Picture, if you will, an unopened booster pack. It taunts you, sitting in front of you boasting untold treasures, ripe for the taking.
Open it. Go ahead, you’ve earned it.
After a second or two of that irresistibly alluring sound of ripping plastic, you are finally free to gaze upon the contents of your personal little trove.
This is it! You’ve found the Tutenkhamen’s tomb of Magic packs! All five Moxes, Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall… you name it and it’s in the pack. The pack you’re staring at contains nine of the most powerful cards ever printed, and now the real fun begins. Now, we draft!
Welcome to Cube drafting, which, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the pinnacle of Magic. It combines everything I love in the Magic universe: drafting, broken cards, and an event that draws people together. You know that feeling you got when you drafted the “most broken deck ever?” Well, imagine if that deck had contained a Sol Ring, Time Walk, and Balance instead of whatever it actually contained. Starting to see the possibilities?
Simply stated, the Cube is 360 of the best cards ever printed dispersed fairly evenly by color and converted mana cost. You shuffle it all up, make five nine-card packs (more on this in a sec), and draft it. Sounds sick, right? Well that’s because it is. The Cube is a draft format unlike any other. I think Ben Stark put it best when he said that Cubing was less like drafting a Limited format, and more like building a Constructed deck. The decks are of such high quality and so focused that they really do play more like Constructed decks than Limited ones. In fact, there are distinct archetypes that are draftable within the Cube. The list is updated with every new release, always keeping the precarious balance between colors and costs, Aggro and Control.
Here is our list (more or less and in quite random yet color-situated order):
This is just one example of what a Cube can look like. I’ve heard of other Cubes with far more Combo-oriented elements than ours. We even have a friend who has been working on what he refers to as a Pauper Cube that forgoes all of the highly expensive cards for things that hit the pocketbook a little lighter (that list to come as it gets finished!). Whatever cards you choose for your Cube, just remember to keep the colors balanced, provide options for both aggressive and controlling decks, and make sure that the mana curve is realistic, and you will be in for a great time.
Now that you have a good idea of what a Cube looks like, let’s get down to drafting it! Our adopted method of drafting begins with five nine-card packs. The reason we do this over the standard three packs of fifteen really revolves around the fact that you get more first picks. The fact that you get more first-pick quality cards increases the overall quality of the decks that are drafted. This adds to the feeling of drafting a Constructed deck over a Limited one. In addition, the direction a deck is taking seems to be a bit easier to gauge since the dregs of the packs are spread out over five packs instead of three. You get more “meat” up front, and a clearer sense of where to go.
With so much power packed into each card, pick orders for the Cube are pretty ridiculous. In a vacuum, you want to draft the cards that allow you to do the most broken things first. The consensus first pick of the Cube is Sol Ring, followed quickly by Black Lotus. The mana acceleration provided by these cards allows stupid things to be done right off the bat. The only reason that Sol Ring really gets the nod over Lotus is that its mana acceleration is sustained, which is ultimately better than the single-shot burst provided by the Lotus.
After the big two, pick orders get a little muddled, often changing by personal preference and deck type. For example, you would not be incorrect for saying that the Moxes occupy the next spot for the same reasons that Sol Ring and Lotus did. I’ve also heard (and kind of agreed with ) the sentiment that Lodestone Golem may be the third best card. I’ve even found myself drafting a Moat over a Mox, since my UW control deck really needed to Moat to beat the ever-popular aggressive decks. Around this band, there are a lot of options.
Now, it’s time for a choose-your-own adventure! For those who want to draft Control, skip down to the section marked “Drafting Control.” For those wanting to draft Aggro, I bet you can find your section. I’m even going to add a section for those of you that are looking for a different sort of fun.
