CottonRhetoric's picture
By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jun 05 2019 12:00pm

The current and previous curators of MtGO's cubes have done an unequivocally fantastic job. It is by far my and many others' favorite format. None of the below is criticism, merely speculation on what might happen in future seasons.

(If you're curious about my qualifications to speak on the subject, I'm not one of the Top Players in the format, but I have a respectable 8 trophies so far this season, with a winrate of 67%, and my results in the past several seasons have been comparable.) 

1. Remove Chaff

One remarkable thing about VCube is that in spite of its large cardpool, not one single card is unplayable. There are however several cards which certainly skirt that boundary.

Granted, no matter the card pool, there will be a bottom 1%, but could that bottom be closer to the middle? Here are my contenders.

Obvious chaff:

        Land Tax
  • Land Tax—This was a strong (if unreliable) combo with Scroll Rack—until they removed Scroll Rack several seasons ago. Now its main purpose is thinning your deck, which I contend is not worth a card in a format like this. I suppose it also helps keep your Library of Alexandria humming, but that card doesn't need help to be great.
  • Legion's Landing—People make fun of Student of Warfare, but that is solidly playable in white aggro, which is absolutely a tier one deck. Legion's Landing's only possible home is that same deck, yet it is much too underpowered to earn a spot in its 40. The only reason to bring Legion's Landing off the bench is if you committed to the archetype when it wasn't open and you don't have enough playables. (Brightling) is another largely unremarkable white creature, and perhaps it could be removed too, but at least Brightling can sometimes be boarded in. The only way Landing will perform is against an extremely bad deck, whether it flips or not.
  • Arguel's Blood Fast—This was a nice experiment when it was first added, but let's be perfectly frank and admit that the experiment failed. This is a bad card in all but the grindiest of defensive matchups. It's a far cry from card draw spells like Night's Whisper or Phyrexian Arena. It could easily be swapped out for Sign in Blood or Scarscale Ritual.
  • Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni—Another card worth trying, and I suppose it's better than Puppeteer Clique, but based on the results in the 40+ drafts I've done since it was added, it doesn't deserve to stay. There's the dream of taking your opponent's Griselbrand, but let's remove those best-case glasses.
  • Pteramander—I've seen multiple people rave about this card's potential. "It can activate for so cheap in the right deck!" Perhaps, but even when it does, I don't see a vanilla flier winning many games. I'm glad we tried it—but I'll be glad to see it go.
  • Scrapheap Scrounger—What deck is this for? It's too low-impact for anything running (Bazaar of Bahgdad), meaning red-black aggro is probably it. Unfortunately, that isn't really a deck, and this won't be the piece that makes it one.
  • Vampire Nighthawk          
  • Field of RuinStrip Mine is good. Wasteland is good. Field of Ruin may be good in constructed, but it's not in VCube. This isn't some format where decks have 2 or fewer basic lands, not even the wild five-color concoctions. Most commonly it just slightly inconveniences your opponent, which is not worth the deck-building or in-game constraints. It's not completely worthless, as it can destroy creaturelands or Library of Alexandria, but it's not like creaturelands are terrorizing the format. I've never been excited to see Field of Ruin as a fifteenth pick, I'll put it that way.
  • Vampire Nighthawk—Playable in legacy and modern cubes, which want its lifegain and devotion. Vintage could really care less about those. Nor does it care about sneaking 2 damage a turn or waiting for your opponent to attack their fatty into it. Most VCube fatties are unfazed by a 2/3 deathtouch anyway. Nighthawk would possibly be good at 1RR or 1WW, but at 1BB it doesn't have a home.
  • Archangel Avacyn—White has a lot of five-drops worthy of consideration. Gideon Jura controls the board against creature decks. Baneslayer Angel and Lyra Dawnbringer are good sideboard against red aggro. Angel of Invention is strong with Opposition, Skullclamp, or going wide. Angel of Sanctions is good in any deck that can cast it. This one though just doesn't perform.
  • Reveillark—Reread my previous bullet. We can remove these two without even adding in new five drops to replace them. White has enough five drops!
  • Expansion—It occasionally does some stuff, but like Dualcaster Mage before it, it doesn't do enough. It usually just rots in your hand, giving you false hope and lowering your winrate.
  • Progenitus—It's an Oath of Druids target. It's a Natural Order target. It sort of combos with Show and Tell, Eureka, Sneak Attack, and Through the Breach. And yet none of those decks want it, because they all have way better options. Options that also happen to combine with cards like Reanimate, Shallow Grave, Tinker, or the darn lands on the battlefield. Progenitus has a cool text box, but that puts it in league with Boldwyr Intimidator, not the cards in VCube.
  • Sword of __ and ___—Cheon mentioned when guesting on Limited Resources how beloved these are despite not being great in most games. And I agree, so let's not remove all of them. But maybe we could take out some? Maybe cube could have two of these swords instead of FIVE? They might feel more special if you don't see 3 of them wheeling every time you draft.

