Tomorrow afternoon will mark the end of July’s run of the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube. I’m always sad to see it go but thankful for the times we had, and I look forward to the next run. The Vintage Cube is my favorite of the MTGO Cube offerings, though today I’ll offer some feedback on some small changes that I would love to see before it returns.
Curating a Cube list is a very involved process and how you approach cutting and adding cards will vary based on the unique goals of your Cube. A good general rule is that cards that are so powerful that they diminish the play experience and cards that are so weak or narrow that they rarely see play should be the sorts of things you look to cut when you make updates.
Vintage Cube is a bit of an oddity even under that basic guideline because by definition Powered Cubes feature a list of cards that are head and shoulders more powerful than any other options that exist. The appeal of Vintage Cube is playing the most powerful cards, and while it’s not always fun to have your spell Mana Drained, we endure those matches because one day it will be our turn to wield that power. If you’ve been playing the MTGO Vintage Cube for a while, you’ll note that Time Vault was cut for comboing too easily and not being very interesting to have around, but by and large the busted cards and lopsided games are an intended feature of the Cube.
Conversely, the least powerful cards in Vintage Cube should be a huge focus during curation. Maintaining a 540-card Vintage Cube is something of a herculean task in terms of creating an interesting balance for the environment because there’s just no way to make the 400th-best Magic card look interesting next to Mox Sapphire in a pack, and as such that’s not a realistic goal. The target lower bound I would set for cards in Vintage Cube would be that on average you’d be happy to ninth-pick the card and it will either make a lot of decks with some regularity or be very powerful in a more niche archetype like Storm.
And that brings us to the crux of the matter. The following is my list of the cards I don’t consider to be good or interesting in the current MTGO Vintage Cube and my suggestions for replacements.
White falls in a pretty interesting place in this Cube because its greatest strength is its lack of depth. There aren’t that many super-interesting white cards so the color is mostly broken into the camps of controlling cards and creatures with power and toughness. The white beatdown deck isn’t anything to write home about in terms of abstract power level, but it gets a lot of trophies because most of the white cards are playable in loosely themed stacks of white cards. Taking whatever white card is in the pack will pretty regularly leave you with a passable aggressive deck and some Moxen will push it over the top.
I don’t think there’s an easy way to make white more interesting and this lane is fine to exist in, but I’d get rid of this list of fifteenth picks in favor of my list of just generally more efficient and interesting cards. Condemn is far and away the worst and narrowest white removal spell, Angel of Serenity exists only to barely make trainwrecked Reanimator decks, I don’t remember what Brightling does, and as for Moat…
Dauntless Bodyguard does its job as a Savannah Lions or protects your disruptive creatures, Eidolon of Obstruction has interesting text given how planeswalker-heavy the Cube is, and Ranger-Captain of Eos is a nice card advantage card with interesting applications against cards like Mind’s Desire and Memory Jar.
I feel like the only reason to exclude Palace Jailer from the Cube would be an aversion to the monarch mechanic, which I guess is fine, but if we could please include the most powerful white cards in the powerful card Cube that would be great.
If I were trying to employ a more heavy-handed overhaul I’d look at some dumpier cards like Baneslayer Angel and would turn a critical eye to the presence of two Armageddons which both often end up in the sideboard of 3-0 decks, but these cards do serve some purpose and are actively exciting for some players.
Blue is the best color, and there’s a pretty strong consensus with regard to what the best blue cards are. I kind of hate Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch, but this product is played by a lot of people who love them, so I really only have one card swap I’d like to advocate for blue.
Arcane Artisan was cut for this run of the Cube for Shark Typhoon. I love Shark Typhoon, but I miss Arcane Artisan. It’s a fine additional enabler for Reanimator and Sneak Attack decks and really is just more powerful than Show and Tell.
Thassa’s Oracle is a neat card, but it’s just hard to imagine running out of cards without being able to win somehow. Give me a real enabler.
Black exists in a weird space in Vintage Cube where it has a handful of the most powerful cards yet ultimately is more of a support color than anything. Devotion, generic beatdown, and Vampires have showed up in various runs as attempted themes and what we’ve learned is that black is best at being a tutoring support color. You could go really deep and redefine the color, though that’s not the sort of critique I’m looking to offer. I’d be satisfied if we could just remove the cards that are inefficient or just don’t quite have a home.
It’s hard enough to justify trying to play Tasigur in this Cube, but then when you actually jump through the hoops and get hit by a Karakas you certainly won’t try again. Plaguecrafter and Yawgmoth lack adequate support, and Ink-Eyes is…let’s say a relic of a bygone era. Mastermind’s Acquisition just reminds me of when Grim Tutor was in the Cube and wasn’t very good despite being a full mana cheaper.
My suggestions here are mostly just cards that are generically fine to play that have the capacity to do some interesting things. Goryo’s Vengeance isn’t as cool as Shallow Grave or Corpse Dance, but the legendary distinction is irrelevant because these cards are all trying to hit Eldrazi or Griselbrand anyway, and it’s just nice to have more looks at this effect when you don’t see all of the cards in every draft.
