Regular readers of my articles will know that I have a love affair with the storm mechanic. Every time I cast Dark Ritual, I can feel the adrenaline rushing through my blood. It’s my favorite card for a reason. You can likely guess that when the Holiday Cube comes around I’m more than excited to throw some tickets down the drain and first pick Tendrils of Agony.
When Storm isn’t available, I usually slam Bloodbraid Elf and never look back, but a few days ago I decided it was high time to try something new. With only a week left for the Cube and school starting up again soon, I was not sure how many chances I’d have to try my hand at all the Cube has to offer.
Today I want to share with you a draft that didn’t go so well and how I was able to salvage it to a 2-1 record on the back of a few powerful cards. As a side note, fellow StarCityGames.com writer Anthony Lowry was on Skype with me for the draft process, so if anything seems crazy feel free to blame him!
Pack 1 Pick 1
As first picks often can, I knew that this pick would likely define the rest of the draft. The two stand-out cards for me were Recurring Nightmare and Tinker, with Geist of Saint Traft and Chandra, the Firebrand trailing behind. Tinker has much higher upside but needs a specific set of cards to work with. Recurring Nightmare is still very powerful though and works in basically any deck with creatures. In the end, Tinker was my choice. I wasn’t drafting Storm, but I still wanted to do some broken things. Tinker went right along with that plan.
Pack 1 Pick 2
This pick was a pretty easy one. Myr Battlesphere almost strayed my hand, but Demonic Tutor is an all-star in any unfair deck that it’s in. In a format like Cube, where you can only have one of each of your powerful cards, the key for a deck trying to do broken things is either redundancy or tutors. Even better is when you end up with both.
Pack 1 Pick 3
In this pack I gave some consideration to Rakdos Signet, but I decided instead to move in on a good Tinker target while I had the chance. After a little deliberation, I took Sundering Titan instead of Sphinx of the Steel Wind and never looked back. Just as with Tinker itself, Sundering Titan is a bit more of a glass cannon sometimes but has much higher upside.
Pack 1 Pick 4
This pack was pretty weak compared to what we’d seen so far. It came down to Nekrataal or Epochrasite, and I took Epochrasite because of the direction my deck was headed. Removal on a stick is nice, but I would have more time to pick up removal and wanted to make sure I’d have enough cards to support the artifact theme. On top of that, Epochrasite is a solid often underrated card that can hold some games down on his own.
Pack 1 Pick 5
Another soft pack with only two cards really worthy of picking up at this point in my opinion. Thawing Glaciers is a great way to gain advantage and make your land drops as the game goes on, but Vindicate is a great catchall for a deck that may have trouble with specific cards like planeswalkers.
Pack 1 Pick 6
At this point I wasn’t sure what colors I was going to be, but it was looking like an Esper artifact/control deck. Godless Shrine is a good piece of fixing, but I took the more inherently powerful card of Phyrexian Arena.
Pack 1 Pick 7
Pack 1 Pick 8
The Abyss is a very niche card, but when it’s good it’s often insane. In any black control deck, especially one winning with artifact creatures, The Abyss can represent a serious roadblock for any deck looking to attack you to death.
Pack 1 Pick 9
Pack 1 Pick 10
If I continue on the artifact theme and end up playing red, Wildfire effects like Burning of Xinye could be a very strong way to lock up the game. I still needed more artifact mana before I could move in on that style of deck, but there wasn’t much else in the pack anyway.
Pack 1 Pick 11
Pack 1 Pick 12
It’s still early, and I might move into red. More fixing is always good.
Pack 1 Pick 13
Pack 1 Pick 14
Pack 1 Pick 15
The deck started strong, but the pack got much weaker after pick 3. Going into the next pack, I was hoping to pick up some more solid win conditions, artifact mana, and maybe something strong to cement my archetype like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
Pack 2 Pick 1
Treachery and Worn Powerstone were definitely the cards in this pack that I wanted the most, with Thran Dynamo coming in at a close third. Ultimately, with one second left to make a pick, I decided on Treachery for its ability to completely turn a game in your favor.
