The year is 2021. It’s the golden age of Cube Draft. The end of a given preview season marks the beginning of the next preview season, and another Magic Online (MTGO) Cube run could be announced at any time. We found out yesterday that the Modern Cube is returning to MTGO today for a two-week run with a heaping helping of updates, and I’m here to help you navigate the updated environment.
Included in the announcement of Modern Cube’s return was the fact that Emma Handy will now be in charge of the curation of the regular MTGO Cubes. I’m happy about this both as a friend of Emma’s and a lover of Cube Draft. A whopping 80 cards were swapped out for this run of Modern Cube, and you can find Emma’s write-up on the update here. I’m a big fan of the tonal shift away from narrow combo cards towards cards with better average cases, which shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve kept up with any of my other Cube content.
On that note, the Modern Cube isn’t one that I’ve written about at great length to this point, but you can find my breakdown of the Cube pertaining to its previous run last September here. With that background in mind, it’s time to take a look at the updates to the Cube by color. Keep in mind that not all of the ins and outs will match exactly in every section because of a small number of shifts in categorization, such as Damn taking the place of Day of Judgment.
A number of these changes are just moving around creatures of the same casting cost and adding some cards based on their newness to Modern without changing anything fundamentally, but there are a few significant changes in the spread as well. Most importantly, cutting the incredibly narrow Heliod and Felidar Guardian and dumpy sideboard card Timely Reinforcements for cards that are broadly maindeckable is going to raise the quality of the average white deck.
Elite Spellbinder, Solitude, and Prismatic Ending are all recent printings that I consider serious upgrades to white Cube decks, and I’m happy to see them here. My previous position was that white decks in Modern Cube should err on the side of being more midrange or controlling than aggressive, and these cards are all quite powerful in the white decks that I like in Modern Cube.
Stoneforge Mystic is in all likelihood the biggest upgrade for the white aggressive decks. With five Swords in the Cube and not much combo present, it stands to reason that high access to these Equipment is much more significant in Modern Cube than it is in Legacy or Vintage Cube. Solitude is likely the most significant individual card being added to white in this update, but I imagine that the white aggressive decks benefit the most from the once-banned-in-Modern Kor Artificer.
With the updates to white not altering the color’s mana curve in the cube at large much at all, I would say that the white decks generally get better but that the upgrade from Isamaru to Usher of the Fallen is much less significant than the upgrades that you’ll see for decks trying to play longer games and shut opponents out with Serra’s Emissary.
I love the cuts here. More weak / situational cards on the way out along with Sublime Epiphany, which in my experience was too powerful for Cubes like this to be interesting. Is Hard Evidence playable in this environment? It might be a little weak, but maybe. Is the list getting a little heavy on extra-turn effects which kind of undo some of the work of removing combo cards? Probably. Is Inevitable Betrayal playable? Absolutely not. But in general, I like the direction that things are moving.
Adding Counterspell to coincide with the card’s printing into Modern is a good get for blue, and I’m much more bullish on Subtlety than my co-host on The 540, Justin Parnell. I suspect that blue permission / tempo decks will be looking mighty nice in this run with that one-two punch. I’ll also say that a card that Justin is bigger on, Rishadan Dockhand, is a potentially nice upgrade for blue aggressively slanted decks, though I’m less confident in these decks given that there isn’t a ton of support for these decks in terms of volume of cards and the cards for them are just generally weaker than what you get in the blue controlling or combo shells.
Suspend is a unique effect that’s somewhat difficult to gauge at a glance, but I’m betting against it being of much use in these good-stuff-style Cubes. It’s not a permanent answer and it’s mostly awkward for blinking your own cards as well. It’s kind of a pipe dream, but the one thing that I want to do with a Suspend in this Cube is exile my own Valki, God of Lies to bring it back later as a Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor.
Even with Sublime Epiphany on the outs, there are still plenty of exceptionally powerful blue cards remaining, and it’s likely the most powerful color in the Cube. It’s just hard to go wrong with counterspells, card advantage, and extra-turn effects.
After inexplicably being reintroduced to some of the MTGO Cubes, we once again bid farewell to Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, who hasn’t been good for years. Some of the cards on the outs here are okay, but it’s pretty easy to see that the new includes are upgrades across the board.
