This week I’ll start breaking down each color in Cube. I’m going to talk about its strengths, its shortcomings, and how drafting it should be approached, conventionally at least. To kick off this series we’re starting with White, historically the color of healing and defensive magic. We all know how ineffective simply relying on a strong defense can be outside of a football game. Trying to bend and defy that stigma set in place all the way back when Healing Salve was printed, nowadays White has a bounty of strong offensive spells, “balance” spells, and creatures with abilities for low casting costs. Considered by most Cube drafters and creators to be the worst color in the Cube, White’s history doesn’t make it look very strong compared to powerhouse cards across the ages in other colors. I once saw a list of the colors listed in order of strongest to weakest in Cube formats and this was how it looked:
While this list is more a joke than a true power ranking, as a Cube builder without direction White has the most shortcomings and the narrowest draft archetypes in all of Cube. I’ve seen Cube creators go as far as to make fake cards to bring White’s power level up compared to the other colors. White Ancestral Recall anyone? Some people actually consider White to be so bad that this idea isn’t out of the realm of possibility to solve the problem. Thankfully in recent past Wizards has been addressing White and we can thank them for such cards as Oblivion Ring, Path to Exile, and Elspeth, Knight-Errant to help bring up White’s power level. White still has a long road to go before we can consider it as strong as it once was during the days of Alpha/Beta, when Wrath of God, Armageddon and Swords to Plowshares were in every tournament deck. In the meantime however, White has made long strides in moving out of the cellar in Cube draft and I would personally consider it one of the stronger colors as the Cube stands today.
Let’s look at what White can and can’t do historically and how that affects its Cube contents. It all starts with the granddaddy of White’s spells, the one that defined the color during the early 90’s and is in all likelihood still the best White card ever printed, Balance. Seemingly simple in design, offering players a “balance” of board position leveling off each player’s lands, creatures, and hand size, the spell truly defines White. However at one point in every Magic player’s career they have stopped and seen that card for what it really is, completely game breaking. I could go on for paragraphs about Balance but instead I’ll quickly tie it to its sister spells. The original concept behind wrath effects or board sweepers was that each player would be taking a loss from playing the spell and it wouldn’t always be clear which player had the upper hand because they were simply meant to balance. If I have no creatures in play and you have no creatures in play after a spell resolves everything must be equal, same could be said for lands, enchantments or artifacts. Of course as well all know, nobody dumps their hand full of creatures onto the table, watches their opponent do the same, and then decide to hit the panic button. It’s all about the card advantage, and since White can’t draw it’s own cards it has to rely more on the timing of its powerful spells. So board sweepers are the cornerstone of White and you’ll see plenty at your disposal to draft. While board sweeping is possibly the strongest White strategy, the other historic one is more popular among tournament decks, that of course being white weenie. Cheap efficient creatures with abilities like color protection, first strike and so on, have made White’s man plan come together since the days of Tempest block. Since there are so many variations on cards like White Knight, having more than a handful in Cube make that deck archetype draftable reliably.
The single best strategy I’ve had for playing White is knowing exactly what you’re getting into if you first pick a strong White card, and that foundation starts by knowing what White is capable of. Since most people assume White is the weakest color, more often than not quality White spells will be passed around the table, meaning you can get the majority of the White without contest. The other factor to remember in that same vein is that White has a lot of creatures and spells that have very similar affects. Say you take Eight-and-a-Half-Tails early; unless someone else at the table is drafting the same deck that you’re trying to draft you’ll see Silver Knight, Knight of the White Orchid, Soltari Monk, Savannah Lions, sixth, seventh, eighth picks and so on to really fill out your deck. The control deck players may go through and pick off spells like Exile, Swords of Plowshares, and even sweepers like Akroma’s Vengeance, but that still leaves all the beaters; seeing a 15th pick Crusade is very common in Cube draft. I often consider drafting the White to be the sneak attack style of draft, because nobody notices White’s little creatures disappearing from packs as they go around and nobody bothers to hate on the Crusade effects. It can be quite rewarding to draft the strong mono White deck and smash face with it, while meanwhile someone like the poor Blue mage has a grip full of counterspells and is losing to a couple of little White creatures.
I’ll most likely draft White if I open a pack with multiple quality early drops and nothing overwhelming in a different color or if the pack excludes any of those obvious first pick cards. Having an overall low quality pack with only one quality White weenie doesn’t make me too inclined to go White either. Since I’m counting on scooping all those White creatures for consistency in my deck I’d like to see at least two White guys in my opening pack to feel good about going that direction. Few drafts decks end up more sad and underpowered than those half white Weenie, half something else because I didn’t end up with enough White creatures to fill out the deck. I want to know I have a good chance of wheeling that Silver Knight, or something of the same quality when I first pick a White card. The top end of your curve in the White weenie deck type are hopefully cards like Calciderm and Celestial Crusader, ending at four or five mana and hopefully making it so you can play 16 lands in your aggressive deck.
So the flip side to drafting White is that of the control side. With enough wrath effects to find a couple in every draft, White often becomes the partner color to Blue or Red in Cube to form a control deck. The higher end casting cost creatures of White are mildly more vanilla than other colors but all have evasion and can usually finish off your opponent with only a couple of hits. The inevitability of Eternal Dragon or the overwhelming power of Akroma, Angel of Wrath make the final blow from White control formidable in Cube. It’s all about finding the compliment to white and getting it to find together with the color to make the control strategy work.
