I'm back. And so is the SCG CON Winter $10k Cube.
If you're seeing my name pop up as an author again, you probably know what it means. It's time again for the greatest format known to Magic, Cube Draft, to take its rightful place as marquee event atop SCG CON Winter. There's also some Invitational event going on where you can play for $100,000, but I consider that a side event, like a really big one.
To catch everyone up to date on all the Cube happenings in just a couple of weeks during the November 15-17 weekend, let's jump back to August when I introduced the Players' Cube.
The single piece of feedback I heard the most was that players wanted to come to SCG CON Winter last year to qualify for the $10k Cube Draft and were sad they couldn't play Cube to do it. 110 community-selected cards later, we have a full, 360-card Cube that you can play to qualify for Sunday's big $10k Cube draft. To see the full list and how to sign up, check out the SCG CON minisite.
But you're not here to hear me talk about the Players' Cube. You want the main event. Fine, then. I suppose you've been reasonably patient.
Meet the SCG CON Winter Cube, 2019 Edition.
Before we get into the conversation about the Cube itself and some of the choices within, I want to remind everyone of my goals for this Cube, which remain unchanged from last year.
- This is a powered Cube, as some of the card choices reflect that idea. There are a number of cards included that are only legal in Vintage, and on average those cards are more powerful than the rest of the Cube. This does create a unique environment based on some of the other self-imposed rules, but I'll get to those later.
- There will be eight players drafting this Cube, and roughly 1,000 times that many watching. Not only did I try to create a fun environment for those drafting, I aimed to create a Cube that leads to entertaining and engaging games of Magic. Cube is unique in the fact that it is truly the only Magic format where you can craft your ideal format on its own, and I wanted to take advantage of that. Unlike every other format in Magic, only one player will have Oko, Thief of Crowns, and a single copy at that.
- I'm operating with the knowledge that this Cube list will be drafted exactly one time. As such, interaction between players will be high, and the Cube has been designed to lower archetype fail rates to reduce the chances of a player swinging and missing on a deck (more on this later as well). This means that high-risk, high-reward archetypes are largely absent. If it seems like you can successfully draft something, you can!
- This Cube was tested extensively. Over five weeks, I had the honor of being helped by Mike Kerby, Christopher McCurry, Jake Humpries, Brandon Cook, Cameron Adams, Connor McBroom, Travis Gibson, Zach Weaver, and Stephen Green. I asked a lot of them during the process, and everyone was up to the task. Be fortunate that most of these guys are working the event, because they're definitely threats to win if they make it to Sunday afternoon!
I'm sure many of you are wondering how different this Cube list is from 2018's version. Well, for starters, this Cube was built completely from the ground up, just like last year's was. I took lessons from last year's iteration, other prior design experience, and my new goal of really hammering down archetypes when creating this list. Speaking of which, let's talk about changes for 2019!
Modern Horizons brought us many things as Magic players. One of them was more snow payoff cards! There are six snow-loving cards, which will perfectly complement the fact that 100% of the available basic lands for this year's Cube will be snow basics from Modern Horizons. Speaking of which...
2019, Cube's Best Year?
After reviewing the difference from the 2018 list to this one, it's hard to argue that 2019 has not been the best year for Cubes in the modern era of Magic design. Seriously, look at the counts for Ravnica Allegiance forward:
- Ravnica Allegiance - four cards
- War of the Spark - eight cards
- Modern Horizons - 33 (!) cards
- Commander 2019 - one card
- Core Set 2020 - four cards
- Throne of Eldraine - fifteen cards
Just in the last twelve months, that's 65 cards. For those keeping count at home, roughly one-third of the Cube is different from 2018, and almost half of those changes are from new, powerful cards printed this year. There is definitely some recency bias with Throne of Eldraine (this will happen with all Cubes, or at least ones that are regularly updated) as its fifteen inclusions are probably slightly higher than they would be if I had more time to test with the cards. That being said, Adventure is in the running for my favorite Limited mechanic of all time, and I'm sure that all six of the Adventure cards that remain in the Cube are not flukes. Last year I talked about how good Guilds of Ravnica was for Cube (it still is), but Throne of Eldraine has it beat.
Modern Horizons is a ludicrous set for every format, and Cube is certainly no exception. There is no recency bias on this one; Modern Horizons is so outrageously powerful that it changes the dynamic of virtually every updated Cube in existence.
Lack of Color Balance
As I have grown as a Cube designer, I have been less concerned with making sure each color has the same number of cards, and instead ensure that each archetype available to draft has enough cards to do so. Smells like a segue...
As mentioned above I have put a much stronger focus on specific archetype creation this year, much in a way that Wizards of the Coast designs for Limited environments. This led to a lot of card choices that might seem questionable on their face but end up as powerhouse cards in their archetype that other drafters won't fight you over (or perhaps signal to you that you're not alone in an archetype). Here's a list of my targeted two-color archetypes, and some cards that serve as great signpost cards and powerhouses that you can often get in a draft:
Izzet / Blue-Red (U/R): Spells Matter
A now-classic archetype, this was boosted by Adventure cards in Throne of Eldraine. This is my second-favorite deck in this Cube, and it's a ton of fun when running on all cylinders. Thing in the Ice is often going to get back to you, as the other three U/X archetypes rely on permanents much more than U/R.
Orzhov / White-Black (W/B): Disruptive Aggro
This is naturally one of the least raw-powered archetypes due to it having white in it in a small Cube, but that often means you can draft it without fear that you'll be fighting over pieces. A portion of the skill of Limited is the chess game during the draft, and in testing W/B drafters ended up with strong decks due to less fighting from other drafters. This is where Mother of Runes and Giver of Runes are at their best and more readily available.
