The Old School Cube

Danny West is in the holiday spirit! That’s why he’s leaving the world behind and moving back in time to a more innocent period for Magic, and for himself. It’s time to have some fun. No sleeves required.

It’s almost Christmas time. The holidays are a great time to get in touch with your inner-child. It’s an opportunity to forget adult drama for a day or two and to remember what it was like when things were a lot more simple.

You know, Magic used to be a lot more simple.

The game has to evolve, and it isn’t a bad thing to have new mechanics every year adding to the game’s overall complexity—though thankfully, competitive Magic’s formats have limited card viability, keeping things a lot more civil. But regardless, it’s fun to go back to being a kiddie and to re-live those halcyon moments.

In order to do that, I’ve assembled the following monster.

Let’s kick it old school.

Mother of Runes Savannah Lions Soul Warden Tundra Wolves Auratog Aysen Bureaucrats Master Decoy Order of the White Shield Shaman en-Kor Warrior en-Kor White Knight Benalish Knight Knight Of Dawn Monk Idealist Orim, Samite Healer Treasure Hunter Angelic Protector Angry Mob Blinking Spirit Cloudchaser Eagle False Prophet Ardent Militia Avenging Angel Karmic Guide Radiant, Archangel Serra Angel Staunch Defenders Warrior Angel Serra Avatar Akron Legionnaire Righteousness Smite Swords to Plowshares Disenchant Eye for an Eye Gallantry Reprisal Army of Allah Exile Congregate Angelic Blessing Blinding Light Armageddon Wrath of God Winds of Rath Catastrophe Icatian Town Spirit Link Blessing Crusade Pacifism Empyrial Armor Glorious Anthem Hanna's Custody Sacred Mesa Caribou Range Kismet Serra's Embrace Keeper of the Mind Merfolk Looter Apprentice Wizard Cloud Elemental Daring Apprentice Glacial Wall Man-o'-War Ophidian Phantom Warrior Prodigal Sorcerer Raven Familiar Rayne, Academy Chancellor Serendib Efreet Time Elemental Archivist Azure Drake Labyrinth Minotaur Phantom Monster Tradewind Rider Air Elemental Scrivener Cloud Djinn Drifting Djinn Benthic Behemoth Disrupt Boomerang Counterspell Impulse Mana Leak Memory Lapse Miscalculation Remove Soul Catalog Dissipate Frantic Search Meditate Deflection Dismiss Inspiration Rewind Turnabout Force of Will Opportunity Dream Cache Tinker Argivian Restoration Sift Ancestral Memories Time Warp Prosperity Braingeyser Curiosity Sigil of Sleep Cloak of Mists Attunement Animate Artifact Binding Grasp Confiscate Carnophage Black Knight Erg Raiders Fledgling Djinn Order of the Ebon Hand Bone Shredder Coffin Queen Hypnotic Specter Mindstab Thrull Phyrexian Negator Priest of Gix Royal Assassin Vampire Hounds Carrion Ants Derelor Gravedigger Nekrataal Aku Djinn Fallen Angel Phyrexian Plaguelord Revenant Sengir Vampire Ihsan's Shade Lord of the Pit Shauku, Endbringer Baron Sengir Spirit of the Night Dark Ritual Fatal Blow Diabolic Edict Terror Carrion Dark Banishing Hatred Duress Raise Dead Reanimate Demonic Tutor Exhume Hymn to Tourach Ashes to Ashes Buried Alive Coercion Infernal Contract Stupor Victimize Ill-Gotten Gains Fugue Soul Feast Dregs of Sorrow Sarcomancy Unholy Strength Animate Dead Bad Moon Enfeeblement Necropotence Breeding Pit Feast of the Unicorn Goblin Soothsayer Goblin Welder Jackal Pup Kird Ape Mogg Fanatic Raging Goblin Atog Canyon Wildcat Fireslinger Goblin Tinkerer Ironclaw Orcs Mogg Flunkies Mogg Maniac Ball Lightning Bogardan Firefiend Goblin King Goblin Matron Avalanche Riders Goblin Berserker Goblin Grenadiers Lava Hounds Rathi Dragon Wildfire Emissary Anarchist Bogardan Phoenix Eron the Relentless Shard Phoenix Crater Hellion Shivan Dragon Thundermare Volcanic Dragon Lightning Bolt Shock Blood Lust Falter Fling Incinerate Thunderbolt Lightning Blast Fireblast Heat Ray Pyrokinesis Fit of Rage Mob Justice Spitting Earth Arc Lightning Hammer of Bogardan Pillage Stone Rain Wheel of Fortune Relentless Assault Goblin Scouts Pyrotechnics Jokulhaups Wildfire Goblin Offensive Fire Whip Goblin Bombardment Birds of Paradise Elves of Deep Shadow Fyndhorn Elves Llanowar Elves Quirion Ranger Canopy Spider Grizzly Bears Heart Warden Priest of Titania Quirion Elves River Boa Seeker of Skybreak Wall of Blossoms Wall of Roots Fyndhorn Elder Mirri, Cat Warrior Rootwalla Spike Feeder Uktabi Orangutan Wood Elves Argothian Wurm Emperor Crocodile Erhnam Djinn Fungusaur Giant Spider Lhurgoyf Maro Nettletooth Djinn Spike Weaver Striped Bears Cockatrice Dirtcowl Wurm Endless Wurm Ironroot Treefolk Scragnoth Spined Wurm Ancient Silverback Autumn Willow Craw Wurm Force of Nature Gaea's Liege Crash of Rhinos Scaled Wurm Verdant Force Giant Growth Fanatical Fever Might of Oaks Mulch Rampant Growth Regrowth Untamed Wilds Creeping Mold Elven Cache Overrun Desert Twister Survival of the Fittest Blanchwood Armor Titania's Song Tempest Drake Unfulfilled Desires Army Ants Stormbind Asmira, Holy Avenger Selenia, Dark Angel Cadaverous Bloom Pygmy Hippo Frenetic Efreet Energy Bolt Manakin Bottle Gnomes Brass Secretary Junk Diver Phyrexian War Beast Steel Golem Juggernaut Masticore Jester's Cap Shifting Wall Beast of Burden Triskelion Phyrexian Colossus Colossus of Sardia Cursed Scroll Feldon's Cane Meekstone Sol Ring Voltaic Key Aeolipile Altar Of Dementia Charcoal Diamond Fellwar Stone Fire Diamond Howling Mine Marble Diamond Millstone Mind Stone Moss Diamond Powder Keg Relic Barrier Sky Diamond Winter Orb Disrupting Scepter Dragon Blood Puppet Strings Worn Powerstone Bubble Matrix Bullwhip Grinning Totem Icy Manipulator Jade Statue Jayemdae Tome Jester's Cap Nevinyrral's Disk Serrated Arrows Sisay's Ring Amulet of Unmaking Adarkar Wastes Bad River Brushland City of Brass Flood Plain Grasslands Karplusan Forest Mountain Valley Rocky Tar Pit Stalking Stones Sulfurous Springs Underground River