Less obvious or controversial chaff:

        (pic=Thing in the Ice)
  • Thing in the Ice—I see this get played all the time. But in hundreds of drafts played and hundreds more watched online, I've seen it flip only twice. Neither time was impactful. VCube simply doesn't support a spells deck. There are only a few cantrips in the format, they're all singletons, and they're all heavily fought over. Storm can flip it, but storm isn't looking to with the game with three attacks from a 7/8. This card is a non-cantripping Wall of Blossoms. CHAFF!
  • Mother of Runes—Every white aggro player gets so excited to open Mother of Runes. Except for the smart ones. This is not a format where you get trophies by dodging Go for the Throats or casting Stun. Yes, Mother will be good in some matchups, maybe one out of every three drafts, but I have a word for cards like that. CHAFF!
  • Goblin Welder—Daretti, Scrap Servant is great. So why isn't Goblin Welder? Because it needs support, is fragile, and doesn't have haste. Yes it has a high ceiling but in most situations is CHAFF!
  • Hangarback Walker—It's great in constructed, where you can run four and pair them with Arcbound Ravager, but in cube, it's an expensive, slow vanilla creature that your opponent can basically ignore the entire game without repercussion. I've seen players cram this into every archetype imaginable, hoping it will get them there, and it doesn't. Walking Ballista is good because it impacts the board and can even finish off the opponent. Hangar's only use is when cast as a two-drop next to Skullclamp for a quick 4 cards. Otherwise it's CHAFF!
  • Thousand-Year Storm—It's fun and powerful when it works. In other words, it's neither fun nor powerful. A typical sequence in a deck built entirely around this card is to use your High Tide/Frantic Search/Turnabout/rituals to ramp this out—and then be tapped out with only 1 card left in hand. You wait for your next turn hoping to topdeck I don't know what, and you don't, and you lose, saying "I just got unlucky, it will work the next time," and it doesn't. I'm not saying we should take this out because I have anything against storm decks. Taking this out would make storm decks stronger.
  • Pack Rat—People first pick this card all the time. And it's worthy of being first picked in every format except VCube. Like Mother of Runes, it does occasionally overwhelm the opponent. But only occasionally. Think of it this way: this is a format with the most powerful cards in the game's history. Do you want to turn them into vanilla ground creatures? And don't tell me it's a discard outlet for reanimator. It's the only discard outlet that costs this much mana, making it CHAFF!
  • Fastbond          
  • Fastbond—This is another wildly popular card, more so than any of the above. I've played against it countless times. Twitch chats go nuts over it, as do even some otherwise intelligent Twitch streamers. But let me be among the dissenting few who say that, outside of the storm decks with multiple draw-7s, running this card will make your deck worse. The best case scenario is you drop 2 to 3 extra lands, making one of your turns exciting, and then it just sits there wasting a card. It's like playing Pyretic Ritual—a temporary boost at the expense of a card. Often it doesn't even do that much. And you understand that most decks don't want Pyretic Ritual, right?

