Sunday, 20 November 2016

Top 16 Powered Cube Archetypes

Black LotusSo what happens to the face of the meta when you unleash the full potential of magic brokeness? This is a far harder question than assessing the meta of a midrange cube. Unpowered cubes are that much more alike to one another than powered cubes. A big part of this is the change from individual card power to card synergy. A midrange cube generally commands that every card you play does something and does it well. When you start throwing in Mox and Time Walk you move away from needing every card to do stuff and look to abuse more synergies. The speed and power level of what can happen is drastically increased and all the fairer strategies need to adapt to keep up. This generally means replacing clunky powerful midrange stuff with niche tools that you can somehow abuse.

The result of this demand for card synergy is that there is a lot less card overlap. In a midrange cube you can play most of the cards in several different archetypes while in a powered cube you find that a significant number of the cards are things you only really ever want in one kind of deck. It is impossible to support all the viable archetypes in the powered cube (of which there are way way more than in the midrange cube). The cube would be thousands of cards and a disaster to draft. Most powered cubes support 8-12 strong main archetypes and naturally a selection of others creep in with those cards as well as some tier two decks. It is typically personal preference as to which archetypes will be supported in any given powered cube and rarely has much baring on their abstract power level. You can balance any archetypes with cube design and so that isn't an issue.

Tolarian AcademyTo get around the issue that a powered cube used to booster draft will not be able to support all the viable archetypes therefor making a comparison of them in that light meaningless I will assume a cube style rotisserie. Still singleton, still 40 card decks but able to use any card they like rather than those more commonly found included in drafting cubes. Some of the very best archetypes in a powered cube setting use some of the highest counts of narrow and niche cards that other decks simply never use. As such they are less commonly supported than the decks with more overlap. The mad thing is that powered cube is so powerful that well rounded staple cards from the midrange cube that feel like they go in loads of archetypes often only go in one when looking at viable tier one powered cube decks. To remain competitive the various directions you could take things from a midrange cube  and try and replicate in the powered one focus down to one quite polar version of that archetype. This essentially makes every card that isn't a dual land, Force of Will, Brainstorm, Bird of Paradise, Thoughtsieze or one of the other few cards of that level basically just as narrow as something daft like Retraction Helix. There is no practical way to assume a level of narrowness at which a card isn't included and adjust this list accordingly and so this list just accepts the use of any narrow cards the archetypes might want. It also assumes you get one to two pieces of power.

It is disclaimer time! All of these archetypes are viable and looking at it now I think other than the top 3 there is little to choose between any of these archetypes in a vacuum. In a draft it is all about playing the field and so choosing the right opening picks to leave you with strong cards and a couple of directional options is huge. Then going down a direction that results in having an archetypes that works well against the field while being relatively uncontested in cards is how you win. That and playing really well and being a bit of a luck sack! The relative power of the archetypes is so minor compared to choosing your direction appropriately that basically 4 thorough 16 on this list are roughly equal. They pretty much represent the tier one meta for a powered cube rotisserie and that is much more useful knowledge than a fraction of a difference in average win rate. The deck with the 48% win rate might be the correct choice for the event. Play the right deck, not the best deck. Powered cube is much more of a rock-paper-scissors format than a midrange cube. That is the trade off, do you want fun and exotic decks or do you want many more close games? I like both good games and quirky decks and so play both but I do a lot more unpowered cube these days.

Auriok SalvagersAuriok Salvagers

This is one of the best combos in all of magic but needs severe marking down for contextual reasons. The best version of Salvagers would crush most of the other "best" decks on this list most of the time. Salvagers issues are that it is entirely dependent on getting Black Lotus and Salvagers and then not gating hated into the ground. You can make it work with just Lion's Eye Diamond but you want that as well as Lotus really and it is much harder to go off with just the LED. You cannot rely on getting a Black Lotus and decks that do are weaker as a result. The next issue for this deck is that it is very easy to counter. In Rotisserie were you might know you have the Lotus the moment you broadcast this archetype people will respond and ensure you have a really hard time beating them. Salvagers is one of the hardest decks to beat blind but when you know it is in the meta it is one of the easier combos to stop.

You can build Salvagers deck in a really wide range of ways. I have seen it used with Oath, with Reanimate stuff, in a control shell, in an affinity like deck and in a Stax style deck. The combo is easy to piece together and requires very few cards leaving you a lot of deck space for filler, support or even other strategies. While a lot of combo style things are made safer by having backup combos in them the drawback of Salvagers is that you can usually counter it and the other combos put with it with the same hate cards. The Salvagers combo commands so much respect that it weakens other combos simply from the hate you will then face!

