Rant of Valakut: Cube Route Pt. 2 – Counters and Counters Ben Iverach-Brereton April 27, 2020 Rants of Valakut This is Part 2 of my Cube Route series. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll probably want to start with Part 1 – Finding the Beginning. Last time, I had just finished selecting gold cards for the first five colour pairs of my Cube. There’s still a lot to cover with this project, so I’m going to jump right back into things with the other five guilds. Here we go! Golgari Typical black/green archetypes involve sacrificing creatures, graveyard recursion, or some combination of the two. Golgari Findbroker certianly helps this plan by getting permanents back from the graveyard, but I was thinking of going in a slightly different direction with my Cube. Looking at some of the cards I’d included in other colours, I wondered if black/green could be the primary colour combination for +1/+1 counters. I had copies of Winding Constrictor and Corpsejack Menace on hand, and both are powerful payoffs for a counter-based archetype. It seemed like a good place to start. I knew I’d need a number of creatures in both green and black that could throw counters around, and given that I was also looking for ways to generate creature tokens in green I realized that the Fabricate creatures from Kaladesh would be a good fit; their flexibility would allow them to slot into a green/white token decks or a black/green counters deck, and would even work well in a blue/black deck with Soul Diviner. I’d have to remember to make room later for something like Peema Outrider or Weaponcraft Enthusiast when adding mono-coloured cards. As for the rest of my black/green multicoloured cards, I struggled to find a way to tie everything together. I had a lot of cool cards on my short list, but they all seemed to go in completely different directions. I could have smashed it all together to make black/green “generic good stuff,” but I knew I could do better. I wanted to find a way to overlap the graveyard interaction of Golgari Findbroker and the +1/+1 counters of the Constrictor and Corpsejack. There weren’t many options, but I ultimately landed on Rhizome Lurcher as the best option. It fit with everything I was doing in green/black, and was reasonably powerful on its own. The catch was that this gave me a lot of four-mana cards in these colours; Findbroker, Corpsejack Menace and the Lurcher would all be fighting for space in the same deck. This wasn’t ideal, but I thought it could still work. Still, I’d have to keep that in mind when fleshing out these colours and avoid adding too many more cards with that converted mana cost. The last addition to my suite of black/green cards was just tough to pick as the Rhizome Lurcher. I ultimately decided on Grisly Salvage as a somewhat generic utility spell that would help fuel the graveyard. It didn’t strictly fit with the +1/+1 counter archetype, but could at least be used to dig for any of the black/green creatures. I wasn’t completely satisfied with that decision, but it would do, at least for now. I’d already spent far too long with these choices, and I needed to move on. Rakdos Creatures that have an ability to deal damage to creatures and/or players, better known as Pingers, are fairly common in red. Black occasionally sees creatures with similar abilities, though usually in the form of -x/-x or “loss of life” effects instead. Rakdos Firewheeler stands at the center of these pinging effects, hitting both a creature and player as it comes into play. I liked the idea of a red/black archetype that incorporated these pingers in some way, but I wasn’t sure if that would even be viable. Looking at recent red/black Draft archetypes, they typically leaned toward sacrifice strategies, often referred to as “aristocrats.” This also happens to be one of my favorite archetypes (I even built my first Pauper deck around it). I normally I prefer to build white/black aristocrats when I can, but I’d already decided to make life gain the archetype for that particular colour pair. I still wanted to explore the idea of a red/black pinger archetype, but I wondered if I could somehow find a way to overlap the two strategies. If I was to blend these archetypes I’d need to tackle things from a different angle. I started with the rarely-seen Blood Cultist; she’s great at dealing with 1-toughness creatures, and can easily grow bigger if you sacrifice whatever creature she damages before the end of the turn. She’s definitely not a card you typically see in an aristocrats build, but I liked how she fit in a sideways kind of way. Similarly, I decided to add Swift Warkite as an atypical way to bring back