Hello gamers, and welcome to my last article of 2021! The end of the year is a time to reflect as well as a time to look ahead. Seeing as I already tackled reflection, it’s time to talk about the future. At least, a theoretical future. Today I’m going to talk about some types of cards that I would like to see more of for Cube and try my hand at designing some cards. We’ll call it my 2022 Cube wishlist.
Bear in mind that I have no professional experience in game design, nor insights as to what we may or may not see in the future with regard to Magic. This isn’t speculation or anything of the sort, just one person’s thoughts on some stuff that would be cool to see. When I identify archetypes and/or color pairs that are difficult to work with in Cube, people will often ask what I would do to fix them. In some respects, today’s article is my answer to those questions. I had a lot of fun working on these designs, and in sharing them I’ll go over what issues I perceive that these cards aim to address. Similar to my overviews of the digital Cubes, I’ll tackle this topic by color.
White actually has a lot of powerful tools for Cube, and the Mono-White Aggro archetype in the Magic Online Vintage Cube puts up great numbers despite how things might appear at a glance. The issue that white has in Cube has less to do with power level than rigidity. Many of white’s best cards are narrow in their focus. You have good beatdown creatures, good controlling cards, and then cards that are good enough on rate to play in either macro-archetype.
Blink and persist combo are the other two common directions to go, though these archetypes don’t offer much reprieve in the rigidity department. Put more plainly, white just needs more generically good cards with cool effects.
A thought that’s been floating in my mind for a while is that you could see white do some really cool things by combining investigate with triggered abilities that trigger when you draw your second card in a turn. We typically see these triggered abilities on blue and red cards like Improbable Alliance, though if you have to jump through some hoops for the card draw I don’t see why it couldn’t show up on white cards. As for investigating, Thraben Inspector is the best white card yet printed, and beloved by all.
I like the idea of seeing both of these mechanics with some regularity on white cards, but to illustrate the sort of thing I’m going for, it makes sense to pitch a card that does both. Here’s what I’m thinking:
I like the feel of this card a lot. It has the potential to generate a ton of advantage, but it takes time and mana and requires you to play some creatures or otherwise find ways to draw extra cards to really get it going. The fact that this card could draw you to Savannah Lions or Merfolk Looter is what I find most intriguing. I’m not as married to these specific abilities as I am to making a card that requires this much work cheap to cast, but I do really like the way that this card reads.
Again, these are two abilities that I’d just like to see a bunch of white cards have independently or in conjunction. There are definitely other ways to go about giving white card advantage and interesting cards, but this one really speaks to me. Honestly, I’d love to see a white card that reads very similarly to Tireless Tracker.
The other thing that I’d love to see for white is more Mana Tithes and fewer Thalias. A generous reading of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is that your opponent’s stuff will cost more mana, but my reading has always been that the card diminishes either player’s ability to do cool things.
Thalia is the poster-child of white’s rigidity problem in Cube, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed Thalia to make sure that I don’t end up taxing my Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Spectral Procession even when I’m drafting what would generally be considered the Thalia deck in Mono-White Aggro. I’m not saying that white should get Mana Leak or Daze, but I am more into white getting Censor than white getting more prison cards. I’m rather intrigued by the idea of putting this ability on a creature.
The proliferation of white flash threats really heightens this card’s efficacy. If 1W could mean Cathar Commander, Containment Priest, or “Mana Tither” this gives the opponent a lot to think about. I’m actually not sure if this card is just right or too brutal too often, but I’m intrigued by it. Maybe white Censor is more reasonable to have around.
Lastly, I think we can step up white’s three-mana planeswalker game. Gideon Blackblade and Gideon of the Trials are cool, and I especially like the way that Gideon of the Trials opens up some combo space, but mostly they feel more like fancy creatures than planewalkers. Then you look at Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Basri Ket and they’re just fancy Auras. Let’s give white something on the level of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. I have two ideas.
For some reason I was thinking about The Birth of Meletis and Liliana of the Dark Realms and ended up here. This planeswalker casts Tithe, Savannah Lions, and Armageddon, and I would happily play it in nearly any white Cube deck. If you really wanted to push this card you could make the token ability a  and/or change the size of the token, but I feel like this card is really powerful and engaging as is.