Skyclave Shade, Sedgemoor Witch, and Bloodchief’s Thirst are the three most significant upgrades here, with all of them being powerful and splashable options. I’m more apprehensive about the cards that are specifically geared towards mono-black decks. I do think that the mono-black decks in Modern Cube can be very powerful, though there are some downgrades to the Cube’s manabase in this update that make it more dicey to bet on difficult-to-cast cards. If you’re able to end up in a mono-black deck, Dauthi Voidwalker has a very high ceiling, but I’m less confident taking cards with tough casting costs early in a Cube with Pathways instead of fastlands and Triomes.
On an individual card basis, black is probably the second-most-improved color with this update. That said, the downgrade to the mana is significant with so many hard-to-cast spells, and trying to draft a mono-color deck can be a precarious position. Approach with caution.
An MTGO Cube update that actually increases the volume of red one-drops? Is it my birthday? I’m once bitten, twice shy on being hopeful for red aggressive decks in these Cubes, but both Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer are incredible one-mana threats. I’m also very happy to see Embercleave show up to pair with Anax, Hardened in the Forge. While I’m slightly miffed at the absence of Runaway Steam-Kin, the combination of Birgi, God of Storytelling and Experimental Frenzy is another powerful option for these decks.
This update does a lot to round out red, and it’s my pick for most-improved color with this update. I’ll happily explore red controlling or aggressive decks, and even the occasional combo when my seat calls for it.
There are some powerful green cards entering the Cube here, but there’s clearly an overall effort to power down green. Seeing as “mana and stuff”-style decks have been problematic for this Cube historically, let me be the first to say good riddance to Utopia Sprawl. I have a little more sympathy for Joraga Treespeaker, but that’s a longtime Vintage Cube staple at this point and we all know how much damage an uncontested Treespeaker can do.
I am irate to see perennial Vintage Cube last pick Yavimaya Elder being added to the Cube, but apparently it’s in Modern Horizons 2. Llanowar Visionary, Emma. Come on.
I love the call on Rift Sower. It’s a powerful piece of ramp on the first turn that’s perfectly fine to topdeck later in the style of Search for Tomorrow, and I see it as a powerful yet balanced way to approach mana acceleration for this style of Cube.
At higher points on the curve, the additions of Toski, Bearer of Secrets and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider are actually significant upgrades. Sylvan Anthem also serves as a compelling tool for the mono-green decks, so this update isn’t all about stripping away power. The busted mana acceleration has been scaled back, but the payoffs have been powered up some, which is a downgrade on balance but one that will lead to better gameplay.
Here we see a long list of forgettable gold cards and big stupid Uro being shifted to a cast of powerful gold cards that are generally significant draws to their colors. The updates are overwhelmingly cards worth maindecking that are powerful but fun, and I fully approve of the gold curation here. As a drafter, you should pay specific attention to Valki, God of Lies; Grist, the Hunger Tide; and Expressive Iteration. Grist and Expressive Iteration give incredible returns on their mana cost, and while some of you may be used to cheating in Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, I assure you that he’s a steal at seven in Cubes like this as well.
Fast mana takes another hit with Mind Stone being subbed out for Millikin. I don’t see Millikin as particularly playable, but it could lead to some funky graveyard shenanigans. I’m not confident that there’s enough of that going on in the Cube, but you have Whip of Erebos along with a couple of other options and it’s another new-to-Modern card.
I like the idea of keeping the Equipment package somewhat lean, and cutting the weak Sword and the horrible gameplay Sword both make sense to me. I also think that Sword of Hearth and Home may have the most fun design of any of the Swords to this point, so I’m happy to see it in as well.
Nevinyrral’s Disk over Engineered Explosives is another great substitution. Explosives is goofy and clunky, and the better it is in an individual game, the less fun that play experience is for the opponent. Nevinyrral’s Disk has a rich history but doesn’t tend to fit well in Cube due to the fact that it destroys your own mana rocks, making it awkward in practice if good in theory. With Modern Cube scaling way back on mana rocks, Disk makes a lot of sense as a tool for controlling decks. That said, it can have some miserable play patterns as well but at least you’ll always have a turn to try to go for lethal or interact with the Disk itself. I could see coming to hate this swap after playing some games, but on paper I like giving Disk a shot.
Pathways are a downgrade in power level from both fastlands and Triomes, but this swap helps to prevent the proliferation of three- to five-color good-stuff decks. I don’t like Pathways, I don’t know any of them by name, and I always have to enlarge them to know which is which on MTGO, but I understand and respect what’s going on here. The Cube still has fetchlands and shocklands, but there’s a little more pressure to keep things to two colors now.
All things considered, I’m liking the look of these changes and they really get at some of the structural issues that I’ve had with Modern Cube. I’m glad to see Emma in the role of curating these Cubes, and I’m excited to see what she does next.