“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
— Andy Williams
While Mr. Williams wasn’t describing the upcoming two weeks of MTGO Cube, it’s safe to say many players are excited to partake in the format once again.
This holiday season, Wizards showed up under the Christmas tree with a new, trimmed 540-card cube while adding a piece of Power for each branch of the Menorah. For the first time, MTGO planeswalkers will get an opportunity to play with Black Lotus, Time Walk, Timetwister, Ancestral Recall and the five Moxen. In addition to the Power Nine, a whole slew of unpowered “power” is also being added, including Library of Alexandria, Mana Drain, Tolarian Academy, Moat, The Abyss and Nether Void.
What does this mean for your average Cube draft? Lowering the number of cards available to open from 725 increases the chances a player can draft Power. Decks are obviously going to be more powerful, but they will also be a lot quicker. Five-color-do-nothing.dec struggles when facing a Blightsteel Colossus or Koth/Jace/Elspeth on Turn 1. When drafting, it’s better to move in on a strategy quicker than you’re accustomed to, and you’ll want to make your picks with synergies in mind. The more consistency you have, the better your chances at beating the nut draws of Power.
If you’re wondering how high to pick Power, the correct answer is higher than you currently think you should. The Moxen are all, at their absolute worst, a Blasted Landscape that doesn’t cost you a land drop. Any off-color Mox opened in the later packs should still be rated very highly. Time Walk and Ancestral Recall are both worth splashing, even in aggressive decks. Three cards just means three more burn spells! With the inclusion of the Ravnica Karoos (Golgari Rot Farm et. al) and the Signets, fixing for enemy colors is actually up one per guild compared to the last iteration.
Plenty of New Toys
Another change is the addition of cards from Return to Ravnica, which had yet to see its addition to the MTGO cube short of Dryad Militant. Most of the cuts for all colors aren’t complete shockers. With each new release, the MTGO Cube has pushed cards from the most recent set a little further than necessary. Unless that plan changes soon, we’ll continue to see these cards filter in for a session or two, and then be removed.
While I was initially bothered by this mentality, I’ve come around on it a bit. I understand wanting to show their newest set, and it also gives cube builders that don’t have an opportunity to cube once a week to test cards. If they dialed it back a little (i.e. don’t put Rite of Ruin in for multiple cubes), I think it’s a great system for both parties involved.
The only card I’m surprised to see taken out of white is Decree of Justice. A fair number of cubes replaced Decree with Entreat the Angels when Avacyn Restored came out, but the MTGO Cube doesn’t have Entreat. Decree has always been a great end-of-turn threat, its roundabout uncounterability giving you the trump in the control matches.
Nearheath Pilgrim has been seeing growing popularity as a great way for midrange decks to fight the monored threat. Moat is a card I’m glad will only be included in the powered versions of cube. The inability of aggressive decks (specifically monored/black) to deal with enchantments makes this card stop one player from playing Magic. Both this and Teferi’s Moat are relatively unfun and don’t offer enough unique gameplay to be staples.
Black aggro, we hardly knew ye. While I’m not bothered by the removal of crappy one-drop 2/2s, I am bummed to see Attrition go. I watched a few streams during the last cube run where the card completely overtook multiple games. I even tried to convince our local powered cube owner to try it out after seeing it in action. Innocent Blood is another one I’m sad to see go, although two of the pro-black green creatures were removed, which helps.
Vampire Nighthawk comes back in after an awkward trip to the penalty box, along with two powerful Enchant Worlds in Nether Void and The Abyss. Nether Void acts as black’s version of Armageddon, cutting both players off of casting larger spells. The Abyss pairs well with Braids, Cabal Minion and Bitterblossom in the Stacks deck.
While blue is getting the biggest bump in card quality from Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Mana Drain, it’s still surprising to see Thirst for Knowledge out, especially with Compulsive Research still included. A lot of blue’s card draw and counterspells are leaving, which opens up the ramp strategy a little more to resolving their fatties.
Inkwell Leviathan is one of those perfect storms as far as finishers go. It’s difficult to answer, it can be put into play through Show and Tell, Tinker or Tooth and Nail. In a more combo-centric environment, it is a welcome addition. Trinket Mage also gets the nod as a tutor for all Moxen and other fast mana.
First of all, HURRAY ZEALOUS CONSCRIPTS IS FINALLY INCLUDED! I’ve loved that card from the moment it was spoiled, and I’m surprised it took Wizards this long to finally add it. It is a great answer to the growing number of Planeswalkers and a great curve-topper in aggressive decks. Mizzium Mortars and Firebolt are both fine additions, although I’m surprised they didn’t have Flame Slash in before this most recent update.
Most of the top end fat from red was removed, including Thunderblust, Akroma and Bogardan Hellkite, which is fantastic. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, Devastating Dreams and Rite of Ruin round out the “should never have been added, but I’m glad they’re gone” category of red. I am a bit surprised to see Rolling Earthquake leave, however, as it’s one of the more popular red sweepers available.
