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Solving a New Limited Format: The Legendary Cube

Every 3 months the Limited format completely changes and it’s time to work out new problems. Those who reach the best conclusions the fastest will rise to the top at the beginning of the format, but what’s good at the onset of a format is often very different from from the best cards in a mature format. Note that in most formats, the aim is to understand the basics of color pairs and archetypes but that falls apart a bit more in Legendary Cube because decks in different colors end up looking more similar to each other than in a more complex format like Battle for Zendikar. Luckily simplicity is great for explanation, so let’s dive in!

Step 1: Hypothesize

When I first looked at the Legendary Cube list I wanted to find supported themes, and cards that might over- or underperform based on my assumptions. My very first assumption is that legendary creatures mattered. For one, the Cube is called the Legendary Cube. Taking things at face value won’t necessarily clue you in, but sometimes names like Battle for Zendikar will signal obvious clues. (How do the Zendikari and Eldrazi matter mechanically in BFZ?)

Second, I noticed that hard removal was sparse in the Legendary Cube. This makes sense, because if 6-8 mana cards are going to matter, then the format is going to be a lot worse if there are too many Doom Blades. My guess then was that cards like Silence the Believers and Putrefy would be even higher picks, and that cheap burn spells like Lightning Bolt become much worse, since they don’t have as many threats to answer.

Similarly, Tsabo Tavoc looked like the headliner for the set, in that she herself is slow and clunky but then answers virtually every creature in the Cube and is a nearly unblockable 3-turn clock all by herself. The fact that she costs 7-mana matters a whole lot less when many other creatures have similarly unwieldy costs, and surrounded by ramp she looked realistic.

In short, I hypothesized that hard removal was priority #1 followed by a plethora of powerful midrange and late-game threats.

Step 2: Evaluate

In my very first draft, I drafted an Abzan midrange deck that had about 12 creatures and a bunch of removal spells. My hypothesis about removal was true. I gained a mana advantage with every creature I killed, and by the time my opponent could land another threat, I was already ahead and attacking.

Additionally, legendary creatures mattered a lot, but they all felt very similar for the most part. Tolsimir Wolfblood, Ghave, Guru of Spores, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer are all expensive but large creatures that can win relatively quickly on their own. What did this mean? I realized quickly that the first player to land a sizeable threat would win, but that it didn’t really matter what that threat was. This let me prioritize resources to help that game plan further rather than the big creatures themselves. Consequently I started picking removal and ramp spells even higher than I did initially. In future drafts I’d end up slowly drafting fewer and fewer creatures due to these priorities because getting to the point of deploying threats was more important than which threats I chose.

With the first few drafts under my belt, I could then evaluate the accuracy of my predictions and establish what good baseline decks looked like. I adjusted the importance of removal up, and the trumps like Tsabo Tavoc down because Terminate still just killed her every time. I underestimated how much hard removal would impact the format. There was a bit less hard removal, but by turn 6 or 7 most opponents could find an answer to a large legendary creature even if they didn’t have that many answers in their decks. Also, with most decks being 4 or 5 colors, all the multicolor answers like Mortify and Putrefy would find their way into decks, and thus there was much more removal present than at first glance.

My evaluations that removal and ramp were even better than I thought and legendary creatures were worse formed my understanding of the core deck of the format. With that knowledge I could join any draft and know what goals I was working toward.

Conclusion

If you can quickly evaluate a strong baseline at the beginning of a format and understand how the basics of a format work while others are still trying to figure it out, you’ll have a huge edge. The best part is that it’s easy to get core resources initially, but that becomes much harder later on as common knowledge gets better (devoid strategies are a good example of this).

Additionally, advanced initial understanding will give you stepping stones to keep building on what you know as the format develops. Other players will catch up on the initial strategies over time, but you’ll understand what they’re trying to accomplish and will more easily stop them. Next format be sure to do your homework ahead of time, and question your assumptions after you play. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can master the basics and will reap the rewards while you’re one step ahead of everyone else.

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