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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
May 22 2023 9:33am
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Cube is evolving, and I don't just mean the 80 cards it swapped. The metagame and playstyles have been shifting over the last 3 years, and you can't rely on the old tech anymore.

 

Then vs. Now

Cube used to have three major strategies. The most popular two were resolving those few powerful 4–5 drops in your deck (midrange or control) or comboing into something bigger (green ramp or storm combo). Counterspells and discard therefore used to rule the day, because you could remove your opponent's few impactful cards for much less mana than they cost, leaving their deck full of little beyond signets and draw spells. The third strategy, rushing out a (usually red) aggro victory, typically beat all of the above (but was less drafted because many viewed it as less fun).

       

Not so anymore, and here's why. We now have powerful three drops, and a lot of them. Cube is simply saturated with cheap "must answers." You can counter your opponent's Laelia, the Blade Reforged, but they still have a Palace Jailer the next turn and a White Plume Adventurer after that plus a Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes just in case. There's no way you're drafting that many counterspells, and Wrath of God only even stops the first of those four threats.

This also means signets aren't as good as they used to be. Four mana is where power used to start, so signets let you skip a turn and cast something powerful on Turn 3. But now we have Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, Graveyard Trespasser, Goblin Rabblemaster, and so on, which you're already casting on Turn 3 without signets. 

Another fundamental change in the past few years: more dual lands. This means more players can play multicolor decks, and there's less penalty for doing so. The onus is now on you to discover the strongest cards in the format, because you can play them in any deck. Yes, I have double-splashed for Minsc & Boo in a WBU deck. It's that good.

Does every deck have to be four-color value soup, of course not. All the old archetypes still exist and are functional. But you should consider learning how to build it, as when done right it vies for the highest winrate (competing only against mono white). Plus it's a fun challenge, where most picks have several viable options. 

Losing 80

This season swapped 80 cards, far more than a usual update. I won't go over each individually (multiple pros already have), but I will discuss the highlights and trends, especially in terms of their impact.

The short version is, I love love love this change. It may very well be the best update in the format's eleven-year history.

I once requested some changes myself, and 31 of the 40 cards I labeled as garbage are gone now! Good riddance to them and huge gratitude to Ryan Spain. 

          Creeping Tar Pit

A few cut cards I do miss. Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor was perfectly good; I only recently was waking up to the power of Skyclave Shade; Repeal was a nice value card; Retrofitter Foundry was more powerful than it looked; Kaito Shizuki was fun, strong, and synergistic; Creeping Tar Pit was surprisingly powerful; and the once-bad Archangel Avacyn had finally become good due to the metagame shift.

Jokulhaups was fun but pretty narrow and I suppose removing it was correct. The card I miss most is Garruk Relentless—unassuming but it so often overperformed.

Some removed cards were bad but popular (Bushwack being their posterchild). Last year I begrudgingly accepted these as a way for good players to gain edges against bad players. But honestly, good players will do that anyway, so cube is better off without these. (As LSV once said of Navigator's Compass: people who play with it will lose more often and won't know why.)

A few cards I hoped would be removed but are still in. But all in all, this was an excellent job in removing 80. 

Gaining 80

This selection is a little more mixed. Many are welcome, and many are frankly headscratchers, but I must point out: removing (say) 70 bad cards and 10 good ones to replace them with 40 good ones and 40 bad ones is still a huge improvement. Not only in terms of raw numbers, but its future impact. The new bad ones will be identified and swapped out, improving things even more! Plus we've had some experiments along the way and even learned some things.

The Good

  Dream Halls  

The Bad

  • Meathook Massacre and March of Otherwordly Light both got some hype but really these just seem overcosted. Give me Toxic Deluge and Council's Judgment any day.
  • It's hard to imagine Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle ever working. The season is still young though and I could be proven wrong.
  • Sacrifice cards: underpowered as a whole but some can get some use. They are better than the chaff they replaced, anyway (do not try to sell me on Evolved Sleeper or Pack Rat).
  • Displacer Kitten: We already sneer at two-card combos that don't do anything on their own. Why then is cube getting a three-card combo? Yes this can go off and you will even lose to it at some point but the Kitten's success rate seems pretty low.
  • Chain of Vapor: Spain's fear of reanimation seems a little severe in my opinion. Point taken about its versatility for storm I suppose...
  • Chandra, Acolyte of Flame was playable in Legacy Cube. I don't think she hacks it in VCube. LCube was a slower format And had more red planeswalkers And ultimates had more relevance there.
  • Zuran Orb: Come on, now. What??

    Chain of Vapor 

The Ugly

  • This update is not ugly. It is beautiful.

The White Plume Adventurer

   

Whether you like WPA in VCube should depend on whether you want white aggro to be the most dominant deck. It already has been for years, and if you want that gulf to widen, you should be thrilled about this card. If you're a little tired of the deck that can do everything at no real cost or effort, you should be against it.

I don't think WPA's complexity or lack of interactivity are meaningful considerations, in a format with cards like Mind's Desire. It should solely be whether we're okay with WPA's power level, and to be clear, it is the single most powerful colored card in the cube—yes, above even blue power, and before you close the tab, consider: Ancestral gives you three random cards for one mana; WPA gives you four to five predictable good cards for that same one mana and lets you cast them all for only 2. Its value can't even be stopped by killing it. It's absolutely insane, and playing with it feels like cheating.

I'm in the camp that white aggro was too powerful already and adding something this pushed is egregious. Of course, it can be splashed in non-white decks as well, so at least other archetypes are fighting over it, which was less true of the Steel Seraph it replaced.

 

What's Left

I have but two ardent requests: weaken white aggro and add Kitesail Freebooter. It blocks 1/1s, it wears equipment, and it evades for ninjutsu. Mesmeric Fiend can't do any of that!

Smaller requests include adding Ritual of the Machine, Copy Artifact, Fire Covenant, Ray of Command, and Ashes to Ashes; swapping Xenagos, God of Revels with Xenagos, the Reveler; and adding some prison cards (Stasis, Pox, Ritual of Subdual, etc.).

 Ritual of the Machine  Copy Artifact  Copy Artifact

I also got to thinking what cube could use outside of the existing cardpool. The answer came back: five more fetchlands. Ten more would be too many, but the current ten feels a little sparse.

Five more do already exist, in Mirage's Flood Plain cycle, but there's one problem with them: they come into play tapped. Since half the lands they fetch come into play tapped, too, that's too harsh a penalty. But what if WotC created a five-card cycle that came into play untapped, then put its target into play tapped? That I think would be a perfect balance for cube's metagame. Maybe in the next Master's set?