Powering Down

•April 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

After playing casual magic for nine years, I decided that if I was going to sink my money into a hobby like this one, I was going to do something with it. I was already heavily into Commander as well as FNMs (which at my local store happen to be booster draft), but I wanted more. It was around this time that I started researching Cubing. I was also playing in limited Grand Prixs and I wanted to capture the experience of high level limited back home the way that the usual booster draft never could. Once month later, I had a Cube of 480 cards and I have never looked back. Cubing takes the intensity of limited magic, and combines with it the deliciousness of constructed magic. It also lets you create a format that you find to your liking. Since its inception, my Cube has grown up and out, currently filling a healthy roster of 520 cards.

People think of a Cube as a collection of the most powerful cards in Magic. This is only partially true. A Cube is a home for the most powerful cards in Magic at what they do. Is Wild Dogs as strong as Jace the Mind Sculptor? No. Goblin Guide? No. Jackal Pup? Maybe. Are all these cards in my cube? Yes.
So, why do I run the sad looking Wild Dogs in my Cube next to cards like Reanimate and Inkwell Leviathan? I do this because green aggro is a viable archetype, but it is missing out on quality one drops. If green wants to keep up with white, red, and black, it needs its 1-drops. I call Wild Dogs an enabler. Entomb is weak without Reanimate, Animate Dead etc. Wild Dogs is weak without Huntsmaster of the Fells, Viridian Emissary, Strangleroot Geist etc. It makes the better cards better. “What if I am way behind on life?” I hear people ask all the time, and of course I respond with: “Well, does it block?” or “Does it have cycling?” The simple facts that it is: 1. A Creature, and 2. Can replace itself, mean that it is perfectly at home in a Cube.

Would I first pick Wild Dogs? No. But if I open it along-side the Huntsmaster, I can confidently take the hunter, knowing that something will wheel. People often forget that they are drafting a deck, and not every pack that they open SHOULD have 15 first picks in it. When your pack is full of 15 cards that everyone wants, you have no idea what is going to wheel. This is why many people simply take all the lands then wheel whatever they want, which is not healthy for any format.

This moves me on to my next argument about why I feel that a Cube should not simply be a collection of the best cards in Magic: The Power 8 (sorry Timetwister). These cards warp a format like no other. Too many Roto drafts I have seen just have the first 9 picks laid out (Power 8 and Jace) before players actually start the roto. Why is this
bad? Because almost half of the Power 8 is blue (a full half if you count Mox Sapphire as blue). This means that automatically, there will be 4 players in blue before anything happens, and at least half of them will be playing some control variant.

I feel that the argument comes down to power vs synergy. When someone first picks Survival of the Fittest, it sends a clear message to everyone else that he will be in fact drafting survival shenanigans. If he drafts Mox Emerald first, they just know that he has mana acceleration that aligns with green. Similarly, a player can fist pick
Entomb and let players know that he is going to be all in on the reanimation strategy, but if he were to pick Mox Jet, who knows?

People who support Powered Cubes may say to me, “Well, they can still pick up those cards, once the usual ones are already taken.” And I respond with “But isn’t that boring?” I would much rather have a format where I can first pick Sulfuric Vortex one day, Jace the Mind Sculptor the next, and Dark Confidant the one after that. Are these
cards the routine first picks in my Roto draft? Yes and no. People also take Tinker, Bitterblossom, Stoneforge Mystic, Elspeth, Knight Errant, Tezzeret (either one), or probably 30 other cards. If constraint breeds creativity, then diversity breeds fun.

I also feel that picking up synergy wins out over power 6 days of the week. Another writer mentioned the problem of “Planeswalker Magic” which is where one sees a ‘walker, picks it, and plays it. I have taken great lengths to prevent this. One: I only run 2 cycles of mono-colored walkers, and 1 of each color pairing (Except R/G because
Sarkhan Vol is not the greatest). Two, the walkers that I have included in my Cube are very narrow in use (Jace, and Elspeth aside). Playing Sorin Markov, Koth of the Hammer, Garruk Wildspeaker, Crazy Sarkhan, Ajani Vengeant, or either Tezzeret in a deck that does not rely on them probably isn’t the best idea.

