Happy Halloween, gamers! Well, this will be live a few days before the 31st, but it’s important for me to acknowledge that we’re approaching the end of my favorite season — spooky season! I’m working on arranging a Spooky Cube draft this weekend to celebrate, though I’m sorry to say that you’re not invited. What you can get up to this week though, is drafting Carmen Handy’s Magic 30 Cube on Magic Online!
Carmen has been managing the regular Cube updates on MTGO for a little while now, and is also the brains behind one of the best designed Spotlight Cubes that we’ve ever seen in the Proliferate Cube. We’re in very capable hands with Carmen, and I’m excited to see how her latest design plays. You can find her writeup of the Cube here. Magic 30 Cube is very much a celebration of the history of Magic, and the angle of including at least one card from each of the game’s major releases makes for an exciting design challenge. I’ve ported the card list over to Cube Cobra for easier digestibility. And now for even easier digestibility still, let’s take a look at the Cube by color and go over how I would approach drafting it!
White has good removal, good sweepers, some strong cheap creatures, some anthems, and some token makers. We’ve seen a lot of what white is up to here many times over. The discard outlets in the form of cards like Icatian Crier create an intriguing bridge between the Breathe of Life slow-ish Reanimator decks and the token decks is rather unique here though, and it’s cool to see Guardian of New Benalia and Raffine’s Informant as solid early plays for beatdown and graveyard matters decks alike.
I’m probably most excited to see former Cube great Exalted Angel in the list, though admittedly it’s not a card that I’ll be picking highly. Heavier hitters like Sublime Archangel are just going to perform better, and value generating cards like Reveillark, Karmic Guide, and Angel of Invention are miles ahead of creatures that merely attack and block.
The Reanimator targets in Magic 30 Cube aren’t nearly as exciting as Griselbrand, but that is good for the gameplay of the Cube. Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Blazing Archon won’t automatically win the game every time that they show up, but they do require an answer. I imagine the average deck will have a difficult time hard-casting these threats which is to their detriment, but Angel of Serenity is a pretty heavy hitter than falls more into the range of cards that are reliably castable from your hand.
Elspeth, Knight Errant and Elspeth Conquers Death are a couple more of the higher powered individual white cards that I’d look out for, and mostly I’d caution towards making sure that your deck has a plan and a powerful top end. This Cube has a lot of powerful sources of card advantage and curve toppers that aren’t messing around. Don’t get caught activating Thraben Standard Bearer without getting any value from the card that you discarded.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most powerful cards in the Cube are blue. Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy stand out in even the most powerful Cubes, and I’m pretty jazzed about Mulldrifter in this environment, too. The Storm Crow meme is charming, but I personally won’t be touching the card unless somebody else is covering my entry fee for the draft.
I do enjoy Ninjas as a theme, though Ninja decks tend to be propped up by powerful removal spells and enter the battlefield effects at least as much as the Ninjas themselves. I’ll pick up a Siren Stormtamer once I’ve drafted a good start for decks like this, but I don’t see cheap evasive creatures as an exciting way to start drafting a Ninja deck. I’m much happier to draft Fact or Fiction and figure out some way to win the game than to force myself into a position where I need to be aggressive.
There are a lot of powerful blue Cube staples featured in Magic 30 Cube. Ponder, Chart a Course, Counterspell, Venser, Shaper Savant, Shark Typhoon… Really being too aggressive is one of very few ways to do it wrong. I’ll also add that Venser is particularly brutal given the support for the blink theme. You can also go “infinite” and bounce all of your opponent’s permanents with Reveillark, Karmic Guide, and Mirror Entity or any sacrifice outlet if you’re daring.
I’m looking over the black column and trying to determine what the most powerful individual cards are and where they rank in the Cube. My short list of most first pickable black cards is Liliana, Death’s Majesty, Snuff Out, and Night’s Whisper. It’s… pretty grim. Sheoldred, Whispering One and Massacre Wurm are also significant creatures if you can get them on the battlefield, and black has a solid spread of removal, it’s just that I really would not want to be fighting to play black in this Cube if I had any reason to believe there was another black drafter at the table.
This is not to say that black is unplayable, it’s just that you’ll be fighting uphill if you’re valuing most of the cards in this column highly. There’s some power in the Reanimator theme, especially if you do get the Liliana, but I’m much less optimistic about the volume of Goblins in the Cube and picking up evasive black creatures to play Ninjas. I will say that Snuff Out is actually one of the most powerful cards to support Ninjas as an archetype in my experience, I’m just a lot less optimistic about the tools that fill the rest of the deck out.
