The end of the year approaches, which means it’s time for Holiday Cube on Magic Online. I like my cube in small doses, and the end-of-year online cubes are the perfect opportunity to stretch my brewing muscles. Rather than spiking out and trying to master the format for each iteration, I have fun taking awesome cards I never get to cast in other formats. With the current Vintage Cube, that includes Ancestral Recall—who doesn’t love casting that one? But my love for sweet cards extended pretty far down the power spectrum.
These are a few of my favorite cube cards. Some of them are more powerful or flexible than others. A couple are too weak for the Vintage Cube online, but I consider that a criticism of powered cube, not of the cards. There’s a reason broken cards get banned—the game isn’t fun for very long when everyone plays a Sol Ring on their first turn.
Anyway, on with the show!
How do you know Glen Elendra Archmage is awesome? Try playing against it. The card shows up occassionally in Modern decks, despite being a pseudo four-drop that requires extra blue mana to stay untapped as long as she survives. Too slow for constructed, really. But in a cube deck you can crush your opponent’s hopes with a mid-game Archmage. Double Negate that also happens to be a 2/2 flier? You better have a bigger flier and some sweet creatures to play. Throw in some recursion for a real game—Melira, Sylvok Outcast is a nice one if she’s available in the cube, and Sheoldred, Whispering One is another classic.
Have you ever played with Thawing Glaciers? Either you’re old or you haven’t. Or maybe you’re a sick value fiend like me. Slowest of the slow engines, you might not want to bother in a powered cube with more explosive options. But you haven’t lived until you pick up a post-activation Thawing Glaciers with a Ravnica bounceland four times in a single game. It takes some serious control cards to make this a viable strategy, but those are bread and butter cube cards anyway. Go big or go home!
Why draft the giant bombs when you can take them out of your opponent’s deck instead? Bribery is one of the dirtiest cards you can play. It’s not quite as brutal as famous first-pick Treachery, but it feels sooooooo good. Bribery makes a nice Snapcaster Mage target, and you know what you can get the second time. You have to board it out against the Sulfuric Vortex deck, but even the Planeswalkers-and-Wraths deck often has a Consecrated Sphinx that you can buy off.
Maybe From Beyond is the new hotness. I doubt it, though—these tokens weren’t going to deal damage. I plan to slam a Skullclamp and draw all the cards without needing to tutor up Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. Give me good old Awakening Zone and give you death. When you don’t have a way to turn your spawn tokens into extra cards, you can still ramp or chump block with them. You can do more powerful things in cube, but why not challenge yourself to have some fun while you win?
This one is easy to overlook, especially since it is not blue. You get a sweet combo of temporary removal and flickering shenanigans. Parallax Wave is a strange card that looks worse than it is. If you happen to draft an aggressive white deck, it clears the board for the winning attacks. Should you prefer a slower cube deck—who doesn’t?—you can buy a lot of time. Should you have a Venser, Shaper Savant, you can do a lot of cool stuff. Have fun exploring this one.
And now for something completely different:
My favorite cube moment of all time involves an old classic, Upheaval. Anyone can ramp out some mana artifacts, cast Upheaval, and restart the game with a few permanents in play. It’s the original Karn Liberated ultimate. But if you’re going big already, why not go for style as well? Float a bunch of mana, cast Upheaval, and drop Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. The first time I did this, I had to read Tamiyo’s plus ability to confirm that she could tap herself. How often do you get to activate a planeswalker when your opponent has no permanents in play? How many times have you ever said “Tamiyo doesn’t untap this turn” in an actual game of Magic?
That’s what makes cube awesome.
One last story epitomizes the craziness of powered cubes. I was playing a previous incarnation of the online holiday cube, on the play with a blue-green ramp deck. My opponent led off turn one with Black Lotus into Phyrexian Obliterator. How do you stop that? By playing Phantasmal Image on turn two! My opponent was afraid of trading them off and wiping the board, so the game stretched out for many turns. That tends to favor the deck that isn’t mono-black, and it sure felt great to pull that game out. What other format puts you to that ridiculous test? Only cube.
Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.