The Cube Compendium: Part 4

Jim Davis continues his wonderful mini-series on the design, development, purposes, and specifics of Cube design and implementation. If you haven’t played the most fun Magic you’ll ever get your hands on, now is the time to start!

Author’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles about both Cube in general and my own personal Cube. Thefirst article covered the basics of Cube design, while thesecond went into much further detail about my own Cube. The third began

the in-
depth look at the Cube starting with the white and blue sections. Today
we look at black and red.

Black – 50 Cards

Black is usually the most difficult color in Cubes, as it is oft regard as the consensus ‘worst’ color. Lots of clunky cards and confused themes often
populate people’s black sections, and it’s been so bad that even the Magic Online Cube has taken drastic measures by adding a Vampire theme. However, I
think leanness, which is a hallmark of my Cube, is what is mostly needed.

While most Cubes have given up on aggressive black decks, I’ve made them lower to the ground and given them some extra disruption to compete. Black has an
ungodly nine one-drops and the lowest mana curve of spells by far. Aside from basic aggression, black is definitely the combo color of the Cube, sporting
both storm and reanimation themes and supplementing other types of combo decks with a vast array of tutors. Black also contains some prison elements like
Braids, Cabal Minion and Nether Void, and some powerful control cards like Grave Titan and Damnation. Black also supports a minor sacrifice theme that
plays well with white’s tokens.

Creatures – 23

Bloodsoaked Champion Tormented Hero Diregraf Ghoul Gravecrawler Putrid Imp

Sarcomancy Carrion Feeder Vampire Lacerator Gnarled Scarhide

There is certainly no shortage of black one-drops, and they also offer a variety of roles beyond just beating down. While Tormented Hero, Diregraf Ghoul,
Sarcomancy, and Vampire Lacerator are mostly just bringing the beats, Bloodsoaked Champion and Gravecrawler also do so while being great cards to sacrifice
to a variety of effects. Carrion Feeder is a very good outlet for that, while Putrid Imp provides decks that want an extremely cheap discard outlet on a
reasonable body.

Blacks one-drops do a lot to define what the color wants to do, and they beat down rather well while avoiding catastrophic drawbacks.

Vault Skirge Oona's Prowler Dark Confidant Nightscape Familiar Bloodghast Blood Artist

There really aren’t many good black two-drops, so we’ve dropped down to the bare minimum. There are plenty of awful black two-drops like Pain Seer and
friends, so by trimming the fat we’ve come to a very lean section.

Vault Skirge is essentially a one-drop and is more for the artifact deck than anything, but Oona’s Prowler and Dark Confidant provide the beats while
doubling as a discard outlet or card advantage machine respectively. Nightscape Familiar, like his whiter brother, is a combo enabler that is also quite
good in control decks as a Sapphire Medallion.

Bloodghast is one of my favorite Magic cards, and deserves a few extra words. Aside from being a good beater, Bloodghast is also just a fantastic all
around Cube card. Discard it to Careful Study, Entomb it, sacrifice it every turn to Braids, Cabal Minion or Smokestack, Skullclamp it… the list goes on
and on. A true Cube all-star.

Blood Artist is a late entry. It’s a card I’ve considered for a while, and after writing a disparaging paragraph in the three-drop section about how
mediocre Vampire Nighthawk is in almost all scenarios, I’ve decided to pull the trigger. I haven’t tested Blood Artist yet, but it should be very good with
the myriad of recursive creatures and sacrifice effects while still filling the ‘black lifegain’ quota for the Cube. I’m excited about this one.

Xathrid Necromancer Ophiomancer Flesh Carver

We don’t really see any truly aggressive options at the three-drop slot, as we are trying to keep the aggressive curve as low as possible, but we do see
the sacrifice theme pretty heavily here. Xathrid Necromancer is the other part of the Human duo with Champion of the Parish and does a lot of good work.
Ophiomancer is sweet for many of the same reasons that Bloodghast is, while Flesh Carver is a new addition that makes use of all this great fodder.

