Here we are. Back in March. Still in March?
The Vintage Cube is making another return to Magic Online (MTGO) for a three week run to help dull The Madness, and for that I am grateful. I’m still feeling spoiled by the week of Supreme Draft that we had in December, but I’ve come back down to Earth some and am ready to dive back into the waters of eight-player Cube Draft.
A handful of changes have been announced for this run and I’ve gone ahead and imported the Cube list to Cube Cobra to help contextualize everything. A few elements of the Cube are in weird places due to previous updates and some ongoing bugs, and I’ll touch on that in today’s breakdown.
If you’re newer to Vintage Cube, I’d recommend the rundown I gave of the format last year as a good starting point with fundamentals that hold up even if some of the individual cards have changed. If you’re mostly up to speed, let’s go ahead and discuss the latest changes and where that leaves the colors of Magic in the current iteration of the Cube.
The Ikoria update to the Vintage Cube added Fight as One, which was horrible and later replaced with Benevolent Bodyguard, which was somewhat on the underwhelming side. Now we’re seeing that slot turning into arguably the best Savannah Lions of all time. Justin Parnell and I have some pretty good things to say about Usher of the Fallen on the first episode of The 540, so stay tuned for that later this week!
Mono-White Aggro remains one of the decks that you can most consistently force in the MTGO Vintage Cube and it more or less does the same thing every game, which will net wins over time against some of the more volatile strategies in the Cube, even if it’s not the most powerful. Usher of the Fallen is yet another upgrade to this archetype, and Mono-White Aggro remains my pick for the most consistently powerful aggressive archetype currently supported.
Lapse of Certainty and Felidar Retreat have lived to fight another day in my list of cards in the Cube that I will play “under no circumstance,” though the rest of the column is looking solid. I remain miffed that Palace Jailer is absent from the Cube, but you can’t win them all (at least Moat is still out).
How best to put this…
Cosima, God of the Voyage has shown up some in Constructed already, though a three-mana card that generates some marginal advantage and attacks and blocks is generally underwhelming in Vintage Cube. This change is of little relevance given that Thada Adel, Acquisitor was a fairly medium card as well, though we have to go back to the last update to see what we’re really missing out on.
Both Hullbreacher and Mystic Confluence remain absent from the Cube, which I understand to be related to bugs. I don’t personally care either way if Hullbreacher is ever allowed to exist in the Cube, but a lot of folks would like to see it get a shot in the non-Supreme Draft format. Mystic Confluence, however, totally rules and Vintage Cube is about the only format where it’s a reasonable card to play with. Please fix it!
Independent of any of these individual card discussions, blue is still the best color in Vintage Cube, and I wouldn’t expect that nor want that to ever change.
I wrote in my Top 10 Cube Cards from Kaldheim article that I believe Valki, God of Lies to be a sweet Cube card, but that I believe it to be inferior to Mesmeric Fiend in the formats where you would want a Mesmeric Fiend. Mesmeric Fiend isn’t the most powerful black card in Vintage Cube, though this change strikes me as a bit of a downgrade for this environment. I like Valki in formats that are about creatures, though you’ll more commonly want to strip combo pieces or high-impact noncreatures in Vintage Cube. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is in the Cube though, and if you ever manage to hit that with Valki you’ll forget that Mesmeric Fiend ever existed.
With no major updates coming in, I still believe black to be in an awkward place in the MTGO Vintage Cube. You have some aggressive cards, some controlling cards, some very powerful cards, and a lot of stuff that’s somewhat inefficient and even redundant. It’s somewhat baffling that Phyrexian Rager survived a full update both abstractly and with my experience being that it goes last in every pack.
I’m on board with adding Valki to the Cube given that at 540 cards you stretch yourself beyond including only the absolute best, though I think I’d rather see it alongside Mesmeric Fiend than replacing it. This swap seems to be strictly because the cards are similar rather than stating that Mesmeric Fiend was the least valuable black card in the Cube. Get that Rager and Languish out of there, and for the love of all that is holy, add Scrapheap Scrounger.
Birgi is my number one Cube card from Kaldheim, and I believe both sides to be powerful for Storm decks, so I’m really happy to see it making its way into the Cube over Experimental Frenzy, which I will not miss. These other changes, however, lean further into weakening the red aggressive decks, which I already believe could use better support.
