This week's sequence brings us back to the world of Limited, and my favorite Magic Online format: Cube.
We posed three questions on Make the Play Monday, one simple (if still challenging), and two fairly nuanced. Because this was a Limited challenge, I opted to once again tap one of my favorite expert personalities, Marshall Sutcliffe of the Limited Resources podcast as Celebrity Guest. Not only is Marshall a regular member of the Pro Tour coverage team, but he is an absolute fiend of Cube drafting!
Given these possible first picks in our first pack...
1. Ajani, Caller of the Pride2. Impulse3. Polukranos, World Eater4. Prophetic Flamespeaker5. Time Warp6. Vedalken Shackles7. Devil's Play8. Karplusan Forest9. Supreme Verdict10. Boros Elite11. Brain Maggot12. Gerrard's Verdict13. Inquisition of Kozilek14. Goblin Electromancer15. Mutagenic Growth
...what do you think I took?
"Shackles. Just Shackles.
"I mean, there are some other cards to consider, but only if you are trying to force some pet archetype.
"I know Mike is predisposed to Monored in Cube Draft, but he also enjoys winning and knows that it's often correct to draft other strategies.
"Picking up a powerful card like Vedalken Shackles first pick means that you can build around it, favoring blue cards over not blue cards.
"So basically drafting Cube.
"I'd slam Shackles."
Marshall Sutcliffe's Pick: Vedalken Shackles
The first thing I did when evaluating this pack was to scan for red spells (you might know that I generally try to formula draft red in Cube). In this pack there are only two red-red cards (I wouldn't consider an Izzet card like Goblin Electromancer for purposes of a red-directed first pick), and neither of them are very good.
In a traditional Limited draft Devil's Play would be a great first pick. Even in Cube it will make my deck more than half the time. But given the rest of the cards in this pack, I am not going to take Devil's Play first.
The other red card is Prophetic Flamespeaker. I've found that card to be okay in Cube. If I am a red deck I will pretty much always play Prophetic Flamespeaker. But again this is not a first pick quality card given the rest of this pack.
The reason (reasons)? Vedalken Shackles of course!
There are relatively few cards I would take over Vedalken Shackles in a first pick / first pack position in Cube. There are two reasons for this: First, Vedalken Shackles is a hugely powerful card that not only helps me win but gives my deck structure; in much the same way that I usually like to take monored cards, Vedalken Shackles keeps me focused if I'm drafting Control. Blue cards, lots of Islands, et cetera.
Secondly, in most individual drafts (as opposed to team drafts where the following does not apply), letting a powerful card go isn't necessarily a death knell. There are seven other players at the table and you are going to play against a maximum of three of them (provided you make the finals). So in most cases you have less than 50% chance of even being paired against a player you shipped to, which is not to even consider if that particular opponent ever draws the bomb card. BUT! If you ship a card like Vedalken Shackles, the chances you play against it are much higher than usual, provided your plan is to win. A deck with Vedalken Shackles is - all other things held equal - going to over-perform, increasing the chances you are playing against such a powerful card if you yourself advance through the draft. All bets are off if you 0-1 of course!
All arrows point to taking it.
Mike's Pick: Vedalken Shackles
The second question came out of this position:
We are down a land due to the opponent casting an Avalanche Riders, but we saw his spicy mitt of Falkenrath Aristocrat and Polukranos, World Eater thanks to our Vendilion Clique. Now, predictably, the opponent is casting Falkenrath Aristocrat.
What do we do?
"If we decide not to counter the Aristocrat, we are banking heavily on our Vendilion Clique to trade for it at some point. This is precarious as Polukranos can easily kill the Clique, making him a must counter.
"Additionally, the Aristocrat can tussle nicely with the Clique because of its activated ability.
"Trading Clique with Aristocrat isn't going to happen.
"That leaves the Dungeon Geists. It can do a fine job vs. the Aristocrat, but will likely die to Polukranos at some point down the line, weakening this option as a long term solution.
"My play is to counter the Aristocrat, taking far less damage in the short term, and then lock down the Polukranos (hopefully) after he kills our Clique with it. If he declines to kill the Clique, then I'd still just play Dungeon Geists on it and force him to sink a ton of mana into freeing Polukranos up.
"My plan is to bash in the air with my flyers, lock down his Polukranos with the Geist, and hope to find a tempo play to bounce or disrupt the big Hydra before it kills me."
Marshall Sutcliffe's Play: Counterspell the Falkenrath Aristocrat
I must disagree with my friend Marshall here.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One, I'm not all that scared of Falkenrath Aristocrat as I am ahead in the race already and have Dungeon Geists as a legitimate answer. Not only do I have Dungeon Geists, I have Time Warp. I can get an extra 3-6 in and win a race out of seemingly nowhere.
But more importantly I'm pretty terrified of Polukranos, World Eater. I don't have a good answer to it if it hits the table, and the combination of Polukranos and Lotus Cobra means that my guys are in trouble. Ergo, my plan is to save the Counterspell.