Though I like the allure of the recently unveiled (and growth-prone) 93/94 Magic format, the cost and the deckbuilding limitations are a bit prohibitive for me. People don’t even like putting Black Lotus in their Cubes now; imagine how much more overpowered it is when you’re playing it in a format where Serra Angel is a necessary control deck finisher.

Plus, 93/94 is a little old for me. I started in Mirage. I’m a noob.

Don’t let the above images confuse you. Some of them are auto-generated. None of the versions of these cards are new in my Cube. Tenth Edition Shivan Dragon can take a hike.

On the Subject of Cubes

As much fun as it is to play the Magic All-Star game with a bunch of friends, I would like to state that the amount of Magic Cubes is far too limited in scope right now. This is a format you can define with literally any Magic card. Why are we always playing with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Lightning Bolts? Traditional Cubes are fun, and nobody wants to play a Cube where they have to read every obscure card six times, but man, we are really underutilizing this concept in my opinion. Make your own Draft format, people! Explore the possibilities!

Why Isn’t There More Mana-Fixing?

Because lands are boring. In 1995, lands cost way more than other stuff and they didn’t even do that much. Play two-colors, draw basics, or perish. That’s how justice worked back then.

How Do You Balance a Cube Like This?

You don’t. Who cares?! The goal is to capture the feel of casual Magic from the first popular age of Magic (which I cut off at Urza Block. I’m sure it’s different for different people, but Urza Block felt a lot different than Mercadian Masques and the sets after to me). When I was a young nerd-o discovering this phenomenal game that would go on to give me basically everything I have in life, I wasn’t concerned with balancing a cardpool. I wasn’t even concerned with making my deck 40 or 60 cards. So instead of spending a ton of time worrying about that, I didn’t. Instead, I said, “These are a lot of the cards and interactions that defined the games from my childhood.” And so they sit.

The Archetypes

There are a handful of archetypes that are possible, but most of the time, two-color good stuff is the order of the day. And by good stuff, I mean barely playable trash. Because this is casual Magic from 1995 we’re dealing with here.

Archetype 1: Shivan Dragon + Anything

Have you ever had this card in Limited? It’s pretty good. A handful of cards trade for it, but generally, it’s the most powerful creature in a goofy environment like this. You can race under it, you can Terror or Dark Banishing it, or you can pick your cards up. Not a lot you can do about this thing, but that’s part of the fun. Respect it or die.

Archetype 2: Armageddon + Little Idiots

One of the most tried and true strategies of early fair Magic. Drop a bunch of mana dorks, blow up all the lands, win. You’ll notice I added Nettletooth Djinn, because having just one hilariously dated green Djinn for this archetype really concerned me.

Archetype 3: Titania’s Song + Artifacts

Ever wonder where Titania, Protector of Argoth came from? I haven’t, though I do wonder which of her hairstyles is canon.

This deck is built by getting Titania’s Song early, then taking literally every artifact you can get. Bubble Matrix, Icy Manipulator, Relic Barrier, Howling Mine, the whole bunch. You can use Wrath of God and Catastrophe to keep the board clear, then once you’ve assembled a really tentative lock, you drop Titania’s Song and start attacking.

Another viable strategy is for two players to both be trying to draft this deck and fail miserably. In which case you just put Shivan Dragon or Serra Angel in your deck and win anyway.

Archetype 4: Reanimator.

Before there was Akroma, there was Verdant Force. Or Spirit of the Night. Or Colossus of Sardia. Or another big idiot that wouldn’t be caught dead costing any kind of real money.

This deck also has some charm in that Animate Dead is a design disaster. The creature loses a point of power for some reason, and then there’s another fifteen paragraphs of text about other things that don’t matter. I mercifully avoided putting Dance of the Dead in, as it has the most Oracle text of any card ever as far as I know (yes, including Ice Cauldron).

Suffer the Past

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. That doesn’t actually apply here, but it sounds good and important.

If you’ve only been in the game a short while or you wonder what it was like to play with cards that were positively awful (I have a friend trying to convince me to cut Ihsan’s Shade. It’s never going to happen), then re-create this Cube (for like $20) and find out what Christmas mornings were like in 1996.

Don’t pass the Shivan. Seriously.

What old cards give you a shot of nostalgia? What are your favorite unusual Cubes you’ve encountered?