The “40 Cents and Below” Cube: White and Blue

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

The “40 Cents and Below” Cube:  White and Blue

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.

Hello LegitMTG readers, it is me again, with another idea for a cube. This week, I’ll be introducing you to my “40 cents and below” cube. There are budget cubes of all kinds, Pauper cubes, bulk rare cubes, etc. but I challenged myself to create a 360-card cube for the cheapest price possible while including cards I would be excited to play with, cards that felt like “cube staples”, and the ability to create legitimate archetypes and have enjoyable games. I had thought about making a per-card price restriction of $5, then $2, then even $1, but when multiplied by the 360 cube minimum, I was still coming up with prices in the $100-$200 dollar range. I felt this was an unrealistic amount of money to expect someone to pay, especially someone who had just started building a cube of their own. Looking at cards that had recently rotated from Standard, had been reprinted many times, or had increased in availability due to recent Masters or Commander products, I decided $0.40 was a reasonable place to make the cut. Many rares that see little play in constructed formats, but are welcome additions in any cube end up falling in the $0.35-$0.40 price range, such as Soldier of the Pantheon, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, Skeletal Vampire, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Ohran Viper, and Myr Battlesphere. Multicolor bombs like Cloudblazer, Shadowmage Infiltrator, Putrefy, Mortify, and Electrolyze, some of my favorite cards to draft, fall in that same price range or even lower.

Beginning with first color on Magic’s iconic WUBRG color wheel, I realized how easy it would be to translate the “white weenie” strategy to this new form of cube.

WHITE

Almost every 2-power creature for W from a more traditional cube fits in (sorry, Isamaru and Kytheon): Dauntless Bodyguard, Dragon Hunter, Elite Vanguard, Expedition Envoy, Mardu Woe-Reaper, Savannah Lions, Skymarcher Aspirant, and Soldier of the Pantheon are all automatic includes and we are off to an aggressive start with white!

Herald of Anafenza, Leonin Vanguard, and Boros Elite round out the one-drop section. Although they do not always have 2 power, these are all solid turn-one plays that accompany white creature-heavy strategies.

Evasion is a key way to win for aggressive decks. I cannot tell you how many games of Magic (cube or otherwise) I have seen where it came down to a creature with flying or shadow being the only thing that mattered in an otherwise stalled board state. Creatures like Mistral Charger, Daring Skyjek, Kor Aeronaut, Soltari Monk, Soltari Priest, and Stormfront Pegasus are premium pickups for white aggressive decks for that reason. More options I have not personally included, but are certainly available for an all-evasion theme would be Gust Walker, Kor Skyfisher, Leonin Skyhunter, Silverbeak Griffin, and Spectral Rider.

Decks have two main ways to stop an aggressive start from a white-based aggro deck: play blockers or play removal. While evasive creatures with flying or shadow attempt to trump blockers, non-evasive creatures can attempt to trump removal. Creatures such as Adanto Vanguard, Aethergeode Miner, and Trueheart Duelist make it a bit more difficult for control decks to trade 1-for-1 and force them into a corner early instead of letting them play the game on their own terms.

Another way to overwhelm opponents is with the simple combo of tokens and anthem effects. Cards like Raise the Alarm, Gather the Townsfolk, and Midnight Haunting can make short work of opposing decks when combined with “creatures you control get +x/+x” effects such as Celestial Crusader, Swell of Courage, and Dictate of Heliod.

Although white is one of the best colors to choose for blisteringly fast aggressive starts, it can also do a great job of winning a long, drawn-out game, especially combined with its ally blue to make classic WU control. This strategy is viable in many cubes and “40 cent or less” is no exception. While there is no Day of Judgment, Wrath of God, or Supreme Verdict available in the desired price range, knock-off sweepers like Divine Reckoning, End Hostilities, and Planar Outburst will also get the job done. Condemn, Banishing Light, Oblivion Ring, Stasis Snare, and Faith’s Fetters get rid of problematic permanents, and either “half” of Decree of Justice is a great way for a control deck to finish out the game.

BLUE

Card draw combined with countermagic is a potent resource for any blue-based control deck to take advantage of. This can take the “this is extremely unfair” form of Ancestral Recall and Mana Drain in Vintage Cube or the “this is slightly more fair, but still great” form of Mulldrifter and Counterspell in Pauper cube. In very cheap cube, none of those cards are allowed, but there are many budget options that have similar effects.

