/ Limited

Pondering: A Cube 'What's the Play?'

War of the Spark is nearly here which means Cube is nearly gone. I figured that there is plenty of WAR speculation material out there and I’d rather have a little fun with another What’s the Play, this time from from a particularly sweet cube draft I recently had on stream. Let’s dive right in!

The Deck

Something you’ll often see streamers do during cube season is stipulation drafts. These are drafts where some sort of restriction is placed upon the stream to give them an additional puzzle to tackle while drafting. In this particular draft, I had my podcast co-host Ben Werne skype in and we did an old favorite of mine: I drafted the first pack alone without him watching, he then makes all the choices for the second pack without knowing our first 15 picks, then I reveal all the cards and we draft the third pack together. Here’s what we came up with.

deck-and-sideboard

Not too shabby for a stipulation. Our mana base is fantastic, which is not an accident. Drafting fixing highly in these stipulations is important since you don’t know what directions both drafters will get pulled in. Dack Fayden and Searing Spear are kind of the odd ducks in the deck, but we needed to make playables and some early interaction and a cheap planeswalker can’t be that bad. Otherwise, you’re looking at a pretty straightforward UW control deck. Countermagic, sweepers, planeswalkers, and perhaps the most powerful addition to the Legacy Cube this time around in Fractured Identity.

The Situation

It’s game 3 against a UR tempo deck. No signs of any Splinter Twin combo, just burn, cheap plays, and some card draw. You’ve seen Koth of the Hammer, Hellrider, Goblin Guide, Chart a Course, Electrolyze, Rampaging Ferocidon, and Monastery Swiftspear to give you an idea of the deck. Knowing this, I’ve made a few changes to my deck after game one.

OUT: Pact of Negation, Entreat the Angels, Unexpectedly Absent, Phantasmal Image

IN: Firebolt, Abrade, Blessed Alliance, Brightling

I want to lower my curve and make sure I have as many ways to interact as possible. Both of these white cards also allow me to gain life which I value greatly in this match-up. The expensive spells we took out just seem too slow, and I don’t anticipate gaining any tempo or value from Absent or Image. So back to the game, which has been a real slog. I started off on a mulligan to 5 but thanks to the new London rule, it wasn’t completely devastating. My opponent was off to a slow start, but I’ve flooded and out and been forced to fire off a few removal spells and one of my sweepers. Last turn I cast Memory Lapse on their Nimble Obstructionist at the end of my turn to stop from dying to the attack as I am at three life. It’s now my next turn and a Ponder reveals these three cards. What’s the play?

what-s-the-play

The Answer

The only thing I’m sure of is to NOT shuffle. These are three very powerful cards, and all have their own pros and cons. Let’s go through each one step by step.

Torrential Gearhulk allows me to either flashback Abrade or Memory Lapse. If my opponent’s best and only play last turn was Nimble Obstructionist, it stands to reason that that is their best and only play this turn. The thing I am most terrified of is if they have a 3 damage burn spell, but I have to imagine if they did that they would have fired it off already. Using Memory Lapse on the Obstructionist is really just a stopgap, but it does almost ensure an effective Time Walk if it was their only play last turn and this turn. Even so, I’d rather kill the threat with Abrade and hope that Gearhulk can hold the ground until I draw Mystic Confluence.

Blessed Alliance allows me to gain life immediately which is very tempting. The dream scenario is to let Obstructionist resolve and when they attack with it, I get to make them sacrifice it and gain 4 life, which would put me out of range of most burn spells. The issue is that if they top deck a burn spell or a hastey creature, I'm going to be in a lot of trouble with Blessed Alliance. I feel fairly confident that this is the worst of our options.

Mystic Confluence on top was the line I settled on. This allowed me to counter the Obstructionist and draw the next two spells, giving me access to Blessed Alliance on my opponent’s turn to either gain life in response to a burn spell or make them sacrifice an attacker with haste. And Torrential Gearhulk on the following turn could bat cleanup with more life gain or card draw or countermagic. All three lines are very tempting, but I think the key is realizing that your opponent doesn’t have a Lightning Strike variant in hand at the moment or they would have fired it off already, so you can feel safe until their next draw step.

The Outcome

In my endstep, my opponent attempted to cast Nimble Obstructionist. I countered it with Mystic Confluence and drew two cards. On their turn they cast Firebolt and flashed it back, which I responded to by gaining 4 life with Blessed Alliance to negate the two halves of their burn spell and went on to win the game!

After a bleak start to this game, a well reasoned exploration of all the possibilities of this Ponder led me to winning the Match. What do you think? Was there a line of thinking that I missed in considering these three cards? 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."

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