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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jul 04 2017 12:00pm
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In my previous article I sampled three underappreciated archetypes in the cube format. Today, three more!

#1 The Abyss

The Abyss

I've been playing a lot of cube. Some might say an unhealthy amount. Well, that is what happens when you give teachers the summer off. We have too much fun. My point is that in all of that time, I have seen exactly one person run this card (other than myself), and not even to very good effect. But the fact remains, it's brutally powerful against most decks and downright unbeatable against others. (Of course it's also nearly ineffectual against some, but this is rare, and doesn't negate the preceding.)

Synergies

   

Gideon Jura
Creeping Tar Pit

OK, it's good, but what do we do with it? The old strategy of shroud creatures isn't an option, because there aren't any in the cube, and hexproof doesn't shield against your own The Abyss. There are several great tricks to draft, though:

  • Artifact creatures. The Abyss cannot kill artifact creatures. If your only creature on the battlefield is an artifact, The Abyss will do nothing on your turn. It will still kill something on the opponent's turn.
  • Disenchants. After all, we need a way to kill an opponent's artifact creatures.
  • The Gideons. All three of them can turn into a creature, attack for damage, and then un-creature themselves by your upkeep. Koth of the Hammer works similarly. Contrast this with the tokens made by other planeswalkers, who do die on your upkeep.
  • Manlands. This works on the same principle as Gideon. It's a way of having a creature on the board without having a creature on the board.
  • Wraths. This sounds counterintuitive, as The Abyss already takes care of creatures by itself, but think of it this way. If the opponent can't destroy The Abyss, and many decks can't, how do they beat it? Their only option is to overwhelm it. To get so many creatures out that losing one a turn isn't enough to stop them. Okay—so let them do that and then kill all of their creatures in one fell swoop. Even a Sweltering Sun (often a late pick) is enough to accomplish this trick, as you don't need to kill every single creature, just most of them. This picks off your opponent's small dorks and The Abyss takes care of what's left.

Traps

A temptation after picking up The Abyss is to try to draft a creatureless deck, but I caution you against that. The only creatureless deck that has any legs in cube is Storm, which doesn't want something as slow as The Abyss. What would your creatureless wincon even be? Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver??

Decks

Since The Abyss has only one colored mana, it's easy to splash into anything. The three main options as I see them are:

        Tinker
  • Build-around-me. Make The Abyss into its own archetype. Pack your deck with tutors to make sure you always get it. Then add manlands, Gideons, and artifacts as mentioned above. Fill the rest with removal and whatever other utilities your colors allow. Counterspells or discard are always good.
  • The existing artifact deck. I talked about this archetype in my last article. But if you're already running a Metalworker-into-Wurmcoil Engine deck, why not splash black for The Abyss?
  • The existing blue-white defensive deck. This is in my opinion already the most powerful deck in the format, so it may not need any additional support, but The Abyss is a solid choice if the build allows for it. It doesn't pair too well next to Consecrated Sphinx, but it certainly does next to those aforementioned Gideons.

 

#2 Moat

Moat

I have seen people play this ZERO times, and this is even stronger than The Abyss in most matchups!

People must be afraid to draft it since it blanks previous cards they've already drafted. I always see it wheel. But do some planning. Draft with Moat in mind. And if it causes you to move your Monastery Mentor to your sideboard... okay. It's still a net gain for our deck.

Synergies

Fliers, duh, but also consider Enlightened Tutor a very high pick. If you're running a Moat deck, you basically always want your Moat.

The good news is that this cube has so many other worthy artifacts and enchantments that Enlightened Tutor is almost never a dead draw, even if you already have Moat in your hand. Mindslaver, Phyrexian Arena, any of the Oblivion Rings, Vedalken Shackles... even things like Necromancy in some builds.

As for which fliers, white's best are

Flickerwisp  Restoration Angel  Baneslayer Angel  Angel of Serenity

And yes, the stall-engine that is Moat usually lets you get up to the 7 mana needed to hardcast Angel of Serenity.

But really, if you don't get those particular fliers, any of them are usable. Even the normally junky ones like Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Emeria Angel, and Archangel of Thune are acceptable.

As for what non-white fliers to run, I bring you....

Archetypes

There are two main ones. One is the old white-blue defensive deck, picking up these:

Consecrated Sphinx  Mulldrifter  Dragonlord Ojutai  Vendilion Clique

And possibly splashing black for the (arguably) best creature in the format, Dragonlord Silumgar.

The other is white-red DRAGONMOAT, which gains only two creatures of note, but they're surprisingly strong ones (more on that in a second).

Stormbreath Dragon  Thundermaw Hellkite

So why are these cards, which are regular 12th picks, all of a sudden good?

Haste. None of the above blue, white, or black creatures have haste, and if you think that's irrelevant, remember that this is a format of mostly sorcery-speed removal. And if you're thinking "okay but that's only a few extra damage on one turn before it gets killed," remember that that is potentially enough time to kill a planeswalker first. Also keep in mind that protection from white is a surprisingly important ability. Between StP-likes and O-Ring-likes, most of this format's best removal spells are white, and many decks even splash for them.

Is white-red DRAGONMOAT a better deck than blue-white defensive, no, but as I said above, blue-white defensive is likely the strongest deck in the whole format, so you could make the same complaint of any other strategy. ("Why are you running green ramp when it's not as good as blue-white defensive?") On the plus side, this deck does allow for some surprise-out-of-nowhere wins with Crater's Claws (which, too, can kill a planeswalker if needed).

