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Andy Cooperfauss – ^3- The Case for Aggro

Hello everyone and welcome to ^3. In this article (series?) I will discuss the finer points of building, maintaining, and playing Magic’s most exciting format/rhomboid: the Cube. For those sorrowfully unfamiliar, Cube is a “build-your-own” limited format- a singleton collection of cards selected by the owner from throughout Magic’s history, built with the express purpose of crushing all of your friends in a draft, sealed, or whatever disgusting deviant format you enjoy in the dark corners of your local shop. You’ve probably seen cube owners wandering around before, clutching an 800-count cardboard box to their breast as if it were their first-born, desperately searching for a 6th drafter.

The basics of cube construction and play have been pretty well covered, and I won’t belabor them here. Evan Erwin’s cubedrafting.com and this site’s very own Tristan Shaun Gregson provide excellent resources for getting started on a cube, with lists including many of the most common staples for a standard Cube. Here, on the other hand, I would like to examine the process of actually developing your Cube as a complete limited format. I will assume a familiarity that is, if not as intimate and frowned upon by our oppressive social mores as mine, at least passing on behalf of the reader.

What qualifies me to write on such an important topic? It has nothing to do with my natural abilities as a player, that much is certain. Though, what I lack in quality I make up for in quantity. I am an insatiable Cube addict, and I’ve played with a lot of cubes. I look forward to PTQ’s so I can drop and Cube (since lately my winning one seems about as remote a possibility as my discovering I have super powers). I show up to 5k’s precisely two hours late to find the 0-2-drop bunch and lure them into a rage draft. I’m annoyed when my friends do well at tournaments as they are delaying the inevitable consolation pod. In short: my name is Andy, and I am a Cube-a-holic.

Aggression is the Key

Let me start by saying that the great thing about Cube is that you can make it your own. Pet cards, nostalgia, and general fun-factor are all respectable considerations when making an inclusion. However, when I construct my cube, I seek to create a true limited format. As a result, complexity, power level, and above all competitiveness (and by extension balance) are the primary criteria by which I evaluate any change I make. Thus, I will begin this series by laying out the case for what I believe is the cornerstone of a great Cube: Aggro as a dominant, not merely viable, strategy.

Enjoying Cube is all about casting powerful spells that we don’t get to play with any more. And, truly, there is nothing more satisfying than watching your best friend’s face as you resolve Upheaval, Stroke of Genius, or Recurring Nightmare. Turn two 11/11s, arbitrarily large amounts of mana, and hard locks are the kinds of game states that excite people in cube.

There needs to be a cost to playing these strategies, though. The game should be more than just a slugfest of higher and higher trump cards. With the exception of a quick entomb/reanimate, it makes the early turns of the game a race to the late game, and it means that a card that has as profound an impact on the game as say, Bribery, is always a first pick, and will always nearly auto-win the game. After all, there’s only one in the cube and a good deal of unique effects that only a counterspell can deal with directly (Or, in the case of Decree of Justice or Banefire, not even those do the trick). The answer is creating powerful aggressive strategies that punish decks that simply want to ramp and play powerful spells.

If you can make aggro a true force to be reckoned with in Cube, you accrue a number of positive results:
• Games shorten, which in turn drastically reduces the power level of cards that take over once the game goes long. Shipping the turn with four mana up and the devious intent to resolve an EOT Fact or Fiction is much less back-breaking when your opponent already has three dudes in play. In fact, they’re down-right happy that you didn’t do something useful like, you know, not dying. Cube shouldn’t be a format that is just about how much card advantage you can generate – this isn’t mental magic. As much fun as durdling is, punishing the durdlers is just as gratifying. More specifically on this point, you lessen the impact of Planeswalkers. Planeswalkers may be at their most annoying in Cube, since in a singleton format, there really is a dearth of cards that answer them, and Wizards doesn’t seem intent on stemming the flow of Cube-worthy ones any time soon. However, the faster you are able to develop board presence, the less effective Planeswalkers become. In essence, the great cards are still great, but forcing your opponent to cast them on the back foot makes them much more fair.

