Sunday 24 June 2012

Midrange White Weenie

Isamaru, Hound of KondaWhite weenie has been one of the long standing tier one agro decks in the cube and has many incarnations of build. This is a middle of the road mid range build that aims to use the highest quality and power cards available at the cost of reducing the synergies. Other versions might chose to focus on equipment or on Crusade effects and token generation where as this has a pinch of the best of both. Mana denial versions exist as do much more explosive almost affinity builds. White weenie has always been happy to splash a second colour which tends to now be black for Vindicate, Dark Confidant and Lingering Souls. If one puts all these variations under the umbrella of white weenie then it is probably the second most diverse and variable archetype in the cube after the rock which for a purely agro deck is pretty impressive.

The key thing to do when building a white weenie deck is to restrict yourself on the non creature cards as much as possible. It is all too easy to fill up on fantastic spells like Armageddon and Path to Exile and powerful supplement cards in the form of equipments leaving yourself very threat light. This can lead to lots of hands where you fail to gain much early tempo or draws that lose to a removal spell which is usually death.

Honor of the PureI have been trying to isolate why it is that white weenie is so strong a deck and I think the answer is that it is a very rounded and highly efficient deck. White has some of the best removal which is able to hit most things, the only exception being planeswalkers but great ones of its own, evasive monsters with pump effects and good tempo make these less problematic anyway. White has some very powerful one and two drop monsters in good quantity, some ways to keep up card advantage and some decent synergies. It is not a deck like goblins, elves or affinity where the synergy is extreme and allows for the game to snowball out of control. White weenie trades this extreme synergy for consistency and high individual card power levels which means it is far more robust to disruption and bad draws. Diversity of threats is also something white weenie has a great deal of as well as many single cards which are excellent against certain archetypes.

Path to Exile
25 Spells

Mox Diamond

Path to Exile
Sword to Plowshares
Land Tax

Mother of Runes
Champion of the Parish
Student of Warfare
Elite Vanguard
Isamru, Hound of Konda
Gideon's Lawkeeper

Thalia, Guardian of ThrabenHonour the Pure

Loyal Cathar
Knight of the Meadowgrain
Kor Skyfisher
Stoneforge Mystic
Knight of the White Orchid
Thalia, Guardian of Threben

Sword of Fire and Ice
Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Fiend Hunter
Mentor of the Meek

Elspeth, Knight Errant
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Restoration Angel
Ranger of Eos
Mikeaus the Lunarch

15 Lands

Blinkmoth Nexus
14 Plains

Above is the list I made which I quite liked as a very middle of the road build. In hindsight the Fiend Hunter was really poor and should probably have been a one mana equipment instead. Blinkmoth was a risk that paid off well in much the same vein as Loyal Cathar, both included to help against wrath effects. Many of my cards have a high ratio of white to colourless requirement which makes any colourless land in an already daring mana base a big risk. I played Knight of the Meadowgrain over a selection of human alternatives as I felt it was exactly the kind of thing you want to follow up with the new Ajani. I only had one card that benefited from other humans and so it was not a big deal. Ajani was pretty good but didn't come out enough to get much feel for the card. Mikeaus however performed the best I have seen him so far, even without Ajani backing him up and look forward to that pairing in the futur. Both are slow but both give you lots of options.

Mother of RunesMuch as flying seems to be just getting further and further ahead as the best thing to have on a dork the Restoration Angel is not at its best in this build. I would be tempted to change it for an Armageddon but if I am also losing the Fiend Hunter it might be too few bodies left main deck. The Angel is just not as impactive as a Hero of Bladehold  which is the sort of thing you want to be ending your curve with. Angel is much better just above the middle of your mana curve in more control style decks. Another consideration would be to put in a Keldjoran Outpost instead of the Geddon or an equipment although it is also a slow card.

The ideal way for most white weenie decks to play out is to open with one and two drop dorks and then follow them up with either cheap removal, equipment, crusades, walkers or more guys if they are clogging the board. White weenie makes it easy to extend as much as you need while still applying pressure. Typically it will get half the job done with the early pressure and then grind out a win slowly from the midgame as things stabilize. Your incremental advantage cards like Mikeaus and the walkers allow you to stall in a game without just dying to anything with more of a late game plan to win while your annoying utility and evasion critters help you to sneak through bits of damage.

