In Part 1, I gave a broad overview of the themes I was introducing to my Cube in order to give it more structure and layered synergies. Today we take a comprehensive card-by-card look at the update.
At the core of our new recursive aggro package we have [card]Carrion Feeder[/card], [card]Gravecrawler[/card], and [card]Bloodghast[/card]. There’s room to play with the ratios here, but the above numbers have worked well in practice.
Of the three cards, [card]Carrion Feeder[/card] is the unsung hero of this renovation. In the right environment, [card]Carrion Feeder[/card] rivals the prowess of 1-drops like [card]Figure of Destiny[/card]. Both hit the board as unassuming 1/1s, and both can take over as late-game threats. Carrion Feeder is also quite the skill-tester, as its utility depends on your play sequencing and resource management.
[card]Bloodghast[/card] plays well with my Cube’s 20 fetchlands, and the haste clause is relevant. Dropping your opponent’s life total to 10 or lower allows you allows you to activate cards like [card]Carrion Feeder[/card] and [card]Goblin Bombardment[/card] precombat, and can greatly affect your damage output. Sometimes an unconventional play like mid-game Bolting your opponent down to 10 will be the best line.
[draft]Pillar of Flame
Red Sun’s Zenith
Relic of Progenitus[/draft]
With the additional focus on creature recursion, I’ve increased the density of relevant disruption. From a design standpoint, I appreciate how these cards interact with a [card]Gravecrawler[/card] or [card]Bloodghast[/card] deck without completely hosing them. Cube reanimator decks would often fold to graveyard hate, but black aggro decks can still take the fight above ground. Many of these effects also require an element of sequencing, as you may need to take your opponent’s sacrifice effects offline before gunning for their Bloodghast.
With this update I have removed the reanimator package, opening the door for cards like Entomb. Common targets include:
Life from the Loam
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Entomb gives a graveyard-focused deck a great deal of versatility. Beyond the cards listed above, you’ll also find some occasional value in the ability to fill your graveyard with targets for the likes of [card]Eternal Witness[/card], [card]Regrowth[/card], [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Sun Titan[/card].
It’s worth noting that [card]Vengevine[/card] improves dramatically with this update. In addition to its synergies with Entomb, Vengevine becomes a massive threat in a Gravecrawler deck. Gravecrawler is cast from the graveyard, so any Zombie chains you get going will bring a hasty Plant to the battlefield as well.
Unearth is at its best in the low-resource games that black aggressive decks like to play. It pairs well with [card]Rotting Rats[/card] and [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], and is perhaps the best followup to a turn 2 [card]Smallpox[/card].
The tempo gained by re-buying a 3-drop for a single mana is not to be understated, not to mention the density of high-value Unearth targets that populate a typical list.
Cabal Therapy has been gaining some traction in the Cube community, and was recently praised by Matt Kranstuber on his Joy of Cubing podcast. As well as the card performed in Matt’s Cube (he maindecked it over [card]Duress[/card]), it performs even better in a Cube filled with profitable sacrifice interactions. The value of flashing back Cabal Therapy ranges from insane ([card]Threaten[/card] your [card]Thragtusk[/card], sacrifice it for a 3/3 and name your 6-drop) to great (sacrifice a creature that wanted to die anyways) to marginal (sacrifice a creature I would have preferred to keep around).
Cabal Therapy is context sensitive, which is part of its brilliance. You don’t just put it on the stack, you have to sculpt your gameplan around it.
That’s not even to mention this card’s fun factor. Hitting a blind Cabal Therapy call in a semi-singleton environment is grounds for high-fiving everyone in the building. Nabbing a card revealed by [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] or [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] is immensely satisfying.
We expand our sacrifice theme with two symmetric sacrifice effects that provide utility to both aggressive and controlling decks. [card]Fleshbag Marauder[/card], by virtue of being a Zombie, serves double duty here.
This group rounds out my black Zombie package. A key aspect of the set design is the fact that we don’t give black all the tools that it needs. There are a handful of black Zombies to pair with Gravecrawler, with more Zombies and interactions scattered across other colors.
Regarding specific cards, [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] is less narrow in my Cube than in others, thanks to an increased density of fixing and cards like [card]Unearth[/card] and [card]Birthing Pod[/card] that can put the [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card] into play without producing BBB.
