Saturday, 5 May 2012

Modo Cube Drafting

I first wrote this just after the first time cube came to modo but never got round to finishing it and posting it. We are now in the middle of cube modos second outing and I have managed to get a lot more drafts in this time round. I did 4 last time and am now on my 8th this time round. Things are going pretty well although I have had almost exclusively mono beatdown decks and mostly red ones at that. Mostly I have been doing the 8-4 although impatience has led me to regret doing a few 4322 and swiss drafts (as the ques are less full) in which the winnings are lower and my decks end up a lot more inconsistent. When drafting with more skilled players everyone tends to end up with better, more consistent decks as people react to signals better and end up hate drafting far less. Unsurprisingly my control decks have performed the worst while my mono coloured decks have done the best.

12 decks

1 White weenie 3-0
1 mono black agro 3-0
1 WB weenie geddon 2-1
1 Boros Deck Wins 3-0
1 UW control 1-1 (4322)
1 The Rock 1-2 (swiss)
1 Big Red 3-0
1 Ponza 2-1
4 RDW 0-1, 3-0, 2-1, 1-1

(returning to what I started 3 weeks ago mostly just to fill the void left by the absence of online cube drafting...)

So the best format in magic comes to best medium for fair and diverse play – Magic online cube draft! I only managed to do four drafts this weekend due to not realising it was only here for the weekend. While I still prefer my cube list I am greatly anticipating the return of the format, ideally for good. My understanding is that Wizards make less money from a cube draft online than normal drafts where the packs must also be supplied and as such the opportunity cost of allowing people the option of cube will harm their revenue as people who would otherwise be drafting normally will cube instead. I don't normally play Modo and neither do many of my friends however we were all online this weekend to try it out. Regardless of the profitability I also think it is a little harsh to tease players like this, guess its back to playing real life people for no tix for me. Right, whine over and onto discussing the cube Wizards used.

It is a 720 card de-powered cube with even colour splitting which seems very sensible for use solely in 8 man drafts. It has a higher average power level than my cube, a higher mana curve and less narrow “synergy” cards. Being 720 cards you will only ever see half of the card pool in a draft which means putting too many narrow cards in will lead to a lot of dead picks which is not ideal when you only have 45 cards from which to build your deck. The main result of these differences is that the games feel much more like limited games than constructed games which is neither a good nor bad thing but simply wise to observe. The two basic archetypes are; generic limited control decks that stall, stay alive and aim to cast massive powerful bomb cards and agro cheap things to try and kill people before they make anything too broken. You can do combo decks or mimic constructed archetypes but you have to be lucky to get the things you need and shouldn't try to force them if you want to stand a good chance of winning the event.

Their choices of cards that were too powerful to include interested me greatly. Their banned list as it were is very similar to mine only allowing Umezawa's Jitte, Karakas and Strip mine to be used from it but also adding Mind Twist, Timetwister, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Mishra's Workshop and Mana Drain to the list. The last two I can entirely appreciate and even Mana Crypt can be rather unfair however the others seems a little overly cautious. I got a last pick Mind Shatter, add a mana to the cost of the other banned cards and they are all still very high picks. Mind Twist can be tedious but only as much as Hymn to Tourach can be, with most of the other fast mana gone Mind Twist is even less frightening. I imagine Jitte will ruin lots the games it turns up in but the full set of swords were doing a good job of that anyway so its not too big of a deal. Karakas has had an errata which makes it less tedious only being able to bounce creatures. The Strip Mine is the most dangerous card that has been left in the format, particularly as Crucible of the Worlds is also at large but also with the high curve and low number of duals.

There are a few cards that seem like massive omissions. Green does not have Overrun which is a huge card for the colour and gives it real reach. Blue is missing Grand Architect which makes the aggressive blue strategies far less appealing. Red has not been given Burst Lightening or Seal of Fire which may be intentional so as to keep red deck wins style decks in check as they are one of the obvious best aggressive archetypes. Bonesplitter is one of the best equipment cards and would be especially brutal in this slower format. Missing the Talismans is also a shame as they are much more reliable colour fixing and ramp than the various alternatives used like Fellwar Stone. Smallpox and Kor Skyfisher are two cards I highly rate that are also missing. No cards are essential in a cube however and these omissions free up space for other interesting cards.