White weenie is not the most thrilling deck to play but it still demands a high degree of competency to play and is pleasingly versatile and powerful to make up for its unexciting characteristics. I will post some good examples of the various polarisations of the deck as I see them and will leave it at that for now.

Friday 22 June 2012

Top 10 Lists: Planeswalkers

Current List found here:

I love me a list more than anyone really should, however top X lists are becoming popular and so I shall gladly jump on the band waggon. I recently read PVs top walkers list and found myself disagreeing massively with some of the choices. While we are talking lists PV would make my top 5 magicians of all time list and so  when I find something I disagree upon it gives me much greater pause for thought than when someone of lesser insight has that opinion. Granted PVs list was not based on their cube appeal which accounts for much of the discrepancies but even were we to align the premise of our ratings I think we would still be at odds over many.

To be clear about my ordering it will be based on their power specifically in the context of my cube which is designed to allow the best constructed style decks. What I mean by power is a combination of two factors, firstly it is the impact they have on a game when they are made and secondly the frequency by which they find themselves included in decks. The latter is quite a harsh way to assess cards as it can leave very powerful cards that simply have no viable decks that wish to include them with really low rankings. Koth is a prime example of this as he is a very powerful walker however he is a bit too costly for red deck wins and a little too intensive on red to frequent any non mono deck and so sees very little play.

Planeswalker is a very exclusive card type of which, including the upcoming two spoiled in M13, there are only 30 in total. Even more unusual is that all of them are close to playable in the cube with only 20% being really weak and some of those are only due to lack of support. Including the new 3 mana Ajani I deem 12 of the walkers to be A cube mainstays leaving the remaining 12 all as A cube playable but just not seeing enough play to warrant a full time slot. I have tested to some extent every walker printed except Liliana of the Dark Realms which I am in no rush to lose with (PV hit the nail on the head discussing this particular walker and its failings). Timayo is quite new and so may be overrated at present due to not quite enough play however she has been performing similarly to Gideon thus far. The various gold walkers are all more powerful than their rating I have given indicates however the fewer archetypes that support them means they are all a few places lower than they would be if I were ignoring this aspect of a cards viability. Anyway, enough preamble, here is my list, not just of the top 10 but of all the walkers as it is convenient to give and I am qualified to speak on the matter!

C Cube

29. Chandra Ablaze
28. Liliana of the Dark Realms
27. Nissa Revane
26. Sarkhan the Mad
25. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
24. Liliana Vess

B Cube

23. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
22. Jace, Memory Adept
21. Venser, Shaper Adept

20. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
19. Sarkhan Vol
18. Ajani Goldmane
17. Ajani Vengant
16. Garruk Relentless
15. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
14. Garruk Primal Hunter
13. Chandra Nalaar
12. Koth of the Hammer

A Cube Mainstays

11. Jace Beleren

10. Karn Liberated
9.  Chandra, the Firebrand
8.  Sorin Markov
(I suspect new 3 mana Ajani will wind up in this sort of region)
7.  Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
6.  Tezzeret, the Seeker
5.  Gideon Jura
4.  Liliana of the Veil
3.  Garruk Wildspeaker
2.  Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1.  Elspeth, Knight Errant

I shall just make a few points relating to some of the more controversially placed cards starting with the top end. Elspeth is played in most white decks and is both more resilliant than Jace and more able to send the game spiralling out of control than Jace is. Jace may be more fun but Elspeth wins more games, end of story. Elspeth and Jace are still very close in power and sit a level above the other walkers in my cube. Garruk through to Timayo (assuming she keeps up performance) are the next level of walkers and are all frequent game winners and inclusions in decks. Garruk is perfectly rounded and offers such a wonderful spread of effects that he is rarely left out of a green deck. It is his playability and convenience rather than absolute power that earn him the number three slot. Liliana of the three mana earns the 4th slot through the fantastic synergy she has with many other cards in the cube. Tezzeret of the 5 mana used to be my top rated walker due to his strength in combination with things like Mana Vault. In those kinds of deck he is probably the most abusive walker however he is unplayable in non artifact decks and has slipped down rating for being narrow.

