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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Dec 18 2019 12:00pm
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You know the cards. The ones that Twitch chat goes bananas over whenever they're opened. "OMG CHANNEL," they declare in unison. "TAKE THE SNEAK ATTACK."

These are the cards that are the centerpieces of cube tutorials. The common wisdom is, if you see one, abandon everything you're doing to accommodate it. With this article I boldly ask—should you?

 

The Myth of the Broken Deck

    Blightsteel Colossus

I know where it comes from. You carefully craft a powerful, synergistic, consistent deck, agonizing over every single choice. You leverage your way through rounds one and two with carefully thought plays, eking out one gradual advantage at a time. Then in round three your opponent plays a first turn Island, Mana Crypt, Tinker into Blightsteel Colossus and, wouldn't you know, you do have Brazen Borrower in your hand but not the Mox needed to cast its adventure half on turn one.

"The best vintage cube decks are the broken ones," you sulkily conclude in Twitch chat.

"Yes," they all agree. "If you aren't playing unfair cards, you aren't playing optimally."

But I would like to posit that their broken deck only looked broken when you played against it. What you didn't see was its other two rounds, when it failed to draw its engine and couldn't put anything together. The deck that just destroyed your masterpiece could have gone 1-2 for all you know.

I believe that your highest value strategy is the consistent deck, not the broken deck it occasionally loses to. Because you know those opponents you occasionally face that don't cast anything until turn 5, and when they do, it's completely ineffectual, and you crush them without any effort? Those were probably broken decks in the other rounds.

♦  ♦  ♦

Let's break it down one broken card at a time. I'll use a rating system of 1 through 4, but note that the numbers are scaled for a discussion of broken cards. All of these cards are in some way good, can win games, and do win games. Their descriptions are:

  • 4/4: Unbearably powerful. Worth picking early; worth splashing for; fits in almost every deck.
  • 3/4: Trophy winning. Worth building around. Fits in a deck that still functions without it.
  • 2/4: Round winning. Strong but unreliable. They often force you into a suboptimal build.
  • 1/4: Game winning. There will be times these crush the opponent so severely that an onlooker would be inspired to call them pick oneable. It's understandable why they're considered broken. But often they accomplish little to nothing, and drafting around them is likely to worsen your deck.

 

#1 The Mana Artifacts

Black Lotus  Mox Sapphire  Sol Ring

Yes, come on, these are legitimately broken. Always take them. Every deck. Twitch is right on this one.

The only reason to CONSIDER passing is if it's the third pack, you're heavily committed to a specific archetype, and you're missing a very important piece in it. Even then, really think hard before choosing.

Rating: 4/4

 

#2 Ancestral Recall and Time Walk

Ancestral Recall  Time Walk

These too are great. I'll have more intriguing opinions on later cards, I promise.

The only question with these is whether to splash for them in your non-blue deck. Usually yes, unless you are working under really tight mana constraints. Adding three islands to your white aggro deck will occasionally prevent you from casting a second-turn Leonin Relic-Warder or third turn Spectral Procession, but that risk is likely outweighed by the incredible value of slamming either of these.

Rating: 4/4

 

#3 Tinker

Tinker

Here's where it gets interesting! Let's really walk through this one.

  • Best-case scenario: You grab an early Inkwell Leviathan your opponent is helpless against.
  • Worst-case scenario: Your opponent has a Liliana's Triumph and you're stuck without a backup plan.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: Artifact decks tend to be underpowered, since so many of your pieces are wanted by other archetypes. Sometimes they come together, but they're usually all-or-nothing decks that need their combo pieces. They do at least have the advantage of being able to hardcast their cards without Tinker, thanks to Tolarian Academy and Metalworker (unless it's Sphinx of the Steel Wind). Contrast this with reanimator, who isn't doing anything with Iona, Shield of Emeria in their hand if they can't discard it.
  • Recommendation: Avoid this deck, unless it's wide, wide open, which is phenomenally rare. Tinker should be something you take in pack 3 if it fits into an already good deck, not something you take in pack 1 and build around. You could easily end up with a pile of junk.
  • Alternate uses: In storm, Tinker can grab Memory Jar or now Bolas's Citadel. That is powerful.