creatures that were previously sacrificed. I still needed something to solidify the aristocrats archetype, though, and I landed on Fireblade Artist and Blazing Hellhound as more traditional options. The Artist can only sacrifice one creature a turn, so it’s a bit slow for the archetype, but on the plus side there’s no mana cost associated with it. It’s also a 2/2 with Haste, so it’s pretty good on its own. Blazing Hellhound, on the other hand, is a big, repeatable way to sacrifice creatures. Even if its ability costs mana to activate, the fact that it can deal damage to both creatures and players means that it fits my combined pinger/aristocrats archetype almost perfectly. Gruul Looking at red/green archetypes, I found myself a little stuck trying to find one that would fit well with Sunder Shaman. I figured the Cube could do with a big, stompy strategy, and that would line up nicely with the Shaman‘s 5/5 body. It wasn’t as well-defined an archetype as I would have liked, but I didn’t feel like I could make something more specific like a “ramp,” “landfall” or the intriguing “lands in the graveyard” archetypes fit as well into my Cube, especially with Sunder Shaman at the heart of the colour pair. I dug through my red/green cards and came up with Khenra Charioteer as a solid creature that would play well alongside Sunder Shaman. I also found a copy of Zhur-Taa Druid, which caught my eye. The Druid would help red/green accelerate its mana, but moreover he would work really well with the tap/untap subtheme I was considering for the Cube. He might not be a big, scary creature on his own, but he felt like a good fit. I again found myself struggling to choose the other cards for this colour pair. I wanted something that felt brutish and aggressive, and that evoked a sense of raw, primal power. A fight spell seemed like it would work well, especially since it would reinforce the idea of a big creature overpowering a puny foe. Then I remembered that whenever I cast a copy of Savage Smash in Ravnica Allegiance Limited I got the exact feeling I was looking for, so in it went. I wanted my last red/green card to be a massive creature, but none of the my options felt right. Gruul Ragebeast was close, and I even considered Ruination Wurm, but neither of them screamed “giant, unstoppable monster” to me. Ultimately, it was Apocalypse Hydra that won the day. As an X-cost creature it could be bigger than anything else in the Cube, and if you could cast it for seven or more mana it would even bigger! In terms of synergies, Apocalypse Hydra would help clear out blockers for Sunder Shaman, or would be a trampling nightmare with the help of Khenra Charioteer. Moreover, it would fit in nicely with the pingers in red/black and the +1/+1 counter synergies in black/green. I wasn’t designing the Cube with three-colour decks in mind, but I knew it could be a possibility; after all, it would only be a matter of time before someone tried to “Jund ‘Em Out!” Simic It feels like green/blue Draft archetypes always revolves around +1/+1 counters in some way, making it hard to do anything else with the colour pair. It took me a while to puzzle out what I could do that would feel fresh, especially in a way that would support the use of Frilled Mystic. Looking at how Frilled Mystic and its older cousin Mystic Snake have been used in constructed formats, the obvious choice was to build something similar to the imfamous “Simic Flash” deck in Standard. It could work, though the last time I tried to build something like that it didn’t go nearly as well as I would like. Alternatively, I could try and turn the archetype into something like my Delver-Grow deck, but that would end up being far too close to my blue/red spells-matter archetype than I would like. Instead, I decided to try something completely different; I would still include a number of cards with flash, but they wouldn’t be my main focus. I had already been looking into using Bounding Krasis when I started looking at green/blue cards, and the fact that it had flash made me take interest even more. That said, what really caught my eye about the Krasis was its ability to tap and untap creatures. I wanted to explore this tap/untap design space throughout the cube, and I’d already planted the seeds of it in other colours, like green/white and red/green. I wondered if I could really lean into this in green/blue and make it the colour pair’s archetype. The existence of Kiora’s Follower certainly made it seem like this idea was viable, but for it to really shine I would need something worth untapping. I really dislike two-card infinite combos like Splinter Twin; they feel like anticlimactic “I