Braids, Cabal Minion Shriekmaw Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Another one of my favorite cards, Braids, Cabal Minion, is just gas. This is a card that, like Hokori, Dusk Drinker and Nether Void, people tend to find a
bit lacking in average Cube drafts but is actually insane in mine because of how low the curve is and how lean the decks are. Braids is a monster by
herself, but with all the awesome fodder in black, she is quite the force.

Shriekmaw is just a great value creature that fills the ‘Doom Blade’ slot fairly well, while Tasigur, the Golden Fang is just the perfect Cube card. Cheap,
powerful, interesting, and with few other delve cards to fight for its attention, Tasigur is awesome. It is a bit awkward having him in the black section
when he is at his best when also playing green or blue, but the hybrid mana makes him very hard to place otherwise. This is a placement I will be
reconsidering as time goes on.

Grave Titan Griselbrand

Black’s pair of big boys are perhaps the best in the Cube. It’s silly to say that a six- mana black creature is one of the most powerful cards in the Cube,
but Grave Titan really is just that ridiculous. It is extremely hard to beat a resolved Grave Titan, and that’s pretty much exactly what you want out of
your six-drop finisher.

Griselbrand is not going to be cast very often, but it is pretty much the best possible creature you can cheat into play in the entire Cube, be it Animate
Dead, Sneak Attack, Show and Tell, or whatever.

Spells – 27

Vampiric Tutor Imperial Seal Entomb

Thoughtseize Inquisition of Kozilek Reanimate Dark Ritual

Black is the only other color besides blue to have more spells than creatures, and it’s pretty easy to see why. We’ve got a subset of tutors, hand
disruption, and combo cards.

The tutors are Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Entomb. Tutors are very powerful, but all of these are quite difficult to use. Most fair decks are not
going to want any of these effects, but they are also very important for the combo decks to assemble what they need.

Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek form a solid disruption package and don’t need much introduction. Dark Ritual is Dark Ritual and an important cog
in the storm deck, while Reanimate is the cheapest and most powerful reanimation spell.

Bitterblossom Go for the Throat Demonic Tutor Animate Dead

Cabal Ritual Sinkhole Hymn to Tourach Smallpox

Again, we see more of the same. Demonic Tutor is the best of the tutor bunch, and it’s insane in fair decks as well as more broken decks, while Cabal
Ritual fuels storm and Animate Dead fuels Reanimator decks. Bitterblossom is a very powerful card, but it serves extra purpose as a tool for token decks
and a provider of fodder for sacrifice effects.

The disruptive trio of Sinkhole, Hymn to Tourach, and Smallpox all serve to tax opponent’s resources as brutally as possible and to help to back up the
slightly weaker creature base that black provides.

Yawgmoth's Will Recurring Nightmare Curse of Shallow Graves

Phyrexian Arena Dismember Liliana of the Veil Necropotence

Like blue’s three mana spell section, some of the best of the Cube lay in black’s three mana spells. Yawgmoth’s Will is a powerful card that is also the
best storm enabler in the Cube, while Recurring Nightmare is a powerful reanimation tool that also offers infinite value.

Curse of Shallow Graves is a very interesting one from one of the Commander sets, and it offers a limitless supply of 2/2 creatures as long as we can
attack. Given that it sets itself up (even if your first attacker dies, the token can attack next turn to make another) while providing a lot of creatures,
Curse is an interesting and powerful card.

For a while I didn’t want to have both Phyrexian Arena and Necropotence in the Cube at the same time, as I felt they were too similar, but I was frankly
incorrect. Phyrexian Arena is a great grindy card, while Necropotence is an absurdly powerful and broken card draw engine that is extremely difficult to
use properly but presents an absurd payoff. I like having both.

Not much needs to be said about Dismember or Liliana of the Veil.

The Abyss Nether Void Damnation Tendrils of Agony Murderous Cut

Do you know how World Enchantments work? Because there are two in the Cube, and they are both in the same color and mana cost. It’s a somewhat annoying
rule, but both cards are both awesome and very powerful, so I can deal with it. The Abyss is a very powerful and obtuse card that supports the artifact
theme, while Nether Void is the black Armageddon.

