The Vintage Cube is still running on Magic Online (MTGO) for another week, but if Magic Arena is more your speed, then you’ll be happy to know that Arena Cube is returning from January 6th through the 20th. Given the nature of the timelines for these sorts of things, I’ve actually never done a breakdown article for the regular Arena Cube, so today will be a full on crash course in the Cube. While I don’t have any previous written content on Arena Cube, we did discuss a previous iteration of the Cube on The 540 during a Cube retrospective episode that I believe holds up regarding the Cube’s fundamentals.
I’ve ported the updated Arena Cube list over to Cube Cobra as per usual, and in the process of doing so noticed that the change log for this update is fairly long. This is unsurprising with how much has been going on with Arena lately, and the Arena Cube is indeed prone to see more updates over time than something like the MTGO Vintage Cube for multiple reasons.
Again, the fundaments of the Cube look more or less the same if you’ve drafted the Cube before, but many of the cards have changed. The most significant change to the Arena Cube for this iteration is the introduction of Arena-only cards. I expected that this was only a matter of time, but this will make it more difficult to jump into this Cube as a more general Cube enthusiast than as an Arena player. I imagine that this is what’s best for the client, though it will also catch some players off guard. Luckily, the list of Arena exclusions in the Cube isn’t terribly long, so this shouldn’t disrupt the experience all that much.
You’ll be able to tell from the fancy “A” on the card names, but keep in mind that these cards won’t be functioning like their paper counterparts:
Cosmos Elixir is a card that I wouldn’t generally play one way or the other, though I do believe that the three nerfed cards here all make them much more appropriate for the Cube. If we could get a nerfed Sublime Epiphany while we’re at it, I’d be all for that for the Arena Cubes, too.
Additionally, you’ll find the following cards that only exist on Arena in the Cube:
Again, not the longest list, but you will want to be aware of these cards. The cards that draft cards from a spellbook aren’t generally good outside of being raw two-for-ones, with the exception of Key to the Archive. That one gives you looks at a lot of historically powerful Cube cards, and while sometimes it won’t give you anything that you want, it will at least serve as a mana rock. The ceiling on the card is incredibly high, with this being the list of potential spells that you can generate:
Not every deck will be interested in a four-mana rock, but the ceiling on the card makes it be far the most powerful four-mana rock of all time. Discover the Formula is similarly busted for any deck in the market for a six-mana draw spell. It’s notable that the card only draws spells, and that the mana reduction on the card is a bigger deal than it might seem at a glance. Both Key to the Archive and Discover the Formula will be first-pickable in many packs.
Digital specifics aside, let’s get to the usual breakdown by color!
Similar to the MTGO Vintage Cube, Mono-White Aggro is among the winningest archetypes in the Arena Cube. As a contrast to Vintage Cube, it’s far more reasonable to branch into a second color in Arena Cube. The relative strength of a two-mana 3/1 is just higher and you’ll have a little bit more time to fumble with your mana if that’s a problem.
As per usual you’ll want to bias towards a low curve with cards like Usher of the Fallen and Thraben inspector, but Arena Cube will put a little more pressure on you to have some heavy hitters on your roster. I’m looking for one of the following cards to really push me to play a white aggressive deck:
Luminarch Aspirant used to be a consideration here, but the nerfed version just doesn’t have nearly as much power. I discount the card for very similar reasons as to why I have Angel of Invention on my list but not Venerated Loxodon. The Loxodon and the Aspirant are both fine and I will play them (the Aspirant more so than the Loxodon) but they simply give up too much tempo before you see the increase in your ability to make good attacks to be very high picks.
Beyond the aggressive strategies, white also has a solid roster of midrange and control cards. These are the standouts:
These are simply some of the best rates in the Cube, and Arena Cube really is largely a “good stuff”-style Cube, so good rates are a huge part of drafting successful decks in the Cube. My preference for drafting white in Arena Cube lies on the extremes of either hyper-aggressive white decks or splashing white for some of these excellent cards in more controlling shells.
Lastly, you’ll want to be aware that Settle the Wreckage is in the Cube. I think it’s among the most overrated cards of all time on power level and that it also has horrible play patterns, and that’s why I’m warning you to play your games with the knowledge that the card exists. Don’t fall for any of that preemptive “good game” bush league nonsense and make informed attacks.
Unlike white but in tune with the typical nature of blue, blue’s aggressive options are the worst cards in the spread. Also unlike white but in tune with the typical nature of blue, there’s a long roster of playable role-player cards. Tons of card selection and a healthy volume of counterspells contribute to blue being the most powerful individual color in this and many other Cubes.
I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about how messed up Hullbreaker Horror is in Cube. It’s an absolute monster in the current run of Vintage Cube, and it’s difficult to imagine beating the card if you can’t answer it immediately. Just getting to seven mana is a much easier ask in Arena Cube than in Vintage Cube, and Hullbreaker Horror absolutely gets better the more likely you are to just be able to hard-cast the card. If you haven’t played with Hullbreaker Horror yet, you really only need to see it on the battlefield once to be convinced.
In the average case, my goal when drafting Arena Cube is either to be aggressive or to be blue. I don’t know what I can really say about that matter with regard to midrange Cubes like this that I haven’t already said many times. You’d have to scale back blue pretty dramatically in this and similar Cubes before I’d give this notion a second thought.
Black is kind of funny in Arena Cube, because there’s explicit support for Mono-Black Devotion but these decks function much worse than mono-white or mono-red decks. On occasion I get hooked by Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but as is often the case with black in Cube, the average case for these decks is much lower than the ceiling.