• You enable a much richer drafting experience. Most experienced cube drafters know that when you sit down with a new cube, you start by looking for the blue cards. It’s really hard to go wrong when you end up with 15 blue cards in your stack. The result, without fail, is that multiple drafters will be fighting over blue, and the green, white aggro, and to a lesser extent red players fell into their colors because they were wide open. Once aggro is actually sought after, the process of drafting becomes much more enjoyable as players are willing to pass instrumental control cards, following a specific plan becomes a reality, and everyone’s deck becomes better as a result.

• You create a more skill testing environment – As I mentioned earlier, one of my goals in creating a cube is to create an environment that is skill testing, and having a solid aggro segment to your cube helps to create that by increasing the number of hard picks that you have during a draft. Beside just questions of taking the first pick Counterspell or Keldon Champion, you are also forced to draft a deck that can not only compete with big mana decks, but with decks that have a turn 4 clock. Do you take the signet or the wrath? The Future Sight or the Swords to Plowshares? You are drafting the best deck possible against a wide range of strategies, not just the intrinsically most powerful deck.

• Games become much more interactive. I know I’m not the only one who is a little tired of Wizards constantly pushing “creatures matter”, but you shouldn’t use your cube as a coping method. By far the most powerful cards in Magic have been non-creature spells. But, once again, the only way to combat these are with harder to find enchantment/artifact/permanent destruction, or counterspells. By making aggressive creatures important in your cube, you force players to remain honest. They have to prioritize removal and mana-fixing to avoid stumbling and simply dying to an early dork. Counterspells become less important as more spells sneak under them, and they don’t affect the board. Loading up on late game cards becomes a recipe for disaster.

• Cube becomes more fun for first-timers. Often when I see someone sit down to their first cube draft, they hesitate to move into control. It’s very hard to know what the correct answers are if you don’t know what kind of questions the cube is answering. Should I have to worry about a lot of reanimation effects? Is combo a concern? Do I need to draft around Armageddon? Unfortunately, in many cubes this serves as a punishment rather than a reward for smart drafting (after all, if you don’t know a format, you probably should be trying to beat down). There isn’t anything much more discouraging than taking a first pick Cursed Scroll only to find that there isn’t a viable deck that really abuses the card. We want more people cubing, and finding out that all you did was filter out the chaff that nobody who knows the cube would draft anyway is a sure fire way to turn a potential new player away from the format.

• Lastly, you shorten games. I mentioned this already you say? Cube drafting takes a long time, and how are we supposed to run it back if you and the be-hoodied infinite-shuffle-effects guy are in a “race” to deck each other? More aggro means more time for more cubing, and that’s a cause I can really get behind.

Despite these factors, the vast majority of cubes I see neglect aggressive inclusions in favor of cards the owner views as inherently “more powerful”. Beatdowns get something of a bad rap in cube; just take a look at the “First Four Picks” feature on the aforementioned cubedrafting.com to see how often a truly aggressive card is taken over a more controlling one.

There is a reason for this, of course. With the exception of a few big hits like Armageddon, Aggro has very few cards that can compete on pure power level with the vast majority of the cards available to control. After all, when talking about a selection of the most powerful cards in Magic’s history, blue has been the uncontested top dog since Alpha. To compensate, we need to make some changes to push aggro up into the big leagues…

Aggro-izing your Cube

Recognizing the importance of strong aggressive strategies in your cube is all well and good, but what’s the best way to go about it? I’ve experimented with a variety of options that can be boiled down to three distinct categories: Adding cards that strengthen aggressive strategies, removing cards that make drafting them a losing proposition, and changing the cards themselves to correct the intrinsic imbalance between aggro and control in Cube. Today, I’ll discuss some of the cards you can add to your Cube to push aggro as a viable archtype.

