Cubers Anonymous – Stories Of Cubical Proportions

Welcome back, fellow cube-thusiasts. For today’s Cubers Anonymous, join me for some cube stories as we gather round the campfire made from Commander decks. (Just kidding! Far too much ink.)

So during a fantastical three-week stretch at the end of August/beginning of September, I got to play Magic. And that’s about it. And when I say Magic, I mean cube draft with a handful of actual tournaments thrown in. But we will be mostly skipping those because you’ve clicked to read about Adventures in CubeLand, not Tournament Report #7851. If you are only interested in actual cube-content, please locate the sections labeled Aside. There is content sprinkled throughout so don’t skip the fun if you can help it. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Names will not be changed to protect anyone. Ever.

As 90% of all trips start for me, partner-in-crime/actual-good-Magic-player Ali Aintrazi and I gather our things and head, in this case, to SCG Headquarters of bustling (note: super-lame) Roanoke, VA to collect fellow company men Wes Wise, John Suarez, and Glenn Jones. We make it to our destination of Pittsburgh, PA for the Grand Prix slowly but safely. The cube action doesn’t get hot and heavy until Saturday night after the main event.

This is when Suarez coins the phrase that will certainly be said more than any other over the next few weeks: Planeswalker Magic. Or rather more appropriately, PLANESWALKER MAGIC. The reason it’s in caps is that it’s required to be spoken in a loud, but not yelling or excited, voice. This is the phrase that one would say when any of the following happened:

a) You draft a Planeswalker
b) You cast a Planeswalker
c) You activate a Planeswalker ability
d) An opponent scoops to your Planeswalker that they can’t deal with

Suarez decides that he would enjoy Magic more if he just drafted every Planeswalker he saw. So he does to fair success over the course of the trip. Seriously, how the %*&# do you beat a Garruk, Primal Hunter?!?!

Aside One:

We are really, really close to the tipping point for Planeswalkers in cube. I don’t think we’re there quite yet, but this time next year I think this will be a major concern for most cubes.

White is already there, and now that green has caught up in the last three months, every color has at least three PWs that could be argued as Cube staples. I have what is considered an average-sized cube, clocking at 540 cards. I know I’m feeling pressure to start making decisions on how to handle this issue, so I can’t imagine what people with 360 and 450-sized cubes are doing.

I’ve heard in the community of people starting to limit the number of Planeswalkers per color to one or two. I think that you’re making a strong statement on how you feel when you make that choice, but it does have some issues attached.

Wizards has already figured out how to open design space on the ‘walkers, and that’s by only allowing them to take up a small area of the color’s identity. Tezzeret the Seeker was the first who did this, with Nissa Revane, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and now Jace, Memory Adept following in his tracks. When you are getting anywhere from five to eight new planeswalkers a year, and one or two of those are specialty planeswalkers, what do you do?

Using Tez the Seeker as an example, let’s say you want to limit two ‘walkers to a color. You choose Jace Beleren and Jace, the Mind Sculptor because they are the most true to what the color blue is in your cube. Do you have an artifact theme in your cube for blue? If you do, how can you omit Tezzeret despite being a planeswalker? And what about multicolor planeswalkers? Soon enough there will be one for every colored pair, with a fair chance of being among the most powerful cards for cube in those colors. Where does it end?

End Aside

There was one particular draft where the outcome came down to Kenny Mayer versus Ali. So of course it was five-color Signet blue control against B/R one-drop aggro. Seems pretty standard for these two, but this is why I am telling you the story; Kenny was playing with signet blue, and Ali was the pilot of the aggro deck. I know you don’t believe me, but this actually happened!

I attempted multiple times to record a photograph on my phone of said matchup, but other parties (Wes Wise frantically waving his hands in front of my camera phone) stopped my valiant attempts to share this historic event with you. I don’t remember who won, but the result really was secondary to the moment. Both Kenny and Ali continue to deny the event ever happened.

Aside Two:

Ali has since mentioned that he has been forcing himself to draft aggro in cube to help develop himself as a player. I feel like this is something that cube drafts offer that isn’t talked about as much as it should be. I feel like cube drafting, and sealed deck too, is one of the best ways to branch out and try strategies that you normally wouldn’t touch in a more progressive manner than if you were testing something unfamiliar for Constructed.

For example, if Ali and I are testing decks, it’s more natural for him to want to play the control or combo deck than the aggressive deck so we can play the deck to its full capability rather than have to pilot something suboptimally, even though you are learning.

Since cube drafting in its entirety is a combination of Limited and Constructed, you’ll be able to learn fundamental ideas rather than simply learning matchups. Sometimes you even stumble on things that you assumed you weren’t as proficient at that you really are! The next time you cube, try forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. If you normally draft mono-red, try drafting blue-white classic control. If you like drafting ramp decks, try a two-color aggressive deck so you have to value mana fixing higher. Chances are you’ll find something you’ll like that you weren’t expecting and maybe even learn about yourself as a Magic player!

End Aside

Monday morning we get up and head east towards Philadelphia for the Pro Tour and a week of testing/cubing. Not many drafts fire off over the week due to the number of people in our group being five and not the super optimal six. We do a couple sealed cubes, where I somehow lose to Suarez again after he casts Garruk, Primal Hunter, snagging him out of a pack with Booster Tutor. This is when we give Garruk a new nickname that isn’t remotely close to printable on this family website.

