CottonRhetoric's picture
By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Aug 21 2023 11:34am

Everyone knows how to build green ramp, red aggro, white aggro, BX reanimator, UX control, twin, artifacts, and storm (and if you don't, endless resources are already out there). I've seen much less written about how to build a solid value deck. But I believe it is worth learning: after playing with it heavily for years, I'm convinced it's one of the strongest and most consistent strategies available. It's skyrocketed my winrate to 72%—10% higher than you need to go infinite—and my technical play is not even that good!

It's certainly less straightforward than the above archetypes, having way more options and a less visible template (second only to Storm on those metrics). So, I shall now share my knowledge with you, the result of countless leagues, Discord discussions, and Twitch studying.



Cube plays differently than it used to. Let's use green as a case study. In 2019, the common wisdom was never to run 4 and 5 mana green creatures: only 1–2 drop elves and the 6–8 drops they ramp out. Nowadays, the opposite is true: go hard on the 4–5 drops and de-emphasize the rest. Why?

    Polukranos, World Eater 
not the same

Back then, 4–5 drops looked like Polukranos, World Eater and Wolfir Silverheart. Today they look like Questing Beast and Whisperwood Elemental. See the difference? Group A are above the curve beaters that can dominate if left unchecked but can easily trade down with opposing removal. Group B (usually) impacts the board immediately, and their value leaves an impact even if they die. In other words: they're better. Not quite as strong as the 6–7 drops still, but closer than they used to be.

This is true of all five colors. The cheap and midrange permanents got better. Removal and card draw are as efficient as they've always been. Broken enablers and broken payoffs are the same power they've always been. But those midrange cards are getting more impactful, more resilient, and—most importantly—cheaper.

Each color used to each have one or two "must answer" three drops. Now it is full of them. More than your opponent can keep up with. We even have "must answer" one drops and "can't answer" four drops! You can see why this archetype is better positioned than it used to be.



Step 1: Rethink What Counts as Power

Learn what the power in each color is. I don't mean the broken combo cards like Sneak Attack and Channel, nor the broken payoffs like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Blightsteel Colossus. I mean the most impactful cards you cast on curve.

The faces of the movement.

The "Spidey Sense" way to define them is, look for cards that

  • have more than one card's worth of value
  • cost less than they should
  • impact the board
  • are mandatory and/or difficult to answer
  • answer the opponent's meaningful cards

What's not on that list are cards that draw more cards or tutor for cards. Why pay 3 mana to draw cards that might later impact the board when you can pay 3 mana to impact the board immediately? Yes, tutoring is important in a combo deck, and card advantage is important in a defensive deck, but we're not playing either of those. In a value deck, you want to focus all of your resources on filling the battlefield. What has been called "virtual card advantage."

Another way to define these is just by listing them, which I will do now. This is not in pick order, just in two tiers: highest power and high power, and not sorted within each tier. (Many playable cards exist below these two tiers, but you can learn those without my help.) And yes, this is updated to include the latest season's changes!

If I wasn't clear: these are not the best cards of each color; they are the best cards for value decks. If you're building anything else, the evaluations change. Entomb is a high pick in reanimator but we have no use for it.








Great in Value Decks

Worth first picking; worth splashing or even switching lanes for.

Palace Jailer

Stoneforge Mystic*


Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Swords to Plowshares

Parallax Wave

Ancestral Recall

Time Walk

Dark Confidant
Mind Twist
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Bonecrusher Giant
Fable of the Mirror Breaker
Questing Beast
Nissa, Who Shakes the World
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes
Fractured Identity
Black Lotus
five moxen
Chrome Mox
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Umezawa's Jitte
Ancient Tomb

Good in Value Decks

Most of your deck should be from this list.