My Cube supports all the traditional archetypes, and some of the non-conventional ones. I support X/u aggro. B/G/u Infect, UR combo (both twin, and Mizzet), BW Tokens, G/x Aggro, and B/x Aggro. Because I want all color strategies to be viable, I run a full complement of lands, but the mana-bases that are available are more punishing, keeping 5CC in check with pain lands, filters, and the M10/ISD duals. Any questions about my Cube can be sent to my Twitter account. For the record, I am not 100% against power in Cubes; I certainly want to own a powered Cube before I retire from Magic, I just want others to think outside the Mox.

Andrew Couture
@AndrewCouture on Twitter

Close the window, there’s a BackDraft up in here.

•March 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This week, we finally did what I have been wanting to do since I constructed my cube. We had a backdraft. What is that? Clearly you don’t read Channel Fireball articles since Carrie Oliver wrote her article this week on funky draft formats. Simply put, a backdraft is a draft where you try to draft the worst deck possible then hand it to someone else and watch them suffer. Once they receive your pile of garbage, they then have to make a deck out of it and play it. The winner is the player who drafted the worst deck- not the player who wins the most games, or the player who lost the most. I won. My deck did not win a single game. This is partially on the pilot’s error, since he didn’t read his cards as thoroughly as he should have, but I did honestly hand him a pile of poop. Without further ado, here is a jank that I handed him.

teetering peaks
dragonskull summit
garruk wildspeaker
crusade
psychatog (first pick over Flesh Reaver)
viridian corruptor
scythe tiger
skyshroud ridgeback
boggart ram gang
goblin ruinblaster
hellrider
hell’s thunder
goblin patrol
goblin fireslinger
fireblast
shelldock isle
moonhold
stoneforge mystic
entomb
gelectrode
runechanter’s pike
geist of st traft
blighted agent
gwillion hedge-mage
viscera dragger
white sun’s zenith
isochron sceptor
contagion clasp
celestial colonade
isolated chapel
guul draz assassin
go for the throat
steppe lynx
necrotic sliver
karmic guide
plague myr
bribery (last pick)
plague stinger
jace, the mind sculptor
gather the townsfolk
transcendant master
tezzy, agent of bolas
wrath of god
thopter foundry

My strategy for going into this draft was to draft a deck that literally did nothing. I feel like I came pretty close. Not enough aggro to aggro, not enough poison to poison, not enough U to play JTMS (stupid Bribery). My strategy ended up being “Draft all the cards with multiple colored mana symbols, and as few lands as I can get”. The deck that he ended up running starts at Geist of St. Traft. Note: This deck had 2 planeswalkers, and could have had a third, one of which was Jace, the Mind Sculptor and it still could not win a game. This is a direct counter argument towards “Planeswalker Magic” (the idea where you see a walker, slam it, and then your deck is sweet). It sort of helped that he didn’t realize that Tezzy’s -1 was for the rest of the game until match 3, but with only 4 artifacts in the entire deck, I don’t think running the walker was a correct choice. I ended up going 2-1 with the deck drafted by Billy Moreau: It was pretty much playing lands with some efficient beaters.

misty rainforest
blightwidow
into the roil
land tax
rootbound crag
fire-lit thicket
azorious guildmage
sword of body and mind
young wolf
stigma lasher
slagstorm
willbender
lonely sandbar
evolving wilds
kird ape
figure of destiny
hinterland harbor
snap
threaten
llanowar elves
stiched drake
triumph of the hordes
deceiver exarch
calcite snapper
sulfur falls
cultivate
bear umbra
crucible of worlds
platinum emperion
arid mesa

The deck’s all-star was actually Azorius Guildmage. I countered Sorin’s abilities, tapped dudes down with my single Plains, and it carried my Sword of Body and Mind like a champ. Funnily enough, every deck that I played against had blue in it, two of them also had green. I never cast Platinum Emperion all night, but I did have him in my hand when the deck that I drafted Bribed me and ended up taking a Blightwidow. I stole that game by tapping down his guy with my Guildmage, Threatening his 3/3, then bashing for 10 poison using Triumph of the Hordes. When we put this together, we decided to run it was a Swiss tournament, but counting losses as wins. This meant that a bye was an auto loss for the deck that played it, which was important, since we only had 7 players.