[card]Rotting Rats[/card] is completely unexciting on its own, but thrives in the presence of synergies. There are several ways to break the symmetry of Rotting Rats’ discard trigger, which largely overlap with the Entomb targets listed above. More importantly, its Unearth ability restarts Gravecrawler chains after board wipes and serves as fodder for the ever-hungry Carrion Feeder.
[draft]Disciple of Bolas[/draft]
Of note, I haven’t included [card]Graveborn Muse[/card] in the set. It would undoubtedly perform, but is far more narrow and less interesting than [card]Disciple of Bolas[/card]. Each card is happy enough to be slotted into a Zombie deck, but Disciple of Bolas gives us other mechanical ties. Sacrificing a [card]Bloodghast[/card] with Disciple of Bolas is fine, but the real value comes with equipment and pump effects. This gives us a strong link to white, where we’ll find 4/5 [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]es and an increased demand for equipment due to the double strike subtheme. Exalted triggers also play well with Disciple. As far as curves go, one could do worse than turn 2 [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] into turn 3 [card]Grafted Wargear[/card] and turn 4 [card]Disciple of Bolas[/card].
Pawn of Ulamog[/draft]
Both of these cards complement the sacrifice theme, and add on damage to any sacrifice machine guns like [card]Goblin Bombardment[/card] and [card]Blasting Station[/card]. I’ve also been surprised at how well Blood Artist performed outside of a dedicated sacrifice deck. Creature death is extremely common in Cube matches, and Blood Artist will often ping the opponent for 4 or more points of damage. Blood Artist is perhaps at its best in the aggro mirror, where both the life loss and life gain halves of the trigger are valuable.
[draft]Mikaeus, the Unhallowed[/draft]
Mikaeus is incidentally a Zombie, but will rarely be in a deck with Gravecrawler. Rather, Mikaeus is a top-end card for mid-range, control, and Birthing Pod decks. Acting as a super anthem-on-a-stick, Mikaeus dramatically alters the board state in a way that feels both more exciting and more fair than a card like [card]Grave Titan[/card].
Before leaving black, I’d like to specifically address a group of cards that I’m not including in my current design:
Braids, Cabal Minion
Whenever we push a theme or archetype, it’s important to have an eye towards producing the most fun implementation, rather than the most powerful. Several of these cards lend themselves towards repetitive and frustrating game states. Recursion is always dangerous design space, and the games were simply more fun and dynamic without these cards present. Of the six, Stronghold Assassin has the strongest arguments for inclusion, as its recursive creature kill is slow and attached to a vulnerable body.
On to red!
Sarkhan the Mad[/draft]
Two fun and splashy gold cards that fit our theme perfectly!
Goblin Bombardment provides a great board control engine, as well as a way to get additional damage out of “one-shot” cards like [card]Keldon Marauders[/card] and [card]Hellspark Elemental[/card]. It’s a natural fit with both Bloodghast and Gravecrawler, with the ability to convert landfall triggers and black mana into points of damage.
One of the most valuable traits a sacrifice outlet can have is a cheap casting cost. For a single mana and a card, [card]Greater Gargadon[/card] gives you a game-long sacrifice outlet that doesn’t cost your deck much velocity. Even better, it doubles as a finisher!
[draft]Mark of Mutiny
Act of Treason
Act of Aggression[/draft]
[card]Threaten[/card] affects are arguably greatly undervalued in Cube design. Nearly all games are won via combat damage, and a single Threaten can swing the battle in your favor. In most cases, you increase the number of connecting attackers by two (one fewer blocker for them, one more attacker for you), and often save one of your own creatures from dying by combat damage in the process. With sacrifice effects around, they shoot up in value.
[draft]Mogg War Marshal
Tuk tuk, the Explorer
Squee, Goblin Nabob
An assortment of red creatures that play well with sacrifice effects.
Yes, actual Furnace Celebration. This belongs to a class of cards that I call “archetype anchors,” and is an increasingly common large-set printing. Other examples include [card]Burning Vengeance[/card], [card]Pyroconvergence[/card], and [card]Where Ancients Tread[/card]. These cards aren’t always played, as there are usually multiple players fighting for the flashback spells or 5-power creatures or whatever the mechanic of the set is. My Cube is no different, with several different archetypes and builds taking sacrifice effects. But occasionally you’ll find that you’re really heavy on sacrifice effects and want to build a Furnace Celebration deck.
These anchors are useful because they open up more deck space without taking up much room in your set. The key to making it work is the fact that the cards that make a Furnace Celebration or Burning Vengeance deck are in demand elsewhere. Contrast that to a storm deck, for example, where the support cards only function in “The Storm Deck.”
