The Magic Online Modern Cube
By Natalie Weizenbaum
Magic Online Digital Product Manager Lee Sharpe here. We decided after looking at our cube data that to have the best chance to succeed on Magic Online, we wanted a cube based on a wide set of cards rather than a cube where all of the cards are tailored to a theme. We decided therefore to try a Modern Cube for our next cube offering. Natalie Weizenbaum is a longtime cube designer and entrant into the You Make The Cube contest held last year who submitted a cube designed around the Modern format, so Magic R&D turned to her and her submission and used it as the basis for the new Magic Online Modern Cube. Below, Natalie describes designing her cube and what to look for when drafting it!
Looking through old emails, I discovered that my Modern-era cube—originally created by my friend Bret and passed on to me after a year or so—was first drafted on January 11, 2010. Since then, an ever-changing group of people has drafted it every week or two, and it gets tweaked between each draft and even (occasionally) overhauled entirely. Constant iteration is the core of the cube's design philosophy, and it's what keeps drafters coming back week after week.
Magic Online's Modern Cube is a modified version of my cube, removing cards like Booster Tutor and Lore Seeker that were created after June 2003 but aren't actually Modern-legal, and it follows the same principles. It benefits from the hundreds of iterations the original has gone through as well as a few of its own. I've worked to build an environment that reflects the design principles of the modern era: games usually revolve around creatures and planeswalkers, but the roles they play vary from deck to deck. Aggro decks are possible without red, and Control decks are possible without blue. Combo decks are infrequent but possible.
I try to avoid giving each color too strict of a role. I want people to enjoy my cube a hundred drafts in, which means I can't afford to have any color do only one thing. Each color has multiple roles, and I'll give an overview of each of them here.
White is often an aggressive color, with a similar combination of efficient creatures and anthem effects that many cubes sport. The main difference is that Modern Cube severely limits the number of cards that are particularly good against 1-toughness creatures, which gives white aggro more staying power. On the other hand, it can also happily play control with cheap spot removal, powerful planeswalkers, and sweepers. Mono-white decks are almost always aggressive and need to prioritize removal or tappers that will let them push past blockers later on.
Tip: Gideon, Champion of Justice may look odd, but his ultimate is powerful and very reachable in such a creature-focused format.
Blue's card draw and counterspells find a place in most control decks in the cube, but its cards are flexible enough to fit into other archetypes as well. It has a healthy complement of tempo creatures that complement aggressive strategies, and blue's ability to recharge its hand benefits more than any other color from mana acceleration. Mono-blue decks tend to have lots of counterspells, but they need to be sure to have enough cheap hard-hitting creatures to actually close out the game.
Tip: Despite being strictly worse than another card in the cube, Rune Snag is worth taking early. Costing two mana is just that important.
Black lives up to its morbid reputation by being excellent at killing both creatures and planeswalkers. Its cheap creatures are sparse and a little less powerful than other colors', but if you can survive the early game, it has some of the best planeswalkers and high-drops in the cube. It doesn't have many aggressive creatures itself, but its efficient removal makes it a good secondary color for aggressive decks. Mono-black decks have some outstanding reward cards, as long as you make sure you have plenty of ways to stave off an early rush.
Tip: Black has a lot of powerful but painful cards, so incidental life-gain cards like Vampire Nighthawk are a key part of staying alive.
Red can certainly play the same hyper-aggressive role as in most cubes, with fast creatures backed up by burn spells, but I've taken pains to ensure that's not all it does. It's second only to black at killing creatures and even better at killing planeswalkers, which makes it a great addition to a slower deck. With a few mana rocks, it can even use its powerful mass removal and land destruction to form the core of a control deck. That said, mono-red is almost always focused on attacking with the main concern being a careful balance between recurring sources of damage and one-shot burn spells.
Tip: Jinxed Choker may be a junk rare with tons of text, but it's secretly one of the most powerful cards in a dedicated burn deck.
