Every few months Cube Draft formats return to MTG Arena and MTGO. A Cube is a curated list of cards that are assembled together into a draft format. It is most often a collection of powerful cards (there is no limit to the number of Rares and Mythics you can include) with tons of crossover synergy and combos to assemble, but sometimes a cube will be built around a theme, like artifacts or commons.
While Cube Draft is a fun and unique way to play Magic, it can also feel quite daunting when you are not experienced with it, so today I'm going to be giving you 5 tips you can use to feel a little more prepared when you dive in.
Draft Decks, Not Cards
Cube is full of powerful cards and often you will open a pack and realize that there are 5, 6, or even more cards that would be first picks in a typical environment. Since every card is so strong, the way to get an edge on your opponents is by filling your deck with synergy. By doing so, you allow yourself to get extra value from your cards and can overpower your opponents.
Most of the cards in the Cube are going to be supported, so if you see a card that cares about sacrifice, you can confidently take it and know that there will be fodder and other sacrifice synergy. The same goes for strategies like reanimator or combos like
Splinter Twin and
Deceiver Exarch. If you see one half of a combo, you can assume the other piece is out there somewhere, and the same goes for synergy pieces.
There is a stereotype that everyone's first deck in Cube Draft is just a collection of strong cards that gets crushed by the players who know what they are doing and build actual decks. It certainly happened to me. But by drafting towards these powerful synergies you will boost your chances significantly and can avoid this trap!
Mana Fixing is Critical
Another aspect of Cube that often feels counterintuitive is the degree to which mana fixing needs to be prioritized. When cards are super powerful taking a land feels like a letdown, but in reality it just lets you deploy your threats more easily. Since everyone's deck is going to have strong cards, a great way to get an edge is to make sure you lose less games to color screw, and Cubes are usually filled with tons of ways to make that happen.
Additionally, there are often powerful cards you will want to splash, and by priotitizing mana fixing and dual lands early, you set yourself up for success later in the draft. In Cubes that have them, the combination of Shocklands or Dual Lands and Fetchlands is the ultimate mana fixing combo, so if you are playing Vintage Cube or another Cube that has these lands, be on the lookout. With proper drafting, you can turn a
Scalding Tarn into a land that taps for 3, 4, or even all 5 colors of mana with proper dual land drafting.
Cheap Cards are King
Having things to do in the early turns is vital in Cube. There are a ton of 6 mana, "I win," cards in these formats but far fewer cards that are great to play early game. By prioritizing cheap cards, you will be able to always have relevant plays and will not fall behind your opponents who are doing the same thing.
Cheap plays do not always have to be creatures, things like mana ramp and counterspells can also serve you well, but having a way to get your gameplan going on the early turns is key. While they may not look inherently strong, cantrips like
Preordain are great ways to smooth your draws and make sure you have access to the right card at the right moment. In a battle of powerful cards, it is often the player who can spend their mana more efficiently who comes out ahead, and cheap plays let you do just that.
Removal is Worse than Normal
Cubes are filled with some of the most powerful removal spells in the game, but these cards are often not a priority despite being incredibly high picks in normal draft formats. This is the case for several reasons.
First, many of the threats generate value when they enter play, so using a removal spell puts you down on resources. Second, some decks do not rely on creatures to win, so if you overload on removal spells you can find yourself falling behind to planeswalkers or other noncreature win conditions. Finally, removal is not as scarce as it is in typical formats, so you need to prioritize it less. One of the reasons it is so important to pick removal early in normal formats is because it is often hard to come by. This is not the case in most Cubes where it is not hard to pick up a couple removal spells.
Only spend early picks on removal if it provides you with some other advantage to really push it over the top. A card like
Fractured Identity in Vintage Cube comes to mind because it gets you a massive advantage when you cast it.
Play What You Enjoy
Cube is a format where you get to play with some of your favorite cards from the past, or even try out cards that you've always wanted to play, so I like to try and embrace that aspect. Sometimes these pet cards might not be the strictly best card in the pack, but if I know I'm going to have fun playing them, I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of power. This can also apply to strategies and archetypes in general. In some Cubes the aggressive decks are really strong, but it is pretty easy to steer your draft away from them if you won't have fun playing them. For example, in Vintage Cube White and Red aggressive strategies are often open at the table because players would rather try to do sweet things and draw cards and pull off fun combos. That is an awesome way to approach Cube, and it is a ton of fun to just play with cards that you enjoy.
Anyway, that just about does it for this one. I hope you find these tips helpful when you are diving into your own Cube Drafts, and I wish you the best of luck. Until next time, happy drafting!