Howdy, gamers! The first days of summer have been hazy, muggy, and rainy here in Minnesota, which leaves me plenty of time to sit inside and think about Cube design. The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth and the supplementary Commander release gave us a good supply of new cards that produce and care about Food tokens, and as such I have Food on the brain. It remains to be seen whether Wilds of Eldraine will dip even further in this space, but for today I want to write about Food in Cube as it pertains to the current card pool.
The first thing to note is that there still aren’t that many cards that care about Food specifically. A Scryfall search for “Food” in a card’s Oracle text returns 78 total cards, which means you probably couldn’t design an entire Cube around Food without breaking singleton. When you look at the color breakdown, you’ll also note that not a single mono-red card generates or cares about food. This is all workable, but it’s important to know when experimenting with Food as a significant theme.
Okay, so we want to explore Food in Cube design with the understanding that the card pool and color distribution will likely limit it to a minor theme. This is arguably preferable to Food as the major theme for a Cube, in no small part because the words “Food Cube” invite too many invasive thoughts about Oko, Thief of Crowns relative to how well they highlight a cool and quirky space to explore. Now to break down my thoughts and how I’d go about implementing Food as a significant Cube theme!
Food and Its Impact on Gameplay
To understand the impact of generating a lot of Food on a given environment, a good place to start is just breaking down what a Food token is: an artifact with an activated ability to tap it and pay two mana to sacrifice itself to gain three life. Assuming no synergies, the impact of this token is to increase the average amount of damage a player will need to deal to win a game. We saw this at play with Throne of Eldraine Limited, we’re seeing it now with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Limited, and we do see the impact of this on occasion in Constructed formats like Pioneer where these tokens can make games last at least a turn longer.
If a player’s only intention with Food is to gain life, this incentivizes players to play more for the long game and makes the jobs of aggressive decks more difficult. There are a lot of other things to do with Food, but even in a highly synergistic deck, this will come up as a player’s best or only option some of the time, so this is good to remember as you work on your design and consider what you want aggressive decks to look like in your format.
Now let’s consider some potential synergies.
Food to Support Lifegain
Among the more obvious uses of cards that gain life is to put them in decks that care about gaining life. There are tons of options in this department for Cubes these days, with classics like Serra Ascendant and Ajani’s Pridemate offering intriguing answers to the question of how to shape aggressive decks. I’m personally a huge fan of Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose to this end as well.
Alternate win conditions like Felidar Sovereign also offer fun mini-games for players when you lean into this space, and differentiate the archetypes interested in effects that make a small amount of Food from bigger effects that can generate more. Controlling lifegain decks will be most interested in cards like Butterbur, Bree Innkeeper and Sam, Loyal Attendant, whereas decks looking to close with Feasting Hobbit won’t have as much need to make a bunch of Food.
Of course, the two most powerful sources of Food are cheap enough to show up in aggressive decks while providing potentially powerful tools for control decks as well. I am of course referring to Witch’s Oven and The Underworld Cookbook.
Witch’s Oven is best known for its pairing with Cauldron Familiar, which conveniently plays very well with lifegain as a theme, but what’s more interesting is that this Food generator opens a nice door into sacrifice decks as a theme that will play very nicely with Food. A lot of great cards for sacrifice decks offer some lifegain too, with Blood Artist being perhaps the most iconic card in this department.
The Underworld Cookbook is a bit more specific, but it also comes with its own base-level “combo” with Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. Going this route means you’ll want more discard outlets and ways to be rewarded for discarding cards. Bartered Cow is cute, and there’s merit to discarding Feasting Troll King, though more of a full-on madness theme for red extending into blue and black is a good way to make room for red without red really giving options for Food itself, and also generally being at odds with lifegain.
There are tons of ways to reward players for discarding cards, with Glint-Horn Buccaneer, Surly Badgersaur, and Conspiracy Theorist among my favorite red options. Madness cards are of course welcome, and powerful discard outlets like Seasoned Pyromancer are certainly inviting. I’m a fan of Big Score and Unexpected Windfall for creating Treasure tokens, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is another recently printed all-star that works great in this space.
Generating Treasure tokens really gets us into the meat of the matter though, as we talk about the other tremendously relevant aspect of Food tokens.
Food as Artifact Support
One of the easiest ways to take advantage of free artifact tokens is with cards that care about artifacts! Space as specific and with as small a card pool as Food makes me want to leave the most powerful options, like Tolarian Academy and Urza, Lord High Artificer, on the bench, but luckily the roster of cards that care about artifacts runs really deep.
Focusing specifically on red with “discard matters” as an appealing theme, I like the idea of Goblin Welder to swap Food out for some cool artifacts. You can be as reasonable or unreasonable as you want as you explore this avenue, but I think I’d want some awesome stuff to set up with my Welder. Maybe you want Wurmcoil Engine. Maybe you want Phyrexian Triniform. Or maybe you just want random cool options like Phyrexian Metamorph! Hmm, artifacts mattering, discard mattering, and lifegain mattering have me thinking that a Cube with a Food theme would be an incredible home for a longtime pet card of mine in Trading Post.
Cards that count or sacrifice artifacts can become quite appealing with Food tokens hanging around, with Nettlecyst and Karn, Scion of Urza being fairly easy cards to slot in. I also really like the idea of more cards that can sacrifice artifacts for value. Whether you go full combo mode with Sword of the Meek or not, I see Thopter Foundry as an incredible card for a Cube with lifegain, sacrifice, and artifact themes.
As I think about all of these artifact matters cards, I can’t help but think of the first card that I want in my Cube where Food matters, and the one that I see as the glue to make such a project work today.
Game Objects Cube
Academy Manufactor has been on my Cube bucket list since its printing. I think the tools are there now with all of the new Food support just printed, as well as a couple of years of Treasure support and a few new ways to investigate showing up since the release of Modern Horizons 2.
“Treasure matters” also just makes sense in conjunction with Food matters, with the mana boosts provided by Treasures allowing the average deck to produce threats that are less stymied by bursts of lifegain. This spread of themes makes Currency Converter an awesome inclusion that players can find with Urza’s Saga or the likely more appropriate fit for this environment in Trinket Mage. Another favorite of mine, Descent into Avernus, could lead to some truly wild games, and this is a place where I’m sure Magda, Brazen Outlaw could really shine!
While they won’t help specifically with Academy Manufactor, I do want to note that Blood tokens would also play very well in the environment that I’m envisioning here.
This is all just food for thought (I make no apologies for the lazy wordplay) as I contemplate Food as a theme for Cube, and hopefully this stream-of-consciousness exercise in design offered some meaningful insights for you as you noodle your own Cube projects or even work on Food in Cube specifically. My backlog for Cube projects is a little long and my personal life is rather busy as of now, but this is a Cube idea that I hope to revisit at some point.