Happy Wednesday, gamers! My spider sense was tingling when we recorded this week’s episode of The 540 as I mentioned during our sendoff that it felt like another Cube was coming to Magic Online (MTGO) any week now. I sure didn’t have to wait long, as the Alpha Core Set Cube was announced yesterday, and is live today!
We’ve seen versions of Core Set Cube (a Cube with only cards printed in Core Sets) on MTGO twice before, though they previously had the restriction of only featuring cards from Seventh Edition onward. There are many individual card updates from these Cubes to the Alpha Core Set Cube, with the fundamental change being that we’re now going all the way back to Alpha!
That doesn’t mean that Alpha Core Set Cube is a powered Cube, Timetwister notwithstanding, but it does mean that the Cube has gotten a serious infusion of historically powerful cards not previously featured. My experience with Core Set Cube has been that the games have felt very close to Core Set Limited with a fairly wide power band, and while this looks to be preserved somewhat with the update, the influx of powerful cards does make the format more generally exciting to me.
For an introduction to the Cube and an overview of the archetypes, you can check out Harper O’Neill’s spotlight article here. For a better look at the card list I’ve done my usual porting over to Cube Cobra. And now, without further ado, let’s break down the Cube by color and talk about how to approach drafting it!
There’s a decent spread of white aggressive cards here, though for the most part games in Alpha Core Set Cube will go long enough for players to cast five- or more-mana spells. I’m bigger on Savannah Lions than Baneslayer Angel in most Cubes, but I’d reverse that philosophy entirely for Core Set Cube. This is not to say that aggressively slanted white decks can’t be successful, but that that the focus on the top of your curve should be higher than normal. I often sound like a broken record with regard to telling players to draft a high volume of one-drops, but I’m looking much more closely at four- or more-mana spells in this Cube.
When it comes to higher-powered Cubes I’m also generally pretty cold on Wrath of God, but I’d strongly prefer to be on the Wrath of God and Day of Judgment side of things here with many of the most powerful aggressive cards of all time absent from the Cube. Casting Sephara, Sky’s Blade for seven mana is a completely realistic path to victory, and that’s the path that I’d recommend here.
The most significant addition to white going back to Alpha is going to be the introduction of Swords to Plowshares to the Cube. If you look at some of the other removal spells in the Cube, Exile for example, you can see that good removal comes at a premium. When it comes to clean removal spells, it really doesn’t get better than Swords to Plowshares.
On balance white seems totally fine in the Cube, but is among the worst colors with regard to standing on its own merits. The format is slow enough that generating card advantage over time will be a successful strategy which isn’t one of whites strengths. I’d stick to a small number of individually powerful white cards here.
White got Swords to Plowshares in this update, which is all well and good, but blue got Control Magic. If you’re used to drafting Vintage and Legacy Cube, Control Magic might seem tame, but when it comes to an environment that so closely emulates Core Set Limited, it’s an absolute bomb. Couple that with Sublime Epiphany, a card that I’m on record as saying should be reserved for only the most powerful Cubes, and some powerful extra-turn effects, and I’m convinced that blue is the most powerful color in the Cube.
Adding Timetwister to the Cube is also significant, as it does widen the range of things you can do pretty significantly. I’d caution that Timetwister is a proactive card that is at its best when you are leveraging a significant mana advantage, whereas the rest of the blue column is mostly reactive cards, so while the ceiling is high I would aim to use Timetwister in green-including decks with a significant volume of ramp and not just any blue deck. Braingeyser is a bigger upgrade for the average blue deck by an order of magnitude simply in terms of how comparatively easy it is to leverage.
Bribery is also probably messed up against the average opponent with so much of the gameplay being around bombs, and you also get all-time cantrips in Ponder and Preordain. Draft blue early and often.
At this point I’ve established pretty concretely that we’re looking for bombs and card advantage, and black has some strong offerings here. Not on the level of blue, but in excess as compared to white. I don’t want to go anywhere near Will-o’-the-Wisp, but there are some very tempting first picks in the spread:
Here we see some strong role-players and game-enders, all backed up by a bevy of removal. Doom Blade is going to do more for the average deck than most non-bomb creatures in the Cube, and both Mutilate and Languish are comparable to the white sweepers and will pull you very far ahead of the aggressive decks that the Cube offers.
Many of the powerful black cards in the Cube come attached to a lot of pips, so there’s some pressure to be mono-black. That’s just kind of the nature of the Cube broadly though, as there just aren’t that many mana-fixing lands, so you just have to roll with the punches on that one. If you get a look at some of the best blue cards I’d go out of my way to make Dimir work, but otherwise see mono-black as a serious contender.