Green is the ramp color, but it's also the multicolor color. Many of its ramp spells help find colors as well as accelerate mana, and the relative scarcity of colorless accelerators encourages decks that want to cast expensive spells to go green. Green's midrange and expensive creatures are the heaviest hitters in the cube, but its ramp can just as easily be used to hit three-drops quickly in an aggressive deck. Mono-green tends to focus on ramping up as quickly as possible, but can lack disruption—cards like Beast Within and Reclamation Sage help buy you time by interfering with the opponent's plan.
Tip: No matter your archetype, as long as you have creatures, Overwhelming Stampede can win games out of nowhere.
Color pairs tend to be more specialized than individual colors, with more well-defined strategies. There's plenty of room for coloring outside the lines, but this is what I tend to expect from the color pairs in the Modern Cube.
White-blue tends to be an Aggro Control deck that pairs white's efficient creatures and removal with blue's tempo and countermagic, usually backed up by one or two five- or six-drops to close out the game. It starts fast and doesn't let the opponent stabilize. Geist of Saint Traft is one of the best attackers when the opponent can't keep a blocker on the board, and Reflector Mage and Spell Queller help ensure that they can't.
Blue-black is definitely a controlling deck, but it plays best when it keeps its curve low. Disruptive removal spells and counters combine with permanents like Bitterblossom and Dark Confidant, producing recurring advantage over time to slowly but surely get ahead. Three-drop planeswalkers like Liliana, the Last Hope and Ashiok, [autocard]Nightmare Weaver[/autocard] are at their best in a deck like this.
Black-red plays both offense and defense well. A red-heavy aggro build tends to use black for removal and powerful attackers like Falkenrath Aristocrat and Pitiless Horde, while a controlling black-heavy build might take advantage of the redundancy of removal red provides to focus its black picks on more proactive cards. Red also does a great job of shoring up black's weakness to artifacts with cards like Release the Gremlins and Kolaghan's Command.
Red-green combines the speed of red with the strength of green. It starts attacking fast and hard with creatures like Voltaic Brawler and Flinthoof Boar, and where mono-red might run out of steam, it outclasses the midgame with Polukranos, World Eater and the always-underrated Kessig Wolf Run. At the same time, red shores up green midrange's biggest weakness by giving it removal to get rid of utility creatures and planeswalkers that might otherwise run away with the game.
Green-white is usually aggressive, but in a very particular way. It wants to have as many one-mana ramp cards like Llanowar Elves as possible, then jump right to powerful three-drops like Blade Splicer and Tireless Tracker. Of course, there's always room for cards like Qasali Pridemage and Voice of Resurgence in this strategy. Combined with white's removal and anthems, this army of beefy creatures can roll over the opponent before they know what's happening.
White-black isn't easy to make work since cards in both colors have intense colored mana requirements. If you can pick up enough fixing, though, this pair has the best planeswalkers around—which means some of the best cards around. Elspeth Tirel, Ob Nixilis Reignited, and Sorin—both Lord of Innistrad and Grim Nemesis—are all compelling rewards for this combination, and plentiful sweepers and removal for all kinds of permanents helps ensure that they stay alive.
Black-green is a slower deck that's built around shoring up weaknesses in its two colors. Green lacks the ability to disrupt the opponent's plan, which black provides in spades, especially with gold cards like Vraska the Unseen and Maelstrom Pulse. In return, black's undersized creatures are more than happy to step aside and let green's fatties crash in. If this deck ramps to the point where it's casting multiple spells in a turn, it will probably just win.
Green-blue (affectionately known as "damp broccoli" after the mana symbols) is a midrange deck that tries to get enough card advantage to play huge threat after huge threat until the opponent runs out of answers. Cards like Rashmi, Eternities Crafter and Progenitor Mimic let it sit back and accumulate value while holding counterspells for anything the opponent might try.