I also like that this planeswalker gives a player access to Armageddon without having to put that card in their deck. It’s a crowd-pleaser so I won’t harp on it too hard, but Armageddon sure is a mulligan more often than it’s given credit for in Vintage Cube.
My starting point for this one was the –X and generally trying to come up with a white card that was nice to have around in a graveyard-centric environment. Proclamation of Rebirth is a classic, and Late to Dinner is a recent example of white being open to some reanimation. Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants also something of a predecessor here.
Having Ephemerate on a planeswalker is something I imagine would both be popular broadly and offers a blink ability that doesn’t necessarily force you to lean in on playing a blink deck. Notably, just using this to give a creature pseudo-vigilance is a neat trick. There’s some consideration to allow this ability to target any permanent you control or to be able to target opponents’ creatures to answer Control Magic effects and tokens, though this would clearly increase the power level in a way that I’m not fully convinced is necessary.
The ultimate is a heavy-handed nod to persist combo. I didn’t initially set out to put together a great planeswalker for those decks, but after coming up with the [+1] and [-X] I naturally ended up there and just stayed the course for the [-6]. I could see an argument for removing either half of the ability or even doing something else entirely, but I do like the setup as is.
Blue does literally everything already. The only difficulty that I have with any regularity setting the blue column for a Cube comes from many of the cards being head and shoulders ahead of the other colors. I would like to see more aggressive support for blue in Cubes, but this is more a matter of cutting the busted control cards than blue needing more aggressive support. It’s there, it just involves cutting some darlings from your Cube. Blue would still be in a great spot in Cube if it never got another card. I Cube with and enjoy a number of new blue cards; I’m just saying that blue doesn’t want for anything.
The major problem that black faces in Cube is that the color’s strengths in Constructed often don’t translate to singleton environments. The best black-based decks in Cube tend to involve some combination of historically powerful cards and redundancy that comes with years of design. Reanimator and sacrifice decks can get there on volume if you put in the effort. Controlling black decks have chops. I’m of course partial to Storm. The greatest opportunities for black lie in the aggressive department.
Knight of the Ebon Legion is an awesome card for black aggro, though many of black’s other one-drops are some combination of specific and untenable. I love Gravecrawler and Champion of the Perished, but you just can’t take Zombie tribal for granted. A couple more one-drops with some generic power would go a long way. Here are a few riffs on that.
I kind of love this design, though the Magic Arena-exclusive Patient Zero might kill the most flavorful incarnation of it, at which point making this creature legendary isn’t relevant. Anyway, the text box is pretty awesome otherwise. It’s sticky creature that attacks well but isn’t overwhelming in conjunction with other sticky creatures given its restriction, yet can always get you started from an empty battlefield. Sort of a Gravecrawler meets Nether Spirit situation.
It’s not uncommon to see a creature like this enter the battlefield tapped or be unable to block, but seeing as you can’t keep casting it if you have any other creatures, I don’t see it showing up to block every turn as any kind of problem.
A colorshifted version of Stromkirk Noble is also something that I think could pretty easily see print and be great for black Cube decks, though we may have missed the window for this with two Innistrad sets coming and going. Maybe something like this though:
Maybe this one is pushing it, but I’d rather aim high than see more Forsworn Paladins and Dungeon Crawlers. It’s kind of funny, because I think that this card is pretty bad without menace yet see how menace might give it a little too much juice. Maybe deathtouch would be more appropriate. Maybe you have to remove the keyword entirely to keep this effect at one mana.
To that end, black aggressive decks could also use a couple more great two-drops that cost 1B instead of BB, so a slightly bigger version of this card for 1B would be a fine compromise. Mono-black is firmly not in contention for being the best aggressive color, and as such it needs splashable threats to really matter in this department. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a cool card, but it just doesn’t quite hit for Cube with energy being difficult to come by.
I’ve harped a lot on Dauthi Voidwalker for being too difficult to cast to be overly significant for Cube, and would like to offer what I think a much better version of the card for Cube would look like:
Dauthi Voidwalker’s exile clause is far more annoying than it is fun, and this card gives you most of what’s exciting about that card while removing the prohibitive casting cost and not forcing you to choose between the fun part of the ability and attacking.
