Hey everybody! By now I’m sure you have heard of this Cube thing, since it seems like almost every Magical author on the internet has talked about how awesome it is since the inception of the Magic Online Cube. Everyone who has Cube drafted before was really excited about it, and I’m elated to have seen a lot of comments from Cube first-timers raving about how fun it is.
For those of you Cubing for the first time recently, welcome to the greatest Magic format! For those of you have drafted before, welcome back! I’m sure a lot of you are interested in doing more Cube drafts now that you got a taste of it, so you may be willing to jump in that Cube draft that is firing in your local game shop. The thing is, that Cube is different than the Magic Online Cube…what are you supposed to do if you don’t know what cards are in it? Can you cheat Eldrazi into play? How about large artifact creatures? What about mono-black decks, or a Wildfire-type deck? Knowing a Cube list isn’t always possible, so what should you do in uncharted waters? As fun as drafting the Cube can be, it sure is nice when our pile of cards can win games/matches/prizes as well.
That’s where these articles come in.
Each time, I’m going to write about a different commonly draftable archetype in most non-specialty Cubes. Think of it as an in-depth cheat sheet, kind of like those cards they give you in Las Vegas about how to wager on blackjack or craps. I’m going to cram as much information on how to draft and play these decks as possible into bite-size delicious chunks for you as possible. Bon appétit!
Let’s talk about red, baby. (Let’s talk about you and me…)
Mono-red aggressive decks are some of the most potent in the Cube, and almost universally draftable. Hit ‘em fast, hit ‘em hard, and kill ‘em dead before they set up whatever sort of durdling deck they are trying to put together with a bunch of cards they think are cool. While they spend their time trying to fix their mana, you are spending your time reducing their time. Your creatures are fast, efficient, and pack a big punch for their cost, and your spells provide reach past the combat phase better than any other color. Another advantage of drafting mono-red in Cube (and mono- in general) is that you can save picks spent on mana fixing in order to stay the course and really let people around you know that the red cards are yours. Your games need to start with you playing creatures and attacking from at least turns 1-4, and using your spells to keep the path clear and/or finishing off your opponent.
Note: These lists are by no means exhaustive; feel free to chime in with cards I may have missed!
Bombs (These are cards that can win the game single-handedly and could possibly pull you into the archetype on their own): Koth of the Hammer, Sulfuric Vortex. Both of these cards have the ability to put the nail in the coffin of the opposing player by virtue of being repeatable damage sources with inevitability combined with a sturdier permanent type.
Priorities (These cards are needed to make the deck go; they may not be the most powerful cards in your deck, but without them your deck will suffer greatly): One mana creatures and burn spells that cost one or two (so you can cast them alongside more threats). You want as many Jackal Pups, Figure of Destiny, Lightning Bolts, and Arc Trails as possible; you are not going to win many 15-turn games with this deck so your pressure needs to come early and often. Burn some calories on keeping track of your curve, because having too many cards at four mana can gum up your early game pretty well. You want to be spending all of your mana every turn, and the only way to do that is to have enough cards at the lower casting cost slots (1-3).
If you have not, be sure to check out this article from The Sideboard. It is a good Magical history lesson as well as germane our topic.
Draft ‘em if you see ‘em (Take advantage of these cards when they appear in your packs, but make sure you don’t ignore the above categories): Aggressive equipment, 2-for-1s (Flametongue Kavu, Murderous Redcap, Searing Blaze), Tangle Wire, Winter Orb, Ankh of Mishra, mana denial lands (Rishadan Port/Strip Mine). These cards are where you are going to get a ton of value, from repeatable damage sources to big tempo plays that grant you additional damage by denying your opponent resources.
Make sure you have: Enough creatures to put threats on the board from turns 1-4. You should be aiming for a teenage number of creatures/reusable threats; it almost doesn’t matter what they are because all the cards should be good enough for Cube, but look for ones with reach like Kargan Dragonlord, and cram as many cards in the one- and two-mana slot as possible to ensure fast starts. Remember: turn 15 = loss most of the time. You also need enough removal/reach to work around blockers/finish the game if/when they stabilize.
Only a light dusting of: 5+ mana cards (look for ones with immediate impact, like Zealous Conscripts, Chandra Nalaar, or Rorix Bladewing, or ones that can win the game if you untap like Siege-Gang Commander, Ancient Hydra, or Inferno Titan). The biggest trap that aggressive players fall into is drafting and playing too many awesome cards that cost approximately one million mana. While you have all these awesome cards in your hand waiting to be cast, your opponent is furthering their game plan and setting up to laugh at your huge dude. Virtually any deck is good if given enough time; your job is to take that time away. Consequently, Jackal Pup is better than Charizard most of the time.
Stay away from: Artifact mana fixing, sweepers (unless it doubles as a burn spell, like Rolling Earthquake), and splashing too many mana symbols of other colors. If your cards aren’t attacking or helping you do damage in some way, you’re doing it wrong.
Best splashes: Green for Bloodbraid Elf/Sylvan Library/Tarmogoyf, white for Armageddons. Basically, you want to be adding cards in other colors that are easy to cast AND extend your reach in your strategy (bigger tempo plays, drawing more gas). I wouldn’t advise splashing Meloku, the Clouded Mirror in your mono-red deck too often.
(I didn’t have the land to also splash the Upheaval, or enough playables to NOT play the Clouded Mirror of Victory. To be fair, it was awesome, and it didn’t even make 2/2s yet! But my deck would have been better if I didn’t have a bunch of blue cards I couldn’t play…)
Cards you can likely loop: Fireblast, hybrid cards like Boggart Ram-Gang, and color-intensive cards like Ball Lightning and Blistering Firecat. Unless there is another mono-red drafter, the RR and RRR cards will pass around the table more often than they should (when was the last time you saw Ram Gang in a green deck, or Fireblast/Firecat in a deck that is only 50% red?). People tend to file cards away in their minds according to what archetypes they are best, and you can take advantage of those small oversights.
Cards to hate, if you’re into that sort of thing: Anything with protection from red (duh), life gain cards like Pulse of the Fields, Faith’s Fetters, or Obstinate Baloth. These cards just steal a TON of your tempo, and can be freely removed from the draft if the pack doesn’t offer anything to your liking. Note: hating in team drafts is not advised often, especially if you are like me and form random teams AFTER the draft.
Likely good matchups: Decks with bad manabases (read: most 3+ color decks), cute decks that do ‘fun’ things, slow control decks, decks that are unfocused, and winning the die roll.
Possible bad matchups: Green mid-range decks that gain life, white control decks that have lots of walls, and losing the die roll.
Sample decklist from a recent draft
Great openers (seven one-drops), great finishers (Koth, Hero), and a nice removal suite made this deck a 3-0 deck. 5-0, if you include the fact that I turned this monstrosity on my own teammates after the draft!
May all your squares be three-dimensional!
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