Rating: 2/4

 

#4 Natural Order

Natural Order

On the surface, this seems just like Tinker, so you'd expect the same comments, but it's surprisingly different.

  • Best-case scenario: You grab an early Terastodon to dominate the board. Or you grab a late Craterhoof Behemoth to deal 76 trampling damage. Notice in both: unlike Tinker, neither of those creatures are getting stopped by a Swords to Plowshares or Council's Judgment. Their EtB triggers can often win the game on their own.
  • Worst-case scenario: Your deck doesn't have enough high-end green creatures to support it, or you drew them all.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: You use your elves to ramp into those same high-end creatures, just slightly later.
  • Recommendation: Building green ramp is not like building artifacts. It's reliably good whether you have your centerpiece or not. I see no reason not to pick Natural Order early and build around it. Do be aware that it's quite common to get cut off of green in pack one and have to switch strategies. But even a half-green deck is still often good.
  • Alternate uses: I can't think of one.

Rating: 3/4

 

#5 Channel

Channel

Like Natural Order, it fits into an already-good archetype (and a very similar one). Note that it wants different upper-end than Natural Order does, so you'll rarely want both in the same deck.

Its advantage over Natural Order is it's easier to cast early and therefore harder for the opponent to stop.

Its disadvantage is what happens when you don't draw it. Natural Order's creatures cost 7 to 8 mana, while Channel's cost 9 to 15. Even the mighty Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary has a hard time reaching Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Ultimately, this is another example of a card that spikes a few rounds but has a hard time getting trophies. My advice is to at least run it next to Tooth and Nail. It's also a good reason to make green the second color of your blue artifact deck. (And it's good in storm, if you're one of the rare storm decks to support a double-green casting cost.)

Rating: 2/4

 

#6 Upheaval

Upheaval

  • Best-case scenario: You are in a completely unwinnable situation. Then you cast this with a few mana floating and are in a completely unlosable situation.
  • Worst-case scenario: You are a turn away from dying. You only have 6 mana, cast this in desperation, and lose the game 5 turns later instead of 1.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: You're in blue, so you're probably fine.
  • Recommendation: Visualize this as a 9 mana spell with the rules text, "Win the game." Does your deck want that? Basically run this anywhere that has green ramp, artifact ramp, or plans to reach late turns.
  • Alternate uses: I sometimes see storm run this as an emergency backup, when they generate a ton of mana but don't have the draw 7's to use it.

Rating: 3/4

 

#7 Draw 7's

Timetwister  Wheel of Fortune  Time Spiral

These are less universally viewed as broken, but they still have supporters, and I don't just mean Twitch chat. I mean Twitch streamers. I mean strategy article writers. Let me put it to you this way: when was the last time you saw one of these later than pick 5?

  • Best-case scenario: You're playing storm, and you use it to storm off.
  • Worst-case scenario: You aren't playing storm, and you refill your opponent's hand, which they then use to kill you.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: If you're storm, you have enough tutors to get it anyway. If you aren't storm, not drawing this means your chances of winning likely increase.
  • Recommendation: Think of these cards this way. Are you winning the same turn you cast it? If no, you probably shouldn't cast it. Time Spiral is the best of them in non-storm decks, since you can cast your spells before the opponent does, but even so, it's rarely a good fit.
  • Alternate uses: They might be effective in a Winter Orb deck, where your opponent can't use the cards they just drew. Or sometimes they're helpful in red aggro, to draw those last few burn spells when you're out of resources. I'm still skeptical even then.

Rating: 1/4 (unless you're in storm, in which case take every one you see)

 

#8 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

This is a hotly debated one. You have people calling it pick one-able. You have people calling it the most overrated card in cube. Where does the truth lie?

