Finals are over and I’m home for the winter, so I figure that some MODO drafts are a good way to burn some extra time (and cash). A few weeks ago, the announcement of the Holiday Cube caught my eye. New draft format? Power-9s everywhere? Planeswalker heaven? Sign me up!

Before diving in, I watched a few MTG streamers. My favorites have always been NumotTheNummy and NovoSandler. Both play Limited almost exclusively, are fun to watch, and make a lot of clever plays. I tried to look for common patterns and strategies in their cube drafting, but in the end every deck looked like some variation of five-color-ramp-into-big-dudes. The abundance of mana fixing and few distinct archetypes made games hard to follow. After a few hours, I counted only a few incidences of mono-W or W/x weenie decks, a handful of artifact based ones, and some control shells that did horrible things to their opponents with cards like Cryptic Command and Jace’s various incarnations. At some point I might have watched a storm deck because I saw a guy tap and untap cards for about five minutes and then BAM, goblins everywhere. Fun to watch, but hard to follow.

Almost every player valued mana-fixing highly. To my untrained eye, all lot of packs looked like this:

Picks 1-5: Pray you open up a Black Lotus, Sol Ring, Mox-thing, or any other power-nine level. Otherwise, take whatever card gives you an unreasonable amount of mana acceleration or fixing. Failing that, a Jace or two is pretty alright.

Picks 5-10: This is where you see a lot of creatures and decade-old sorcery spells with vaguely horrifying card art and two paragraphs of text. (I’m looking at you, Necromancy.) At this point, some drafters start forming an archetype. However, picking an off-color signet or Coalition Relic is perfectly viable at this stage, I think.

Picks 11:-15: Random creatures and way-too-specific spells everywhere. This is where unwanted guys hang out and feel bad about themselves. If Cube was a house party, Mox Ruby and Polluted Delta would be chilling by the bar with all the cool Planeswalkers while Wake Thrasher stands in the corner holding his drink and looking at the ground.

Before starting the draft, I had to do some financing. I traded the M14 packs I had been hoarding from New Player Drafts for two dozen tickets. For some reason, ten tickets ($10) strikes me as a bit much for a “fun” Cube draft format. I wasn’t interested in winning prizes and had no expectations to do well, so at least drafting Swiss gave me a guaranteed three matches. Unlike my previous drafts, I was not ambitious in the slightest and was prepared to get thoroughly smashed.

This is what my P1P1 looked like:


To be honest, I spent a minute and got through reading the descriptions of like five cards. I was in the process of figuring out what the hell anyone could do with Braids before receiving the five second warning. Running out of time, I meant to click on the Garruk but, in reality, grabbed the Master of the Wild Hunt. Oh well. The guess the Sword of Light and Shadow would have also been a decent pickup.

I don’t see any fancy Mox’s or semi decent mana-fixing during the first pack. This is what my deck shapes up to:


I didn’t think it was bad. Wolfir Silverheart is a beast. And I have a lot of smashy green creatures to power out with Natural Order. Boon Satyr and Call of the Herd were surprisingly late pickups, probably because other people took all the actually good cards.

The next few packs were pretty uneventful. A few Planeswalkers. Some more big creatures. I’m heavily favoring the big green archetype at this point. I’m getting a lot of the cards I need, probably because I’m not drafting a real strategy.

My deck ends up looking like this:


Yep, I end up grabbing a fancy Black Lotus, and I’m feeling really good. My big enablers are Eureka and Natural Order. Both cards should, theoretically, let me cheat out a lot of beasts and go to town on my opponents life total. Cautiously optimistic, I head into my first match.

As expected, my opponent fields a lot of mana artifacts and cool multicolor lands. I figure he has nothing worthwhile in his hand and crack my Eureka when I get the first opportunity.


Of course, he manages to squeak a Jace-brother into play and uses its -1 to bounce big bad Wolfir back into my hand. Oops. Things go downhill from that point after. His deck is an insanely well put together WU aggro/control thing, and he ends up going 3-0 at the end of the event so I feel a little bit less bad about getting crushed.


Game two, I manage to steal a win on the back of Call of the Herd. I learned my lesson and hold my Eureka, not wanting a repeat of that unfortunate Jace incident.  That unassuming little elephant-summoning card ends up being a complete beast and probably my deck’s MVP. A small glimmer of hope in the vast tundra of Holiday Cube. Sadly, my luck runs out and I forfeit game three on turn four, unable to steal with his swarm of white creatures and the awesome might of his Sword of Fire and Ice. Oh well.

I wish I had more interesting things to write about match two. At this point, I’m tired from traveling, and my sleep schedule has been absolutely atrocious. I play poorly and lose to a multi-color Planeswalker deck 0-2. Nicol Bolas kills me both games, which is pretty unique, I guess. On the bright side, my opponent was an amazing person. Noting that my deck was slightly less than cohesive, he took it upon himself to deconstruct my picks and note some general strategies. Less random creatures—you can pick them up really late. Prioritize mana acceleration and maybe a card tutor or two.

The person I’m playing for my third match disconnected and never returned, so I ended up with a small handful of Phantom Points that I’ll probably pitch toward the next draft.

So, what did I learn?

New formats are hard. And Cube, being an amalgam of a decade’s worth of Magic history, is even more difficult. My favorite acronym BREAD doesn’t really hold up here, but I don’t really think any general one-size-fits-all approach fares well. Mana acceleration is almost mandatory. There are a hundred ways you can reanimate, steal, summon, or otherwise get big creatures into play without directly casting them. And there are even more ways to win.

It’s a bit like waking up one morning to discover that the world has been covered in snow. Sure, you might face plant, slip on ice, and discover that half your roof has caved in. But just walking around and exploring the brand new world is well worth the price of entry. And that’s the holiday magic of Cube.

The Hipsters’ resident scrub, Tony enjoys making bad plays and writing about them. He studies at the University of Pennsylvania and calls Philadelphia home. Find him at @holophr.


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