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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Nov 13 2019 12:00pm
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There are many primers on how to build and play the archetypes... but what about when you're on the other side of the table? How do you beat them?

 

1. How to beat GREEN RAMP

We'll start with a simple one. Their plan is to cast a bunch of ramp cards and then a bunch of big stuff. Our basic strategy is to kill the ramp so they can't cast the big stuff. Then finish them off with their Eldrazi rotting in their hand.

Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary  Garruk Wildspeaker  Avenger of Zendikar

If they cast a turn one Llanowar Elves, kill it if you're able. Your Lightning Bolt will never get better. If they cast a turn two Overgrown Battlement, and you have Remove Soul open, don't save it for a bigger creature. Counter the wall. You will feel pretty silly if you cast Impulse instead, hold open Remove Soul for the following turn, and then watch them cast Natural Order into a Woodfall Primus.

Keep this in mind while drafting. Fatal Push is bad against most cube decks, but if nothing else is in the pack, take it for the sideboard. It's great against green ramp (as well as the red and/or white aggro decks).

If you're a control deck, you might be tempted to push for the long game, thinking that's where your deck is safest. But remember that, no matter how many planeswalkers you have in play, or how many Entreat the Angels tokens you just got, a green deck is always one Craterhoof Behemoth away from dealing 76 damage.

Best weapons by color:

Wasteland is also nice if they have Gaea's Cradle.

Wrath of God  Sower of Temptation  Pyroclasm

 

2. How to beat RED AGGRO

Their plan is to attack with cheap creatures while casting burn spells. It's very powerful, but we have two advantages:

  1. Their odds of winning decrease heavily each turn once we reach the midgame.
  2. WotC keeps gradually weakening this deck with every update. Gone are the days of Sulfuric Vortex and Shrine of Burning Rage.

Goblin Guide  Char  Koth of the Hammer

Don't let them get your life total too low, because they can always untap into Lightning Strike and Exquisite Firecraft. This in mind, if they cast a turn 1 Zurgo Bellstriker, it's better to evoke your Shriekmaw rather than waiting until five mana to get full value out of it. Those three attacks they'd make in the meantime could easily decide the entire game.

Don't get too cocky against red aggro. You'll think you're safe behind your army of Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession tokens only for a Thundermaw Hellkite to wipe them out and swing for five out of nowhere. Or just when you think you've stabilized their army with your bigger one, they'll go over the top with a sudden Hellrider attack. Or when your 4/6 Consecrated Sphinx is laughing off their 4/4 Koth of the Hammer Mountain, you realize its ultimate starts dealing an unstoppable 5 every turn.

Like facing green ramp, you want to kill their early threats. Unlike green ramp, the goal does not switch to racing them, but rather to stabilizing. Green's goal is to slam something so big you can't deal with it. Red's is to hit a critical mass of small things. Therefore, your best weapon is 2-for-1s. A green deck hardly cares about the 2/2 body Ravenous Chupacabra leaves behind after it kills something. Red decks view it as depletion of another precious resource of theirs—either it's trading with something in combat or soaking up a bolt. Either is great for you.

Before we look at specific colors, there are a few precepts. Look for lifegain, enchantments, and anything with high toughness. Don't look for anything fragile that needs to survive a turn to work. Master of the Wild Hunt will never make a wolf token against red. Talrand, Sky Summoner will never make a drake. Hypnotic Specter will never turn sideways. And although a 1-for-1 in theory helps stabilize, it doesn't when your 1 costs way more than theirs did.

Best weapons by color:

Also look for the Swords that grant protection from red. If the opponent doesn't have Abrade, they're stuck.

Baneslayer Angel  Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet  Thragtusk

 

3. How to beat WHITE AGGRO

White plays out quite differently than red. Instead of going over the top with burn, they are more about generating value and denying you resources. It might mean taxing you with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, getting Flickerwisp value, or sealing their advantage with Armageddon. In the old days it also meant dealing 10 damage with an Elspeth, Knight-Errant jump on a 2/2 double-striker, but, as with red, white aggro has been gradually weakened with every update. That's no longer an option.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben  Flickerwisp  Armageddon

What does this all mean? Don't be quite as concerned about taking early damage, since they can't kill you with burn spells. Be more concerned with neutralizing their value engines.

White is also more equipment-friendly than red, thanks not only to Stoneforge Mystic but the wealth of cheap fliers. Both decks will run Umezawa's Jitte and Lightning Greaves, but white is way more likely to run Sword of Fire and Ice and Batterskull. In legacy cube, draft some artifact removal for your sideboard, and in vintage cube, you should have been drafting artifact removal anyway. As an added bonus, it also knocks out Porcelain Legionnaire!

