We've recently had a spectacular full month of Vintage Cube, and it's time for a change of pace with the less explosive, contemporary-facing Modern Cube, which will be available on Magic Online beginning September 16. This update to the Modern Cube card list features brand-new cards, familiar faces, and changes that help to distinguish it from the fast-paced and punishing play patterns of the Eternal cubes.
See You, Signets
The Signets are out. Let's talk about why. In a previous article discussing changes to the Legacy Cube, Paul Cheon outlined the differences in vision between the three mainstay cubes on Magic Online. Briefly put, the Vintage Cube is all about doing the most broken things via rapid acceleration and backbreaking payoffs, and the Legacy Cube features access to similarly powerful linear strategies, but less explosive acceleration and more windows for disruptive counterplay. The Modern Cube is a mighty leap closer to what you might expect from a game of Standard or a contemporary Limited format: the games often revolve around card advantage, creature combat, and back-and-forth exchanges where neither player has access to degenerate options that easily lock their opponent out. To this end, the powerful two-mana Signets have been removed from the Modern Cube and replaced with cards in their respective color pairs. This might invoke some frenzied rage among enthusiastic cubers—who doesn't love accelerating into a four-mana play while their opponent is confined to a measly three land drops!—so let's discuss some of the motivations behind this change.
- Environmental differences from the Vintage Cube – There's no selling short the power of the Signets in Vintage Cube. You'll happily take most of the mana acceleration and fixing you can get your hands on, and Signets sure fit the bill. That being said, the Signets are facing some serious competition in the Vintage Cube that simply doesn't exist in Modern. The five monocolor Moxen, as well as Sol Ring, Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox, and the Monoliths, offer stiff opposition in artifact-based mana acceleration, which produces tension in the draft and counterplay in the games. Drafters are less pressured to automatically pick the available Signet out of a pack when they might just as easily open a Mox Sapphire, or instead opt for a powerful threat knowing that they'll be able to pick up powerful acceleration later in the draft. In Modern, this is less true, which undesirably compresses the decision space when you're passed an Izzet Signet in the early to middle phases of the draft. Even beyond the draft, when Vintage Cube libraries are shuffled up and hit the battlefield, a turn-two Signet is less menacing in the face of more powerful acceleration from the opponent, or other efficient answers like Dack Fayden and Fiery Confluence. In contrast, Modern Cube drafters are significantly less likely to have artifact removal in their main deck, both because the most powerful options aren't available in the format and because the density of crucial targets is lower. By removing Signets from the Modern Cube, we hope to reduce the number of non-picks in the draft and the number of non-games produced by uncontested and unopposed mana acceleration.
- Color-balance issues – There's a significant deficit in power level between Signets of different colors. Dimir Signet is a passable first pick in most Cube environments, while Selesnya Signet will often go unpicked until the latter half of the pack. In the current rendition of the Modern Cube, these Signets are treated as parallel slots, which belies the fact that splashy blue-black control decks will value the fixing and acceleration Signets provide far more than an aggressive red or white deck. Furthermore, green Signets are more replaceable than their counterparts in other colors—in a green deck, Golgari Signet doesn't line up favorably against the card economy of mana-producing creatures or effects like Kodama's Reach. Unlike the Vintage Cube, which has conceded its soul to the dominance of its blue overlords, Modern Cube can still aim for reasonable color balance, which will be facilitated by this change. This also allows us to firmly identify that mana ramp belongs to green cards in Modern Cube; this can't be said for the Eternal cubes, which are rife with colorless acceleration.
- Sweet new cards – Removing these cards from the cube gives us ten new two-color slots to play with, which are the perfect space to both support existing strategies in each color pair and encourage new patterns in drafting and deck building. The aforementioned less-than-lustrous Selesnya Signet has been replaced with Wilt-Leaf Liege, a versatile threat that can serve as another copy of Glorious Anthem for a white aggressive deck, pump up green mana Elves into effective midrange attackers, and provide three points of white or green loyalty where it matters. Izzet Signet tags out for Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, who can generate a lot of tokens and pull off some pretty exciting shenanigans if you're willing to scratch your head hard enough on her behalf (I recommend Through the Breach). The Azorius, Orzhov, and Rakdos Signets have made room for the addition of three new companions from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, who can generate a lot of value and extra damage in the right deck and might even find their way into the companion zone of a dedicated drafter.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and Core Set 2021 have brought a number of exciting cube offerings to the table. New additions like Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse and Winota, Joiner of Forces introduce novel build-arounds that encourage you to alter the path of your draft to maximize their potential. Sublime Epiphany and Obosh, the Preypiercer serve as powerful payoffs for existing archetypes. Other slots have received sideways upgrades to newly printed powerhouses—Elspeth Conquers Death, Shark Typhoon, and Vivien, Monsters' Advocate make their appearance in Modern Cube for the first time. Whether you prefer to put an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play for free with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, use Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy and a couple Elven friends to cast a Craterhoof Behemoth on turn four, or simply beat up your opponent by upgrading your aggressive threats with Demonic Embrace, these powerful new introductions to the cube are sure to make the cut and spice up the archetypes we know and love.
Ikoria also offers some new tools to ensure you can cast your powerful spells, both new and old, on time. Five of the land slots have been upgraded to the Triomes, three-color lands that synergize with fetch lands to provide mana fixing for decks that dabble in spells of more than two colors. These versatile lands also help to improve drafters' options for multicolor mana sources in the absence of Signets. If you've ever wanted to pick up an early Niv-Mizzet Reborn and build around it by accumulating a bevy of two-color cards, there's no better time than the present! (Although, I seriously encourage drafting those fetch lands highly, too.)
Finally, this round of cube changes has resurrected a host of oft-played staples into the ranks of the Modern Cube. To support the addition of Obosh, the red creature curve has been adjusted to grant the Preypiercer some oddly costed friends. The indefatigable one-mana Zurgo fit the bill for this assignment, and the Bellstriker will spice up the curve of red aggressive decks regardless of whether Obosh makes an appearance on the battlefield. Chandra, Flamecaller has been summoned back into action to take the seat of the departing Wildfire and serve up a steaming dish of fiery vengeance for Big Red decks, while Mimic Vat appears to have swallowed Skysovereign, Consul Flagship whole.
Have fun, and happy cubing!