Mother of Runes
Selfless Spirit
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Blade Splicer
Steel Seraph
Skyclave Apparition
Restoration Angel
Boon-Bringer Valkyrie
Guardian Scalelord
Council's Judgment
Spectral Procession
Ledger Shredder
Rona, Herald of Invasion
Snapcaster Mage
Suspicious Stowaway
Thieving Skydiver
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mana Drain
Mana Leak
Vendilion Clique
Fact or Fiction
Force of Will
Shark Typhoon
Shelldock Isle
Concealing Curtains
Graveyard Trespasser
Kitesail Freebooter*
Orcish Bowmasters
Tenacious Underdog
Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor
Murderous Rider
Liliana of the Veil
Rankle, Master of Pranks
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
Custodi Lich
Grave Titan
Dark Ritual
Snuff Out
Bloodchief's Thirst
Grim Lavamancer
Dire Fleet Daredevil
Scrapwork Mutt
Magda, Brazen Outlaw
Goblin Rabblemaster
Laelia, the Blade Reforged
Seasoned Pyromancer
Rampaging Raptor
Thundermaw Hellkite
Inferno Titan
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Lightning Bolt and other bolts
Birds of Paradise and other 1-mana ramps (but not too many of them)
Deep Forest Hermit
Kogla, the Titan Ape
Garruk Wildspeaker
Pest Infestation
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Fallen Shinobi
Otharri, Suns' Glory
Dack Fayden
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast
Fire Covenant
Grist, the Hunger Tide
Kolaghan's Command
Teferi, Time Raveler
Sigarda, Font of Blessings
Showdown of the Skalds
Forth Eorlingas!
Lotus Petal
Mana Vault
Retrofitter Foundry
City of Traitors
Gaea's Cradle
Library of Alexandria
Mishra's Factory
Strip Mine
dual lands
Individual card notes:
        (pic=Stoneforge My
  • For Stoneforge Mystic: Batterskull is fine, Skullclamp is good in the right deck, but you really want this for Umezawa's Jitte. It just womps on so many decks, and Stoneforge doubles your odds of drawing it AND gives you a free body to wear. (The Swords of __ and __ are weaker than they've ever been, and I don't recommend Kaldra Compleat because it gets stranded in your hand too easily, and it's not even that great when it's out. Run it in artifact ramp or Channel decks but not in value decks.)
  • Running cheap dorks like Usher of the Fallen and Selfless Spirit might seem to oppose the theory I've been describing, but they're useful because you can't start your curve at 3. You need to do something on the early turns, and these cards are surprisingly good at that role. They sort of demand your opponent to use a bolt on them, which is one less bolt they'll have for your Laelia, the Blade Reforged.
  • Graveyard Trespasser, Magda, Brazen Outlaw, Endurance... a lot of these cards look absolutely worthless until you cast them. They consistently perform way above expectation.
  • Kitesail Freebooter: I am so happy to have this back! It's already good at blocking 1/1s and pressuring planeswalkers, but is especially great next to equipment or ninjutsu.
Step 2: Rethink Your Land Count
The old wisdom was to run as few lands as possible with as much ramp as you could. Perhaps 15–16 lands, supplemented with several signets and cantrips.
The new wisdom is to run 18 lands, no signets, and no cantrips.
  • Why 18? When every part of your curve is saturated with powerful threats, you want to cast them on curve, and this makes it more likely to do so even as you move to the upper end of it.
  • Why no signets? We now have powerful two and three drops. Spend your second and third casting those, not a signet and a four drop like you used to have to do.
  • Why no cantrips? Because we're trying to maximize our mana efficiency. Old Cube was light on power so you had to dedicate some deck slots to finding it. New Cube is heavy on power so you can just fill your deck with that. Preordain into a four drop means you paid five mana to cast a four drop. It's better to pay five mana to cast a five drop. You don’t need to find good cards when every card in your deck is good. (Another reminder: we are talking only about how to build value decks. Combo decks do want cantrips.)
Step 3: Rethink Your Land Choices
Since powerful cards were scarce in Old Cube, you would prioritize those, have few nonbasics, and stick to 2 colors. In New Cube, powerful cards are plentiful, but scattered across every color, so you should prioritize good nonbasics and go for 3+ colors.
Knowing when to take a powerful castable versus when to take a nonbasic is the single hardest skill in drafting value decks, and it often comes down more to intuition than any formula I can describe. Just keep track of how many you have of each, how many you still need, and how many you're likely to find.
Also: make 1–2 of your lands colorless. This sounds counterintuitive in a 4-color deck, but that's what the 18th land slot is for: a card you sometimes need for mana but sometimes will give you an ability instead. Mishra's Factory, Strip Mine, Karakas, Library of Alexandria, that sort of thing. (As for why I'm recommending Library of Alexandria but not Preordain: Preordain doesn't have the option of tapping for mana.)
Step 4: Rethink Ramp
    Lotus Petal
Tempo matters more than it used to, and if you don't believe me, ask yourself this: how many planeswalker ultimates did you see in 2019 cube, and how many do you see today? (If you weren't cubing back then, they happened way more often.) My point is the format was once slower. Both players had plenty of time to deploy all their threats. Nowadays, if you can land an impactful enough card early enough, you can overwhelm your opponent before they even set up. It's not uncommon these days to lose a game with a full grip of strong cards.
How this affects your deckbuilding: embrace card disadvantage mana ramp. Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Chrome Mox, City of Traitors, even Desperate Ritual in the right build. (Don’t have TOO much of it, but 1 or 2 definitely helps.) It might seem counterproductive to have card disadvantage in a value deck, but think of it this way. The disadvantage you sacrificed will be compensated by the value of what you deploy with it.
An example: if you cast Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes on curve turn 4, your opponent can play their fifth land and cast a Glorybringer to kill both your planeswalker and your hamster. Had you cast M&B on turn three instead, that door would be forever closed.
Don't be afraid of a little waste. A turn one Dark Ritual into Dark Confidant will absolutely win most games it's not killed, even though you are "mana burning" for one.
Step 5: Practice practice practice!
Since this is such a different way of drafting than the conventional archetypes, it won't come naturally. Study people who are better than you. Ask for advice—in specialty Discords, not Daybreak's general one. Be willing to branch out. Most fans of value decks tout Naya as the best kind, but believe me: any combination of 3+ colors can be effective when built right.
And most of all, have fun!
Love, Cotton