I also find that using this sort of recursion where you cast a spell is much more appropriate for most Cubes than getting a discount on a Reanimator spell. Reanimator is a longtime fan favorite but most of the games generated by the archetype are low-agency and in my belief not very engaging.
Lastly, I’d like to see one more great discard spell for Cube. I’m colder on Inquisition of Kozilek than most, but absolutely see the value that Thoughtseize adds to black as a Cube color. Ryan Saxe and I were riffing on Zyym, Meseric Lord on The 540 recently and I suggested that I’d just like to see that card’s exact text on a discard spell.
I’m a big fan of Infernal Grasp, Profane Tutor, and Sorin the Mirthless. Seeing a couple more generically powerful black cards for Cube would go a long way in making the color broadly desirable to draft.
I’m generally happy with red in Cube, though it does have some of the same rigidity as white. Many of red’s cards clearly play better in controlling or aggressive decks, and blurring the lines a little more on this would be nice. Grim Lavamancer is a great example of a red card that could realistically show up in any red deck, and a couple more cards of this nature would be awesome to see. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is similar, though more clearly better in a controlling deck. I’m thinking something like this:
Inspired by the Mystery Booster card “Bombardment,” I think it’s time that we got a Stormbind updated for today’s sensibilities. Red has more than enough four- and five-mana creatures, and this sort of effect is definitely pushing it on a two-drop, but I like the way this reads on a three-mana creature. This is likely a hair better in aggressive decks than controlling ones, but I’d be happy to play it in either.
Beyond that, I’d like to see more iteration on unique red effects. Fires of Invention was a huge deal for Constructed, but doesn’t necessarily translate to Cube. I feel similarly about Experimental Frenzy. These cards are very cool, but you have greatly reduced agency in employing them in singleton formats. I’d like to see a wacky red enchantment that accounts for this. Something like…
I’m not confident that putting Lotus Cobra’s ability on a red enchantment would fly, but I like the idea of a red Primeval Bounty with a combo slant that plays in control decks. There’s realistically a lot of design space for this sort of card, I mostly just want to see one that plays well in a high-power singleton environment. Wildfire and Goblin Welder have lost their luster over the years, and red deserves some more engaging options.
Green’s greatest strength in Cube comes in the form of mana acceleration, and for as often as I draft Mono-Green Ramp in Vintage Cube, I just don’t find the play patterns of these styles of decks engaging or appropriate for lower-power environments.
Hexdrinker is my favorite green Cube card in recent memory, and I am hopeful that Ascendant Packleader is a sign of things to come. As white gets cheap creatures with a wider range of abilities, it makes sense to me that green should see more cheap creatures that are simply large for their casting cost. I really like the idea of moving away from Llanowar Elves and towards Pelt Collector, which would also do a lot in terms of making Gruul a more attractive color pair to draft, but more on that later.
For now, I’ll say that I want to see more great cheap green creatures that attack and block. Let’s start with an easy one:
Just give green an Isamaru. I’m sure we’ll see more clever designs along the lines of Ascendant Packleader, and I’m here for them, but I like the statement that this design makes. “Remember Isamaru? That sort of thing is green now.” If any snow land can give you an Icehide Golem, then surely a Forest can give you an Isamaru.
Of course, this card could realistically be improved a little. I think it would be in bounds to give green a one-mana 2/3 without causing any problems, but at the same time that seems unnecessary. It would be really cool to see this sort of card in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
Beyond that, some green two-drops that are splashable and good in aggressive decks would go a long way. Werewolf Pack Leader is great and all, but it has the Dauthi Voidwalker problem for Cube. Most Cubes just aren’t going to have great mono-green aggressive decks and the extra abilities don’t make up for how difficult the card is to cast. I’ll once again posit a simple solution here:
The era of Kalonian Tusker is over. The era of Watchwolf is even more over. I think it’s pretty easy to make a case that you get these stats for 1G these days when you look over the green creatures that we’ve seen lately, but we don’t have this exact card. Yet.
