Happy December, gamers! It’s a big week for constructed Magic with the latest Banned & Restricted updates, and it’s a big week in the world of Cube as well – a big month even! It’s the season for Vintage Cube on Magic Online (MTGO), and that starts today with a two week run of AlphaFrog’s Vintage Cube! After that run, the usual MTGO Vintage Cube will return, but for today’s purposes, we’ll be talking about Gavin Thompson-Exner’s list.
We’ve seen a handful of different Vintage Cubes on MTGO at this point, but this will be our first crack at the AlphaFrog Vintage Cube. You can find Thompson-Exner’s article on the list here, and I’ve also ported said list over to CubeCobra to make it easier to parse. Unsurprisingly, the list has a lot in common with the usual MTGO Vintage Cube, but there are quite a few notable differences. For the purpose of today’s article I’m going to specifically highlight these differences and how they impact my approach to drafting this list of Vintage Cube by color.
White has the usual aggressive and controlling aspects that contribute to the success of Mono-White or Boros Aggro and Azorius or 3+ Color Control here. Notably, there are a few more white cards in this Cube than the stock MTGO list, which skews more heavily blue. Some cards like Regal Bunnicorn are mostly cute, but I really like seeing Ranger-Captain of Eos here as a card for white aggressive decks that offers a useful form of interaction against combo decks. Samwise the Stouthearted is also an awesome card to see in a digital Cube to track your The Ring emblem for you while you use the card for its primary purpose of recurring threats and Strip Mines.
A swap that I really like is the inclusion of Serra’s Emissary over Iona, Shield of Emeria. Iona basically only ever enters the battlefield via reanimation, whereas Serra’s Emissary is actually castable. It doesn’t effectively end the game quite as often, but being playable in archetypes other than Reanimator more than makes up for this.
There are a handful of white combo cards that we don’t usually see as well, such as Heliod, Sun-Crowned (Walking Ballista), Swift Reconfiguration (Devoted Druid), and Auriok Salvagers (Lion’s Eye Diamond). None of these cards are terribly exciting as high picks, and the combos with them don’t involve as many interchangeable pieces as something like Splinter Twin or just having Tinker in your deck. These are all cards that I would consider taking speculatively in the middle of a pack, but not that actively make me want to move in on white.
White also gives us a little taste of the initiative with Seasoned Dungeoneer. I actually found White Plume Adventurer to be totally fine during its short stay in the stock list, with the initiative being something that combo decks could ignore and aggressive decks or even controlling decks could contest. The efficiency of White Plume Adventurer allowed it to show up in just bout any deck, while Seasoned Dungeoneer is going to force you to have more of a plan for what the game looks like before and after you cast it for four. I value Seasoned Dungeoneer lower than Palace Jailer, but it’s excellent if you have a low mana curve and if you can get your hands on the best white removal spells to protect the initiative.
White has convincingly become the best aggressive color in Vintage Cube, and that looks to hold true here. There’s also a lot to like in white Midrange and Control decks, with Staff of the Storyteller available as a card advantage engine that can absolutely wreck other players trying to play a slow game. Swords to Plowshares shows up very highly on a lot of player’s pick orders for Vintage Cube these days, and I would endorse it as a very high pick here.
The last couple updates to the stock MTGO Vintage Cube have weakened the blue decks that I have historically seen success with in the format, and one of the first things I check was to see if junk like Snap or Seal of Removal were in this list. I am very happy to report that they are not. There are slightly fewer total blue cards in the list, but the heavy hitters in the spread more than make up for this. Specifically, Hullbracher and Bribery are here to offer some free wins.
It is funny to me that a group would decided that White Plume Adventurer was too much while Hullbreacher was fine, but here we are. You should always be a little wary of casting a Wheel of Fortune, but you should be especially concerned about doing so in this Cube. I can already feel the beads of sweat drip down my forehead as I think about topdecking Ponder against untapped blue mana… Of course, the dream is to combine Hullbreacher with your own Timetwister, and I must admit that that aspect is actually fun. Bribery is something of a groaner, but I value it lower than most as a drafter and I think it is nice to have cards to offer less-experienced players some easy wins in the digital Cubes.
The other cards that I want to highlight are Stern Scolding and True-Name Nemesis. I mostly like these cards as solid anti-aggro options. I don’t see either as especially high picks, and I wouldn’t necessarily maindeck Stern Scolding, but it’s great to have when you do get paired against Boros. The two things that True-Name Nemesis does best are block and hold Umezawa’s Jitte. In that way, the card makes Stoneforge Mystic a slightly more desirable card to draft.
We all know that blue has the lion’s share of historically powerful cards. With fewer total blue cards in this Cube and an increase in the average power level of said cards, I know that I will be drafting a lot of blue decks here. Some players shy away from blue because they expect a lot of other players to fight over it, which is a fair approach that makes even more sense with a more even color balance. Personally I like just drafting the broken cards.