Learn which type of white aggro deck you are facing. Some take the go-wide strategy with token generators and Glorious Anthems. Some just get a few good creatures while casting Council's Judgment on your blocker.

White aggro tends to make heavy use of planeswalkers. Every one that exists in cube works great in this deck. Have a way to beat them!

Best weapons by color:

Toxic Deluge  Reclamation Sage  Dack Fayden

 

4. How to beat REANIMATOR

A lot of cube decks can get Griselbrand into play. Only Reanimator can do it Turn 1! This will happen to you sometimes, and it will feel poopy, but don't get discouraged, because these decks are actually quite beatable outside of those rare perfect draws.

Entomb  Oona's Prowler  Animate Dead

The three main builds are monoblack, black-blue, and black-red, but the advice for each is the same: either prevent them from reanimating or negate their reanimation afterward.

Prevention:

In game 1, preventing can only really look like a counterspell or targeted discard. (Thoughtseize is your friend against reanimator. Kolaghan's Command is likely to help them. And Hymn to Tourach... proceed at your own risk.) In game 2, bring in that Scavenging Ooze and Relic of Progenitus. Obviously. But there are other tricks as well. If you have your own Necromancy, you might get to animate their thing before they do. You can even use it at instant speed in response to their animation spell! You won't get to keep it, but a three-mana Coffin Purge can still be game-winning.

Negation:

This can be any Terminate or Control Magic type of card. Bounce spells like Into the Roil are also nice, as the reanimator deck usually won't have the mana to hardcast their creature for a long time. Note that killing a Griselbrand, although usually necessary, still does not stop them from getting most of his value first. (Killing a Sheoldred, Whispering One though? Just fine.)

Clones like Phyrexian Metamorph are also nice, depending on the boardstate and the creature being copied.

A fun trick: if the opponent has an Oona's Prowler in play and casts Exhume, you can use their Prowler to discard your own fattie before the Exhume resolves.

Best weapons by color:

Into the Roil  Necromancy  Scavenging Ooze

 

5. How to beat TWIN COMBO

You think you're playing against a regular blue-red defensive deck. You start planning a way to grind out a win six turns later, and die mid-thought.

Splinter Twin  Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker  Pestermite

The best way to describe this deck is it's either impossible to beat or easy to beat, depending on how your own deck is built and how your draws line up with theirs.

You need instant speed interaction. You might have all the Dreadbores and Nekrataals in the world, but you'll never get to cast them. That Pestermite is dropping in your end step and if you don't have a Doom Blade, you just lost the game.

And don't think just one Doom Blade makes you safe, either. They're a blue deck and they have counterspells to protect their combo. Sometimes you need two Doom Blades to have a chance.

Racing them is unrealistic, as they can win as early as turn four with the right draw. Plus, you never even know how well you're doing in the race. They don't beat you in increments of 3 like red aggro; they do it in increments of infinity and without warning.

Going long is risky, as most blue decks play the control game very well. The same Deep Analysis they use as pseudo-tutoring for their combo pieces allows them to outmuscle you in the late game.

Instead, conceptualize a gameplan somewhere in the middle. Instead of racing to beat the first attempt at a combo, aim to foil that first attempt, and race to beat the second attempt. The second attempt is coming, but it usually takes much longer.

Also be aware that, while some builds of this deck are more focused and have more combo pieces than others, none can ONLY win through the combo. They will still have planeswalkers and an Inferno Titan you need to reckon with. They can still drop a Thundermaw Hellkite into Phantasmal Image for a quick 10 damage in the air, and with Force of Will backup at that.

Best weapons by color:

Be careful about holding up counterspells. You've got Negate and two untapped lands for that Splinter Twin you know is coming, but at the end of your turn their Pestermite taps your Island and all of a sudden Negate is no longer up.

Swords to Plowshares  Char  Beast Within

 

6. How to beat UX

Blue plus literally any other color is perhaps the best deck in cube and therefore the hardest opponent to beat. Here are some typical moments against a blue cube deck:

So how do you beat the deck that can beat anything?

Cryptic Command  Fact or Fiction  Vendilion Clique

The first step is to know the builds.

Your best bet is generally to outrace them. Blue decks are the king of the late game, but only if they get to the late game. Their early turns are spent casting Ponder and Chart a Course. If your early turns are spent deploying threats, you might finish them before they turn the game around. Their Upheaval  should be an auto-win once they get to ten mana—but if their only chance of surviving is to cast it at six mana, you're still in the game.

Similarly, Opposition is unbeatable if they cast it while at an advantage. But don't let them get an advantage. Make them struggle to keep pace with your threats.

Blue decks can get huge gains from that fourth-turn Fact or Fiction—but only if you didn't cast anything meaningful on your own fourth turn. As good as it is, FoF does not directly affect the board right away.

