Hello once again, gamers! As you may have heard, Vintage Cube is back on Magic Online (MTGO) today for a three-week run! The official reason is that it’s a format for the upcoming Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS), but I think we all know that this is unofficially a celebration of my birthday week. It’s a gift that I really appreciate!
Ryan Spain has once again made a massive update to the Cube, and you can find his insights on the change log here. I’ve also ported the list over to Cube Cobra for ease of analysis. With over 100 changes being made with this run, there’s a lot to talk about today!
That number is slightly inflated by Signets becoming Talismans, but there’s still a lot going on here. A fair amount of these changes are broadly irrelevant, so I won’t be discussing every card, but I want to touch on the cards leaving the Cube that I hope to see reintroduced, the cards being added that will be impactful, and the cards being added that baffle me. I’ll also be touching on what I see as fundamental aspects to the change log and how each color will bear these changes. Let’s break the Cube down by color and dig in!
The most impactful change is the removal of White Plume Adventurer. I personally have come to love the card in Vintage Cube for giving white something actually broken to do. I’m sympathetic to the notion of not everyone knowing or caring what the initiative does, but adding a card that causes The Ring to tempt you in the same update as this change makes me question it. Spain correctly points out that The Ring emblem is a more recent memory, but the problem is that a lot of players don’t know either mechanic in the first place.
I’m bigger on Mana Tithe than most, so I’m sad to see it go, but I’ll readily admit that Reprieve is a big upgrade. Having access to both can be very powerful for an aggressive deck that would play either, but it can also be difficult to justify two slots for this sort of thing. All in all a good change.
I’m a little back and forth on Leyline Binding. On the one hand, I think there are players who love drafting lands who will be big on this card. On the other hand, I can’t imagine ever personally playing it in this environment. Cards being popular is definitely reason enough to feature them, but to that end, it’s weird to give these players this card while cutting Niv-Mizzet Reborn. Niv-Mizzet Reborn and the card’s fans don’t really care about the Cube infrastructure very much at all. It’s a cool five-color Dragon, and Leyline Binding is an Oblivion Ring. These two cards present much more of a “both or neither” paradigm to me.
I don’t think it matters very much, considering this is Vintage Cube and blue can fall a long way and still be the most powerful color, but I think this is the first update where I’ve been able to say that these changes make blue notably weaker. I’m not a big Bribery fan, though it is a source of free wins for a lot of players who seem to adore the card. Mulldrifter and Riftwing Cloudskate are pretty well replacement-level cards in Vintage Cube, but Murktide Regent performed below that bar in previous iterations, and Hard Evidence is likely to do the same.
Glen Elendra Archmage was significantly above replacement level, and is just one of those blue cards you can always happily play in Vintage Cube. If anything, the argument against the card is that it’s not fun to play through. Consecrated Sphinx is similarly powerful in terms of ease of winning when it’s on the battlefield, but six mana is a lot more than four. Newcomers Torrential Gearhulk and Hullbreaker Horror have been very dissatisfying for me by comparison in the past.
I do like the additions of both Subtlety and Flash. Subtlety is a great tool for blue decks that need a turn or two to set up to buy time against aggressive decks, and in a Cube that skews heavily blue, I love giving the card a shot. Flash I think is generally a more narrow version of other cheaty cards that I could see either falling completely flat or becoming a very high pick in the Cube, with it being very unlikely to perform anywhere in-between. That kind of range is exciting, and I’m curious to try the card out.
To the extent that anything of value is leaving the Cube, the cards entering more or less fill those holes. This is largely a list of black’s least playable cards in the Cube, though I will say that specifically Ravenous Chupacabra and Shriekmaw leaving the Cube is a downgrade for the color.
It is true that Ravenous Chupacabra is a little inefficient for this environment, but the decks that want it, like Recurring Nightmare and midrange decks, are generally happy to have it, and its castability makes it much more desirable than Noxious Gearhulk, which is a very unappealing rate for the environment. Shriekmaw would show up meaningfully in all of the same places, and these decks are taking a hit in favor of black aggressive decks which have more or less never been successful in Vintage Cube.
To that end, a number of these swaps suggest that there is a distinction between black aggressive decks and Sacrifice decks, and in practice those are just the same archetype. You can’t swap out black aggressive cards for Sacrifice cards; you need both for either to be successful. A few changes in this update seem to be made in favor of aggressive decks more easily playing two colors, but Gix decks are the same decks as Woe Strider and Bloodghast decks.
Orcish Bowmasters is an upgrade for black as a generically playable card that I’d play in realistically any black deck. I’m a fan of reintroducing Massacre Wurm as well as a castable threat for Reanimator that much more meaningfully impacts the battlefield than Noxious Gearhulk. I don’t think I’d say that black got worse on balance with this update, but it’s strange to remark on these two great cards being added without feeling like black meaningfully got better.
Similarly to black, red is losing some stinkers for some heaters, but it’s also losing some heaters. Cutting Eidolon of the Great Revel seems to be another nod to trying to finesse players off mono-color aggro decks, and cutting Goblin Bombardment makes sense if you’re giving up on an explicit Sacrifice theme, but Young Pyromancer looks like the kind of cut you make to either be the villain on purpose now or with the plan the whole time being to become the hero when you add it back later. It’s such a clear fan favorite that I don’t know what else I could say about that cut.
I love seeing more one-drops, and I’m a huge fan of Mizzix’s Mastery, especially over Past in Flames, which wasn’t meaningful support for Storm at all. Etali, Primal Conqueror and Bitter Reunion both stand to add interesting elements to the creature cheat decks, so those are cool to see, too.