If they don’t lower the curve of the red decks for the next run, I’m going to scream.
I can’t really countenance intentionally watering down aggressive red decks in an environment where Black Lotus is just allowed. Put all the best red one-drops in! We don’t feel more accomplished when we win with five-drops and we don’t need eight of them.
Lukka is a neat card; I just don’t think it’s exciting enough as an individual card for a five-mana spell in this context. Dreadhorde Arcanist is only good when you get a lot of one-mana spells that are great absent the Arcanist. Terror of the Peaks is admittedly very rad, but it’s the next-worst five. Flametongue Kavu got lost on its way to an Invasion Block Constructed event.
Underworld Breach was cut after a short stint in the Cube, presumably because it was a little too good at Storming. Well, in this last run Storm felt pretty medium. Give it some gas! I get that Breach and Lion’s Eye Diamond are busted in conjunction, but it seems like we’re cool with some two-card infinite combos so I don’t understand featuring Storm but intentionally watering it down.
This is the busted card Cube. Let me play busted cards.
I like green’s position in the Vintage Cube. Craterhoofing people is as satisfying as it ever was, and figuring out when you’re in the right seat to take advantage of the green mana ramp effects like Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary and Gaea’s Cradle is a nice feature. The only problem I have with green is that there’s a handful of cards that are ultimately very similar to other cards in the Cube and are just much worse versions of those effects.
Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate was worth trying, it’s just so much worse than any other green five and Garruk, Primal Hunter was a card I was always excited to wheel for my green decks. I think that’s a pretty easy update to revert.
I’m not sure if Fauna Shaman and Yavimaya Elder are Vintage Cube has-beens or never-weres, but they’re really just too inefficient at what they do and are surrounded by better effects on curve for the decks that might play them. Gilded Goose is a great Constructed card, but mostly ends up being a worse Birds of Paradise in this environment where the Food isn’t of tremendous consequence and repeated mana generation is of paramount importance.
I pulled my punches with regard to Baneslayer Angel, but I’m coming for Elder Gargaroth. Green has too many excellent fives to ever want to play Elder Gargaroth. You only ever play it if you’re shy on playables or as a sideboard option, and even then it’s not exciting. This Cube is definitely big enough for two Deranged Hermit effects, and if you’re going to support Opposition and Recurring Nightmare in your good cards Cube, then I absolutely think you should include the better of the two Hermits.
Beast Whisperer is just a great card in Gaea’s Cradle decks, and green fours are a little lacking otherwise. It’s honestly a surprising exclusion in the current list. Thrashing Brontodon isn’t the most exciting card, but it does double duty in being good against aggressive decks and surviving as a reactive tool. Mostly I think they just need to replace Eureka with something.
Eureka has been left in the Cube because it’s something of a fan-favorite, but does anybody really play it anymore? I think there are some holdouts, but it is the card in the Cube that most commonly involves the opponent winning the turn after you resolve it. I really don’t like leaving intentionally bad cards in the Cube, though I will admit it can be a fun card to lose with now and again.
There aren’t a ton of gold cards in the Cube and for the most part the best options are all featured. I don’t have any major objections to how the gold section of the Cube is managed, just a few suggested updates.
The Yorion-Geist swap is just a reversal of the update made for this run. I like that they tried Yorion. It went fifteenth pretty consistently. I don’t think Trostani or Kaya do anything exciting, and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God is hard to cast and weirdly adds a three-color card when there’s no need to do so. Leovold, Emissary of Trest and Sphinx of the Steel Wind are the only other three-color cards in the Cube, though Sphinx exists as a Tinker / Reanimate target and Leovold is just a Vintage-caliber card. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God is none of these things.
If Disenchant is good enough for the Cube, and it is, Qasali Pridemage is certainly welcome. Magister of Worth is more of a Legacy Cube level card, but it’s a sweeper that plays well enough in the planeswalker-heavy decks and I’m not convinced that Kaya is particularly playable in most Cubes.
Candelabra of Tawnos is a sweet old card that most players don’t have the option to regularly play with, which is a great reason to put it in the Cube. It’s another Trinket Mage target, there are plenty of cards that care about artifacts as a card type, and it works great with all of the mana-doubling effects. Cutting dumpy midrange cards for potentially busted sweet old cards is exactly what Vintage Cube should be about.
There’s not a lot to say about the artifact list in the Vintage Cube. There’s a good spread of mana acceleration and payoffs and all of the usual Vintage suspects are present. The only glaring issue is that Smokestack is far too slow for the Cube.
The exclusion of Sword of Sinew and Steel might have to do with all the included Swords being the enemy-color cycle, but Sinew and Steel has incredibly relevant abilities in the environment. If you’re willing to break color symmetry for Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, this is a much easier line to cross.
Typically a set or two drops between runs of the Vintage Cube, so I expect that you’ll see the typical addition of a few cards from the new sets when the Cube goes live again, though I would be really happy to see my suggested cuts implemented when the Cube inevitably returns to Magic Online. I adore the MTGO Vintage Cube, and if we could see the floor raised just a little higher, I would love the draft experience all the more.