In the past, the Holiday cube has been met with mixed reactions from the cube community. On one hand, having a cube that is available to such a wide audience is exciting to see and popularizes our niche format. However, the MTGO cubes have traditionally been subpar experiences filled with a lot of nonsense. This year, things are different and the Vintage cube is not only incredibly fun to play, but a well-designed cube this time around. Let’s discuss the issues that plagued the cubes of the past, and how they have been circumvented in this iteration of the Holiday cube.
If you’d like a list of the cube, Dekkaru on CubeCobra has made a copy of it that you can view here: https://cubecobra.com/cube/list/modovintage.
One of the most important aspects of cube that is often neglected in the online offerings is a healthy aggro section. Without aggro, midrange and control become king, stifling the combo decks and creating an environment where the correct thing to do is draft Planeswalkers. In a powered cube, having a viable aggressive deck is important for keeping the other decks in check. If the table believes that there isn’t an aggro deck that they need to respect, there is nothing stopping them from picking all the six and seven drops. Red and white are also going to struggle in a vintage power environment, and if they don’t have good decks available it effectively becomes a Sultai cube.
This year aggro is looking much better for the holidays. Previously, aggro players would have to make do with a lot of shash that just doesn’t cut it in cube. Cards such as Lightning Mauler and Guttersnipe are interesting cards but don’t fit in a vintage environment. The replacements this year include quality cards like Direfleet Daredevil which can cast your opponent’s Ancestral Recall and Goblin Rabblemaster who will see play in a lot more decks than Guttersnipe. With the average quality of cards increasing, the rewards for being an aggro deck are greatly increased, you’re less likely to be punished for drafting aggro if another player at the table is drafting it as well.
Red isn’t the only color aggressive color that has improved. Take this Mono-White (splashing black for Lingering Souls) aggro deck that I was able to pilot to a 3-0 finish. Now, while there is a decrease in one mana 2/1’s, which can harm the viability of this deck, I still felt like this could compete with everything that was thrown my way. With cards like Exalted Angel no longer in the cube, I had more options for early pressure and could use mana-denial to stop my opponent from stabilizing. If some of white’s top-end were to get trimmed for a few more 2/1’s, I would say that aggro would be in an incredible place. (Why is Reveillark still in here, especially without Karmic Guide?)
Like I mentioned above, it’s not ideal yet either. In my personal cube that has only 360 cards instead of 540, I play 7 one mana white creatures. In the Vintage cube, there are only 5. Increasing the number of one-drops could help aggressive decks to have more of a presence in the cube. Lowering the overall CMC of the cube would help to keep the midrange slugfests of the past from happening again. If more aggressive options were available, the aggro player wouldn’t be punished if another player is also in the deck. Another option is to give a 3rd color such as Black, access to more aggressive cards. This could give the drafter more creativity in how they can draft an aggro deck and could give black more identity and flexibility. Cards like Oona’s Prowler would get added flexibility if black were to have a more aggressive bent.
For some reason, the Vintage cube, the collection of the most powerful cards from the entire history of magic, has some really terrible cards. Some great examples from previous cubes include Daxos of Meletis, Ajani Goldmane, Linvala, the Preserver, and Brimstone Volley. These cards aren’t necessarily bad, but there are many options that are much better than these cards for a Vintage environment.
Part of the reason that the Vintage cube often has so many bad cards is that Wizards loves to put cards from recent sets into the cube. This issue has luckily been subverted this year, mostly due to the fact that the cards that have been printed this year have been insane. Oko, Thief of Crowns, Urza, Teferi, Time Raveler, Giver of Runes, Wrenn and Six and more have already proven to be vintage power level cards and don’t stand out as being there for the sole purpose of advertising recent sets.
There are some stinkers, most notably Thousand-Year Storm and Tithe Taker, but none really stand out as being draft chaff. I’m personally a huge fan of Thousand-Year Storm, and while I understand its not the greatest card, it can still enable some really cool decks. Tithe Taker can also slot in as an extra copy of Thalia (even though it’s not nearly as effective). With the lowest common denominator of the cube rising, the power level of the cube feels less swingy and makes for more interactive and interesting games.
Changes that Could be Made
The cube isn’t perfect, but this year’s incarnation has given me hope that the designers of the MTGO cube are finally paying attention to what makes a good cube. But, there are a few qualms that I still have about the cube.
