With Vintage Cube simultaneously in the rearview mirror and on the horizon in the year 2020, time has never felt more meaningless. This gap leaves some of us wondering what to do with the stretch of year that is typically filled with dry turkey and bickering. Fear not, Cube enthusiasts, for Kyle O’Neill’s Core Set Cube is available on Magic Online (MTGO) from now until December 2nd.
The Core Set Cube had a run on MTGO a couple of years ago, and features cards that have been printed in various Core Sets from Seventh Edition on. Two more Core Sets have dropped since the Cube’s last run, and significant updates have been made between then and now. I’ve gone ahead and imported the Cube list onto Cube Cobra so we can get a good look at what we’re working with. I’d also recommend checking out Gavin Verhey’s interview with Kyle on Good Morning Magic.
This Cube looks like a cool tool for introducing players to the concept of Cube while also offering a good amount of depth for more experienced Cubers. Here are my impressions of the Cube and how I would go about drafting it.
The Fundamentals of the Cube
Only allowing cards printed in Core Sets is an aesthetic principle, but it’s one that heavily informs the technical aspects of the Cube. Core Sets are generally at a lower power level than the average expansion, but going all the way back to Seventh Edition gives us a lot of sets to work with. Core Set Cube ends up having a higher power level than just drafting a Core Set as normal, but also has a feel much closer to traditional Booster Draft than most Cubes. Most games will be about creatures attacking, spot removal, card advantage, and the occasional swingy rare.
The loudest element of the Cube on paper is how sparse multicolor lands and cards are. This is another factor that lends the Cube to approximating traditional Limited in terms of drafting and playing. Kyle points out that monocolor decks are well-supported, and I’d go so far to say that playing more than two colors is uncommon and somewhat difficult.
For this reason, I advocate trying to keep your options open in the early stages of the draft until you open or are passed something particularly desirable in a second color. I spent a lot of time in the Innistrad queues when they were live in October and was reminded how often games in that format were near-singlehandedly decided by the most powerful rares. Casting Bloodline Keeper correlated very strongly with winning the game, so you wanted to draft in a way that left you open to be able to play a very powerful rare like that if you encountered one in the draft. I believe that this principle applies to cards like Grave Titan and Inferno Titan in Core Set Cube. As compared to Thorn Lieutenant and Knight of Glory, I’m having difficulty imagining passing a Sublime Epiphany if I open one in Pack 2.
Looking over the mana curve and power level of the Cube, I would expect most decks to be somewhat midrange in nature, and I intend to draft as if that’s what I will most commonly be playing with and against. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what each color has to offer in the Cube.
There are several themes supported in white, including tokens, enchantments, lifegain, and good old-fashioned small creature beatdown. When it comes to first picks I’d pay a lot more mind to whether the card I’m drafting is a flagship than which theme it falls under. Mentor of the Meek is going to demand an answer whenever a tokens player casts it, whereas Triplicate Spirits is good but not overwhelmingly so.
All of these themes run fairly deep, and I wouldn’t focus on forcing any one theme over another. Lifegain is a historically weak strategy, but that’s not going to stop me from first-picking Archangel of Thune. I imagine that tokens as a theme offers the most abstract power, but I’d early in the draft I’m looking for cards with individually powerful effects. I’d be pretty happy with any of the following first picks:
I imagine that cards like Oblivion Ring and Pacifism will always make my deck, but I’m hoping to start with a card that can actually close the game.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but blue might be the most powerful color in the Cube. There’s actually a lot of cards featured here that are high picks in any Cube, and interaction in the form of Counterspell is significantly more powerful than Oblivion Ring or Doom Blade. Confiscate and Agent of Treachery are less efficient than Control Magic, but they’re still backbreaking in a lot of spots.
Blue has something of a spells matter theme going on, though mostly it has its typical “cards that are good” theme. I felt Sublime Epiphany was pushing it on power level in Modern Cube, and I imagine that will be more true here. There are just lots of quality threats, two-for-ones, and answers in the spread here. I’d be thrilled to open my draft with any of these:
My assumption is that Nexus of Fate and Time Stop fall slightly short of this list given that they’re somewhat less exploitable than Time Warp, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also consistently excellent. Bribery is also likely to perform well against most opponents, though I am somewhat wary of starting it against the aggressive decks that seem possible in the Cube.