The weekend quickly approaches as we spend our days mostly learning how combo-centric the Modern format is/was and eating every possible meal at the Reading Market Terminal, aka The Happiest Place on Earth and highlight of this story. I love cube drafting, but this place just blows every other activity of any kind out of the water.

When the tournament site finally opens on Thursday, the cubing really gets started after I narrowly miss in the Last Chance Qualifier, losing the last round. I’m always able to meet new people at events through cubing, and this weekend is no different. I have to say that the person I met this particular weekend is by far the most interesting person I’ve met through cubing or Magic in general: Director of Magic R&D, Aaron Forsythe.

Forsythe was “gunslinging” with people all weekend playing Standard, Extended, and Commander. After watching him play against a couple of people where he was struggling to stay enthused, I figured I would jump in after the current match and see if he wanted to partake in a Winston Draft with me. I asked, and I was met with a relived sigh, and “Absolutely.”

I had a blast Winston drafting with him. He still has all of that competitive fire from when he played on the Pro Tour, I assure you. He took everything super seriously and didn’t want to give up any competitive advantage during the draft or games. After we played the first game, I wasn’t sure if we were done or not, having watched him limit everyone to one game prior. I didn’t have long to think about it, as he grabbed his sideboard up and began flicking through it, making changes to his deck. I ultimately ended up winning 2-1 in two final, excellent games. We shared our decks we drafted, sideboards, and a quick laugh before I got up to allow him to get back to his grind. Don’t worry; I’ll make sure you get that rematch next time!

The remainder of the weekend saw myself really put the Planeswalker Magic school of thought to good use, drafting a very sweet four-color, six-planeswalker deck. Another sight was control-master Shaheen Soorani draft a Naya-colored aggro deck. Twice. It did, at least, splash blue for Ancestral Recall. Twice. Ali also learned the power of Armageddon/Ravages of War, yet he continued to let his opponents blow up all his lands. Over and over again.

That weekend came to a close with my wallet feeling not much lighter due to some very generous flesh ATMs, as we geared up for next weekend’s trip. In just three short days, Ali and I were back on the road, this time to Atlanta for a StarCityGames.com Open Weekend. The weekend had a little extra oomph to it for us, as we were two of eight players in a Cube Rotisserie Draft, and this was the weekend that we would build our decks and battle round robin style.

Glenn did a great job of covering all the most important parts here, but the basic rundown is that Kenny Mayer ended up winning with Mono-Blue Control. You may notice that Kenny’s name isn’t in the draft document, and that’s because Matt Scott was busy filming a Tootsie Pop commercial and handed his deck off to Kenny to battle with for the weekend. Congrats to Kenny, and I will begrudgingly congratulate Matt Scott on a masterful first thirty picks.

Aside Three:

After hosting two Rotisserie drafts online, I think that it truly is my favorite format to play with a cube. It is certainly very different than even a Rochester draft and tests different skills than any other Limited format.

You really have to go into the draft with three to five plans for how you want your deck to unfold, and reacting to the other drafters is usually much slower based on the pick order but has a longer lasting effect. A well-timed hate draft of a card can radically send shockwaves through the entire draft, making multiple people alter their strategy.

I don’t want to go on too much about strategy in this draft format, as I want to host one more to observe before I make serious conclusions. I also believe that Rotisserie drafting could have an entire column devoted to it. In my humble opinion, it is the most in-depth Limited format that you can do, so this aside will have to be suffice for everyone while I cultivate more to talk about it in the future!

End Aside

During the tail end of Saturday, myself as well as fellow cubers Ben Wienburg, Kurt Spiess, Anthony Avitollo, Reuben Bresler, and Kenny played in what we think was the first “sanctioned” cube draft. The new Planeswalker Points system allows you to pretty much sanction anything, albeit with a measly single Casual PW point as your only catch, regardless of wins or losses. We drafted with this crew several times, with my favorite being a red-green-blue good stuff deck I drafted in Avitollo’s cube. I would tell you about it, but why not show you instead?

Planes. Walker. Magic.

Highlight of the deck was casting Chandra, the Firebrand into Plow Under multiple times against Reuben’s 7-0 Grixis control deck. On bouncelands.

I played a ton of Magic in those three weeks and definitely needed a break after so many cube drafts! I decided to take the next Monday off from cubing and simply cube Tuesday instead. I did break into a cold sweat from cube withdraw around 10 pm Monday night but was able to make it through without much incident until the next night. 

Before I go, I do want to give a bump to Apocalypse Comics in North Myrtle Beach, SC. They’ll be hosting their biggest tournament so far—a SCG Invitational Qualifier! If you’re in the area, shoot over there on Saturday, October 8 and help them have a great turnout!

You may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned Innistrad today, despite new expansions being the life-blood of cube changes. The reason for that is Usman Jamil did a fantastic job on going over most of the cub-able cards in Innistrad earlier this week, and I didn’t think that everyone needed to be overwhelmed with similar opinion. As always, you can check out my cube’s home to see what changes I’ve made for Innistrad and in general throughout the year.

Justin Parnell
@JParnell1 on Twitter