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Is Drafting Mono-Black Aggro In Dekkaru Cube Viable?

Ryan Saxe is squaring up to Magic Online’s latest Cube offering! Make your picks and see the path he took to claim yet another Draft trophy!

Thoughtseize, illustrated by Lucas Graciano

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Cube is my favorite way to play Magic. Once in-person-events are on the table, I’m extremely excited to attend CubeCon, a convention all about Cube! This month, two cubes from CubeCon will be on Magic Online (MTGO) and you can read about Dekkaru Cube in a Wizards of the Coast (WotC) spotlight article. Today, we’ll go over a draft from this Cube. (View the full list.)

In a previous article, 5 Quick Cube Lessons, I covered basic tips for drafting any Cube. But that can only get you so far. As I discuss in that very article, the normal Limited heuristics for drafting the open archetype fall apart. Every card in a Cube is so good that the signal information in any given pack doesn’t abide by the same patterns that normal Limited packs do. There isn’t collation or rarity to help predict what color the person next to you is. In normal Limited, reading local signals — the signals of the players next to you — is important. In Cube, these signals don’t exist. However, there’s a lot more information in the global signals — the signals the pack contains about the whole table.

Most Limited formats support around ten archetypes. Most Cubes support at least 40, but it’s not unreasonable to expect hundreds of strategies seeded in a 540-card cube, which is the size of every Cube on MTGO. This means that when a pack wheels, it is guaranteed to contain information about archetypes that nobody is drafting. Don’t expect to pivot when a mono-red card wheels. But when it does, it’s crucial to be able to remember the other mono-red cards that might come back; if one came back, the others might, and it’s often worth a speculative pick.

Furthermore, optimal Cube drafting often means walking a fine line between multiple archetypes given what might wheel. This provides the opportunity to pounce on what nobody else is doing without giving up much. Inspect every pack and a plan will emerge naturally.

Can you figure out how to do that out of these first few picks of a Cube draft?

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
In most classic Legacy and Vintage Cubes, Whirler Rogue and Mass Manipulation aren’t enough for their cost. These types of Cubes are rarely about battlefield presence, and while Mass Manipulation is powerful, it’s prohibitive and expensive.

However, they still don’t line up in this pack against a classic Cube heuristic: cheap interaction and lands are better than everything other than completely broken cards. And the heuristic holds in this case. Both Thoughtseize and Steam Vents are defensible picks here and I wouldn’t fault anybody for taking either. I ended up on Thoughtseize.

Thoughtseize is a great card, but I am in no way married to it. As I discussed above, I don’t preach staying open in Cube in the normal sense. I believe you should stick to your powerful cards and pave a path for multiple ways of using those cards. Thoughtseize can play in aggressive, midrange, and controlling decks, making it work well with that philosophy. But it isn’t some archetypally defining card that creates a huge bias to black in a way that Upheaval or Opposition create a huge bias to blue.

There are black cards in the next pack, though. Would you take them over other, potentially better options?

Pack 1, Pick 2

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Restoration Angel and Soulherder are both phenomenal cards for the blink archetype. Between the two, I believe Soulherder is a better pick. Restoration Angel is a good card, but it doesn’t make a deck tick outside of comboing with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, which isn’t in this Cube. Restoration Angel is often cut from white aggro and white control. It’s a good card, but cards need to be more than good to make my Cube decks. They need to play a role and push towards accomplishing the goal of my deck. Even though it is multiple colors, I believe Soulherder accomplishes this and Restoration Angel doesn’t. Keep in mind, this is in a Cube that supports Azorius Blink and not Kiki-Jiki. If Blink wasn’t a supported archetype and Kiki-Jiki was in the Cube, Restoration Angel would be better.

While I like the Azorius Midrange deck, the cards wheeling from the packs seen so far don’t seem that great. Whirler Rogue is unlikely to come back, although if it does, the curve with Soulherder will win many games. There’s a chance that Exclusion Mage comes back too, but again, with the contents of the pack I don’t think that’s likely.

This comes down to another land and cheap interactive spell. But Duress is significantly worse than Thoughtseize. In most scenarios, I believe that Hallowed Fountain would be the correct pick here. Shocklands are great for splashing, and Esper has a lot of specific ways to approach it, likely taking advantage of some of the cards that would wheel in this draft. Furthermore, I’m always on the lookout for ways to splash white easily when I know Unburial Rites is in a Cube. However, with the contents of the packs so far, I believe that Duress is the clear pick.

Starting on Thoughtseize and Duress with the potential to wheel two black one-drops is phenomenal. I can continue this draft by taking solid black cards and speculations. If the one-drops wheel, I can push hard into black aggro and likely get a great deck uncontested. If they don’t, I can move to a non-aggressive black deck, which will still properly utilize Duress and Thoughtseize. This paves two very clear paths, and one is likely to present itself.

Pack 1, Pick 4

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Normally I could look to speculate on powerful cards like Emry, Lurker of the Loch, or Goblin Welder. However, Watery Grave would just be a better pickup than an off-color payoff with synergies I don’t currently have. But is Watery Grave better than the other black options?

Phyrexian Arena is a great addition to any black midrange or control deck, but it is a little clunky. The clunkiness makes it especially poor in most variants of black aggro. Similarly, Ruin Raider is great in black aggro, but clunky and poor in non-aggressive black decks. I believe if black aggro is where I’m supposed to be, I’ll get Ruin Raider with very few cards left in the pack. Meaning this pick is between Phyrexian Arena and Watery Grave.

I think the correct pick is Watery Grave for a couple of reasons. First, lands are extremely important to any non-aggressive deck, and splashing blue for countermagic can be potent in the black aggro strategy anyway. Second, and most importantly, passing both Phyrexian Arena and Ruin Raider increases the probability that Ruin Raider wheels. A non-aggressive black drafter could pick up a Ruin Raider if there’s nothing else for them. Passing Phyrexian Arena, a card I already believe isn’t particularly great, just helps mitigate that case should the aggressive cards wheel.

And they did! I ended up in a phenomenal black aggro deck that took home the trophy! Check out the deck and the draft log below:

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