Luke Feeney—lleaf33—here for my first article on ChannelFireball and today I hope to give you a guide to the Magic Online Modern Cube. Currently I am tied in the trophy race but hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be leading. Before I jump in, I just want to say that I truly learned everything I know about Cube Draft from watching LSV, Reid, and others draft on this site, and I am grateful for the introduction to my now favorite format, as well as the awesome free content they provide.
Let’s jump right in, starting with an overview of the Cube and each color within it. This Cube is unabashedly midrange-centric. Games are often long and drawn out affairs, and decided in terms of card advantage and favorable trades. The default deck in this Cube looks something like a typical Limited deck almost. Not quite aggro, not quite hard control, and can punish your opponent stumbling with a simple curve of creatures. But rather than punishing your opponents stumbling with a curve of creatures, often you can punish them with planeswalkers, as those are everywhere in this Cube.
Despite that being the most common way to win in this Cube, there is still plenty of archetype diversity with true aggro decks like mono-red and mono-white, ramp decks to go over the top of the midrange players, and hard control decks. This means that while drafting nothing but 2-for-1s and planeswalkers may be really appealing, you still need to consider the fact that some of your opponents might play a Goblin Guide or Joraga Treespeaker on turn 1 and run away with the game before your 4-drop can have much impact.
This is the case in many Cubes, but here there is not a plethora of artifact mana to bail you out. In the Vintage Cube, mono-red is obviously still powerful but because most decks have access to powerful early acceleration in the form of artifact mana, they can mostly ignore the early defensive curve filler cards and beat the aggro decks by playing their 5-drop on turn 3. In a way I think this makes Modern Cube a bit more balanced than some of the more powerful Cubes.
Black in this Cube focuses less on the often-clunky mechanics of sacrifice themes and reanimation and gets back to its roots of killing creatures and trading life for resources. Black cards fall largely into three categories: removal, card advantage, or devotion cards. Removal is simple with things like Doom Blade and Hero’s Downfall. But simple doesn’t mean valuable, because as I discussed earlier, planeswalkers are incredibly potent in the long midrange fights of this Cube, so Hero’s Downfall and Vraska’s Contempt are premium removal. This makes this section of black cards valuable to almost any deck, including black, and makes removal relatively high picks.
Card advantage in black often comes at the price of some life, but with ample ways to recoup said life within black as well, most black decks will be happy to have a Read the Bones. Since most colors have card advantage, the black card advantage cards aren’t at such a premium and aren’t as high of picks.
Lastly are the devotion cards, such as Phyrexian Obliterator, which only fit into a mono-black strategy and as such aren’t valued by many drafters. If you are in mono-black and aren’t wheeling these types of cards, then you probably shouldn’t be in mono-black.
Pairs Best With: Blue, green, white
Green in this Cube, as in many Cubes, focuses largely on ramp and fixing. Unlike most colors in the Cube, green does not have any great defensive interaction and therefore you either need to pair it with a color that does or be extremely proactive. I would say most of the time green wants to be paired with another color as this provides interaction and sweet gold card threats that you can often get much later than the purely green threats.
For example, if you were mono-green you might have to fight with other green drafters over something like Terastodon. Whereas if you were green-black, then you could get that Garruk, Apex Predator on the wheel and spend your early picks where they count.
The priority for most green decks is to find the ramp pieces, and ramp that fixes you is ideal. Cards like Farseek, Fertile Ground, and Cultivate are my favorite ways to ramp, as opposed to the traditional Llanowar Elves. This is because it allows you to splash other colors more easily and play more controlling cards like Wrath of God without as much downside to yourself. While this is generally the direction I think is best for green to go, it is very easy to find yourself too far down the rabbit hole while drafting. Be careful that at the end of pack 1 you don’t have 12 dual lands and nothing to do with them. I have been there, and wouldn’t recommend it.
Pairs Best With: White, red, blue, black
White is an interesting color in that it has two totally opposite game plans but with one key point of intersection. White either wants to be aggressive (think Kytheon, Hero of Akros) or it wants to be controlling (think Silkwrap). The cards you take highly will almost totally be decided by which of these roles your deck falls into. In addition, because of the stark difference in the two groups, white can support multiple drafters well. Make sure that you are cognizant of which group of white cards is wheeling.
The one subsection of white cards that both the aggressive and the controlling white decks want is unconditional removal i.e., Oblivion Ring effects. These are great in aggressive decks for clearing blockers or if you fall behind to catch up, and are great in control decks because a control deck needs to be able to answer varied threats. If there was one thing I had to say regarding white, it is that people need to take Oblivion Ring way higher than they think they should.
Blue provides mainly counterspells and card draw, along with flying and flash threats. Blue is very flexible in that it can pair with any of the other colors successfully, but usually as a supporting role. For example, blue can provide card draw for a green ramp deck that otherwise might run out of cards, it can provide counterspells for a black deck that otherwise might struggle to interact with things like enchantments, etc.
This makes the pick order for blue largely based on what partner color or colors you expect to have, except for extremely powerful outlier blue cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Consecrated Sphinx that will be taken early for any blue deck. The one role that blue does not do well is aggression, so aggro decks usually don’t want to splash or play blue.
Secondly, the flexibility also means that blue is typically highly drafted in a pod and as such you should be extra wary of being cut. While blue is deep and extremely strong, if everyone at the table know this and is taking blue cards, you will likely be better off in something like a mono-color aggro deck.
Finally, it is possible to successfully draft a mono-blue deck in this Cube, but it typically requires a good deal of luck in getting the cheap counterspells early, such as Remand and Mana Leak, as these shouldn’t go late. And without cheap counters, mono-blue stands little chance of keeping up in the early game, but if you do get fortunate enough to string together a ton of cheap counters and make mono-blue, I would recommend looking out for All is Dust, as it typically goes very late but can play a key role as a sweeper in a control deck that otherwise would lack one.
When you draft red it is typically for Bolt effects. The only question is what you are doing with those Bolt effects. Much like white, red is split between aggressive and more controlling strategies, but the disparity in the cards is less pronounced. Something like Young Pyromancer or Chandra, Torch of Defiance is perfectly good in both control and aggressive strategies.
In control strategies red is typically not a main color but rather provides good early removal and good gold cards. The only 2-color control combo that red works well in is U/R. Red control is typically Jeskai or Grixis, where red again makes up for U/W control’s lack of early removal and adds flexible gold cards to a U/B control deck.
As far as aggressive red strategies go, mono-red is the most common as a lot of the cards for that strategy don’t fit anywhere else, so it can be easy to shift into it late into a pack. It is very strong as well, so if you see that fifth pick Goblin Guide don’t be afraid to slam it and transition. Red-green beatdown is also quite strong in this Cube and again provides good use for unique cards that otherwise aren’t in high demand, like Rhonas the Indomitable. Red-green seems odd and I was skeptical at first, but fellow trophy leader Zkiihne has shown me its power on many occasions, so I would encourage you to try it out yourself.
On the other hand, red-white aggro is a combination I initially suspected would be good, but it is almost always a trap, as so many of the great aggressive cards for red and white have intensive mana costs and there are not enough dual lands to support them all. Therefore, you can’t play things like History of Benalia and Goblin Chainwhirler, and end up losing out on the best of both worlds.
Now that I have discussed the theory behind each color, I’ll wrap up with a brief list of how I feel the colors stack up in the Cube from best to worst:
Thank you all so much for reading! I hope this was helpful and that it will help you do better in your next Cube Drafts! If you have any questions, please ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.