Black does have a good clip of strong cards in both the answer and threat departments, I’d just make a point to pair it with at least one other color. These are the cream of the crop for individual black cards in Arena Cube:
I find Demonic Tutor’s inclusion in the Cube amusing. Quietly making its way onto Arena through the Mystical Archive and immediately banned for Historic play, Demonic Tutor is apparently still part of the Arena experience. I suppose it gives Vintage Cube enthusiasts a relatable game piece.
In addition to the list of the very best black cards, there’s a good amount of role-players such as removal spells and support for a sacrifice theme, but overwhelmingly I’m looking to add black to my deck when it’s open and as a support color. It’s pretty convincingly the least powerful color in the Cube.
Now we get to why I really like Arena Cube. Mono-Red Aggro totally rules in this environment. When we discussed the Cube on The 540, Justin Parnell has a significant preference for Mono-White Aggro over Mono-Red Aggro, whereas I had a slightly preference for red. With Lightning Bolt making its way onto Arena via the Mystical Archive, I continue to have a slight preference for red.
The funny thing about looking at red in this Cube is that there are so few individual cards that are worth writing home about, but the power level of the Cube is such that a motley crew of red creatures with power and toughness and a decent mana curve is capable of performing very well. There are some great midrange options like Bonecrusher Giant, Seasoned Pyromancer, and Glorybringer, but the best thing about these cards is that they’re also good in the aggressive deck. Overwhelmingly I’m looking to play red as my primary color in an aggressive deck, and as with black I’ll move in on it if it’s open for my midrange and controlling decks.
For the most part, I’ve been highly successful in forcing Mono-Red Aggro in the Cube because so many of the individual cards appear so underwhelming. I can always count on Scorch Spitter to wheel. Being able to wheel cards and paying heavy mind to your curve will be the most important factors to succeeding with red in the Arena Cube, though if you’re lucky you could also assemble the Magic Arena equivalent of Splinter Twin combo:
Embercleave is easy mode, and Anax is a resilient threat that closes immediately with The Cleave. If the amount of time the draft is going to take is part of your calculus for making a first pick, then Embercleave is my Pack 1, Pick 1 overall. In absolute terms there’s competition with cards like Sublime Epiphany and Field of the Dead, but if you’re playing on mobile then there’s really no question here. You’ll have to get your hands dirty with filth like Goblin Banneret, so this path is not for the faint of heart, but I can’t endorse this approach strongly enough. If you’re unable to wheel these draft chaff one-drops though, you will need to pivot in a hurry.
More of the usual when it comes to green. The green aggressive creatures are generally undesirable, mana accelerants like Llanowar Elves are busted, and if I’m not playing an aggressive deck, then I want to be playing with a lot of green and blue cards in this Cube.
Green doesn’t really have standout cards in Arena Cube as compared to other Cubes; the names and abilities at different points of the curve vary slightly. One- and two-mana ramp cards are great, and cards that cost five or more and generate value are great. Tendershoot Dryad and Biogenic Ooze are different cards, but the fundamentals here translate perfectly. They’re both huge threats that you want to get online ahead of schedule.
There’s nothing in the Cube list with the game-ending potential of Craterhoof Behemoth, and that’s part of why I like pairing green with blue. The goal is to get ahead on mana and cards, and then to use counterspells or other blue disruptive effects to keep the opponent from somehow stealing the game from you. It’s the quintessential “Mana and Stuff” archetype.
Dryad Greenseeker is better than it looks, but cheap mana ramp and even three-mana ramp spells like Cultivate will be your bread and butter here. Get to a point where you’re just doing something bigger than your opponent and then do what you can to stop them from returning the favor.
The decks that I draft in Arena Cube are overwhelmingly one- or two-color aggressive decks or Simic decks that are willing to play the full five colors if possible. In either case, I tend to take lands in this Cube higher than gold spells, but I would give the following serious consideration as first picks:
These are just some of the highest-value-over-replacement threats in the Cube, and of this list, the card that I’m happiest to see by far is Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. When Justin Parnell and I discussed previous iterations of this Cube, we strongly agreed that making Field of the Dead work is one of the most powerful things that you can do in this Cube, and if you’re not playing an aggressive deck, then getting Golos and Field of the Dead simply is the most powerful thing to have going for you. Additionally, being able to activate Golos is a huge deal against the sorts of decks that you’ll play against in this Cube. The 3/5 is solid against the aggressive decks and the card advantage will put you way over against whatever else your opponent might be getting up to.
The roster of high picks here is going to mostly be cards that I’ve mentioned before specifically or tangentially. We’re mostly looking at the usual suspects.
While not a serious consideration for a first pick, I’d also like to say that Crystalline Giant basically always makes my aggressive decks in this Cube. It never does exactly what you want it to, but it’s always a 3/3 for three.
Mana-fixing in the Cube is plentiful, with five cycles of two-color lands, allied cycling lands, and Triomes all featured.
Triomes really just make it easy to draft the Golos deck and make the five-color mana work, so long as you’re mindful of the number of pips in the spells you’re trying to cast. Fabled Passage and Forsaken Crossroads are also great mana-fixing options.
Outside of Field of the Dead the other colorless options are pretty lackluster, but I’m a huge fan of the monocolor creature-lands. I anticipate attacking with a lot of Den of the Bugbears in this run.
I’ll be playing at least three Arena Cube drafts with this iteration of the Cube to finish up The Decathlon, and I’m sure I’ll be in the queues otherwise. It’s a solid Cube experience, whether you’re beating down with modest creatures or assembling Zombie tokens with one of the most broken lands of all time.