The first step, naturally, is including a high number of highly efficient creatures. Aggro decks thrive on consistency, and ensuring they have a reliable curve is paramount. Unlike in constructed, we can’t run a bunch of 4-ofs, so we have to search for redundancy wherever we can find it. I learned an important lesson about this from the man who introduced me to a balanced cube, Matt Kranstuber. I used to hesitate over cards like Steppe Lynx or Spikeshot Elder– I was worried they would be too unreliable. Matt told me that every time Wizards prints a playable one-drop, it should get the benefit of the doubt. Jackal Pup and Elite Vanguard aren’t flashy, but they are absolutely necessary if you want aggro to succeed. Don’t go crazy however, “playable” is the key term here- Wild Dogs and Ghazban Ogre are often so bad that you end up punishing people for playing them.

Two-drops are much easier to come by, so the most important lesson to take away here is to try to be discerning when it comes to the restrictiveness of double-colored casting costs. Playing Blood Knight and Dauthi Slayer in the same deck is a recipe for disaster, so I lean a little more toward two-drops with a colorless mana symbol in the cost. Try to keep the number of double-colored two-drops to about 25%, white will have more, of course, but in my cube less than half of even white’s two-drop slot is double-colored. For instance, I’ve seen players include Kor Aeronaut, and while I think the card is defensible, consider running Stormfront Pegasus instead. They are almost the same card in the majority of games, but you’ll be frustrated that much more by hands with Mountain, Mountain, Plains.

The second step is adding cards that help aggro disrupt the greedy plans of LSV-types who want to cast triple colored spells in 4 different colors. Land destruction helps with this quite a bit, so don’t be afraid to go beyond Molten Rain. The green LD spells Winters Grasp, Ice Storm, and Thermokarst are especially potent here with the number of 1-drop accelerators in that color. They allow for a different angle of attack, and with cards like Acidic Slime and Plow Under to follow up with make green stompy much more dangerous. Cards that can punish players for using artifact mana are crippling for the same reasons, so make sure to include a healthy number of Keldon Vandals-type cards as well.

Lastly, include all the cards that help aggro go over the top. Cube owners are seldom afraid to include large splashy effects that benefit control like Upheaval, but hesitate to include the same caliber of cards for aggro because they are seen as less fun. However, when you omit cards like Armageddon, the control player has little reason to fear tapping out, and aggro decks don’t have the same opportunity to swing games back in their favor when things go badly. Armageddon and Ravages of War, Ankh of Mishra and Zo-Zu, Winter Orb and Hokori, the Dusk Drinker alongside the underappreciated Sulfuric Vortex are automatic inclusions for any cube that wants to see aggro thrive.

Haste creatures are similar in purpose though less dramatic in effect. Most cube owners have caught on to the value of cards like Giant Solifuge and Keldon Champion, but make sure to consider lesser known ones like Skizzik. While the often overlooked Grafted Wargear isn’t a creature, it virtually has haste and is one of the most powerful tools available to creature-based aggro, making even the smallest creature into an enormous threat at no cost. I once shunned Hells Thunder and Ball Lightning because I felt they were uninteresting, but the truth is anything you can do to make bad decisions costly for the draw-go types is a positive for the environment overall.

Now, be sure to get the maximum value out of these changes. By that I mean do as I do and make them without telling anyone. Then, when you draft, force mono- red and make a fun game out of how long you can school everyone before they figure it out.

Yet, making a contender of mono-red is the easy part I’m afraid. Getting green, black, and especially white aggro to a semblance of playability is much more challenging, and can’t be achieved by merely
adding good cards. Next time, I’ll talk about some of the tricks I’ve learned to overcome this particular obstacle, though I must warn you it is not for the faint of heart. Until then, if you have any suggestions for cube-related topics you’d like to see covered or interesting cube card ideas (especially aggressive ones) please share them in the comments, and happy cubing!

24 thoughts on “Andy Cooperfauss – ^3- The Case for Aggro”

  1. Please make this a regular article series on CF, not just a one-time deal! I love cube so much and read every article I get a chance to. We need more cube theory writers out there. Show some love for the Cube-ans!

  2. A man after my own heart. Double cost two drops are such a disadvantage I cut 90% of them from my cube. For the most part the aggro decks I draft are 3 color with lots of mana fixing, since when everyone drafts control the aggro cards you want come late.

  3. YES!! Thanks for this cube article and keep em coming!!!

    Making aggro good enough is something I’m struggling with in my cube and this article was helpful.