This really is just the nature of black in a lot of Cubes. The most powerful black cards of all time like Demonic Tutor, Entomb, and Mind Twist are completely unreasonable and there’s a huge gap of quality even when it comes to cards with similar effects. Approach with caution.
Red also isn’t showing up to Magic 30 Cube with many of its all-time greats, but there’s enough to give the old beatdowns a try. Lightning Bolt, Firebolt, Goblin Bombardment, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker are all awesome. I can be sold on Hellrider and Krenko, Mob Boss here, too.
I love Muxus, Goblin Grandee, but I’m just not convinced that the volume of Goblins to really make the card work with any consistency is available here. There’s a dream list that I could sculpt, but trying to draft that out of a 540-card Cube is a different story entirely. It’s just much easier and you’ll see more consistent results picking up Thermo-Alchemist and Young Pyromancer.
I like red better than black in Magic 30 Cube, though a lot of that is just because the path of dealing damage quickly is less fraught than playing any kind of game that cares about resources other than your opponent’s life total. Having a broken card like Goblin Bombardment on your side goes a long way, too. I’m tepid about drafting red in this environment, but there are some significant draws to it.
There are a few other considerations for the absolute most powerful card in the Cube, but Lotus Cobra stands out on my short list. To the extent that it’s true that playing a deck hellbent on dealing damage is usually a viable path, it tends to be even more true that making significantly more mana than your opponent will lead to game wins. It’s hard to go too wrong with Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves.
Hornet Queen might not be as good at closing the game as cards like Avenger of Zendikar and Craterhoof Behemoth, but it’s still pretty good in that role and is pretty great at stopping your opponent from winning. If we go down the curve a little and look at five drops like Acidic Slime and Deep Forest Hermit, green has some really strong cards to accelerate out. I’m not super big on the graveyard matters stuff like Spider Spawning in a 540-card with some of the other powerful endgames being featured, but I am really big on just playing the best mana accelerants and some beefy spells.
Earthcraft is a card that we don’t see too often in Cube, and it can suffer in some decks and games from not doing anything on its own, but it’s very powerful with some token makers and mana sinks. I probably wouldn’t pick Squirrel Nest terribly highly as individual card, but the combo is absolutely worth looking out for.
I don’t really like the idea of trying to play a mono-green deck in this Cube, but I’m interested in nearly any three color combination with green, especially if one of those colors is blue. I know that I’ve said that many times about many Cubes, and I will continue to say it as long as it remains true.
The mana-fixing in Magic 30 Cube is abundant enough and the incentives to play multiple colors are loud enough that I wouldn’t shy away from first picking a gold card. A solid build-around or just something with a high individual powerful level offers more than enough in a first pick. Here’s a list of the gold cards that I’d be most excited to open:
There are certainly others that I would consider, and it’s worth noting that with so few cards in the Cube really feeling like they’re at the height of the Cube’s power level there’s a pretty strong incentive to actually figure out a gameplan for your deck instead of just sticking to the most powerful cards.
The artifact column in Magic 30 Cube is pretty short, and not all of the cards featured here are exciting, but there are some standouts. I’m into all of the mana accelerants up to and including Solemn Simulacrum, Sword of Hearth and Home, and Reckoner Bankbuster as first picks. I would also expect a turn two Shrine of Loyal Legions to be a very powerful start.
Finally, we come to the lands. Almost all of the lands featured are strictly for the purpose of mana-fixing, and there’s a pretty good volume here. Mostly notable the full spread of fetches, shocks, and original duals will go a long way towards making manabases work.
The total volume of lands isn’t super high, and given that I would generally want to play two or three colors I would value lands reasonably highly. I would definitely value green and blue fixing early in the draft over other colors when I haven’t yet figured out what I’m trying to draft.
Magic 30 Cube is a fun design with a unique restriction, and I’m excited to try the format out. I really enjoy non-powered Cubes that pull from all of Magic’s rich history, and this is a really cool look at everything that Magic has to offer. I have some reservations about the balance, but in a sense that’s a matter driven by the history of the game.
Enjoy the rest of spooky season, gamers, and happy drafting!