Pernicious DeedThe Rock

About the only midrange deck that is even close to viable in the powered cube the rock still rather struggles. Typically you need at least one tutor in the deck as well as Pernicious Deed. With the prevalence of good artifacts the Deed is the thing keeping the Rock alive in the meta. The rock gains least from the addition of the power. It feels the card disadvantage from things like Black Lotus and doesn't love blowing up its own Mox. The rock is still super capable of beating any kind of deck in the format. The issue is when too many of those decks are doing completely different things. When there is a smaller range of opposition the rock is at it's best. If you only need to beat combo and control decks you should be totally fine, if you need to also beat a couple of aggro red decks then you either need to accept 45% win rates across the field or two auto losses. Powered cube Rock decks are much more reliant on their black discard than unpowered cubes. Quite consistent but also quite grindy. The issue with being grindy and fair is that you can be completely winning a game and then just lose to a top deck Time Spiral or something. If you are thinking Cranial Extraction type tools are the way to compete with the field then the Rock is probably not a great choice. One of the best things about the rock is how flexible it is with such a deep pool of viable cards and a wide array of possible directions even within a powered cube. You can commit to drafting the rock early and still have plenty of time to adapt to what is going on.

Lord of Atlantis

Typically this means merfolk but for cube I extend this to include faeries or any blue based aggressive strategy without a tribal theme. The plan is to apply pressure and then back that up with cheap and free counter magic. Fish is one of the best strategies to counter combo decks and it is pretty decent against control too. Being able to slow them down and disrupt them while having a proactive game plan is the perfect mix. Sadly it is very weak against creature strategies on the whole simply because blue has the lowest tempo creatures available. Cards like Jitte and even Vedalken Shackles greatly improve the matchup against creature decks. Fish is nice in that it doesn't have to fight much over lands or dorks and can just focus on the countermagic and power at the start. Fish is quite weak to removal, the tribal themes are empowered by each other and taking out one thing depowers the rest. The other massive issue Fish has it a vast vacuum in the one drop slot for much of anything useful beyond Curse Catcher. A good fish deck has good solutions to what is typically a poor start to every game. This can be Mox Sappire which is ideal but you need more than just that and the Curse Catcher. Faeries often solves some of these issues with black for one drop hand disruption and some spot removal but you do have to fight for those things much harder.

Birds of ParadiseFive Colour Control

Really this is a Simic control deck base that splashes some number of other colours for efficient and powerful answers. Super strong as it can combines the use of Pernicious Deed with countermagic. Truely this is a deck that can cope with everything the vast array of magic can throw at it. You can go the devastating Global Ruin direction, you can just pick all the best control cards you see or you can play the game of taking all the best counters to what people are doing and have a somewhat reactive set of silver bullets. The deck needs both dig and recursion because it generally has just one or two good things for each matchup. You can often get away with good card quality cards like Top and Sylvan Library as you have a lot of shuffle. The best home for that crowd favourtie Gifts Ungiven too. Super hard to play and build with an expectation of really long grindy games. The most difficult thing about the deck is getting an appropriate mana base as you not only want a huge number of the different dual land pairs but you also really want mostly original duals with the odd shock land and a healthy number of sac lands. In other words all the most contested lands. Hard to play, hard to build and very unforgiving. The deck is quite slow to respond to things and so you need to be very prepared and thinking much more ahead than usual.

Insectile AberrationDelver

In powered cube you generally end up playing Grixis as you need to respect non-creature strategies that much more. Compared to the midrange version this cuts down on a lot of the value cards, threats and burn and replaces them with hand disruption and more counter magic. While Delver is a strong deck in the powered cube that gains loads from any power it does get it has some of the same issues as the midrange cube. Not only does it lean very hard on the few specific top quality one drop cards it is also full of way more contested cards than most other archetypes. It is really only the universal cheap spells that are super all round playable in powered cubes and that is basically what this deck is made up from! You will be fighting for most of your cards with at least one player as well as for your important and uncomfortable three colour mana base. A top notch Delver deck is a terrifying thing but that is a rare thing to see in a powered cube and that is why it is nearer the bottom of this list.

