Rant of Valakut: Cube Route Pt. 1 – Finding the Beginning Ben Iverach-Brereton April 13, 2020 Rants of Valakut Like everyone, I find myself with more time to myself than expected as of late. I’ve taken this opportunity to catch up on several projects that I’ve been putting off. Stuck at home, I’ve been focusing more on hobbies I can do alone, like model making, but I still have that Magic itch. I want to so something with all of these cards I own, and since I can’t go down to my LGS for some games I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: I’m building a Cube. From the Ground Up While there are a lot of great Cubes out there already, I wanted to design one of my own rather than copying an existing list. I’ve tried a few times to come up with an interesting Cube; a few years ago I put together something that used Conspiracies and multiple copies of the same card, but it never quite worked. I liked the idea, but in practice the Conspiracies were so much better than everything else in the Cube, and all of the duplicates made games very repetitive. I ended up scrapping that project and repurposing the Conspiracy cards for use in my constructed format Hidden Agenda. A few years later my friends and I wanted to do a Draft for a game night. Rather than go out and buy new packs, I offered to put together what I called my “Cobbled Cube.” It was literally a pile of semi-random cards I threw into a box. They were mostly cards from the last few sets I’d drafted (Kaladesh and Aether Revolt at the time), which meant that the cards worked pretty well together. We had a lot of fun drafting the Cobbled Cube that night, although there were far too many red cards and several duplicates. The Cobbled Cube was a good experiment, but it didn’t have a lot of replayability. I tried to tinker with the collection a bit afterwards, but I realized that to get it to a point where I’d be satisfied with it I’d pretty much end up rebuilding the entire Cube. If that was the case, I’d be just as well off restarting from scratch. I did learn one thing from the game night with the Cobbled Cube, though: a Cube doesn’t need to be perfect for it to be fun. It’s better to have something built and ready to go than have some lofty, abstract ideal of what a Cube is “supposed” to be and nothing to show for it. If a pile of random cards can be fun to draft, then anything can be. Obviously I’d want to put more thought into the design if I wanted to use the Cube more than once, but agonizing over the details wouldn’t get me anywhere. My Cube doesn’t need to be perfect the first time; I can always make changes later! Where to Start? The hardest part of builidng my Cube was figuring out where to begin. I took a look at some existing lists, and read some articles to get an idea of the typical structure of a Cube. In particular, this handy article by Melissa DeTora has a clear breakdown of how many multicolored, colourless and land cards a Cube normally has. This gave me a good framework to follow, at least for my first draft. The biggest takeaway from DeTora’s article was the importance of colour balance; each colour should appear in equal measure in the Cube. I decided that I would include multicoloured cards, and that I wanted support for all ten colour pairs. The Cube would be designed with two-colour decks in mind. Players would likely be able to build a deck with three or more colours, but I didn’t want that to be the primary plan. I started to puzzle out possible archetypes for each colour pair; I had a few ideas, but it was all very abstract. Spells-matter, maybe? Aristocrats? I was starting to get overwhelmed by options, and I hadn’t even pulled out any cards yet! I needed a way of narrowing things down. The Gold Standard The Limited Resorces podcast does a set review with every Magic release, and they usually start them with an overview of the set’s multicolored cards. As Marshall Sutcliffe puts it, these are the “signpost” cards that highlight the draftable archetypes of the set. Working backwards from this premise, if I looked through my multicoloured cards for ones that I liked, I could build an archetype to fit with them. I decided to start with the “CCDD” creatures from Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance. While I wasn’t as big a fan of drafting the guild sets as some, I really liked this cycle of ten cards. They were all roughly equal in power level, and felt like a great payoff for sticking to two colours. This gave me a good starting point; each one helped push their colour pair into a certain archetype, though some were more direct about it than others. DeTora’s Cube guide suggested including five cards for each colour pair. With the “CCDD” creatures that left me with four