Increase the number of one-drops in your aggro colors
White has improved in a lot of ways in this iteration of cube, but one thing that I see it lacking is the number of quality one cmc creatures. There are currently 5 one mana white creatures in the cube, and while the quality of these cards is high, I don’t believe that there is enough density for the archetype.
My cube, which is a much smaller size at 360, has four 2/1’s and seven one drop creatures in total. If you want to cast a Savannah Lions on turn one in the vintage cube, you need to a.) hope to see it in the draft b.) hope that someone doesn’t randomly pick it c.) draft it and then hope it is in your opening hand. There is no consistency to the archetype, and that should be one of the appeals of white weenie. Adding more aggressively statted creatures would help create more consistent aggro decks which will help to balance the cube.
An additional thing I’d like to see the cube do is add a third aggressive color. White and Red are the only aggressive colors, which can polarize the decks that these colors create. By adding a third aggro color such as black, you are creating a new and distinct aggro archetype (recursion and disruption) that can coexist alongside red (speed and reach) and white (mana denial) and create interesting decks when paired together. Then Black will also have more to do with their one drop section besides Putrid Imp.
Bad Cards Still Exist
While on the average, card quality has improved, there are still some cards that are very narrow and only fit into one deck. The aforementioned Putrid Imp will only be played in a reanimator deck and will wheel for every other player. I decided to make a list of cards that I would personally cut, and what I would replace them with. You probably won’t agree with some of my choices, but I do believe that these changes would tighten up the cube and make for a more interesting experience.
- Putrid Imp -> Cryptbreaker
- Reveillark -> Dauntless Bodyguard
- Tithe Taker -> Charming Prince
- Fairgrounds Warden -> Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- Emeria Angel -> Palace Jailer
- Angel of Serenity -> Avacyn, Angel of Hope
- Spear of Heliod -> Benalish Marshal
- Honor of the Pure -> Precinct Captain
- Palinchron -> Aetherling
- Vampire Nighthawk -> Liliana, Heretical Healer
- Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni -> Doom Whisperer
- Buried Alive -> Grim Tutor
- Mastermind’s Acquisition -> Braids, Cabal Minion
- Avalanche Riders -> Hanweir Garrison
- Oracle of Mul Daya -> Thrun, the Last Troll
- Deranged Hermit -> Deep Forest Hermit
- Wilderness Reclamation -> Nightpack Ambusher
This isn’t an exhaustive list, nor am I saying any of the cards on this list are bad. (Except for you Reveillark). For example, Wilderness Reclamation is a card that I actually run in my cube and am quite happy with it. I don’t think it fits in the Vintage cube and that’s because there aren’t that many decks that can take advantage of it. In my cube, Simic Flash is one of the main supported archetypes, it can cast huge instant speed x spells, and lets control decks be proactive and reactive. In the Vintage cube, it can only really do the control deck aspect and is relegated to being a narrow pick.
I’d like to take the time to comment on Storm. A lot of people don’t like storm in cube, and I consider myself to be a part of that group. Storm is a parasitic archetype that takes up a lot of slots that are specific to the storm deck. Examples include Cabal Ritual, Turnabout, Pyretic Ritual, Dark Petition, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Time Spiral, and of course the storm cards. That is a big package for a deck that can be inconsistent and will only ever want one drafter at the table. If two people want to play storm the deck just falls apart. Despite all of this, I still think that it deserves its place in the Holiday cube.
Storm being a viable archetype in cube is really cool to a lot of people, and if it were to be taken out a lot of people would be upset. On top of that, Storm being in a cube shows people what is possible with the format and provides a unique cube experience. I also believe that if you are going to include storm, it’s only really possible in a powered environment. Getting to leverage artifact ramp as “rituals” gives the archetype enough density to exist without eating up too much of the cube. So even though I don’t like Storm in most cubes, I think it has its place in the Holiday cube.
The two ways I’ve seen the cube improve this year are still the two things that need the most improvement. Wizards have taken a step in the right direction, but there are still things that need to be done. Increasing the viability of the aggro section could help with other issues that people have with the cube, and card quality as a whole needs to improve.
The reason the cube community cares so much about the Holiday cube is that its a time of year when the most eyes are on our format, and we want the cube to be a stellar example of what this format is capable of. Everybody is going to disagree with what the ideal Vintage cube looks like, and there isn’t a cube in the world that can satisfy the masses as a whole. Even though I still have some things about this cube that I’m not entirely a fan of, I still think that this is the best Holiday cube we have ever gotten, and I look forward to seeing how the cube progresses moving forward.
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