Happy spooky season, gamers! As announced this week, Magic Online (MTGO) is getting into the spirit, and we’re about to enjoy a two-week run of an Innistrad Horror Cube as designed by Frank Lepore! This event has been marked “TBD” for a little while now, and I had been hoping we would see something like this. I’ve enjoyed the Innistrad flashback queues we’ve seen in past years, but this is something even better!
Lepore’s article on the Cube is a good starting point for getting a feel for the format, and I’ve also ported the list over to Cube Cobra for easier analysis. Amusingly, this is very similar space to something I was considering when I was approached for a Spotlight Cube, though ultimately I was more convinced of Grixis Cube’s ability to 540 cards than Spooky Cube’s ability to do so while preserving the experience I wanted to provide. Which is all to say that I have a lot of experience and thoughts on Cubes in this space!
My concern with a 540-card version of Spooky Cube was primarily that the power band would have to widen significantly to make the design work, and the narrow power band was a huge part of my focus in that design. Innistrad Horror Cube has a much wider power band, which isn’t good or bad; it’s just counter to my preferences as a designer. For the purpose of this article, this wider power band helps me to focus in on the high picks and better-supported strategies for drafting the Cube. So let’s break the Cube down by color and go over my approach to the format!
The first thing to notice about white is that there is a very high density of Humans and Human token generators. This is exactly what you want to succeed with Humans in a Cube of this size, though it’s worth noting that blue and black are not offering a lot in the “Humans matter” department. I see Humans as the best thing going on in white, and red and green being the most desirable colors to pair with this theme in aggregate.
White offers some support for Vampires and Spirits as well, though I’m much colder on these types as far as actual deck archetypes go. The volume for Spirits just isn’t there in the Cube at large. There’s more going on with Vampires, though white is unlikely to be your primary color for a Vampire deck, plus you’re much more likely to just be interested in individually powerful cards with these creature types.
When it comes to drafting white, I’m looking for cards at exceptional rates that generate some value. I bias towards caring about Human as a creature type, but not so much that I would ever be happy if Vampire Slayer made my deck. Restoration Angel is more appealing than Odric, Lunarch Marshal by virtue of just being a more powerful individual card, and I would highlight Adeline, Resplendent Cathar as exactly what I’m looking for in this environment. Wedding Announcement would be very near the top of my pick order for similar reasons. I expect Archangel Avacyn to be among the winningest cards in the Cube.
Many cards in the Cube are more or less sideboard cards, and I would treat them as such and draft them lowly. There are more black cards in the Cube than any other color, but not enough to maindeck Celestial Purge. Devout Lightcaster is much more appealing because it’s always a creature, but much less appealing for costing triple white. Your mileage may vary, but I generally bias towards cards that offer something powerful in terms of absolute abstract rate over getting fancy, at least when it comes to white cards.
Blue is where you’ll find some of the more significant support for Spirits, and I would treat them like the rest of the blue creatures that attack and block in this Cube or any other; stay far away. There are plenty of blue creatures in the spread with powerful abilities, and I’ll be looking to draft them while hoping never to play Aberrant Researcher.
It’s worth noting that blue has a significant spells-matter theme, though most of the blue spells in the Cube are quite weak. Consider is the cream of the crop, and the next most powerful noncreature spell in blue is probably Thirst for Discovery. I love seeing Forbidden Alchemy as one of the more appealing options, but that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the archetype. There are a handful of powerful payoffs for spells-matter decks in the spread, but the support within the color blue is weaker than I would normally like to support a card like Rise from the Tides.
These cards become much more appealing in Izzet decks, with Faithless Looting being a godsend for drafters who would have liked to have seen more blue cantrips. Blue looks like one of the weaker colors in the Cube, and I would generally wait to move in on blue until I’m more certain of the deck I’m trying to draft in this environment. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets and a few other cards are strong enough to play in most decks I’d expect to draft here, but blue looks largely like a support color in this environment.
There are significantly more black cards here than in the other colors, and that makes sense, based on my experience drafting Spooky Cube. Even with a balanced distribution, there it’s very common for half or more of the table to be playing black. There’s just a lot of stuff in Innistrad that cares about the graveyard, and black is the strongest graveyard color, after all!
Zombie support is primarily in black, with this being largely true of Vampires as well. The higher volume of black cards makes these creature types more viable as archetypal focuses than Spirits, but all the same, I’m looking for individually powerful Zombies and Vampires more than I’m trying to draft full-on Zombie and Vampire decks. Notably, Cryptbreaker checks the right boxes largely by being a discard outlet that generates value, which is pretty desirable in a Cube with a lot of madness cards.
I will say that I’m bigger on Vampires than Zombies, partly because red adds more to Vampire decks than blue adds to Zombie decks, and more significantly because Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is among the most powerful cards in the Cube if you can successfully draft around it. I’d be keen to first-pick the card and then to force cheap Vampires and, more importantly, expensive Vampires to take advantage of the powerful planeswalker. Though I am sad to not see Bloodghast in the spread, I’m not above a Cordial Vampire.
The other black planeswalkers are all great here, too, and none of the other options require any additional setup. I don’t expect that I’d often pass a black planeswalker in this Cube. This is exacerbated by black being the most-represented color by volume, which means you’ll be drafting black more often than the other colors. I would also value black mana-fixing highly for this reason.
Griselbrand jumps off the page in terms of individual card power levels, though it is worth nothing that there aren’t abundant or cheap ways to put it on the battlefield. There is a good amount of looting and self-mill though, and Karmic Guide and more significantly From the Catacombs will be high picks that would allow you to cheat the powerful Demon onto the battlefield.
