By Alex Kaminsky

As Hipsters’ new Cube columnist I feel like it is my duty to inform and educate the masses about the world’s greatest Magic format. I have been growing and maintaining a Cube since 2008, and since then my Cube’s size has surged from 360 to 720, waivered from powered to unpowered, and back to its current state, a highly tuned 450 powered list. For those who think I’m speaking another language, a Cube is a bespoke limited environment, usually consisting of some combination of the best Magic cards of all time.

In future articles I will dive into drafting strategies, archetypes, tips for balancing and building in interesting synergies to your own Cubes. For my first article however, I will be writing about the easiest path to success in Cube. To quote the great wizard of the coast Gandalf, today I will be talking about the “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” list.

Umezawa’s Jitte

For those who did not play during Kamigawa block, this card may seem innocuous at first glance. After all, it’s a card that does absolutely nothing until you play it, equip it, AND deal combat damage with it, right? Well once you deal combat damage with it, you’ve basically won the game. Also, unlike the much-beloved swords cycle (Sword of Fire and Ice, et al), this doesn’t need to smack a player to start being insane. The sheer amount of flexibility on this card is crazy, and since it is a game-winning combo with any creature (OK, maybe not Wall of Omens), you should never pass this card.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

I have heard several people say that the greatest Jace is the Black Lotus of the “modern” generation of Magic players. For them, opening a pack and seeing this mythical card is akin to older players seeing Power. Luckily, these new players wouldn’t be wrong in first picking this Jace over 99% of other Cube cards. His power level holds up very favorably in the format, as Brainstorm is a super-powerful effect in a format based on top-decking insane card after insane card. His Unsummon ability tends to be used more against your own creature, generating extra value off of 187 creatures like Shriekmaw and Maelstrom Wanderer in a late-game top-deck war.

Sol Ring

If there is one card on this list that no deck, no matter where on the strategy spectrum, should always pick, it’s this guy. Sure, it’s not as splashy as Jace, but Sol Ring never fails to put in work. Playing turn two or even turn one four-drops in Cube (of which there are many amazing ones) is a sure way to seal the deal early. While great in every deck, this card is also one of the best to pair with mana-denial effects such as Upheaval, Armageddons, and Winter Orb. Aside from the other cards on this list, I don’t think there are any other Cube cards I’d consider snapping up as quickly.

Library of Alexandria

Library is perhaps one of the swingiest of cards, açting like an unbeatable one-sided Howling Mine if drawn early on and being an absolutely abysmal top-deck in the late game. Despite the risk, having a card in your deck that essentially reads, “If this card is in your opening hand, you win the game,” is definitely worth picking, especially in one- to two-color decks that can afford taking a hit to their fixing. I can count the number of games I’ve seen an opponent beat a turn-one Library of Alexandria on one finger.

Jace, Memory Adept

Sword of Body and Mind

In powered lists, I don’t ever advocate building in a dedicated mill archetype, as I really dislike “autopilot” draft archetypes, where only one drafter cares and his pick decisions are practically made for him. These cards (and my group’s personal pet favorite Increasing Confusion) are insane win cons all their own, and warrant inclusion despite no other mill support. By the time you drop one of these bad boys, both only require three connections to win the game outright. I started running and supporting all three Eldrazi in my cube just to provide a way to sideboard against these crazy-powerful cards.

Recurring Nightmare

In my opinion, this is by far the most powerful “engine” card in the cube. Reanimating multiple dudes in a single turn is nuts, and allows you to get so much value out of your creatures. My personal favorites to use with this bad boy are the “army in a can” creatures like Myr Battlesphere, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Deranged Hermit. The best part about Recurring Nightmare is that the only real answer to it is instant-speed enchantment removal, which most players would never maindeck, making this a very resilient threat that can ensure you are maximizing your resources every turn—even without playing any cards from your hand. This is one of the strongest reasons to commit to black early, but its versatility can make it an extremely good splash card well outside of reanimator decks.
Mox Jet, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall

Mox Jet, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall

If the Cube is running Power (which I personally advocate, although many feel differently), the Power Nine (minus Timetwister) are all first-pickable. The order of Power probably runs from Ancestral Recall, followed by Black Lotus and the Moxen, with Time Walk coming in last. This is because unlike the other Power, the impact of casting Time Walk is entirely dependent on how your board stacks up to your opponent’s—and I’ve seen it act like an Explore way more than I’ve seen it do anything splashier. With that said, all of these cards still live up to their name in Cube and can bring a ton of Power to any drafter lucky enough to pick them up.

Sulfuric Vortex

This is the card that separates mono-red decks from mono-red decks that actually win. For a long time, aggro was oppressive in my Cube, easily outracing the three- to five-color “good stuff” decks that spent the first few turns playing fixing and mana rocks. As I introduced more tools for slowing down aggro—and people starting picking them higher—aggro started to depend more on snagging one or two powerful reach cards that could finish the opponent off after they’d dropped walls and Thragtusk. Despite LSV and some other drafters claiming that mono-red is the most powerful archetype in Cube, this is one of the only reasons I personally head in that direction.


There are many, many “build-around-me” cards in Cube, including the aforementioned Recurring Nightmare. Where Recurring Nightmare is the most consistent of the engine cards, Skullclamp is the most explosive. The ability to pop all of your disposable one-drops for a Divination is nuts in its own right—but Skullclamp’s utility doesn’t end there. It effectively turns every one of your creatures into a mini Browbeat, allowing you to break through stalemates and come out on top. All of these are “average” scenarios for the ‘clamp, but pairing this equipment with a Bloodghast or Bitterblossom is just game over for your opponent. This is definitely a card that gets better the sooner you pick it, so don’t count on it wheeling (it won’t).

Mind Twist

If you want to lose friends, this is the way to do it. No card crushes dreams as hard as the ol’ Twist. Nothing wipes the smirk off an opponent’s face who just cast Ancestral Recall or played Library of Alexandria like a Mind Twist where X is greater than three. Ramping into a brutal Twist is one of the most loathed plays in Cube, and one of the best ways to kill off the “good stuff control” decks that end up with a handful of four-plus-drops in the later game.
So there you have it, the top ten best first picks in Cube. Obviously not all Cubes are created equal, and this advice only is relevant if you are playing a standard “good stuff” list. I will return next week with more on how to improve the powered Cube experience by providing cards that balance and diversify it. Until then, let’s talk Cube. Every week I will conclude my article with a hypothetical Cube pack. Of the cards below, what would you first pick?
What's the pick?

What’s the pick?

Alex Kaminsky is one Magic player you don’t want to mess with. He has been playing since Ice Age, swinging in with his Polar Kraken against his Hebrew School peers. With a rich knowledge of the history of the game, and an equally rich collection of cards, it is a no-brainer that he is one of New York’s biggest Cube advocates. He currently lives on the hard streets of Brooklyn with his wife and french bulldog Urza.

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