Like planeswalkers, red cards create a unique imbalance in Cube. Vintage Cube is different enough that you could loosely consider it to be its own unique format, but in the context of a Legacy Cube, red warps the format in a similar way.
Fun is subjective, so remember that I’m not saying you’re wrong if you think an archetype or design choice improves your own Cubing experience. The whole point is that you can tweak it to fit your own tastes—we’re long past the days where you were considered wrong if you didn’t have X,Y, and Z in your Cube.
Mono-Red is the barometer between a good and great Cube deck. For some experienced Cube groups, the idea of a dominant red isn’t even going to be a concern. Many of them have either already strongly pushed red toward a secondary role in the Cube or simply fight over red cards more often than the average person. For most people though, Cube is a place to have fun, and playing the small-dorks-and-burn deck isn’t a lot of fun compared to everything else you can do.
What’s the Role of Red Aggro in Cube?
Red has been the premier aggro deck in Cube, because historically that’s what the color is good at. There’s a ludicrous amount of cheap burn and creatures in red, many of which have been Constructed staples. As a Cube builder, you have a huge number of options to choose from, and it becomes easy to manage the entire color suite based around that archetype identity. Suddenly, the rest of red is rather open to whatever you’d like to slot in instead of, for example, figuring out two good black archetypes.
The other reason that red gets pigeonholed into aggro is that a lot of red’s traditional Magic identity doesn’t play well in Cube. Land destruction ranges from situational to bad since there are no Armageddon-level spells, and cards like Blood Moon are too limited when many of your opponents are still playing 12+ basics in their deck. Meanwhile, killing artifacts isn’t a high Draft priority and while red has plenty of removal, it has little else to make it attractive as a controlling color. In midrange, its creatures are weak compared to green or white, and few of its cards are designed for longer games. The ones that are almost universal come from recent sets and aren’t even featured in established Cube formats.
Red decks are typically considered the fun police because of their consistency and speed. This isn’t inherently a bad thing since Cubes that have eliminated all aggressive elements usually only play as a durdle draw-go mirrors or greedy piles of expensive spells and mana rocks. While that can be fun, it’s a niche kind of fun and can often hew too closely to typical haymaker Magic we’ve seen a lot of in Standard recently.
If you do enjoy that type of Magic and want to force everyone else to enjoy it, I recommend making a blue Cube and expanding from there. For everyone else, red aggro keeps blue control, greedy 5-color piles, and ramp green decks in line with the overall power level of most Cube formats. The problem comes from the red deck being too good at trashing these archetypes. This often happens in Cubes with boatloads of fixing and gold cards, where the average strategy is to draft your greed pile and hope to dodge the mono-red guy.
What you want from your red decks is a power level that can consistently beat the greed decks and have a reasonable percentage of draws that require early interaction. What you don’t want to see is a red deck that curves out very consistently and that has all the burn needed to beat creature and control decks that stabilize at a sub-10 life total. Having your slower midrange/control deck claw back board control and gain a bit of life only to lose to Bolt-Fireblast is one thing. When you’re almost assuredly dead from the get-go because of turn-2 Ankh of Mishra/Shrine of Burning Rage or turn-3 Sulfuric Vortex is quite another. These are the power cards of red, the ones capable of free wins even when they don’t curve out early.
So where’s the line?
Red Deck (Usually) Wins
How strong your red section is comes down to two key components.
- How many cheap red drops do you run that cdon’t fit into anything other than a low curve red/x aggro strategy?
- Do you have most or all of: Koth of the Hammer, Shrine of Burning Rage, Ankh of Mishra, Fireblast, Sulfuric Vortex, and Goblin Guide?
If the answer to #1 is more than 12, you’ll probably have an issue where every Draft will involve one person going in on red, because odds are good that nobody is going to fight them. This is doubly true if you have a Cube that uses the same configuration every single time. Even if you have a Cube that doesn’t, I’ve rarely seen a pair of red drafters trainwreck one another because of how well artifacts or a splash can cover the gaps.
This was the classic issue with white and black aggro decks as well. You can freeroll your “good picks” that other people would want such as Lightning Bolt, Umezawa’s Jitte, and so on, yet stay safe in the knowledge that a certain quantity of red aggro drops would table to you before anyone would consider hate drafting.
In the same vein, a lot of red’s power comes from a handful of cards. The deck doesn’t have a ton of staying power against other solid archetypes unless you coalesce these strong mid/late cards or gain an overwhelming early game advantage. This is why including cards like Shrine or Vortex makes such a huge difference in the same vein as if you include multiple pieces of Twin combo or any niche archetype inclusion. Unlike those examples, the deck can still function without them, but the deck loses potency.
So if you want to keep red aggro as a good, fun, police archetype without making it feel overwhelming, how do you go about it? Starting with the obvious cuts in the red power card department will bring it more in line with other decks when it doesn’t get an amazing curve to start. Part of the reason red isn’t amazing in Rotisserie Draft is because other decks start from the beginning with a clear plan and a baseline power level. A lot of red’s free wins are based on its relative consistency.
But this can make the deck feel underwhelming against decks with solid early games and life gain. You go from having a favored match against things like green ramp to being even or unfavored after sideboarding. Kitchen Finks and Thragtusk are a lot tougher to beat without consistent damage sources and ways to turn off life gain.
This is why I would consider starting by cutting 1-2 of the most obnoxious power cards and then look at your red aggro early game. Cutting down on your early aggro drops can reduce the curve consistency of the deck and favor players going into other colors to help smooth it out. Instead of having an overabundance of 1s and 2s, instead you can force the players to consider them higher in the Draft and put a hard cap on just how many cheap creatures are only on the merits of a good power-mana ratio.
There’s more to dig into here, but I’d rather use a more concrete example moving forward. Now that I’ve outlined some of the potential issues and solutions with red, next time I’ll use an actual Cube to outline the issue. I’ll also go into detail about the differences between red and the other traditional Cube aggro decks. See you then!