SinkholeDeath (perhaps some Taxes), probably just Pox although occasionally Necro

It was hard to know how to define this cube version of these legacy decks. Basically this is a black based deck that uses mana denial backed up with some discard to prevent other decks getting to play the game. Generally these wreck any deck that needs like three or more lands to function, they are awful for control and can be unbeatable for some combo decks. On the flip side, redundant cheap decks or those using lots of non-lands sources of mana can quite easily break out of the lock, do their thing and win. White is a common splash with Land Tax being great, Swords to Plowshares being great, Armageddon being OK, Vindicate being solid and Lingering Souls being great! Green occasionaly works for a splash with Abrupt Decay, Pernicious Deed and some other tools rather helping out with any artifact shenanigans. Small Pox, Death Cloud, Stripmine, Sinkhole and even Braids, Cabal Minion are the common land disruption tools. Necropotence, Dark Confidant and co, Land Tax and often Skullclamp with things like Bloodghast provide the card advantage. When the format is full of busted and broken things the best way to deal with it is to prevent anyone doing anything of much at all! Decks with expensive cards, key cards or those that just want to play stuff using lands and have an average spell CMC of around two or more just fold to this archetype. The flip side of this is that this folds even harder to anything not covered in that list. If you want to either win or lose without that much middle ground you need to fight over than this is a great choice.

Goblin LackeyGoblins

Comically this is probably the next closest thing to a midrange deck in the powered cube. It has one of the highest curves in the meta yet represents like it is an aggro deck. Goblins can play Mox and Lotus and even things like Aether Vial should it want to output more stuff but none of that is necessary most of the time. Goblin Lackey and Warren Instigator do a decent amount of work for reducing your costs and upping your early game threat level. Goblins is one of the most versatile decks in the format despite looking somewhat linear. You can be quite explosive, you have some powerful tools with the ability to tutor them up, you have a lot of reach, you can go wide, you can sit back and play the value game or you can setup for a combo style kill. You are pretty much uncontested from like your second pick onwards and you have some fairly significant options for the build you go for despite most sharing 80% of the same cards. Goblins is not that quick and can lose before it does that much to combo and artifact decks. On the flip side goblins is very potent against other creature strategies and has a good time verses those. Being proactive and fairly consistent goblins is a good punisher deck that will kill anyone stumbling with their draw as well. Goblins also has lots of must kill cards that puts a fair bit of strain on some archetypes. A combo deck usually can't answer a turn one Lackey and that means goblins very well might be quicker that game! When it loses you wonder how the deck is even viable in the meta but it does win more than it loses so...

Kataki, War's WageHate Bears

This is a white based deck although frequently splashes a second colour. This is much like a white weenie deck except it trades down some tempo power in its creature base for some obnoxious hoser dorks. When everyone is using broken cards and doing broken things you can quite easily ruin all their fun with cards like Kitaki, War's Wage, Ethersworn Canonist, Leonin Arbiter, Spirit of the Labyrinth and so on. It is absolutely one of the lowest power decks in the meta basically just trying to win with Grizley Bears! When you are against storm players limited to a single spell a turn 2/2s are more than enough to seal the deal. A more aggressive version of this deck isn't quick enough to compete with the powered cube meta and so it needs to focus on disruption much more. Green is a common pairing as it provides some tutoring enabling you to have the right hate bear for the occasion. Gaddock Teag is also rather a good hate bear himself! As is Voice of Resurgence. Hate bears is great agaisnt the combo decks, the quirky decks and control decks but it is pretty weak to a number of creature based decks. Hate bears is at its best when you know roughly what other people are playing so you can tweak your toolkit for the occasion.

Sphinx of the Steel WindUx Tinker and Tell

This is the powered version of the black Reanimate decks in the midrange cube. The base colour moves from black to blue and typically artifacts become a lot more significant. As such red is a more common pairing than black although both are still great. The deck will often try and play a quicker game and use artifact ramp to help do this. With a higher cheap artifact count Tinker becomes that much more potent. The archetype is very strong against creature based decks and competes well with other combo decks. The weakness of Tinker style decks is counter magic. If you get loads of good artifact mana then the deck starts to meld into other archetypes and will start to use some of the generic broken stuff that works with lots of quick mana like Upheaval. One of the facets of powered cube is that a lot of the cards you want in most archetypes work very well with a few specific cards. As you improve on certain decklists they look more and more alike. A good version of this deck looks nice and is clear about what it is doing, a fantastic version of this deck looks quite a lot like what four or five other arcehtypes want to look like and you have to study the list to differentiate it from other decks. It doesn't really matter how you ultimately win if you draw a load of cards for no mana, ramp to five or more in the first couple of turns and deny your opponent the ability to do anything. You have just won already and that is what a lot of powered cube decks aim to do. Land, Mana Vault go. Land, Gilded Lotus, Tanglewire go. That could be nearly half the decks on this top 16 and it is damn hard to beat.

