Last weekend I played my first event since Pro Tour Ixalan and managed to follow up a disappointing Top 8 exit there with a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix New Jersey. Rather than bore you with the details of an old Limited format on its way out the door, I’m going to write about something we’re all excited for this week—the MTGO Holiday Cube.
We all know that Holiday Cube is one of the most fun forms of Magic, and this week we’ll be able to participate on Magic Online. The cards you like may be a matter of personal preference but there are still a few cards that I see way too late in drafts.
You’ll notice my list, is, well, my list. I tend to draft only couple of archetypes that blend together. Reanimator, Sneak Attack decks, and Splinter Twin decks are my weapons of choice in Vintage Cube.
While I draft Holiday Cube to win like most people, I also don’t focus nearly as much on my win percentage as I would in other formats because I think playing Cube is both a time to try to win, but also to do that while having as much fun as possible.
My criteria is basically a combination of how good the card in question is, and how late I see it compared to when I think it should be drafted.
10) Daretti, Scrap Savant
I put Daretti on this list strictly because of how late I see it. This is definitely the worst card on my list by a substantial amount, but I wheel Daretti in over half the Drafts I see it early. What makes this card powerful is that it both rummages away artifacts and brings them back, and it’s all packed into one card. Inkwell Leviathan, Sphinx of Steel Wind, Myr Battlesphere, Sundering Titan, Mindslaver, and Memory Jar are all great cards to pair with this ability. Daretti, Scrap Savant isn’t a card I necessarily want to first pick, but I get a ton of value when I’m wheeling it. You’ll notice why I like to have looting effects a little later on in this list. I don’t like to try and draft around Daretti, Scrap Savant, but it’s nice in any Tinker-style deck, any deck with Memory Jar, and has utility in any Reanimator-style deck.
9) Bazaar of Baghdad
Bazaar of Baghdad is another card that surprises me. I get this card close to last pick regularly, and I confidently anticipate wheeling it. Bazaar is often relegated only to Reanimator decks, but it’s the most powerful discard outlet as it only costs you a land drop and can dig you deeper to a reanimation spell or a big creature, whichever half of that combo you need. I evaluate this card in those decks similarly to Entomb, though I would take Entomb over it. If I’m already in Reanimator, unless I see another premium card for my archetype, I’m perfectly happy first-picking Bazaar. I often don’t have to because of how underrated it is, and I usually end up with it on the wheel. Take and play this card more in your Reanimator decks—you won’t be disappointed.
8) Force of Will
Spoiler alert: This is the only piece of interaction you’ll find on my list. The reason for that is because being proactive in Holiday Cube is both a good strategy and of course, the most fun. While Force of Will is certainly a better Magic card than a lot of the cards on this list, it’s lower on the list because I think it’s being drafted closer to where it should be drafted. But I still don’t think it is taken high enough. I often get fifth or sixth pick Force of Will while I’d often first- or second-pick it myself when given the opportunity.
The biggest strike against Force of Will is that it’s card disadvantage. When I play Cube, I’m usually trying to do degenerate things and win with a single card or combination of cards. For this reason, Force of Will is generally the toughest card to play against and the best card to protect my combo. It makes the game all about that one big turn and the extra card I lose isn’t all that relevant when I’m setting up for infinite Deceiver Exarchs to attack.
A free way to protect yourself from disaster or force through your plan is incredible and also a unique effect. From looking through the list, we don’t even have Pact of Negation in this Cube, making it truly one of a kind, which is why it should be valued much higher than it is. Don’t be afraid to first-pick Force of Will in a mediocre pack and figure out what deck it’s going into later. It’s good in any deck that has enough blue cards to pitch to it.
7) Vampiric Tutor
While most people slam Demonic Tutor early, Vampiric Tutor seems to suffer a different fate. I often see Vampiric Tutor in the middle or end of packs, even in pack 1. The explanation is similar to Force of Will, in that players don’t like being down a card. But when you’re drafting a combo deck or deck with draw sevens, the card disadvantage can often be recouped immediately or altogether irrelevant. When drafting combo decks in Cube, it can be hard to get redundancy in your important effects. Vampiric Tutor creates that just like any other tutor. I’m perfectly happy to first-pick Vampiric Tutor.
Note that Vampiric Tutor is substantially better than Imperial Seal. I’ll certainly play Imperial Seal, but the state of the game can often change drastically after a full turn cycle, so you may need a different card than you thought you would during your turn, only to now lock yourself out of drawing what you need. Cantrips make a card like Imperial Seal much better so that you can draft the card you tutor for immediately during an important turn.
Griselbrand is the flat-out best creature to reanimate. Often there are ways to deal with some of the reanimated targets, but Griselbrand will allow you to draw an entire new hand or two if it’s dealt with, allowing you to set up another big turn. It also doubles as a great creature to put into play with a card like Sneak Attack or Through the Breach while other big creatures won’t do the job when they go away at the end of the turn.
I’m excited to first pick Griselbrand, and I take these important fatties over most of the non-power cards. It will often win the game on its own if you can get it on the battlefield, so when you take an early one, you can make your Draft all about putting him into play. While I think a lot of people value Griselbrand and are happy to take it, they aren’t committing to it as early as they should be.
