In Part 1 of my Ultimate Cube Guide, I wrote about evaluating the different types of cards in Cube, and today we’re getting started on archetypes. There’s a lot of nuance here, especially with knowing how to blend Reanimator and Sneak Attack, or Big Mana Blue and Storm, or pivot from one of these to another, but knowing the base decks is a huge upgrade to your Cube skills. These are specific to Vintage Cube, but some, like Mono Green or White Weenie, are pretty much the same in Legacy or Modern Cube as well.
First, let’s start in the most logical place – blue decks. Blue is the best color in Cube, hands down, and the average Cube draft can support five blue drafters without much trouble. Since Cube has so many playables, you can be cut on blue in both directions and still have a lot of powerful blue cards. Plus, blue gets some of the busted cards like Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Mana Drain, so there’s a good reason that it’s the base for multiple different archetypes.
This is a bunch of different decks rolled into one, and is the deck most people think of when they imagine Vintage Cube. This is the deck you end up in when you just take good blue cards, and as such once you learn the core, you can customize it with various win conditions. This is a hard one to learn because of how many ways it branches (drafting Mono Green is much simpler, for example), but once you know how to draft a good blue deck you can always have a good fallback plan.
Disrupt the opponent with counterspells, and develop your mana base/find your win conditions using card draw spells.
- Broken cards (Moxes, Time Walk, etc)
- Interaction (Remand, Mana Leak, Counterspell, Glen Elendra Archmage, Treachery)
- Card draw (Fact or Fiction, Compulsive Research, Thirst for Knowledge, Chart a Course)
- Mana Acceleration (Izzet Signet, Dimir Signet, Ancient Tomb, Coalition Relic)
The core of “the blue deck” are the cards I mentioned in part one, the cheap interactive and flexible cards, plus card draw like Fact or Fiction, Compulsive Research and Thirst for Knowledge. If you start with these, filling in a win condition isn’t too hard.
This is the baseline which I start every Cube draft with, at least until I pick up a more specific engine card that pushes me into a theme. This strategy is compatible with all the combo decks and only doesn’t mesh well with aggro (Mono White and Mono Red) and Mono Green Ramp. If you grow confident in identifying and taking these baseline blue cards, you have a good base to start with that lets you branch into all the decks I’ll be talking about next.
Now that we have Generic Blue Cards on our mind, let’s get more specific.
This deck relies heavily on artifacts and is the best deck when you have picked up good acceleration. Bonus points if you spike a Sol Ring or Mana Drain, as this uses those cards better than any other deck.
Use artifact ramp to turbo out a finisher and go over the top of whatever the opponent is doing.
- Upheaval – This is by far the best finisher in this deck, as Upheaval makes whatever the opponent has done completely irrelevant.
- Timetwister / Wheel of Fortune / Time Spiral / Memory Jar – If you have good acceleration, dropping a quick draw seven gives you many more resources than your opponent, as well as setting up whatever finisher you are using.
- Wildfire / Burning of Xinye – You can basically always wheel these, which is a nice bonus for being in the deck. Wildfire obliterates the creature-based decks.
- Consecrated Sphinx / Inferno Titan / Karn Liberated / Ugin, the Spirit Dragon – These are the four best finishers that you can realistically cast and among the best ways to use the mana off Mana Drain.
- Tinker / Bolas’s Citadel / Sundering Titan / Blightsteel Colossus / Inkwell Leviathan / Sphinx of the Steel Wind / Myr Battlesphere – The Tinker package fits nicely into this deck and is a good way to make use of all the artifacts you were already playing.
- Planeswalkers: Narset, Parter of Veils / Dack Fayden / Jace, the Mind Sculptor are all at their best in this deck because of the ramp and go-big strategy they enable.
- Ramp – In order, this deck wants the following accelerants:
- Sol Ring, Moxes, Mana Crypt, Ancient Tomb
- Mana Vault, Grim Monolith, Urza, Lord High Artificer, Gilded Lotus, Thran Dynamo, Mox Diamond, Coalition Relic
- Signets, Worn Powerstone, Chrome Mox, Pentad Prism
- Tolarian Academy, Mishra’s Workshop – The better your deck is, the better these are, but I usually won’t take them until later in the draft (you want seven or more cheap artifacts for Academy, and five or more expensive ones for Workshops)
This deck is generally blue/red, as Inferno Titan, Wildfire, Wheel of Fortune, Fire // Ice, Dack Fayden and Ancient Grudge are exactly what you want to pair with your good blue cards. This deck lives or dies on its artifact ramp, and needs 5+ ways to generate a lot of mana.
Ways to Get Into the Deck
- Take Upheaval. It’s the number one non-power card in the format for this deck.
- Pick up three or four accelerants in pack one. Once I have a Mana Vault, and Ancient Tomb, and a few Signets, I start looking for big mana sinks and draw sevens.