As fun as this format would be with regular packs, drafting the cube this way makes for some pretty hilarious last picks. I know that two people got handed Swords as last picks, and I got a Bribery. This draft actually made my brain hurt as I tried my best to draft cards that actually did nothing together.

May all your BackDraft opening packs contain White Sun’s Zenith.

-Andrew Couture

This cube be different.

•March 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, in the past several months, the cube has gone though an enormous transformation. Since it would take FAR too long to write up all additions and subtractions, I will give you the current roster. I have expanded the cube to 520 cards, and ISD block is sweet. Lets hope that AVR gives us as many sweet cards as ISD and DKA.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Avl2DRqqirnidDZsUlJOX2U0WVRKblhBeVZOQmR4ekE#gid=0

I have also now run two Roto drafts with the cube, and if you would like to check out the pick history, they are on the next two pages. I can honestly say that the level of enjoyment that you can get out of your cube is not just directly related to time you have (which recently, I do not) but also the people that you play with. So remember, pick your playgroup as carefully as you select your cards.

If you have any suggestions or questions about the Cube’s current iteration, drop me a line.

-Andrew

Magic: the Gathering – How does it work?

•January 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

First off: I am pretty sure that you guys are tired of tournament reports, so I will be moving away from them soon I think. If you guys really love reading about our adventures, I can continue posting about my cube drafts.  I know that this post is going to be rather… obvious for most of you, but I am writing for those who have heard of the game, maybe have even heard me prattling on about some fantasy rubbish and are somewhat curious about what it’s all about.

Magic is a collectible trading card game published by Wizards of the Coast, these are the same people that produce Dungeons and Dragons and some other TCG (trading card game) called Deckmasters which is apparently very popular overseas. The overall idea behind the game is that you and your opponent are locked within a Wizards’ Duel and are trying to best your enemy. You can do this a number of ways: You can reduce your opponent to 0 life. You can poison your opponent 10 times. You can force your opponent to draw a card after their library is empty.

The anatomy of a magic card:
First, one sees the name of the card, this is in the top bar. Next to the name, is the mana cost. This Goblin Piker costs 1 colorless and 1 red mana to cast. Under the art is the card’s type- Creature and subtype – Goblin. Next to that is is the expansion symbol, in this case, it is a common from M12. The large box on bottom is the rules box, and this is where any abilities would be listed, Goblin Piker does not have any. It does however, have flavor text, which is the italics in the rules box. Then, since this is a creature, in the bottom right hand is the creature’s power and toughness, which I will talk about below.

There are several types of cards split into two categories: permanent and non-permament.
I will be first talking about permaments. Permaments are cards that once they are played, hang out on the battlefield and have an effect on the board.
Land: You can only play one land per turn. Lands produce mana. Mana comes in 6 varieites: red, blue, green, white, black, and colorless. Mana is the fuel that you use to cast spells and use some abilities. Each color stands for something. white is the color of righteousness and light. Black is the color of corruption and death. Red is the power of fire, and is governed by passion. Blue is the color of intellect and is governed by the mind. Green embraces the wild and is goverened by the natural world.
Artifact:  An artifact is an artificial construction that has some effect on the game. The usually only cost colorless mana, so that any mage has a chance to use them in their deck.
Creature: A creature is a monster that you summon to do battle with your opponent. The creatures attack value and defensive value (power and toughness) are located in the bottom right corner of the card. If a creature takes lethal damage, is destroyed, or has its toughness reduced to 0, it is sent to the graveyard.
Enchantment: An enchantment is a permanent that functions similarly to an artifact but is color-specific. They can also be attached to creatures.
Planeswalker: Finally, the most complicated permament type is the planeswalker. These function by adding or removing loyalty counters to use their abilities. You cannot remove more loyalty counters than the ‘walker has. When a ‘walker reaches 0 loyalty counters, it is put into the graveyard. Each planeswalker enters the battlefield with the number of loyalty counters in the lower right hand corner.

