Commander Slobad And The One-Drop Cube Update

Check out the Commander deck Glenn recently built that draws a lot of inspiration from the functionality of Standard Trading Post decks and the latest changes he’s made to his One-Drop Cube.

One of my little projects lately has been slowly building my Magic Online collection for Standard, Modern, and yes—Commander. To that end, I’ve been buying format staples and sweet cards whenever I have a surplus of tickets and brewing up a new Commander deck about once a month as I find the time (and grind out the tickets playing other formats).

I knew I wanted to start off strong by grabbing all the awesome green goodies first. There are so many sweet green commanders and variations on archetypes that this investment was likely to stretch the furthest long-term. Of course, they also happen to be the kind of decks I enjoy playing! I didn’t want to just duplicate my Glissa, the Traitor deck online—as much as I love it, there didn’t seem to be much sense to owning only two Commander decks and making them identical. So I wanted to try pairing green with something new, both for fun and for a learning experience.

If you’ll recall, my “staples” article noted that I lacked experience with the color red in the format. Generally I’ve avoided red like the plague in Commander, only playing it to access Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or some similarly high-powered but color-specific effect. That’s a little unseemly for someone hoping to speak with authority and at length on the format, isn’t it?

Ergo, I decided that I would dip my toes into the Mountain manas!

I started off real light and easy, merging green with red for Radha, Heir to Keld. I considered Rosheen Meanderer and Wort, but I decided against both of them because the card pool I picked up would be significantly narrower by necessity. While I don’t mind eventually picking the cards up for these decks and adding them to my armory, I wanted to start by primarily purchasing cards that would go in a lot of different decks. The Goblin theme and the X-spell theme don’t really transition very well! Radha, however, works well in a pretty traditionally styled ramp deck with some bells and whistles, so it seemed like an excellent choice.

Aside: This article isn’t about my Radha deck. If you do want to read a lot more about building with Radha, Heir to Keld in mind, I urge you to check out an excellent article from Sean McKeown, wherein he goes over a reader-submitted Radha decklist and pimps dat ryde. Sean’s articles are always sweet and just my speed when it comes to thinking about the Commander format. I’ll be fair and post my list at the end of the article* for the sake of completeness, but really Radha just set the stage for something a lot more fun.

Red spells!

While my Magic career started with an affinity for control decks and counterspells, anyone who knows me now recognizes a man who loves his red spells. While I’ve played a lot of blue decks—and still do—I consider most of my favorite decks to either be red or to be red decks in disguise.

Radha introduced me to the fun of casting some red spells in Commander that I’d been missing out on. Reiterate and Word of Seizing are two of my Type 4 favorites—plopping them on the stack after tapping lands was a new experience but an enjoyable one. Chaos Warp was a pretty volatile spell to toss out from time to time, creating hilarious situations, while Vicious Shadows… Well, we all know how good Vicious Shadows can be.

But I’d never gotten to control one before!

I had fun jamming Radha for a while, but eventually the games did just start blurring together. Turn 2 Radha, turn 3 ramp, turn 4 Primeval Titan (or equivalent), and then just jamming haymakers until one of us fell down. It was fine, but it was also just a little dull.

One day, I walked into the Star City Game Center for work, and Tim Furrow—one of the many fine player-employees in charge of our storefront—asked me for some fun Commander ideas. I immediately thought of some old decks my comrade-in-arms at CoolStuff, Mikey Letsch, had sleeved up over the years.

Bladewing the Risen?

Reki, the History of Kamigawa?

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer?

While Tim wound up going with Kangee and making a bunch of Bird tokens for fun and profit, I found myself suddenly experiencing a burning desire to cast red Squire on turn 2 for value game after game. I remembered the basics of Mikey’s deck, but that build was from over two years ago. Could the deck be better now, even more sweet?

Of course!

Scars of Mirrodin block, come on down!

The list wasn’t tough to assemble. I didn’t use many references, just snagging the artifacts and red cards that came immediately to mind and drawing a lot of inspiration from the functionality of Standard Trading Post decks. In fact, that’s all this deck really is! Slobad in conjunction with some minor recursion piece, some card advantage, and mana ramp basically works just like Trading Post while offering the protection of indestructibility.

