris Mascioli is less mopey than Tim Aten.
Red is in a precarious spot in the Magic Online cube—it's not very deep and it's plagued with a lot of situationally good cards. Many of these cards you wouldn't play in decks that aren't mono-red because they're either not good enough or impossible to cast (Ember Hauler Volcanic Fallout etc.).
Changes I like:
- Headhunter – Adam hates this card. I actually think it's reasonable out of the sideboard in most decks and can be played maindeck in mono-black aggro decks. Sorry Adam.
- Okiba-Gang Shinobi / Throat Slitter – I love Ninjas and the Shinobi is one of the best ones out there. Throat Slitter works well with the shadow creatures and though it's still a little weak since they cut two black shadow guys it's a great flavor card and a lot of fun to play with.
- Unburial Rites – Reanimation cards were hard to come across and this is an outstanding addition to the Reanimator archetype.
- Death Cloud – The only mana base that can support this is mono-black and it's actively horrible in that deck. Good cut.
- Phyrexian Negator – This card actually did nothing.
Changes I don't like:
- Skittering Skirge – This card is in the same spot as Death Cloud; only castable in mono-black and terrible in that archetype.
- Spinning Darkness – Alt-casting this card is really tough and when you do it's not that exciting.
- Nightscape Familiar – Very sad to see this card go. Made the Grixis archetype very powerful and with the removal of this card heavy blue splash black decks become the best control decks in the format with red sitting on the sideline.
- Tainted Pact – The only way this is a good cut is if they realized this card should nearly be banned in most cubes. In cubes with a high percentage of non-basics Tainted Pact is a no-downside Demonic Consultation. While the Magic Online Cube makes you lean heavily on basics this card was still incredibly powerful. Very bummed to see it go.
- Demonic Rising – Give me a break.
- Demonic Taskmaster – I said give me a break.
Overall black got a fair bit worse when it comes to non-control decks but it gained a bit for Reanimator. It's still the best color to pair with your blue-based control decks.
Changes I like:
- Jungle Lion – Green aggro decks are probably the worst performing decks in the Magic Online Cube because there is no good non-basic mana fixing to make them true Zoo decks. Cutting cards like this is no loss whatsoever.
- Wood Elves – Ugliest card in the cube.
- Summoning Trap – No reason to have this in there.
- Wolfir Silverheart – A very sick finisher / midrange threat for green. Just a great boom-boom to have in any deck that can reliably cast it on turn 5.
- Scavenging Ooze – Great anti-Reanimator toolbox card; it also warrants being played maindeck in most green decks you'll be sporting.
Changes I don't like:
- All Suns' Dawn – Local ringer Brian Wong will play any mana accelerant or mana fixer no matter how bad it is. This card is dead last on his list of cards he'll play. I'd say he would never play it but cards that fall into that category can be accurately described by the null set.
- Jade Mage – Is it too much to ask for Selesnya Guildmage?
Green's rich mana acceleration makes it a great color to go into if you can secure plenty of expensive finishers but novice drafters picking green aggro cards will find themselves losing to the better archetypes in the cube.
My Top Three Archetypes in the Magic Online Cube
Obviously ranking archetypes is highly subjective based on the types of decks you like to play. I personally enjoy playing control decks whenever possible but I've had success playing all sorts of decks—I'm affectionately known for playing a lot of "damp broccoli" decks in the area since I used to gravitate towards G/U mana ramp decks.
1. U/B Control
I don't think this one is personally close at all; blue is both quite deep in the cube as well as underdrafted. Control Magic effects are insanely powerful and routinely go fourth or fifth pick. Counterspells are unfair—we don't have them in Standard anymore for a reason—and newer players don't understand how good Force Spike is. (Hint: It's first pick quality.) Single-target removal spells are important in a deck like this and black is deeper for this than white while good red removal spells tend to get snapped up by the bad G/R Aggro decks and Mono-Red Burn decks. You can reliably pick up a Go for the Throat mid-pack. The same cannot be said for Lightning Bolt.
Black's access to unconditional discard spells—which are also no longer in Standard for a reason—gives you proactive attacking spells and many decks fold to a single Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek. The blue/black cards are very good and can be looped without much trouble; Shadowmage Infiltrator Agony Warp Undermine and Psychatog are all very good. Additionally playing black may allow you to splash red for busted Grixis cards like Bituminous Blast (if you think this card is bad with counterspells you have no idea how to play Magic correctly) Void Cruel Ultimatum and everyone's favorite: Nicol Bolas Planeswalker.
2. G/U Mana Ramp
With ready access to tons of mana acceleration you can quickly outpace your opponents and cast game-breaking spells like Plow Under Tooth and Nail Sundering Titan and Terastodon before they can get their board presence online. However if all you do is cast your fatties you're going to lose to decks that have answers to them so pairing your green mana ramp deck with 2-3 counterspells like Mana Leak Miscalculation or Glen Elendra Archmage will help protect your major investments. Playing blue also gives you access to some of the best big mana spells in Frost Titan Upheaval Sphinx of Jwar Isle Consecrated Sphinx and Control Magic effects (which are ridiculously good against you).