Drafting Red/White you often find yourself not wanting to throw burn spells at creatures but rather hold them until your opponent gets close to single digit life totals to be finished by burn. Drafting a few more of the mid-range creatures aggressively really makes the difference. There are few things more satisfying than casting Siege-Gang Commander, having your opponent finish dealing with it and then laying Cloudgoat Ranger. If you aren’t that lucky, then at least another White fatty that makes your opponent have to dig for an answer isn’t to hard to find in the color. A combination of quality beats and finishing with burn is the most popular road to victory for the White/Red drafter. Rise of the Hobgoblins and Decree of Justice, while great in the slower White decks, are even better when you also get to add Goblin Trenches. Adding value to the Crusade effects in the control deck where normally they’d only be good in aggressive decks is also pretty awesome.
Blue/White is a much more common fit, and harkens back to the old days of control decks. With enough countermagic around to support multiple players, cutting the White in your seat can often prove a most formidable deck. The combination of permission and cards like Austere Command make Blue/White come together very naturally. Blue bounce and Oblivion Ring, simply casting [card]Story Circle[/card], or just playing draw go until its time for Akroma to hit the table, White finds a natural home in the arms of Blue. It reminds me of the archetype from Onslaught block constructed, and ironically I’d wager that the average Blue/White control deck from a Cube draft could go toe to toe with the Onslaught block deck of the same colors. Often the best home for cards like Morphling and the obvious Windreaver, Blue/White can be one of the most aggravating decks to play against. When your options are either to commit heavy to the board just to watch it get cleared away or try to only play one threat at a time and potentially fall victim to permission from Blue, it can be difficult indeed.
Drafting Green/White is much harder than it looks like it would be on paper. As we know, White’s men are color intensive, and since the majority of Green’s creatures are also early drops it often leads to inability to play the card you want to when you want to. Green can sometimes suffer from the same problem, with many of its creatures taking double Green to play. Drawing a hand with White Knight and Pouncing Jaguar might sound like a good idea, but in practice it’s harder to get those cards to come together in a beatdown strategy. Often when I draft Green/White, I look for early White drops, and then later Green drops. Molder Slug, Forgotten Ancient, and Deranged Hermit are prime targets for backing up White’s early plays. The plan is still to apply continuous pressure like you would playing mono White, but in exchange for a lack in mana consistency you pick up the versatile abilities of Green’s creatures. Keeping a watchful eye on which early drops you take is important to an effective G/W beatdown strategy, as looking to prevent overlap on needed mana symbols for early plays is key.
Thankfully with Alara Reborn the Green/White deck gets an additional boost with another Behemoth Sledge Loxodon Warhammer and a Wrath of God protector in Dauntless Escort. Green/White in the recent past has made resurgence in playability and is easily the best non red-based aggressive color combination in Cube.
Without getting into three color combinations, that only leaves White’s old nemesis, Black. Black-White doesn’t mesh the greatest in Cube, but you have to remember its Cube, so its not like cards are subpar and you’ve just ended up in a bad color combination like in other draft formats. Often Black/White is characterized as all removal all the time. Wrath of God next to Damnation, Decree of Pain in conjunction with Sudden Death, Sudden Death and Wing Shards, there’s plenty of creature kill to go around when drafting these two colors. The obvious flaw is losing to control decks. Unless you’re lucky enough to get quality life gain in draft, the Red deck often beats Black/White, and permission often doesn’t care about the majority of your spells either. The great thing about Cube though is that it’s not like there are archetypes you have to avoid because they don’t work, as any two, three, or four colors can come together in any draft to make for a winning deck. If you go first pick Decree of Justice, second pick Demonic Tutor, third pick Karmic Guide, fourth pick Skeletal Vampire, I’m sure you’ll end with a fine deck. I’ve often found myself playing Black/White and have seen the late game creature drops be of great quality. Having the board cleared and then dropping a Black or White fatty with the ability to resurrect it with cards like Debtors Knell, Miraculously Recovery, or even Dread Return wins games. I really enjoy the Yosei, the Morning Star with Recurring Nightmare lock when it comes together, not to mention you’re able to get the most out of Desolation Angel.
When White is played in the five color decks it’s always in the form of control. Since the creatures are double colored often and the majority of the White removal is only single color it plays as a compliment in five color well. Getting that late game second White source for a board sweeper is usually the extent of White in five color, otherwise snagging single White removal is how the color is added to the rainbow control strategy.
In summation if you’re going to draft White creatures, draft them all, as the white weenie deck is the only real way to get performance out of more than half the creatures White has in Cube. Unless you really think on a blank board laying down Hand of Honor on turn nine is going to win the game stick to drafting white’s creatures on an all or nothing basis. If you’re planning on playing control, White might be the best secondary color to choose from, remember that Disenchant and friends are all main deck plays in Cube, since all artifacts and almost all enchantments make the cut in every deck. Utility destruction is an added bonus of playing White and should be highly valued in a Cube deck. When it comes to the four or five color control monstrosities often drafted by the wacky or genius players at the table, White is often overlooked. Since so many White spells are color intensive, it’s rare to see those drafters picking off cards other than Balance, Oblivion Ring, or Hoofprints of the Stag outside of the removal. More often than, not it’s clear sailing for the one or two white drafters at the table. So go out into the world and cube draft White with confidence, since nobody will see it coming!
Until next week, this is Tristan Gregson hoping your top decks are live and your lethal combat damage always resolves.