I First-Picked Tolarian Academy In Vintage Cube. Now What?

It’s time to go deeper into Vintage Cube Draft! Ryan Overturf presents a tricky pick that winds up in a place you won’t expect!

Tolarian Academy, illustrated by Stephen Daniele

I recently wrote a piece on drafting the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube with a heavy emphasis on the sorts of cards you should first-pick. Of course, there’s a lot of draft left after your first pick, and finding your lane in Picks 2 through 5 is also monumentally important.

Sometimes you find yourself with a Tier 1 or better first pick and your ability to leverage that card evaporates quickly. Today I want to highlight what I consider to be the pivotal pick from just such a draft. This is a look at a Pack 1, Pick 4. Take some time to vote for what you would take from this pack. Then check out my thoughts on the options, what I took, and how the draft ended up.

Pack 1, Pick 4

The Picks So Far:

Tolarian Academy Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Restoration Angel

The Pack:

Emrakul, the Promised End Blooming Marsh Bomat Courier Honor of the Pure Oona's Prowler Phantasmal Image Sword of Light and Shadow Tasigur, the Golden Fang Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Thragtusk Adanto Vanguard Ravenous Chupacabra

The Pick:

Examining My Options

What are my choices?

Blooming Marsh

After a first-pick Tolarian Academy I haven’t found any playable artifacts, and while I hope to play both my Academy and one of the best Cube planeswalkers of all time in Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, this pack is not reassuring on that front. When the spells aren’t appealing, it’s conventional Cube wisdom to draft some lands (though picking up Blooming Marsh at this point in the draft might hurt more than it helps).

I would likely be looking very closely at any blue land and many white lands from a pack like this, though I’m generally only happy with Blooming Marsh in Recurring Nightmare or Leovold, Emissary of Trest decks. I have neither of those cards, they tend to be drafted fairly highly, and it’s very unrealistic that I get to leverage either my Academy or my Teferi in any pile of cards that ends up making taking the Blooming Marsh worth it.

If the rest of Pack 1 looks like this pack, then I might end up wishing I gave up my early picks to speculate on better Packs 2 and 3, but the floor on a pile of cards with Islands, Plains, and Teferi is high enough that this is a big risk.

Phantasmal Image

Phantasmal Image checks all my Vintage Cube boxes on being both efficient and versatile. Sometimes you copy their Griselbrand and catch back up, and other times you copy your own Frost Titan and put your opponent in the ground.

Phantasmal Image isn’t an artifact, but it’s plenty fine in an Academy deck to copy whatever your fast mana can power out, and it is a totally serviceable card in an Azorius Control shell. Clones are only as good as the battlefield they’re deployed on, but in Vintage Cube you can expect Phantasmal Image to be worth well more than the two mana you spend on it.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia is completely off-plan with Teferi and Academy, though she plays well with Restoration Angel, and in terms of how Thalia is valued in the sorts of decks she’s played in relative to other cards in the pack, Thalia has the highest value over replacement. It’s important for the mono-white decks to be able to push back opposing fast mana, and taxing noncreature spells is a great way to do just that.

The real merit to taking Thalia here is looking ahead and seeing that you’ll confidently be able to wheel either Honor of the Pure or Adanto Vanguard. Thalia is the pick here that gives you the most immediately while also all but guaranteeing something on the wheel.

Adanto Vanguard

Adanto Vanguard isn’t flashy. It’s an efficient creature that is good at attacking and kind of bad at blocking. Having beatdown creatures at the bottom of your curve with Teferi at the top might look a little goofy, but with the right additional interaction you can end up with a solid tempo deck.

Where picking Thalia would be more or less abandoning the Academy and the Teferi, picking Adanto Vanguard is a nice halfway point between looking at switching to mono-white and playing a more tempo-oriented build of Azorius. Vanguard is ultimately much more likely to wheel than Thalia, though it won’t necessarily end up being a wasted pick if more good blue cards do show up.

Ravenous Chupacabra

Big Chupes basically never makes the cut in my Academy decks, but if you can make the mana work, then playing Teferi and Ravenous Chupacabra in Esper Control is reasonable. Moving in on Esper with the intention of playing the Chupacabra means committing to drafting Esper multicolor lands very highly, though the Orzhov multicolor lands shouldn’t be too difficult to acquire.

Looking at pairing Ravenous Chupacabra with Restoration Angel in an Orzhov deck and splashing the Teferi if the mana works could be another direction to take the draft, though this sort of synergy is of a questionable power level for the format relative to a generic Azorius deck highlighted by Teferi.

So What’s My Pick?

What did I take?

Phantasmal Image.

I would much prefer Academy and/or Teferi to work out over abandoning them for a different strategy, and Phantasmal Image would pretty easily make my deck if that happened. Moving off those cards at this point is more based on fear that I’m going to miss on good artifacts and blue cards than it is on the power level of what I’m taking. I believe the cards I already drafted are too good to give up as a hedge.

Amusingly, the rest of this pack involved seeing no additional good blue cards or artifacts and picking up Monastery Mentor and Recruiter of the Guard before wheeling Adanto Vanguard. Taking Thalia or even Adanto Vanguard the first time around would have improved the deck I ended up in, though part of the strength of Thalia was that she was going to come with a good card on the wheel. Knowing that wheel was coming made it feel safe to lock in some white creatures in the interim. A first-pick Mox Pearl in Pack 2 followed immediately by better white cards than blue cards and no good looks at fixing actually ended up pushing me completely out of blue. Even in hindsight I stand by the Phantasmal Image, though it did not make the cut in this 3-0 deck:

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