Starting off with blue creatures, you’ll notice that the early-drops are not necessarily chosen for aggression, but for their ability to sift through your deck. Jeskai Elder, Looter il-Kor, Merfolk Looter, and Wharf Infiltrator all promise that while you will not be able to reduce your opponent from 20 to 0 as quickly as dedicated aggressive decks, you will be able to draw cards until you find the tools to beat your opponents in a slow but steady fashion.

When paired with a second color, however, creatures like Man-o’-War, Dungeon Geists, Mist Raven, Riftwing Cloudskate, Aethersnipe, and Angler Drake can keep blockers off the board for early threats and allow you to “out-tempo” your opponent to quick victory.

Aethertide Whale, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, and Inkwell Leviathan are huge, nearly un-killable control “finishers” to drop and close out the game after you have run them out of cards, countered all their spells, and draw answers to all their threats.

While, as mentioned before, a “40 cent and below” counterspell suite will not include Counterspell, Mana Drain, Cryptic Command, and Mystic Confluence, there are plenty of efficient ways to keep your opponents from resolving problematic spells. A good chunk of the blue section of this cube is devoted to counterspells. Some of these spells, such as Force Spike, Censor, Mana Leak, Miscalculation, and Supreme Will are thought of as “soft counters” – this means they will only counter a spell if you opponent does not have enough mana to pay and as the game goes longer, these spells become increasingly less likely to have the desired effect. Censor, Miscalculation, and Supreme Will have the added bonus of having a second mode in the late game: the two-mana counters can cycle and Supreme Will can dig four cards deep for something else.

Other counterspells, such as Essence Scatter, Negate, Remove Soul, Dissolve, Scatter to the Winds, Dismiss, and Confirm Suspicions, are known as “hard counters” – they will always counter a spell regardless of how much mana your opponent has available. However, there is a tradeoff: spells like Essence Scatter and Negate, while cheap hard counters, can only do away with a certain type of spell. Cards like Dismiss and Confirm Suspicions, while excellent in control mirrors, may be too expensive to save you against faster decks. It doesn’t matter if you have three clues on the battlefield or seven cards in hand if you don’t survive to use them! I encourage readers to think about which kinds of counterspells are at their best against each opposing strategy and use their maindeck and sideboard to maximize the effect of the appropriate kind of spell in each given matchup. Being able to wield countermagic skillfully is an important asset for any blue mage.

Many aggressive decks attempt to deplete opponents of one resource-  life – at the cost of another -card advantage. Control decks do exactly the opposite — they often leave opposing life totals untouched until the final few turns of the game while spending the game accumulating more lands on the battlefield and cards in hand than aggressive strategies. The simplest way to gain card advantage over an opponent involves drawing more cards than they do. This where blue, at any rarity, at any budget restriction, shines. Into the Roil, Repulse, and Repeal all replace themselves with another card while simultaneously returning an opposing permanent to your opponent’s hand. This enables blue mages to buy themselves time without losing out on card advantage. Cards like Opt and Impulse are versatile and replace themselves with another card that can be tailored to each game stage– in the early game, you could need more mana and cheap spells; in the late game, you could need an expensive finisher to end the game. Examples of true card advantage, however, are apparent in the early game with Think Twice and Compulsive Research, in the mid-game with of Careful Consideration, Deep Analysis, and Foresee, and with the late game power of Opportunity, Epiphany at the Drownyard, Treasure Cruise, and Coastal Discovery, which can do a Mulldrifter impression by creating a 4/4 creature and drawing two cards for the cost of 5U.

Another way blue decks bury opponents in card advantage is by using “control magic” effects. These cards allow you to gain control of your opponents creatures and sometimes other permanents. Dominate, Confiscate, In Bolas’s Clutches, Volition Reins take a threat away from your opponent and add it to your side of the battlefield. After that happens, they will be forced to block or use a removal spell on their own creature! How is that fair? It’s not, and that’s a great reason to be playing blue.

Thank you for reading! Let other readers know in the comments what your favorite “40 cent and below” cards are. You can view my cube at CubeTutor. Tune in next time as we continue onto the colors black and red.

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