  • Best-case scenario: You mill your opponent's entire deck while they futilely try to keep up with Ashiok's skyrocketing loyalty.
  • Worst-case scenario: You mill 12 cards before losing the game, and realize that Ashiok accomplished about as much as a card that read "target opponent shuffles their library."
  • What happens if you don't draw it: It's not like this was your deck's only win condition, or combos with something else, so you can manage.
  • Recommendation: Vintage cube is where Ashiok is at its weakest, but I still believe it's quite strong in most decks and most matchups. The possibilities of stealing an opponent's creature(s) or exiling their only wincon(s) are also enticing, and come up more often than you'd think. One time I even used its ultimate to good effect! Just keep in mind that the above worst-case scenario can and does happen, and I'd consider boarding ol' Splashiok out against aggro. And should you splash for it in a deck that wasn't already UB? Usually not, frankly.

Rating: 2/4

 

#9 Oko, Thief of Crowns

More than any card in recent memory, Oko is being accused of ruining every format he's legal in, and inspiring people to wish he'd never been printed. Wizards of the Coast straight up apologized for printing him. How does he hold up in vintage cube, being added for the first time only last week?

  • Best-case scenario: He blanks your opponent's Eldrazi, steals your opponent's Courser of Kruphix, gives you free 3/3s, and just generally goes ham on the entire board while achieving an untouchable amount of loyalty.
  • Worst-case scenario: Your opponent has a bunch of 2/2s, there's nothing on your own side to turn into an Elk, and casting Oko would do nothing more than soak up 6 damage while making a food token.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: This goes in so many decks, but it's the centerpiece in none of them. You'll be fine (if a little bummed) when he stays in your library.
  • Recommendation: The best-case will happen quite often, and the worst-case quite rarely. Oko is indeed incredible even in vintage cube. It's hard to properly evaluate a card after only 5 days of inclusion in a format, but my initial impression is that you are usually rewarded for splashing to include him in a variety of archetypes.

Rating: 3/4 (pending more time in the format)

 

#10 Fastbond

Fastbond

I've already gone on record multiple times as hating Fastbond, and I don't want to repeat myself, so here are some condensed nuggets of wisdom about this card.

  • It's bad.
  • It's worse than Llanowar Elves.
  • It's worst than Forest.
  • Its only use is in one small subsection of one archetype: storm decks with both green mana and multiple draw 7's.

Yes it combos with Upheavalt Upheaval already wins the game on its own, so you don't need to run a bad card to make a good card slightly better. That is like saying Griselbrand is better with Crackling Club. That is like saying Channel/Fireball is better with Leyline of Punishment. No it's not!!!

Yes, it sometimes wins games. But so do a lot of bad cards. Sometimes Ember Shot wins games.

All snark aside, here is an actual metric you can use to determine if your deck should run Fastbond. Does your deck benefit from Lotus Petal? If yes, then run it, and if no, then don't. (Hint: there's a reason Lotus Petal isn't in cube. And it's not because it's too powerful.)

Rating: 1/4

 

#11 Opposition

Opposition

Let's cleanse our palates with an actual good card.

  • Best-case scenario: You have a few cheap creatures and/or a token producer and your opponent never casts another spell.
  • Worst-case scenario: You were so behind that not even Opposition was enough.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: The decks that want Opposition are still generally good on their own.
  • Recommendation: Run Opposition. Build around Opposition. You can't switch gears to accommodate it in pack 3, but snatching one early is a godsend.

Rating: 3/4

 

#12 Library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria

The classic exchange of tempo for card advantage. How good is that in cube?

  • Best-case scenario: You drop it on turn one, draw 8 cards over the next 8 turns, and outmuscle your opponent with a mountain of card advantage. I'll use a mixed metaphor; I don't care.
  • Worst-case scenario: You waste a land every turn drawing cards while your opponent outraces you. You die with an impressive hand.
  • Recommendation: Both of the above will absolutely happen to any deck that runs this. It most shines when neither in nor against aggro decks.
  • Alternate uses: ...Tapping for colorless?

