Hip to be Square: 8 10

Hip to be Square: 8x10
By Tom Fowler

Part One: An Eight-Man Draft

What do you do when you see a pack with no clear first pick in it? I'm sure that happens with some frequency when you're drafting normal packs, but it was the first time it had happened to me in Cube. Other packs came my way with multiple cards that screamed, "Oooh, I'm a first pick!" I would have been happy to see any of them in my first pack. Instead, I had the least impressive pack I've ever seen in a cube. None of the cards were bad, of course, but in an environment where you can crack packs with 15 completely ridiculous cards, I was underwhelmed.

Such is the random nature of making packs, I suppose.

Eight of us gathered at the local game store for a cube draft. I was hoping to have 10, and could have had 12 (the most my cube can handle) if everyone showed up, but eight was enough. I made the packs, dropped three in front of each seat, and we were underway. Looking back, I should have recorded the contents of my first pack. Let the record show that on June 7, 2009, at 12:35 PM, I opened a thoroughly underwhelming pack in a cube draft.

I picked Concentrate. It may not have been the best card in the pack, but I figured it would make my deck if I ended up in blue (I did, and it did), but it wasn't the kind of pick that leaves me married to a color. I picked up a mix of blue and black cards before snagging some white cards like Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Prison Term, and Angel of Despair. After the first pack, I considered going three colors, but the white dried up and I ended up solidly in U/B.

Packs two and three saw me focus on making sure I had enough creatures. On the sixth pick of the second pack, I saw Opposition looking back at me. I've drafted it before in Cube (managing to pair it with both Deranged Hermit and Grizzly Fate, a savage mise -- and yes, I went 3-0 in that draft), and I love the card, so I took it here. Now I really needed to play enough creatures. It surprised me to see Opposition still in the pack. Sure, it doesn't have the sheer power of Mana Drain, but Cube, like pretty much every limited format ever, usually comes down to creatures. Opposition is a trump in any creature match.

I ended up not having enough creatures to support Opposition to the degree I wanted. It was a tough cut, but I felt it was one I needed to make. With two or three more good creatures, I would have played it. In hindsight, maybe I should have anyway, or at least, I should have sideboarded it in. It might have won me the third game of my second match.

The first part of the article will talk about our draft. The second part will deal with cards from Magic 2010 that look to be saucy in the cube.

For reference, here's what I played:

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Moroii
1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
1 Black Knight
1 Laquatus's Champion
1 Thrashing Wumpus
1 Ascendant Evincar
1 Rainbow Efreet
1 Gilded Drake
1 Chromeshell Crab
1 Thieving Magpie
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Fathom Seer
1 Mulldrifter
1 Jushi Apprentice

1 Crystal Shard
1 Damnation
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Probe
1 Memory Lapse
1 Exclude
1 Dissipate
1 Concentrate
1 Treachery

1 Watery Grave
8 Island
8 Swamp

I ended up with a lot of draw spells. I'm not sure I chose the best ones for the deck, but I like the re-usability of Jushi Apprentice and the kicker on Probe. I didn't have enough artifacts to get full use from Thirst for Knowledge, though Braingeyser should probably have made the cut. The reality is that I really don't like playing this kind of deck, but these are the cards I ended up with, so I tried to make the best of it.

In the first round, I won a pretty long match 2-0. Rick's deck, despite being even slower than mine, managed to come out faster. I recovered from a Plow Under in time to Damnation everything away. Then I started to drop creatures, but he had the trump in Akroma's Vengeance (also nuking my Crystal Shard). The next turn, my Hymn to Tourach was just sick, taking Opportunity and All Suns' Dawn from his hand. You have to love it when random discard just blows away your opponent's ability to recover from two board sweepers. From there, he gained some life with Pulse of the Fields, but I had more creatures than he did. It took a while, but I got there with Rainbow Efreet doing a lot of the heavy lifting (and taking the weight with it when it phased out).