more cards to pick for each guild. I pulled out my box of gold cards and got to work. I started with the most obvious build-around card of the cycle: Crackling Drake. Izzet Crackling Drake pushes blue/red into a spells-matter theme all by itself. Without a high density of instant and sorcery cards, the Drake doesn’t really do anything. Cards like Thrill of Possibility that can help to fill the graveyard with spells are especially useful with it. Of course, including Enigma Drake felt like an obvious choice to provide redundancy, though I didn’t feel that I needed to go so far as to also add Spellheart Chimera and Invade the City, though the latter was very tempting. I decided that I could include more mono-coloured payoffs instead, like Thermo-Alchemist and Burning Prophet. This would leave room for some different options in my multicoloured slots. Otherwise all of my blue/red spells would end up being effectively the same, which would get tedious. I wanted to stick to the spells-matter archetype, so I found some cards that would support it in a different way than the Drakes. Bloodwater Entity is inexplicably one of my favourite cards, so while an Izzet Chronarch might be a more powerful way to get a spell back, I like the weird Elemental so much more. Its Prowess ability also fits the spells-matter strategy pretty well. I left the last couple of slots for instant or sorcery spells to help with the archetype. I juggled a few different ideas before landing on Thoughtflare as one of them; I knew I wanted a big card draw spell, and ultimately decided that Thoughtflare’s ability to quickly fill up the graveyard would be one of the better fits for the Drakes, despite its high mana cost. To balance it out I wanted a cheap interactive spell. I thought Electrolyze would be a great fit, but despite digging through all of my boxes I couldn’t find my copy of it anywhere. In the end I opted for Winterflame instead, and I’m actually pretty happy with it anyway. It’s something a little bit different, and I might even be able to make its ability to tap a creature more useful in this Cube than it already is. Dimir Nightveil Predator is one of those good cards that doesn’t really point to a specific archetype. I could maybe lean into Hexproof or Deathtouch creatures, but neither of those really appealed as the main focus of blue/black in my Cube. I took a look at my other gold cards in those colours and pulled out a few that caught my eye. Hopefully an interesting archetype would present itself. Out of all of my blue/black cards, the one that jumped out immediately was Notion Thief; I’ve always wanted to build deck with the Rogue, but I never managed to put anything together. Maybe I could build an archetype around him? The problem with that idea was that his ability is unique that if the archetype relied too heavity on Notion Thief the blue/black player would need the card every game or their plan would fall apart. If I was careful I could put cards in the Cube that worked well on their own, but were that much better with a Notion Thief in play, like Reckless Scholar. Without a Notion Thief in play the Scholar helps to filter your draws, but with the Rogue out he becomes a ruthless card advantage machine: you draw a card for free every turn while your opponnet discards one. Similarly, Arcane Denial is a pretty good counterspell, but one that gets even better when it denies your opponent the ability to draw extra cards. Looking at my other blue/black cards, I began gravitating toward ones that leaned into this card advantage plan. Blue/black control is a somewhat vague archetype, but one that does benefit a lot from having hard-to-answer threats like Nightveil Predator. The cards I found were a bit of a motley crew, but they each provided some form of card advantage: Siren of the Silent Song would make the opponent discard a card every turn. Soul Diviner could let you draw more cards. And paying for Soul Ransom‘s activated ability would be extremely difficult for an opponent with no cards in hand. The incremental card advantage these cards all provided wouldn’t be unstoppable, but it would push blue/black into a dominating position during longer games. It wasn’t as clear-cut an archetype as the spells-matter theme in blue/red, but these five cards fit well enough together. I seriously considered the likes of Psychic Symbiont, Devourer of Memory, Drown in the Loch and Soul Manipulation, but at the end of the day I needed to stop agonizing over my choices and move on. These five might not be perfect, but they were five cards I liked. If they ended up underused in the Cube I could always swap them out later; after all, there seem to be a lot of other blue/black cards I like, too. Selesnya