For those of you who came right here, you and I are kindred spirits. I will come out and say it: I am bad at drafting Aggro. Seriously, I’m horrid at it. I just can’t resist the call of the Control decks and have managed to draft virtually every kind you can think of. My two favorite kinds are the blue-heavy decks featuring Vedalkan Shackles, the Blue tempo cards like Man-o-War and Venser, Shaper Savant, and the White-based ones featuring Wrath of God and Moat. Either way, I’ve learned an important lesson over the past few weeks drafting. With the power-level of the aggressive decks, if you can’t slow those decks down, you can’t win. Your whole mission is to gum things up as much as you can until your big monsters hit play. The Blue decks use bounce and Control Magic-esque cards to achieve this. This White decks use board clearers and Moat to achieve the same goal. Add in the potential for Red with Firespout, Rolling Earthquake, and plenty of spot removal, and you have a recipe for survival. At that point, all you really need is a Meloku, the Clouded Mirror, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, or Baneslayer Angel to really put things away. These are my kinds of decks!
Here are some quick guidelines to drafting an indomitable fortress sure to slowly grind any opponent into a fine, powdery dust.
RULE #1: You Have To Clear The Board.
Keep an eye out for any cards that do just that. I’m talking Wrath of God, Damnation, Firespout, Rolling Earthquake, Nevinyrrals Disk, and Pernicious Deed. Without these cards, many decks will just overrun you with more dudes than you can handle, or put out some giant monster that you’re incapable of dealing with. These cards are the bread and butter of Control decks and will make sure you live long enough to win the game. Aiding these cards in stalling your imminent demise are…
RULE #2: Delaying Tactics.
Note that the cards listed above (with the exception of Firespout) cost at least four mana. Believe it or not, but in a format where the average one-drop is a 2/2 and people can kill you by Turn 4 if left unmolested, Wrath of God might need a little help. This is where the other delaying tactics come in. First, you have bounce spells. The three best examples of this are Man-o-War, Into the Roil, and Venser, Shaper Savant. These cards get an offending creature out of the way, and often provide that one extra turn needed to blow up the world. The creatures are the best at this because they not only remove a creature, but they provide a blocker to soak up a little damage or even trade with a guy.
Secondly, you have early counter-magic. Cards like Cryptic Command and Forbid are great for stopping the bigger, flashier spells, but they pale in comparison to the effectiveness of Mana Leak, Remand, and Force of Will against the aggressive decks. Both types of counters are fairly effective, but the cards that are effective against the early Aggro draws are also quite effective against the slower Control decks.
Colors other than Blue offer some great support in delaying the game, mostly through single-target removal spells like Smother, Swords to Plowshares, and Lightning Bolt. Since most of these spells cost only one or two mana, they’re great answers to the one- and two-drops that the Aggro decks threaten.
Once you’ve removed the imminent danger, it’s time to…
RULE #3: Lock It Up!
Now that you’ve established a modicum of control, it’s time to make sure you keep it. Cards like Oath of Druids (which your deck really needs to be built to abuse), Moat, Vedalken Shackles, and planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Elspeth, Knight Errant are very good at doing this. Shackles (in the right deck) and Moat in particular shine at this task. They are capable of taking a game over by themselves, and often should be taken quite highly if you’re working towards a Control deck. Once the game is locked up, you have to…
RULE #4: Finish Him!
With so much of your deck being geared towards survival and gaining control, you are generally far lighter on threats than most other decks. You have to make yours count. Some cards, like Treachery, Razormane Masticore, and the aforementioned Shackles serve a dual purpose of providing some cover fire, as well as a threat. Others, such as Meloku, the Clouded Mirror and Sphinx of Jwar Isle, are just so incredibly resilient that they are capable of winning games on their own. The trick is to find threats that are more than likely going to just end the game.
Once you’ve got all of these pieces in place, your control deck should be ready for all comers!
This section is for those of you that looked at the list above and counted all of the ways you can attack for four or more on Turn 2 (the answer is close to a billion). If your preferred method if beating Wrath of God is to kill your opponent before they hit four mana, I’ve got your game plan right here.
First off, there are two general varieties of Aggro decks. The first are the Red-based decks. These are the decks that try to run as many of the cheap, hasty guys as they can and finish a player off with burn. The Green-based decks run a slightly different plan. While they also rely on the little guys to get a ton of damage through, they generally opt for additional mana-acceleration and some fat kids to get the job done. A turn two or three Phantom Centaur has ended more than its fair share of games around our drafts!