"Cotton, you lubberwort, what about combining it with Upheaval; However, Upheaval already wins the game on its own, so running Fastbond is pointless.

"Cotton, you jobbernowl, what about combining it with Oracle of Mul Daya or Courser of Kruphix?" You expect to have three lands on top of your deck in a row? Multiple turns?

"Cotton, you balatron, what about combining it with Strip Mine and Crucible of Worlds?" This has the same issue as Upheaval: you're upgrading something that already wins on its own. If you're going to run a motorcycle into a sand castle, you don't need to install nitrous boosters on it.

"Cotton, you bedlamite, Fastbond won me a game only yesterday without any of the above combos." No doubt. It does occasionally come through. But the simple fact remains that it lowers the winrates of all nonstorm players who draft it, and they have no idea why, which I know because they don't board it out after it's useless against me in game 1, so for the sake of everyone's tickets, let's agree as a community that it is CHAFF!

(To the storm players—I hate to take a toy away from such a fun deck that's already fighting against the odds, but the truth remains that even among the various storm builds, very few profit from Fastbond. Cool card, and worthy of being restricted in Vintage Constructed, but not worthy of inclusion in Vintage Cube.)

Phew! If anyone still trusts my opinions after my section on Fastbond, let's explore what could be added to the format. 

2. Add Multicolor

Outside of red aggro, white aggro, and green ramp, monocolor decks are not viable in VCube. (Mono black is an archetype in the other cubes, but not this one.) Why then is only 10.1% of the cube dedicated to multicolor cards? (It says 105 out of 540, but 50 of those 105 are lands, which I'm not counting.)

    Fiery Justice

There are a lot of cool and strong multicolor cards worth considering. Just a sampling:

3. Add buildarounds

It's stunning how many archetypes already exist in VCube. And yet I think there's still room for some more.

  • Jokulhaups—It's the red Upheavalat more can I say? Float some mana, cast this, and plop down basically anything to win in short order. It's worse in that you can't replay your own lands, yet it's better in that your opponent can't either. Note that it doesn't hit enchantments or planeswalkers, which is another exploitable angle. AND a safety valve that keeps this from being unbeatable.
  • Flash—WotC wouldn't even need to add more cards to combo with it, although they certainly could (Arena Rector and Protean Hulk come to mind). Only looking at the current 540, this is already powerful with Woodfall Primus, Angel of Serenity, Palinchron, (Terastadon), Craterhoof Behemoth, Torrential Gearhulk, and even Zealous Conscripts or Inferno Titan in a pinch. Or you could just use it honestly to flash in play a surprise blocker by paying full price!
  • A five-color card—People are already drafting four- and five-color decks, but only for the sake of card selection. Give us a tangible payoff! Give us a reason to splash that fifth color instead of "only" running four. And I don't mean Progenitus, I mean one we can cast. Something like Niv-Mizzet Reborn, Maelstrom Angel, or Bringer of the Blue Dawn.
  • Quicksilver Amulet—Less fragile than (Arcane Artisan).
  • Solemn Recruit—White aggro took a huge hit when Mirran Crusader left. Those decks don't have anything on the level of Channel or Natural Order—their splashiest play is dropping a double striker on turn 3 into Elspeth, Knight-Errant on 4 and jumping for a quick 10 damage out of nowhere. These days, Silverblade Paladin is the only doublestriker in town. Could we have just one more? If we don't want to go the protection from colors route anymore, Solemn Recruit is likely the best option.
  • Sacred Mesa—It may be a little too weak. But it may also provide a resilient staller and finisher for any defensive white deck. Or an unexpected wincon for a didn't-get-there Mirari's Wake storm deck.
  • Bolas's Citadel—Gotta be, right? Whether this is supplementing Yawgmoth's Bargain or replacing it, it seems like a no-brainer inclusion. It even gives storm players something to Tinker for besides Memory Jar

4. Add more sideboard cards

5. Add miscellaneous classics

Cube is already rife with nostalgia. Let's make it rifer!

