Howdy, gamers! With Arena Cube still live through September 5th and another week in this run of Vintage Cube on Magic Online (MTGO), there’s a lot of Cubing happening right now! The full preview is up for Wilds of Eldraine, but I’ll be waiting to touch on that until next week for my usual Top 10 list of Cubeable cards. This week, I’d like to reflect a bit on this run of the Vintage Cube while there’s still some time left to draft it and talk about what I’ve been enjoying with the most recent update and where I’d like to see the list go from here.
I’ll preface my writing today by stating that I don’t envy Ryan Spain’s position curating the Cube, and I won’t be writing anything like a card-for-card list of swaps that I’d like to see. I know full well that almost every card in the Cube is at least somebody’s darling. Instead, I will be naming cards that I would like to see added to the Cube as well cards I’d like to see removed from the Cube, but my intention is for the discussion to center around the relevant “why”s of the matter rather than offering flat suggestions for the “what”s.
I also want to say that, after delivering another huge update on his second crack at the Cube, Spain likely will continue putting a lot of effort and care into curating the Cube, and I’d like to once again give him props for that.
Now let’s break the Cube down by color and talk about what’s working, what I consider questionable, and my thoughts on future updates.
I believe that white is in the best shape of any individual color in the Cube, which is good because there’s only so much you can do with white anyway! The white aggressive and controlling decks are both excellent, and most of the white cards in the Cube are just solid on rate. Some odd stuff like Weathered Wayfarer doesn’t show up too much, but I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to low-mana cards, and I’d look at the top of the curve for any changes to the color.
I’ve personally never seen Sevinne’s Reclamation do anything in the Cube, but I at least appreciate that it has potential at a reasonable rate. Boon-Bringer Valkyrie, Guardian Scalelord, and Sun Titan are all just kind of cards you can cast that are below rate and tend to show up in games that are already over.
There are a few directions that white could go to shore up the few weaknesses that it still has. Personally, I like just shoving on the most broken cards of all time and getting White Plume Adventurer back in along with Seasoned Dungeoneer. It seems that there was a fair amount of pushback against the initiative in the Cube the last run, though, and if fewer people were drafting, then it makes sense to stay away from these cards.
Another option that is very appealing is supporting more of a sideways tokens archetype that would bolster Skullclamp to a position of being less overrated and would give a shot in the arm to Orzhov creature decks. I believe that Legion’s Landing is more powerful than about half of the white one-drops in the Cube as is, and Staff of the Storyteller is a Legacy staple that could really do some work here. I’m also partial to Clarion Spirit in a Cube that makes double-spelling so easy.
The other angle that I like is taking the medium value creatures out of white and pushing things in a full-on combo direction. Reveillark’s glory days are over, but the card can do some rad things, especially in conjunction with Karmic Guide. Auriok Salvagers is a cheeky option for the infinite Black Lotus and Lion’s Eye Diamond combos that I find really intriguing at the expense of only one slot. I also see Persist and Devoted Druid combos as angles that could be explored here that give creature decks more ways to combat the unfair decks in the format. Heliod Combo is a more fringe option, and Solemnity as a persist enabler that also thaws Dark Depths immediately is potentially worth exploring.
As somebody who loves drafting Mono-Blue Combo decks in Vintage Cube, the last update to the Cube made one of my favorite archetypes nearly impossible to draft. A handful of individually powerful blue cards were cut for cards that were some combination of narrower and weaker, which I’m fine with in the case of the cards that are hitting for cool archetypes and am unhappy about regarding the generally underpowered cards. Let’s start with the new additions that I’ve liked.
Subtlety is just a solid generically playable card, Displacer Kitten is a really busted combo enabler, and, while I’ve had issues making Flash and Dream Halls consistently work, I at least appreciate what they’re trying to do.
I will say that the issues that Dream Halls has are less to do with volume of support as the last update prescribed, and more to do with having meaningful support. Cards that are a bunch of colors that aren’t generally playable, like Inspired Ultimatum and Cruel Ultimatum to a lesser extent, are neat, but what Dream Halls needs are cards that are castable and also bent on doing busted things.