Before you go Reckless Charging your Isamarus, here are some rules to smash by…
RULE #1: One-Drops Rule!
“I don’t think you have enough one-drops.” ~ Nick Little
This was said to me as I laid out a Red/White deck featuring Goblin Guide, Figure of Destiny, Steppe Lynx, and Isamaru, Hound of Konda. The sad thing is that he was right! I am not kidding you when I say that the single most important thing to these Aggro decks is the number of one-drops they contain. If you asked me how many was enough, I would answer, in all seriousness, all of them. First off, your goal is to kill them before they can establish. Getting three two-powered dudes in play in the first two turns is a quick way to ensure you achieve that goal. A big reason that the one-drops are so important is because of all of the…
RULE #2: Equipment!
Anyone who has drafted in a format involving equipment can attest to how powerful it is. When the six best pieces of equipment printed are in the Cube that goes doubly sure. When Skullclamp is the worst piece of equipment, you know something’s up. You draft the one-drops so you always have fast aggression. You draft equipment so your one-drops hit like four-drops. Another great benefit of drafting as many cheap guys as you can is that the equip costs just fold right into your curve. You get to be terribly mana-efficient while forcing your opponent to deal with threats that are as menacing in pieces as they are as a whole. When your Kird Apes attacks for four on the second turn or your Plated Geopede attacks for seven on Turn 4 or 5, your opponent’s options become severely limited. One other major benefit of bulking up individual targets is that it forces your opponent to blow their mass removal on considerably fewer guys, leaving you to replenish the troops more easily after a Wrath.
But we’ve already discussed this. You’re proactive. You aren’t considering how to recover after Wrath. You’re trying to prevent them from casting it in the first place.
RULE #3: Mana Denial!
Let’s paint a picture, you and I. Turn one, you play a Jackal Pup. Your opponent plays a land and says go. Your next turn is a Bonesplitter and a swing for four. Your opponent plays another land. Then you play a Tangle Wire. How dead is your opponent? If you answered completely, you win the gold star! Cards like Tangle Wire, Winter Orb, and Hokori, Dust Drinker are fantastic against Control decks, and even provide a pretty nice advantage against other aggressive decks. Especially if you’ve stuck to our awesome “draft as many little guys as possible” strategy, you’ve got plenty of ways to use the one or two mana you’ll have available each turn. At least, far more than your opponent’s will have.
On the flip side of the simple denial methods of the aforementioned cards, we have the even simpler method preferred by Red mages the world over: just blow it up! Cards like Pillage, Avalanche Riders, Sinkhole, and Strip Mine work wonders for keeping your opponents off of whatever they may be trying to build to. The Control decks are always looking to get one more turn so they can lock the game up. This takes another turn away from them. The Aggro decks are trying to get either bigger threats out than you, or more threats. This prevents them from being able to. Lastly, locking a player out of a color or getting to kill an Azorius Chancery, feels like winning the lottery, a visit from the Easter Bunny, and Most Likely to Kick Ass by your graduating class all rolled up into one!
RULE #4: Always Leave Yourself An Out!
This one is kind of important, and often overlooked. There will be times when your deck doesn’t have the draw to kill your opponent before they can get down a Moat, or maybe your opponent’s Aggro deck is packing an Umezawas Jitte. You have to have an out.
Every good Aggro deck is packing at least one way to kill artifacts or enchantments, often times two or more. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to have it on a beater, such as Qasali Pridemage or Viridian Zealot. Other times, you get to play an Orims Thunder and kick it at some poor helpless slob. Sometimes, you’re packing an Oblivion Ring to deal with it. The point is, if you don’t have these cards, you will, and I guarantee this, run into a situation you can’t win. Be prepared.
Speaking of removal…
RULE #5: Removal!
Um, yeah. The name more or less says it all. Your goal is to push anything that might stop your little beaters from getting to your big, bad opponent’s life total out of the way. Anything will do the trick, though the cheap stuff is the best. Remember, we’ve got one-drops to cast! Pick up those Path to Exiles, Lightning Bolts, and Diabolic Edicts! You’ve got a path to clear!