- Get a fifth or sixth pick Tinker after having one or two artifacts (bonus points if you saw an Inkwell or something because those often wheel).
The Sneak Attack deck is my pick for the most reliable broken deck in the Cube. It’s a two-card combo and Sneak is fast, hard to interact with and combines with a ton of other cards, so the second part of the combo isn’t even very specific. I basically won’t pass Sneak Attack at this point (and I’m sure by writing this I’m making it less likely I see it in the future).
Use Sneak Attack or Through the Breach (or Channel) to turbo out Eldrazi or other giant monsters.
- Sneak Attack – The best combo piece in the Cube.
- Through the Breach – A bad Sneak Attack is still great.
- Channel – Double green is a little rough and this demands colorless monsters, but it’s still cheap and broken.
- Dack Fayden – Dack helps assemble the combo, while also being good with cards like Shallow Grave if you end up splashing black.
- Monsters – The finishers you want to Sneak out, in order*:
- Tutors – I like splashing black for tutors that can get both Sneak/Breach and monsters.
- Shallow Grave/Corpse Dance – If you have discard outlets, Shallow Grave and Corpse Dance work as a backup plan. You can cast them in response to the Eldrazi shuffle trigger, so note that these work where cards like Reanimate generally don’t. This isn’t a full-on reanimator deck but I do splash for these regularly.
*if you’re a Channel deck, move up colorless creatures appropriately
This deck is usually Grixis, mainly blue-red with a light black splash. It doesn’t mind having some acceleration, but it’s not nearly as critical as in the big mana deck. Part of the beauty of this deck is that the whole Sneak package is very small – the addition of Sneak Attack, Vampiric Tutor, and two Eldrazi can make any blue deck into one with a busted endgame. It’s the perfect finisher for decks with good card draw and disruption.
Under no circumstances should you play Show and Tell (and especially not Eureka). There are zero recorded instances of a player casting Show and Tell and winning, so don’t get tricked. Casting Show and Tell and having to wait a turn while also letting the opponent put their best permanent into play is just a recipe for disaster. It’s a fine sideboard card against low-curve aggro, but for the love of Jace, don’t take this card early or play it in your main deck.
Ways to Get Into the Deck
- See an early Sneak Attack or Channel, or a fifth to seventh pick Through the Breach
- See a third or fourth pick Emrakul or Griselbrand
- Take a late pick other Eldrazi and see Sneak or Breach in packs two or three
This deck uses the combo of Kiki-Jiki or Splinter Twin plus one of Exarch, Pestermite, Zealous Conscripts or Restoration Angel (note that Twin plus Angel is the only combo that doesn’t work). It’s Izzet with a white splash for Restoration Angel or Recruiter of the Guard and usually plays like a control deck with a combo finish (though some version can be more aggressive, with Geist of Saint Traft and Vendilion Clique as pressure).
Combo the opponent out, with a backup plan of getting value from Kiki / Twin / Resto on creatures with good ETB effects.
- Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Splinter Twin – There are more pieces of the other half of the combo, so these are a priority. This deck is good enough that these are worth picking above all but the broken cards early.
- Deceiver Exarch, Zealous Conscripts, Restoration Angel, Pestermite – Exarch is the overall best because it’s cheap and hard to kill, followed by Conscripts and Angel, which are the best if you aren’t comboing. Pestermite is the lowest priority, though if you already have Kiki/Twin, you aren’t passing any of these.
- Volcanic Island/Scalding Tarn – The mana in this deck is particularly rough so if you think you might end up here, Volcanic (or Steam Vents) is a very high priority. I take fixing in this deck even higher than my already high picks.
- Imperial Recruiter/Recruiter of the Guard – If you have Kiki, these are a one-card combo, as they get Kiki, then get copied by Kiki to get the other piece. These being good in the deck also makes it more appealing to pick up cards like Phyrexian Metamorph and Phantasmal Image.
- Good ETB creatures go up in value – Snapcaster Mage, Wall of Omens, Inferno Titan, Phyrexian Metamorph, Flametongue Kavu, etc. This deck plays well as a value deck.
Like the Sneak deck, this deck can be a finishing package for any blue control deck, and as such is a desirable place to be. It even dovetails nicely with Sneak, as Sneak Attack makes the combo very cheap to assemble. I’m willing to take Kiki very early as a result, which unsurprisingly is one of the ways to end up in this deck.
Ways to Get into the Deck
- See an early Kiki or Twin
- See a mid-pack creature (Resto, Exarch, etc)
- Have a good amount of value creatures, and see Kiki/Twin in pack 2/3
Ahh, Storm. This is my favorite deck, though I’m in no way saying it’s the best deck (as I’ve stated, I think that honor belongs to a good Sneak Attack deck). I love drafting Storm because of how fun it is to solve the puzzles it presents and because sometimes you end up winning the game with Corpse Dance plus Siege-Gang Commander.
