On Make the Play Monday I asked for your feedback on this first pick / first pack:

Fathom Seer
Dimir Aqueduct
Mold Shambler
Wear // Tear
Emeria Angel
Liliana's Reaver
Ulvenwald Tracker
Stomping Ground
Chrome Mox
Thundermaw Hellkite
Gideon Jura
Heliod, God of the Sun
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

The format of course being the current MTGO Cube, which can be found here.

What did you think I would take? How about our Celebrity Guest?

This week we will start out with Celebrity Guest Andre Coimbra's take - slash - what he would have taken:

"I think that it's between Thundermaw Hellkite and Elspeth Sun's Champion, since the power level of the remaining cards is just inferior.

"I like to draft monored, but I usually like to start in a later pick with more information, because if I start early and someone on my left is also drafting monored, my early picks will just be wasted most of the time, or I will end up with a mediocre deck.

"Having a strategy that can perform well on a regular basis in drafts is better than creating a sick deck sometimes but a mediocre / bad one the rest of the time.

"Elspeth on the other hand is a card that I can and will play in any W/x deck. It will win many games on its own with the first two abilities; and often when that doesn't happen, it will buy us enough time to stabilize the board and get the necessary time to recover from a bad board position.


"You have some small creatures? I make three tokens and get a counter.

"You have a big creature? I will kill your creature and keep my Planeswalker to make three tokens next turn.

"You don't have creatures? I will make three tokens for free every turn from now on.

"All this for a six mana investment!"

Andre's Pick: Elspeth, Sun's Champion

For my part, I agree that the only two cards to really consider in this pack are Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Thundermaw Hellkite; but unlike Andre, I decided to go the other way. For those of you who follow my Cube picks on tumblr you know that I generally favor straight red in Cube, even when exciting cards in other colors present themselves (for example, the very next draft I gladly took something along the lines of an Ember Hauler over Jace, the Mind Sculptor).

My general strategy in Cube is that if there is a reasonable red card in my pack I will take it immediately and try very hard to never look back. I have had success with actual monored decks as well as thematically if not actually "mono" red decks (i.e. Bloodbraid Elf as a haste creature "feels" very "red" despite being fifty per cent green). But half the time you deign to play cards like that you end up with Woolly Thoctar in your deck and really not what you want to be doing in Cube IMO. That said, like Andre, I've had some success with straight red committing late; more than once I've tried other colors and then decided I would have to salvage circa fifteen playables in the third pack... But life for the red mage tends to be easier if you commit early.

Per Andre's comments, I agree that skilled Limited players tend to have specific archetypes in mind when they enter drafts. For example in Cube you can arrange your packs in service to UW Control, UR Wildfire (a surprising amount of the time you end up with both Wildfire and Burning of Xinye!), or -- especially in the high-powered Holiday Cube -- combo Storm! The most flexibly successful drafters will have multiple, different, possible scripts in their heads going in, where others will specialize in a smaller number of archetypes (even, say, just one).

Players who can draft "what comes" (meaning not only what "comes" in the packs, but what gets passed by cooperative neighbors) tend to have the highest ceilings in terms of results. They can mold their picks to the resources in front of them; they tend to be less concerned about which card in a particular color is better than which other card in the abstract. Rather they think about what card will contribute to the specific archetype they are trying to put together, and in terms of what their current deck is lacking (so how the pick at hand can enhance their deck-to-be) rather than in service to some Platonic ideal that may or may not be useful in the draft at hand.

But that isn't the only way to produce winning results.

For my part, my favorite archetype in basically every Cube is straight red.

I've tried a lot of different archetypes over dozens of Cube drafts. Especially early in my career as a Cube drafter I tried to take mostly "good cards in my colors" as I have been traditionally taught in most Limited formats. But my results were never all that great. I probably averaged a little under two wins per draft (so positive win expectation) but nothing to write home about (other than having a good time playing Magic: The Gathering). One day I had a train wreck of a pile thirty picks in, but some playable burn spells, when I noticed Pack Three was lousy with Jackal Pups; some had to come back! With little to lose I just took what seemed like the most scary, or at least annoying, red card in the pack for each of my last fifteen picks...and won my first Cube draft as a strict red mage.

As recently as Holiday Cube two months ago I was still defaulting to whatever the best blue card or best Storm compliment was in packs, with red as the fall back only. But I eventually fell in love with drafting red decks and have had very strong results since making the decision to specialize in the archetype. For instance in my last six Cube drafts (including the one from Make the Play Monday as well as every single draft from the last two Cubes) I put together a combined 17-1, winning five of those drafts!

Does that make me a "good" drafter?

