Happy Wednesday, gamers! This week marks the end of the first run of the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube under new management with Daybreak Games, so I thought it fitting to reflect a bit on the latest update after experiencing the new Cube list. Ryan Spain took a massive swing with this update, and additionally a handful of cards changed around while the run was live. Today I’d like to touch on those mid-run changes as well as advocate for a little change that I’d like to see myself.
My article in the lead-up to this run covers my thoughts on the initial changes to the Cube well, so now let’s talk about the mid-run updates to the Cube.
After the first week, the following swaps happened.
These changes happened with community feedback in mind, and were largely just reverting the removal of a couple of darlings as well as the addition of a couple of stinkers. Getting Retrofitter Foundry and Thundermaw Hellkite back into the Cube was a great call, and I’m really glad we didn’t have to endure Thoughtpicker Witch and Cabal Therapist for long.
How Does It Feel?
That said, I have mixed feelings about making these mid-run updates conceptually.
Am I supposed to be actively lobbying against the inclusion of other weak cards like Braids, Arisen Nightmare and Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle while the Cube is live? Logging all the drafts where the recently removed Academy Ruins would have significantly altered the way my deck played? I’m just now considering that I could be using my platform to rally people behind removing Triomes from the Cube, lands that offer incentives that I find a bit counter to the Cube at large. I’m not saying that it’s good or bad to make some changes during a run, and some of that is inevitable with bugs and other considerations. It’s just new and different.
If we are going to be making changes based on community feedback, though, then there is one change in this mid-run log that made me especially unhappy, even if I understand it on some level, that has me considering a more radical shift for the Cube. I don’t see Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh as a meaningful addition to the Cube, and I will die on the hill that Tezzeret the Seeker belongs in Vintage Cube. Tezzeret is a staple of Broken Blue and is actually one of the better cards in Supreme Draft. Removing Tangle Wire definitely impacted Tezzeret’s power level – an underrated interaction during its time in the Cube – but considering community-influenced Cube changes in the context of my love of Tezzeret got me thinking…
It’s Time to Talk About Time Vault
Until somewhere late in 2015 or early 2016, Time Vault was a feature of the MTGO Vintage Cube. I’d offer a link to the article that Randy Buehler wrote announcing why Time Vault was cut, but it seems to be lost to time, which is why I’m a little fuzzy on the date. All the same, the card left and we haven’t looked back for years. This was a time before Oko, Thief of Crowns. A time before Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes. A time before either Modern Horizons set. Hell, this was a time before Thraben Inspector!
What I’m getting at is that we are a lot of sets and a lot of improvements in the categories of other ways to win the game, as well as answers to powerful combos, removed from the days when Time Vault was considered a non-starter for a 540-card Vintage Cube. Force of Negation didn’t exist back then. Newly added Force of Vigor is another notable card that brutally answers Time Vault combo. We have March of Otherworldly Light and Cathar Commando now, and we didn’t even have Abrade when Time Vault went!
I’m not trying to make a “dies to Doom Blade” argument, though I do think it’s fair to point out that these cards are even more maindeckable than creature removal in Vintage Cube. I’m just setting the scene for how different things are now. Consider that at the time that Time Vault exited the Cube, Ral Zarek was actually a pretty generically playable card.
Over the years, it has become progressively easier to find success drafting midrange and creature-based decks in the MTGO Vintage Cube. For many, this is a feature, and I wouldn’t take steps with an active goal of pushing back against these strategies. But I do think that, under this new paradigm where changes happen mid-run based on community feedback, it makes more sense to test the waters on the upper bound of the Cube than to fiddle with the weakest cards in the environment.
My proposal, then, is to reintroduce Time Vault to the Cube either with explicit intent to solicit community feedback on the card or to move swiftly if there is a massive outcry to remove it. Some other changes would of course have to accompany Time Vault, but I see the other cards as net positives to the environment.
I’ve already let my bias in favor of Tezzeret be known, but I do think there’s value to having Manifold Key around as an Urza’s Saga target that works with Mana Vault /Grim Monolith and has some other cute interactions, like that with Sensei’s Divining Top as a build-your-own one-sided Howling Mine. I would say that Kiora’s Follower would also be a nice upgrade over Koma, Cosmos Serpent, which is among the worst Reanimator and Natural Order targets in the Cube. If there’s a density issue with those things, then I’m sure Titan of Industry could slide in to compensate, another upgrade to the Cube at large.
Time Vault is evocative of all the nonsense that I expect to see in a Vintage Cube, and I truly do believe it wouldn’t be nearly as problematic today as when it left. I do understand the reservation to not reintroduce the card, but the safety valve of deferring to the community and just removing it again seems like it would do more to build goodwill than anything.
With that in mind, I think it’s only fair for me to speak to another card that hasn’t received as much time in the Vintage Cube as some would like…
A Reluctant Nod to Hullbreacher
In December 2020, Hullbreacher was added to the MTGO Vintage Cube in the week that we were first introduced to Supreme Draft. This was a precursor to a traditional eight-player draft run, but between Supreme Draft and the normal run, Hullbreacher was removed from the Cube. Part of the issue was that Hullbreacher was miserable, but there was also a bug with the card at the time.
Personally, the idea of casting Ponder and having my opponent respond with a Hullbreacher gives me nightmares, but I must admit that the idea of flashing in a Hullbreacher and then untapping to cast a Timetwister does make me giddy. I am much more skeptical of Hullbreacher’s ability to positively contribute to the environment, but it wouldn’t be very professional of me to advocate to testing the upper-bound of the Cube while only speaking on cards that I like.
While we’re here, I will also just add that, whether Hullbreacher makes it in or not, I do see Opposition Agent as a much less offensive gotcha and as one of the most powerful black cards not in the Cube. Once you factor in the awkwardness of the stuff that black is trying to do beyond offering combo and control cards, I would love to see Opposition Agent make its way back in to the Cube. I also know that I was happily scooping up Yawgmoth’s Bargain up until its removal from the Cube, and that’s another one I’d be much happier seeing than awkward support for Sacrifice decks.
If we’re going to be taking big swings with Cube updates, making changes mid-run, and soliciting community feedback, it only makes sense to me to do so in exciting ways. We’re talking about Vintage Cube, after all! Let’s not sweat the bottom 40 cards in the Cube. Let’s experiment with the top of the power band instead.