The second game was faster. Things were going pretty well for me until he dropped Pristine Angel. I don't know if you've ever stared down a Pristine Angel played in a deck with enough instants to support it, but it ain't pretty. I was looking at my hand, not seeing a Damnation, and wondering how I was going to get out of this. Thankfully, during a furious exchange of spells (with a couple Angel triggers on the stack), Rick tapped out for Fact or Fiction, allowing me to bounce the problematic Angel with Crystal Shard. From there, Ink-Eyes did some dirty work, and Laquatus's Champion finished things off.

My second match was a good three-game affair... for which I've unfortunately lost my notes. This is the match I should have sided in Opposition for, especially in the third game. I think it would have made the difference between winning and losing. I had the advantage for a while, with Moroii and Rainbow Efreet carrying things in the air, but Nick played a Triskelavus that changed everything. That allowed him to stabilize and play some other creatures, and my once-great board position was getting more and more outclassed. He played Slaughter Pact at one point, then commented that he would forget it during his upkeep. Sure enough, he did. I did not claim the victory here, though. In a sanctioned match, I certainly would have, but we were having a good game and a good match, and I didn't want a forgotten Pact trigger to decide it. Eventually, I attacked and had to hope he blocked poorly so that I could win. He didn't, so I didn't.

The third round was uneventful. Ben had managed to assemble a pretty solid land destruction core, something I hadn't seen before in a cube draft. He blew me out with it both games. The second was a bigger blowout than the first, since I had mulliganed and was land-light to begin with. That game saw a bunch of blue cards get stranded in my hand as my land base was reduced to a pair of Swamps. I had gotten Black Knight out, but lost the ability to use my Crystal Shard, and things just got worse from there.

I ended up 1-2, which is my worst finish thus far in a cube draft.

Here are some of the other decklists, before we move on to Magic 2010.

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Jungle Lion
1 Wild Mongrel
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Silhana Ledgewalker
1 River Boa
1 Werebear
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Dauthi Marauder
1 Giant Solifuge
1 Grave-Shell Scarab
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Platinum Angel

1 Rancor
1 Bonesplitter
1 Skullclamp
1 Night's Whisper
1 Nameless Inversion
1 Edge of Autumn
1 Kodama's Reach
1 Sudden Death
1 Putrefy
1 Elephant Guide
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Liliana Vess

5 Swamp
8 Forest
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Hellspark Elemental
1 Viashino Heretic
1 Zo-Zu the Punisher
1 Fire Imp
1 Fulminator Mage
1 Nekrataal
1 Faceless Butcher
1 Ravenous Baboons
1 Rakdos Pit Dragon
1 Phyrexian Plaguelord
1 Ancient Hydra

1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Seal of Fire
1 Sonic Burst
1 Pyroclasm
1 Incinerate
1 Magma Jet
1 Rend Flesh
1 Veinfire Borderpost
1 Stupor
1 Pillage
1 Sulfurous Blast
1 Void
1 Beacon of Destruction
1 Mind Twist

4 Swamp
6 Mountain
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Vivid Marsh
1 Vivid Crag

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Genesis
1 Yaviamaya Elder
1 Spike Feeder
1 Viridian Zealot
1 Putrid Leech
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
1 Tombstalker
1 Nezumi Shortfang
1 Hypnotic Specter
1 Stromgald Crusader
1 Triskelavus

1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Sol Ring
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Coalition Relic
1 Giant Growth
1 Regrowth
1 Roar of the Wurm
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Unmake
1 Beacon of Unrest
1 Ribbons of Night
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Duress
1 Diabolic Tutor

5 Forest
10 Swamp
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Mishra's Factory

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Blastoderm
1 Ohran Viper
1 Man-o-War
1 Mystic Snake
1 Plaxmanta
1 Deranged Hermit
1 Troll Ascetic
1 Overbeing of Myth
1 Temporal Adept
1 Glen Elendra Archmage

1 Dismiss
1 Hinder
1 Snakeform
1 Brainstorm
1 Counterspell
1 Pact of Negation
1 Force Spike
1 Mana Leak
1 Engineered Explosives
1 AEther Vial
1 Ancestral Vision
1 AEther Mutation
1 Harmonize