I’ll repeat my call for Aminatou’s Augury, and I’ve also been a fan of Arcane Artisan as additional big cheaty support in the past that could work in the same shells. It also makes sense to me that if you’re trying to cheat with Dream Halls that you might want Show and Tell back on the roster. Cheaty decks don’t want to cheat a little. They want to cheat a lot.
And now for the blue cards that I’ve found just generally disappointing:
I’ve regrettably maindecked Chrome Host Seedshark and sideboarded in Snap. Hard Evidence flirts with in-game relevance. Everything else here is just more trouble than it’s worth. I will say that people seem happy enough to try to maximize Paradoxical Outcome, so I could actually go either way on the card. I’ve also been a huge fan of the addition of Pentad Prism and other cards evidently inspired by Outcome. That said, I’ve mostly seen people work really hard to make Outcome almost as good as Fact or Fiction.
There’s a pretty significant list of cards that I have and would continue to happily play in the Cube had they never been removed that I would love to see reintroduced, headlined by the following:
Mulldrifter, Riftwing Cloudskate, and Glen Elendra Archmage are mostly just solid cards that get on base, but Commit and Tezzeret add some desirable texture to the Cube. Another draw-seven is meaningful for making Dream Halls work, and one that comes paired with interaction is great for Sheoldred, the Apocalypse decks. I’ve already said my pieces on reintroducing Tezzeret to the Cube as it pertains to the matter of Time Vault, but it occurred to me the other day that Tezzeret would also serve as a serviceable tutor for The One Ring or powerful combo with it already on the battlefield.
Black is in a generally great spot in the Cube, with Reanimator being arguably the most consistently powerful archetype, Storm having a great among of support, and options for controlling and aggressive decks available as well. That said, the weakest cards in black continue to be really loud:
I really can’t stress enough how much of a downgrade Noxious Gearhulk was from both Ravenous Chupacabra and Shriekmaw. The cards that draw players to playing decks like Orzhov Sacrifice are loud flagships like Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, and there really isn’t need for the dumpier aggressive black cards and Sacrifice posers like Braids, Arisen Nightmare. More cards that just get on base like the aforementioned Shriekmaw would be much preferred.
Stuff that’s at just a little better rate or is more generically playable while keeping in mind that black aggro is not really a thing in the Cube would be great. My playgroup is pretty big on Tourach, Dread Cantor to that end. For my money, I’d just pile on some more broken stuff so that the combo players can more consistently do something, as ultimately these are the decks most hurt by the presence of the underpowered black cards. Dark Petition, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and Bubbling Muck would all make me really happy.
I find red to be the most soundly curated color in the current Cube list. Even the cards that I don’t love serve a purpose, and I could have my arm twisted into playing them. Like, I think Rampaging Raptor and Goldspan Dragon are quite weak in the environment, but they are creatures with haste, so I would play them if I had to.
I have loved Bitter Reunion; Etali, Primal Conqueror; and Mine Collapse as new additions to the Cube. Bitter Reunion as an additional discard outlet for assorted combo decks that works especially well in Reanimator has been awesome, and Mind Collapse follows the trend of Fury in giving red aggressive decks free spells that really help them compete.
I will say that Bitter Reunion has made my desire for Empty the Warrens to return to the Cube even higher, and I am continuing to wonder about the future of Young Pyromancer and Eidolon of the Great Revel, two fan favorites removed with the recent update. I would also like to offer that Ilharg, the Raze-Boar is a rad card for the creature cheat decks that I would love to see reintroduced.
I like most of what’s going on with green, and I even lost to a sweet Life from the Loam deck for the first time in the Cube, so I’m no longer against its inclusion. It was a really solid Grist deck that had a Reanimator and Strip Mine package. Honestly, just a work of art.
On the other side of things, there’s a little too much going on in the “attacking and blocking” department in green and some other unique effects that are on the weak side. Thrun, Breaker of Silence has been as replaceable as advertised, and Exploration and Invasion of Ikoria have fallen pretty flat. When I first saw that Invasion was added, I actually called Invasion of Ixalan to mind and thought we were getting a cool tool for Gaea’s Cradle decks, which remains a card I’d much rather have seen.