Damnation needs no introduction and helps solidify black as a control support color, and Tendrils of Agony is the Cube’s other storm card. Murderous Cut is
all upside in the Cube with so few delve cards to fight with it.

Notable Omissions

Vampire Nighthawk Carnophage Duress Bone Shredder Hypnotic Specter

Pack Rat Skinrender Nekrataal Profane Command Necromancy

A lot of the cards that create the ‘black problem’ in the Cube are not present in my Cube. Cards like Nekrataal, Hypnotic Specter, Vampire Nighthawk, Bone
Shredder, Skinrender, and so on are all just extremely clunky and underpowered cards. They all cost way too much for what they do and are relics of the old
power level of Magic cards.

There are a few cards on the cusp that I like such as Pack Rat, which may eventually find their way off the bench and into the game.

Red – 50 Cards

From one problem to another. While black is often considered the worst color in Cube, red is considered one of the best. The mono-red deck is often
considered the ‘fun police’ of Cube drafts and exemplifies the red problem seen in most Cubes: Too many of the red cards are simply just aggro creatures
and burn spells!

I’ve already spoken about this in the first two articles, so now we get to see the execution. While having an aggressive red deck be good is certainly a
goal of the Cube, the goal of red as a whole is to have it have as many options as all the other colors.

Making sure each color has a low and lean mana curve so they can keep up with the speed of the fast red decks also helps solve the ‘red problem.’

Goblin Guide Stromkirk Noble Grim Lavamancer Firedrinker Satyr Zurgo Bellstriker

Monastery Swiftspear Reckless Waif Goblin Welder Greater Gargadon

Beatdown masters like Goblin Guide, Firedrinker Satyr, and Zurgo Bellstriker really need no introduction, but there is a good amount of variety of the nine
red one-drops. Grim Lavamancer and Monastary Swiftspear are both great aggressive cards, but they also fill out other roles as well. Reckless Waif is a
good beater, but she creates interesting gamestates and plays very well with instants. Just like Champion of the Parish is great because there are so many
Humans, so is Stromkirk Noble, which is already a fine card.

It’s not all aggression, however, as Goblin Welder is an extremely fun and interesting card that helps the artifact theme. Greater Gargadon is fine without
any help, but it fits great with white’s token theme or black’s sacrifice theme. It is also awesome in wacky Balance/Obliterate combo decks as well.

Ire Shaman Hellspark Elemental Lightning Mauler

Young Pyromancer Dwarven Blastminer Ash Zealot Eidolon of the Great Revel

More solid beaters with good utility. Ire Shaman and Young Pyromancer do more than beat down, while Dwarven Blastminer keeps them honest.

I’m usually rather stingy about double colored two-drops in the Cube as they are much harder to play in two-color decks, but both Ash Zealot and Eidolon of
the Great Revel are powerful and fun cards. Eidolon especially can create some really great gamestates that are exceptionally interesting.

Imperial Recruiter Squee, Goblin Nabob Goblin Rabblemaster Chandra's Phoenix

Again, we see some more variation. Imperial Recruiter is an awesome value card and tutor, and is the Goblin Matron of the Cube. You can use it to search up
all sorts of stuff, and it creates some interesting paths to take. Squee, Goblin Nabob is cut from the same cloth, as you have to work to figure out what
you want to do with it.

Goblin Rabblemaster and Chandra’s Phoenix are a bit more straightforward but are both awesome cards in their own right. Also note how good the constant
token generation is with cards like Greater Gargadon, Blood Artist, and Carrion Feeder.

Ravenous Baboons Flametongue Kavu Hellrider

It’s amazing that Flametongue Kavu, once a format-defining Magic card, is almost not even worthy for the Cube, but he’s still a good value creature.
Ravenous Baboons is much better than Avalanche Riders and will almost always have a target, as there are a ton of non-basic lands in the Cube.
Hellrider just brings the beats and is great with tokens.

Thundermaw Hellkite Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker Inferno Titan

Thundermaw Hellkite is a monster, as is Inferno Titan. Both cards are better suited for midrange or ramp decks, or even as finishers in control decks. A
well-drafted red deck in my Cube is not really going to be interested in five or six-drops.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is a really fun and powerful wild card. It gives the Cube a two-card Splinter Twin style combo kill with Restoration Angel and
also combines with an absurd amount of cards to be a value machine. Nothing is as awesome as Kiki-Jikiing a Mulldrifter.