1 Tropical Island
1 Vivid Grove
1 Bayou
1 Taiga
1 Breeding Pool
7 Island
5 Forest

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Mother of Runes
1 Whipcorder
1 Eternal Witness
1 Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Triskelion
1 Pristine Angel
1 Eternal Dragon

1 Condemn
1 Shining Shoal
1 Remand
1 Mana Drain
1 Plow Under
1 Force of Will
1 Akroma's Vengeance
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Gush
1 All Suns' Dawn
1 Opportunity
1 Pulse of the Fields
1 Armadillo Cloak
1 Fieldmist Borderpost

6 Island
4 Forest
5 Plains
1 Polluted Delta
1 Temple Garden
1 Stalking Stones

That's six of the eight lists. I didn't get the 3-0 list, unfortunately, but the deck that went 0-3 is represented above. I'll leave it as an exercise to the readers to deduce which one it was.

Part Deux: Magic 2010 and Cube

With half of its cards being new, M10 is a core set that cubists actually have to care about. The reprints have all been seen before, and I think most of the functional reprints are not worth doubling up on, but your mileage may vary. I'm going to cover the M10 cards in each color, talking first about the ones I added, then about the more interesting ones that I didn't add.

white mana White white mana

First, the cards I added:

Elite Vanguard: This is a functional reprint that's definitely worth doubling up on. You get a second Savannah Lions, except this one being uncommon makes it easier to get (and also opens it up for cubes that don't run rares), and it's in a more relevant tribe. Now if only there were some kind of soldier lord we could use...

Captain of the Watch: This was a tough addition, despite the fact that it's a very solid card. Many cubes may not play a lot of soldiers, but considering that the Captain brings three of her own with her, that shouldn't stop you. The real consideration for me was the potential glut of six-drops in white. I want to be able to support white as a control color (as well as aggressive white strategies), but I didn't want a lot of expensive spells. In the end, I think I have just enough spells costing five or more in white.

Serra Angel has just been owned.
Baneslayer Angel: This poses another question: how many five-drop Angels do you need? Serra Angel and Archon of Justice (not really an Angel, but play along with me here) are already in my cube (and many others, I'm sure). The answer depends on the size of your cube, I think. If you have a 360-card cube, running all three is very difficult. In a larger cube like mine (545 cards), it's easier to fit in. You should play this card because it's really, really good, and if you have to cut another Angel for it, I would recommend Serra. Iconic though she may be, Serra Angel is clearly outclassed by her most recent sister.

Harm's Way: It's like a mini-Shining Shoal, which is good enough for me to make room for it. Having this in your cube means that keeping a single Plains open can be a sign of more than just something like Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile. That's a big part of what makes it so effective: Shining Shoal is excellent because it's free, and Harm's Way can provide game-changing moments for a single :symw:.

Now, the new white cards that I didn't add:

Guardian Seraph: It's a little underpowered for my tastes. The best part about the damage prevention ability is its cumulative nature in multiples, which isn't a factor in cube.

Honor of the Pure: Don't worry, I'm not insane; I just don't own one yet. When I do, it'll go in.

Lightwielder Paladin: There are too many other good creatures at that same mana cost. The Paladin doesn't separate himself from the pack.

Planar Cleansing: I'm perfectly happy with the expensive removal I have. Akroma's Vengeance does similar work, and Austere Command has versatility going for it. Both are easier to play in two or three-color decks, as well.

Safe Passage: From what I've seen in M10 limited, this card can be a beating in the right situations. The problem is, sometimes it's only a Fog, and I don't want a one-mana Fog in the cube, let alone a three-mana version. If it were always a beating, it would get the nod.

Silence: It has potential. I think I'd rather have Abeyance if I wanted a spell like this, though.

Other recent white additions: Seal of Cleansing, Austere Command

White cards removed: Ramosian Sergeant, Ramosian Lieutenant, Blade of the Sixth Pride, Mana Tithe, Aura Blast, and Resurrection.

