After a few months away it’s time for another two week run of the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube! We’ve had the opportunity to draft the MenguCube and the Gaby Spartz/LSV Alt-Vintage Cube in the time in-between, but now we’re going back to a list we’re more familiar with on the client. An updated version, anyway. Technically this is the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms update, but this is also the first time we’ll be experiencing the impact of Modern Horizons 2 on the MTGO Vintage Cube.
If you’re new to the MTGO Vintage Cube, then I’d start by checking out my breakdown of the environment from last July. Between then and now, I’ve written quite a few articles on Vintage Cube, but all the basics there should hold up. It’s incredibly rare that new cards being added to a powered Cube will fundamentally change anything given the presence of so many historically broken cards, though we have seen a couple come and go recently, with standouts like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Hullbreacher in various iterations of these Cubes. Modern Horizons 2 definitely has some significant players, and I’ll get to that on a by-card basis. On that note, let’s take a look at the changes to the Cube by color in the recent update!
I’m completely behind swapping Day of Judgment for Damn. This change makes the slot show up more often due to being playable in a wider range of decks. Other changes here include cutting Lapse of Certainty, which I saw going consistently last; Emeria’s Call, which is more befitting of something like Modern Cube; and some replacement-level creatures. I think that Paladin Class and Loyal Warhound are also fairly medium, but Elite Spellbinder is a solid pickup for white aggressive decks that also plays well in more controlling shells.
I’ve noted Palace Jailer previously as being conspicuously absent from the MTGO Vintage Cube, and is among the more powerful white cards in the Cube. Whether it’s topping the curve in an aggressive deck or is a removal spell with a stream of card advantage stapled on for controlling decks, it does some serious work. Solitude is another huge upgrade for white control decks, though its casting cost will make is considerably less appealing for the more aggressive white decks. Even still, the white aggressive decks can sometimes bear a five-drop, and the pitch-cast option makes Solitude the front-runner.
Cave of the Frost Dragon is a little expensive to activate, though the opportunity cost to play with it is so low that I would expect to cut it from very few decks. I would hope not to pick it too early, but I could see it getting the last few points in for the white aggressive decks from time to time. Mutavault and Mishra’s Factory are more attractive creature-lands for these decks, but just having some “spells” hanging out in the manabase is a big deal for these decks. It’s also worth noting that Loyal Warhound can make it a little easier to get your Cave active, so take that as you will.
I do believe that Oust was actually a solid removal spell for aggressive and controlling white decks alike, and that’s the one cut that I believe is to the color’s detriment. I’d much prefer to see Condemn on the outs, but alas. It was already important to scoop up a couple of efficient removal spells for the white decks and I don’t think white players were passing Swords to Plowshares often, but it’s important to know that there’s slightly higher importance on those cards now. Solitude is a big deal, but it’s a much bigger ask to tag a Llanowar Elves with Solitude than Oust.
I don’t expect to play with The Blackstaff of Waterdeep too often, but there ‘s some great news for blue here. I no longer need to pretend to read Cosima and Mystic Confluence is back! Mystic Confluence is one of the blue cards that I would most happily first-pick, and its return is most welcome.
The Mirari Conjecture was a neat Storm card, but it was both niche and replacement-level. Perhaps the biggest news here, though, is that after being featured in both MenguCube and Alt-Vintage Cube we are no longer being subjected to Hullbreacher! Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Black is getting some serious love in this update, with six replacement-level or worse cards being cut to make room for some solid upgrades to a variety of upgrades. Swapping Heartless Act for Power Word Kill doesn’t change much, but Scrapheap Scrounger is finally getting its due and Archon of Cruelty is making it in as my pick for second-best creature for Reanimator decks after Griselbrand.
There isn’t much support for black aggressive decks, but Scrapheap Scrounger is significant for being splashable in the white and red aggressive decks with or without much ability to recur the card. These decks just want a high volume of two-drops, so a 3/2 will do. This also gives more incentive to splash for Dark Confidant in these decks, which is still a solid Cube card even if it’s not what it used to be.
Liliana, the Last Hope is another solid card that sometimes can win games on its own and is backbreaking against creature decks, so I’m happy to see the planeswalker make it back in. Bone Shards is a card that Justin Parnell is bigger on than I am (as we discussed during our set review of Modern Horizons 2 on The 540) but I recognize that it’s both a solid removal spell and discard outlet.
After Phyrexian Rager was added back into the Cube last year and survived multiple updates, I was worried that we were just going to have to live with it, but I’m glad to see it on the outs and black getting some serious love here.
