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What’s New In The Magic Online Vintage Cube

Ryan Overturf reviews the card replacements in the latest run of the Magic Online Vintage Cube, from new Storm options to surprising departures.

________ Goblin / "Name Sticker" Goblin
________ Goblin / “Name Sticker” Goblin, illustrated by Chuck Lukacs

Howdy, gamers! I hope you like Vintage Cube, because starting today, it’s back on Magic Online (MTGO) for a two-week run! I’m happy to report that this run will be a lot more, for lack of a better word, normal than the previous run, which was on the extreme side for seeding experimental archetypes. A “return to center”, as they’re calling it.

For insights on this concept from the Cube curators themselves, you can read Ryan Spain and Chris Wolf’s write-up on the mothership. I’ve also ported the updated list over to Cube Cobra for ease of digestibility. I’m happy to see that future updates won’t be taking as big of swings, since recent larger updates have tended to pull the Cube in conflicting directions, and more focus in future updates should definitely improve the optics of the change logs as well as the draft experience.

Balance

Spain and Wolf’s breakdown presents some pushback against notions that recent updates to the Cube feature too many “bad” cards, offering that their guiding philosophy is to keep everything in the range of about a 50% win rate. I like this methodology for making calls when considerations are otherwise close, though I’m skeptical of statistics pulled from a large pool of players playing a casual format with a very limited card pool for low stakes.

Ultimately, Cube is art and aesthetics are at least as important as statistics. To the credit of the Daybreak team, they are bringing back significant Storm support for this run despite a lower win rate for this very reason! It’s really not surprising that the “creatures with power and toughness” strategies perform better than more ambitious combo decks, given their general lack of a fail rate, but these strategies don’t feel anywhere near as “Vintage”, and that matters.

Now let’s break down the change log by color!

White

Out:

Eagles of the North Get Lost Guardian of New Benalia Novice Inspector Ranger-Captain of Eos Recruiter of the Guard Restoration Angel Seasoned Hallowblade Sungold Sentinel The Restoration of Eiganjo Weathered Wayfarer Werefox Bodyguard

In:

Adanto Vanguard Aven Interrupter Collector's Cage Esper Sentinel Leyline Binding Lion Sash Monastery Mentor Portable Hole Sanguine Evangelist Steel Seraph Student of Warfare Virtue of Loyalty

These changes mostly exist in the “replacement level” space, but I am very glad to see Lion Sash reintroduced. Student of Warfare is also a great reintroduction, because despite that fact that you’d prefer to have Forth Eorlingas! in all of your aggressive decks, you still want to skew heavily white or red instead of going fully Boros so you don’t lose to your mana too often. It’s been a long time since Monastery Mentor really performed for me in Vintage Cube, but I am happy to see it simply because it’s part of a larger volume of potentially playable options for Storm drafters.

New printings Aven Interrupter and Collector’s Cage have something to prove, though I’m optimistic about both. Aven Interrupter can provide valuable tempo for aggressive and controlling decks alike, and is meaningfully an answer to Underworld Breach, with its passive ability more or less shutting off big graveyard turns. Collector’s Cage is a little more random and a little more clunky, and while I don’t think you’ll see a lot of giant Eldrazi coming off the hideaway, I do think the occasional free Solitude or Palace Jailer will easily be worth the price of admission.

White has been the best aggressive color in Vintage Cube for a good while now, and nothing about this update suggests that will be changing.

Blue

Out:

Astral Dragon Careful Study Deceiver Exarch Ethereal Forager Fact or Fiction Jace, Wielder of Mysteries Mental Note Murktide Regent Pestermite Picklock Prankster Rona, Herald of Invasion Thassa's Oracle Vendilion Clique Venser, Shaper Savant Waker of Waves

In:

Aether Spellbomb Akal Pakal, First Among Equals Chart a Course Dream Halls Duelist of the Mind Hard Evidence High Tide Jace Reawakened Kitesail Larcenist Mind's Desire Phantom Interference Portent Proft's Eidetic Memory Serum Visions Snap Three Steps Ahead Treachery Trinket Mage Turnabout

A lot of the cards exiting in blue are replacement-level or worse, but I do want to say that Fact or Fiction and to a lesser extent Jace, Wielder of Mysteries would have been good cards to keep around to support Storm. Generally functional card advantage and a win condition when you’re scrapping for a way to actually close can go a long way, and while it’s true that a higher volume of cantrips will just show up in any deck, low-impact cards like Serum Visions just can’t hang the way that these cards can.