This assortment of cards fits our theme well, but I currently don’t have space for them. [card]Fire Imp[/card] fits well as a bullet for [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks, while the other cards match our sacrifice and Zombie themes.
One of the great elements of digging into new mechanical space is the opportunity to bring back cards that weren’t making the cut on raw power level alone. Welcome back, Sarkhan!
Green is a pretty versatile role-player in this new Cube configuration. It stands as the de-facto base of the [card]Birthing Pod[/card] archetype, and has a diverse array of valuable enter- and exit-the-battlefield triggers. I found that my creature-heavy green section was fairly well suited, but there is room for tweaks. I swapped out [card]Bramblecrush[/card] for the fetchable [card]Wickerbough Elder[/card], and you could certainly consider adding cards like [card]Harmonic Sliver[/card] and [card]Viridian Shaman[/card] to expand the arsenal of creature-based removal. The presence of [card]Birthing Pod[/card] did influence the inclusion of [card]Bone Shredder[/card] over [card]Gatekeeper of Malakir[/card].
Survival of the Fittest[/draft]
This suite of cards ties the recursive aggro and sacrifice themes to green. For bonus points, pair Eldrazi Spawn tokens with [card]Furnace Celebration[/card].
On to blue!
Blue isn’t traditionally the most aggressive Cube color, so I wanted to explicitly pair it with the new themes. A handful of Zombies provide incentives for black aggressive decks to move into blue, while [card]Pestermite[/card] and [card]Fatestitcher[/card] serve as great Birthing Pod targets. [card]Diregraf Captain[/card] is obviously spectacular in a Gravecrawler deck, but will also get taken in control decks as a poor man’s road block.
Vedalken Shackles replaced Treachery as a more context-sensitive creature-stealing spell—it plays well with both fetchlands and sacrifice effects.
[draft]Reins of Power[/draft]
[card]Reins of Power[/card] fills the “big splashy blue spell” slot previously occupied by [card]Upheaval[/card]. Pair with [card]Greater Gargadon[/card] for a “make your own [card]Plague Wind[/card]” kit.
I won’t even pretend this wasn’t motivated by the inclusion of [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]. It turns out, though, that knowing your opponent’s hand is tremendously fun and valuable, especially in a draft environment.
The rare white Zombies!
[draft]Ranger of Eos
Mentor of the Meek[/draft]
Ranger of Eos is a personal favorite of mine, with a high density of sweet targets in a 360 list. Moreover, tutoring up a Gravecrawler and Carrion Feeder sets up a very threatening end game. Mentor of the Meek loves to generate card advantage off of [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and [card]Bloodghast[/card], but delivers elsewhere too. Last draft, a player had an [card]Awakening Zone[/card]/[card]Bitterblossom[/card]/[card]Mentor of the Meek[/card] engine going.
If it weren’t for chronological concerns, I’d say Cataclysm was hand-made to pair with Birthing Pod. What other deck can function so well with a land, an artifact, and a creature?
Even colorless cards join in on the theme! [card]Jinxed Idol[/card] is Magic’s take on a hot potato game. It’s occasionally relevant to sacrifice multiple creatures to Jinxed Idol while the trigger is on the stack.
And the payoff for all these changes? We get to 3–0 with sweet decks like this!
Below I provide a complete list of the changes from the last couple of months:
[card]Pawn of Ulamog[/card]
[card]Disciple of Bolas[/card]
[card]Mikaeus, the Unhallowed[/card]
[card]Tuktuk, the Explorer[/card]
[card]Pillar of Flame[/card]
[card]Act of Treason[/card]
[card]Mark of Mutiny[/card]
[card]Act of Aggression[/card]
[card]Chandra, the Firebrand[/card]
[card]Red Sun’s Zenith[/card]
[card]Wall of Roots[/card]
[card]Avenger of Zendikar[/card]
[card]Reins of Power[/card]
[card]Mentor of the Meek[/card]
[card]Ranger of Eos[/card]
[card]Relic of Progenitus[/card]
[card]Gatekeeper of Malakir[/card]
[card]Braids, Cabal Minion[/card]
[card]Seal of Fire[/card]
[card]Mayor of Avabruk[/card]
[card]Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary[/card]
[card]Delver of Secrets[/card]
[card]Entreat the Angels[/card]
[card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card]
[card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card]
[card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]