Sorin Markov is probably my most controversial high entry card however he has continually performed way above expectation, perhaps a little like Timayo. He fulfils many things both walkers and black desire. Life gain is great, powerful +2 loyalty effects are great, the ability to protect himself and maintain a high loyalty count are frustrating to deal with. The ultimate is easy enough to use and gives black the potential to do things outside its restricted colour pie. There are many pluses to Sorin and the only real drawback is high cost which with Lake of the Dead and Dark Ritual are less problematic for black. He is one of the best walkers to drop onto a board position where you are behind and offers about as much tempo swing as you could ask for on a card. He might end the game slower than Grave Titan but he is much more robust and versatile of a card for your 6 mana. Chandra the Firebrand is another card I seem to rate much higher than others. I would certainly agree that she has lower power and immediate impact than the rest of the top 10 walkers but she makes up for this by being easy to cast and fairly convenient. In the cube ping is a powerful ability and usually able to work as sufficient protection for her which allows you to make use of the -2 effect which is surprisingly good. Forking a spell in the cube turns out to be really quite savage due to the extreme power of spells in the cube, double Fireblast frequently being a game ender! Chandra just neatly fits into lots of decks and rounds them out nicely.

Karn costs lots but offers great removal to decks that cannot afford the space for niche removal or don't have access to it. Being purely colourless he is included in decks that cast him reliably on turn five or sooner and results in being like so cross between Tezzeret the Seeker and Giedeon Jura. He doesn't seem to end games quite as often as a walker of that power level might suggest but does fulfil an important role as both a threat and an answer. Jace Beleren is probably one of my lowest rated walkers relative to the common opinion. In the cube there are cheaper and quicker ways to draw cards and his best use is to deal with a better Jace of your opponents! He can be what a deck wants but is definitely on the narrow side of things.

Koth I have mentioned just lacks viable homes, Chandra Nalaar however is obviously much much weaker yet is only just behind Koth. This is because she does have a few homes although typically they will elect to have the 4 mana versions. Nalaar is a surprisingly good removal spell in red and can take out most monsters in the cube and still have some loyalty left over. She has seen play in both big red and UR control decks and even in a Swans of Bryn Argoll deck where she could draw a lot of cards! Not a great walker and not to be viewed as a threat really however as a removal spell she will often go at least two for one and regain you some extra tempo on top of that.

The two non-Wildspeaker Garruks are both languishing at ratings below what their power level might suggest. This is because I have never wanted to play either over Wildspeaker in a deck and with the legend rule not working in their favour I am then reluctant to include multiple Garruks. They both do things that Wildspeaker does not do however they are not nearly as rounded a card and able to be useful in any given situation. The gold walkers start to feature around this point in my ratings. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is much weaker than I initially thought. He is just too much easier to deal with than Elspeth and harder to end games with. He is weaker than Vengant but is rated higher purely because BW tokens is a much more likely deck to call upon him than any RW deck is for Vengant. I find Vengeant much harder to abuse in cube than basically everyone else seems too. It feels like he cannot keep things in check with his plus one effect and then immediately dies as soon as you start using the -2. He is too expensive for Boros Deck Wins and has no real other archetype in his colours that want him. If his plus one were the same as Timayo's and actually tapped the thing then he would be one of the very best and worthy of a space in the top 10 as the only gold walker. As it is he is just fragile and difficult to procure as much value from as most other walkers above him.

Sarkhan Vol is the other way around in that I rate him far more than everyone else. I view him like Koth in that he is great in agro decks where you never expect to be behind on the board and so the lack of a protective ability is no longer such an issue. Vol fits reasonably well into most RG beats decks and tends to end games rather well. All of his abilities are good in the RG deck and offers reach in a few different veins. I like Tibalt but he is very niche and I think there are not enough support cards for him to be viable yet however still worth keeping an eye on. I have also only played him a few times and would be happy to be proved wrong. I like the fact that it is a choice as to whether you use the +1 on your turn rather than automatically doing it as is the case with every walker other than Liliana of the three mana.

