The first official competitive cube draft takes place tomorrow at the 2012 Magic Players Championship in Seattle. Sixteen of Magic’s top pros will be choosing between powerful cards like Upheaval, Armageddon and Sulfuric Vortex in a 720-card cube that has been previously played on MTGO. (My thoughts on the recent changes to that list).
Given this monumental step towards competitive cubing, I wanted to reach out to a few of the players participating in the Players Championship to ask about their views and opinions on the cube format. Because these questions were asked before the event and $40,000 is on the line, the players wanted to keep strategic content to a minimum. Thanks to Jon Finkel, Luis Scott-Vargas, Reid Duke and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa for their time.
Is the casual format OK for the Players Championship?
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: I think it’s great! The only reason cube is considered casual is that it’s not played competitively – there isn’t anything intrinsically casual about it, like there is in Commander, Mental Magic and even Two-Headed Giant (which we had to play at the PT). All those formats bend the rules of Magic, they change how it’s played, but Cube doesn’t, it’s just drafting with different cards, the playing is the exact same. We played Cube at the invitational in 2007 and it was a lot of fun.
Some people expressed concern that, by making Cube a “pro” format, it’d be bad for those who want to play casually (i.e. they’d force themselves to have the “official” cube, for example), but I don’t see why this would have to happen.
Luis Scott-Vargas: I think it’s pretty awesome that Cube is going to be played in a high-profile tournament, though I’m glad it’s only three rounds. Cubing for serious as opposed to how I normally cube is very different, and it’s hard. Actually trying to figure out the “right” pick instead of the most fun one is difficult, and I don’t know if I could do six or more rounds of it. It’s definitely going to be sweet though.
Jon Finkel: I’m fine with cube being used as it is a skill testing format. It’s certainly better than M13. Wizards has been moving way too far in the direction of constructed, making magic much more about having the right team to play test with than play skill. It’s nice to see half the swiss will be limited here, even if the finals are still constructed.
Reid Duke: At first, I was unpleasantly surprised that Cube draft was going to be a format at the PC. Until then, I had always considered cube draft a hobby, and the worst part was that it was other people’s hobby, not mine. I knew my competitors had a lot of experience in the format, based on their videos and their discussions on twitter, but I had hardly ever played it at all.
But I’ve come around. We had a fair amount of time and resources to test the format on MTGO, and I took full advantage. Whatever you wanna say about the swingy-ness and the balance problems with the cube, it certainly rewards general skill and knowledge of MTG. In particular, the gameplay is very challenging since there are so many different cards you could face, and so many interactions to be aware of. I’m optimistic!
How often did you cube before/after MTGO release?
PVDDR: Not often, as I never do it at home… at Nationals we always did, and sometimes when I went to California. I did like three drafts when Cube was first on MODO and this time I’ve done four.
LSV: I drafted once or twice a month, depending on when I could get together with people (less now that I live in Denver). I probably did 15 or so on Magic Online, and would have done more if it stuck around longer.
JF: Before 2 months ago I never did a cube draft. Since then I’ve done 1 or 2 online and about a dozen in real life. It’s a lot of fun and I’m lucky enough to have access to a cube and opponents in New York. Still, it would have been nice if Wizards could have left the cube online so we could practice.
RD: I’d done cube drafts before, but always in a completely casual environment. I never had a care to figure out what the “best” strategies were. I would just build whatever I felt like playing on the given day. Now that I’m playing for more than just fun, it’s a completely different game. I’ve done about sixty drafts online (almost all of them this week).
What is your favorite Cube story?
PVDDR: In round 1 of the invitational I got paired against Gabriel Nassif. My deck was a BGW do-nothing, and his was a UG based combo deck. Turn three of game one he plays a couple artifacts, a Tolarian Academy (I think) and a Mind Over Matter, and quickly made a ton of mana. He followed it up with Mindslaver, which he could activate in that very same turn with mana to spare, and as I’m on the verge of scooping he plays Copy Artifact, copying… Mindslaver! That Legend Ruled both of them out, and after that he bricked for a couple turns and I ended up winning.
LSV: My favorite Cube story takes place in San Diego, where our team was preparing for PT Paris. We were all staying at Gabe Walls’ beach house, and we certainly did our fair share of cubing. One day, we decided to do a 2-headed giant cube draft. Conley and I battled against Gabe and Brad (Nelson), with the losing team buying dinner for the winners. Conley drafted a broken blue deck (the Cube was powered) and I drafted RG beatdown, because I’m deranged. They were on the play, and had the near-unbeatable draw of turn two Timetwister, putting us in a bad spot. Luckily, Conley had drawn a Mox and I had a 1-drop, so we weren’t totally dead. Their post-Twister hands weren’t insane, and Conley used Time Walk to put us ahead, after which I managed to finish the game with a Blistering Firecat + Reckless Charge + Berserk. It was a sick game, and the most memorable Cube match that I’ve played.
JF: The biggest beating I got in cube was when my opponent Mindslavered me, then had me Upheaval with 6 mana floating, using that mana to cycle all the good creatures out of my deck with Survival of the Fittest, then discarding all my non land cards at EOT. I had a slightly different plan for Upheaval next turn.
RD: I’ll start with my least-favorite story. It’s my least favorite because it’s a story of a great play that I missed, and went on to lose because of it. I played a Venser, the Sojourner and my opponent played a Lone Revenant. Not liking how the two cards matched up, I panicked, blinked a land, and played Upheaval. I went on to lose a drawn-out game 10 turns later. What I could have done, though, was play Faith’s Fetters on a land, blink it with Venser, and when it came back put it on the hexproof Revenant!
Pack 1, Pick 1. What do you choose?
Stoneforge Mystic Armageddon Upheaval Counterspell Liliana of the Veil Phyrexian Arena Sulfuric Vortex Inferno Titan Channel Garruk Wildspeaker Sword of Feast and Famine Shelldock Isle Breeding Pool Polluted Delta Venser, the Sojourner
PVDDR: I narrow this pack down to three cards – Armageddon, Garruk and Channel. Everything else is mostly a variation of those, but worse – for example, Venser is a great card, but Garruk is just a better permanent if that is what you want to pick. Channel is very hit or miss, as Channel + something like Ulamog flat out wins on turn two, and Armageddon is a card I play in every deck and is always awesome, but I think I’d go with Garruk here – he fits the type of deck I want to play perfectly and he is excellent if you’re attacking, blocking, controlling the game or combo-ing them out. This could be wrong though, as with pretty much any cube pick.
LSV: I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the entire pack; I stopped once I saw Vortex. (Author’s Note: Lesson learned. Next time, put the Vortex at the end of the pack when asking this sort of question)
RD: Upheaval simply outclasses all the other cards. At a glance, it may look similar to Armageddon, in that both seem to be “blow up the world” symmetric effects. The secret, though, is that Upheaval is not really symmetric. You get to choose whether or not to cast it, and plan your game around it. You get to make the first land drop, and you get to float mana before casting it. You get to prioritize cheap mana acceleration during the draft. Upheaval is a game winner and a get-out-of-jail-free card in one.
It was fantastic to get an inside look at how some top pros view my favorite format. Make sure you check out the Player’s Championship — especially the cube portion! — which can be viewed online and starts tomorrow at 2:45 p.m. EST.
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