  4. Recently added Cryptoplasm to my Cube. Then proceeded to demolish people with it, who would tap out for some monster, only to have me copy it, then Control Magic it, then smash them with the copy. Love it as a decent Clone variant!

  5. Great article. I love cube drafting, and I’d definitely be interested in more articles of this kind.

  6. Love this article, have been trying alot recently to make aggro better in cube.
    One big problem I have is (espeically for dirty blue mages) is like you say above, armageddon effects can seem unfun. I have had a couple of people pack a sad becasue they were playing big mana control/treat.dec and I played armageddon/horoki dust drinker turn 4.

    Is there anyway of explaining to people that these effects are necessary withoiut losing them as players?

  7. i really enjoyed the article quite a bit, but i do want to say that wild dogs is very good. and white aggro is naturally really good, so i’m not sure what you mean by that. multiple armageddon effects, anthems, way too many awesome 2 power one drops and strong two drops to choose from, good removal to get rid of blockers… white aggro isn’t hard to support well. i’m 100% with you on the splashable two drop situation.

    @monogreen: mana denial isn’t an autowin unless the opposing player does nothing in the early game. control can “curve out” just like aggro, dropping early blockers and utility guys or having a number of cheap counters and removal spells (like mana tithe, arcane denial, doom blade, path to exile, etc) in hand early. geddon doesn’t win the game on turn 4 if you counter and kill my threats or lay down early blockers like black knight, waterfront bouncer, lone missionary, wall of roots, etc etc etc. build your decks to control the game early and geddon will never be able to abuse a superior board state.

  8. Dear Andrew Coenfauss,

    Your article is a pile and after reading it Sam Stoddard and Danny Everhart had to hide all the sharp objects in my house. I can tell from your uneducated pile why you would suggest to everyone to cut all the dynamic cards that require a higher level of thinking from their cube, it’s because you, Mr. Copenfuss, would lose at any game where you’d have to stop and make an educated decision. Instead of suggesting that everyone else cut fun cards from their cube I have a few suggestions for you…

    1). Learn games where luck is a huge portion of the game. I suggest roulette, eating Sushi, or running through traffic.
    2). Sell all your magic cards since it’s obv the only way you can even win with your own cube is by adding cards and new strategies without telling your friends that comprise your ‘cube test group’.
    3). Put up a picture of yourself and not one of Steve Menendian.
    4). Grow a beard. It may not help you play magic, but it might remind you that you are a man and it will help you with my next suggestion.
    5). Get laid. Maybe afterwards you’ll realize there’s something actually worth doing other than Magic …like golf.
    6). Give back whatever form of payment you received for this pile, because if there is a God, He will demand justice and you will be punished.

    In short, Mr Copenfoss, grow a pair of balls, start cubing with real cards and if you still can’t win? Join the Peace Corps. Peace, much love and come visit me so I can smash you with your own cube. Until then, in the immortal words of Rueben Bresler “Got there!” (Hand shake)

    Rich

  9. Great article, making aggro viable in cube is really one of the hardest things you can attempt, as for Geddon effects being unfun, so is being the player who got bribery cast on them, or the turn 3 Jtms or Ajani Vengent. the fact of the matter is, players will always see a card as unfun when they lose flat out to it. But if you cut cards like Geddon and ravages, you need to be fair and cut control cards that beat aggro imo. Adding green LD is definitely interesting and something I haven’t tried yet, but seems worth it.
    again Great article, hope to read lots more.

  10. @quitequieter: I think that Andy’s hope was that in circles where people are concentrating on durdling with 6 drops, the presence of heavy aggro and mana denial will force control decks to adapt to handle a quick start and cannot simply plan to drop a dragon and ride it to victory. The fact that you plan to “curve out” with your control deck might show that you already realize playing draw-go won’t cut it in a balanced cube.

    @rich beard: Looks like someone is trying to make Thrun look like the penultimate troll.