Entomb is one of the most explosives pieces of a Reanimator deck, allowing you to put a fatty into play on turn 2, or occasionally on turn 1 with some power involved. You shouldn’t be passing Entomb if you have any desire to move into a Reanimator strategy as it’s a clear signal, at least to me, that the archetype is open. I can’t believe it, but at times I’m seeing this card pick 6 or 7 pack 1 while other people are taking dual lands and Signets over it. Don’t do that. Take the busted cards when you can—find the mana later.
4) Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker/Splinter Twin
I’m going to lump these two together because they are the important parts of a two-card combo and basically the same card. Kiki-Jiki has one more win condition to go with it in Restoration Angel, but both will get the job done quite nicely elsewhere. Normally in Booster Draft, we like to see what’s open, be patient and take versatile cards, and then move into an archetype that seems open. In the Holiday Cube, you should stake your claim in an archetype early and commit. Kiki-Jiki and Splinter Twin are parts of the easiest-to-assemble combo because no other decks want a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch, while Restoration Angel and Zealous Conscripts get some play time outside of just combo, but aren’t exactly premium cards.
Since there are so many combo pieces with these two cards, it’s easy to build a deck around them if you’re just willing to take one of these two combo pieces early. So if I open one of these two cards, I often will take it and force a U/R control deck with this combo as my win condition. Even if I fail to assemble the combo, I can move into a U/R-Tempo-style deck with creatures like Young Pyromancer, Vendilion Clique, and Snapcaster Mage to beat down with. While forcing a deck like Storm can often leave you with an unplayable pile of cards at the end, doing so with the Splinter Twin combo will at least leave you with some other options if the plan falls through.
3) Shallow Grave/Corpse Dance
Again, I’m lumping these together because they do the exact same thing. Want to know how much I like these cards? I’ve taken them both over Moxen. Not pick 1 pack 1 or anything, but I’ve drafted decks in which they’re too important to pass. The goal with Shallow Grave and Corpse Dance is always to put an Eldrazi with annihilator into play, or a Griselbrand and then finish the opponent off from there.
These two cards are some of the major reasons I like cards like Entomb and Bazaar of Baghdad more than most other players because they are cheap ways to put creatures in the graveyard, which is relevant when you’re forced to bring them back the same turn. Normal sorcery-speed Reanimator decks that put an early Sheoldred, Whispering One or Iona, Shield of Emeria into play can be vulnerable. Since the Eldrazi like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn shuffle back in when they hit the graveyard, you can’t just cast Animate Dead on them. But you can Shallow Grave or Corpse Dance them with the trigger on the stack.
When you can gobble up your opponent’s board immediately, or draw 14 cards on turn 3, it becomes pretty easy to win from there. The best part about these two cards is I almost always wheel them. I’m usually too nervous to try, but sometimes I’ll gamble and take another card over them and they almost always come back. These cards are part of an archetype that I think is extremely under-drafted, which is why I put them at number 3 on my list.
2) Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
I’ve won more Cube games with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn than I have with anything else—that’s for sure. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is one of the most powerful cards in the Cube, and once you’ve drafted it, your deck can become all about attacking with it. Emrakul is much better than Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth because the 6-permanent annihilator makes it more difficult to recover from and you can’t just cast a Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile on it before it attacks. While these other Eldrazi are certainly good enough, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is quite a bit better. I’m willing to take Emrakul, the Aeons Torn over every non-blue Mox in the Cube at this point. That’s how much I like it.
1) Sneak Attack
Sneak Attack is flat-out busted. I pump the fist whenever I open it, and take it over everything except Black Lotus, Sol Ring, Ancestral Recall, and Time Walk pick 1 pack 1. I’d like to mention that Through the Breach, while good, isn’t in the same league as Sneak Attack because you’ll often need a follow-up creature to close out the game after an Eldrazi or Griselbrand enters the battlefield, and because of this, the second activation of Sneak Attack is nearly as important as the first. Though I’m perfectly happy to also pick up Through the Breach for these decks, it’s usually not quite enough on its own.
Sneak Attack is great with the Eldrazi, but also, Sneak Attack has a bunch of other great creatures outside of just the Eldrazi to pair with it. Griselbrand, Woodfall Primus, and Terastodon are all great creatures to Sneak into play, and Sneak Attack also plays nicely in Twin Combo decks on top of that. A common game I win starts with a turn-3 Sneak Attack. I untap and Sneak an Imperial Recruiter into play, find a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, copy the Imperial Recruiter, and then go and find a Pestermite and proceed to make infinite Fairies. There are so many ways to abuse Sneak Attack in the Holiday Cube and while I see it later in packs far less often than I used to, I don’t think people are willing to take it as highly as they should. I personally think it’s in the top 5 to 10 cards in the Cube.
So as you can see, I mostly focus on drafting Grixis colors in Cube. That doesn’t mean that it’s the right way or only way to draft, and that’s the beauty of Holiday Cube. You can play Magic the way you want to. I don’t like casting small creatures. I want to put the biggest and baddest creatures in play and let them do all the work for me. I do have a high success rate in Cube, but others do with other strategies as well. I just wanted to share with you how I like to draft and what cards I think you should be taking higher. I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday Cube season!
What cards do you think are underrated in the Holiday Cube?