I’ve got a very quick piece of advice for everyone drafting the holiday cube, or any powerful cube. You see The Abyss? You might want to stop passing it (the cube features sweet new art by Jason Engle, featured above, so it’s easy to miss if you’re expecting the Legends artwork). The card is absolutely insane.

It’s absurd how consistently I am passed this card. I no longer wheel it because I slam it every time. Granted, it’s nowhere near as absurd as the amount of times I’m passed Library of Alexandria (I’ve received it pack three, pick eight, meaning every player in the pod decided to take an inferior card or that there were seven Sol Rings in the pack), but I digress.

The Abyss is a completely unique and broken effect, one that has been duplicated in Drop of Honey/Porphyry Nodes, Pestilence/PyrohemiaCall to the Grave, and even the humble Necrotic Plague, with one exception: The Abyss will never turn itself off. You can fire and forget this weapon, unlike every other, which needs to be carefully managed to ensure that it won’t self-destruct. It will edict your opponent every turn while keeping your planeswalkers safe and ignoring your Lodestone Golem, Mutavault, and Simic Sky Swallower. It can single-handedly annihilate creature decks like monored and monowhite (assuming you survive the original onslaught) and can pick off an opposing control deck’s few threats (it’s one of the few cards that can blank a resolved Aetherling).

In short: The Abyss is a very, very powerful effect. It’s also splashable and a hard-to-remove permanent type (only white and green can interact with resolved enchantments*). Yes, it requires deckbuilding concessions—The Abyss is just as good at killing your creatures as your opponents’. However, there are plenty of ways to offset the downside of this powerful control card: a low creature count, artifact creatures, planeswalkers, token makers, shroud/protection from black creatures, and combo kills.

*Yes, I acknowledge that discard, counterspells, Chaos Warp, and Oblivion Stone/Nevinyrral’s Disk exist. Discard and counterspells don’t stop a resolved enchantment, however.

Umezawa's JitteWhen I’m streaming and see an Umezawa’s Jitte people get very, very excited. It doesn’t matter if it’s pack three and I’m a planeswalker durdle deck with The Abyss and my only creatures are Snapcaster Mage and Phantasmal Image—people clamor for me to snap pick the Jitte. I think they’re wrong and overvalue it (it being the most powerful piece of equipment ever printed).

Powered cube, or at least the Magic Online powered cube, supports many broken, uninteractive decks. They’re Channeling Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn two, Tinkering Myr Battlesphere as early as turn one off of Mana Crypt, casting turn two Exhume for a Griselbrand, and entwining Tooth and Nail on turn three. These decks can get even faster with the addition of the seven Moxen (the Alpha five, plus Mox Diamond and Chrome Mox), the Ravnica signets, and the ultimate mana accelerators: Black Lotus, Mana Crypt and Sol Ring.

In Legacy (to the best of my knowledge), Stoneforge Mystic decks tend to sideboard out Umezawa’s Jitte because it’s not great at putting a clock on an opponent. Sure, Jitte is absurd against fair (i.e. creature) decks, since it slays creatures left and right as well as gains enough life to stay out of burn range. However, if one can reasonably expect to play against unfair decks in at least one or two matches, then Jitte will be weak or useless that often.

The Mirrodin Swords put faster clocks on combo decks than Jitte does. Sword of Body and Mind kills in three hits and Sword of War and Peace can often do the same. Sword of Feast and Famine puts pressure on an opponent’s hand while giving you a massive tempo/mana boost. Sword of Fire and Ice Lightning Blasts your opponent every turn while being a personal Howling Mine. Sword of Light and Shadow… er… feels bad about itself.

Finally, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have enough creatures to equip your Jitte to. With powerful combo options come powerful control options (like one of my favorites, planeswalker control backed up by cards like The Abyss), and these control decks can get by with little to no creatures (relying on planeswalkers and a few game-ending threats to get the job done). These decks will rarely have a creature to equip, or they’ll be equipping a Terastodon or Sphinx of the Steel Wind, which don’t need help from equipment to win the game.

I don’t deny that Umezawa’s Jitte is a brutally powerful card or that a turn three Jitte, equip, swing can just win games. However, it’s often too slow to be relevant against the unfair decks and has too few creatures to be held by in control and combo decks, which make up a fair amount (and perhaps even a majority) of the field. Accordingly, I pick this card lower than I normally would, particularly if it’s pack two or later and I’m not in a creature-heavy deck like monored aggro, WU tempo, or G/x creature ramp (in which case I slam the Jitte).


In short, folks, my Warriors’ Lesson is that you should:

  1. Recognize your format. If there are a lot of unfair strategies, then fair cards tend to be weaker.
  2. Recognize raw power level. Cards that can win matchups by themselves, like The Abyss, Winter Orb, and Smokestack are very, very good (even though they don’t go into every deck) and are worth drafting and drafting around.
  3. Recognize your archetype. If you’re a “fair” creature deck, then equipment is great and The Abyss is suicidal. If you’re an “unfair” or control deck, then Sword of Body and Mind will rarely have something to equip and be a wasted pick. Pick order changes depending on what your deck wants to do, and knowing what your deck wants to do will make your drafts go substantially better.
  4. Recognize signals. If powerful fair or unfair cards are going late, then you’re no fighting with anyone for that archetype (or people can’t recognize those cards’ power). Perhaps you should jump ship and draft those cards, instead.

That’s all for this week. Merry Christmas, to all you folks celebrating it tonight. To those of you like me, have a lovely night! I’ll see you next week when we’ll say goodbye to 2013. As ever, thanks for reading!

—Zachary Barash

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Magic Online username: Zennith

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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