I’ll be pouring one out for Vendilion Clique and Venser, Shaper Savant as well, especially as compared to an unexciting card like Akal Pakal, First Among Equals. The Storm stuff is all great, though, and I like giving both Three Steps Ahead and Phantom Interference a shot. Phantom Interference more closely resembles staples like Miscalculation, and while Three Steps Ahead might prove inefficient, it is at least playable and appealing.

I’m cold on Duelist of the Mind and Proft’s Eidetic Memory because they don’t really play in the blue decks that I see success with in Vintage Cube, but they’re fine middle-of-the-road cards and can perform well in the right games out of the right decks. My biggest lamentation here is actually that these cards are entering as Berserk leaves, because even though I would value Venser much higher for my own decks, that kind of flourish is at least incredibly cool.

That all said, blue is still the most powerful color and that’s never going to change. Storm isn’t for the faint of heart, though it’s worth noting that, despite the archetype’s low win rate in the aggregate, you will have by far the easiest games when you pull off the best versions of the deck. It’s just not the most likely thing to come together or the easiest deck to play or draft.

Black

Out:

Ayara, Widow of the Realm Bitterblossom Bloodghast Damnation Dogged Detective Doomsday Dreams of Steel and Oil Gurmag Angler Inverter of Truth Living Death Lord Skitter, Sewer King Misery's Shadow Ophiomancer Pack Rat Pile On Rankle, Master of Pranks Shadowgrange Archfiend Souls of the Lost Stalactite Stalker Stitcher's Supplier Tortured Existence Woe Strider Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

In:

Baleful Mastery Beseech the Mirror Bolas's Citadel Bubbling Muck Cabal Ritual Caustic Bronco Goryo's Vengeance Graveyard Trespasser Harvester of Misery Hostile Investigator Imperial Seal Infernal Grasp Kaervek, the Punisher Long Goodbye Night's Whisper Phyrexian Fleshgorger Rain of Filth Tendrils of Agony Tourach, Dread Cantor Wishclaw Talisman Yawgmoth's Will

I strongly agree that Bitterblossom and Bloodghast really aren’t Vintage Cube-caliber cards anymore, though this is an area where my fix would be much more extreme. I’d be removing basically all support for black aggressive decks, and under no circumstance would I be adding Caustic Bronco. It’s also kind of bizarre to me to cut these cards and Ophiomancer but leave Skullclamp in the Cube. These cards mostly existed in the environment so that Skullclamp fans could try to recapture some of that card’s glory days, and this iteration might be a low point for one of Magic’s most broken Equipment spells.

I also find the approach of adding more removal as a knob to combat the success of Boros decks questionable. This format is too high-power to expect some Doom Blades to change much. I’m on board with cutting Damnation from the Cube, given that it’s really not there on power level anymore, but the next step is acknowledging that cards like Long Goodbye are sideboard cards, too. If you really want to push back against creature decks, then the answer is in win conditions, not nickel-and-dime interaction. Harvester of Misery is exactly the right kind of card for the job, and there are knobs I would experiment with to turn up the heat for Reanimator if pushing back against Aggro was my goal. Admittedly, pushing Reanimator is playing with fire, so I understand objections to this notion on those grounds.

I like the general direction for black with this update, but there’s still a bit too much lingering in the way of black aggressive cards. This is another spot where the update pushes the Cube in one direction while pulling it back in the other. For a 540-card Cube for a wide audience, you’re probably supposed to just maintain more stuff for Skullclamp, but the Cube really doesn’t need to keep Evolved Sleeper around.

Red

Out:

Anger Anje's Ravager Avacyn's Judgment Bitter Reunion Blazing Rootwalla Bomat Courier Demand Answers Fugitive Codebreaker Goblin Bombardment Inferno Titan Kari Zev, Skyship Raider Khenra Spellspear Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker Monstrous Rage Ojer Axonil, Deepest Might Rampaging Ferocidon Reckless Charge Splinter Twin Squee, Goblin Nabob Zealous Conscripts

In:

________ Goblin Arc Trail Birgi, God of Storytelling Bonehoard Dracosaur Elemental Eruption Generous Plunderer Highway Robbery Legion Extruder Magda, the Hoardmaster Mizzix's Mastery Pyrite Spellbomb Rite of Flame Runaway Steam-Kin Seething Song Slickshot Show-Off Thundermaw Hellkite Unholy Heat

All of the cuts to red make sense on power level, save one Inferno Titan. This is another one of those aesthetic things where, even if you can tell me that Trumpeting Carnosaur has a higher win rate, you might convince my brain, but you will never convince my heart. I still play Inferno Titan a lot and certainly haven’t felt like the card has lost a step, either. And to the extent that I already hated Oliphaunt, that rage will only grow now, seeing it in packs, knowing that I could have had an Inferno Titan!