The down side of saving the Counterspell is that I can't use the Dungeon Geists next turn (even though I have the fourth land for it) because I'll be tapped out when it is Polukranos Time. While that means conceding 6-12 life, like I said, I have 20 right now and a Time Warp to help dig myself out.
Mike's Play: Let Falkenrath Aristocrat resolve"In real life" the opponent didn't follow up with Polukranos... He followed up with Umezawa's Jitte! You know how bad Polukranos is? At least Polukranos is just a guy. Jitte is much worse. Luckily I had the Counterspell!
The opponent was able to resolve his Polukranos two turns later but interestingly killed my Vendilion Clique immediately; I won a narrow race with the Dungeon Geists.
Finally we have a spot where the opponent is tapping low for a Sower of Temptation.
This being a blue-on-blue situation where we have the initiative due to Call of the Herd but have been relatively thin on lands.
Our hand has two to three things we can do this turn, but interestingly, relatively few great plays to make next turn. We can technically cast Kiora, the Crashing Wave, flashback Call of the Herd, run a loose Thassa, or do something with Venser, Shaper Savant if need be... But don't have five mana for Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir or Future Sight.
"I think I like going for the tempo play here. I would play Venser, Shaper Savant on the Sower, bouncing it back to his hand and putting 5 power in play. This gives us a three turn clock on our opponent, with Counterspell and Miscalculation in hand, plus an incredibly powerful Backup Plan in Kiora, Future Sight, and Teferi."
Marshall's Play: Venser, Shaper Savant
There are essentially three lines we can take on this turn.
First, there is the most obvious play, which is to use Miscalculation on the Sower of Temptation. This play is obvious because it is almost certain to resolve, cancelling the opponent's proposed two-for-one. As the game goes longer, Miscalculation becomes less and less potent a permission spell, so this is a tasty spot for it.
Second, we can use Counterspell itself for the same action. If the only thing we are going to do is Counterspell the Sower of Temptation, this seems a much less attractive option than the previous; as Counterspell is simply the unconditional version of Miscalculation. It doesn't lose potency over time, and we don't need to wait for a juicy spot where the opponent is tapped down for it to be good. However, if we use Counterspell, we gain the additional option of cycling Miscalculation (though are not required to do so).
I ultimately opted to use Counterspell on the Sower of Temptation and cycle Miscalculation.
We really can't afford to have Sower of Temptation resolve here. We are clearly ahead in this game right now, but that is only because our blue control deck has had the opportunity to play "Counter Sliver" against another blue control deck. We can use our control cards / permission to "protect the queen" instead of answering threats. However at the point that Sower of Temptation steals Call of the Herd, he is not only in the Counter Sliver driver's seat, but he has a superior five power / four turn clock.
That is one of the reasons I didn't take Marshall's Venser, Shaper Savant line.
Venser is super attractive, of course. It generates forward action in the same way the opponent is trying to with his Sower of Temptation. A body is a body and we theoretically have the same Counterspell / Miscalculation options next turn [even if we miss our land drop]. We even get our choice of using Venser as a Remand-style Counterspell or just bouncing the Sower of Temptation (getting back our Call of the Herd) after it hits the battlefield!
This Cube has all of Mana Tithe, Force Spike, and Daze. If we move for Venser and the opponent has one of these three cards we are in a horrendous position. It's not just that once that Sower hits the table (provided our Venser is stopped) the opponent has five power to our four lands... We have no way of reclaiming the battlefield! Our best available option is to try something with Teferi or making our flashback Elephant Token, but we're still behind.
Furthermore, we've drawn a ton of extra cards and still don't have a certain land drop next turn. I wanted the land drop.
In real life I think this turned out to be the right play. I was a bit wary of using both my Counterspell and Miscalculation in one turn, but I did get my land drop, even if it was costly...
...the opponent had the Daze!
He had it!
Or, at least he had it a turn or two later. But chances are, he had it on the Sower turn as well...where it could have been devastating.
Mike's Play: Counterspell Sower of Temptation, cycle MiscalculationMarshall and I only agreed on Vedalken Shackles this week. But I think we got some good discussion out of this set of hypotheticals; hopefully you got some food for thought out of this one, even with less definitive "solutions".
For agreeing with Marshall's trio of Vedalken Shackles / Counterspell / Venser, Shaper Savant Christopher Wendelboe earns a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. Nice job Christopher!
For agreeing with my trio of Vedalken Shackles / do nothing / Counterspell [+ cycle Miscalculation] Samuel Wade earns a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. I'm not 100% sure my plays were better..but they did result in closing out that Cube! Good job Samuel.
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!
Thanks, everyone, for reading.
Marshall Sutcliffe is the co-founder and co-host of Limited Resources, the number one Magic podcast for Limited play. Marshall is also a full-time member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage team. You can see him in most official Wizards event coverage and follow Marshall's exploits on Twitter at @marshall_lr