This feels like an unusually busy week for Magic. We’re a fair amount of time away from the next non-reprint set, but Double Masters 2022 is all over my feed, the 20th Anniversary Series is wrapping up on Magic Online (MTGO), and as of today there’s a Cube live on both MTGO and Magic Arena. This could be a quiet week if you’re like me and don’t pay much mind to cards being reprinted, but it’s been anything but.
My focus today, as you can imagine, is on the return of Chromatic Cube to Magic Arena from now through July 7th. It’s been one year since we first saw the Cube, and it’s much different now. The Cube remains Arena’s version of David McDarby’s Live the Dream Cube, but much of the card list has changed and this will also be the Cube’s first run with a spread of digital-only cards. If you were uncertain how Alchemy was going to impact the Arena Cubes, it seems pretty clear at this point that we’re going to see these digital-only cards in every Arena Cube offering.
To get a base understanding of the Cube, I’d start with McDarby’s article on the updated list that outlines the explicitly supported archetypes. My article on the Cube’s debut last year will also provide some relevant background. I’ve also ported the updated list to Cube Cobra so that you can draw your own conclusions.
Quick Notes and Digital Cards
The change log is too long to present in an easily digestible way, so I’ll offer some useful notes. A lot of individual cards have changed in the Cube, but mana values and types of effects have remained largely consistent. Cubes this large are naturally going to bias players towards just drafting and playing the most individually powerful cards, which was true of this Cube before; changing this would require a much more radical shift. Changing a lot of cards doesn’t necessarily change any fundamentals, and my approach to Chromatic Cube is going to remain fundamentally the same for this run.
Before I get into my usual breakdown by color, I’d like to compile a list of all of the digital-only cards just so you can see them all in one place. I know that I don’t Cube to play with cards that I’ve never seen before, so if you’re anything like me, this list will be useful in terms of not having to read cards during the draft or face any weird surprises in game. Some of these are incredibly minor rebalances, such as Blood Artist not letting you target yourself for a better user experience, and some of these are completely made-up cards that I’ve never seen before:
That’s quite a lot of digital-only cards! All right, if you’re still with me, let’s break the Cube down by color to see what the most powerful new additions are!
White remains the best color in the Cube for drafting aggressive decks, though admittedly Esper Sentinel is a downgrade from Usher of the Fallen in this department. This makes sense. given the Cube’s philosophy of generally trying to cast expensive spells. Luminarch Aspirant leaving the Cube is another blow to aggressive decks. There are some very powerful additions entering the Cube for white, though:
Captain Eberhart and Sigardian Evangel look like awesome tools for aggressive decks, and we already know that Adeline, Resplendent Cathar is a beating. A lot of white’s strength is still tied into big payoffs like Harmonious Archon and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, but Intrepid Adversary does give me some hope for white’s ability to beat down, and Teleportation Circle gives me hope for white’s ability to durdle.
I still generally feel that white decks in this Cube want to be full-on head-down beatdown decks or very slow controlling decks that will most commonly also be blue and/or green, and that the color is firmly in the middle of the pack on power level in the Cube.
Nexus of Fate and In Bolas’s Clutches were mercifully cut from the Cube from this iteration, but Sublime Epiphany remains as a brutal game-ender and it’s hard to argue against blue being the most powerful card in the Cube. There are a few heavy-hitters entering the Cube in blue with this update as well:
Counter spells, draw extra cards, bounce your opponent’s stuff, take extra turns. Don’t worry about being fancy. All of this stuff is just fundamentally very powerful.
Agent of Raffine is an interesting card because it’s generally going to be worse than the same stats with “draw a card” being the resolution of its ability, but this Cube is largely about generating and spending mana, so as long as your opponent’s deck is decent, you should get good mileage out of this card. It also has a decent body for blocking against aggressive decks, so I expect the card to perform quite well.
Black was pretty firmly the weakest color in the Cube before, but some powerful additions help to push it closer to the middle of the pack:
I don’t actually know what Davriel does and I don’t intend to find out. But the card has a lot of text and loyalty for a four-mana planeswalker, so how bad could it be?
I do know that Yawgmoth and The Meathook Massacre are busted, though. These two cards give sacrifice decks some serious haymakers, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel gives a nice payoff for decks that are heavy on black pips. I’m still fairly medium on black in the Cube at large, but I am big on these cards.
There are still no red one-drops in the Cube, so red remains largely a midrange color. The Goldspan Dragon nerf doesn’t mean too much in the context of Chromatic Cube, and it remains the type of red card that is desirable in this environment. Some new additions worth noting include:
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is the big get here for being both cheap relative to the Cube’s general curve and a mana accelerant. I also imagine that Urabrask, Heretic Praetor really throws a wrench into the system of a lot of big mana decks that won’t be able to effectively leverage the top card of their library immediately if you can get Urabrask down early.
I’m still looking to be blue and green well before I go into red, but red is a fine third color in this Cube.
In a Cube that’s largely about casting expensive spells, it should come as no surprise that green is a contender for the most powerful color. Llanowar Elves is an easy Pack 1, Pick 1 here. Hell, I’m even happy to play Gilded Goose in this environment! There are some solid new payoffs entering the Cube in green, though mostly I’m paying attention to the mana ramp:
Something to be mindful of is that Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead form the backbone of the most powerful archetype in the Cube, so going heavy on cards that search for basic land cards can be a bit precarious. With all ten Triomes in the spread and a good clip of other nonbasics, it’s more common than you might think to only play two to five basic lands. Cultivate is still great, but just make sure that you’ll be able to effectively use all of the basic land searchers that you draft.
There aren’t great incentives to play mono-green, so I’m not all that interested in Unnatural Growth, but green makes it easy to play a bunch of colors, and I’m really big on base-Simic two- to five-color decks in Chromatic Cube.
I’m still big on gold cards in Chromatic Cube, especially if they’re blue or green! Here’s my short list of hot ones entering the Cube:
And it just so happens that most of these cards are blue or green! The big exception here is Ob Nixilis, the Adversary, a card that I’m much colder on in more traditional Cubes. Ob Nixilis is pretty weak against aggressive decks and combo decks, but with the field being much more midrange and controlling, Ob Nixilis seems quite powerful in Chromatic Cube. The major cost that you pay is that the card is Rakdos, so your mileage may vary.
We’re mostly looking for mana acceleration and otherwise above-rate cards here, given that mana-fixing lands are abundant and desirable in this Cube. There are a few new additions worth noting on those fronts:
Key to the Archive is honestly just busted. A Sisay’s Ring-style effect is very welcome in a Cube so full of expensive spells, but this one also fixes your mana and sometimes comes with a Demonic Tutor. It’s near the top of the list for best Pack 1, Pick 1s in the Cube.
The total number of lands in the Cube has increased with this update, and the power level of lands featured has increased as well. Snarls are thankfully on the outs, with slowlands and the rest of the Triome cycle entering the spread. Forsaken Crossroads is also a significant digital-only land for just about any Chromatic Cube deck.
Chromatic Cube highly incentivizes drafting lands early and often, and my experience with the Cube has been that “mana and stuff”-style decks are generally the most powerful decks you can draft.
Enter the Arena
McDarby continues to deliver on his vision of a Cube offering that gives a lot of the feel of Commander, with big flashy spells taking center stage. The curmudgeon in me generally dislikes how many digital-only cards we’re seeing in the Arena Cubes, but seeing as playing Cube in paper is far superior to the digital drafts, it’s only fair that the digital Cubes try to offer you something unique. I definitely intend to get at least a few drafts in while the Cube is live, and that act certainly speaks louder than my gripes.