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The “40 Cents and Below” Cube: Black and Red

Written by Ezra Sassaman on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube

The “40 Cents and Below” Cube: Black and Red

Ezra Sassaman

Ezra Sassaman has been playing Magic since he got a sweet Ravnica theme deck for his 12th birthday. Since then, he has been an avid follower of all aspects of the game. In his free time, he enjoys Cube-drafting with his friends in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Welcome back, I’m here again to talk more about my “40 cents and below” cube. Last week, we discussed the colors white and blue and we will continue this week with the next two on the color wheel: black and red. Let’s dive right in!


Black is tied to death and the graveyard, killing enemy creatures with ease and sometimes even voluntarily sacrificing its own forces as a means to a greater end: victory.

Cards like Zulaport Cutthroat and Falkenrath Noble allow you to turn your creatures into direct life loss for your opponent, while Phyrexian Plaguelord and Rakshasa Gravecaller can re-purpose unused forces as mini-removal spells or a small army of Zombie tokens. Cards like Carrier Thrall, Pawn of Ulamog, and Marsh Flitter are another piece to the puzzle, granting you multiple bodies to sacrifice. Priest of the Blood Rite is just begging to be sacrificed to prevent you from losing life while leaving behind a formidable 5/5 flyer. If the game goes late, Sengir Nosferatu or Skeletal Vampire can easily take over the board, especially combined with “whenever a creature dies” effects like Zulaport Cutthroat. These vampires, along with Elusive Tormentor, are tough to answer with simple removal spells: Tormentor can turn itself into an untargetable, indestructible mist, Nosferatu will turn itself into a bat, and Skeletal will eat one of its own bats to survive any Incinerate or Searing Spear pointed its way.

The color black, however, does not have to play a grindy late-game strategy. It can also be very fast, with powerful one drops like Carnophage, Diregraf Ghoul, Tormented Hero, and Vampire Lacerator beginning the game aggressively. Complementing this strategy are the two-drops Dauthi Horror, Dauthi Slayer, Heir of Falkenrath, and Nantuko Shade as well as threatening creature/Aura split cards like Gnarled Scarhide, Spiteful Returned, and Herald of Torment. This suite of aggro cards puts early pressure on your opponent and the color black enables you to back that pressure with discard and removal to make sure your opponent never gets their footing.

While black creatures are not as good in terms of pure speed as white or red ones, they make up for it by being extremely versatile and disruptive. Brain Maggot and Mesmeric Fiend are early creatures that can also take key cards out of your opponent’s hand. Creatures like Nekrataal, Nightshade Assassin, and Skinrender remove an opposing creature from the battlefield while leaving behind a body to attack with. That’s how to create card advantage in most quintessentially “black” way possible!

Against aggro decks, black tries to get rid of early threats using Tragic Slip, Doom Blade, Smother, Ultimate Price, Victim of Night, Murderous Cut, and Innocent Blood. If you can survive until later in the game, Barter in Blood, Consuming Vapors, or simply a Nekrataal to kill one attacker and block a second one should be tough for an aggressive strategy to overcome. Against token strategies, sacrifice-based removal like Innocent Blood, Barter in Blood, and Consuming Vapors will be at their worst, so sideboard them out in favor of sweepers like Drown in Sorrow and Extinguish All Hope.

Against control decks, trading life for cards via Pain Seer, Sign in Blood, Painful Truths, Read the Bones, or Damnable Pact is a good way to try to win the card advantage war. Remember that pure control decks often do not care if you are at 20 or 1 life, so make good use of those life payment draw spells! Alternatively, don’t forget that you can turn Damnable Pact into a Fireball and have your opponent lose the life and draw the cards. Mind Shatter is a late game bomb against control as well, with the potential to get rid of an opponent’s entire hand.

Cards like Phyrexian Delver, Makeshift Mannequin, and Diabolic Servitude can help you chain creatures over and over again. The ability to recur creatures with enter-the-battlefield effects, like Marsh Flitter or Skinrender, will be devastating for your opponent.

The Eldest Reborn encapsulates everything black has to offer in a single card: a bit of creature removal, a bit of discard, and a bit of recursion. This is what playing the color black is all about.


Red is the most aggressive color, able to attack quickly and finish off opponents with a flurry of direct damage spells. The one drop slot includes Firedrinker Satyr, Frenzied Goblin, Goblin Glory Chaser, Jackal Pup, Reckless Waif, and Rigging Runner. Starting off the game with one of these creatures will leave your opponent on the backfoot. Many of these creatures have built-in effects that make early game combat into a nightmare for your opponent. Frenzied Goblin,  Goblin Glory Chaser, Firefist Striker, Stormblood Berserker, War-Name Aspirant, and Ahn-Crop Crasher are tough to block, while Rigging Runner and Aether Chaser can first strike smaller creatures to death. Red’s creature are also speedier than those of other colors: Lightning Mauler can attack immediately and sometimes bring along a friend as well. Hell’s Thunder, Keldon Champion, Skyship Stalker, and Charging Monstrosaur represent a huge amount of damage out of nowhere. Finally, creatures enhanced by Curse of the Stalked Prey, Slith Firewalker, and Falkenrath Marauders get more threatening each time they damage your opponent.

Direct damage is red’s most unique and iconic ability, appearing on classic cards like Lightning Bolt, Fireball, and Earthquake. In the very cheap cube, it appears on both creatures and noncreature spells. For creatures, direct damage can be an effect that happens only a few times like Ghitu Slinger, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, or Heart-Piercer Manticore. It could also be a recurring effect like Guttersnipe or Quicksmith Rebel, which damage your opponent turn after turn.

All the red instants and sorceries in this cube deal direct damage! What else do you want? I’m sure there are other things that red instants and sorceries do, but for this cube, it’s all about the burn, baby! An aggro deck will likely make use of the cheaper spells like Burst Lightning, Incinerate, Lash Out, Lightning Strike, Magma Jet, Searing Spear, Brimstone Volley, and Flame Javelin. Middle-of-the-road burn spells like Staggershock, Firebolt, Arc Trail, and Arc Lightning are at home in aggro decks, where they can remove blockers or go directly for the face, but they can also be utilized by control decks to remove opposing creatures. Cards like Arc Lightning are particularly useful for dealing with tokens, as a control deck would like to avoid using four single removal spells to clean up one Cloudgoat Ranger or similar threat. Big-mana spells like Starstorm, Fall of the Titans, Fight with Fire, Devil’s Play, Fireball, Rolling Thunder, Titan’s Revenge are at their best in a deck that tries to survive into the late game. Green and artifact-based mana ramp are natural allies for these expensive burn spells. They also give long-game decks a way to finally win the game. I can imagine the versatility of a spell like Devil’s Play being used in a control deck: it might be required in the early game to ward off threatening attackers, then also be used to deal the final blow to an opponent’s life total.

Thank you for reading! Let other readers know in the comments what your favorite 40 cent and below cards and if you know of any cards I have missed when creating this cube. You can view my cube here. Tune in next time as we continue onto green and the ally-pair multicolored cards.

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