  11. I hear this from pretty much everyone who’s had experience and designed a cube: “make sure you include enough cards for the aggressive decks”. I think one of the main problems (in addition to the fact that the most powerful effects in Magic have traditionally been spells) is that the interesting and powerful creatures that everyone wants to include in the cube don’t necessarily lend themselves to a nice curve, and aggro decks are actually really concerned about their curve, often moreso than the overall power level of their cards.

  12. a lot to think about. I did not even know what a cube was when i read this. Now I find myself wanting to try this out.

    Maybe next time your in town.

  13. While Rich’s way of saying what he said is wrong, I agree with some of his thoughts…I definitely don’t understand the “it’s frustrating to draft Cursed Scroll without being able to draft a deck for it” because it’s not as though it’s a fancy card that needs a specific set of cards to be good with (ala Tinker, which many people are fine running)

    Your reasoning behind playing 1X instead of XX is also poor. Of course you don’t play Blood Knight and Dauthi Slayer in the same deck, why the hell are you drafting both of them?! That is like justifying playing Negate over Counterspell because it’s easier to cast in more decks. You should play the stronger XX spells in order to reward the player that stays focused. Red, white and black all have many of these, and I see no reason to put in lesser cards to support more colored aggro decks. If you need to switch out the more powerful creatures for the easier to cast for multi-colored decks creatures, perhaps you need to rethink your cube’s build.

  14. I agree with Kengy’s line of thought, and disagree with Rich’s. Aggro has to be a viable archetype in order to capably stress the other types, and that’s an issue most cubes have. Fun is a relative term, and the aggro cards most people would be adding causes other cards to become more dynamic and skill testing as a result, as you can’t just slap 3-5c midrange together and get there. You sound like the uneducated one, bro.

    Please make this a regular series.

  15. you should bring a sheet of paper with your cube that has all the cards inside listed so that if someone who hasn’t played your cube tries to run it they can have a general idea what cards they should look for in relationship to their style.

    also I would have liked to see a list of your cube, because I am pretty sure I have most of the good one drops in mine, maybe I am missing some though.

  16. @Monogreen: Just tell them how much fun it is for an aggro player to get X:1ed out of the game by one of the various Wrath effects and with card draw/ selection these decks don’t even draw these spells more frequently than you, but also can render most of your creatures useless by dropping one of your fatties afterwards.
    Or make them look at the card from a different angle: the aggro deck doesn’t just blow up the lands to prevent you from playing your spells, but it only preserves his onboard advantage over 1-2 additional turns, like a blue player that has access to bounce and countermagic.

    @Andy:
    While I think that you brought up a very important topic and I like the article a whole, there were some parts that you could have changed, in particular the introduction.
    If an article starts with the author explaining how he keeps losing in competitive Magic and decides to make his own set, without an improvement of his win percentage*, I am asking myself, how valuable the advice from such a person really is and why I should even continue reading.

    *As long as your playgroup is involved in the decision process and the information about your cube is available to all players, I don’t see why the owner of a cube should win significantly more games than in a regular Limited.

    Thumbs up for mentioning Stormfront Pegasus and Sulfuric Vortex, which are 2 great examples of powerful cube cards that you just can’t evaluate in the vacuum or their performance in constructed.
    There are only few creatures for 20 in a 450 cards cube) and enchantments are way harder to remove than creatures (even compared to artifacts there are significantly less outs in the “average” cube).

    I would appreciate it if we could read more from you here.

  17. This guy should’ve been writing articles for this site a loooooong time ago. Really looking forward to reading more in the future, as hopefully all this positive feedback means your pilot will be picked up into a series.

    p.s. Great pic. You make Todd Anderson look good… almost.

  18. i’m building my own cube and i love to see that there’s a really active cube comunity! and it would be great to have more ppl writing periodically about this awsome format! great article dude!

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  20. @Rich Beard: Grow up. You’re a douche.

    Nice article. Keep it up plz. I would love to read more like this. While I also like playing with high powered cubes sometimes, cubing in general is super fun and worthwhile and is a super interesting format that can teach you about the game in general. And obviously, where there is game, there is theory and that’s awesome.

  21. Pingback: Cuberhauss – Please Try This at Home, Part 2 : Magic: The Gathering – Strategy, Singles, Cards, Decks

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