Cube is my favorite format to play. Even though there are recognizable strategies, every deck and every match is a little bit different.
Cube is the home of Magic's most exciting sequences; where else will you see a Willbender flip to make Garruk Relentless punch its controller's own Geist of Saint Traft? Only Cube.
For me, Cube is also my Limited litmus test and a high skill format where I try to Cultivate transferrable skills to the rest of my game. It is a unique cross-section of Limited picking skills and Constructed power levels and synergy that is unseen anywhere else in this great game.
On [Make the Play] Monday we presented these fifteen cards for your consideration and asked what you might make for your first pick:
"First pick, first pack" questions are a specialty of this week's Celebrity Guest, who knows a little something about forty-card decks. What do you think, Limited Resources host Marshall Sutcliffe?
"When I Cube, I usually try to go for the most powerful option available to me with my early picks. I find that backing into a fair deck is usually easy, and I want to give myself the best chance of doing awesome brokenness that I can.
"In this pack, there are a lot of fair, unbroken cards, with a few exceptions. Ravages of War and Myr Battlesphere are the two most outwardly powerful cards, with Decree of Justice pulling up the rear. While Ravages of War is a consideration, I usually like to pick up my 'Geddons a little later in the pack after I've established an abusive shell of cards around it.
"My pick is Myr Battlesphere. It goes well in multiple decks including green ramp strategies, colorless/artifact ramp strategies, control decks, reanimator decks, and it even randomly combos with cards like Tinker. The fact that it's colorless also is a big benefit as I can stay open longer and feel out which strategies are flowing.
"I love that the Battlesphere stabilizes most boards, is strong against spot removal, and finishes the game quickly.
"My pick for Mike's pick? Goblin Rabblemaster.
"I know Mike has a big love of red decks in Cube and have had a lot of success with them. Incinerate is fine, but it's fairly low on the burn spell spectrum and you can pick up similar cards later in the pack.
"Figure of Destiny is excellent, but my guess is that you would be lured into the shiny newness of the Rabblemaster. Plus, it's an absurd card that seems to match up well against many of the popular decks in Cube.
"It smashes the blue based control decks (assuming it resolves) and can put the hammer down on any durdly multicolored deck as well. Rabblemaster basically asks, "Do you have removal?", and if the answer is no, he kills you."
Marshall's Pick: Myr Battlesphere
For my part (like Marshall said) I generally approach Cube with the outlook of forcing a monored deck. I can be swayed from monored by an unusually powerful blue card (especially in Holiday Cube where you have the opportunity to snap up an Ancestral Recall first pick but almost never second pick), but I have had lots of both luck and success with red decks in Cube, and am super comfortable drafting them. So all other things held equal, I am going to keep an eye out for the red cards.
I used to be a very mediocre Cube Draft player. I scored my first-ever 3-0 with a monored deck in maybe 2012 and very slowly developed an allegiance to the strategy as a default over time. People tend to think of monored in Cube as "the fun police" but in most drafts that I win, I have to beat some deck with a Silver Knight, an Umezawa's Jitte, and a Baneslayer Angel...so I feel like it has taught me resilience and the ability to weather powerful hate cards, plus valuable skills for the rest of my Magic game. Just this past weekend I was once again within spitting distance of the New Jersey Legacy Open Top 8 with a monored deck, and I feel like the skills that I have been consciously developing in Cube play have informed my precision in Fireblasting opponents with sixty-card decks.
You probably couldn't have known this going into reading Monday's article, but this first pick was from my first foray into the current MTGO Cube, so I was a little bit (very) apprehensive about my usual color preference due to the highly publicized nerfing of red aggro via the removal of Fireblast and other deliberate anti-red tuning.
One of the reasons I wanted to bring in Marshall as the Celebrity Guest this week is that he approaches drafting with a different fundamental paradigm than I do..."staying open" (i.e. he took a powerful colorless card) versus forcing a particular strategy based on familiarity. Neither paradigm is better 100% of the time, so I thought it might be interesting to expose readers to both in an effort to broaden your own Limited tool sets.
Whether you are looking to force a red deck or not I think you tend to do better in Cube if you have some sort of a plan in mind, whether you are going for classical UW Control, UR Wildfire, Suicide Black, green-based Ramp, or one of the other achievable archetypes. I don't know that you have to slavishly devote yourself to a strategy defined by your first pick, but knowing what cards go into what decks can help make subsequent picks ultimately more high-leverage.