I love the Storm stuff, though I’d have pushed even harder. Once you’re in on Elemental Eruption, why not give Empty the Warrens its due? A deck with both of these cards is open to explore avenues quite different from one that will have to rely on cards like Tendrils of Agony or Brainstorm to actually fully close immediately. Elemental Eruption is sweet, but the full implementation here falls short in terms of what could have been. It’s not fair to cite win rates as a significant strike against Storm without fully giving the archetype its due! To that end, I’d also give Crackling Spellsinger a shot here, especially over Bonehoard Dracosaur, which is just a boring lump of stats. Nothing really there to discover with that one.

I’m of two minds about “Name Sticker” Goblin, the MTGO version of ________ Goblin. It can make a lot of mana and is seeing real play in Constructed formats, but the experience of using the Cube on MTGO is quite different from that of paper Magic. This matters because this Cube is very likely the most widely emulated Cube by paper players. I’m excited to play with the card, and you could house rule it for paper Cube, though if there’s any Cube that I believe shouldn’t have a digital-only slant to it, it’s this one.

I’m really not a believer in Prowess for Vintage Cube, which can be best summed by my preference for Goblin Guide over Soul-Scar Mage in these environments. Beatdown decks really just need generically good cards and can’t really bear additional specific requirements, which is why Gut, True Soul Zealot and Broadside Bombardiers are so appealing. They just play well with everything you already want. Slickshot Show-Off is an awesome Constructed card and I’m sure it will get some big hits in this run, but it’s very vulnerable and specific in application, which makes it the sort of card that you really want to pick up late more than an exciting new avenue for red aggro.

Red’s place in Vintage Cube with this update is more or less where it has been for a couple of years: a jack of all trades and a master of none. The biggest draws to red remain Underworld Breach, Sneak Attack, and Fury, with everything else looking to get there on volume.

Green

Out:

Basking Rootwalla Become Immense Berserk Blossoming Tortoise Cavalier of Thorns Court of Garenbrig Crop Rotation Deeproot Wayfinder Elvish Reclaimer Fauna Shaman Fyndhorn Elves Hooting Mandrills Life from the Loam Primeval Titan Royal Treatment Satyr Wayfinder Sharp-Eyed Rookie Survival of the Fittest Vengevine Wall of Roots Wrenn and Realmbreaker

In:

Arbor Elf Bristly Bill, Spine Sower Courser of Kruphix Eureka Garruk Wildspeaker Goldvein Hydra Nature's Claim Nishoba Brawler Ornery Tumblewagg Paradise Druid Pick Your Poison (MKM) Railway Brawler Ranger Class Regrowth Sandstorm Salvager Smuggler's Surprise Tough Cookie Utopia Sprawl Vaultborn Tyrant

The only green card on the outs here that I particularly object to Elvish Reclaimer. It probably makes sense to cut it with the Dark Depths package to manage player expectations, but I’ve always wanted to have the card in my Gaea’s Cradle decks, especially if I’m getting up to Strip Mine shenanigans.

I’m really glad to see Courser of Kruphix back in the Cube, and while Eureka has always been more of a trap, I’ve gotta say that Eureka is just a sweet card that feels very Vintage. I’m also a fan of Garruk Wildspeaker, even if Undermountain Adventurer has supplanted the card in my own lists.

Nature’s Claim is a very maindeckable green card, though I would expect Pick Your Poison to perform awkwardly in a singleton Cube environment. The reasons to play the card in Constructed just don’t exist here. Vaultborn Tyrant is also showing up as a keyword-soupy seven-drop that will probably be fine, and while I don’t see Bristly Bill, Spine Sower and Ornery Tumblewagg as real draws to green, they should perform fine given their attributes of “having power and toughness”.

Tough Cookie occupies similar space and doesn’t pass the sniff test for me, with green not really being the color of most artifacts-matter decks in Vintage Cube, though two artifacts for your Tolarian Academy deck with a mana sink for your Academy attached can definitely matter.

The new card that I really like giving a shot here is Smuggler’s Surprise. The years haven’t been kind to Tooth and Nail, but something cheaper in a similar space is worth a shot. I expect the card to perform reasonably well in Craterhoof Behemoth decks.