Interestingly, my friend Tom Martell (whom we heard from in Flores Rewards Friday - Snapback disagrees that you can look at even a great results set and decide that someone is a good drafter just because he can string together a 3-0 pretty consistently.

What about the times that you can't get the deck you want?

Tom believes that these are the results of a limited Limited player, not an elite drafter; I think the point can be argued either way, but I must say I like getting that little MTGO badge at the end of every draft much more than having a pile of good cards while missing the finals half the time.

But I must say my personal results have gotten a lot better.

I think that forcing a particular formula draft that you are familiar with is a perfectly defensible way to maximize your results, especially if you don't have the time -- or even interest -- to learn every different archetype. You will get fewer things wrong and, in the case of my beloved red deck, if no one is fighting over the same cards you want, the next-best card in most packs will often come back.

Of course this style of play -- especially when made vocally on social media -- can open you up to criticism. Here is a mite of good natured ribbing I got from the great Andrew Cuneo a few minutes after Make the Play Monday - Cubed Squared went up:

@fivewithflores Here's what an actually good cube deck should look like pic.twitter.com/UM1Voy5Y9U

— Andrew Cuneo (@AndrewCuneo) March 24, 2014

It's really hard not to marvel at Andrew's Stoneforge Mystic + pair of elite equipment; array of two-for-ones; and handful cards that are banned in Modern. Yes, he won his draft.

My Cube Red Decks basically always have five mana threats like Thunderblust or the Thundermaw Hellkite in this here pack, so I am going to gravitate towards a card like that by default. Here the Thundermaw Hellkite is relatively uncontroversial (I would argue that it is the best Cube card in the pack, personally rating Elspeth, Sun's Champion behind it). But I specialize in taking mid-cost artifact mana like Pristine Talisman, allowing for the three-to-five ramp play.

The pack from Make the Play Monday was kind of painless for this kind of a pick, even for folks who wouldn't normally try to force Red Decks. For instance my next Cube presented this pick one / pack one.

In this pack I thought that Cryptic Command was the generically "best card" in the pack, but the overwhelming feedback from Twitter -- including from some pretty good players -- was Joraga Treespeaker! I thought that was crazy (who picks the green creature there?) but that is partially just me throwing the blinders on in favor of Red Deck.

Chandra's Phoenix is the best red card in the pack, so I took that (hoping that Goblin Ruinblaster would come back)...Goblin Ruinblaster came back. That is one of the reasons I like the Red Deck so much. I feel like for a deck that wins so consistently (for me anyway), it tends to be under-drafted on MTGO Cube, and if there are two or three playable red cards in a pack...I will usually get one back.

A great example in my most recent draft I had a pack three decision between:

Pristine Talisman
Chain Lightning
Forked Bolt

I think Chain Lightning and Forked Bolt are comparable. Forked Bolt is certainly better in some situations (like against multiple small creatures), but that in general Chain Lightning is just a half-step weaker than Lightning Bolt (which is arguably the best red card of all time).

In this case, I took the Pristine Talisman!

I generally take Pristine Talisman over just about anything in straight red.

As I told you already, I tend to play five mana threats in my red decks in Cube, and the jump from three to five is very convenient when you have cards like Pristine Talisman.

But the other thing is…

I can't possibly beat that card!

I am the kind of guy who won't lose any sleep over leaving behind Jace, the Mind Sculptor for Goblin Guide. I run the Humble Frenzied Goblin maybe one-in-three drafts. This is not the kind of person capable of weathering a Pristine Talisman.

In most cases I would frown on purely defensive drafting (and especially a card like Pristine Talisman, that doesn't kill anybody) because you are just not going to play against it most of the time. But since I can also find a playable home for it, Pristine Talisman has over time entrenched itself on my "no-pass list" for Cube.

To make it official:

Mike's Pick: Thundermaw Hellkite

So how did this Cube draft, starting with Thundermaw Hellkite, turn out?

Near-perfectly, actually!

I took a Solemn Simulacrum with fourteen cards in a pack, hoping that the Magma Jet I wanted would come back. It did, but I was busy typing how clever I was in Twitter that the pick timed out and MTGO goof-grabbed me a land instead. Near-perfect. :)

This week's winners correctly indicated Thundermaw Hellkite for YT and Elspeth, Sun's Champion for our Celebrity Guest. Those lucky Magicians are:

● For agreeing with me, Ben Green earns a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate.
● For agreeing with Andre, Alex Shields earns a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate.

Congratulations to Winner #1 and Winner #2, and thanks to all of you for playing! Have a great weekend. Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!


The 2009 World Champion, Andre Coimbra is a five-time Grand Prix and two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor; and in another life, was a regular contributor to TCGPlayer.com. He has largely shifted to fifty-two card decks as a member of Team PokerStars Online but remains a terror of MTGO draft queues.