The Vintage Cube has returned to modo and as such my Facebook feed lights up with tales, displays and interesting questions surrounding cube. This little series caught my eye and I got involved. As I read peoples comments and ideas surrounding this popular poll I found I had more and more to say on the subject. This seemed like a better place to get that out of my system and so here are the questions and what I have to say on the matter. Very simply this is a MODO Vintage Cube draft first pick first pack and the question is what do you take? There were three of these although it was the middle that was most interesting. I am not even going to discuss the third here.
Draft 1, pick 1 pack 1.
There are some interesting options here although it is a clear Mox Ruby pick in my book. The interesting thing was how much of the community were keen on Mind Twist as a viable option. The Mox is not only the most powerful of the options in this pack but it is also the most open. There are way more good archetypes that will happily run a Mox Ruby than there is for most other cards, let alone cards in this pack! Further to this the Mox Ruby requires very little support to fulfill its power potential. A card like Stoneforge Mystic is really strong but not until you have the equipment to go with it. To my mind this pack is far more interesting a pick choice when you don't have the Mox in it! All you are really looking for in a card is the highest balance of power and playability so it shouldn't be a question at all when one card wins both categories. Mind Twist is high impact and Mox Ruby is relatively low impact but impact is not really the measure of a cards power and I think that is often forgotten in card evaluation. It is like how in professional sports it is the strikers and points scorers that get most of the attention while the defenders get far less praise for their vital work.
I think Mana Vault, Ashiok Nightmare Weaver and perhaps even the Stoneforge are all quite comparable to the Mind Twist for consideration in this pack. There is even some argument for Search for Tomorrow. Cube is a little different to normal draft in that all the cards are powerful. In limited you pick the bombs and Mind Twist is that kind of bomb card. In cube however you don't need those individual raw power cards to win, what you need is consistency. Loads of cards in the cube will win the game for you, the rare stuff are the things that consistently ensure you get to a position where you can win. Cheap cards that do what your deck is trying to do are the most important things in cube and that isn't Mind Twist.
I am personally rather biased against Mind Twist, I don't like using it. It is a very all or nothing card. Either you hit their whole hand somewhere in the mid game and just win or you have it at the wrong time and it does nothing. Worse still, you have it at a good time but are already sufficiently behind that you will just lose if you try and play it. Mind Twist consistently gets less value per inclusion in a deck than Hymn to Tourach in my cube. I really don't like "roll the dice" cards and that is exactly what Mind Twist is and not because it is random discard. The reason it is roll the dice is because it is so inconsistent and so polar. You either win or do nothing. It is not a card that gives you great ability to outplay your opponent and so by playing it you are somewhat saying, I want some free and easy wins and I will pay for this with some consistency. It is also a bit of a win more card in the Vintage Cube. The player that gets the powerful ramp cards will be the one that can either abuse Mind Twist or at least have emptied their hand before it can hurt them! You take a Mind Twist here and pass several pieces of cheap ramp and you are asking for trouble.
Mana Vault is probably the pick after Mox Ruby. I don't love it as that kind of deck is both popular and inconsistent. You can use it in several decks but they do tend to be the kind of deck that is highly reliant on draws. The Mana Vault has the added bonus of likely getting an appropriate table card in one of the Signets. It is also one of those cards that makes blue a significantly better colour to be in once you have it and blue does increase your odds on playing Time Walk or Ancestral Recall!
Another facet of cube is that you can much more easily pick your direction at the start. Most packs have way more viable early pick directional cards than you find in limited. Should you just be feeling green ramp or white weenie you could very easily take the Stoneforge or the Search from this pack and have a strong, cheap, on-theme card for your archetype. You wouldn't be passing much of a signal for that archetypes either. They are not the most powerful cards but the archetypes are both tier one and pretty consistent. Picking the Mana Vault is the kind of thing than can spiral wildly out of control while the safe white and green cards should always result in a fine deck.
Ashiok is pretty underrated in cube. He is great against all the archetypes. With 40 card singleton decks the exile of 3 each turn really hurts. It either exiles key cards or simply threatens to end the game pretty fast. I don't love Ashiok as a pick here mostly because it is gold. Gold cards really narrow your range of picks and archetypes if you grab them early. The risk of wasting your early pick or warping your early draft and winding up with a weaker forced deck is worth avoiding if possible. I would wager that an Ashiok would do more work overall than a Mind Twist but being gold and with there being a Mind Twist in the pack I wouldn't be taking the Ashiok. If this were pack three and I was some sort of Dimir deck then I would likely be taking it over the Mind Twist at least.
