Welcome back as I continue my reflections on Cube design that I started last week. Today I discuss an important aspect of building a successful cube: archetype support. The decks your players will draft and build need to have the tools to be successful decks. A prime example of archetype support is highlighting how we think about redundancy. Cube is, for nearly all of us, a singleton environment. But playing a singleton format doesn’t mean that each card is wholly unique in effectiveness or application. Packages of similar cards help provide consistency in singleton formats, and they present opportunities to reinforce archetypes within a cube.

I want to focus today on two staple two-mana cards: Lightning Strike and Tarmogoyf.

The Lightning Strike Problem

Decks that want to play Lightning Strike will be happy to play as many Lightning Strikes as you’ll let them draft. Whether it’s Mono Red looking for more Lava Spikes, or a Gruul Midrange deck looking for additional removal spells, Lightning Strike is a premium burn spell. Some cubes supplement Lightning Strike with Searing Spear and Incinerate, but we also have Fire Ambush, Incendiary Flow, Roil Eruption, and Volcanic Hammer at sorcery speed. Allowing for consistency in both casting cost and effectiveness means the decks that want them can reliably draw and cast multiple Lightning Strikes at the expected rate.

The more I play with the sorcery speed Strikes specifically, the less I understand why some of us want to vary the casting costs on our removal spells aside from supporting Novel Experiences, or decks that play and feel more like Limited decks. Why not include all the Lightning Strikes that are available? This is at the core of what I talk about when I talk about Constructed vs. Limited: supporting decks and not cards. Note that the example of Lightning Strike being used is effective because of its fundamental role as a support card. If the decks we support in our Cube need these support cards, and you as the designer want these decks to be consistently draftable and competitive within the Cube’s metagame, it behooves us provide the cards it needs to be successful.

I’m not suggesting that this method of card and archetype evaluation is “strictly better” than what you might be used to if you’re used to something different. Consider your desired gameplay experience, your goals, and whether this method of supporting your archetypes aligns with you. This method of evaluating support cards—Counterspells, Removal, Cantrips, etc—has opened my mind to the possibility of my Cube decks interacting more like Constructed decks. LSV and Marshall Sutcliffe of Limited Resources recently addressed the MTGO Vintage Cube by saying, “Not having cheap cards is expensive.” I agree, but I also think we should all be given the opportunity to play with cheap cards, and want to do my drafters right by supporting this wholeheartedly.

The Lightning Strike problem can be addressed with the other support cards available for your decks, too. Counterspells, Doom Blades, Cantrips. The bread and butter spells that help decks interact with each other. Redundancy might sound anti-singleton, but I believe the subtle variations with how these cards play out allow for enough nuance to find the experience replayable, and not repetitive. Play more Lightning Strikes.

The Tarmogoyf Question

Similar to evaluating support cards for our decks, we can look at our threat choices as a means to drive our archetypes and the gameplay experience. Very recently I took to twitter and asked the community the following question.

My intention here was to infer that “Tarmogoyfs” are a class of threat, and not so much concerning oneself with the individual card Tarmogoyf. Looking back, maybe I should have made this more clear, but I wanted to see if anyone would approach the problem by deconstructing the threat, and not merely carving out the support cards around the threat that would make it “a good card” in a cube. Maybe I should have said Fleecemane Lion or something less identified with graveyard mechanics, but highlighting Tarmogoyf for being iconic in Constructed Magic made more sense to me at the time.

Threat evaluation is much more complex than when looking at support cards. Threats come in a few different textures, of which Goyfs are one of them. I gave a short follow up to my question the next day to very little fanfare (i’m not exactly a cube celebrity or anything close to it) so i’ll take this opportunity to elaborate on it.

The question is, if we want to make “Tarmogoyfs” good threats in our cube, what considerations come to mind? I think the best place to begin is by understanding what kind of threat Tarmogoyf is, and whether there are enough Tarmogoyfs out there in Magic to ensure that the decks in the cube which want Tarmogoyfs can get as many as we’ll allow them to draft. To deconstruct the threat, Tarmogoyf is a cheap (mana value of 2) over-statted Baneslayer (power exists inside the creature) that shines in fair matchups. Other creatures that match this description, and most of them have seen Constructed play over the years: Fleecemane Lion, Bronzehide Lion, Putrid Leech, Grim Flayer, Flinthoof Boar, Zhur-Taa Goblin, Voltaic Brawler, Dragonsguard Elite, Scourge of the Skyclaves, and Barkhide Troll.

That’s not half bad! Most of these threats are gold or in some way harder to cast, which only serves to make Tarmogoyf look even better; but if we are more generally looking to make Goyfs a strong threat class, make sure to play as many cards as close to Tarmogoyf’s power level as possible. After that, I’d address the environment as a whole to ensure a cheap stat monster was a premium two-drop, while then also maximizing the tiny edges we can get out of the individual card.

Keep in mind I don’t need Tarmogoyf to be The Best Threat in the Cube. I just need it to be strong. All my threat types should be answerable, or are at least able to be interacted with, so playing lots of Tarmogoyfs means there’s more pressure on the environments removal to be cheaper. Untapping with cheap Baneslayers that hit for 3 or 4 damage means you’d better have an answer or the creature is going to kill you FAST. Also, the metagame shouldn’t contain strategies that nullify the threat altogether, which means we say no to Combo. Storm, Reanimator, and other unfair strategies don’t mix all that well with the Tarmogoyf gameplan, and I would be very hesitant to expect Goyfs as threats to be meaningful if such a dynamic were present in the cube.

Second, but just as meaningful, consider the texture of Tarmogoyf as an individual threat and optimize the environment for Goyf’s presence. Putting card types into the graveyard for value, or incidentally, is where I’d want to be. Cheap Instants and Sorceries are already needed in the cube thanks to the desire to have Goyfs as a threat class. Now lets look at how we can put lands in the graveyard: Cycling lands, Fetchlands, Horizon Lands, and even land destruction like Wasteland and Field of Ruin do this job well enough at little cost to the environment.

Next up are Enchantments: Dead Weight, Seal of Fire, and Pacifisms can provide cheap interaction while creatures like Courser of Kruphix will provide two card types when in the graveyard. Similarly when we get to Artifacts, Baleful Strix and Shardless Agent incidentally provide multiple card types, while Mishra’s Bauble and Chromatic Sphere can act as cheap colorless cantrips that also bolster the graveyard. Finally, the addition of self-mill cards like Satyr Wayfinder or Grisly Salvage can provide the framework for a more graveyard-centric synergy deck which will provide Tarmogoyf with some incidental growth.

There’s more that we can get into with this. We can look to other cards in Magic that would also take advantage of these card types being in the graveyard, like Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and how that further expands what’s going on in the environment as a whole. But I’ve made enough of a point on what Tarmogoyf means as a class of threats, and how an environment could react accordingly and without sacrificing too much of itself to accommodate a singular threat. I’d rather the Cube first make sure it was using Tarmogoyfs as key threats across multiple archetypes—in my cube, that’s Zoo and Jundy Midrange—before bending to the singular card, but also finding ways to maximize the threat if at all possible. Sometimes Tarfire is just Shock, but sometimes—sometimes it’s the tiniest bit better.

Constructing Just a Little More Value

My hope is that you found a portion of this article of some value for how you think about constructing your cube archetypes. I know this way isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy this approach, and want to hear more from me on this, please give me a shout on Twitter. I’d love to hear the feedback.

A very special thanks to everyone on the MTG Cube Brainstorming Discord, for without you I wouldn’t have found such a deep network of support and collaboration between like minded people.

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