Somewhere between black and white, red offers a handful of first-pickable cards and reach that makes it a more desirable aggressive color than white. Much like with white, I wouldn’t typically move in on red unless I saw one of its most powerful cards.
I’d offer that Sarkhan, Fireblood is probably better than it looks even if you only have one or two Dragons in your deck, and is totally bonkers if you can use it to accelerate a Dragon out. The other card that I’m bullish on as an individual card despite not loving the theme that it supports is Krenko, Mob Boss. Goblin King felt a little too close to Grey Ogre when I tried it in Core Set Cube, but Krenko doesn’t require the help of other Goblins to take over a game, just time. Krenko really overperforms in lower-powered Cubes like this as evidenced by the last iteration of Tinkerer’s Cube on Arena.
Wheel of Fortune has been added to the Cube along with Timetwister, and Wheel is a significantly better fit for red decks than blue. It’s just a more powerful follow-up from an aggressive deck curving out then a reactive deck. Even still I’d most commonly aim to put Wheel of Fortune in my green decks, and would take haymakers like Thundermaw Hellkite and Inferno Titan over it for most decks just for the guaranteed impact.
Finally, we come to the color that gives blue a run for its money. The mana ramp in green is very powerful, and it even has its fair share of game-ending threats to ramp out as well.
Much like with Goblins I would generally ignore the Elf theme and the cheap creatures that attack and block without scaling, but you can’t ever go too wrong with cards like Llanowar Visionary. Elvish Archdruid is also totally serviceable as a mana accelerant, but it’s not sufficient reason to play with Elvish Archers.
With the low volume of mana-fixing lands, having a strong green base will be one of the ways to draft three- or more-color decks in this Cube, which will be the way that you can cast the highest volume of bombs that you see in the draft. That’s reason enough to look into cards like Fertile Ground and Cultivate, but beyond that green will be the color that best opens up your ability to exploit Field of the Dead.
Field of the Dead has been among the best cards in the Arena Cubes, and with the power level of Alpha Core Set Cube being so close to those, there’s no reason to expect things to be much different here. The lower power level of the Cube is generally a reason for me to value Primeval Titan higher than I usually would, but Field of the Dead really puts it over.
I’ve also mentioned that green is going to be the best color to pair with the draw-sevens in the Cube, and while I don’t believe that this is the best thing to do in green, it’s easily one of the most fun. I’d draft most of the green threes over Azusa, Lost but Seeking, but Azusa does raise the ceiling for the most nonsense that you can accomplish with a Timetwister.
There are incredibly few gold cards in this Cube, and none of them are convincingly a draw to any color pair over establishing your base in those colors with mono-color cards first. The one card with a multicolor identity that I would value highly is Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. Golos is just a fine ramp spell in a Cube where you’ll have time to cast your six-mana spells, and if you have the ability to activate Golos and/or have Field of the Dead in your deck, then it’s one of the best cards in the Cube.
The aggressive artifact creatures don’t amount to much in this Cube, but there’s still a lot to like in this column. I would endeavor never to play Bonded Construct, but Steel Overseer will outsize the other cheap creatures in the Cube pretty handily, which is worth a look in such a low-power environment. Unsurprisingly, the highest picks among artifacts will generally be mana accelerants.
Scuttling Doom Engine and Soul of New Phyrexia aren’t going to be as impactful as many of the colored six-drops, but they’ll be good to pick up late in a draft if your deck is lacking in top-end. Chromatic Orrery always made my deck in Chromatic Cube on Arena and I’d expect it to play really well in the controlling decks here.
The addition of the original dual lands is among the more significant updates to Core Set Cube, though even with them that’s still only three cycles of lands for a 540-card Cube. These duals will be really nice to have for your two-color decks, but barring green decks I’d plan on keeping things to one or two colors when possible.
With the general dearth of fixing, Fabled Passage and even Evolving Wilds will be considerably higher picks than usual, with some colorless options and mono-color utility lands available to round out decks as well. I don’t believe that the fixing is there in the Cube to plan on trying to find Field of the Dead late, but it is the most significant card in the land column and it’s worth speculating on if there are nonbasic lands going late in the draft.
The Alpha Core Set Cube is much closer to the Arena Cubes than any other offering that we see on Magic Online, and for those more at home with a lower power level, this will be a welcome change of pace. Just keep in mind that the Cube does have a wide power band and the upper bound of the Cube is quite high. Don’t get caught passing Golos or Sublime Epiphany!