Now its time for the not so permament cards!
Sorcery:

Sorcery: Sorceries are cast, do their thing, then are immediately put into the grave yard. You can only play a corcery during your two main phases.
Instant: An instant is a sorcery that can be played at any time. This includes during your opponents turn, in response to a spell or ability, or in the middle of combat.

So, now that you have a basic idea of the flavor behind the game, here is how you get started.
1. Each player shuffles his/her 60 card decks.
2. Decide who is going first (usually a die roll or a coin toss).
3. Each player then draws 7 cards, and decides if they are interested in mulliganing, throwing away the current hand and drawing one less than they currently have.
4. Play begins: A turn progresses as such:

  • Untap: Your cards are spent by tapping them. You do this to attack or to use a “tap ability.” This portion of your turn lets you unspend your cards for the new turn.
  • Upkeep: Various things happen here. They only happen if a card specifically says as such.
  • Draw: You card a card for the turn.
  • Main Phase 1: You can cast Sorceries, Creatures, Artifacts, and Planeswalkers. This is when you can play a land for the turn.
  • Combat! This is when you can attack your opponent or your opponent’s planeswalkers. The combat step is broken down into smaller bits.
    A: Declare attackers, you say who you’re attacking, and what creatures you use to do so.
    B: Declare Blockers, this is where the defending players decide how they want to intercept your
    creature with their creature.
    C: Combat Damage, this is where the attackers and blockers actually hit each other.
    D: Clean Up, anything dealt lethal damage is sent to the graveyard.
  • Main Phase 2: See Main Phase 1.
  • End. This is where damage is removed from creatures and end of turn effects cease.

Well, that about wraps it up for the basic magic tutorial. There are many effects on many different cards and it would take too long to explain everything (the comprehensive rules of magic are very long and no one should ever read them unless they want to be serious about the game). Cards with abilities often have reminder text to tell the player what it does. Once you understand the turn progression and the types of cards, the game explains itself. Follow the directions of the card and you will do fine.

For people just starting to play, I recommend buying the intro decks from the 2012 core set and then working their way up from there.

Cube Draft 8

•October 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well, yesterday was pretty sweet. The cube is getting quite a bit of acclaim from my amigos. I like that the decks that can be built are interesting and different every time. This week, we had an Esper Reanimator deck piloted by Victor, a UB Poison deck piloted by Steve, a GW Poison deck piloted by Emily, a Boros Control deck piloted by Greg, a Jund Aggro Deck piloted by Rob, an All American Planeswalker deck piloted by Austin. I piloted a pretty sweet BuG Midrange deck. I wanted to prove that not only was green a sweet color to base your deck around, it is also a pretty sexy method of splashing.
Here is the deck that I piloted to 3-0.
Chameleon Colossus – My P1P1
Briarhorn – Still a beating
Blastoderm
Rancor
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Primordial Hydra – P1P3
Plow Under – It tabled, and I was SO happy.
Cultivate
Search for Tomorrow
Bonehoard
So, I had 3 green mana fixing spells (and a Growth Spasm that I didn’t run) which let me splash the following:
Dismember (not that I actually needed the black mana)
Profane Command
Disturbed Burial
Demonic Tutor
Smother
Phyrexian Arena
Inquisition of Kozilek
Bribery – This card on turn 4 was frequently a beating. I also was passed a Damnation and yelled, “Oh yeah! Snap pick!” The card directly behind the Damnation was Bribery, so I had to sheepishly put the Damnation back into the pack and take the card that says “I win the game”. Phyrexian Metamorph
Counterspell
Forbidden Alchemy
Maelstrom Pulse
Mystic Snake
Putrid Leech
Life/Death

I also had a pretty strong mana base:
Flooded Grove
Simic Growth Chamber
Shelldock Isle
Island x3
Forest x6
Swamp x5
Once again, I probably should have had one less forest for one more swamp since I had 2 G/U fixers and no G/B.