Green has lost a fair amount of its appeal as a standalone in Vintage Cube in recent years, and this update doesn’t do much of anything to address that. The more popular and successful green decks, from what I gather, tend to be Naya aggressive and midrange strategies, which this update certainly reinforces. I believe that the removal intended to address the Boros aggressive decks actually is to the biggest detriment of Rofellos and friends, though whether you consider this impact good or bad is a matter of personal taste.

Gold

Out:

No More Lies Spell Queller Master of Death Wail of the Forgotten Deathrite Shaman Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis Insidious Roots Witherbloom Command Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald Galvanic Iteration Priest of Fell Rites Fulminator Mage Knight of Autumn Unruly Krasis Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Raffine, Scheming Seer

In:

Assimilation Aegis Shorikai, Genesis Engine Lazav, Wearer of Faces Lim-Dul's Vault Abrupt Decay Pillage the Bog The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride Escape to the Wilds Manamorphose Magma Opus Ashen Rider Valki, God of Lies Kutzil, Malamet Exemplar Oko, the Ringleader Sail into the West Bring to Light Cruel Ultimatum Huatli, Poet of Unity Thopter Foundry

I’m a big fan of giving Valki, God of Lies and Jace Reawakened a shot, and I expect Jace to be reasonably playable otherwise. Thopter Foundry overperformed for me the last time it was featured, and I expect to speculatively draft the Thopter Sword combo often. I don’t see Cruel Ultimatum as an actual draw to playing Dream Halls, but I at least appreciate the restraint of not reintroducing Inspired Ultimatum and sticking to the one that players will actually cast for seven mana some of the time because it’s sweet.

Assimilation Aegis and Oko, the Ringleader are both reasonably powerful cards that should be able to hang well enough in the Cube, and Shorikai, Genesis Engine is quite solid against any opponent that you can keep to playing a slower game. The Golgari slots are pretty unappealing to me, and for my money more Golgari planeswalkers tend to be the most appealing cards for a “centered” Vintage Cube. I will also continue to advocate for Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom as cool things to try if you want to really push Storm.

Colorless

Out:

Altar of Dementia Emrakul, the Promised End Hangarback Walker Hollow One Lightning Greaves Porcelain Legionnaire The Underworld Cookbook Thran Dynamo Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

In:

Talisman of Indulgence Relic of Sauron Aetherflux Reservoir Candelabra of Tawnos Helm of Awakening Manifold Key Mystic Forge Nettlecyst Nexus of Becoming Sword of the Meek Triplicate Titan

I personally like just having all ten Talismans over the more replaceable gold cards in the Cube, of which there are still many, but at least we’re moving in the right direction here. Some middling Storm cards are making their way in with some decent to great Mishra’s Workshop cards as well. The standout is definitely Nexus of Becoming, which is just a nice card advantage card that can occasionally give you much more than your mana’s worth.

Nettlecyst is one of those cards that I really don’t want in my artifacts-matter decks but that can technically hang because of that “has power and toughness” thing. I actually found Manifold Key was quite solid last time it was in the Cube, even without Time Vault, even if it’s something that I only ever pick up on the wheel. There are plenty of mana artifacts and cute things like Mystic Forge and Sense’s Divining Top to untap with it.

Lands

Out:

Bazaar of Baghdad Cascade Bluffs Dark Depths Lavaclaw Reaches Mutavault Sunken Ruins Thespian's Stage

In:

Darkslick Shores Spirebluff Canal Restless Vents Lotus Field Mana Confluence

I have found Lotus Field to be outright awful in this Cube, and I’d much rather keep Dark Depths around as an aspiration card that comes up sometimes, but alas. Bazaar of Baghdad also feels much more Vintage, but I can’t deny that I win the overwhelming majority of the time against opponents who play it.

Darkslick Shores and Spirebluff Canal over Sunken Ruins and Cascade Bluffs requires no explanation, and really shouldn’t be swapped back even when you’re trying to cast triple-color cards. I think, when the Daybreak team refers to excessive cognitive load regarding big updates, it shines a lot of light on the way that a swap like this really misses the forest for the trees.

There’s still a bit going on this Cube list that doesn’t exactly feel “centered” to me, with cards like Invigorate hanging in the spread. That said, I am optimistic that shorter changelogs in the future will help the Cube move more in the right direction, and while I barely drafted the last iteration, I intend to draft a good amount of this run. There’s nothing wrong with experimentation, and in general, I encourage it! But nailing the right aesthetic is essential to curating an experience with a mythos as robust as that of a Vintage Cube, and I see this update as a healthy step forward.

***

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