With Innistrad: Crimson Vow‘s paper release looming, we’re firmly in-between runs of the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube. Personally I think all Cubes are beautiful, but I can’t deny that the most popular offering is the one that allows players to play with power. As such, designing a powered Twobert has been on my mind for a while and people ask about it with some regularity. Today I’d like to share my thoughts on such a Cube.
First, I’ll offer the obligatory refresher on Twoberts, or 180-card Cubes designed to be drafted by two to four players. I introduced the concept a little over a year ago. As more players get the opportunity to build and draft these Cubes it’s clear that they’ve been a hit, and I can’t overstate how much I love to hear that. Here’s a link to the inaugural article:
Now, the power level of the original Twobert is nowhere close to the sort of environment where it would be satisfying to just add some Moxen and call it a day. Rather, a Vintage Twobert is the sort of thing that you’d have to build from the ground up. Such a project presents some unique challenges though, as the average power level of cards in a Vintage Cube goes up dramatically as you trim down the total number of cards in the Cube.
The MTGO Vintage Cube isn’t 540 cards to present the most powerful Cube imaginable; rather, it’s a large Cube designed to demonstrate a range of archetypes that also features power. A 360-card Vintage Cube eschews the bottom third of cards on power level, and every card that you cut brings the average power level closer to the ceiling of cards like Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, and Sol Ring.
Mother of Runes and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary are fairly often appealing picks from packs of larger Cubes, but the more reliably a player can draft a blue deck with a couple of pieces of power or a busted Reanimator deck, the less appealing these cards get. Mono-Red Aggro decks also completely fall off the cliff that they teeter on in the 540-card environments, but red at least has some combo options to fall back on. I know it’s not surprising to see Ryan “Grixis Cube” Overturf saying that green and white have issues in high-powered Cubes, but I hope that this is generally understood.
My fist look at a Vintage Twobert addressed this problem by taking a page out of Andrea Mengucci’s book. We had the opportunity to draft Andrea’s MenguCube on MTGO back in April, and I found the heavily color-skewed Vintage Cube of his intriguing. Not only does he have more blue cards than the other colors, but he also has more blue dual lands and blue gold cards. This struck me as the best way to go about designing a five-color Vintage Twobert.
Of course, a color-skewed 540-card Cube allows for a lot more representation in green and white than a Twobert does. I mocked up a list for where I would start for such a Twobert a few months ago, and you can find that list on Cube Cobra. This list has the range of exciting cards that you can only find in Vintage Cube, though with such a short list of white cards it’s somewhat deflating to me to have Village Bell-Ringer as another piece for Splinter Twin combo show up in the spread.
I like some of what’s going on in this list, with stuff like Fastbond in a Cube where you’re likely to actually draft Fastbond combos being one of my favorite elements, but I’ll admit that I never got excited enough to put this list together. I think it’s worth sharing because some readers might see more value in it than I do or, better yet, use it as inspiration for their own designs, but this is not the build that I will be discussing in great detail today.
Rather, it was a design that I had in the back of my mind as I toyed with the idea of raising the power-ceiling of the Grixis Twobert. There’s been a fair amount of discussion in recent years around the power level of Library of Alexandria. Objectively, the long and short of it is that it’s still busted but isn’t what it used to be. Anyway, I think that Library of Alexandria is an incredibly cool piece of Magic’s history and is both a card that I convinced myself I want to own and to try in the Grixis Twobert. One day, opportunity knocked.
After one draft with Library it was convincingly the best card in the Cube but also one that I wanted to play. The natural conclusion of this story arc was me having a list for a Powered Grixis Cube two days later. You can find the Cube list here. There are technically more blue cards than the other colors, but Gitaxian Probe and Mental Misstep fudge that a little. I was somewhat hesitant to include Mox Pearl and Mox Emerald, but off-color Moxen are still busted and this is also properly representative of Grixis decks in Vintage Constructed. Frankly, a fully-powered Grixis Cube has far less suspension of disbelief with regard to cards that people would realistically play than a 540-card Vintage Cube.
At this point I’ve done a ton of drafts with the Cube and it captures a lot of what I used to enjoy from my time playing Vintage Constructed: totally busted decks throwing haymakers at each other with every draw step presenting the possibility to turn the game on its head. The best part for my money is that there’s nary a prison effect or Mishra’s Workshop in sight!
There are quite a lot of changes from my old Grixis Twobert to this one that go beyond just swapping in power and power-adjacent cards. I’ll go over these changes by color, but first I’d like to offer some more general notes on playing power in an 180-card Cube.
Moxen, Moxen Everywhere!
I will often crack a joke when I open a pack in Vintage Cube without any power as if that is some sort of personal slight, but it’s just the reality of the situation that you’re not all that likely to open Black Lotus from a selection of 540 cards. You are far, far more likely to open power when you’re drafting from a pool of 180 cards. When we do two-player drafts with the Powered Grixis Twobert, it’s pretty common for both players to have multiple pieces of power. If what excites you about playing a powered Cube is playing with these cards, and I imagine for most players it is, then the way powered Twoberts play as compared to larger powered Cubes is going to blow your mind.