I’m also open to something a little smaller with a strong ability.
This is a funky riff on Rootwalla that I find intriguing. It’s not so efficient that it just takes over every game, but it’s powerful enough that it threatens to break creature mirrors wide open.
I’m pretty satisfied with how green looks with regard to permanents that cost three or more mana at this point. We’ve also seen improvements in green spells lately, with Abundant Harvest being the standout there. Ideally I’d like to see a little more of that, but I’d put a priority on the G and 1G creatures, in no small part because a number of existing green spells such as combat tricks become much more appealing once the creature section is fleshed out with more aggressive creatures.
This brings me to the color pairs that I feel could most use a boost. As I often say, Selesnya is among the toughest sections to figure out for most Cubes. The power level just isn’t there for the highest-power environments, and with rare exception the effects aren’t unique and powerful enough to draw you to play both of these colors. It’s often the case that nonblue color pairs are fighting uphill from the jump, and Selesnya just doesn’t offer much that you couldn’t do without playing green and white.
What I would propose is some cards that offer something that both colors do for at a pushed rate. Part of Selsnya’s problem is that even when there’s a good gold card it just costs three or more and green and white aren’t lacking in great monocolored options at these spots on the curve. I specifically want something that costs two. The best idea that I’ve come up with capitalizes on both colors’ ability to draw cards when creatures enter the battlefield.
Torens, Fist of the Angels correctly identifies Selesnya’s strengths, but rather than improving on those strengths it leans into their inherent weakness of overcommitting to the battlefield. Rite of Harmony is closer to what these decks want, but isn’t a tool that can be realistically leveraged given its inefficiency and need to set up one big turn. “Nature Glimpser” is absolutely pushed, and I think Selesnya needs something pushed to really compete. If you want to see a totally bonkers version you can remove the nontoken clause, but I would expect that version to be a bit much.
This card enters the conversation for a card that I would happily first pick in most Cubes while having the safety valve of being a creature that dies to everything.
Alternatively, three-mana planeswalkers also have a way of being first-pickable.
This bears a lot of resemblance to the previous design, which is mostly an expression of the fact that I believe that “efficient threat plus Glimpse of Nature” is an appropriate answer to the Selesnya problem. Green and white both care about creatures and gaining life. The +1 and -2 don’t do anything terribly fancy in acknowledging this. Maybe a different Overrun ability would be more appropriate for the ultimate than copying and pasting Craterhoof Behemoth’s text box, but I want to be clear that Selesnya is in need of some real heavy hitters, powerful cards that cost two and/or more powerful cards that cost three.
Selesnya already has some stuff at higher mana values that technically will get you to play a Selesnya card, but I think it would benefit heavily from some pushed cheap threats that incentivize playing a Selesnya deck. Splashing Trostani Discordant is fine and all, but it doesn’t meaningfully increase the stock of Temple Garden in a draft.
My general thoughts on Gruul are pretty similar to my thoughts on Selesnya, in that splashing Escape to the Wilds is fine and all but that’s more of a Temur thing than a Gruul thing. Much of the Gruul’s problem in Cube is that green is trying to ramp and red is trying to beat down, and it doesn’t often make sense to mix the two. Some of Gruul’s issues are addressed by giving green better cheap creatures, as Goblin Guide plus “Green Watchwolf” makes far more sense than Goblin Guide plus Llanowar Elves. This wouldn’t move the needle for Vintage Cube, but it would be a start.
With the color pairs offering similar problems, I would posit similar solutions. Let’s get more cheap threats in the spread that raise the stock of Stomping Ground. For Gruul though, I’d be interested in starting even cheaper.
We don’t see hybrid mana too often, and this is one of my designs that I think that we’re least likely to see anything similar to, but hear me out. We’re still at a point where green is hurting for aggressive one-drops to complete the shift to allow green-based beatdown decks to thrive, and this design would give something to those decks and also incentivize at least splashing red. Similarly, you could play this card in a red deck but it’s unlikely to be one of the better red one-drops in the Cube, and would incentivize at least splashing green.