I was overjoyed when I read this part of the update. This is an increase in power level and volume of red one-drops, a return of Thundermaw Hellkite (which was wrongly cut to make room for Goldspan Dragon), and an upgrade in red two-drops! Den of the Bugbear is also not insignificant for the red aggressive decks, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to happily draft red aggressive decks over white ones with this update.
Now that we’ve had some time to see Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer in action for a while in Modern and Legacy, I imagine that we all understand that the card is great in any red deck, aggressive or not. Ragavan is in the upper echelon of first-pickable red cards, and is easily the new red card that deserves the most attention for being both powerful and playable in a wide range of decks.
I personally believe that the Wildfires are good cuts, as I consider them to be bad versions of Upheaval, though you’ll want to be aware of their removal if you were a Wildfire fan. On balance, this is just upgrades all around for red though.
The Birthing Pod experiment was evidently as unsuccessful as it appeared in my experience, and I’m happy to see Magus of the Order and Court of Bounty getting their due. Both will be welcome additions to the Rofellos, Llawnowar Emissary and Gaea’s Cradle-fueled style of green deck that I gravitate towards in Vintage Cube.
I wasn’t sure that I’d live to see Yavimaya Elder be cut from the Cube, but it finally happened, if several years too late. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove was another card that consistently underperformed, and honestly Harmonize is the only green card that I’m especially sad to see go. I won’t complain too much though because the aforementioned incoming four-drops, as well as Toski, are all excellent for green.
Ignoble Hierarch is plainly excellent, and Rift Sower is maybe less obviously so but it’s comparable to Search for Tomorrow, which basically always makes my decks. The only dubious green addition is Circle of Dreams Druid, which is harder to cast than Rofellos and I believe worse than Llanowar Tribe. I’ll play the card in my mono-green deck more often than not, but I would never pick it highly and expect that it would almost never work in a two-plus-color deck.
Court of Bounty is easily the most significant upgrade here for green, as it gives the green decks a steady stream of cards against opponents who can effectively dispatch their mana creatures. Seeing as every color is getting some nice upgrades, I believe that red is the only color that increased in quality in a fundamental sense relative to the other colors, but the green updates are relevant all the same.
Multicolored and Artifacts
I’m lumping these sections together because Niv-Mizzet was cut for Kaldra Compleat, which is swapping out one card that I basically play for a card that I might play in my Tinker decks. I’ve seen screenshots of Niv-Mizzet decks that trophied though I’m unconvinced that Niv-Mizzet specifically is a major contributor to your five-color deck’s ability to beat anything but other fair decks.
Vannifar, Sarulf, and Casualties of War exiting the Cube is of little significance, with the swaps for both Golgari planeswalkers being significant upgrades and Lonis having cool applications for decks featuring Llanowar Elves and/or Urza, Lord High Artificer. I actually think that Grist, the Hunger Tide is by far the most significant addition here as a three-mana value planeswalker that rivales Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast that also has a lot of cool interactions due to counting as a creature in zones other than on the battlefield.
Expressive Iteration is another card that has been incredible in Constructed, and while I’ll miss Fire, I can’t argue with this being an upgrade. Expressive Iteration is incredibly in any lean Izzet deck and is still really good if you can use it to hit your land drops in clunkier Izzet builds as well.
Master of Death is a significant downgrade over Thief of Sanity, and I don’t expect it to make many decks. It offers decent synergies with discard outlets, which is enough that I can imagine it showing up in Reanimator decks some of the time, but it’s not nearly the draw that Thief of Sanity is as a standalone threat. Actually casting the card is quite weak relative to nearly any other three-mana card in the Cube.
I never play Maze of Ith in Vintage Cube and I don’t believe it’s been played against me recently. Developing your mana is just too important and decks generate too much value for it to be relevant in the majority of games. Urza’s Saga, on the other hand, is totally busted. Providing two Constructs from your land and later tutoring for something like a Mox or Sensei’s Divining Top is incredibly powerful.
There probably are decks that wouldn’t want to play Urza’s Saga, but I would expect that they’re in the minority. The card just gives you so much out of your land drop, and those Constructs will be enough to win the game if your deck has a good clip of mana rocks in a lot of spots. If your deck has a high mana curve and few artifacts, I can see an argument to shy away from Urza’s Saga, but I’d also argue that the problem is your deck in that circumstance, not Urza’s Saga. Any of the decks that I actively want to draft in Vintage Cube would happily play this card, and I plan to pick it quite highly.
I’m really liking the look of this update, and I’m excited that we’ll get two weeks with this build of the Cube. My major takeaways are that the overall power level of the Cube has increased, with a lot of the worst cards being cut, and that red has increased the most in overall power level among colors relative to the rest of the Cube. The only changes that I don’t love are the removal of Oust and Thief of Sanity, but on balance this update looks awesome.