Traps

    Goblin Guide

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can't run ANY nonflying creatures in your Moat deck. You can and often should.

  • They can sneak in a few damage before you drop the Moat.
  • They give you a backup plan if Moat is destroyed, or if you never get it.
  • They may have utilities that are independent of attacking.

I'd like to close this section by telling a quick story of a deck I ran that had no business playing Moat but did anyway and won a game because of it.

It was a red-white aggro deck. All of the cheap creatures: Goblin Guide, Harsh Mentor, Kytheon, Hero of Akros, and so on. Only a single one flew, Selfless Spirit. I found Moat as a 13th pick, and knew it didn't fit, but jammed it in my sideboard and forgot about it.

In round 3, I faced a green deck that had no flying creatures and seemingly no enchantment removal. It just ramped into some big threats and turned them sideways. Taking a gamble, I sided in Moat, and things went exactly as I planned. I dealt some early damage, he started to overwhelm me, and I dropped Moat, stalling things out entirely. We both drew cards until I had enough burn spells to finish him off, which I did.

So you see, Moat is a great card even when it shouldn't be.

 

#3 Rec-Sur

Recurring Nightmare  Survival of the Fittest

This is hardly a well-kept secret. Every time you see Survival of the Fittest passed to you, ie twice every draft, you briefly consider trying the famous Rec-Sur deck, but then apparently you decide against it, because I have played against this deck 0 times. Well, give it a try! It's just as good as you've heard about!

If you do want to try it, you can easily count on grabbing Survival, which as I said always wheels. Recurring Nightmare is tougher to pick up, as it's playable in more decks than just this one, but it's still not the highest priority for most people, including reanimator players. It usually goes around pick 6 to 7. Fortunately, Survival doesn't NEED Nightmare to function. It just helps.

Synergies

    Vampiric Tutor
Living Death
Eternal Witness

Tutors. If you're playing Rec-Sur, you want to have both Rec and Sur every game. Fortunately, this format has four tutors costing two or less that can get either half of the combo (Imperial Seal, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, and Enlightened Tutor). Prioritize all four! Run as many as you are able! Three is not too many!

Utility. Don't forget that Survival does more than put creatures in your graveyard: it also puts them in your hand. So give yourself the ability to tutor up a Reclamation Sage or a Shriekmaw.

Living Death. Ordinarily a very risky card, but much less so in here for two reasons.

  1. Our Survival will make our graveyard way fuller than our opponent's.
  2. Our utility creatures can potentially undo whatever is in our opponent's graveyard. For example, if Living Death gives our opponent a Courser of Kruphix, Lodestone Golem, and an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; and it gives us a Nekrataal, Acidic Slime, and a Duplicant... the opponent doesn't get to keep any of their guys.

More good news is that, since it is usually such a risky card, nobody ever drafts it, including straight reanimator players, so it's yours for free almost every time.

Other reanimators. Nightmare and Living Death will be your strongest two reanimators, and in most builds the only two you need, but tossing in an Unburial Rites too wouldn't hurt.

Self-discard. It's not too crucial, since Survival already does this, but adding a Bazaar of Baghdad on top isn't a bad idea. This and the previous category also become more important if you didn't get many tutors passed to you and you need to double up. (Fauna Shaman is a mediocre but necessary way to double up on Survival if lacking in tutors.)

Regrowths. If one of our combo pieces gets destroyed, we hopefully used it enough already to still win. But that's often not the case, so we need a way to get it back! Three exist—Regrowth, Eternal Witness, and Den Protector—and all three are worth running, but Eternal Witness is actually the best here since, as a creature, it synergizes with each of our two combo pieces already. Regrowth does not.

Fatties. Of course, nearly any will do, since you don't even need to cast them. Do consider picking ones with utility, though, since we can tutor for whichever we want each game. For instance, against an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, a Massacre Wurm does more than an Iona, Shield of Emeria.

Ramp. If you don't have any ramp, you are looking at your first Recurring Nightmare activation on, AT BEST, turn 4. And turns 1 through 3 did nothing to affect the board. This is fast enough for some matchups, but suicide in others. So I recommend some ramp. Creature mana is the best option, since the elf who ramps you can also be Nightmare fodder, but even the classic Dark Ritual is good here.

Strategies

What to tutor for? Let's say your opening hand is land, creatures, and Vampiric Tutor. What do you search for: Rec or Sur? Usually Sur, but it depends.

  • When to get Recurring Nightmare: if one of your creatures is cheap, one is worth recurring, and you have a way to get the latter in your graveyard.
  • When to get Survival: The rest of the time.

Mull aggressively. If you built a slow, grindy version, then never mind, but if you're running the tutor-heavy version, you really want at least one combo piece or one tutor in your opening hand. If you have nothing but land and utility creatures, you won't accomplish much. Consider mulling. (Not every single time, of course, if you know your opponent is an artifact deck and you have two artifact destroyers in your opening hand, it might be worth keeping.)

Minimize splashes. I don't want to say NEVER SPLASH, because once I opened an Ancestral Recall in pack 2, took it, and then scrambled to find some on-color duals, but you don't want to splash without a very good reason, or a whole lot of duals. Here's why. When this deck is running optimally, it wants to activate Survival multiple times per turn and/or cast Recurring Nightmare multiple times per turn. This requires double green and double black, and preferably early on. That's hard (but not impossible) to do with a third color. Also, green and black already provide you with all the tools you need, so there's rarely a reason to go outside them.

 

Hope you enjoyed, and let me know if you give any of these a try!

Cotton forever.