I have less to say about the other walkers as they are more clearly less use. Venser is just a bit expensive compared to the better alternatives. Nicol Bolas is fantastic but is impossible to cast and has no archetypes that can support him. Nissa is fine but needs some cube errata to be viable due to the singleton rules and is too weak to really bother. I have already reviewed most of these cards in more detail individually and will be doing most of those not yet done slowly over time and so I shall leave it there for now but rest assured I will be doing top X lists for most things imaginable eventually!

Sunday 3 June 2012

Present Cube List June '12


Figure of Destiny
Qusali Pridemage
Baleful Strix
Boggart Ram-Gang
Knight of the Reliquary
Geist of Saint Traft
Kitchen Finks
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Trygon Predator
Murderous Redcap
Bloodbraid Elf
Huntsmaster of the Fells / Ravager of the Fells

Fire / Ice
Lightening Helix
Pernicious Deed
Mealstrom Pulse
Dromar's Charm
Bant Charm


10x Original Dual Land
10x Sac Lands
10x Ravnica Bounce Lands
10x Shock Lands
10x Pain Lands
10x Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Filter Lands
6x Artifact Lands
5x Man Land Duals
5x Onslaught Cycling Lands

City of Traitors
Ancient T
Mishra's Workshop
Mishra's Factory
Blinkmoth Nexus
Faerie Conclave
Treetop Village
Gaea's Cradle
Lake of the Dead
Flagstones of Trokair
Kessig Wolf Run
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Grove of the Burnwillows
City of Brass
Teetering Peaks
Barbarian Ring
Desolate Lighthouse


Mox Diamond
Mox Opal
Chrome Mox
Mana Crypt
Zuran Orb
Everflowing Chalice
Engineered Explosives

Mana Vault
Aether Vial
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Voltaic Key
Sensei's Divining Top
Cursed Scroll

Orzhov Signet
Dimir Signet
Izzet Signet
Azourius Signet
Talisman of Progress
Talisman of Unity
Talisman of Indulgence
Talisman of Dominance
Grim Monolith
Contagion Clasp
Winter Orb
Ratchet Bomb
Cranial Plating
Isochron Scepter
Scroll Rack

Crucible of Worlds
Tangle Wire
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of War and Peace
Vedalken Shackles
Tumble Magnet
Mimic Vat

Nevinyrral's Disk
Khalni Gem

Guilded Lotus
Memory Jar
Karn Liberated


Signal Pest
Hex Parasite
Arcbound Worker

Phyrexian Revoker
Arcbound Ravager
Myr Retriever 

Palladium Myr

Molten-Tail Masticore
Solemn Simulacrum

Wurmcoil Engine
Myr Enforcer
Myr Battle Sphere
Emrakul, the Eons Torn


Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Land Tax
Mana Tithe
Faith's Shield

Honour the Pure

Oblivion Ring

Lingering Souls

Wrath of God
Day of Judgement

Ravages of War
Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Gideon Jura
Austere Command

Student of Warfare
Mother of Runes
Isamru, Hound of Konda
Savannah Lions
Elite Vanguard
Champion of the Parish

Stoneforge Mystic
Kor Skyfisher
Ethersworn Canonist
Thalia, Guardian of Threben
Loyal Cathar
Wall of Omens
Knight of the White Orchid
Spectral Lynx
Serra Avenger

Fiend Hunter
Mentor of the Meek

Academy Rector
Hero of Bladehold
Ranger of Eos
Restoration Angel

Baneslayer Angel
Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Elash Norn, Grand Cenobite


Spell Pierce
Force Spike
Mental Misstep
Spell Snare
Ancestral Vision
Gitaxian Probe
Vapour Snag
Mystical Tutor

Arcane Denial
Mana Drain
Memory Lapse
Mana Leak
Into the Roil
Think Twice
See Beyond
Lat-Nam's Legacy

Jace Beleren
Thirst for Knowledge
Frantic Search
Show and Tell

Cryptic Command
Gifts Ungiven
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Fact or Fiction