My strongest association with Nahiri’s Warcrafting is the card being pretty okay in Standard, but I am actively intrigued by the introduction of Mine Collapse. Fury has been by far the most meaningful upgrade to red in years, so giving another free spell a shot to remove the blockers that give red decks fits could potentially be a very significant upgrade.
I think that red is actually the big winner with this update, but it can be easy to lose sight of that while scratching your head about Young Pyromancer.
There’s some reshuffling of expensive spells that generally doesn’t make a huge difference, but there are a few things worth calling out here. The first is that I’m so happy to finally see Eureka leave the Cube. I also think that the extra mana creature in Delighted Halfling is exactly the sort of thing green wants to compete in Vintage Cube. There are some other playable cards entering, with Ulvenwald Oddity being one I really love for Gaea’s Cradle decks, but not a lot else to especially praise.
Whisperwood Elemental was among the better five-drops for Gaea’s Cradle decks for making more creatures and protecting you from sweepers, but it’s still reasonable to remove. What I do strongly disagree with is cutting it and adding Thrun, Breaker of Silence. Being insulated against removal isn’t much of a selling point in a Cube flush with ways to win or otherwise take over games outside of combat, and creatures that only attack and block, especially at five mana, can’t hang in a Cube this powerful. Thrun is specifically good against the worst midrange decks you’ve ever seen, and I don’t think it’s fair to kick those decks while they’re down like this. You already cut Shriekmaw.
Worldspine Wurm is kind of a funny one, largely added to subsidize the new addition of Flash. The reshuffle clause and high casting cost make the card generally as awkward as Progenitus, and I’m cold on cards like this that can’t fit into all of the different creature cheat strategies. On balance, I say green improved both by gaining Delighted Halfling and losing Eureka, but the gains here aren’t as significant as red’s.
As we often see in the gold column of this Cube, a lot of replacement-level cards are leaving to be replaced by other replacement-level cards. With apologies to the Niv-Mizzet Reborn lobby, there’s nothing on the outs that is much worth mentioning. Lightning Helix is one of those cards that I’m sure some players will be sad about, but removing it from the Cube is a great call because it’s just not there on power level.
I love adding Ertai Resurrected, the Fire Covenant call is cheeky and fun, and my favorite part of this section is the cards being added to Simic. For most color pairs in Vintage Cube, I look for gold cards, but Simic specifically is so hungry for Tropical Island that I rarely pay much mind to Simic gold cards until later in the draft. Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is more of the same on this front, but an instant-speed Wheel of Fortune in Sail into the West is an awesome upgrade for the color pair, especially if you want Fastbond to show up more often. I will say that Hydroid Krasis was one of the better midrange cards in the Cube and Tamiyo has fallen flat for me in much weaker Cubes than this, but the Sail into the West call is great.
I like adding Cruel Ultimatum, but I’m much more skeptical of Inspired Ultimatum. Both have been added for a bigger cheaty-spells deck to show up more consistently, and while I’m a fan of supporting Dream Halls, I see one of these cards as much better at doing this than the other. Storm decks are Grixis, not Jeskai, and even non-Storm Grixis decks are more likely to be jamming Cruel Ultimatum than Jeskai decks are to jam Inspired Ultimatum. It just has better slot equity when it comes to the range of things that you can expect players to do.
It’s just one slot and Inspired Ultimatum isn’t a total mess, but it’s worth pointing out that Niv-Mizzet isn’t exactly bad with Dream Halls either… I will also add at this time that, if we’re trying to subsidize Dream Halls and cheating creatures onto the battlefield, Aminatou’s Augury would have been a home run for this update.
Swapping Signets for Talismans is a change that I know will be a crowd-pleaser. Karn Liberated and Metalworker are definitely showing signs of age, but they’re both cards that I’d still play on occasion. Really, Oblivion Stone and Lodestone Golem are the only two cuts that I really never played, though to the extent that I’m on board with cutting Lodestone Golem, it is very strange to me to do so while adding Crystalline Giant. Again, this Cube isn’t about attacking and blocking.
Triplicate Titan is a nice cheaty creature, The One Ring rules, and Mox Opal is a fun zero-or-ten type of card to experiment with. I don’t expect Mystic Forge to show up in decks nearly as often as Coercive Portal, and it’s a weird add while simultaneously acknowledging that the support isn’t consistently there for Metalworker.
The only absolute miss for me here is Foundry Inspector. The card is both narrow and inefficient, and fragile anywhere you’d want it. I like trying to spice up the range of archetypes in the Cube, but I’m not a fan of trying to do so with tools that aren’t up to snuff for the environment.
I’m a big fan of reintroducing the creature-lands here, but the Graven Cairns is odd to me. Removing a double-pipped two-drop in red and black in favor of more one-drops and then changing the land from the one that makes colored mana on Turn 1 to one that’s good at casting double-pipped two drops is… odd. I mean, Mount Doom was right there!
Mana Confluence over Rishadan Port is another change that pushes players towards trying to play more than one color in their aggressive decks. I don’t see Vintage Cube is a great environment for that, and I don’t believe that this update will move the needle on this much, but I understand what’s happening here, and Rishadan Port ain’t what it used to be.
Regardless of my position on this update, clearly Ryan Spain is soliciting feedback on the Cube list and is willing to make sweeping changes to move the Cube in a direction that hopefully we’ll all enjoy. There’s some good and bad that comes with soliciting feedback in this way, and this change log is a bit of a mixed bag for me, but the amount of work that went into this update and the one before demonstrates that Spain is willing to put a lot of effort into this project, and that’s something that you can’t teach. I’m looking forward to this run and to seeing what the future of the Cube holds.