Pack 2 Pick 2
This was definitely the hardest pick of the draft and once again one that I used my entire clock to make. Mox Sapphire, Mana Crypt, and Mana Drain were the three initial standouts. After some discussion Anthony and I determined that Mana Crypt was more powerful than the Mox, so it came down to Mana Drain and Mana Crypt. Seeing as I wanted to pick up more artifact mana and wanted more things to sacrifice to Tinker, Mana Crypt was my final choice, but I’m still not sure if it was correct.
Pack 2 Pick 3
Winter Orb, Smokestack, and Golgari Signet were the standouts and while the first two had a lot of upside, I really wanted to pick up more artifact mana while I could. Signets that are half off-color are still pretty good in my experience.
Pack 2 Pick 4
Upheaval is always fun for everyone involved, and with Mana Crypt it certainly has a lot of upside. True-Name Nemesis was the next best choice, as not only is it a strong card but I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to easily beat it.
Pack 2 Pick 5
Impulse and Thoughtseize are both great cards, but at this point I was still a three- or four-color deck. I decided I’d rather pick up a piece of fixing. I’ll play bounce lands if I have them, but I’m overall not really a fan of them. At this point I was pretty sure I’d be both blue and white, so Tundra seemed like the easy pick of the lands.
Pack 2 Pick 6
Memory Jar and Snapcaster Mage are both great cards, but neither really fit what the deck was currently doing. I thought I might wheel one of them. Compulsive Research is an all-around solid card that can help you dig for specific cards really well.
Pack 2 Pick 7
I almost snap-clicked on Mishra’s Workshop, but after looking at my deck I realized that I’d need some more specific cards before it’d really be playable. While I considered still following my philosophy of taking the card with the highest upside, Tangle Wire is also a strong card that can if nothing else buy some precious turns while you set up to cast a big threat.
Pack 2 Pick 8
Into the Roil is certainly a good card, but I didn’t think it was worth more than another reasonable piece of fixing.
Pack 2 Pick 9
Pack 2 Pick 10
I didn’t have anything good to rebuy with Academy Ruins, so Grand Arbiter was a solid choice.
Pack 2 Pick 11
Pack 2 Pick 12
Not much here, and if I pick up some more solid creatures, then the Sword of Light and Shadow could do some good work.
Pack 2 Pick 13
Pack 2 Pick 14
Still didn’t think it would fit the deck, but awesome to wheel regardless.
Pack 2 Pick 15
Well, that was quite the force pick. After pack 2 I was relatively satisfied with the current contents of my deck, but it still needed some key pieces before it would be ready for play. Once again, I was looking for more artifact mana such as Signets and some solid win conditions.
Pack 3 Pick 1
A pretty weak pack, but my heart went out to Bloodbraid Elf. Fact or Fiction was the strongest card for my deck, closely followed by Liliana Vess, but I didn’t particularly feel like I needed either. Izzet Signet, on the other hand, would be a good piece of artifact mana as well as fixing if I ended up playing red.
Pack 3 Pick 2
Pentad Prism, Counterspell, and Ravages of War are all strong cards that would fit well in my deck, but Batterskull makes for a solid win condition and is not the worst thing to Tinker for on turn 2 or 3.
Pack 3 Pick 3
Was it too late to move into Storm and take Tendrils of Agony? Probably. Grim Monolith is a great card in the artifact deck and supplements the Plan B of just casting your expensive threats really quickly.
Pack 3 Pick 4
Time Spiral is very strong, and I don’t exactly remember why I didn’t take it. Moat is a good card, but I wasn’t sure I could easily win with it in play so it wasn’t something I wanted. Shriekmaw got passed in lieu of another solid piece of artifact mana.