For the last year I’ve said time and again how the red aggressive decks just aren’t quite there in the Cube as it stands, and that adding a couple more cheap creatures would go a long way. Earthshaker Khenra was reintroduced to the Cube in the last update but now is being cut for a card that, while incredibly cool, is substantially weaker in Magda, Brazen Outlaw.
The mana curve of the Cube often forces red players to play five-drops in their red aggressive decks, which Magda is supposed to help with by giving you some bonus mana, but to make these decks competitive this entire framework should just be retooled. You don’t need to jump through hoops casting Goblin Pikers to ramp out five-drops if you just have enough one-drops.
The numbers aren’t off by a ton, but they’re off by enough that the white aggressive decks consistently outperform the red ones and it just feels like you’re being punished to have to play a midrange beatdown deck when your opponent gets to cast Ancestral Recall and Reanimate Iona, Shield of Emeria. At the same time, more and more cards like Uro and Elder Gargaroth, which are at their absolute best against the red deck, continue to be added to the Cube as well.
I get that not everybody loves “the fun police” but there’s just so much more powerful stuff going on in the Cube that I find it very frustrating that the red decks can’t have this little push. Substituting Goldspan Dragon over Thundermaw Hellkite, which was arguably the most powerful five-drop in the Cube for aggressive decks on rate, also adds a bit of insult to injury on this front.
I don’t object to Magda, and actually think it has reasonable applications in the Cube; I just feel that, much like with Valki, these updates are being made without a critical eye for the framework of the Cube. Similar cards are being cut for similar cards instead of pushing the overall power level as one would expect a powered Cube to do. Goldspan Dragon also isn’t without its charm, and there will be decks that can benefit from extra mana in the late-game; it’s just that there are weaker fives like Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Dark-Dwellers that would have been more appropriate to cut.
These changes are on balance a slight downgrade to a color that could use a slight upgrade, though I’m excited to play with Birgi and happy to see more cards added to subsidize the combo decks.
Vorinclex is another card that I ranked highly in my Kaldheim Top 10, and Carnage Tyrant is utterly forgettable in Vintage Cube, so I love this change. Green remains a color that I often look to in packs that don’t have any power, with Llanowar Elves and company ramping into Craterhoof Behemoth being the sweet spot.
A miss for me is that Toski, Bearer of Secrets was not added to the Cube. It seems like a natural fit with all the mana creatures and it didn’t seem like the addition of Birthing Pod in the last run really panned out from my perspective. I also liked both Magus of the Order and Court of Bounty from Commander Legends and would at least like to see the Magus get a shot in a 540-card Cube.
I like the swap made in green and I think green is well-positioned in the Cube, though I find a few recent omissions notable and I’m still waiting to see junk like Fauna Shaman and Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury upgraded.
I haven’t seen Sarulf, Realm Eater in action, and I kind of expect that trend to continue. In general, relying on something happening on your opponent’s side of the battlefield to get going is a significant downside, and it’s pretty disappointing in Vintage Cube that you’ll have to get that first counter before you can destroy zero-mana permanents. Golgari and three-mana creatures are also two relatively undesirable categories, so until I see evidence of the card performing, I’ll say I’d rather have Vraska, Golgari Queen for the ability to immediately destroy a Signet.
Showdown of the Skalds is more interesting. In general I’d rather be Mono-White or Mono-Red than Boros, and even when I end up Boros, Ajani Vengeant is fairly underwhelming by today’s standards. Shadow of the Skalds has more significant game-ending potential in aggressive decks and is a card that I’d more likely go out of my way to splash. I’d say this is my second-favorite change in this iteration after the addition of Birgi.
Altogether, these changes don’t offer any fundamental shifts, which is generally to be expected with Vintage Cube. I am somewhat disappointed to see some cards that I see as potential positive additions passed over and a few swaps that I believe to be downgrades. I hope to see some of these changes reverted as well as some more radical updates in the future.
If nothing else, the fact that Vintage Cube has been live considerably more over the last year than other years is a good reason to shake things up. Alternatively, or more optimistically, additionally, it would be great to get some more time with Vintage Cube Supreme Draft so that we get to play with only the very best cards the Cube has to offer, which is what I believe Vintage Cube is about for most of us.