I have really been enjoying this iteration of the Vintage Cube on Magic Online. It takes a lot to pull me away from my favorite limited format of all time (Throne of Eldraine), but the cube has held my attention for a number of weeks.
Things seemed to have balanced out a bit since my last article as blue decks have felt more possible and I'm not consistently seeing the pieces for my Jund Attrition Deck. However, it seems that draft in and out I encounter the same group of overrated and underrated cards that either my fellow drafters or members of twitch chat have misunderstood. Today I'm going to dive deep on the top 8 cards that folks are missing the mark on.
I’m going to get this one out of the way first:
Plow Under is not a good magic card. I think nostalgia or best-case-scenario-mentality are clouding people’s judgment when they evaluate this card. The times when this is most backbreaking is when you play a mana accelarent on turn 1 and 2 and then drop this on turn three, sending your opponent back to the stone age in terms of their chances of developing in the game. The problem is that almost any other 5 drop in green would pose an equally similar problem to your opponent.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World,
Garruk, Primal Hunter, and
Whisperwood Elemental (to name a few) would all be great threats to pose on turn three as well.
What’s the difference? Any of the latter spells I would be fine to cast beyond that busted turn 3 scenario, but
Plow Under gets so markedly worse as the game progresses to the point of it being completely ineffective.
Stunted Growth used to take up a spot in the cube but they removed that and I hope
Plow Under shares the same fate.
I fondly remember my early days of playing Magic. Just casually playing a mountain, casting
Lightning Bolt in my first main phase (did I even know there was a second main phase?) and targeting my opponent. Heck, even when the game was first designed,
Healing Salve was in the same “cycle” as
Dark Ritual and
Two truths exist for beginning magic players: taking damage feels bad and gaining life feels good. It’s not until you dive deeper into the game that you start to grasp the concept of using your life total as a resource. This is part of black’s identity as a color and cards like
Phyrexian Arena and
Dark Confidant are must-deal-with sources of card advantage. Unless you’re trying to reanimate or sneak out some large Eldrazi, don’t be afraid of the couple of six drops in your deck being flipped to Confidant. I see this card go consistently late and it really should be a much higher pick for anyone including swamps in their deck.
Sword of Body and Mind
There are a lot of holdovers from Cubes of Seasons Past. When I first learned to cube about six years ago,
Elspeth, Knight-Errant was one of the most powerful planeswalkers.
Batterskull was a slam dunk first pick and the Swords from Scars of Mirrodin block were busted. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. Sure, if you’re an aggro deck and you need to fill in your 22nd and 23rd cards or if you have
Stoneforge Mystic, there are some exceptions.
But more often than not I believe all of the swords belong in the sideboard to start and then come in if you’re against those specific colors. Vintage Cube, in my mind, is about doing something broken or disrupting someone from being able to do the broken thing. Casting a do-nothing card on turn 3 that requires you to have a creature to attack with that you can equip with said do-nothing card on a future turn doesn’t really fit in to either of those two categories.
Sword of Body and Mind in particular is a dangerous game. Two of the more broken decks in Vintage cube, Reanimator and Storm, use the graveyard as a resource and filling that up with 10 cards can often be a huge downside.
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast
I think the biggest misunderstanding of this card comes from the fact that folks don’t read it. Beyond pieces of power, I think Daretti must be in the top 20 cards in the cube, maybe higher. It is the complete package. It pluses to protect itself by creating 1/1 tokens, but can then use those tokens to destroy opposing threats or mana rocks. And a constant stream of 1/1's has other incredible uses as well. Whether you’re tapping down permanents with
Opposition, drawing cards with
Skullclamp, or sacrificing to feed
Smokestack, Daretti will slot in to just about any gameplan your deck has in mind. As much as I love getting this card to wheel, I would highly recommend you taking it for a spin next time you see it.
You won’t be disappointed.
Creatures that come into play and kill another creature are a dime-a-dozen in cube. Especially in black.
Ravenous Chupacabra all fill a similar role. In fact, I think Chups is a big standout as it can take out some large reanimator threats like
Sheoldred, Whispering One whereas the others cannot. I like to end the draft with exactly one of these kinds of creatures if I’m in black, but do not want to stock up on them at all. There will be some match-ups where these cards are great, but more often than not they will be lackluster. Don’t worry about prioritizing them.
One of my biggest cube level-up moments in recent memory was when I had the chance to talk to Caleb Durward on my podcast Lords of Limited. He championed the Angels and Dragons of the cube as great win conditions and cards he was happy to put in just about any deck.
Baneslayer Angel have gone up in my estimation and I have seen the power of these flying five drops.
Questing Beast from Throne of Eldraine. By all accounts this is a green dragon: it’s hasty, pressures your opponent’s life total, and takes out their planeswalkers. If you have to draft a “fair” deck in Vintage Cube, I can think of no better card than
Questing Beast to help you close out a game.
For the longest time, Red had only one identity in cube: smash!
For whatever reason, Red Deck Wins has felt less powerful this iteration of the Vintage Cube and as a result cube newcomers like
Seasoned Pyromancer are being overlooked. This card plays nicely with just about everything; and I’m not only talking about smoothing your draws by pitching lands for spells or vice versa. It digs your towards combo pieces if you’re a UR
Splinter Twin deck, it puts artifacts in the graveyard for
Goblin Welder or
Daretti, Scrap Savant, it pitches fatties to be reanimated, it creates 1/1s which we know have a host of uses. The list goes on and on. This card has a ton of applications and real staying power for cube seasons to come.
Taking lands highly in cube is a truism that is hard to grasp initially. As much as I take this to heart, the reasoning still doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. You have probably heard the same thing I have: “If you draft lands, you get to play more of your draft picks which makes your deck stronger.” But how does having non-basic lands make my actual spells better? The answer is consistency.
Limited mana bases are mostly terrible. A 9-8 split or 10-7 split will still lead to some number of non-games just due to not being able to cast your spells. When you draft dual lands in your color pair, you increase the likelihood of casting the cards you want when you want to. And the better your mana base, the more options you have as the draft progresses. Jonathan Brostoff, winner of the SCG Con 10K Cube Draft, drafted a BW control deck with a bunch of sweepers, splashing UG for
Oko, Thief of Crowns. And he was able to do this because his mana base was consistent. Even in mono-color decks, if you submit a cube deck with only basic lands, you’ve done something wrong.
And there you have it! What cards have you been impressed or unimpressed by? Are you seeing cards consistently wheel that you think shouldn't? Let me know on Twitter! And enjoy the last few weeks of cube before we dive into Theros Beyond Death.