The Rebel theme ended up being less important than I thought when I initially assembled the cube. There are still some good Rebels in there, but I did cut a few to make room for better cards.

blue mana Blue blue mana

M10 cards I added:

Djinn of Wishes: I'm not sure how good it will be, but it has a unique ability. Obviously, you need to keep this guy alive for a few turns, or he's just an Air Elemental. If he lives, though, you can get good value for your investment. The ability has a pretty high activation cost, but being able to play certain types of spells when you normally couldn't is worth it.

Sleep: I've seen this be a real backbreaker in M10 Limited so far. Despite its higher power level, cube is a limited format that often comes down to creatures slugging it out. That means Sleep should be a good addition. I'd like to see somebody draft one the next time we play so I can get feedback on it.

Some M10 cards I didn't add:

Essence Scatter: I prefer my creature counters to cost 1 mana more and cantrip, thanks.

Sphinx Ambassador: I like the flavor of the Sphinx's riddle, and it's certainly a unique ability, but the card just costs too much.

Other recent blue additions: Clone, Stroke of Genius, Brine Elemental, Gifts Ungiven

Blue cards removed: Chromeshell Crab, Rainbow Efreet, Take Possession, Braingeyser, Serra Sphinx, Careful Consideration

I really thought I had Gifts in the cube already. I went through my Blue cards three times, incredulous that it wasn't already there. This egregious oversight has now been corrected, and I have flogged myself like an Opus Dei monk as penance. Chromeshell Crab and Rainbow Efreet were casualties of the new combat rules.

black mana Black black mana

Black M10 cards added:

Is that Banseslayer Angel dying?
Doom Blade: There was a debate in the Cube Forum about playing Doom Blade vs. Terror. I decided to cop out and run both, but I also have a large enough cube to support both. If you can only fit one, I think Doom Blade is the right call. There are more artifact creatures in cubes than creatures that regenerate. Of course, there's one that does both, and while Doom Blade isn't guaranteed to kill the bloody thing, it can at least target it to make the effort.

Cemetery Reaper: I run a few Zombies, so the first ability could be relevant. The activated ability is very nice, though, as it pulls potentially reusable creatures out of your opponent's graveyard and gives you a 3/3 in return. Not bad, I must say. This didn't make the cut in my first pass through M10, but I added it a couple days later.

Black M10 cards I didn't add:

Rise From the Grave: It's an interesting (and flavorful) twist on the typical black reanimation spell. The reality is that there are a finite amount of slots you can devote to this type of spell, and I think Beacon of Unrest is still better.

Sign in Blood: I'd rather run Night's Whisper, which is easier to cast.

Xathrid Demon: It's the best Lord of the Pit they've made, but talk about damning with faint praise.

Other recent black additions: Phrexian Rager, Bone Shredder, Zombie Cutthroat

Black cards removed: Rend Flesh, Braids, Cabal Minion, Nezumi Graverobber, Phyrexian Negator, Necravolver

The Graverobber was the toughest cut, but I've neither seen nor heard of it being flipped in any of our drafts. I know other cubists like this card. I'm willing to put it back in, but I'll need suggestions for what to sack in its place.

red mana Red red mana

I added no red cards that were new in M10. There's just not a lot there that excites me.

Red M10 cards I didn't add:

Goblin Chieftain: Not enough Goblins in the cube. If you have a smaller cube with a decent number of Goblins, then I think this is a very good addition.

Magma Phoenix: It's certainly not a bad card, but red has a lot of good creatures that cost 5 or 6. For similar work, I'd rather run Caldera Hellion.

Other recent red additions: Caldera Hellion, Starstorm

Red cards removed: Blood Moon, Sonic Burst

green mana Green green mana

M10 cards added:

This paragraph was nearly destroyed.
Acidic Slime: I wasn't playing Creeping Mold, but this is obviously a clear upgrade. The 2/2 body isn't impressive, but it'll destroy something when it enters the battlefield, and deathtouch means it will take either another creature or a removal spell with it to the graveyard. It's a guaranteed two-for-one and has good utility, to boot.

Green M10 cards I didn't add:

Ant Queen: It might find its way in eventually. The problem is, green has a lot of good creatures, and a lot of those cost four or more mana. There's some stiff competition out there. For those cubists who have added it, how has it been for you?