While I know it’s not the case, it sure feels like every white/green card cares about tokens. They either make tokens, buff tokens, or benefit from having tokens around. Even Conclave Cavalier (better known as the “pantomime centaur“) creates tokens when it dies. I could try to fight it, but I knew I had a lot of cards to support the archetype, so it would be a good place to start. The mono-coloured token makers might even help support the other colour pairs if I was clever about it. I dug through my white/green cards and was able to quickly put together five token-centric spells. Instead of just focusing on making a massive swarm and buffing them all with a big Overrun effect, I decided to try Glare of Subdual as one of the big payoff cards. This would allow white/green to be a bit more control-oriented, or to open up interesting attacks. With enough tokens in play, Glare of Subdual could even lock down the board completely. It wouldn’t be nearly as backbreaking as Opposition decks in the Vintage Cube, but since my Cube is looking to be very creature focused it should be pretty good. I couldn’t get away from traditional token strategies entirely, and Good-Fortune Unicorn would be a powerful way to make these white/green creatures bigger. It’s also just a powerful card on its own, and could set up interesting +1/+1 counter synergies, depending on what other archetypes I opted to include in white and green. I knew I wanted to avoid easy infinite combos in my Cube, so I’d have to be careful what I added alongside the Good-Fortune Unicorn, especially in regards to Persist creatures and other -1/-1 counter cards, but that would be something to figure out later on. Looking at my other white/green cards, Wayfaring Temple is a solid option for the token archetype, as is evidenced by its reprints in Modern Masters 2017 and the Commander 2019 “Primal Genesis” deck. Not only is it a good payoff for having a lot of creatures in play, but it’s also a way of producing more tokens with Populate. It might not be that original to include it in my Cube, but sometimes you just have to run with the classics. Digging a little bit deeper into my collection of white/green cards, I decided to include Selesnya Evangel as a cheap token producer. It’s not the most powerful card out there, but with a little help to get started, it can create a consistent trickle of bodies. It did get me thinking: it taps a creature you control as part of its cost, and so does Glare of Subdual…. Between these cards and the Siren of the Silent Song in blue/black, I began to wonder if I could explore a tapping/untapping sub theme throughout the Cube. It could be fun to include other Inspired cards like the Siren, and maybe ones that triggered when tapped, like Night Market Lookout. I would want to include ways of untapping creatures, too, since they would make Inspired cards better, and if I was including them, then Exert creatures could fit in nicely too. I’d have to give it some more thought, but I liked the idea. Boros Every good Draft format has a fast, aggressive deck to balance out the control decks, and my Cube would be no exception. The most obvious colour pair for aggro decks is red/white, the colours of cheap creatures and direct damage, so I knew I could find several cards to support that archetype if I looked. Truefire Captain‘s Mentor ability encourages building a deck with smaller, cheaper creatures, and my mono-white cards were already going to produce a lot of tokens to support my white/green archetype. I opted against a big mass-buff spell like Overrun in white/green, but an effect like that in red/white would fit in nicely. Honored Crop-Captain and Heroic Reinforcements would both fit the bill, encouraging an agressive playstyle, while also getting stronger the more creatures you have in play. Truefire Captain also has a really neat damage-dealt-for-damage-taken ability that I wanted to explore more. Justice Strike is a fairly plain removal spell, all things consiered, but it does have an interesting interaction with Truefire Captain; by targeting her with the Strike it turns the spell into a pseudo-Fling effect, dealing four or more damage to the opponent. That’s not a bad way to finish a game, and if it’s not quite lethal damage you could try to give the Captain more toughness to survive the Justice Strike, making it a bit better than Fling in that scenario. I would probably also look to include a number of Fight spells or mass-damage spells in mono-red to make further use of Truefire Captain‘s ability, though I’d need to find some other cards with a similar damage effect. I would do well to look into Stuffy Doll when looking at colourless cards, for instance. Finishing off my collection of red/white