Pack 3 Pick 5
Metalworker was a very nice card to see, especially after picking up all that artifact mana and Mishra’s Workshop. It would certainly fit right into the deck. Now I was just hoping to pick up maybe one or two more pieces of ramp and hopefully a few more solid win conditions to ramp into.
Pack 3 Pick 6
Wheel of Fortune is certainly a great card that could potentially fit right into the deck, but it was really between Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Selesnya Signet. After the draft I wished I’d taken the Sphinx, but having another Signet was still not very disappointing. I just wish I’d picked up another win condition when I had the chance.
Pack 3 Pick 7
A solid way to make the deck a bit more consistent appeared. In fact, two of them appeared. Trinket Mage over Mystical Tutor was a tough pick, but I realized that I had very few good targets for Mystical Tutor. While Mystical Tutor for Demonic Tutor is probably still good, it’s a bit too slow and embarrassing for my taste.
Pack 3 Pick 8
Pack 3 Pick 9
Pack 3 Pick 10
A reasonable piece of fixing even though I still wasn’t sure what color I’d use to supplement blue and white.
Pack 3 Pick 11
I didn’t really plan to play Erebos or Land Tax, but I figured that Erebos was likely a better sideboard card.
Pack 3 Pick 12
I spent so much time deciding between all the non Diregraf Ghoul cards in the pack that my clock winded down without a sound. In a panic I took Electrolyze, but I’m not particularly sure it was correct.
Pack 3 Pick 13
Pack 3 Pick 14
Pack 3 Pick 15
After the draft I was relatively unimpressed with the deck but not overly disappointed either. It definitely had some insane draws that could fall into place, but it lacked enough good win conditions for my taste. I also was unsure of what colors I wanted to be, but ultimately I ended up with mostly blue, splashing a bit of white, red, and black. How would you have built the deck with the cards at hand? This is what I ended up with:
I started off with a slower seven that could get a bit aggressive with Epochrasite, Geist of Saint Traft, Smokestack, and Treachery. My opponent led with only a Llanowar Elves, and a Tinker for Sundering Titan on turn 3 let me destroy his two lands and one of mine.
After ramping a bit more, he got on the board with a Dungeon Geists, which locked down my Sundering Titan until I cast Treachery on it. Epochrasite and Titan started beating down again, but a Garruk, Primal Hunter gave him some breathing room. He had a Sphinx of Jwar Isle as well as Ohran Viper to lock up my attacks, but I gladly traded my Titan for his Viper and two more of his lands.
Smokestack hit the board, and with me far up on permanents, I just had to wait it out until Epochrasite and Dungeon Geists could swing through again. After losing more of his lands and eventually his last few creatures, I put him to zero life, and he died without any permanents in play. Smokestack is good fun for everyone.
Game 2 I had a strong draw that would allow me to cast Grim Monolith into Metalworker and then jam Batterskull on turn 3, but those plans were halted when he played a Vedalken Shackles. I instead settled for the Batterskull by itself, and when he began to near four Islands, I made the executive decision to Vindicate the Shackles with my freshly drawn black source.
Unfortunately, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage came down next. I dealt with her, but not before he played a True-Name Nemesis, which really put the nail in the coffin. Like I said during the draft, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to beat it. I was to my own disappointment correct. The game dragged on a bit, but I never mustered a real offense. He eventually ground me into the ground.
Game 3 saw me with a weaker hand that had turn 2 Trinket Mage into turn 3 Grand Arbiter Augustin IV backed up by Vindicate. He quickly played Vedalken Shackles into True-Name Nemesis. I played a desperation Upheaval a bit later, but it still wasn’t enough. I got back on the board quicker, but True-Name Nemesis still had me on its list.
Not a great way to start the day, but luckily I had decided to join a Swiss queue instead of single elimination. I don’t come to Cube for profit; I come for fun. Also, a 2-1 record guarantees that I can Cube again, so I like those odds. I was a bit depressed with the deck after the last two games, but I decided to stick it out and hope to win the next two.