If your opponent is blue, watch out for Aetherspouts. Much like Settle the Wreckage, the caster doesn’t always have much agency in how effective the card is, but also much like Settle the Wreckage, it will ruin your day if you’re not ready for it.
As it often does, black gets the most cards that reward a player for being monocolor, with Crypt Rats being a very cool sweeper and interesting option for a creature to recur. Beyond that, black offers quality removal, some great sources of card advantage, and powerful options for the lifegain theme. There’s a bit of a sacrifice theme going on as well, and I imagine that Bloodthrone Vampire and Reassembling Skeleton can hold their own in this environment.
I’m actually really interested in Ostracize in this Cube given that a lot of the cards that I consider to be first-pickable are powerful creatures. Ostracizing my opponent and following up with a Beacon of Unrest on their best threat sounds awesome. I’m also digging Liliana’s Contract and Demonic Pact, and I’m excited to try to win with the former and not lose with the latter.
These are my preferred Pack 1, Pick 1s for black:
A common critique that I offer to a lot of Cubes is that there are too many six-drops which makes them mostly replacement-level, and I find it very charming that a lot of the six-mana spells in Core Set Cube are just the best things to be casting. There are few problems here that you can’t solve by throwing a Grave Titan at them.
My list of first picks for black is shorter than for the other colors, which leads me to believe that it will end up being my least-drafted color in the Cube. It looks to have pretty reasonable cards altogether on average, just fewer that can anchor a deck on their own.
Red dabbles in Goblins, Dragons, Burn, and some generic big mana stuff as well. There’s actually more depth here for red than you’ll find in a lot of Cubes, which I consider a big win for this design.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ll only ever want to take Ball Lightning on the wheel, but here’s a list of red cards that I would first-pick:
This is basically my pick order for Vintage Cube in reverse. Those big Dragons look considerably better here, and I’m unlikely to give the cheap Goblins a second look until I have some very powerful aggressive bombs in my pool.
Wildfire, Destructive Force, Warp World, and Earthquake are also options that I believe make for very fun first picks, though they’re a bit less flexible in how you want to draft the rest of your deck. If you just want to watch the world burn though, they’re perfect for you.
Gonna go with another classic here and say that if blue isn’t the best color in this Cube, then it’s green. There’s some really powerful ramp here and a lot of my choices for first picks cost a lot of mana. I’m no math scientist, but it seems to me that combining these elements is wise.
Beyond that, green offers some solid color fixing, which means that three-plus-color decks will in all likelihood feature green. As such, having a solid green base will give you the most wiggle room to open and play any powerful card that you open in Pack 2 or 3. Here’s what I’m looking to open in green:
I’d be really happy with any two-mana ramp spell as well. Including all of the fast mana stuff is maybe unfair as compared to not putting Mana Leak or Doom Blade on my other lists, but the relevant difference is that these ramp spells just end up making the six-mana stuff even more powerful on average. During the last run of Modern Cube on MTGO I felt like I was making a mistake if I wasn’t drafting green, and while I don’t believe Core Set Cube is on that level, I am still likely to bias towards green when picks are close.
Multicolor and Artifacts
It turns out that there aren’t a lot of multicolor cards in Core Sets! In fact, there are more three-color cards worth taking notice of in this Cube than two-color cards. You probably can’t ever pass a land if you want to play three colors, but assuming that you can cast them, all of the three-color cards in the Cube are absolute bombs. Beyond that, I would value all of the colorless mana acceleration and card advantage generators extremely highly. Cards like Mind Stone help you stay open and will likely be among the better cards in your deck.
I’m very curious about Field of the Dead in this Cube. Much like the three-color cards, I believe that if you can make it work it’s incredibly powerful. There just aren’t that many total lands in the Cube. Once the Zombie tokens start coming, it’s among the most powerful cards in the Cube, but getting there may prove difficult. At the very least, Field of the Dead plus Scapeshift looks like a winning combination. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is in-bounds as a first pick if only because of its proximity to Solemn Simulacrum, and one of the best possible decks you could assemble is undoubtedly a Golos / Field of the Dead monstrosity.
The updated Core Set Cube looks like it offers a nice balance of generically powerful effects and cool synergies to explore when the cards line up the right way. I’m excited to spend the week drafting it.