If you’ve spent any time doing in-person drafts, then you have undoubtedly heard the deafening screech of a player shouting, “How is this still in the pack?!” at the sight of their fifth pick. It’s a statement so ubiquitous that it’s become something of a meme. Today I want to talk about a meme of equal and opposite effect: opening up a pack for a Vintage Cube draft, completely missing on any of the most powerful cards, and remarking, “I thought this was a Powered Cube?”
Today we’ll look at a completely unremarkable Pack 1, Pick 1 from the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube. There are no Moxen here, no broken blue cards. Take a moment to select which of these replacement-level cards you would prefer to start your draft with, and then check out my thoughts on the available options!
Pack 1, Pick 1
Examining My Options
The current Vintage Cube list on MTGO is very hostile to red with the curve being entirely too top-heavy. That said, the best red decks play two to three four-drops and Koth is arguably the best one. Koth loses a little appeal on resilience as compared to Chandra, Torch of Defiance but hits players and planeswalkers harder and quicker, which is what a Vintage Cube red deck wants to be about. Hellrider has a higher ceiling, but Koth shows up and wins on his own better in the face of opposing removal spells.
A big part of the appeal of Koth in this pack is that Runaway Steam-Kin is among the more likely red cards to wheel. Steam-Kin really only plays well in mono-red aggressive decks, so you don’t have to worry about somebody taking it for a different strategy like you would a Lightning Bolt. You really can’t afford to draft a disjointed deck without any busted cards in Vintage Cube, so looking out for what you want to wheel becomes much more important when you open a pack like this.
Coalition Relic is often a fairly easy Pack 1, Pick 1 in Legacy Cube, but when you introduce Moxen to the format, suddenly spending three mana on a rock starts to look prohibitively expensive. I’m generally inclined to value blue Signets over Coalition Relic in Vintage Cube because efficiency is just that important.
That said, if you do end up with cheaper fast mana later in the draft in a deck that is trying to accelerate out cards like Consecrated Sphinx, then Relic plays well enough. Relic is also totally fine if you get some artifact payoffs like Urza, Lord High Artificer. It’s just important to understand how much worse it is here than in Cubes with lower power levels.
I’m lumping these lands together as a matter of aggregate preferences. If you’re into drafting Splinter Twin, then you’ll value Spirebluff Canal higher than I do because I win more with interactive Azorius decks.
Whichever of these lands you prefer, they’re pretty middling as compared to fetchlands or dual lands. Still, when you don’t have much in the way of exciting spells to choose from, it makes plenty of sense to start your draft on a land.
Similarly to Koth and red decks, the best Storm decks tend to contain Yawgmoth’s Will. The problem is that the best Storm deck is still a Storm deck and, much like red aggressive decks, Storm just hasn’t felt very good in this configuration of the Cube.
One thing to like about starting with Will is that you’re pretty likely to get Dark Petition on the wheel. You’re also generally extremely likely to get Lion’s Eye Diamond if it’s opened by anyone at any point in the draft when you Pack 1, Pick 1 Yawgmoth’s Will. This pick isn’t for the faint of heart, but it has merit.
Finally, we have our “fine blue card” pick. Mana Leak tends to make every blue deck you can draft in Vintage Cube, and you can do worse than opening with a card that you always start. Mana Leak is one of the better two-cost cards for multicolor control decks, plays great in Reanimator, and can even show up as a tempo play in Storm decks.
If you take Mana Leak you’ll get something on the wheel; you just have less ability to plant yourself in a specific archetype. I like trying to force something broken in Vintage Cube, though there’s definitely merit to staying open through the early part of a draft when you don’t open anything spectacular, and I’d argue Mana Leak does that as well as Coalition Relic in Vintage Cube.
Before I get to my pick, I do want to go over these two cards. Mirari’s Wake makes a lot of other people’s decks, though my green decks never touch it. There are too many green fives and just casting anything that impacts the battlefield over expensive mana ramp has been a much more successful strategy for me. I’ve also gained a lot of points playing against Mirari’s Wake because in a pretty large sampling of games you can just ignore the Wake and answer the opponent’s other cards. It’s probably at its best when it shows up in Storm, but Yawgmoth’s Will is the clear Storm pick here.
Dig Through Time is sometimes great, though a lot of the blue decks I like use a lot of artifact fast mana and/or planeswalkers which can make it tough to fill my graveyard for delving. On top of that, Dig Through Time very commonly wheels in my experience, and if you’re interested in the card, I think starting on Mana Leak or one of the blue lands will allow you to snag the Dig on the way back.
So What’s My Pick?
What I took and what I should have taken if I wanted to win the draft don’t exactly line up, but I think there’s a nice cautionary tale here. I believe Mana Leak is the best way to start a draft from this pack, but I can’t always help myself and I took Koth of the Hammer. Unsurprisingly I wheeled Runaway Steam-Kin and I ended up here:
- 1 Grim Lavamancer
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Porcelain Legionnaire
- 1 Hellrider
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 1 Young Pyromancer
- 1 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 1 Monastery Swiftspear
- 1 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 1 Bomat Courier
- 1 Glorybringer
- 1 Soul-Scar Mage
- 1 Runaway Steam-Kin
This deck was a 2-1 and that just made sense. It’s a second busted artifact and/or a Strip Mine shy of the best possible red deck and the mana curve kind of sucks, but that’s what you can realistically expect currently despite red definitely being open at the table. A deck like this could 3-0 but it’s more likely to 2-1 and it’s really dissatisfying to 2-1 when your deck isn’t doing anything sweet.
If in the course of your Vintage Cubing you come across a particularly deep or interesting pick, then please send a screenshot my way! I’ve been having some great discussions on Twitter (@RyanOverdrive) and am happy to provide my insights!