The Modern Cube is making a return to Magic Online (MTGO) starting today and running until October 7th. That’s three weeks of Cubical goodness and I’m here to help you get ready to dive into the queues.
The MTGO Modern Cube was first announced in March of 2017. Much like the MTGO Vintage and Legacy Cubes, the environment largely focuses on generically powerful cards and the scope of the card pool is, as you would expect, cards that are legal in the Modern format. As outlined in the original announcement of Modern Cube, the gameplay is generally focused around creatures, planeswalkers, and navigating combat.
In practice, a lot of the drafting and gameplay of previous runs skewed heavily around mana acceleration and card advantage. Signets and other fast mana have a way of pushing formats in this direction. Today’s update is significant though, as the Signets have been cut from the Cube to try to further distance the Modern Cube experience from that of Legacy or Vintage Cube. The reason for this position is further outlined in their announcement on the Cube’s updates, and I personally am very happy to see Signets be cut from unpowered environments. Ideally this step makes aggressive decks and just generally curving out more viable.
There were quite a few other updates to the Cube, and part of the MTGO Modern Cube’s identity is that they try to change more cards in the Cube with every run than they would with the Legacy and Vintage Cubes. Let’s take a look at what all is being changed.
Many of these are lateral shifts, though there are several very powerful cards entering the Cube and a couple of fundamental shifts outside of removing Signets. Not having to play around Settle the Wreckage is a dramatic upgrade for Cube gameplay, though Shark Typhoon is a total powerhouse and one you’ll have to watch out for in combat.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den is making its entrance as a pretty reasonable card to play in your maindeck, though I expect that we’ll see Yorion, Sky Nomad going last regularly in much the same fashion that it did in Vintage Cube. Obosh, the Preypiercer is making an appearance as well, and my assumption is that you’ll never want to companion it and that there are too many good five-mana cards in the Cube to be happy maindecking it either. Companions were wild and somewhat interesting things to tinker with in Cube when they were fully broken, but I don’t see these cards as dramatic updates or terribly exciting ones.
The big non-Signet shift here is the lands swap. Enemy fastlands are being cut from the Cube in favor of Triomes, and this change swings the pendulum back in favor of value decks. Cutting Inspiring Vantage specifically is a significant blow to Boros decks, and it’s somewhat odd to me to see this change in tandem with cutting Signets. It’s not as dramatic, but as I’ve outlined in a previous article you really want untapped lands in your aggressive colors to make your beatdown decks work.
It’s also worth noting that even with Signets on the outs a handful of extremely powerful mana rocks remain in the Cube. I would fully expect the following cards to be among the highest picks in the Cube due to the ease with which they power out more expensive cards that generate card advantage:
Let’s take a look at the full card list to contextualize things. For some reason Wizards of the Coast (WotC) publishes their Cube lists as just a long list of card names, which is really impossible to digest as a Draft experience, but I’ve gone ahead and imported their list to Cube Cobra to make better sense of it.
Now let’s break down what each color does well and how to approach drafting them.
The white section of the Cube is going to have the most in common with Vintage Cube, which is due to most of white’s most powerful cards being products of modern Magic design.
Despite the similarity in the card list, the way white should be drafted in Modern Cube is quite a bit different from Vintage Cube. In Vintage Cube it’s a reliable strategy just to draft white creatures with power and toughness because you’ll always get something on the wheel and to round things out with whatever Moxen and Strip Mines you can get your hands on, but you’ll have to take more care to make your white deck work in Modern Cube.
You’ll want your creature decks to focus more on token makers given the increased probability that your opponent will be looking for one-for-one trades on the battlefield. I actually think it’s a little weird not to see Raise the Alarm on the card list, but I’d value stuff like Spectral Procession, Cloudgoat Ranger, and even Tithe Taker very highly and look to supplement them with some Glorious Anthem effects. I’m actually very interested in Trostani Discordant in this environment.
The most powerful white cards are going to be the planeswalkers, and both Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion are going to be huge draws to white. I also figure Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Dream Trawler to be very high picks in this environment, which conveniently brings us to the next section.
Blue has many of the most powerful cards in the Cube, and actually seems to heavily support a devotion theme to make it harder to play blue with other colors. I find this somewhat charming and admirable, though it won’t stop Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sublime Epiphany from running the tables.
The first thing to notice when you look at blue’s curve is that there are just way too many four-mana things, so you’ll definitely want to prioritize other parts of the curve first while trying to identify the best fours that you’ll be able to draft.
