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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Apr 09 2018 12:00pm
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 "Mirror, Mirror on the wall..."

Spirit Mirror

"... Who is the Fairest of them all?"

 

A Level Playing Field?

Welcome to Modern Cube. Where the Moxen all have gone to pasture, nobody is Natural Ordering out a Craterhoof Behemoth, and even our dear friend, Splinter Twin is forced to sit on the sidelines due to being red flagged by the Modern Banned List.

So what is a cube like when all the cards are fair? Does that mean all the colors are equal? Or all the strategies viable. No exactly. 

Because most constructed environments thrive when their is an ecosystem of "unfair" decks balancing out the "fair" ones, in absence of "unfair " strategies, somebody is going to be out there without a predator, and someone else is going to be dead meat prey.

What are "Unfair" Strategies?

The term "unfair" when it applies to Magic refers to deck strategies that use a particular synergy to break the fundamental progression of the game.

A good example are the Urza Tron lands. While in most deck constructions having three lands in play equals access to three mana, in UrzaTron math, having exactly one copy each of Urza's Power Plant, Urza's Mine and Urza's Tower in play create a 1 + 1 + 1 = 7 synergy. Getting to seven mana on turn three fundamentally breaks the natural progression of a game which is why a turn three Karn Liberated is so demoralizing.

Other "unfair" strategies common to cubes include Reanimator, Mishra's Workshop / Tinker style artifact decks, combo kills like Splinter Twin and Pestermite, or anything involving that broken card Channel

In contrast, "fair" strategies include a variety of usual suspect decks: Aggro, Control, creature-based Ramp, Midrange, Disruptive Aggro, and the like. Jund Midrange is the epitome of a "fair" deck: none of its cards are synergizing into anything that breaks the fundamental progression of the game; it just runs a lot of diverse and powerful cards. In contrast, Tron, Bogles and Infect are good examples of "unfair" strategies.

 

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Most magic metagames devolve into a a balance of rock, paper, scissors between the three basal strategies of Aggro, Midrange and Control. When there is a healthy balance, Aggro is fast enough to get under control, but gets out-"valued" by the midrange monster. Midrange, meanwhile, slows the game down enough to go over aggro, but it is too slow that it loses to pure control. And Control decks can't reach parity fast enough to stabilize against Aggro, but they have the inevitability to overcome midrange.

Wizards Development team revealed that instead of a 3 deck metagame, they actually prefer to develop ideally for a 5-deck metagame including as well two other strategies: Combo and Disruptive Aggro. Combo decks need to be fast enough that their "goldfishing" turn is at least half a turn faster than Aggro. Meanwhile Disruptive Aggro decks, like for example Delver of Secrets based decks or Death's Shadow in Modern have the interaction necessary to stop combo but will lose in race to the more efficient threats of Aggro.

Generally speaking, a healthy MTG metagame ecosystem food chain should go something this:

Combo beats Aggro beats Control beats Midrange beats Disruptive Aggro beats Combo.

 

Life Without Combo

So what happens to a cube environment without the threat of combo kills? It means that there is a shift in the metagame since there is no longer a need to protect against combo kills. Generally speaking, this means that decks get bigger. If combo is absent then there is less need to hedge with early disruption like Disfigure or Brain Maggot to protect against combo. This shift also means that Aggro decks should in theory be stronger, except that the Modern Cube curators have already watered down the naturally strongest Aggro deck (Mono Red) since it was winning too efficiently.

So what is the net result? Decks go bigger. The default Modern Cube lists tend to fall into a few bucket strategies: Green ramp, Blue based control, or "Midrange", the last of which can be any number of colors except they all tend to focus on value plays. The least sought after cards in the cube become spot removal and small aggressive creatures. In contrast, the most sought after cards tend to be Planeswalkers, cheap counters like Mana Leak, and flexible mana ramp like Mind Stone. You want to be going over what your opponent is doing, deploying your hay-makers faster, and trading up so that cards like your two-mana Negate answer their seven mana Karn Liberated

 

What's New?

Bloodbraid Elf

The updated card list for the April iteration of the Modern Cube had some impactful additions. The most striking addition is Jace, the Mind Sculptor, who immediately recaptures his throne as the default P1P1 since he and his buddy Bloodbraid Elf recently got liberated from the Modern Banned List. 

But looking a little further down the changes list, there is a cycle of five cards which they have added which represents something like a complete curation philosophy change. These five are: Boros Signet, Golgari Signet, Izzet Signet, Orzhov Signet, and Simic Signet. Note that only the five enemy colored signets got added to the list; the allied signets are still absent. Still these are five very powerful inclusions, five that are absent from the Legacy Cube, and also five of the ten that define some of the power level of the Vintage Cube. As these five find their way in, some of the cards that they are replacing include Sphere of the Suns and Star Compass, two of the two-mana rocks that could go in any deck rather than be color specific like these five, as well as the five enemy colored temples, such as Temple of Epiphany. My suspicion is that in the strict dearth of non-green accelerants in the Modern Cube that any of these Signets will be playable as long as the player is running at least one of the two colors. Mind Stone and Coldsteel Heart are already high picks; at worst these are Mind Stones that can't cycle from play but still let you play a 4-drop on turn 3.

 

Top Picks

Black:

Thoughtseize

Liliana of the Veil - Still the best black Planeswalker. While Modern Cube is more grindy than Legacy Cube, it lacks the same support for Reanimator strategies, moving black more towards a devotion strategy. I still might p1p1 LOTV, but black is probably the weakest color in the Modern Cube.

Pack Rat - In a world of fair decks, a one card win condition is a perfectly legit thing to do. Combines exceptionally well with the next card...

Thoughtseize - Still the best discard spell in the cube. So good at messing up an otherwise good hand, either by taking away their only early action spell or by taking the one card you're not prepared to answer.

