Each holiday season I count down the days, anxiously looking forward to drafting the Holiday Cube on Magic Online. After quickly reviewing the latest changes to R&D’s now well-established list, I usually jump right in and celebrate by drafting me some Mono-Red “Fun Police.” It’s often wide open during the first couple of days the cube is online.

I like to judge the current state of the Holiday Cube list by how well the aggressive decks can perform against an average field of opponents. If a great Red deck can 3-0 a draft league, then everything is as it has been and should continue to be. If a medium Red deck can 3-0 a draft league; then either Red is too powerful, or the average drafter is simply not planning to play against it. I first-picked Sulfuric Vortex and drafted an excellent Red deck, taking home the trophy in under 45 minutes.

Some of us don’t like drafting the Fun Police, and that’s fine. Not everyone enjoys winning. For these unfortunate souls, Vintage Cube is supposed to be about “having fun” and not attacking with Jackal Pups. There’s a pervading consensus that aggressive decks in the Holiday Cube are too powerful, too boring, or simply not fun to play. Fun is the crucial component to this take, and for many drafters out there the Holiday Cube is defined by an intoxicating cornucopia of possibilities. We should be allowed to durdle, to set up our combos, to be given the time we require to go off.

It’s the end of the year, after all. We worked hard. We deserve this.

Someone at R&D must have been attending these rallies against aggro, because over the past year or so the Red and White decks have been slowly reworked. They’ve been moving away from their aggressive natures and at the moment contain minimal aggressive support, especially at the one-mana slot. I’m sorry to report that, no matter your position on the Fun Police, this isn’t a positive change.

Why Aggression is Vital

Holiday Cube, and Vintage Cubes in general, are about mana. Fast mana, big mana, mana denial . . . pushing the envelope of what’s possible with our mana is the name of the game. Whether you’re ramping into an unbeatable endgame, casting those planeswalkers ahead of schedule, or cutting your opponent off from playing Magic entirely; the Holiday Cube gives us a chance to explore this ridiculously powerful design space.

However, a tension naturally occurs when powerful mana just isn’t available to you at the draft table. Not everyone is permitted to open the Moxen, Black Lotus, or Mana Crypt after all. This imbalance of power often resolves itself where a few players must instead rely on curving out with fast, efficient creatures and spells to get the job done.

This is why Red and White aggressive decks are so important to Holiday Cube. Not only do you need a path for players interested in these strategies inherently; but something needs to be present to keep in check the more ambitious, complicated, or downright durdley decks that are ostensibly the most powerful thing to be doing. Somebody needs to keep everyone honest.

If Red and White lack support, specifically with the number of one-drop creatures available to draft, you risk the cube falling out of balance. Suddenly everyone has another turn to set up; and when you’re trying to do something unfair, well . . . that’s a lot of time. Moreover, when we’re all trying to do unfair things together—with nothing to check the nonsense—the format as a whole actually does become less interesting over time.

Red and White are essential for format balance. Even if they are statistically the best performing decks overall, that’s something not only to be expected, but to be encouraged.  Also, beating people down is fun!

De-Nerfing Begins at One

The average mana cost in Red and White in the Holiday Cube is now over three, which is unacceptably high for aggressive decks. To keep pace with fast mana development, aggressive decks should be hovering around or just below CMC 3, which requires bringing down the overall curve of creatures. So—what should go, and what should come in?


For White we currently have Thraben Inspector, Kytheon, Hero of Akros, Legion’s Landing, Dauntless Bodyguard, and Student of Warfare at one. Not counting Mother or Runes, we need at least two more one drop creatures to keep aggro on pace. Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Dryad Militant, and Skymarcher Aspirant would all be fine additions.

White has a glut of clunky, underpowered midrange cards that most cube designers can agree don’t belong. Brightling, Spear of Heliod, and Hallowed Spiritkeeper have little to no place in this format; they are slow, and are in most instances are a tier below the expected power level to other options with the same casting cost.

Other notable additions that have been surprisingly missing for white are Palace Jailer, Ranger-Captain of Eos, Charming Prince, Remorseful Cleric, and Declaration in Stone. Each of these cards possess utility to combat unfair decks. Draw extra cards! Tutor up a threat and cast Silence! Blink your creature that has been the victim of Treachery or Bribery! Counter that Reanimate! Exile all those Plant tokens!