Mystic Retrieval

Temporal Manipulation
Time Warp

Tezzeret the Seeker
Force of Will
Timayo, the Moon Sage

Temporal Mastery

Enclave Cryptologist
Delver of Secrets

Lighthouse Chronologist
Spellstutter Sprite
Voidmage Prodigy
Vedalken Engineer
Phantasmal Image
Waterfront Bouncer
Snapcaster Mage
Invisible Stalker
Apprentice Alchemist

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Stormbound Geist
Trinket Mage
Master of Etherium
Vendilion Clique
Grand Architect
Sea Gate Oracle
Illusory Angel
Serendib Efreet

Phyrexian Metamorph
Glen Elandra Archmage
Sower of Temptation

Meluko the Clouded Mirror
Consecrated Sphinx


Disciple of the Vault
Carrion Feeder
Diregraf Ghoul
Vampire Lacerator 

Dark Confidant
Black Cat
Vampire Hexmage
Gloom Surgeon

Priest of Gix
Phyrexian Rager 
Geralf's Messengers
Vampire Nighthawk
Hypnotic Spectre

Braids, Cabal Minion
Abyssal Persecutor
Phyrexian Obliterator

Bloodgift Demon
Grave Titan

Tragic Slip

Innocent Blood
Dark Ritual
Vampiric Tutor

Cabal Therapy
Inquisition of Kozilek

Bad Moon
Demonic Tutor
Hymn to Tourach
Go for the Throat

Recurring Nightmare
Yawgmoth's Will
Liliana of the Veil
Phyrexian Arena


Living Death
Sorin Markov
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Mind Twist
Skeletal Scrying
Death Cloud


Lightening Bolt
Chain Lightening
Burst Lightening
Seal of Fire
Lava Dart
Reckless Charge

Faithless Looting
Pillar of Flame

Arc Trail

Searing Blaze
Punishing Fire

Chaos Warp
Sulphuric Vortex
Wheel of Fortune

Chandra, the Firebrand
Koth of the Hammer
Sneak Attack

Destructive Force
Devil's Play
Rolling Earthquake
Bonfire of the Damned

Mogg Fanatic
Goblin Guide
Stormkirk Noble
Grim Lavamancer
Goblin Welder
Spikeshot Elder
Goblin Bushwhacker
Orcish Lumberjack
Vexing Devil

Ember Hauler
Kargan Dragonlord 
Torch Fiend
Keldon Marauders
Hellspark Elemental
Tin Street Hooligan

Squee, Goblin Nabob
Manic Vandal
Changra's Phoenix

Flametongue Kavu
Siege-Gang Commander
Inferno Titan
Rorix Bladewing


Nature's Claim

Life from the Loam
Nature's Lore
Survival of the Fittest
Sylvan Library


Beast Within

Crushing Vines

Birthing Pod
Garruk Wildspeaker

Primal Command
Plow Under

Green Sun's Zenith

Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Llanowar Elf
Fyndhorn Elf
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Elves of Deep Shadow
Jogora Treespeaker
Quirion Ranger
Llanowar Mentor
Wild Nacatl
Basking Rootwalla
Uvenwald Tracker

Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Elvish Visionary
Fauna Shaman
Wall of Blossoms
Overgrown Battlement
Wall of Roots
Viridian Emissary
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Kavu Predator
Lotus Cobra

Scavenging Ooze
Strangleroot Geist
Brindle Shoat

Ohran Viper
Viridian Shaman
Eternal Witness
Wood Elves
Wolfir Avenger

Obstinate Baloth
Thrun, the Last Troll

Master of the Wild Hunt

Deranged Hermit
Wolfir Silverheart
Acidic Slime

Chancellor of the Tangle 

Changes to the Cube IV

Planechase has a few interesting spells I want to throw into the cube and I have had a bit of a chance to test the Avecyn Restored cards. I was also a little hasty in B cubing some cards and so it is time to have a tinker with the cube and move some things around as follows:


Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Brimstone Volley

Primeval Titan
Caller of the Claw

Sword of Feast and Famine
Loxodon Warhammer

Devastation Tide

Volrath's Stronghold
5x Vivid Lands

Shadowmage Infiltrator
Mystic Snake
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad


Desolate Lighthouse

Bonfire of the Damned

Phyrexian Arena

Restoration Angel
Serra Avenger

Wolfir Silverheart
Wolfir Avenger
Brindle Shoat

Mimic Vat

Serendib Efreet
Illusory Angel
Vedalken Engineer

Baleful Strix
Dromar's Charm
Bant Charm
Trygon Predator

Saturday 2 June 2012


Black has been coming under a lot of attack lately as the worst colour in cube draft. I wish to defend the colour black and explain why this is not at all the case. The description of worst is very ambiguous and rather meaningless when you try and use it for comparison. You need to define a quantifiable way in which you can demonstrate black is weakest. There are a couple of obvious statistics you could use however as always with magic and statistics they are still hard to interpret. The win ratio of black decks is probably the first quantifiable way to show it is weak that people would suggest. Others might invoke the percentage of people who play black to show peoples opinions towards the colour. These statistics can be useful and will show things about the colour but will not offer a definitive answer as to the relative power of the colour as so many different variables effect those statistics. For example people could simply be going the wrong way about building black decks and as such having them under perform.

The thing is it doesn't really matter much about the actual power of black, only peoples perceptions of the colour. If everyone is avoiding it or disregarding it as a threat it naturally balances out to increase the colours power. If you could say black was half as good as the other colours but you are the only black drafter at the table. Roughly this means each other colour will be played 3 times by the other 7 players. Although not a particularly transferable or accurate depiction of card pool to power it at least follows the correlations. As such you can say that all of 0.5power is more powerful than a third of 1.0power and by underdrafting alone black is the strongest colour. This is just to say never disregard a colour based on general perceptions of its power. I don't actually think black is the weakest colour in the cube but then this comes back to the ambiguity of the label worst or weak. I wouldn't like to call any colour the worst unless the parameters were changed to be more specific such as what is the worst mono colour or what is the colour with lowest depth or lowest average card power etc. Even these assessments are hard as there are so many ways to go about doing things in magic.

Black most certainly has some weaknesses as a colour which you need to be very aware of should you wish to draft with it and win. The biggest one by quite some distance is that it is a colour which plays least well with others. Most of blacks best cards have a huge requirement of black mana, I haven't done the maths but I would put a lot on black having the highest ratio of black mana to colourless mana on its cards, not just in my cube but in all cubes. In addition to this high dependence on black mana the black cards just seem to have less synergy with other colours. There are three sensible ways to play black in the cube almost exclusively due to this antisocial nature of the colour. You can either play mono black or you can play basically mono black but splash for a few really high powered spells or key spells you need to solve problems such as Vindicate or Pernicious Deed. The third option is the inverse of the previous where you are basically playing another or other colours and splash black for a few of the high powered cards. These decks that splash black are usually combo and control decks although Lingering Souls has frequently made WW decks dip into black and Dark Confidant has brought all the colours to black at some point. Black has the best tutor magic in the cube and offers other decent support cards for combo decks. Yawgmoth's Will and Demonic Tutor are frequently the only black, non-gold cards a deck will splash for.

Blacks second weakness is the inability to deal with artifacts or enchantments when they hit the table. This has always been an issue for the colour in all forms of magic and the solutions are generally well known as they are few in number. The first solution is to ignore these threats which is what the agro decks tend to elect for. This can be riskier in cubes packing cheese like Worship but in my cube at least there are few cards that you must deal with in order to win and no hosers and so this option is viable. Particularly as you have a good shot at dealing with threats in hand before they hit the board. It would be nice if you could kill Opposition or Vedalken Shackles however you can still beat them without having to remove them. The second solution has been touched upon with the small splash for Vindicate and potentially even Disenchant too or answers in other colours as suits your deck. I only do this if I have good reason too such as knowledge of the meta or it is especially convenient to do so, in other words I don't go out of my way to ensure I have splashable solutions.