Underrated: Yahenni's Expertise - In a fair world, a sweeper that lets you play the next threat first is a great combination. I'd love to follow this up with a card like LOTV.

Blue:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Ancestral Vision - Almost an unplayable mulligan in the Vintage Cube, here it's great. Most games do go 5-8 turns.

Bribery - Though we lack a full set of Eldrazi or Blightsteel Colossus, in a fair Magic world more games are won with creatures. You're likely to get something on the scale of Primeval Titan or Consecrated Sphinx.

Cryptic Command - The only knock against this card is the need to hold up UUU in an environment where half the table is drafting blue. One of the best utility cards in the cube and great for any deck than can support its mana requirements.

Consecrated Sphinx - Blue's best finisher. It's most natural home is Simic.

Glen Elendra Archmage - Great in midrange or control mirrors since it counters all those relevant cards like planeswalkers, draw spells, and counters.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor - Back from the dead, the default best card in the Modern Cube.

Mana Leak - The cheapest, most efficient catch all counter in a world without Counterspell or Mana Drain. Trading your two-mana counter for their 5-6 mana haymaker is a great way to win.

Mulldrifter - You will likely have the time to cast this, therefore it's great.

Snapcaster Mage - Good, but possibly not as essential as in the Legacy or Vintage Cubes where flashing back cards like Spell Pierce are essential.

Tidings - Slow Magic means Draw 4s are excellent. Awesome in UW Control or Simic ramp.

Vendilion Clique - Blue's best disruption spell and incredibly flexible. You can sabotage them, loot yourself, or just flash in a surprise attacker or blocker. 

Underrated: Vizier of Many Faces - Clones are better than you think, especially ones you can play twice. Clever Impersonator is also a great card since it can copy not only creatures but Planeswalkers.

Green:

Joraga Treespeaker

Birds of Paradise - A pick above the rest of the one-mana dorks for its ability to facilitate your splash color. Even without a full-on ramp strategy, just ramping a turn early into power fours like Huntmaster of the Fells is a great way to pressure those blue decks.

Craterhoof Behemoth - Green's best finisher. While it greatly misses the support of Natural Order, you will still often have the mana to end games.

Cultivate - Playing your biggest spells first is key to the Modern Cube, as is facilitating those two and three color strategies.

Garruk Wildspeaker - Green's best Planeswalker. It ramps, makes dudes, and can be its own Overrun win condition. What else could green need?

Joraga Treespeaker - The green Sol Ring. While it dies to everything, if you can untap on turn 3 and make 5+ mana, you are likely to win the game.

Primeval Titan - Much better here than the Vintage Cube since going big is the way to go, and you don't need you six-mana spell to instantly win the game, just push that advantage bar down to your side.

Underrated: Verdurous Gearhulk - Notoriously a fair card, but 5-mana for 8 power is awesome, especially when you don't have to dump the counters on itself. One of the most underrated decks in the format is just Green / Red midrange beatdown, with big fives like this and Thundermaw Hellkite.

Red:

Goblin Guide

Chandra, Torch of Defiance - Red's most versatile planeswalker. While it didn't quite live up to being the red Jace, the Mind Sculptor, rarely is there a game that I am unhappy to draw her.

Goblin Guide - Mono Red got significantly nerfed a few iterations ago in the Modern Cube. If this card tables, its your clue that Mono Red is open if you want it, since this is the best red 1-drop in the format.

(Hazoret, the Fervent) - A new player. Red has a number of 4-mana haymaker finishers. I'm not sure if this is better than Hellrider. It's a little harder to turn on, but much, much harder to kill.

Inferno Titan - Not really for Mono Red, but a great haymaker for big mana decks like UR or GR.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker - The only combo kill card in the Modern Cube, it can still with Pestermite, Restoration Angel or Zealous Conscripts. Because Splinter Twin is on the banned list, Kiki is here on his own.

Koth of the Hammer - Another great Mono Red four mana haymaker, but this one can port okay into other decks like UR Spells.

Underrated: Jinxed Choker - We definitely miss Sulfuric Vortex, but this card with its inevitability is the next closest thing to ending games fast.

White:

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Elspeth, Sun's Champion - An excellent control finisher that gives you inevitability in mirrors.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar - White's most versatile planeswalker. Good in both aggressive, defensive and midrange builds. White's Chandra TOD.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben - The best creature in the White Weenie disruptive aggro deck, a deck that badly misses having Ravages of War.

Underrated: Restoration Angel - Flash makes this card. Great in Aggro to save you guys, Control as a way to use mana and answer Planeswalkers at end of turn and is one of the combo pieces remaining to combo with Kiki.

Colorless:

Karn Liberated

Everflowing Chalice - Two-mana mana rocks are great. Flexible ones are even better.

Izzet Signet - The best of the five signets.

Mind Stone - Another awesome and flexible two-mana mana rocks that isn't dead late game.

Karn Liberated - Probably the single best control finisher in the Modern Cube.

Phyrexian Metamorph - Super flexible, doesn't commit to a color, and goes in any deck. Like a 3-mana colorless Clever Impersonator.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger - The only Eldrazi in the Cube. They'll be dead if you get in a single attack.

Underrated: The Immortal Sun - Better than Staff of Nin. Pumps a critter army, draws cards, and oddly shuts off opposing Planeswalkers. Just be careful you don't nombo and shut off your own Planeswalkers.

Lands:

Scalding Tarn

Blue Fetches - Everybody is on blue. There is only one set of fetches and they can get any pair you need. There are 20 fetchable duals for each color pair.

Shocklands - The best dual lands for each color pair since they can come into play untapped and be fetched.

Underrated: Mana Confluence - One of a kind in this cube, and necessary for those 5 color pile decks you know you're going to have.