This does cut both ways though, and you should bear in mind that your deck with four or five pieces of power that’s better than anything you could realistically draft in the MTGO Vintage Cube still stands a real chance of losing to whatever your opponent drafted. I’ve already done more than one draft where a friend fanned out the power they drafted as if to apologize, only to be on the receiving end of a beating from the power I drafted.
This prevalence of power in decks and games has firmed my position against green and white cards in a powered Twobert, but I would be thrilled if somebody presented me with a design that cleanly addressed my concerns. I am sympathetic to Fastbond, Monastery Mentor, and a couple others, but don’t consider this short list worth the disruption that additional mana-fixing lands adds.
As it stands, let’s go over how I adjusted the three present colors for powered play.
In some ways blue changed most significantly with blue having the most power and power-adjacent cards, but in others ways it sill looks very similar. The power level increased, but drawing extra cards and countering opponents’ busted plays are still the name of the game.
The unpowered Grixis Twobert had a heavy emphasis on assembling specific combos and eschewed a lot of individual threats on this basis, though the addition of a number of cards that you’ll realistically never want to pass to the Cube motivated me to add some additional non-combo threats and general Vintage Cube staples. The standout in blue in this regard is Glen Elendra Archmage. I thought it pushed back against combo too much in the unpowered list, but the powered list demands some permanents that are just good to put in decks, and the Archmage fits the bill perfectly.
I’m still not into Hullbreacher or Narset, Parter of Veils even with the power present. I like swingy and busted games, but I strongly dislike the ease with which these cards can lock players out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both of these cards in other players’ lists, but they’re not for me.
Black doesn’t get the massive upgrades that blue does, but with the best Storm and Reanimator cards present in the unpowered list, there’s also not much reason to change what black is getting up to in the Cube. The most significant addition is in the power-adjacent Mind Twist as another haymaker for the black decks.
Sedgemoor Witch isn’t on the level of Monaster Mentory, but it does add another threat that you can happily play in the environment that doesn’t rely on very specific combo support. The changes to black are fairly minor, though all of the tutors are substantially more valuable now that there are more broken cards to tutor for, so black gained more than it might seem at a glance.
On the topic of tutors, I was much closer to including Opposition Agent than Hullbreacher. I like what Opposition Agent adds to larger powered Cubes with black often struggling with the bottom half of its cards being much weaker than the top half, but black is quite good in this Cube and Opposition Agent is a little too much of a gotcha for me with that being the case.
Red by far needed the most work to get it in fighting shape. The prowess archetype was cool in the unpowered build, but I can’t imagine anybody is buying Runway Steam-Kin in the powered spread. The substations tend to be among the weaker cards in the Cube, but they’re set up to at least make some decks and to not be as specific.
Past in Flames isn’t on the level of Underworld Breach or Yawgmoth’s Will, but you don’t draft all of the cards in the two-player drafts and sometimes you will just end up in a position where Past in Flames makes your deck. Valakut Awakening isn’t exciting, but it’s also a fairly easy card to justify playing, especially in a Chrome Mox deck to fudge your land count.
The most significant addition to red is Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. The card was a non-starter in the unpowered build given that I wanted players to try to win with combos every time. Now that the theme is more along the lines of “play with busted cards,” there’s room for Ragavan to try to steal some cards and games.
I didn’t change many gold cards, but the cascading effects of adding power did result in some updates here. Lim-Dul’s Vault was kind of a turd in the unpowered list and the influx of powerful threats made subbing in Thief of Sanity easy. Some players would reach for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver here, but I loathe that card’s play patterns.
Expressive Iteration probably should just be in the unpowered build over How to Keep an Izzet Mage Busy anyway, and that’s rectified here. Thousand-Year Storm is an incredibly cool card that just couldn’t realistically hang without better fast mana fighting a sea of counterspells in the unpowered build, but Black Lotus and company do a lot to prop the card up. It won’t make your Storm deck every time, but it’s a favorite of mine and a crowd-pleaser in my experience.
Artifacts and Lands
These cards speak for themselves, but they’re nice to look at, aren’t they? Once cycle of mana-fixing lands and a small number of monocolored cards made their way out to make room for these, with one artifact placed on the chopping block as well.
Time Vault was probably pushing it in the unpowered version to begin with, and two copies of Voltaic Key was kind of silly in retrospect. Tezzeret the Seeker is still around as a backup untap effect and got a huge power boost with all of the additional artifact mana, and there’s no reason to really push Time Vault and friends like that.
If you’re interested in a Cube that feels like playing blue mirrors in Vintage Constructed, I’ve never drafted one that felt as close as my Powered Grixis Twobert. I’m still somewhat interested in figuring out a five-color build that I can get behind, but for now you have at least one powered Twobert list that is Ryan “Grixis Cube” Overturf approved.