No matter the build, you can count of them having counterspells. Have a plan for how you'll deal with them. Newer players will see two untapped islands and not cast anything, to "play around" the counterspell. Sometimes that is the correct play, but advanced players know that playing through the counterspells is usually better than playing around them. If you keep casting must-counter threats, the opponent will eventually run out of counters. In cube, there are a lot of counterspells, but there are even more must-counter threats. Also remember that most blue opponents only have 2 to 4 counterspells in their entire deck. You will, every five drafts or so, face somebody with 6 or more, but in general, counterspells are heavily fought over during drafting and it's hard to amass many.

Before you decide to cast nothing, ask yourself: who does the game get better for if we both do nothing but draw and play lands for a few turns? Usually the blue deck wins those exchanges, so cast something. But if you're at such a board advantage that your opponent can't afford to wait around, then cast nothing. Keep in mind that letting your opponent cast a counterspell may actually help them. What if it's not a vanilla Counterspell, but a Dismiss, and you casting something was the only way for them to draw a card?

So you've decided to run out your threats into their counterspells. The standard sequence is to play your weakest ones first to waste their counters, saving the best one for last, when they've no counters left. Do this 99% of the time. On some rare occasions, when you have two cards in hand, and enough mana for two spells, and you know that they know that you know they have one counterspell up, and they expect you to cast the weaker thing first, you can mind game them by casting the stronger one first. They'll let it slide, expecting something better, but the better thing's already on the table! (Really do this sparingly, if at all, as it can easily backfire.)

There's one other option besides "going under" the blue deck. If it happens to be the type that can ONLY win in the late game, and your deck isn't well suited to the early game, sideboard in all the 7+ drops you have, remove your cheap cards, and be the even stronger late-game-only deck. (Few opponents will enable this, but it's fun when it happens.)

Last note: there are a few cards in cube with the text "this cannot be countered." It's easy to ignore that line when evaluating the card, as it so rarely matters, but multiple times I've been the blue mage with four untapped lands and Cryptic Command in hand only to get trounced by a Chandra, Awakened Inferno.

Best weapons by color:

  • White: cheap aggro creatures
  • Blue: more counters, more card draw, better threats
  • Black: Hymn to Tourach, Phyrexian Arena
  • Red: cheap aggro creatures
  • Green: ramp into threats

Sin Collector  Voice of Resurgence 

 

The six biggest archetypes covered, here are some quick ones.

 

Beating STORM:
Discard, counterspells, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Disenchant, confidence.

 

Beating ARTIFACTS:
Other than the obvious artifact removal, remember to have bounce spells for Tinker builds and Wasteland for Academy Ruins or Tolarian Academy builds.

 

Beating OATH:
Usually just let them beat themselves. Bounce spells and wraths can help if needed, but this deck is surprisingly bad.

 

Beating GOODSTUFF:
Have a focused deck and gameplan. 4- and 5-Color Goodstuff beats the draft decks that "didn't get there" and loses to the ones that did. (The same is generally true of those random 3-color goodstuff decks, but first make sure it's actually a goodstuff deck and not some real archetype with a splash color.)

 

Beating BIG RED:
It's like beating any other ramp deck—destroy the ramp before it gets to ramp. With big red, it comes in the form of artifacts and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. And if you can't kill their artifacts, have enough removal to kill the few threats they ramp into.

 

Beating HEAVY BLACK:
They will make you discard your best cards, so have a high enough threat density that you can afford to lose a few. Most of their removal comes in the form of 1-for-1s, so find ways to gain card advantage and they'll run out before you do. Drop your good cards early when possible, because you never know when that Mind Shatter is coming.

Also ask yourself (depending on the format) how you will beat a Phyrexian Obliterator. Some decks have Path to Exile. Some decks can just ignore it and win the game while taking an unblocked 5 damage a turn. Some decks can only concede and hope it doesn't get drawn in game 2.

 

Beating SNEAK ATTACK:
Remember that Disenchant is too slow. If you don't have counterspells, you'll need to either race it or have such a board presence and life total that their hasty Emrakul doesn't kill you. (I once had enough tokens from Elspeth, Sun's Champion to deal with the annihilator, and a random Spirit token to chump the Emrakul itself. I checked five times to make sure it doesn't have trample, and, strangely, it doesn't.)

 

And one last bonus section—Cotton's sentence-long wisdom for each version of cube.

  • Vintage cube: take cheap cards
  • Legacy cube: take expensive cards
  • Modern cube: have a near-flat curve
  • Grixis cube: the only thing better than a good blue deck is a good red deck
  • Khans cube: 2-for-1s are king (Electrolyze might be the p1p1 of the whole format)
  • Uncommon cube: outgrind the opponent (Mystic Retrieval is one of the top bombs)

 

Happy cubing!