There aren’t a ton of differences in black between this Cube and the stock list, but there are a few. Discard is a little heavier, with Mesmeric Fiend and freshly printed Deep-Cavern Bat as options. Tourach, Dread Cantor is also here to much up opposing hands. These tools are all solid against controlling and combo decks alike, if a little weak against aggressive strategies.
More significantly, there’s a bit more focus on Reanimator as an archetype. Persist and Unmarked Grave add some valuable redundancy that compliments Serra’s Emissary very well. I find the stock list to be long enough on reanimation effects as is, but Unmarked Grave is a really big deal with Entomb being among the more first-pickable cards in the Cube. Notably there is no Putrid Imp in this list, which is a card that you usually want to see in the all-in combo versions of Reanimator, but the midrange builds of the deck absolutely benefit from Bitter Triumph.
From the Catacombs is a little expensive to cast, but being able to reanimate from any graveyard and giving you the initiative is messed up. The card is a relatively high pick in any black deck, and it is pretty cute that the escape ability means that it’s a reanimation effect that you can meaningfully Entomb. I already considered Reanimator to be among the most powerful archetypes in the stock list, and it looks even better here!
Red also looks very similar to the stock list, with some very minor changes. I’m happy to see Inti, Seneschal of the Sun in the spread, and there are some more artifact synergies to explore. Goblin Engineer is a fine addition to team Goblin Welder, and it’s very funny to me to see Flametongue Kavu and Fury in the same Cube.
The most notable differences are the additional anti-aggro cards. Forked Bolt and Bonfire of the Damned will help controlling red decks keep creature decks at bay, in addition to giving aggressive red decks a little edge in mirrors. Rolling Earthquake can also stop an aggressive onslaught for a price while also being a solid game-ending tool itself.
Chandra, Hope’s Beacon is an awesome standalone card that we don’t usually see, and at six mana you do pay for what you get. Even still, it’s a fun aspiration card that I’m excited to draft with.
I’m more keen on white aggro than red, but I do like the look of controlling and combo red decks here a little more than in the stock list.
Green is another color that looks very similar to the stock list, with such deviations as… Fertile Ground? It does appear that there’s a little more emphasis on untapping lands to gas up Garruk Wildspeaker and Candelabra of Tawnos, though I can’t help wondering why Arbor Elf didn’t check the right boxes.
The name of the game is mostly the same here. Green is about mana ramp and lands combo. Manglehorn is quietly one of the most powerful cards not featured in the stock list. It might look like just a Reclamation Sage, but you absolutely feel like you got away with one when your opponent starts playing their mana rocks tapped.
Undermountain Adventurer and Monster Manual are both solid, too. A green deck is more likely to play its four mana initiative card ahead of schedule, and the additional mana ramp on Undermountain Adventurer lets you go really big really quickly. Monster Manual isn’t the most efficient creature cheat card, but every piece that makes putting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn onto the battlefield possible goes a long way in rewarding speculative draft picks for that style of deck.
Based on the green cards alone I would approach green the same as I would in the stock list- as a reasonable option for mana ramp when I don’t open the Cube’s most powerful cards. That said, Forked Bolt and Bonfire of the Damned do make me just a *little* less excited to move in on green.
As Thompson-Exner points out, Comet, Stellar Pup and Torsten, Founder of Benalia are the two gold cards worth noting in this list. Comet is quite powerful, if equally chaotic, and Torsten is a solid supplemental card in the creature cheat strategies. I don’t see either card as something that would push me into a specific archetype, but with Forth Eorlingas! existing and giving me a reason to draft Boros I’ll move in on Comet as a curve-topper more readily than I would have drafted a Boros card in years past.
Once again Thompson-Exner covered the bases here well, with Currency Converter and Coveted Jewel being the two artifacts worth drawing attention to here. Currency Converter is largely another Urza’s Saga target to bolster artifact decks, with the discard outlet mattering for Goblin Welder and other recursive cards like Reanimate as well.
I love Coveted Jewel, and I love copying Coveted Jewel with Phyrexian Metamorph! It’s a card that’s mostly for the Mishra’s Workshop and Tolarian Academy decks, but it absolutely does work there. It’s also a perfect fit for Goblin Welder strategies, and isn’t bad in green ramp decks either!
The lands column is very similar to the stock list, with an ambitious Lotus Field in the spread and Shelldock Isle rightfully holding a slot. Mana-fixing lands are pretty much the same, with some additional restless lands in the spread to bolster Midrange decks. Weirdly, Lavaclaw Reaches has not been replaced by Restless Vents, which was a swap that I could not make fast enough in any of my Cubes.
I’m excited to get back to Vintage Cube, and curious to see how a number of the differences between the AlphaFrog Cube and the stock Vintage Cube play. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the cards in this build turn out to be popular features that ultimately make their way into the stock list! I just hope that Hullbreacher makes no such return…