The other way black can find answers to things in from the colourless pool in cards like Nevinyrral's Disk, Ratchet Bomb and All is Dust. Oblivion Stone has been suggested often as redundancy for these effects however I think it is too expensive and not required with black having tutors. Playing multiple clunky inefficient late game cards will harm your draws and is simply not needed due to tutors and recursion. All is Dust is the weakest of the cards you could use as it only deals with enchantments and coloured artifacts while also being very expensive. While much more reasonably costed the Bomb and Disk are still very slow cards that almost always require being in play for a time before they can help. It is only the control decks that go to these extreme lengths to ensure their safety in the late games. Whether you go for a splash, the colourless options or simply risk having nothing will depend on your card pool, what you expect to be facing and the style of your deck and just require good judgement as all are viable options.

The third and probably final weakness in black is that it is quite a shallow colour in terms of having much in the way of redundancy or powerful support cards for many of the things it wants to do. A better way to put this is that black probably has the sharpest fall off in average power level of cards after you remove all those with 3.5 rating or higher. Good examples of this are Dark Ritual and Yawgmoth's Will, both of which are outstanding cards however Cabal Ritual and Yawmoth's Agenda are pretty awful as options for redundancy in those areas. On the flip side of this black, especially after the power is removed, has one of the highest, if not the highest (competing with blue) numbers of cards at the top level of power. If you took groups of five people, gave them each a colour and let them draft the artifacts or something and looked at the decks people built it would generally look as if the black decks had the best cards in them. I also wager the black decks would come out as one of the consistently best performing colours but this is also because it is happiest as a mono coloured deck, not just because it would have high card power. As we all know card synergy trumps card power. It being a shallow colour simply means you should avoid it if you have others dipping into it much more than for a splash, particularly if they are close to you on a draft table. It does not mean you should avoid it from the outset.

So we have covered the weaknesses of black and how to tackle them a little but I have given little reason beyond black being under drafted and underestimated as to why you should play black and that it is a competitive powerful colour. My first observation on this front is that black is somewhat the jack of all trades colour after you get past the enchantment and artifact removal troubles. Black has the most abundant and diverse creature removal, it has solid card advantage and can attack mana bases and cards anywhere in the game other than actually in play. Black has control creatures, utility creatures and highly aggressive creatures. Black has the cheapest planeswalker removal card in the game in Vampire Hexmage which is huge for any decks that don't rely on having a superior creature force. Black has ramp and recursion although not rivalling greens it is still more than most colours get. This all means (assuming you have gone for some non-black artifact and enchantment removal) that black is able to deal with everything that the cube has to throw at you. With the ease of tutoring as well it is able to avoid dipping into the low powered cards for redundancy as it can rely on getting what it needs when it needs it.

Black also does some things that other colours don't really do, namely attacking their hands. These work a little like proactive counterspells. In some ways they are better but in just as many others they are worse. It is simply about using this tool appropriately. The best generalisation is that discard is better early while counter magic is better later in the game. Discard does nothing to prevent people top decking what they need and can become dead late one when peoples hands are empty. It is however cheaper and allows you to spends your mana and curve out rather than holding back in case they do something. This makes it best disruption for agro and combo decks but still useful in control rather like Force Spike is for blue in control decks. A bit will help get you there but too much will mean when you are there you die anyway. Decks like Pox greatly benefit from the synergy with discard as your denial of their land means the late game top decks are no longer a problem so you have both angles covered.

The way I draft and build decks is all based around mimicking archetypes. The more limited the format the more loosely you will be able to mimic something however this will be the case for all players so makes little odds. It is a way of pre knowing how you will be trying to win and what cards you most need. A huge advantage black has over other colours in this regard is that all of blacks archetypes use a lot of the same spells, far far more than any other colour. Reds two main archetypes, Big Red and Red Deck Wins for example are unlikely to share more than four or five cards, of which all will be pretty unimportant for at least one of the decks. There is not a black deck out there to which I would be unhappy adding a Vampire Nighthawk or Hexmage, a Death Cloud, a Dark Ritual, a Necropotence, a Sinkhole, a Liliana of the Veil, a Hymn to Tourach, an Inquisition of Kozilek or even a Tragic Slip. That list is a lot more exclusive for other colours and reserved for the really big names like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Lightening Bolt, Swords to Plowshares etc.