To make room, I’d remove Angel of Serenity, Baneslayer Angel, Emeria Angel, Tithe Taker, and Gideon Blackblade.


In Red we have Goblin Guide, Zurgo Bellstriker, Jackal Pup, Bomat Courier, and Monastery Swiftspear at one. Red is a bit better represented, but why oh why is Jackal Pup here in place of Firedrinker Satyr, a strictly better card? This is no doubt a cruel eye-wink by Wizards. They should both be included, but at the very least give us the Satyr over the Pup first.

Somehow in Red, the most aggressive color in Magic, we have the same number of four and five casting cost creatures as we do in the one casting cost slot. This is hilarious and we’d need about three more Red one drops to tilt Red back towards its aggressive nature. I’d suggest Firedrinker Satyr (of course), Stromkirk Noble, and Rakdos Cackler. At the two drop slot we are missing additional aggro support with the lack of powerhouses Stormblood Berserker and possible Cube Card of the Year Goblin Cratermaker.

While I appreciate the inclusion of Dreadhorde Arcanist, the card simply doesn’t get there and can easily be removed. Mostly, however, I’d cut down on the more expensive cards: Rekindling Phoenix, Goblin Dark Dwellers, Avalanche Riders (sorry Darwin), and even Siege-Gang Commander are all fine, but do Red’s curve no favors.

Other cards that can easily be added are Rolling Earthquake and Arc Trail/Arc Lightning. Pushing more into aggression means Red can afford some more measures to interact with small creatures. The X spells Bonfire of the Damned and Banefire can be removed to make room.

Other 2019 Holiday Cube Impressions

I’ve really enjoyed Mastermind’s Acquisition and wouldn’t mind another one of these effects in Fae of Wishes. Sideboard interaction brings an interesting dynamic to deckbuilding and another one of these effects could give storm another boost.

Vivien, Champion of the Wilds is awful. I’d try out either Hexdrinker for another ramp/Progenitus option, or Deep Forest Hermit instead.

Garruk, Cursed Huntsman is awful. Vraska Relic Seeker was excellent. Interaction with non-creature permanents is essential.

Questing Beast is better than even I speculated.

I haven’t seen Wilderness Reclamation do anything. Why is it even here?

Fallen Shinobi is better than I imagined. Every game it’s on the battlefield its controller wins the game.

Wishclaw Talisman is everything I wanted Grim Tutor to be. It combos well with Dack, Teferi, and Repeal. I was totally right on this one.

Bolas’s Citadel I haven’t seen in play yet, so I have no idea if it’s playable.

Oko, Thief of Crowns has finally found an environment where he’s properly rated.

Regarding Card Aesthetics in Cubes

Cube owners have a strong aesthetic identity. My cube, for instance, contains only original printings, pack foils, and a few select promos.

I enjoy looking at the first printing of cards and almost every Cube owner I know has an aesthetic they support. Even if they can’t afford it, I’m sure everyone would tell you what the ideal “pimping” of their cube would look like had they access to enough cash. Some love alters, others prefer promos whenever available. Even a cube’s basic lands are a subject of serious consideration. The point is, everyone has a preferred aesthetic. It’s important to us what our cube looks and feels like in addition to how it plays.

That being said, I challenge Wizards to provide any reason for the Holiday Cube’s aesthetic choices other than “whatever was easiest to click on.” The cube is a mishmash of different printings with no discernible choices. It’s ugly to look at, and for a fully powered Vintage Cube, that’s a huge knock against it.

Mana Crypt by Mark Tedin.

I strongly suggest they come up with an aesthetic that feels more appropriate to the excitement level Holiday Cube exudes. Give us original printings of every card. Why do I have to look at a Vintage Masters Fireblast, some online-only unholy art for Rishidan Port, or whatever that Metalworker version is? This is Vintage. We want Brown Moxen, the original Mana Crypt with the creepy Mark Tedin art, and the original images for the Alpha dual lands.

Give us better basic lands than from Unhinged. Give us Guru lands, or Beta lands, or whatever the community loves the most. Make everything foil! Anything to help it feel more celebratory. It’s the holidays, after all.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be streaming Vintage cube at irregular intervals on Twitch, so look for me at www.twitch.tv/derekgallen

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