Blue-red is the most flexible color pair. It can be highly aggressive, adding cards like Delver of Secrets and Frost Walker to red's pool of cheap creatures and backing them up with Æther Adept and Frost Lynx. It can also be controlling, using removal like Electrolyze to hold off creatures until an Inferno Titan or Consecrated Sphinx lands. It can even win the game on the spot with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite. I've seen aspects of all of these strategies mixed and matched in innumerable combinations.
Red-white fits its hyper-aggressive stereotype most of the time, working like a mono-red deck that's added some white to improve its creature quality. But there's a "big Boros" deck out there as well, which uses cheap removal and sweepers to survive until it can land planeswalkers like Ajani Vengeant and creatures like Baneslayer Angel. This is another deck where artifact mana acceleration is key, in no small part because it helps the deck recover faster from cards like Boom // Bust.
In addition to the color pairs, I've seen every three-color combination played to good effect. They mostly tend towards the midrange or control end of the spectrum—drafting enough mana fixing for a three-color deck makes it hard to prioritize a mana curve, and it's hard to hit land drops on time in a three-color deck. That said, if enough fixing materializes, I've seen the occasional Mardu or Naya Aggro deck.
If you want to dive even deeper into the mana fixing, a four- or five-color deck is definitely possible. It tends to combine cheap black, white, or red removal with powerful midrange and high-end cards (ideally planeswalkers) in any color. Green is often the base color to ensure that mana-fixing is readily available, with other colors present to a lesser degree.
There's no dedicated artifact deck, but there are enough pieces of colorless mana acceleration and powerful high-drops like Karn Liberated and Myr Battlesphere to build a ramp-y deck in any color pair, regardless of whether that's the kind of thing the pair normally does. Lots of drafters are going to want those mana rocks, though, so prioritize them accordingly.
There are a handful of combos floating around the cube. I've already mentioned Kiki-Jiki and Pestermite, but the latter can also be replaced with Zealous Conscripts, Restoration Angel, or Felidar Guardian for a single-turn win. Felidar Guardian can also combine with Saheeli Rai in a similar fashion. Gifts Ungiven can dump Unburial Rites into your graveyard along with Griselbrand or some other giant beast to reanimate early. With Reveillark in your graveyard and Body Double and Mirror Entity in play, you can kill and reanimate all your creatures indefinitely—although you'll need another creature with an enters-the-battlefield effect to take advantage. You can even gain as much life as you'd like if you find a way to give Boros Reckoner both indestructible and lifelink and make it take damage.
I hope you enjoy the Modern Cube as much as I've enjoyed the process of building it and improving it over all these years. Although I've covered the archetypes I've explicitly designed for and that I expect to see most frequently here, there's lots of room for experimentation and creativity. Many of the archetypes that are now explicitly supported grew out of just such experimentation. It warms my heart to see people finding new ways to experience the cube, and it warms my heart even more to see people having fun. So go have fun!
Modern Cube Phantom Single-Elimination Queue
- Start Time: Wednesday, March 8 after the downtime
- End Time: Tuesday, March 21 at 11 p.m. PT
- Location: Play Lobby -> Limited Tournaments -> Queues
- 10 Event Tickets
- 100 Play Points
Number of Players: 8
Product: 3 phantom Modern Cube boosters
Structure: Draft, then 3 rounds of single-elimination
- 1st Place: 220 Play Points + 1 QP
- 2nd Place: 160 Play Points
- 3rd–4th Place: 100 Play Points
Modern Cube Phantom Draft League
- Start Time: Wednesday, March 8 after the downtime
- Closed Time: Tuesday, March 21 at 10 p.m. PT
- End Time: Wednesday, March 22 at 2 a.m. PT
Location: Play Lobby -> Limited -> Leagues
- 10 Event Tickets
- 100 Play Points
Product: 3 phantom Modern Cube boosters
Structure: Draft, then up to 3 matches played at your convenience
- 3 wins: 150 Play Points
- 2 wins: 100 Play Points
- 1 win: 40 Play Points
- 0 wins: 10 Play Points