So what are the black archetypes of which I speak? I will entirely ignore combo decks in this section as it is pretty hard to generalise about them (no irony intended) and don't play a significant part in the meta of most cubes (with the exception of reanimator I guess) .The Rock is the only true tier one archetype that is commonly played and has black paired with other colours. The Rock is however really several archetypes that range from mono green splashing black to mono black splashing a tiny bit of green. UB junky agro decks exist as to UB control decks but these are tier 1.5 really. The UB decks perform better than the lack of synergy in the colours might suggest simply because they have such a large volume of really powerful cards to throw in. There are only four decks I would aim to build if I were going black in cube and they are all mono black or mono black with a splash for Vindicate or something. The Rock would be my backup if I found that there were more black drafters than I would like or perhaps UB if green was getting gobbled up too.

The mono black archetypes are agro black (which really isn't a suicide deck any more, even with Hatred!), mono black control, Necro and Pox. The differences between the decks are quite subtle due to having lots of card overlap and similar synergies however the way they each play and their game plan are all quite different, as is the value of certain cards in each deck. Other than agro black they are really all control decks although only mono black control tends to play any cards that cost more than 4 mana. I have done articles on Pox and Necro, the pox one showing how a splash ends up looking quite well too. I am sure I will get round to doing articles for agro black (probably the best of the mono black decks) and mono black control (generally the weakest of the 4 archetypes) and so won't spend any time discussing them specifically. All of them are tier one with the possible exception of mono black control which I cannot vouch for as I have not done in a while. Each has some strengths and weaknesses of their own and have different match ups with the rest of the meta as you might expect.

Black has always had good spells however until about Zendikar block time it really lacked powerful creatures and planeswalkers to supplement the good spells. Over the last three years the black ranks have swelled with loads of outstanding little critters that actually enable it to win either with tempo or with control. Dark Ritual can now ramp out early things that are hard to deal with and a serious threat, the monsters black makes are able to afford enough tempo that you have life to spend on cards. Abyssal Persecutor and Vampire Nighthawk are both greatly to thank for black ability to compete, particularly against red decks which historically is blacks worst matchup. Geralf's Messenger and Phyrexian Obliterator were two cards I was indecisive with due to the all black costs but have secured slots now due to blacks propensity towards being mono. If just looked at as three drops or four drops rather than triple and quad black spells and compare them to other creatures of the same cost they are there with the very best cards in the game.

Lots of blacks utility and synergy is in house and so it has no need to use other colours when wanting to abuse its engine cards. Primarily the synergic effects are discard or sacrifice ones that are abusing things like Bloodghast. It is a combination of the cheap and powerful monsters at its disposal backed up with solid and versatile support spells (removal,card advantage and disruption) that make black so dangerous. It can either cripple you from the start with some hand or land removal or come out of nowhere with an Obliterator often before turn four and end the game on the back of it alone. Black can look all out of options and then refill its hand to seven without the decency to do that for all opposition as well! I must also pay homage to Death Cloud which is the ultimate split card /command out there being a game ender and a bail out spell. Most decks want cards like this and use Overrun, Wildfire, Armageddon, Upheaval and the like to get the job done but Cloud is the most versatile and easiest to use of the lot.

To end this piece I am going to attempt a list of the black cards that are in the highest bracket of power in roughly the order by which I think they are responsible for black being a great colour in the cube. Notice, with the exception of Inquisition that all the creatures are post Zendikar and all the spells are pre Zendkiar, most of which are really quite old cards. Anyway, starting with the best I give you:

Death Cloud
Vampire Nighthawk
Abyssal Persecutor
Inquisition of Kozilek
Liliana of the Veil
Vampire Hexmage
Dark Ritual
Hymn to Tourach
Dark Confidant
Demonic Tutor
Yawgmoth's Will
Recurring Nightmare (outstanding card but often most sought after by other colours)
Phyrexian Obliterator

Doomblade, Disfigure, Tragic Slip and all the one mana two power dorks have also been pulling huge weight for the deck however they are not really top bracket power cards, just the best options black has for those frequently desirable tasks. They are generally all fine although some of blacks one drops can bit a bit painful for the return they offer. I don't know how convincing I have been in terms of persuading the reader that black is a very powerful cube colour and so I suggest that you all head out and try to make some mono black decks and see for yourself first hand the qualities of the colour.