I don’t especially mind Plow Under staying out of the Cube, but it did add meaningful diversity to the five-drops of the Cube that weaker cards like Thragtusk really don’t. In the same vein as Invasion of Ixalan, I see once Upon a Time as a tool that I’d like to see added for decks leaning on specific lands. Beast Whisperer and Wall of Blossoms are nice options for Gaea’s Cradle decks as well.
I’m generally pretty happy with the gold column of the Cube. Some of the worst decks I drafted this run have been trying to make Sail into the West work, but it’s a dream I’ve been happy to chase. I’ll also say that I did draft a Temur Storm deck where Tamiyo, Collector of Tales was decent, but it is really inconsistent to plus, and it’s difficult to imagine being happy with the card without access to Underworld Breach or Yawgmoth’s Will.
Fire Covenant was an incredible call and is a great incentive to draft Badlands. Life as an additional Reanimate is very welcome, and I did not give Forth Eorlingas! its due in my initial review of the update. The card has singlehandedly given new life to Plateau and raised the stock of Showdown of the Skalds which only struggled previously by virtue of being Boros. Other players are quite high on Otharri, Suns’ Glory, which I have found to be solid but not nearly as significant.
I’ve called the Ultimatums out as weak additions, and I’ve also been quite cold on Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy; Urza, Lord Protector; and Magma Opus. Kinnan and Urza do offer something that is on some level worth chasing, so I won’t harp on them too hard, but Magma Opus is both more specific and much weaker than the once great Thousand-Year Storm, a build-around that I’d reintroduce in a heartbeat.
I’ll also say that Sigarda, Font of Blessings is not remotely playable, but this is at least in part just a slot that suffers the Selesnya problem in high-powered Cubes. Saffi Eriksdotter is an option with some combo potential that gets pretty attractive if Reveillark and/or the Persist combo make their way into the Cube. Saffi also has potential with Lurrus and is great with Solitude, and to a lesser extent the other pitch Elementals.
In general, I think a cheap Selesnya card is much more likely to be able to hang than an expensive one, but I also don’t think Archon of Valor’s Reach is a non-starter. I’m pretty against Gaddock Teeg in Cube, but it would show up in decks.
In terms of cards that I’d generally like to see in the Cube, Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom are both cards like I’d like to see get a shot. If you couldn’t tell, I’d really love to just go pedal to the floor on combo nonsense. I also think that Prismari Command would fit basically every Izzet deck in the Cube incredibly well.
I’ve really been coming around on Aetherflux Reservoir in this run, and I’ll also say that Palantir of Orthanc has far exceeded my expectations. It’s been an awesome card to run out early in the creature cheat decks that gives them another angle of attack. Mox Opal has also been just incredible.
Mystic Forge has looked more playable than I had thought at a glance, but it does suffer from the couple of duds in this column. Foundry Inspector has bordered on okay, but Crystalline Giant is not a real card. The Mightstone and Weakstone has proven to be a downgrade from your pick of Gilded Lotus and Timeless Lotus, but I’ll again allow that the meld package at least offers some cool aspirations.
I’m personally missing Metalworker, but I buy that others aren’t so big on the card. I will say that the addition of Portal to Phyrexia and some of the other ramping up of ways to cheat in big spells has me once again missing Kuldotha Forgemaster. I’d be happy just to get the Forgemaster back, but I’d be thrilled to get both it and Lightning Greaves to really power the artifact decks.
Jim Davis and I also make two votes for reintroducing Tangle Wire.
There’s not a lot to say about the lands column. The most powerful lands of all time are all here! I continue to loathe Triomes, but I’m content to yell at the clouds on my island if I’m the only one. I would like to offer that the increase in effective ways to cheat big stuff onto the battlefield has me interested in depletion lands for the Cube. The Grixis options would be great in the Cube as is, and if more creature combos and/or initiative cards joined the Cube, I see a strong argument for the green and white ones as well.
On balance, I think the Cube is in pretty good shape. There were some great aspects of the most recent update, and some that leave areas for improvement. I’m curious and excited to see what we’ll get with the next run! For now, there’s still a week left to draft the current list, and you can find me in the queues!