Of course, when you get Trading Post itself online, that’s also pretty sweet.

I’ve made a fair number of changes since first designing the list, but here’s where I’m at now…and I’m pretty happy with it!

I won’t waste all of our time going over every card—that’s dull and meaningless. Yes, my Mana Crypts and Vaults are slightly better than most decks’ are; whatever, nobody cares. Let’s examine a few points of interest, shall we?

Terrarion and Chromatic Star

Initially I left these out, figuring them to be too low-impact to matter, but the promise of indestructible on-demand at no real cost beyond a random one mana has actually been quite good. You can sometimes use them like Wellsprings with Trading Post, and they’re never much worse than “cycling 1.”

Clock of Omens

I knew this card would be good in this deck, but I definitely underestimated it. Beyond the obvious Voltaic Key functionality with mana artifacts, it can also perform a few other neat tricks like…

  1. Letting you untap Trading Post multiple times, sacrificing the artifact(s) you tap to untap Post by responding to an Omens activation with the Post itself.
  2. Drawing lots of cards with Sensei’s Divining Top by responding to the “pop” with an untap and another pop. Repeat as desired.
  3. Creating pseudo-vigilance.
  4. Playing politics exceptionally well, giving you a tool to help other players defend themselves or develop the board.

Plus, you get to yell bizarre clock jokes while your roommates consider whether to call the police or a doctor.

Karn, Silver Golem and Bosh, Iron Golem

Slobad keeps good company.

These cards aren’t surprising to see in the deck, of course, but I wanted to discuss how they play a bit. The deck isn’t particularly aggressive and doesn’t actively pursue victory (much like Standard Trading Post decks—zing!), but you do need win conditions. Generally, you play the game protecting yourself and your capacity to win while grinding value and building your mana before using one of these guys to clean up.

Sure, every now and again you get to Forgemaster up The Viral Giant, but that actually doesn’t happen that often.

No Kiki, No Jiki?

I recently cut the little Goblin vandal, and I’m still not 100% on that. The deck is pretty creature-light, and a large number of those creatures are a) legendary or b) do their best work as they head to the graveyard rather than when they enter play. He’s obviously very powerful, but his applications are niche and the deck really hates drawing a card it can’t use in bad spots. I noticed I couldn’t cast Kiki for value a number of times, and that’s why I’ve benched him.

No Ulamog Too?

Look kid, Bribery is a real thing, and I can never, ever beat that guy! Colossus, maybe—but he’s got a lot more upside thanks to Forgemaster.

Featured Format: One-Drop Cube Redux

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me linking the much-requested update to my One-Drop Cube list. I last talked about this format about a month ago, which isn’t very long, but since it has gone through so many changes—and they’ve been so successful—I decided to dedicate another few paragraphs to its continued evolution. Let’s start with the updated and formatted GoogleDoc for your viewing pleasure.

First big change: the format is different.

I’ve moved to 40-card decks, using three fifteen-card packs. I also trimmed the fat, culling the cube down to 270 cards, which is enough for a six-man draft. I’m not against getting it up to 360 one day, but I’ve discovered that the pool is quite shallow for that right now, albeit slightly deep for 270. I’d rather miss out on some good cards than play with some bad ones, and I’m OCD enough to run a tight ship on card count.

Obviously, this change most dramatically affected the mill decks. Mill wasn’t just good in 30-card decks; it was a premier strategy, drafted by multiple players at a table and often splashed into decks as an alternate win condition. You only need a Grindstone, after all. Given the low power level of most cards in the format games typically went very long, and losing to decking was a concern at least 75% of the time and possibly more often.

Once players began actively debating building larger decks (I did so a few times) I knew that I either needed to cut the mill…or change the deck sizes. I opted for the latter, as I would really like to make the archetype work in a draftable format as a challenge for myself.