Now say you are looking to force red here... What does this pack say to you?
The problem is that this is actually a somewhat thin pack in terms of Cube-level excitement; I would actually argue that Figure of Destiny is the runaway best card in the pack whether or not you are forcing red. As a one-drop it can be played on the first turn and start beating the opponent up early, but has massive upside as the game progresses as well. However the rest of the pack is underwhelming as far as Cube packs go. Myr Battlesphere is powerful once you've successfully cast it, but doesn't qualify as the kind of card so spellbinding that it would sway me out of my baseline allegiance to red decks; it costs seven! Ravages of War is a great lockdown card for White Weenie but not something I would be willing to commit to first pick... Not with an arguably better White Weenie card in Figure of Destiny staring up at me. Much of the rest of the pack is filled with cards that are going to excite no one. Fertile Ground and Gnarled Scarhide are cards that can potentially make the cut in recognizable archetypes but that few players will be compelled to take early; Broodmate Dragon and Undermine are both wildly value-laden but multiple colors each, so scary to commit to in the front-half of a draft's first pack. Because of all this, looking at this pack, there is ultimately very little chance that either the high-utility Incinerate or the shiny and new Goblin Rabblemaster survive the seven other drafters at the table. Incinerate can go into almost any deck capable of tapping for R, and like Marshall said, Goblin Rabblemaster will win most any game it isn't explicitly dealt with. A big part of playing red in Cube is that cards that will make the cut are still available as deep as pick fifteen (I've literally gotten last-pick Searing Blaze or Fireblast before), but the relative strength of this pack leads me to believe that unlike with most formula red first picks, this pack isn't likely to give us a second playable.
That's what I'd predict, anyway.
I considered both Incinerate and Goblin Rabblemaster but as I said, I think that Figure of Destiny is far and away the best card in the pack whether or not you are Yours Truly. It can go into multiple decks, not just an aggressive red deck, and outclasses the vast majority of long game threats in the format as long as you hit six mana at some point; 8/8 flying and first strike is just so super huge.
Mike's Pick: Figure of DestinySo how did first pick Figure of Destiny treat us at the end of forty-five picks?
All my dreams -- or rather, all my Worst Fears -- came true with this draft.
Neither of the other red spells came around; I counter-drafted Sinkhole on account of it being undercosted plus having a modicum of respect for black aggro.
But the general red-thinness persisted throughout to the point that even though I was trying to take red cards with every pick there almost weren't enough to fill my deck. Whoa. I would have loved the kind of Mogg War Marshall that doesn't usually make the forty-card cut but had to splash not one but two colors! (Even if my deck was technically still all red cards.)
I ended up with this.
In most circumstances I would have slammed Wasteland, but I was a little worried about my mana for this one. As you can see I have a Karakas and a Rugged Prairie to support one Assemble the Legion and a Savage Land and a Raging Ravine to support one Bloodbraid Elf. It's quite possible that Wasteland would have been right to play (especially since I played 18 lands anyway), but this is what I ended up running.
There are tons of cards that, while not explicitly terrible, aren't really cards that I am wild to play in my red decks; Skullcrack, Keldon Champion, Murderous Redcap, and Gathan Raiders are all cards that I would file under the umbrella of "only okay," but they ended up okay as I ultimately won the draft anyway.
For agreeing with Celebrity Guest Marshall Sutcliffe's pick of Myr Battlesphere (and incorrect but justifiable guess of Goblin Rabblemaster), James Milner obtains a $25 TCGplayer.com Gift Certificate. Great job James!
For agreeing with Yours Truly (Figure of Destiny / Figure of Destiny), Tyler York picks up a $25 TCGplayer.com Gift Certificate as well. Congrats Tyler!
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!
On Monday we return to the world of sixty-card decks and tap a Pro Tour and Grand Prix Champion for a difficult first-turn sequence with a brand new (or at least reimagined) Standard Deck. See you then!
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 PT Hawaii coverage in the next week and at the TCGplayer $50,000 MaxPoint Championship along with Frank Lepore on October 24th-26th. Follow Marshall's exploits on Twitter at @marshall_lr