With all of these rules in mind, and a deck with an average cost of 1.25, you’re packing a license to kill. All you need is a target.
Some More Fun Draft Ideas!
This draft is for those of you with something else on your mind. You’re looking to use this card pool and do something silly with it. Well, I’ve got a few ideas to toss your way, though they’re often difficult to pull off.
Cheat A Fatty!
Affectionately named by the deck’s patron saint, Kurt Hahn, this deck is one of a few different varieties of decks that just try to get a massive monster into play as quickly as possible. I’ll run down each avenue and let you keep them in mind as you draft.
First, you have the reanimation route. With Living Death, Karmic Guide, multiple variations on Animate Dead, and Recurring Nightmare in the Cube, there are quite a number of possibilities. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to fill the bin somehow. Popular methods include the draw/discard effects like Compulsive Research and Looter il-Kor, cards with a discard activation such as Survival of the Fittest and Psychatog, and Gifts Ungiven. Once the fatty is in the bin, all it takes is one of the many reanimation spells to bring it back!
Another method, and one of Kurt’s favorites, is the Show and Tell deck. This is usually run in conjunction with another variety of the Cheat a Fatty deck, but it uses the namesake to get a monster in play that usually trumps the creature your opponent brought to class. I have seen this backfire, though. Imagine casting this on Turn 4 and dropping a Sphinx of the Steel Wind into play. Got this one locked up, right? What if your opponent’s card was Memnarch, which immediately steals your Sphinx?
The last variety is a controllish version of the deck that uses Oath of Druid to get something sick out. The deck has to be built around Oath, so you can’t just be running any old creatures. You have to pack the heat. I’m talking about the Donald (Terastodon), any of the Sphinxes, Hellkite Charger, and Oona, Queen of the Fae. You want the game to be out of reach when they hit play. With enough search, the game just becomes play Oath, ????, profit.
The main issue that decks like this have is that they are all in on getting one big threat in play fast. If the opponent can deal with it, with an Into the Roil, Swords to Plowshares, or Diabolic Edict, they’re kinda done for. Having protection can help, but usually, the loss of resources is too great to overcome. In addition, the decks tend to run a critical mass of massive men. This means that if you don’t draw one of your many ways to cheat your guys into play, you often die with a hand that looks like a heart attack. Having a decent amount of mana acceleration can alleviate that. In fact, that brings me to the last deck…
The Artifact Deck!
This deck can be built one of a few ways. Often times, it has elements of a Cheat a Fatty deck, since the artifact creatures it tries to power out often work well coming in via reanimation or Show and Tell as well. Basically, this deck relies on heavy amounts of artifact acceleration from cards like Grim Monolith, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, and Metal Worker to power out huge monsters. Also involved in the mix are [cad]Tinker[/card] and Goblin Welder. With this engine, and a decent amount of tutoring, it’s not unreasonable to put your opponent in a situation involving a Turn 2 Darksteel Colossus! The major advantage this deck has over the other versions of the Cheat a Fatty decks is that it can fairly reasonably cast its creatures. The major disadvantage it has is that it is incredibly open dependant. Without a glut of artifact mana acceleration, this deck is very bad. I mean atrocious. You really need the Monolith, Vault, or Crypt to get it going. Unless you open them early, it’s hard to justify going into this deck and hoping the cards will come. They’re all pretty broken in virtually every deck, so it’s unlikely they’ll get passed unless someone took another broken card over them. Good luck with that!
So there you go! Now, should you ever find yourself at a Magic event in Indy, you now possess all the knowledge required to beat us at our own game. Hopefully, you guys get a chance to experience how awesome Cube drafting is for yourselves. Even without the laden card pool such as ours, a simpler version of the Cube can still provide limitless fun. I highly encourage everyone to put something similar together for themselves. Wednesdays have become sacred around our parts, and we have our Cube to thank. It travels with Kyle to every major event he travels to, and has seen the hands of many a Pro player. Everyone from Level 8 Pro Martin Juza to this little PTQ scrub can appreciate the fun a mere 360 cards can hold. If you have the means, I recommend you pick one up. It is so choice!