win” buttons to me, so I knew I wasn’t going to have anything like that in my Cube. Instead, I wanted to find ways of generating incremental advantage, or to set up a dominating board presence. Looking at some mono-coloured cards, I already knew there were a number of Inspired creatures I could add, as well as some older cards that cared about tapping or untapping, but I wanted to include some useful activated abilities as well. The most common activated ability would probably be to produce mana, like in the case of Ilysian Caryatid and Leafkin Druid. These creatures are especially noteworthy in that they can produce more than one mana at a time. If you have a way of easily untapping them, you can get a staggering amount of mana in a very short time. I made a note about these creatures for when I was looking at mono-green cards, but in the meantime I still needed multicoloured cards for my green/blue archetype. Along the same lines as the Caryatid and the Leafkin Druid, I dug out a copy of Weaver of Currents; it only produces colourless mana, so it can’t help cast a Frilled Mystic, but I’m not too concerned. After all, I’m sure I could find a use for that extra mana somewhere. Speaking of which, rounded out my selection of green/blue cards with an mana-sink, that is to say, a way to spend extra mana when you don’t have a spell to cast. Decks that keep up mana for counterspells often need something like this in the event their opponent doesn’t cast anything. That’s why instants like Fact or Fiction, Glimmer of Genius, and even the humble Opt have been so popular historically; if you don’t end up spending your mana to cast your Mana Leak or Cryptic Command, firing off an Opt at the end of your opponent’s turn means you didn’t just waste your time. Cue the River Hoopoe: a modest little Bird from the plane of Amonkhet, but one that has the potential to become a powerful source of card advantage in the late game. You’re keeping up mana in case you need to flash in your Frilled Mystic, but your opponent just passes the turn back to you? Well now you can draw an extra card with your mana instead! While it might not directly fit into the flash or tap/untap archetypes I’m trying to build in green/blue, I actually feel that the Hoopoe might turn out to be one of the most important cards for this colour pair. Depending on what mono-coloured cards I end up adding, there’s the potential for green/blue decks to have access to a lot of extra mana in the form of extra lands or mana creatures. In that case it’s important to have something to spend that mana on each turn. And even if the green/blue deck doesn’t end up with a lot of mana creatures, I’m sure a cheap flying blocker will be useful, too. After all, whatever untapping nonsense this archetype ends up doing will almost certainly need time to set up, and it’ll need a way to survive against the aggressive decks. Azorius By the time I started pulling out white/blue cards for my Cube I knew I wanted this colour pair to be a blink/bounce archetype, with cards like Vanish into Memory and Deputy of Acquittals. I wanted to reuse enter-the-battlefield abilities on cards like Cloudblazer. Alongside aristocrats, blink/bounce value decks have always been one of my favourite stategies to build, so I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to include it in my Cube. White and blue are the best colours for this kind of deck, and while it didn’t really have anything to do with Sphinx of New Prahv, it occurred to me that, much like the Nightveil Predator in blue/black, you don’t need much of a reason to include a big, resilient Flying creature in your Draft deck. Funny enough, most of the white/blue cards I was considering for the Cube were Flying creatures anyway, like Lyev Skyknight, so I made a note to include some support for a white/blue fliers sub-theme, too. Sprite Noble in particular would fit nicely with cards from both a white/blue fliers archetype and a blue/green untap archetype. Moreover, flying creatures are already inherently good in Draft, so they don’t need much support; even if I could only find room for Sprite Noble and Favorable Winds, that might be enough. The cards that focused on flying creatures wouldn’t exactly line up with the blink/bounce archetype I wanted to support in these colours, but because the fliers didn’t need much help I imagined that I could actually support both strategies in the Cube. White and blue have a lot of powerful cards with either flying or an enter-the-battlefield ability, but as long as I include enough cards with both I should be fine. Hybrid The Cube guide by Melissa DeTora that I read suggested having only five cards in each color pair, but it occurred to me that having nothing but gold cards in those slots could make the colour requirements too restrictive, especially with the “CCDD” creatures. This would either push players to build three-colour decks, or would result in several dead picks as the multicolour cards in undrafted colour pairs floated around the table, unwanted. Rather than go back and redo all of my work, I decided to cut into my allotment of mono-coloured cards to add some hybrid cards. This would, in theory, provide players with some additional flexibility, and would hopefully give them an easier way to pivot into a different colour pair mid-Draft if necessary. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but I didn’t think it would hurt to try it this way first. I initially had four hybrid cards in each colour pair, but that felt excessive; with a bit of work I managed to shave the list down to just two each instead: White/Blue1 x Somnomancer1 x Turn to Mist Blue/Black1 x Whisper Agent1 x Fate Transfer Black/Red1 x Footlight Fiend1 x Rakdos Shred-Freak Red/Green1 x Pit Fight1 x Firespout Green/White1 x Medicine Runner1 x Growing Ranks White/Black1 x Gift of Orzhova1 x Beckon Apparition Black/Green1 x Slitherhead1 x Desecrator Hag Green/Blue1 x Gilder Bairn1 x Snakeform Blue/Red1 x Blistercoil Weird1 x Frostburn Weird Red/White1 x Spitemare1 x Double Cleave Buy This List The only card I think I would change out of these if I had the opportunity would be Frostburn Weird. It’s a solid card, but it just doesn’t feel like it fits into any of the archetypes with red or blue. Ideally I’d like to replace it with a copy of Noggle Ransacker, but since I’m building my initial version of the Cube with cards I already have on hand, the Weird will have to do for now. A Persistent Question A lot of Cubes would probably include a card like Kitchen Finks to round out its two-colour options. I seriously considered it, but decided to avoid any cards that used -1/-1 counters (and thus Persist) instead. This decision was in large part intended to help narrow my choices later on, making it easier to pick cards for the rest of the Cube. It took me a while to decide to do this, especially since I was tempted by a lot of sweet -1/-1 counter cards, but I’m happy with the decision. Much like the omission of any cards that care about creature type, this has several benefits. Not only does it make building the rest of the cube easier by instantly dismissing a lot of cards I might agonize over otherwise, it also removes the need to keep multiple types of counter with the Cube; I’ve already picked out a bunch of dice to use, and I’d rather not have to replace half of them with a different colour! Plus, by only having one kind of counter it makes the Cube more accessible for new players. A lot of my friends don’t play Magic, so I might use this Cube to teach them the game; I’ve done similar things in the past with my early Cube attempts that I mentioned last time, so it’s not unreasonable to assume it might happen again with this Cube. I’m not saying that my friends couldn’t handle a Draft format with both +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters in it, but by leaving out -1/-1 counters it’s one less thing I’d need to teach right away; this game is complicated enough to explain already. Thou Shalt Count to THREE You also might have noticed that I didn’t include any cards with three or more of the same hybrid mana symbol. This was intentional; because I added the hybrid cards as flexible Draft picks for a variety of decks, I felt that requiring three or more of the same colours defeated the purpose of including them. For instance, while you can certainly add Unmake to a red/black deck, its mana cost makes casting it in that deck rather difficult. It’s far more at home in a mono-coloured deck or in a white/black one. It’s kind of unfortunate, since I think a card like Deathless Knight would have been an interesting addition for the white/black life gain archetype, but in reality it would have been too awkward for those decks to include anyway. A Lot Left to Do Settling on these seventy multicoloured cards was a lot of work, but it was worth it to figure out my ten archetypes. I still have a lot left to do before this Cube is finished, but now I have a solid core built. Next up will be the bulk of my work, as I struggle to choose what mono-coloured cards to add. Having set archetypes gives me something to work off of, so it’s at least easier than it would be otherwise. Still, that’s another two hundred and thirty cards to choose…. This might take me a while. 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.