/ Limited

We Didn't Start the Fire: A Cube What's the Play?

For the entire week that it was available on Magic Online, Grixis Cube captured my full attention. Grixis Cube is, well, exactly what it sounds like. A cube with no white or green cards in sight. The best decks in this format were, in my mind, either very focused red and black aggressive decks or Vintage Cube levels of fast artifact mana decks. With no white or green around to gain life against aggressive decks, it was very hard to do anything slow or control-based as these strategies could so consistently get under you. As a result, the drafting portion of this cube became fairly repetitive for me. But the game play was incredibly deep. All week long I found myself faced with a myriad of tough, tight decisions. I’ll present one to you now for our latest edition of “What’s the Play?”

The Deck

cube-wtpn

Here we have a version of what I considered not only the best deck in the format but my personal favorite as well: Rakdos Sacrifice. The Grixis Cube was chock full of so many redundant versions of the different pieces you needed to make this deck great. There were plenty of recursive 1 drops like Bloodsoaked Champion and Dread Wanderer, free sacrifice outlets like Goblin Bombardment, Priest of Forgotten Gods and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, and sacrifice payoffs like Blood Artist, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Judith, the Scourge Diva. This version above is a bit less explosive with some grindier cards like Umezawa’s Jitte, Recurring Nightmare, and Pack Rat. But nonetheless, it’s a good representation of this archetype (with some goblin sacrifice synergy to boot with Sling-Gang Lieutenant and Siege-Gang Commander.)

The Situation

In game 1 of this particular match, your deck was firing on all cylinders. While your opponent spent early turns setting up their artifact mana, you came in hot with an explosive board presence. Mystic Confluence to bounce three of your creatures? No problem, you built it right back. Pia and Kiran Nalaar to present a trio of blockers? Priest and Judith made quick work of them. And then this happened:

Cube-wtp-1

Followed by a concession. With an active Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast, some recursive 1-drops in the graveyard and a hand of 4 cards, our opponent knew the writing was on the wall. But they put Wildfire in their deck, and they were going to cast it. I show you this image from game 1 because it will inform your decision making process in game 2 which began much like the first game. Your opponent setting up their artifact mana while you went Gutterbones into Priest into Legion Warboss. With a Solemn Simulacrum as the only line of defense against you and a plethora of options in hand, what’s the play?

cube-wtp-2

The Solution

There are a lot of questions to answer here. Do you try and kill Solemn in combat or with a Priest sacrifice trigger? Do you try to be as mana efficient as possible and cast two 3-drops with your mana and the double black produced by a Priest activation? Do you use the Priest on your turn or try to save it for another creature deployed on your opponent’s turn? Do you play around Wildfire?

All of these questions were swirling around in my head as I went deeper and deeper into the tank to try to figure out the correct route to take through this turn. (This is one of the reasons I love this deck so much. It’s turn 4 and there are SO MANY options to consider.) However, I kept coming back to the same thought over and over again: I’m so far ahead on board and in hand, it feels like Wildfire is the only way my opponent gets back in this. Even though this thought kept occurring to me it wasn’t until a member of my twitch chat (Eric Klug) put it into these terms that I knew how to proceed: “Just assume they have Wildfire in hand, and play your turn with that information.”

Once he said that, it clicked for me. I knew the three things I wanted to do this turn.

  1. I did not want to commit any other creatures to the board from my hand. I have a commanding position in this game and don’t want to overextended into a sweeper of some kind.
  2. I don’t want to play another land this turn. If they have Wildfire, I’ll sacrifice the three lands I have in play, but will at least have the one swamp leftover in my hand.
  3. I want to cast Daretti this turn. Daretti will not only give me a permanent that will survive Wildfire but a stream of activations to remove artifacts my opponent will most likely play.

So that’s just what I did. I cast Daretti and made a 1/1 Servo. I then sacrificed that Servo and Gutterbones to Priest to get Solemn out of the way, which drew me into a Dark Confidant. With the two mana produced by Priest it was so tempting to want to stick my freshly drawn two mana creature onto the battlefield, but I stayed true to the three points above and instead used that two black mana from Priest to return Gutterbones from my graveyard to my hand. I swung into my opponent with Legion Warboss and my two goblin creature tokens and did not play a fourth land. I passed the turn over to my opponent feeling like I had played my best if they had Wildfire and that I still had a commanding position of the board if they didn’t. And, y’know what? They didn’t have Wildfire.

The Outcome

cube-wtp-3

I wasn’t lying. They didn’t have Wildfire. Though Burning of Xinye is an effective second copy of it in Cube. So after all was said and done, our opponent was left with two lands and a mana rock in Star Compass, and we were left with a lonely Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast. But a hand full of cards to rebuild our board. The following turns played out as such:

Us: Swamp into Gutterbones and Daretti uptick to make a Servo
Them: Basalt Monolith (no land drop.)
Us: Swamp (lucky draw for turn) into Dark Confidant and Daretti downtick, sacrificing the Servo to destroy their Monolith
Them: Land drop and pass
Us: No third land to be found from our draw step or Confidant, but swing in for 4 with our two creatures brings our opponent to 2 and a Daretti uptick for good measure.
Them: Concede!

cube-wtp-4

We got there! Effectively playing around something, especially a card as impactful as a sweeper, is one of the most rewarding feelings in Magic. The times when you’re so far ahead are the times when you can afford to be as cautious as I was in this second game. How would you have played that crucial fourth turn? And what complex situations have you come across in limited recently? Let me know on Twitter!

And, as always, happy drafting!

Ethan Saks

Ethan Saks

Ethan, AKA LordTupperware, is a magic streamer on twitch and co-host of the magic strategy podcast "Lords of Limited."

Read More