There are some bones for red aggressive decks in the Cube, though this isn’t an environment where I’d go too far out of my way to try to play Mono-Red Aggro. There are rate outliers to draft highly, to be sure, but relevant creature types as well as discard outlets and payoffs will be higher priorities than just picking up all of the red-one drops. Hanweir Garrison and Zealous Conscripts will be very high picks for me for being great at closing games while also being Humans.
Red is where you’ll find the sweepers for spells-matter decks, and Blasphemous Act should be on your radar for playing with and against. Burn Down the House is even more significant for its modality, and is among the more first-pickable red cards. A more obscure that I will rarely be passing is Violent Eruption. I’ve tried the card in a couple of iterations of Spooky Cube, and I’ve never seen the caster lose, nor the opponent have fun. Triple red is a kind of tough cost, but it’s possible, and casting the spell with madness isn’t terribly difficult.
Innistrad Horror Cube isn’t as flush with discard outlets as I would expect, and my experience drafting madness decks has been that you want your deck to be long on both discard outlets and payoffs. The Cube is honestly a little light on payoffs, too, but the upside of having Fiery Temper and Violent Eruption is high enough that I would go out of my way to pick up Ravenous Bloodseeker and Magmatic Channeler if I saw those and other payoffs early.
Typically, when we talk about green in Cube, it’s mostly a matter of figuring out the best ramp spells and the best payoffs, and that aspect of the color can get louder as the color splits between aggressive cards and ramp. I actually love the green column here, because it’s all beatdowns! I’m actually bigger on picking up the green aggressive one-drops than the red ones here! And as we go up the curve, green has some massive bombs to serve as high picks for the color.
Green depends largely on stats, with relevant Human and Wolf/Werewolf stuff showing up as well. Green is also where you’ll get into one of my favorite Cube archetypes in Spider Spawning! There are a few two-mana ramp creatures in the Cube that I think are generally on the weak side unless you’re specifically drafting a deck where creatures in your graveyard matter, at which point self-mill and dumpy cards that turn into Spiders become very welcome to have around.
Delirium is fairly easy to get online with cards like Vessel of Nascency, and I would expect to be able to make Ishkanah, Grafwidow a high-impact card more often than not. The lack of Eternal Witness and Timeless Witness in the Cube is definitely a blow to self-mill decks, given that you’d like to recur some of the cards that you milled, but Seasons Past is a great payoff for these decks that has high nostalgia value to boot.
None of the individual colors really have me lining up to play a mono-color deck, even if cards like Vampire Nocturnus and Chandra, Dressed to Kill offer some incentive to do so. The high volume of black cards won’t change the fact that other players want to draft them, and I wouldn’t shy away from drafting gold cards early. The Cube is quite long on appealing options.
A lot of the gold slots go to creature lords, and for the most part I see creature-type driven archetypes as things I would want to move in on only if they seemed especially open. I would want Vampire Socialite in all of my Rakdos decks that care about Vampire as a type, but I wouldn’t want all of my Rakdos decks to be Vampire decks.
Sometimes the colorless column features the most powerful cards in a Cube, and sometimes the opposite is true. That’s just kind of the nature of artifacts, and Innistrad Horror Cube is closer to the latter. Avacyn’s Collar doesn’t do anything for me. The Celestus is the most significant card in this section, followed closely by Tamiyo’s Journal and Investigator’s Journal as card advantage options.
I want to shout-out Runechanter’s Pike and Butcher’s Cleaver for their nostalgic combinations with Delver of Secrets and Invisible Stalker. I do hope that these cards steal some games, but the Cleaver is clunky and Runechanter’s Pike is pretty disjointed with regard to what a deck that’s long on instants and sorceries wants to do in Cube. The Cube is light enough on spot removal that I could see the Cleaver working out, but all the same, I wouldn’t value it highly.
There’s a good amount of mana-fixing lands featured in the Cube, about as much as we see in the MTGO Vintage Cube. A couple of the cycles are much weaker individual cards, though. The spread includes shocklands, fetchlands, slowlands, allied Snarls, enemy buddy lands, Pathways, and Triomes. Fabled Passage and Prismatic Vista also show up as additional fixing and delirium enablers.
As I mentioned earlier I would value black mana-fixing generally higher than other colors. It looks like a lot of the gameplay in the Cube will center around battlefield presence, and with so many slots being dedicated to two-color archetypes, I would try to keep things to two to three colors, though at the right table I could see finding success with four- or five-color piles of cards. Enemy fixing is slightly better than allied fixing given that Snarls are much weaker than buddy lands, but not enough that I would let the lands push me in a particular direction over the spells.
Most of the Innistrad ability lands are present in the Cube. I imagine Nephalia Drownyard was eschewed for being too strong, though I’m surprised that Stensia Bloodhall wasn’t left out for being too weak. Colorless lands with two-color activations are a charming reminder of Magic’s past that aren’t high picks by today’s standards, but most of these lands can be quite relevant in-game if you draft sufficient fixing otherwise.
The colorless land that I’m much more interested in is Westvale Abbey. The activation cost is a little steep just to make tokens when you having nothing going on, but Ormandahl, Profane Prince is very difficult to beat if you can pull off the transformation, which honestly doesn’t ask a lot of you. Even if my mana was bad, I would generally play Westvale Abbey at least as an eighteenth land.
Innistrad Horror Cube is a very different take on a style of Cube that I’m very familiar with. It has a significantly more Limited Magic vibe than Spooky Cube, which is a natural consequence of leaning heavily into a handful of sets, but there’s plenty of cool stuff going on, and it’s always fun to try a new Cube.