My match history should have actually been 2-1, but I got lucky. Rob’s deck was nuts.
1.1
He leads off with a Kird Ape off of a Copperline Gorge. Then he follows up with a forest, bashes me for 2, then drops a Stormblood Berserker. I am sweating a bit as he clocks me to 13 on turn 3 after he killing my dude. Turn 4 he drops a Bear Umbra onto his Beserker. I scoop.
1.2
I lead off with a turn 3 Phyrexian Arena. I am getting pinged for damage by me and him. He drops a Shrine of Burning Rage and I am facing down inevitability from both sides- at once! However, drawing cards is pretty good I hear. I am sitting at 7. I see his shrine is at 6 counters and I frown at my Phyrexian Arena. He drops a post-combat Bloodbraid Elf and I sigh audibly as I just dodged a bullet. I am still dead on board once he untaps with his shrine set to 7. I draw, going to 6, then draw again. I rip Bribery and Maelstrom Pulse. I Pulse his shrine, then Bribery his Rampaging Baloth, drop a land, making a baloth, and then pass the turn back. Eventually, I Profane Command him and my creatures, dealing him 24 damage in one turn and its off to game 3.
1.3
This game, I dropped a Bribery, grabbing his Grave Titan, cast Rancor on it, and then cast Death, targeting Briarhorn. I bached him with an 11/9 Trample creature since I used my Zombies to block/eat kill spells. I then Profane Command him again for lethal.

I started out playing, saying, “My plan is to kill myself until I win.” It wouldn’t have worked against the pile of aggro that I faced down, but for some truly unfortunate misplays. My other matches were significantly easier since I wasn’t facing a very fast clock from my opponents as well as myself.
2.1
I played against Greg with his Boros Control deck. Game 1 wasn’t terribly interesting. It involved a Mirran Crusader against a B/G/u Deck with no lands.
2.2
I Inquisition of Kozilek’d away his Mirran Crusader, then mana ramped into Plow Under followed up by Mystic Snake then a Briarhorn (I love flash creatures).  I closed out the game with a Primordial Hydra set to 5. He played Sun Titan, rebuying Standard Bearer, but he had to block my 10/10 trampling Hydra and was sad.
2.3
I could have either turn 1 Inquisition of Kozilek, or suspend Search for Tomorrow. I chose to suspend. Turn 2, I could either play a bounce land or cast Inquisition of Kozilek. I chose to bounce. His turn 3 sees a Mirran Crusader, and I kick myself since I can’t actually kill it. My Search for Tomorrow resolves, I grab a swamp, play Inquisition of Kozilek, take something, but I leave him with Burst Lightning. I then drop another land, and pass the turn. I rip and play Demonic Tutor, almost grabbing a Phyrexian Metamorph to deal with his Mirran Crusader, but I remember his Burst Lightning. I change my mind and grab a Bribery, figuring that if I cant kill his Crusader, he probably can. I take another 4 from his Crusader, then pass the turn back. I play Bribery, Almost taking his Sun Titan, but I realize I don’t have anything to get back. Then I almost take his Baneslayer Angel since I am at 6 life, but then, I see the God-Card. I grab his Akroma, Angel of Wrath. I clock him for 6 and pass the turn, then I play Blastoderm and he knows that he is in trouble. I untap, play a forest, then cast Life, allowing me to swing for lethal after Dismembering his leveled-up Student of Warfare during his end step.
3.1
I mulliganed to 5. All I did for the first 3 turns was generate mana then I played Forbidden Alchemy, grabbing Chameleon Colossus which I then played. Rancour’s U/B Contolling Infect deck couldn’t really deal with pro black, and he lost pretty handily.
3.2
I played a turn 2 Putrid Leech vs his turn 2 Bloodghast. I then enchanted it with Rancor, and started bashing away, racing his Vampire Nighthawk and his Bloodghast (Yes, he was a poison deck, I don’t know why he was running Bloodghast and not using the Nighthawk for defense. I guess it was just inexperience. It takes a while to get used to the idea that attacking isn’t always better than sitting tight and watching what your opponent does). Anyway, I followed up my Rancor’d up Leech with a Blastoderm and a Briarhorn to put away the lethal damages.