Mental MisstepU(x) Control

This is the poor mans version of five colour control. The deck is weaker against creature decks and not much better against anything else. The reason that U(x) control is higher up the list is simply not having to fight over lands as much or at all. The deck is pretty simple and pleasantly old school. You just want a lot of countermagic backed up with card draw, ideally instant. You need a lot of cheap countermagic, like Force Spike and Spell Pierce as well as the harder two mana counters. You also want some free counterspells too ideally. Speed is your enemy as the U(x) control player. If you get some nice Mox or a Sol Ring then you can afford to be a little looser. You need a decent amount of filter as well so that you are not just holding Force Spike in the late game. Plays out a like like the cube version of Death and Taxes. Very good against combo and control but weaker to creature decks. The deck however does have a much smoother range of builds and can be tweaked accordingly to the meta. It is very easy to still kill a combo deck yet have some game against an aggro deck or two. Obviously a heavier splash into a second colour opens up a range of mass removal but this is often just adding more potential dead cards into your deck. There are way way more powered cube decks that have either no creatures or no significant ones meaning you want mass removal to really be mass removal. Akroma's Vengeance is one of the more commonly used Wrath effects because it does so much to stop the various non-creature decks too.

Priest of TitaniaElves

This is basically the translation of the green ramp deck from a midrange cube. It has to go creatures and Gaea's Cradle so that it can keep pace with a good artifact ramp draw and this makes it vulnerable to mass removal. Elves is super vulnerable to Pyroclasm, Goblin Sharpshooter and even a Forked Bolt is pretty ruinous. Wrath of God is far less of a concern as it is generally just too slow unless it is powered out with Sol Ring. Elves typically has maindeck answers to artifacts and applies some disruption that way. It is also a great home for Tanglewire. Beyond this the deck tends to focus mostly on what it is doing and that is generally winning really quickly and consistently with an immense amount of mana. The ideal is a turn three Overrun effect win and the average goldfish is not that far behind this (as in under a full turn). Super fun and somewhere between an aggro deck and a combo deck. Very hard to beat for an unprepared opponent and not too much contest over cards in the draft. It would be much nearer the top of this list if it wasn't so cold to goblins. It is not an unwinnable match but you have to build to be able to have any game just against Sharpshooter and that isn't the only problem card.

Tangle WireStax

This is somewhat the deck all the other decks want to be. A good stax deck will be able to do everything it wants to by about turn two, perhaps three yet it will prevent much of much being done by the opposition. Stax uses fast artifact mana combined with mana denial effects. In cube it typically wins with some filler card like a Wurmcoil Engine or a planeswalker! Working so generically well with so many things really good Stax decks will have one of the other archetypes casually included as part of its way to win. This could be cheating in (and just casting) massive threats, it could be Auriok Salvagers combo or something like it. Stax is just the archetype you get when your filler cards are better than your gameplan cards! Some of the most common things to find in Stax are Tangelwire, Smokestack, Challice of the Void, Trinisphere, Wastelands, Stripmine, Rishindan Port, Winter Orb, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, Upheaval, Wildfire and of course any piece of power it can grab. Stax decks can wind up any colours although blue offers the most by a long way with red and black another big step above green and white. The things that beat Stax decks are the decks that manage to do more broken permanent explosions on to the board than the Stax deck can put out. Elves on the play can just have too much stuff to be able to effectively deny their mana. Good Stax decks are one of the hardest decks to beat and don't really have any weaknesses or obvious ways to attack them however they are contested at every turn in the draft. Every one wants the things they want and so despite having quite a lot of depth in the potential pool of cards for the archetype the end result is always further from the optimal build than other archetypes.

Fastbond is greens response to fast artifact mana. You might be able to do a lot with Mox and the like on turn one but you can literally do everything with a Fastbond turn one. I have lost to someone who kept five land Fastbond and Yawgmoth's Bargain. They drew the land, then their deck and then they cast it. I could have won if I had been able to cast my Incinerate or even more galling, my Fireblast. There are a lot of things you can do with a Fastbond, loads of viable directions. All you really need is powerful card draw mechanics, and perhaps some life gain if your deck is super spicy, and you are good to go. A common combo is combining Crucible of Worlds and Zuran Orb with the Fastbond. Both are useful cards in their own right and do good work with a Fastbond but all three is infinite life and mana. A bonus Strip Mine adds a one sided Armageddon into the mix not that you care about it being one sided with your infinite mana.... One of my favourite Fastbond builds is simply to play loads of Time Twister and Regrowth effects combined with Time Walks. After about your third or fourth turn in a row on turn one most people concede. Fastbond decks often end up the lightest on actual ways to win. The weakness of Fastbond decks is simply when you don't draw your Fastbond. Unlike artifact mana there is only one Fastbond and when you don't see it you have a pretty slow pile for a deck. Exploration and the like help a little but they are noticeably weaker and are total dud cards when you do find the Fastbond.