I started off with a hand that had the potential for a turn 3 Sundering Titan, but after my opponent played a Bitterblossom, the plan wasn’t looking great. I had a Vindicate but no black source to cast it. Luckily a Trinket Mage off the top found a Chrome Mox, which imprinted Demonic Tutor and killed his Bitterblossom. He had only a Rakdos Signet for mana in play, and Sundering Titan made short work of his life total.
For game 2 I had a slow hand, but a turn 1 Tangle Wire made sure I would have the time I needed. He showed a more aggressive side this game with a turn 1 Kird Ape, but Tangle Wire kept everything under control. Once the Tangle Wire was all used up, Epochrasite soaked up some damage from a Boggart Ram-Gang, but Mana Crypt was not helping my life total.
A turn 5 Sundering Titan ate up his mana base, and then Goblin Welder turned Mana Crypt into a fresh Tangle Wire on the following turn. Him having no lands and only two creatures in play, this all but sealed the deal, and two turns later he conceded.
The deck performed much better this round. Some quick Sundering Titans followed by taxing artifacts allowed me to make short work of my opponent.
I had a slower hand this game with turn 4 Batterskull and turn 5 Sundering Titan and was quickly put under fire by my opponent’s turn 2 Thragtusk. A quick Terastodon also set me back pretty far, and not even Treachery or Batterskull could keep me alive. Once again I cast Upheaval in desperation, but he used a Mana Vault to get back in it.
At one point in the game, with me at two life and my opponent with a few small but lethal creatures in play, I attacked. I knew he would play Terrastodon next turn and lock me out of the game unless I could get him to about eight life. I was banking on him forgetting he could kill me and instead just playing Terrastodon, allowing me to possibly win the game in two turns if he was on air.
He obviously did not forget, and my opponent was quick to make sure I knew that this was a dumb play. While it may have been correct to just sit back on my blockers and survive for another turn, the ol’ “hope you forget” play is a desperation move that is often underrated. I’ve won games where I was dead on board but my opponent decided to play around something I couldn’t cast anyway, allowing me to win the game. If nothing else, it seems much better than just conceding. What do you think?
For game 2 I had a turn 2 Smokestack but made a questionable decision. My opponent was stuck on two lands, one of which was a Library of Alexandria. Every turn he would sacrifice the other land, draw a card with library, and play a freshly drawn land. At any point I could’ve stuck Smokestack up to two counters, killing his Library with his other land and effectively locking him out.
My issue with that line was that I did not yet have a win condition, and while I could easily sit through a Smokestack at one, a Smokestack at two would require me to draw a win condition pretty quickly or risk having to sacrifice the Stack itself, potentially letting him back into the game. I decided to keep it at one and eventually drew a Batterskull, quickly ticking the Smokestack up to two and locking him out of the game, but it was an interesting decision that I will continue to think about for days to come.
Game 3 was trivially easy. Metalworker on turn 2 allowed me to cast Sundering Titan on turn 3, wiping the board of all the lands we both had except for one of his fetches and a Library of Alexandria. On the same turn I had just enough mana to Vindicate his Library, and I passed the turn over to him.
He had just a Flooded Strand and a Lightning Greaves on his side facing down my 7/10 monster, so it was looking a bit grim. After only mustering an Impulse, Sundering Titan made short work of his life total.
Overall, the deck was pretty fun to pilot. I had a few busted draws and Sundering Titan was certainly a house, but even the slow draws with Smokestack were fun. I wish I had more win conditions to make the deck a bit more diverse and powerful, but we work with what we draft. Artifact ramp has certainly joined my list of favorite archetypes, and I may give it another more intelligent spin before the Holiday Cube leaves us.
What do you think of my draft and play choices? What would you have done differently? Did I completely screw the draft up? Or maybe you just want to let me know that I’m an idiot for playing Swiss queues? Whatever you have to say, let me know because I always find Cube more enjoyable as a team sport anyway.