3. Mono-Red Burn
Many of the best red cards are either double-red (Koth of the Hammer) or fit only in burn decks (Searing Blaze) so you don't tend to have to compete for these spells. Your deck can be really good against the green ramp decks if you draw your board sweeper burn spells (there are plenty of them) and if you get fast artifact mana you have some devastating big mana spells in Bonfire of the Damned Rorix Bladewing and Inferno Titan. Red also has access to land destruction which can single-handedly win games in a cube format with thin artifact mana fixing. An early Ravenous Baboons Pillage or Avalanche Riders can completely shut a player off of one type of mana. The abundance of artifact destruction in red is also very relevant as many of the big finishers or powerful cards are artifacts (Sundering Titan Myr Battlesphere any of the Swords).
The worst deck in the Magic Online Cube is green/x aggro. Your deck isn't fast enough and isn't diverse enough (due to the lack of non-basics) to justify playing these decks can simply outclassed by a good mono-white aggro deck. If your deck has Bloodbraid Elf in it there's a good chance it sucks. Green only exists to ramp you to the Eldrazi and other monsters in your deck—don't get stuck playing midrangey cards as your plan to win.
Cards I Never Pass
Here's a shortlist of cards I will never pass unless two cards on the list appear together. I've done my best to rank them in the order I prefer them but they all run very close in value:
- Karn Liberated
- Strip Mine
- Jace the Mind Sculptor
- Rishadan Port
- Sword of War and Peace
- Sword of Body and Mind
- Umezawa's Jitte
- Sword of Fire and Ice
- Sword of Feast and Famine
- Coalition Relic
- Control Magic
- Grim Monolith
- Armageddon / Ravages of War
- Shelldock Isle
- Chandra the Firebrand
- Phyrexian Metamorph
- Phantasmal Image
Lands that do anything are inherently too good never mind lands that actively deny the opponent of mana while still producing mana for yourself. Strip Mine and Rishadan Port are two of the strongest cards in the cube no matter what types of decks you like to play. Karakas should be picked fairly high and played in nearly every deck; can you imagine getting your turn 2 Rofellos bounced? Or your turn 1 Isamaru?
A Few Decks That Have Carried Me to Wins in 8-4 Drafts
Armageddon is very good in control decks for the record. Playing a threat and blowing up all lands is good no matter what colors you are.
Probably one of the best decks I've had in a long time in Cube.
Never mind this deck was the best deck (from the last go-around as evidenced by the Nightscape Familiar and Opportunity). I remember casting Bituminous Blast with an opponent's spell on the stack revealing Glen Elendra Archmage and countering his spell. He was a bit salty.
I didn't actually like this deck that much when I first drafted it (too light on countermagic and spot removal) but it ended up playing really well. I seriously underrated how good Catastrophe was.
Cards That Absolutely Gotta Go
These are all equally awful. Well maybe not. Tibalt is the worst by far but…
- Tibalt the Fiend-Blooded
- Ruhan of the Fomori
- Priest of Urabrask
- Goblin Legionnaire
- Lead the Stampede
- Phantasmal Bear
- Augury Adept
- Goblin Trenches
- Demonic Rising
- Demonic Taskmaster
Cards I'd Love to See
No particular order to these.
- Augur of Bolas
- Desperate Ravings
- Faithless Looting
- Imp's Mischief
- Miraculous Recovery
- Staff of Nin
- Winter Orb
A Word on Prize Support
Ok it has to be said. The current prize support for the Magic Online Cube can only be described as a complete and utter failure. Paying Onslaught – Legions – Scourge has led to an OLS Draft set selling for 3-4 tickets meaning you're winning 1-3 tickets if you outright win an 8-4 Draft. This is unacceptable. Now I understand paying the current set will cause the economy to tank in those sets which is unfair for people drafting and hoarding the current set packs but there needs to be a better solution. Paying Time Spiral – Planar Chaos – Future Sight had a floor at which they'd sell due to the cards in the set but OLS has nearly nothing worth opening and the Draft format is very unfriendly towards new players (though it's fun with no stacked damage and I'd argue a better/healthier format to boot).
Alternate pack entry would be one way to solve this I believe—though I haven't done enough research or experimentation on modeling the Magic Online economy like I'm sure the insiders at Wizards have completed. Being able to play in these Cube Drafts by paying OLS + 1 ticket would go a long way in keeping the 8-4s profitable for the winners even if the end product is generally worthless. I absolutely love to Cube Craft but right now I need to outright win an 8-4 to basically break even. That's just awful and I'm not drafting as a result. I don't expect to go infinite across all formats in these but when I'm nearly losing tickets despite my limited rating jumping 100 points into the 1800s there's a fundamental economic problem that needs to be addressed before the next Cube rollout occurs.
Thanks for reading and please leave your comments suggestions or questions below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions about cube drafting especially any possible solutions to the payout problems.