In other words, quite good, but you will often board it out.

Rating: 3/4

 

#13 Karn & Ugin

Karn Liberated 

"Take it!" cries Twitch chat. "It fits in every deck!" They're almost right....

  • Best-case scenario: It nukes every relevant threat while staying out of reach. Your opponent concedes before it really gets going.
  • Worst-case scenario: You can't get to 7-8 mana before dying. (This is vintage cube, after all.)
  • What happens if you don't draw it: Most decks that have something like this have 1 or 2 other upper-end cards. And in cube, most upper-end cards are comparably powerful.
  • Recommendations: It's similar to Upheaval in that you need some ramp or real late-game designs. They aren't quite as likely to win upon casting, but they certainly come close, and being colorless is an obvious benefit.

Rating: 2/4

 

#14 Sneak Attack

Sneak Attack

I'll be frank—this is the card I have the most difficulty evaluating. Of all the cube archetypes, it's the only one I never really figured out. I have lost to it enough to respect it, however.

  • Best-case scenario: You sneak in an Eldrazi with enough annihilator to wipe the opponent's entire board.
  • Worst-case scenario: You sneak in something that deals a bunch of damage but not lethal and you fail to get enough threats to close the game from there.
  • Recommendations: Although it's tempting to put all your deckbuilding eggs in the Sneak Attack basket, I don't recommend it. This card seems at its best in decks that can do other things. Ones that are happy to draw it but don't NEED to draw it. Oftentimes, not even drawing it is enough.
  • Alternate uses: The best decks seem to be the ones that flash in creatures for reasons other than attacking. Twin combo, for instance, or Griselbrand storm. I've also seen this is a way for reanimator to get some extra value out of its creatures.

Rating: 2/4

 

#15 Oath of Druids

Oath of Druids

Oath of Druids: the most fun you can have going 1-2.

  • Best-case scenario: Turn three randomly strong creature!
  • Worst-case scenario: In game 1, that creature's lack of haste leaves it vulnerable to the opponent's sorcery-speed removal. In game 2, the opponent plays around your Oath and/or destroys it, and you're left hoping you never draw Progenitus.
  • What happens if you don't draw it: If your deck is built around it, probably doom. If it's a storm deck that included it as a plan C, you should be fine.
  • Recommendation: The best advice is "don't run Oath," but if you want to take that wild ride, use cards like Lightning Greaves, Enlightened Tutor, Brainstorm, Beast Within, and Oko, Thief of Crowns. You're still looking at a low win rate, but it will be exciting.
  • Alternate uses: Sweet sideboard tech against Opposition?? Uhh, probably not, unless your target can't itself be targeted by Opposition.

Rating: 1/4

 

Let's end with two bonus sections.

1, Cards I consider broken and pick very highly that the community is generally colder on, even though they do get some respect:

Skullclamp  Recurring Nightmare  Bribery  (pic=Gonti, Lord of Luxury)

2, Would you please take these out of the cube already? You already took out Arguel's Blood Fast, for which we're grateful, but why are you dragging your heels on these?

Land Tax    Yavimaya Elder

(any two of the five Sword equipments)

(any two of white's SIX five-drop creatures)

 

Thanks for reading, and happy cubing!

3 Comments

This was a good read, thanks! by Alphi at Thu, 12/19/2019 - 05:27
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This was a good read, thanks!

Cotton is always a good read by Paul Leicht at Thu, 12/19/2019 - 09:01
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5

Cotton is always a good read :D

Three quick addenda I thought by CottonRhetoric at Thu, 12/19/2019 - 11:42
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Three quick addenda I thought of after submitting:

Mind Twist 3/4 (usually worth a splash)
Mana Drain 3/4 (strict upgrade to a p1p1able card)
Show & Tell 1/4 (but can be improved with discard spells, can be good in the sb, and can work in storm)