So, time now for the more interesting pack. Draft 2, Pick 1 Pack 1;
Here we are not presented with a piece of power to make the choice easier! To me the viable picks are Liliana, Sneak Attack, Polluted Delta, Jackal Pup and Bloodbraid Elf. The Tarmogoyf doesn't perform as well in cube as constructed and isn't really a top pick for any archetype despite being playable in most that are green. It is a cheap and powerful card and that counts for something. If this were pick two and I had any sort of green card for my first pick I would quite possibly take Tarmogoyf here but as a first pick it lacks excitement and direction.
For much the same reasons I would avoid Askiok in the last pack I would avoid the Bloodbraid here. It is nutty good, arguably the best card in the pack however it is gold and thus narrows your options and puts you at risk of wasting valuable early picks. It is also a four drop. The kinds of deck that really want Bloodbraid don't curve that much higher than four and starting out a draft with your top end isn't ideal. The Bloodbraid also pairs fairly well with Goyf or Pup and they are both unlikely to table which will put you in a weaker position going forwards.
My vote here was for either Liliana or for Jackal Pup depending most on what sort of games I wanted to play. If I wanted to bring the pain and have nice quick games then Pup obviously. Pup is easily the weakest card of the options. It is close to the weakest in the pack! It is good because it is an on theme one drop for one of the best archetypes in the cube. You are pretty safe picking up a Pup, even if someone else does go for an aggressive red deck you will still be fine and will still have a good RX aggro deck if you want to stick with it. If you have a deck that is well themed and can consistently curve out one drop through three drop then you are going to win most cube games and that is exactly what Pup helps with.
Liliana is obviously known to be pretty good. I like her as a pick here as she is pretty open and has good options on a suitable card to table (two dual lands, some Jund style cards and Gurmag Angler which is weak without good support cards like Liliana!). Picking Lili here doesn't send any signals that black might be open as well due to Angler being so poor as a stand alone card. Lili fits well into any deck with enough black mana to support her. She is pretty effective against most kinds of strategy as well. You might end up aggro, midrange, control or combo and there is a very good chance you will be playing the Lili assuming you are still black and a good chance she is putting in work regardless of what you face. She is versatile, cheap, powerful, all the hallmarks of a great first pick and more.
Sneak Attack was the popular choice from this pack. Much like the Mind Twist the community seem drawn to the high power finisher cards rather than the cheap support things. Certainly Sneak Attack is incredibly powerful but much like Mind Twist it is very inconsistent power. It is also a bit of a roll the dice non-interactive card. Sneak Attack style decks either find all the bits, do their thing and win, or don't and lose. Yes, there is always some interaction but it is less so and more linear with this kind of deck than others. When playing cube I want to play magic rather than just watch it unfurl before me, when winning I want to feel like I did the winning rather than the luck of the draw and the power of my silly cards!
If you are going to pick a Sneak Attack then it is best to do it early and then pick up the things to support it rather than the other way round! You are pretty all in which ever way you do it, both in the draft and in the games. You will lose a lot when the draft goes badly and can still lose when you get the nuts deck just to awkward draws and random disruption. The payoff for that is having a deck than can be unbeatable when it gets a good draw and one that is a lot of fun. My gut is that your expected win rate is lower with a Sneak pick here than with most of the other first pick suggestions. Picking the Sneak isn't bad here but it is rather a lottery. If you want to do crazy powerful things and crush people then go for it but if you want to win then probably don't. Let someone else fall into that trap.
Lastly we have Polluted Delta which is of course a fantastic card. Avoiding this as a first pick is more subtle than some of the other cards as I am very happy first picking a sac, shock or dual land in many situations. While it isn't a gold card in the same way that a Bloodbraid or even the Hissing Quagmire is the card still only going to be of much use if you are in blue or black. You are locking yourself down somewhat early for fairly little payoff. Delta is great consistency but it isn't offering any real direction beyond the colours. Further to this black is likely a weaker colour to be in if you pass the Liliana. This means a Delta pickup has a good chance of putting you blue or being a wasted pick. Being blue is lovely in a Vintage cube however blue is very awkward to draft well. Despite having all most powerful cards blue is not so fluid in its archetypes. Any blue deck that is going to win is going to have to do fairly specific things and have the appropriate support to do that well. It can be blue white control, blue red tempo, blue X Opposition, UB Reanimate, storm, Upheaval and so on and so forth. The difficulty is that just getting into blue without direction can go very wrong. I have had so many blue piles that are full of bomb cards that lack any real synergy or direction. You often have to commit to one of these directions early before you really know what is open. So many top blue cards are totally unplayable if you don't see the stuff to go with it. Things like Tinker and Upheaval that get taken super early get left in sideboards of dodgy blue decks that didn't see what they wanted. If I am going to first pick a card that has a good chance of putting me into blue I want it to be a lot more impactful or directional than a Delta.