What I like about this design as opposed to a card like Figure of Destiny is that it has much more of a “gold feel.” The drawback of attacking each turn if able really pushes you to want to have access to both colored abilities, whereas Figure of Destiny generally shows up in mono-white or mono-red decks, and doesn’t itself do anything to push a player to play more than one color.
As we move up the mana curve, a pushed take on a classic Gruul card seems a natural way to get a drafter to consider Gruul. I’d say this one even ranks in Vintage Cube!
The broad vision is that this card would line up with red and green being better aligned with regard to beating down, and this combines that concept with red and green really hating artifacts. Maybe the enchantment hate is too much when you put everything together here, but I really hate enchantments. The natural consequence of giving aggressive decks more ways to punch through Courser of Kruphix (or Dryad of the Ilysian Grove if you’re into that) is great for Cube in my opinion, and it is very unfortunate when your two-color aggressive deck has significant problems with blockers.
Now, let’s say you wanted to support Gruul in a non-aggressive way. I’m not categorically against this sort of thing, but I strongly prefer to see more cheap permanents than anything else for the weaker two-color pairs. How about another pitch for a three-mana planeswalker?
I think that this card reads as more powerful than it looks given that you don’t have control over when you’ll be able to Lightning Bolt things with the minus ability, but at the same time the card does read as very powerful. Maybe the starting loyalty should be two, maybe the damage dealt by the minus should be two, I don’t know. But I like the idea of a planeswalker that gives you the Courser of Kruphix / Radha, Heart of Keld ability that has a loyalty ability to give you the full Oracle of Mul Daya treatment. What I particularly like about this design is that it removes the feel-bads of just missing with Domri Rade’s plus ability. Domri Rade is a planeswalker that I like well enough but that suffers too much from sometimes doing literally nothing.
One thing about this card is that it’s probably way more green than it is red, so I would buy the argument that RGG is a better fit for the casting cost. I like 1RG far better for castability purposes, but I do believe that there’s a discussion to be had regarding how red this card actually is as it currently exists and whether the casting cost or abilities would require some readjustment.
The final color pair that I’d like to delve into is Boros. Red and white play well enough together, but the Boros problem is that it usually just makes more sense to play mono-white or mono-red than to value mana-fixing highly enough to play Boros. There are a handful of solid Boros gold cards that exist, but the problem is mostly that they’re not enough better than the monocolored options to move in on a gold card. I like Swiftblade Vindicator more than most, but it just isn’t going to be more attractive on average than creatures that cost 1W or 1R.
Seeing as Boros decks are overwhelmingly aggressive, I do believe that cheap threats are the best candidates for Boros cards, but I don’t believe that creatures are necessarily the answer. You need something that pops. Something with a higher ceiling than a creature that just attacks and blocks. Something like:
I expect that this isn’t the exact way to execute this design, but a Boros version of Bitterblossom just makes a lot of sense to me. Not exactly inspired work on my part, but this is the sort of card that would move the needle on getting me to draft Boros over a monocolored aggressive deck even in high-power Cubes. I also like the applications here for Mardu Sacrifice decks.
Lastly, I’d like to pitch one more three-mana planeswalker. While this does come last in the order of cards listed in the article, this is one that has been swimming around in my head since I first saw The Royal Scions. I feel like a three-mana Boros planeswalker is exactly what the doctor ordered for Boros for many of the same reasons that I like a noncreature threat at two mana.
Boros abilities are a little tough, and maybe the +1 ability is too wordy and maybe dealing damage on the minuses is a little uninspired. Really you could just color-shift The Royal Scions and I’d be happy. A three-mana Boros planeswalker of some sort strikes me as one of the most basic asks on my wishlist and is the sort of card that, if done well, would slot the most naturally into many Cubes. Even if we get something that looks nothing like this, I really just want a playable three-mana Boros planeswalker.
And that’s my list! Thank you for taking the time to read over the sorts of cards that I believe would be massive boons to Cube designers and shout-out to Cedric Phillips for indulging me and greenlighting this article. Some of what I pitched today is fit for a core set and some is little more on the Modern Horizons side of things. I’m hopeful to see some cards from both camps similar to this lot in 2022.