We drafted a storm deck but failed to pick up a win condition. Our last two picks of the draft were Corpse Dance and Siege-Gang Commander making our win con: Generate infinite mana with Palinchron, then Corpse Dance the Siege-Gang 10 times. It was something else @lsv pic.twitter.com/0ahEArTqS3
— Gaby Spartz (@GabySpartz) January 1, 2018
The upsides of Storm (in terms of winning the game) are that it can be extremely fast, hard to interact with and doesn’t care at all about what the opponent is doing. The downsides are that it’s hard to play, requires a lot of very specific cards and can easily not get there even when you do have a good storm deck. Now that I’ve sold you on drafting the best archetype, let’s dig into it.
Generate mana with Mana Flare effects or Ritual effects, cast draw sevens or Mind’s Desire and win via Tendrils of Agony or Brain Freeze (hopefully). These are the main three engines, and you want as many of these as possible in your storm decks.
Storm is a bit trickier than most of these decks, so I’m going to approach it a little differently. It’s less about key cards than key combinations, so let’s talk those first:
- Time Spiral/Frantic Search/Turnabout/Palinchron plus Mana Flare/Heartbeat of Spring/High Tide/Mirari’s Wake – This is the easiest way to generate absurd amounts of mana. Time Spiral is an obscenely high pick, and once you have it, you should be on the lookout for the mana-doubling effects. If your lands tap for 12 mana off six lands, Palinchron is infinite mana (Sneak Attack makes it only cost five mana to loop too).
- Yawgmoth’s Will plus Dark Ritual/Cabal Ritual/Lion’s Eye Diamond/Seething Song/Rite of Flame/Desperate Ritual/Pyretic Ritual – The rituals are fine by themselves and are definitely good in Storm regardless, but Yawg’s Will is when they really go nuts. Lion’s Eye Diamond turns into Black Lotus with Will and goes from a zero to 10 very quickly.
- Fastbond plus Time Spiral/Timetwister/Wheel of Fortune/Memory Jar – Fastbond is another card that goes from mediocre to insane with the right combos, which in this case are the draw sevens.
- Black Lotus – I’m calling this out even though it’s a broken card to note that Lotus is better here than in any other deck, and a reason to slam Storm if you ever see it.
- Time Spiral – This card is one of the best reasons to be in Storm.
- Tutors (Demonic, Vampiric, Imperial Seal) – These also help make your Storm deck tick, since it’s all about assembling combos. I don’t actually like Grim Tutor much and I think Dark Petition is mediocre unless you have Yawgmoth’s Will or a mana-heavy deck.
- Draw Sevens – As mentioned before, these are super important to get enough cards to hit critical mass.
- Mind’s Desire – This is essentially a draw seven, though it also has extra combos like letting you get the cast trigger off Eldrazi.
- Shelldock Isle – This deck untaps lands easily and always hits less than 20 cards quickly.
- Frantic Search / Turnabout / Palinchron
- Card draw – The normal blue card draw and filtering is important here.
- Mana Flare effects – High Tide is the best of these, but puts a lot more pressure on your mana base.
- Artifact Ramp – Signets, Coalition Relic, etc. These are good in the deck, though if you have Mana Flares, Time Spiral, or Yawg Will, they become less important.
- Rituals – These tend to wheel, so I don’t prioritize them very highly. If they aren’t, things could get ugly.
- Thousand-Year Storm – This works really well in the right deck, and wants you to pair it with red rituals and cards like Turnabout.
Note on Win Conditions
Brain Freeze is the best win condition, followed by Tendrils of Agony, though you can string together all sorts of crazy ways to win. The trick with Storm isn’t winning the game, it’s generating mana and cards – once you have infinite mana and all your cards, winning the game isn’t that hard to accomplish (see: above clip with Corpse Dance and Siege-Gang). I don’t prioritize win conditions much and am perfectly content in slotting in any of the combos like Sneak Attack, Kiki-Jiki or just Eldrazi plus Mind’s Desire to finish the game. I’ve even hard-cast Emrakul off Turnabout and Time Spiral, though my favorite has been Upheaval plus Emrakul the Promised End in the same turn (I forced them to discard all their lands).
Thassa’s Oracle is another new win condition and can combine with Brain Freeze to deck yourself and then play Oracle.
How You Get into the Deck
- You have a burning desire to enjoy the purest form of Magic (seriously, Storm isn’t usually the best thing to do, but it is awesome).
- You get an early Time Spiral and wheel mana accelerants
- You open Black Lotus
I love Storm, and love how complicated it is. This is not an entry-level deck, so I’d highly recommend the other decks I’ve talked about today before Storm if you are dipping your toes into the format.
That does it for today – I’ll keep trucking on the rest of the decks, so check back this week and next for more!