  • Pox—If VCube can support the casting cost of Cryptic Command and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, it can support Pox. It's a wildly powerful and exciting card, and seasoned players already know the strategies to get edges out of it. (The basic rule is, keep your stuff in multiples of three and your opponent's at one above the cutoffs.)
  • Braingeyser—I guarantee, multiple decks would windmill slam this one.
  • Ivory Tower—It helps Library of Alexandria stall. It adds a buffer against aggro. It even combos with Land Tax in the unfortunate event that Land Tax doesn't get removed. Plus there's synergies with Trinket Mage, Tinker, and Yawgmoth's Bargain.
  • Confiscate—The smarter players are realizing that Fractured Identity is a legitimate bomb. Confiscate isn't as good, but it's still quite good! Let's double up!
  • Arcbound Ravager—Artifact decks often underperform and could use more support. Plus, this finally gives Hangarback Walker a use.
  • Meditate—Both control and storm would embrace this.
  • The Abyss—Testing might prove this to be a little too oppressive/unfun. But it has the potential to give new legs to the artifact decks, if not spawn a whole new archetype in BW control. (This plus the three Gideons? Oh goodness.)
  • Ray of Command—It's Threaten, but it's also Dispense Justice. This kind of versatility is what cube wants, although it may be a little too combat-reliant to be worth the slot.
  • Ritual of Subdual—White has Armageddon (twice). Could green have this? Their ramp helps sustain the upkeep, and their nonland producers break the symmetry.
  • Stunted Growth—It's the old, less accomplished brother of Plow Under. Having both in cube may be too much, as it feels so demoralizing to be on the receiving end of either one, but let's get the conversation going. 

6. Re-add some previous cuts

Most cuts from previous seasons were welcome changes. (Good riddance to Time Vault, Genesis Wave, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.) Some we miss though! Let's bring 'em back.

        Vraska the Unseen
  • Manglehorn—I've seen this not only destroy things, but preemptively weaken moxen, turn off blockers, and nullify Sneak Attack. Bring it back!
  • Villainous Wealth—Better wincons may exist, but more exciting ones do not.
  • Vraska the Unseen—This has always been one of my favorite planeswalkers. I was upset when they removed it for the 6-mana version, but I grew to love that one too. Then when they added the (imo barely playable) 4 mana one, I was like hey. Not cool. Just give us the original one, please! Three Vraskas in one format isn't too many. There are already 3 Garruks and 4 Jaces.
  • Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas—Whether this or the 5-mana Tezz is a better fit for artifact decks is debatable, but what's not debatable is that artifact decks would be happy with both. Make us happy, WotC.
  • Nimble Obstructionist—This card does so many things, and no matter how you use it, you feel so clever. It's not the best blue 3-drop, but it's certainly good and fun and cool and darn it we want it back! 

7. Please don't remove...

Show and Tell   Eureka.

It's en vogue to hate on these cards, calling them "the biggest traps in cube," "guaranteed ways to lose," "worse than unplayable," and so on, and yes if you cram them in a deck with random fatties those epithets are accurate.

But not if they're played correctly.

They can be combined with discard spells to reduce the risk. They can be boarded in against decks without large drops or Control Magics. They can be used by storm to drop a Yawgmoth's Bargain and win on the spot. And even when they are used the bad way, their upside is wild, they make for great stories, and the fun factor is through the roof. Every one of us has lost to both of these cards multiple times. Just as we have won multiple times when our opponents cast them.

Their presence in cube even serves as a learning tool. For you see, unlike Fastbond, Thing in the Ice, and former inclusion Nissa, Vastwood Seer, people who play with these usually realize they're doing something wrong and then adjust their strategy afterward. 

Thanks for reading, and sound off in the comments about what cards you wish were added to the cube!