Brain FreezeStorm

There are four main flavours of storm decks, High Tide ones, Heartbeat of Spring ones, Ritual based ones and artifact based ones. All are viable and all have some pros and cons. While likely the most powerful the artifact version is also likely the least viable as it will be contested too much over cards. Storm decks are generally very consistent, they typically just outpace the aggro decks and contain enough disruption to slow down other combos far more than them. Storm is nice in that in can typically try and go off whenever it is forced into doing so. When it isn't it can just sit there building up so that it is that much more powerful and unstoppable when it does decide to end it. Control decks really struggle with storm decks for this reason. Even a lot of lock down decks can't do much about it as you can often win at instant speed. Basically anything slow is going to have a hard time with storm yet being quick isn't enough of a solution to having a good matchup. One of the reasons storm is so strong is that it is so hard to hose. You typically need some very specific cards and they will either make your deck a bunch worse or someone else will grab them and you will have to face the storm deck with a bare arse. Storm isn't really weak in play as much as it is in the draft. You rely on some specific tools which can be taken by other people or hated away by scaredycats. Even though you can have a BR ritual based storm deck and an UG Heartbeat version at the same table that share zero cards with each other it is the non-storm decks taking your stuff that is the concern. If you draft well and play storm when there are not too many decks that might take your key cards before you can snatch them up then it is very much one of the best decks you can go for. If it goes wrong you have already committed and you can have anything from a hard time to trying to win with a deck that literally can't.

Eidolon of the Great RevelRed Deck Wins

Shockingly not at the top spot for once although you could very easily argue the case for it being there still. Red deck wins has game against everything in the format and is surprisingly interactive, much more so than most decks on this list! Cards like Black Vise, Ankh of Mishra, Eidolon of the Great Revel and the like all scale very well into the power. I have won a lot of games in which my opponent took infinite turns but couldn't find a way to live through these passive effects. Red deck wins is the most consistent deck in the format and gains the punisher title white weenie had in a midrange cube. People don't have time to spend on the luxury of lifegain in the powered cube. You don't see crap like Seige Rhino or Thragtusk often at all. When you do they are often sideboard specifically for against you. You might come up against a Zuran Orb but those opponents are the ones that are going to do themselves more damage than you are so overall it is good for you! Basically, if anyone falters, draws badly, has wiffed on an archetype your red deck will kill them. It builds much like the midrange version, likely replacing slower and costlier creatures with passive punish effect cards where possible. The burn gives the red deck a lot of control and game in the creature matchups and enough burst to goldfish kill quick enough to threaten the combo decks. People seem to hurt themselves more in the powered cube too and so effectively starting with say 16 life on average is a pretty huge help for a deck trying to win by directly attacking life totals!

Arcbound RavagerAffinity

Although one of the least commonly supported archetypes in powered cubes I have found it to consistently be one of the best decks you can play in a 40 card singleton format. Affinity has always been utterly bonkers. You could take your block constructed deck to a vintage tournament and it would be competitive... Affinity has absolutely the best scaling of any deck with the power. A Mox is just a Mox in most other decks, in affinity it is a Mox and an artifact land. Affinity can play anything it wants, it has the quickest goldfishes of any aggro deck and is far more durable and hard to counter than any of the others. Pernicious Deed is one of the best anti affinity cards and it is just way too slow. The Rock has an awful matchup against affinity on the whole. Affinity doesn't compete super hard for most of its cards and so can snatch up a little more of its share of the power and put it to good use as well. Affinity can have some weaker matchups, a Heartbeat deck with a Moments Peace, a red deck wins with a Gorilla Shaman but it is such a diverse deck that you can easily build it to cope well against these kinds of threat. Affinity is the solution to all the crazy explosive and powerful things you can do in the cube simply by doing it better and in a more cohesive way. Sure, you can go infinite on turn one with mana, draw and spells but your deck is so janky that sometimes you still don't win when you get those things going! Affinity dumps out a load of stuff really fast and then rather than try and do something clever with that it just sets about killing people very efficiently with a nice selection of threats. The deck is consistent, it is quick, it is able to slip out of the clutches of things like Stax and it just has no bad matchups, just good ones and fine ones. It copes very well against aggro, combo and control alike. It even copes pretty well with hate. A big Deed hit is about the best thing you can do to kill it but it is usually too slow and typically leaves some Frog or Myr in play with a pile of counters on it ready to one or two shot you.

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