It’s going to be very important to get a good spread of one- and two-mana cards, and unfortunately I don’t think Delver of Secrets is particularly playable. I’d draft Mana Leak very highly and definitely be on the lookout for Mind Stone in almost all of my blue decks.
I think the devotion thing is kind of weak, and while I like the idea of ending up in mono-blue, I’m not doing so to enable Thassa, Deep-Dwelling. Master of Waves is plenty playable and can be an ace against red decks, but realistically the “devotion” card that I’d be looking to make work is Gadwick, the Wizened. Efficient card advantage is going to be much stronger in this environment than loosely strung together themes.
While the reason that I want to draft mono-blue is that many of the cards are good, black devotion is actually something that I can get behind in this Cube. Phyrexian Arena is an all-time great and Phyrexian Obliterator is excellent at getting into combat and cutting down planeswalkers.
One of black’s pitfalls is that a small number of cards lead you to believe certain things are supported when they just aren’t. Seeing Gravecrawler and no two-drop Zombies was odd to me. I get that it’s a fine discard outlet, but I’m a bit sad not to see more Zombie support given that Liliana’s Mastery is in the Cube. I assumed Glint-Sleeve Siphoner implied the existence of some other energy sources and that turned out to be another bamboozle.
For the most part, black in Modern Cube consists of a lot of cards that do a solid job at trading one for one as well as some setups that can give you a discounted Griselbrand. Two cards that might be sleepers that I’m interested in are Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and The Elderspell. The Cube list is pretty planeswalker-heavy, so you’re likely to get really good mileage out of The Elderspell, and with one of the draws to white being token makers I believe there are opportunities to draft excellent Yawgmoth decks.
Red has the same issue in Modern Cube that it does in Vintage Cube where there are about as many five-drops as there are one-drops, but it’s more forgivable here. I’m more inclined to draft a red aggressive deck than I am a white one, but I’m still nowhere near first-picking a Hazoret the Fervent.
Red is mostly a midrange color in Modern Cube, and it’s quite good in that role. Bonecrusher Giant, Seasoned Pyromancer, and Goblin Rabblemaster are all quite good pound-for-pound midrange cards, and Zealous Conscripts is just brutal against opposing planeswalkers.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Koth of the Hammer are a couple of all-time great planeswalkers, and I actually believe that Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast can thrive in this environment despite being a bit of a dunce in Vintage Cube. You’ll just have more time to set up your battlefield and spinning a Rekindling Phoenix into an Inferno Titan will be more powerful here relative to what your average opponent is doing.
I’m a lot more interested in Lightning Bolt and Mizzium Mortars than I am in Goblin Guide and Bomat Courier in Modern Cube, and I’ve gotta say I’m a bit miffed to see Anax, Hardened in the Forge in the list without an Embercleave to hook up.
Green loses Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary and Gaea’s Cradle in Modern Cube, but still gets a ton of fast mana and Crafterhoof Behemoth. As such, the green strategy of “mana and stuff” actually works quite a bit better here than it does in Vintage Cube. Green having a near-monopoly on fast mana is a huge boon to the color with this update, and I absolutely expect green-heavy decks frequently in this run. Most of the cards are excellent. I’d just make the point to avoid a lot of the four-mana creatures. Questing Beast could be fine to combat planeswalkers, but I really hope I never have to play any of these:
The best green decks consist of cards that make mana, cards that generate value, cards that make mana and generate value, and cards that outright win the game. There’s very little room for attacking and blocking, though there is sufficient room for Plow Under.
Red and black will have a good amount of answers to your mana creatures, and because of this I believe Utopia Sprawl to be one of the best cards in the Cube. It’s just the cheapest and hardest-to-interact-with form of fast mana. It won’t draw a card with Beast Whisperer, but it will all but guarantee that you cast your four and five mana spells ahead of schedule. The removal of Signets means this will likely put you relevantly ahead of your opponent. I’ll be looking for one-mana accelerants; Garruk Wildspeaker; and Nissa, Who Shakes the World as early signs to jump into green.
I’m excited to give the Modern Cube sans Signets a go, and I’m hoping that aggressive decks pan out to be better than I estimate that they will. In the meantime, I’ll be in the queues jamming the mana acceleration and powerful value cards that are still around.
Lastly, here are the two big cards that I haven’t mentioned that I expect to win with and lose to a lot. No surprises on these with the focus on mana and value, but it doesn’t hurt to spell things out explicitly.
There’s just no escaping.