Gruul / Green-Red (G/R): Lands Matter
Wrenn and Six is a powerful planeswalker but everyone knows that. 2019 also brought with it a ton of new, powerful lands that put themselves in the graveyard. There are twenty lands in the Cube that do so now, which really lets this deck thrive. This is, of course, the best deck for splashing other colors, but is largely focused in green and red. Titania, Protector of Argoth is a card few other decks will want and ends up being one of the best threats possible for the lands deck.
Azorius / White-Blue (W/U): Blink!
This deck definitely took some calibrating, but it ended up with one of the highest win percentages (and maybe fun percentages) over the five weeks of testing. There are plenty of enters-the-battlefield triggers to be had, and plenty more ways to reuse them. Soulherder is an obvious pick for late-pack bomb, but it can take over a game with minimal effort.
Notable Exclusion: Ephemerate: This was just an exclusion based on numbers. I couldn't fit another blink-type spell in, and this was the odd one out.
Golgari / Black-Green (B/G): Graveyard Matters
The graveyard strategy was the one that went through the most changes during testing, but ultimately it was over-parasitic and didn't have the speed and payoff that I wanted. It's now more grindy and is best set up to take advantage of the reanimation suite from black and the huge monsters from green. While I think Living Death is likely one of the narrowest cards in the Cube, it can be backbreaking for a number of decks.
Notable Exclusion: Ransack the Lab was one of the better enablers removed with the scale-back.
Boros / Red-White (R/W): Fast Aggro
I'll be honest; the Red-White archetype has always been about one thing in Cube – putting your opponent at zero life as quickly as possible. This is the archetype where you're able to soak up the most two-power creatures for one mana and use them to the greatest effect. R/W might be boring, but it's very effective.
Notable Exclusion: It saddens me to say, but one of my favorite planeswalkers doesn't have a place in smaller Cubes anymore. Ajani Vengeant does what it wants to do well, but it does it far too slowly compared to other options for the Boros archetype.
Dimir / Blue-Black (U/B): True Control
Attention haters: Dimir Keyrune is back. Much like R/W, U/B can be boring but is the most effective control combination. Of all the "late pick" cards I'm mentioning here, Dimir Keyrune is the one that was actually drafted the highest by testers. It doesn't look like much on its face, but it's a critical tool for this archetype to get ahead on mana early and close the game later.
Notable Exclusion: The Scarab God is a clear powerhouse, but the effectiveness of some of the other archetypes meant that it was tough for U/B to take a turn off just to put a creature on the battlefield.
Selesnya / Green-White (G/W): Cards that are Green and/or White
I want to be honest with everyone – I still have never been able to form an archetype for G/W that could stand up to the rest in any Cube that has Power in it. White is just so underpowered in general compared to the other colors in Magic that it makes it tough to work around. The good news is you'll always see every card in the Cube during a draft, which makes G/W easy to get everything you want. Trostani Discordant is problematic for most other decks between its size, lifelinking buddies, and anti-theft "flavor text."
Notable Exclusion: None, really. I'm waiting for WotC to print cards for me to even attempt to cobble together a cohesive archetype.
Rakdos / Red-Black (R/B): Aristocrats
My favorite! Aristocrats is alive (dead?) and well in this year's Cube. While this is not nearly as fast as R/W, the R/B combination makes up for it in the most reach of any archetype. Falkenrath Aristocrat is largely a one-deck card, but it can close the game immediately upon resolution in a properly built R/B deck.
Notable Exclusion: This might seem odd, but initially Cruel Celebrant was present in the Cube but removed to avoid tricking people to going into a three-color build rather than a two.
Simic / Green-Blue (G/U): Creature Ramp
I want to be honest with everyone – Oko is present in this Cube and is a powerhouse (surprise!). Most G/U decks that had Oko warped themselves around his existence, and that shifted some of the planned archetype on its own. This is still the premium ramp combination, with a little bit of flash creatures thrown in. Agent of Treachery might be the most underrated card in the entire Cube and G/U has the most tools to abuse it.
Notable Exclusion: Nissa, Steward of Elements is a great ramp card, able to hit the table at every point in the game. It lacked the raw power of some of the G/U cards and didn't make the cut.
Other Cards of Note
Both cards were initially in this version of the Cube, and then replaced to ease blue's stranglehold. They seem innocuous but let the decks that had them be more consistent than I'd like. They were replaced by cards that primarily help the U/R archetype without drawing attention from most other blue decks.
These cards do not make Magic more fun. I understand that some of the most powerful cards in Magic's history are represented here, but I'm making a conscious choice to remove these from the Cube in an effort to promote engaging gameplay and more fun viewership.
Another Year, Another Cube
As with every Cube, there are a million things to talk about in regards to this Cube. As always, reach out to me on Twitter and I'll be happy to talk with you about Cube! Yes, even you, angry commenter from last year.
If you're still jonesing to hear more, you can check out my person podcast, Think Twice, by searching Think Twice MTG on any audio platform. I'm also appearing on the Solely Singleton Cube podcast this week, so look for S7E5 for a deep dive on both Cubes!
I've also teamed up with Cube Cobra as the official hosting partner of the SCG CON Winter Cubes! Draft both Cubes to your heart's content!
And of course, at SCG CON I'll be hosting a Cube drafting panel on Saturday, November 16th at noon with veteran Cubers Zac Hill, Brad from the Solely Singleton podcast, and our own Ryan Saxe. Submit your questions here!
I would like to thank everyone who traveled to SCG CON Winter last year, all of the positivity online, all of the testers, my bosses for going along with this idea, Wizards of the Coast for printing Modern Horizons, and of course the Academy (of the Tolarian variety) in getting this event run back. I hope for an even greater turnout this year than last!
SCG CON Winter is November 14-17 in (definitely snow-free!) Roanoke, Virginia. See you there!