Awakener Druid: I like the ability, but being a 1/1 makes him way too fragile.

Great Sable Stag: Here's another one that might make it in at some point. The problem is that it dies to a lot of red removal spells. If you're not playing against blue or black, it's Trained Armodon, and Trained Armodon isn't very exciting.

Master of the Wild Hunt: Here's a very interesting twist on the Arena ability. I like the card, and I probably like it enough to add it, but I don't own one yet.

0 mana Artifacts, Multicolored, and Nonbasic Lands tap symbol

There's nothing from M10 to report here, in terms of additions to my cube. I'll cover a few cards I didn't add before going over the changes to these areas that I made in the cube.

The new dual lands: They're perfectly fine for a cube. I'm not running them since I have the original dual lands and then ten Ravnica block duals. If you don't run all of those, I think you should consider making room for these.

Gargoyle Castle: It's better than Stalking Stones in the respect that it makes a flying creature, but worse in the respect that you have to sacrifice it. I don't run Stalking Stones anymore, and I'm not running this, either. It's a nice effect, but pretty slow, and it does cost you a land.

Magebane Armor: Equipment is a challenge in the cube, at least for me. I want to have enough that it shows up in games, but there just aren't that many really good equipments out there. This is another one that falls into the "not quite good enough" category. Having the equipped creature lose flying is an interesting touch, and preventing all noncombat damage is good, but overall, Magebane Armor is outclassed by better equipment.

I changed a lot in the artifacts, nonbasics, and multicolored sections of my cube. I felt I had some suboptimal artifacts and nonbasic lands in the cube and wanted to get rid of them. Some I replaced with other artifacts or nonbasics, but I had another goal: if I could trim five from those two groups and not replace them, I could then add five more multicolored cards. I wanted the new multicolored cards to be of the allied color pairs, which would give me eight cards in each of those, and then seven in each of the enemy color pairs. Those additions would inject a few more multicolored cards into the cube, while allowing me to pick from the deeper allied color pairs. And since Wizards wants us playing with those pairs, I guess everybody wins.

Artifacts in: Duplicant, Obelisk of Alara

Artifacts out: Manriki-Gusari, Mana Crypt, Legacy Weapon, Slate of Ancestry

Nonbasics in: Grand Coliseum

Nonbasics out: Stalking Stones, Nantuko Monastery, Ancient Ziggurat, Miren, the Moaning Well

Free 3/3s are good, I hear.
Multicolored in: Vindicate, Behemoth Sledge, Stillmoon Cavalier, Creakwood Liege, Figure of Destiny, Soul Manipulation, Burning-Tree Shaman, Azorius Guildmage, Enlisted Wurm, Demigod of Revenge

Mutlicolored out: Ghost Council of Orzhova, Armadillo Cloak, Unmake, Vhati Il-Dal, Nobilis of War

I had to break up a playset of Vindicates (my only remaining one) in a 5-Color deck to add it, but it was worth it. The cube sees more action than that particular 5-Color deck, and Vindicate is way too good to keep on the sidelines. Ghost Council suffers from the new combat rules. It's still a good card, but I just don't think it's good enough anymore. Behemoth Sledge is a straight-up replacement for Armadillo Cloak, and should be better. Creakwood Liege has gotten rave reviews from other cubists, so I decided to add it and see. Stillmoon Cavalier and Figure of Destiny were previously engaged in Standard decks, but since I feel Standard is kind of blah at the moment, they're getting a chance to shine in the cube.

Next time, I'll post an updated list for my cube. I would do it this time, but this article is way long enough already. I'll talk about something else cool and interesting that's cube related, too. Want to know what it is? Check back in two weeks. In the meantime, for all your Cube-related discussions, check out MTGS' awesome Cube Forum, where a lot of smart, experienced cubists talk about the most fun format currently out there.

Also, if you have any cube-related topics you'd like me to cover, leave a reply in the forums. I may not use all of them, but I will use the ones I like.

~Tom Fowler


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