There are also a good number of cards I have tried and found under-powered such as Basalt Monolith or just used in way to few decks (usually gold cards). In a colour balanced 720 card cube this is to be expected and does give rise to more unusual situations. There are also a decent number of cards I haven't thought to try or simply haven't got round to trying which I look forward to testing with an open mind. Frenzied Goblin stands out as a card I had never entertained as viable for the cube but that could actually be quite handy in certain decks. I have not played with shadow monsters in the cube for a long time. Back in the day non agro decks didn't play much in the way of monsters and so evasion wasn't such a big deal. As creatures have got better and planeswalkers are common evasion has become more valuable in the cube. I have had shadow guys in half of my cube decks on modo (after 4 drafts, sadly red is lacking in shadow cards) so far (the better performing decks) and have been very impressed with them and expect some to see a long awaited return to my cube.

There is far less mana fixing in the modo cube than I am used to and far less land in general. This further increases the limited feel of the format and makes fixing a high pick. Aggressive decks cannot really go for more than two colours unless they are very fortunate with lands and should aim to splash rather than even split where possible. Many of the cheap two and three drop monsters have double mana costs which needs to be carefully monitored while making picks. Consistency in aggressive decks is of great importance and with this cube as it is the best option is to go mono coloured where possible and if not should prioritise on colour duals over most other things. The slower decks are able to get away with more janky splashes and colours in general but it is still an issue none the less. Looking at my 12 drafts I have gone mono two thirds of the time, two of which were very light splashes in the 2nd colour and all of which had pretty reasonable fixing and still they are the under-performing decks.

Planeswalkers are plentiful in this cube and are usually very high picks. There is an abundance of removal, particularly mass removal for most permanents in this cube however planeswalkers are hard to deal with and make for the most reliable threats. Equipment is also proving better in this cube than in mine. The slower format helps as does high quantity of mass creature removal. Powerful equipment allow you to extend better without losing to mass removal as fewer permanents are hit and also allows you to recover from mass removal more easily as one equipped monster can be a serious threat. In a generic good stuff deck an ideal situation is to have the majority of your creatures as cheaper utility guys that ideally offer some value when played or killed with a couple of decent bits of equipment and as many on colour planeswalkers as you can pick up.

Removal of all forms is highly valuable in modo cube. Mass removal is great but only applicable in certain kinds of deck and so targetted removal of all forms is important to pick up, often more so than the powerful threats. Obviously creatures are the main thing you want to be able to kill but having cards that can take out other permanent types are very useful even if you end up leaving them in the sideboard. I probably wouldn't maindeck a pure artifact kill spell such as Smash to Smithereens until I saw something I really wanted to be able to kill but I would happily maindeck a Naturalize as you have many more possible targets. Pillage is another card in this vein I find I always play when I have it.

Here are just a few cards that jump out at me as really happy first picks you could have in this format:

Umezawa's Jitte
Swords of This and That
Elspeth, Knight Errant
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mox Diamond
Chrome Mox ( I keep seeing these going very late
Lightening Bolt
Goblin Guide
Sulphuric Vortex
Strip Mine
Crucible of Worlds
Bird of Paradise
Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Vedalken Shackles

My Big Red List:

23 Spells

Spikeshot Elder
Mogg War Marshal
Coldsteel Heart
Mind Stone
Everflowing Chalice

Pristine Talisman
Paladium Myr
Worn Powerstone
Wheel of Fortune
Chandra's Phoenix

Solemn Simulacrum
Chandra, the Firebrand
Goblin Ruinblaster

Chandra Nalaar

Inferno Titan
Myr Battlesphere
Sundering Titan
Burning of Xinye
Devil's Play

17 Lands

City of Traitors
16 Mountains


Platinum Angel
Phyrexian Processor
Mind Slaver
Smoke Stack
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Time Spiral ( I show these two blue cards to make a point of consistency > power)

To conclude this little into and exploration of modo cube I would say that the best way to win is having a mono coloured beatdown deck with a curve that is tailing off around the four slot. When this is not an option or not desirable then be very mindful of your priorities. Big bomb cards are abundant in this cube particularly compared to normal booster drafts where as removal and fixing are not so plentiful. When making a normal looking non-mono good stuff deck I would prioritise mana fixing followed by removal, then followed by useful low curve cards taking big power bomb cards only when there is no other pick or you feel properly saturated on the other cards. Winning however is not what cube is about so instead take no notice of what I have said and pick the most fun card every time!

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