Editor’s Note: Legit MTG is participating in Golgari theme week alongside Daily MTG and other websites in the Magic community. Look for articles about the green-black guild to join our regular features. And don’t worry. The other Return to Ravnica guilds will get equal treatment in upcoming weeks.
Since the Golgari are the guild of recycling whatever gets dumped into Ravnica”s sewers, it”s appropriate to examine reusing cards previously removed from a cube. It”s something I do constantly, but it doesn”t get a lot of attention in the broader cubing community.
The practice of bringing back cards is de-emphasized by the nature of most cuts from most traditional cubes: Cube owners tend to replace older, less impressive cards with newer, more powerful cards at every Wizards of the Coast product release. The exceptions I”ve heard the most about (fittingly enough for this theme week) have been color overhauls of green and black to remove abstractly powerful cards, particularly aggressive ones, and replace them with more synergistic strategies that can compete with the stronger colors, especially red and blue.
This plays into my common refrain that cubes benefit by being toned down from the maximum power level. The density of super-bombs in your cube”s environment places severe limits on the kinds of sweet cards you can run. Cards that can”t keep up with the average deck are functionally blank, and if the average deck plans to play something on the level of Consecrated Sphinx or Karn Liberated, that rules out a lot of things. Perpetually increasing the power level also strangles your ability to return old favorites to the cube, a lack you should lament. There”s a reason so many cards in recent booster sets are reprints — my quick count of Return to Ravnica shows almost 10 percent reprints or functional reprints. Players like to experience continuity and connect with the past, either revisiting their own or discovering history that predates their involvement in Magic. You can leverage the same feelings by reintroducing cards.
A returning card needs to answer the same tests as any other card being added to a cube. Does someone want to play this? Does this play an active role in a realistic deck players try to draft toward? But since the returning card has history, it faces added questions. Is this card remembered fondly? Will it be better or worse than it was before?
Ideally, a returning card will find a new context that highlights it. Harrow is a prime example of a card appearing in three separate sets that define it in totally different ways: A generic evolution of Untamed Wilds when it premiered in Tempest, one of the best multiple-color fixers in color-intensive Invasion, and an instant multiple-Landfall trigger in Zendikar. Imagine if it had also appeared in Odyssey, enabling threshold, or Onslaught, upsetting the ability to predict morphs based on the mana your opponent leaves open.
Harrow is clearly a context-driven card, but veteran drafters see a similar effect in even the most mundane card, like Glory Seeker. It was efficient in Onslaught against endless morphs but weak in the much slower Rise of the Eldrazi.
To find such context in your cube, you need to have enough of a certain element that cards can count on those surroundings, giving you the chance to arrange cards around that expected aspect. Cruel Revival is a clunky, overcosted removal spell, except if you seed Zombies into the environment. Momentary Blink is mostly worse than Shelter, except when you have enough enter-the-battlefield triggers. Even the quantity of creatures with a certain toughness can have tremendous impact, as we”re now learning about X/4s in Return to Ravnica draft and their importance against 3-power aggro creatures in W/G and B/R. I think of this as the “macro” context of a set or cube, because it”s present enough to be in every draft.
Macro context is the level to examine for bringing back archetype support and build-around cards. As I outlined in my earlier article on archetypes, adding a niche deck often takes more than one attempt, with some time in between to casino online regroup, look for a better supporting lineup, and even shift the whole cube to be less hostile to that strategy. The two most important categories of cards to calibrate when reintroducing an archetype are removal (especially instants) and the fastest competitive strategy.
For instance, the Kiln Fiend deck I discussed is more likely to succeed if I cut Disfigure and Shock effects that nullify the investment of spells that trigger Fiend or a similar creature. Removal might include counterspells if your cube uses a lot of them and the strategy depends disproportionately on resolving a key spell. Evaluating the returning archetype against whatever strategy is currently the fastest provides a big part of answering whether it will be as good as its past appearance. Sweet draft decks usually need a window to implement whatever weird thing they care about, so either their pace can”t be much behind the fast decks, or the weird thing has to be built into the deck”s defenses (Armored Skaab and Selhoff Occultist”s role in Innistrad”s Spider Spawning deck).
Zooming in from that perspective, one of my primary tools to manipulate my cube”s environment is identifying small groups of influential cards that push games in the same direction before removing them for cards I want to enjoy. For instance, I noticed a consistent availability of 4/4 flying creatures that were hard to answer and were frequently the end-game plan of several decks in each draft. Lots of strategies blurred together around playing these cards the maximum number of times, using [card]Gravedigger[/cards] effects to win attrition wars against the opponent”s premium removal spells. It was a powered-down version of the “dragon cube” problem.
My solution was to cut Moltensteel Dragon, Serra Angel, Air Elemental and Sengir Vampire (leaving Lumengrid Gargoyle, Shivan Dragon, Volcanic Dragon, Fallen Angel and Stalking Bloodsucker) and increase the availability of 4-toughness removal like Char. Big, flying finishers remain important, as they are in most Limited environments. But with half as many, experimental additions like Spire Monitor and returning cards like Shepherd of the Lost weren”t immediately stat-trumped for being smaller than 4/4. The removed cards, especially Moltensteel Dragon, are set up as prospects to return in some future shakeup of my cube”s air forces.
Returning cards should also be a source of excitement. My cube has more-or-less permanent slots for a single Mind Control effect and one bigger-than-Concentrate draw spell (currently Confiscate and probably overpowered newcomer Sphinx”s Revelation). Since these are always two of the top five cards in my cube, and my friends are addicted to Islands, the incumbent cards and possible replacements are the subject of frequent speculation and discussion. Changing these and other premier cards occasionally even when they”re not breaking the metagame brings a valuable dose of variety to our drafts. The level of interest in the exact nature of the most powerful cards adds further weight to the case for cutting some of the best cards from your cube. If you never cut them, you can”t bring them back!
The dredge mechanic is a decent analogy for the process of recycling cards into and out of a cube: You use it once, then decide whether to re-use it, often dumping multiple other cards along the way with each iteration. I may be the only one rotating, on average, my entire cube every six months and reintroducing a third of the cards I cut (I found at least one card I”ve cut four separate times), but even a more selective recycling effort can yield fun results.
Bonus: Underplayed Golgari Cards
Rare: Bane of the Living (a.k.a., “It”s always Bane of the Living”), Bearscape, Cemetery Reaper, Entrails Feaster, Foster, Hermit Druid, Holistic Wisdom, Hua Tuo, Honored Physician, Masked Admirers, Mortivore, Nantuko Cultivator
Trackback from your site.