cards, I wanted to explore the tap/untap theme a bit more, and including Exert creatures in red/white seemed like an interesting way of doing just that. I already wanted to include cards like Fervent Paincaster and Steward of Solidarity, so including some support for them in the form of Resolute Survivors seemed like an interesting idea. I would need several other Exert creatures to make the Survivors really worthwhile, but I was confident that they would all work well in the red/white aggro archetype. Creatures like Ahn-Crop Crasher, Battlefield Scavenger, and Devoted Crop-Mate would all be interesting on their own, and are made that much better with the Resolute Survivors. Little synergies were starting to form, and I was starting to get ideas for mono-coloured cards that would fit into multiple archetypes. I took this as a sign that my approach to building the Cube was working, and continued my way through each of the the colour pairs. Orzhov Basilica Bell-Haunt is an odd part of the “CCDD” cycle in that exists largely in isolation; it never really fit into the Orzhov archetype in Ravnica Allegiance, and didn’t really stand out as one of the more powerful options in that draft format. It was good, but always seemed to be overshadowed by evasive threats like Grasping Thrull, or more synergistic options in the format, like Pitiless Pontiff. Looking at the Bell-Haunt by itself, I was free to go in any number of directions for my white/black archetype, but ultimately I decided to focus on life gain. The first time I ran into life gain as a major white/black Draft archetype was in Battle for Zendikar, and I’ve loved it ever since. Chaining triggered abilities in some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg machine was so much fun: I loved being able to play a land to create an Ally token, which in turn drained the opponent for 1 life, giving my creature flying so I could attack over their blockers…. Combining these abilities into a complicated board state is one of my favourite things to do in Magic, and life gain decks always have good tools to do exactly that. Conveniently enough, Basilica Bell-Haunt even gains you life when it comes into play, so it fits into the archetype, albeit only slightly. The first card I added was Drana’s Emissary, in part because it helps life gain strategies by being a repeatable way to gain life, but mostly because it’s just such a sweet card on its own. if I’m honest, I would probably try to include Drana’s Emissary in my Cube regardless of what I was doing in white/black, so it’s just a bonus that she’s one of the better options for this archetype. Similarly, Tithe Drinker is another cool card that makes gaining life look easy, so in it went. Next I added Regal Bloodlord; like Battle for Zendikar, Core 2019 played around with life gain in white/black, and the Bloodlord was a great payoff for the archetype in that set. He’s not as immediately powerful as Ajani’s Pridemate or the cat’s flying vampire twin, Bloodthirsty Aerialist, but Regal Bloodlord is another example of black’s persistent, incremental advantage. I rounded out my white/black cards with Call to the Feast; I contemplated adding a powerful white/black removal spell like Final Payment or Anguished Unmaking, but I figured making three tokens with lifelink would be more interesting. For the life gain archetype it would mean triggering something like Ajani’s Pridemate up to three times in a single turn. Call to the Feast would also synergize really well with the white token-matters cards I would inevitably add to the Cube to go with my white/green and red/white archetypes. Creature Types and Accessibility I realized that the majority of my white/black creatures were Vampires, and while it might be tempting to to include some tribal payoffs, especially from Ixalan, that’s one thing I knew I wanted to avoid in the Cube. One of my good friends is losing her eyesight, and one thing she’s mentioned is that she can’t make out the creature type line on Magic cards anymore. In an effort to make my Cube more accessible for her, I decided to veto any card that cares about creature type. This meant avoiding cards like tribal lords and Golem splicers, or anything that required you to control or sacrifice a creature of a specific type. It’s not much, but if it helps her enjoy this Cube with me, it’s well worth it. Far from Finished I’ve got a lot more work to do on this Cube before it’s done, but I’ve already Ranted enough for today. I’ll leave things here for now, but I do hope you’ll join me next time when I go over the other five colour pairs and their archetypes. Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName Email Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.