The G/x ramp deck has been widely considered the strongest archetype since the MTGO Cube began, and it continues to see some cards removed in order to properly balance decks. The biggest loss is Devoid Druid. The ability to ramp from two to five mana on Turn 3 is underestimated, and I’m guessing this is just to weaken the archetype. Ramp decks will be more artifact-based with the inclusion of fast mana, which means green’s identity gets lost in the shuffle.
The only new green card is Exploration, which comes in to better support the Ravnica Karoos, because apparently card advantage on land drops need assistance in being powerful. I’m surprised they didn’t bring in the similar effect of Fastbond as well.
Part of me wanted to skip this entire section because I’m a big opponent of pretty much all of these cards being included in Cube lists. But that would just look terrible, so here we go. The Moxen, Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, Black Lotus, Sol Ring and Signets are going to lead to some of the most busted early turns you’ve ever witnessed in Magic. The Ravnica signets come in as they pair very well with fast mana, allowing multiple avenues for Turn 1 signets, the best probably being Sol Ring into Signet. Not really much to say about them, other than they get better in multiples, so pick them highly when drafting any non-aggressive deck. Except Sol Ring. Just first pick that no matter what.
The two “protection from black” Mirrodin Swords (Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of Light and Shadow) come back in after a failed attempt to make black more powerful. Null Rod does exactly what it says it does (which is nothing), and Blightsteel Colossus acts as another great target to cheat into play through various means, much like Inkwell Leviathan. Winter Orb and Bonesplitter should help the aggro decks as well, although seeing Grafted Wargear and Ankh of Mishra out does kind of negate that. Metalworker is a card I haven’t seen played too often, and I’m kind of surprised they didn’t go full bore and include Mishra’s Workshop as well.
I’m going to throw Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in here since it’s colorless. Not much to say about it to be honest. Fifteen mana seems like a lot, but with enough ways to cheat it into play, it’s a good inclusion. Channel into Emrakul is the stone nuts. Most decks can’t survive one hit, so make sure to let everyone know if you do!
The fixing situation gets a little stranger. The fantastic cycle of “manlands” from Worldwake are out, as are the perfectly termed “buddy lands” from M10/Innistrad. With the inclusion of signets, and the non-inclusion of the Rakdos and Boros Karoos, this means we’re down four allied fixers, or up four enemy fixers, depending if you’re a glass half empty/half full type.
Library of Alexandria and Tolarian Academy come in, filling the role of “What in the hell was Wizards thinking when they printed these” cards for the lands section. I’ll answer a few frequently asked questions about Library:
- Yes, you can use it on your upkeep with seven cards in hand.
- Yes, you want to do this, even if you have to discard.
- Yes, Library even taps for mana after you’ve dropped in hand size.
- Yes, it should absolutely be first picked.
Most of the changes here come from the most recent set, Return to Ravnica. I’m kind of surprised at how few they added, although I expect if the cube gets bumped back up to 725 cards, we’ll see a lot more come in. As with the last multicolor block, most cubes saw a huge influx of cards to their multicolor sections. Some people are even taking hybrid cards, previously classified as gold for sorting purposes, and placing them into colored sections in order to fit more gold goodness into the cube.
Most of the gold cards coming out are justified. They’re powerful enough in the right situation, but end up becoming late picks if no one needs that effect or is playing that color combination. I’m sad to see Cruel Ultimatum go, only because it’s one of my favorite spells ever printed. I’m surprised to see Esper Charm leaving because it’s versatile enough to warrant inclusion in any cube.
Baleful Strix is the only non-RTR gold card to be added, and I’m excited to see what it can do. The card has made splashes in Legacy lately, so I think giving it a shot in Cube is completely legitimate.
There is one big piece of news that was potentially missed when Wizards posted about the newest Cube iteration. Power Nine is coming to Magic Online by the end of 2013, which leads me to believe there were two major reasons for the inclusion of Power in the Cube.
First of all, it lets people play with power! Despite having the ability to print off proxies, or write Black Lotus on the back of an Island, most players haven’t played a competitive match with most of these cards. Realistically speaking, how often does the regular FNM attendee proxy up vintage Stacks? The fact these cards are only legal in one format that very few plays means a lot of players have never seen the most busted card of our generation (Jace, the Mind Sculptor) played on Turn 1 with the most busted card from the Alpha generation.
The second reason was to show players that Wizards is putting effort toward determining the best way to actually bring Power to Magic Online. Classic events rarely fire on MTGO unless coerced with inclusion to a special tournament or a special promo card. [Editor’s note: Format staple (Force of Will, right, was recently announced as an upcoming promo card.] I’d be surprised if Vintage exploded in popularity when they release Power next year, but at least Vintage players will now have the option of using MTGO as a valid testing environment for their format.
While the powered variety of cube is not my particular cup of tea, I will definitely do a few drafts over the next two weeks to see the other changes Wizards has made to the online cube. Regardless of how you feel about the changes or your philosophy on Power, it’s been very interesting from a cube design perspective to watch how Wizards shapes an ever-evolving format.Try out a few drafts and see how you like it. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much fun you can have with Turn 1 kills.
Thanks for reading!
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