Cube Draft 7

•October 6, 2011 • 2 Comments

So, after a very not impressive Poll post on cube changes, (no one voted) here is another glorious tournament report from Troy, NY. Tonight, we had two new faces in the draft: Riley and Austin. I think for the first time, we had a full 8 man draft going. It was quite beautiful. Unfortunately, new people also means less experienced drafters and the signals I was sending (DRAFT GREEN AND WHITE) went largely ignored. We ended up with 3 people playing Grixis, and one playing R/U.

My deck:
Sorin Markov – P1P1 and passing a Rune-Scarred Demon and a Primeval Titan– Rob took the Demon.
Probe
Searing Blaze
Duress
Dismember
Pilgrim’s Eye
Phyrexian Rager
Mortarpod
Slagstorm
Skinrender
Phyrexian Arena
Inquisition of Kozilek
Shriekmaw
Demonic Tutor
Grim Lavamancer
Skywinder Drake
Hymn to Tourach
Inkwell Leviathan
Diregraf Ghoul
Jilt
Incinerate
Stitched Drake
Journeyer’s Kite – this card will smooth out your mana so well.
Necrogen Scudder 

Crumbling Necropolis
Cascade Bluffs
Barren Moor
Creeping Tar Pit
Blackcleave Cliffs
Sulfurous Springs
Mountain
5x Swamp
5x Island

In retrospect: I needed another mountain and one fewer island. I somehow had mana troubles with this deck (Okay, the somehow may have to do with having only one basic mountain, but I thought I could handle it.) I followed the mentality of: draft mana fixing and let the cards you want to play table. They did not. I ended up with a pretty solid deck, but I ended up going 2-1.

1.1: Against Gage
No red mana vs Ob Nixilis, the Fallen + Bear Umbra. Lose.
1.2 Shriekmaw your Terra Stomper, Kill your Glissa with Skinrender, Bash with both and an Inkwell Leviathan. Win.
1.3 I lost this game to Gaea’s Anthem. How, you ask? I Searing Blaze’d his Precursor golem, dealing him 9 damage and killing his golems… no wait, they are 4/4s.
0-1-0

2.1 vs Danny
No non-island mana. Loss
2.2
Creeping Tar Pit is a boss.
2.3
Inquisition of Kozilek, taking Arc Lightning -> Duress taking JTMS ->Hymn to Tourach -> Racing. Skinrender is really good at racing. Win.
1-1-0

3.1 vs Austin
Phyrexian Arena is really good. Win.
3.2 TAR PIT IS A BOSS. Win.
2-1-0.

Rob ended up winning with a 2-0-1 record playing Grixis after what I can only assume was an awesome pack 2, since he got my leavings in packs 1 and 3.  And somehow, he claims to almost never have had mana issues. Without further ado, here is the winning decklist from last night’s cube.

Shrine of Burning Rage
Sword of Vengeance
Sygg, River Cutthroat
Terminate
Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
Sedraxis Spectre
Phantasmal Bear
Phantasmal Image
Brainstorm
Mulldrifter
Arrogant Bloodlord
Black Knight
Vampire Hexmage
Doom Blade
Smother
Diabolic Edict
Entomber Exarch
Go for the Throat – I saw none of this removal except the Edict.
Keening Banshee
Rune-Scarred Demon
Child of Night
Grave Titan
Skythirix, the Blight Dragon – “Killed Jace, but overall not terribly useful.”
Aside: STOP TAKING INFECT CREATURES IF YOU ARE NOT INFECT OR ITS A BLIGHTWIDOW. There are not enough infect cards for everyone to build an infect deck, let those who want to do it do it. End Aside.

2x Island
3x Mountain
9x Swamp
Arcane Sanctum
Evolving Wilds
Darkslick Shores

Cube Votes:

•October 4, 2011 • 2 Comments

Before answering the questions, you can refer to this document.

The cards that are highlighted in yellow are cards that I still need to acquire.

What cards would you like to see in the Cube?

What cards are you tired of seeing in the Cube?