Other big changes came in the lands department. I found spell-lands like Desert and Oasis distasteful and was shocked at the graphic damage Desert did to some strategies. Experiences with Brad Nelson, who loved the first One-Drop Cube but found the last one too slow and grindy, and Jarvis Yu, who often found himself lost in the sands, really showed me that just because I could play these lands…it didn’t mean I should.

In the meantime, mana fixing continued to play a potent role both in draft and play, so I decided to only allow lands that fix mana and either come into play tapped or cost a mana to use. I’m still considering the potential addition of bouncelands, but I doubt I’ll add them until after experimenting with the Return to Ravnica update. Those guild Gates are just what the doctor ordered!

A consideration I haven’t taken into account, at least in construction, is that 40-card one-drop decks run significantly less lands than most Limited decks…which means you need more playables out of your drafted cards. It hasn’t merited complaint thus far, though it is possible the issue has merely gone unnoticed by players. As such, I plan to use Return to Ravnica to boost size, probably going to five ten-card packs per player and thus 300 cards total.

I’m also excited to say that black is playable! A color that struggled in every inception of the format previously, black’s gains—admittedly including the crazy nose-candy of Contract from Below—and its restructuring to focus on grinding advantage with Gravecrawler, Lab Rats, Phyrexian Reclamation, or similar have been fantastic. Black aggressive strategies still pair excellently with red, which is in fact one of my favorite archetypes to draft. Most importantly, there’s enough diversity in every color now that I’m not reluctant to play any of them.

The typical reaction I get from most people upon seeing the full list of cards is an exclamation about power level. They range from “Skullclamp seems broken” to “Ancestral Recall? Isn’t that too good?” to “Contract is in? You’re insane!”

First off, one of the reasons we play Cube is to play good cards—that’s sort of the point. However, I’m actually a fan of slightly lower power levels in Cube formats, such as avoiding Power, because those cubes let you really experience the drafting and deckbuilding aspects without feeling bound by automatic decisions.

And I think all of the aforementioned cards are perfectly fine.

Consider Sol Ring. Anyone who thinks about the One-Drop Cube for half a second will realize that the typical Cube powerhouse is a niche role-player in One-Drop Cube, acceptable only in decks looking to abuse equipment, buyback, or kicker. Why is that?


Ancestral Recall has similar implications, though the difference is much subtler. Card advantage is always good, while mana advantage is only as good as the options it affords you.


Think about that.

At its base, isn’t card advantage just the luxury of more options within the game?

We’re used to considering Ancestral Recall an incredibly powerful card—it is three cards in one, after all, and at a low price. But this format isn’t conventional Magic. One-Drop Cube is all about position and achieving certainty—you want to trump what your opponent is doing, present them with a threat or board state that they cannot defeat, and then kill them with it eventually. It often takes a while—if they have answers, they will very likely be able to buy the time necessary to draw them.

All Ancestral does in these [very common] board states is a) draw the defender into an answer or b) give the aggressor more angles of attack. It’s certainly a good card, and these are very valid reasons to play it in every deck that can support it—it’s one of the best cards in the format, but it’s not broken. Ancestral Recall is only as good as the cards it draws you and how they align against the cards your opponent plays. Of course, it happens to double as a pretty effective burn and mill tool and even as an anti-mill tool should the opponent attempt to Share their Trauma.

Compare it to Engineered Explosives, which is my pick for the best card in the entire format. Explosives can handle any problem, is very difficult to stop, and represents a one-sided trump in any given game. Is Engineered Explosives too good? That’s definitely a discussion, although I have thus far just found it to be awesome and not unfair—you can play around it, but it’s hard and gives up value when they don’t have it. However, the card also rewards savvy play and deckbuilding, which I like.

I’m very happy with the cube right now; everyone I’ve played with using the new rules and the new list has really enjoyed the experience. It’s definitely different from the Magic we’re used to thinking about, which makes the mechanical and theoretical shifts all the more interesting. Return to Ravnica has already spoiled a few sweet ones—I can hardly wait to update it again.

If you have any questions, comments, or just want to tell me a sweet story about playing with any of these decks, feel free to find me on Twitter!

Glenn Jones


*As promised…