Spells – 24

Lightning Bolt Chain Lightning Firebolt

Firestorm Reckless Charge Faithless Looting Gamble

Of course, we have your expected burn spells like Lightning Bolt, but red’s spells go a bit deeper.

Faithless Looting is a very powerful card for graveyard strategies, while Gamble is a powerful but difficult to use tutor. Firestorm is another obscenely
powerful card that is a great discard outlet and use for cards like Squee and Life from the Loam. No Lava Spikes here.

Magma Jet Incinerate Sudden Shock Shrapnel Blast Searing Blaze

Again we see an attempt to balance out the burn spells. Magma Jet and Sudden Shock are fine cards in an aggressive deck, but they are also very reasonable
removal spells in a ramp or control deck. Shrapnel Blast helps the artifact theme, and Searing Blaze is just too damn good.

Molten Rain Sulfuric Vortex Wheel of Fortune Seething Song

It seems like most colors have their best cards in the three-mana spell section.

Sulfuric Vortex is one of the most powerful cards in the Cube. Even with the rest of the Cube having a lower curve and red being more balanced, there’s
something to be said about how difficult beating turn 3 Sulfuric Vortex is out of a reasonable aggressive red deck.

Wheel of Fortune is a great card when the mana curves are so low, as it can simply refill you or help to power a combo deck. It’s not unlikely for an
aggressive deck to empty its hand by turn 3-4 and then use Wheel of Fortune to reload. Seething Song is also around for combo implications.

Lastly, Molten Rain helps to provide the disruption that is so important for the aggressive decks. Every color has some way to throw a wrench into their
opponent’s plan, and cards like Molten Rain and Ravenous Baboons are huge for red.

Outpost Siege Stoke the Flames Sneak Attack

I love Outpost Siege. I may sound like a broken record, but the nice, low curve of my Cube makes Outpost Siege great. Naming Dragons is also pretty
reasonable in the token decks.

Stoke the Flames is just an awesome burn spell, and Sneak Attack is another fun build-around-me card. Do not underestimate the power of Sneak Attack!
Griselbrand, Angel of Serenity, Ashen Rider, Emrakul, Grave Titan… the list goes on and on for awesome things to sneak into play.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker Fireblast

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker weighs in as red’s planeswalker, as he is the most versatile and powerful against a variety of decks. Hitting just as hard as
Koth but also being great in control decks, Sarkhan is where it’s at.

Fireblast is just the nut.

Wildfire Obliterate Sudden Demise

At the highest mana costs, we again see what else red is capable of.

Wildfire is one of my all time favorite cards, and it is an amazing card for artifact decks and big green ramp decks with huge fatties. It’s not easy to
use, but it’s completely devastating to pull off in the right deck. Sudden Demise is extremely powerful in addition to being a great Earthquake variant.

Obliterate is one of the cards I get the most comments about in my Cube, but I’ve always been a staunch supporter. It is definitely not a straightforward
or overly powerful card, but if set up properly, it is completely unstoppable. Maybe you cast it with an Outpost Siege or planeswalker in play, or with a
Bloodghast in the yard, or with a Greater Gargadon on suspend, or with a Darksteel Citadel and a Flagstones of Trokair in play. The possibilities really
are endless, and that’s why it remains.

Notable Omissions

Fire Imp Siege-Gang Commander Mogis's Warhound Pillage Prophetic Flamespeaker

Stormblood Berserker Countryside Crusher Char Avalanche Riders Arc Trail

Again, we see omissions of the slow and clunky. Cards like Prophetic Flamespeaker, Countryside Crusher, and Avalanche Riders are just far too clunky for
what you want to be doing. Pillage was a nice one but also got pulled in the de-clunking process. Cards like Fire Imp and Arc Trail were just too bad
against too many decks to really be worth it.

Part 5

We will continue next week with green and multicolored cards!