Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Last Combo - drafting cube changes

I have finally taken out the last remaining combo element in my drafting cube - the cheat in a fat dork strategy. While it is a fairly good archetype it has some less desirable elements that relate to design and game play experience. It is a rather all in archetype, even more so in the draft than in the games. A number of the key cards are unplayable unless you get enough of the other bits you need. A lot of the good cheat in fat man cards don't go into other archetypes and so they are dead picks if you cannot make it work. All combos in draft have the issue of having weak cards if they don't find the appropriate things to pair with them. While Reanimator strategies have some of the greatest redundancy of any combo deck in cube they still suffer in the same way as the rest of them. This results in an "all in" draft with greatly restricted choices when compared with drafting a midrange deck. Having cards that only go into one archetype have the effect of either forcing someone to do it every draft or over straining the other cards.

Frantic SearchThe game play experience against the cheat in a fatty decks isn't the best either. It is not entirely uninteractive but it is very polar. The right piece of interaction will beat them on its own while no relevant interaction is probably a loss. It is all a bit short and unsatisfying regardless of which side of the board you are on or what the result is. Not all the games go this way but it is more than any other non-combo archetype. The draft, design and game play issues have always existed and I have long wanted to remove the combo. I had held off until now simply because I didn't think black would be able to hold its own or have any real colour identity if I removed the cheat in fatty cards. Black gets loads of play these days. It is mostly as a support colour but that is largely down to it not really having an option to be the lead colour with other than Reanimate in my cube.

I have been very impressed with the effectiveness of Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat and think there is enough support and overlap with other good cube cards and strategies that I should be able to make them appealing as a potential black strategy. I have also returns the various premium Smallpox style cards to the cube to give black further options and identity. Most of the combo and support cards being removed were black and so this swap kept colour balance reasonably well intact. Blue had the second most removed and I replaced those cards with a bit more creature support for blue tempo. I envisage some more tweaking will be needed to get the new black archetypal options optimal and supported suitably by other colours too.

I try and keep my cube list accurately updated on Cube Tutor and have done so thus far pretty consistently. Although the initial major changes have been listed below the whole picture and ongoing refinements are better viewed at

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hungerout

Show and Tell
Sneak Attack
Emrakul, the Eons Torn
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Woodfall Primus
Animate Dead
Dance of the Dead
Living Death
Careful Study
Blood ArtistFrantic Search
Enclave Cryptologist
Borderlands Explorer
Cathartic Reunion
Containment Priest
Lim-Dul's Vault


Blood Artist
Zulaport Cutthroat
Yahennie, Undying Partisan
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Grim Haruspex
Death Cloud
Butcher Ghoul
Geralf's Messenger

Riftwing Cloudskate
Whirler Rogue


  1. Combo is inherently difficult to balance with midrange strategies, so I think this is a sound decision for gameplay reasons.

    I'm happy to see you on the blood artist and friends train. It bleeds nicely with red (things like goblin bombardment, purphoros and/or outpost siege) and Falkenrath Aristocrat. It also couples really well with the Stax deck. In my midrange focused cube it was tier 1 and maybe the best deck in the format. I also like that it gives go-wide strategies more reach (sort of like a passive hellrider).

    As far as reanimator goes, I think the deck was healthier for cube in the earlier days because the deck was less polar (top end dudes were weaker and all decks were less efficient so you didn't need a T3 Emrakul/Grisle to win games).

    As always, love reading your posts and keep up the great content!

  2. You are spot on about Reanimate being nicer in the early days. I also like the Goblin Bombardment tech. I had mostly assumed Blood Artist and Co decks would be black with green and/or white and so I didn't really look at the good things to pair with them in other colours. Do you run the red token generators like Dragon Fodder to go with the various red cards you mentioned? I like the package overall and the synergies it presents but it would mean finding some things to cut from red to make some room! Sounds like it is worth it however.

    1. Hard to say at the power level you run. My midrange cube was slower than yours so your mileage may vary on this archetype.

      I mostly focused on token producing creatures. So Pia and Karin, SGC, Mogg War Marshal, etc. Lingering Souls is worth splashing to take it into a third color and white has other good token producing creatures, plus anthems, and blink effects if you want to go that direction with it. So BRw were the primaries colors for our group. This is also one of natural places for Alesha to actually be good since you are sac’ing stuff she can then reanimate.

      Goblin Bombardment IMO is very strong. I’d find room at least to test it. And so is Outpost Siege - this card is additional sacrifice tech and it also doubles as draw if you run out of gas (it's two modes are very complimentary). Blood artist, tokens, bombardment and outpost in play and your opponent is often dead on board with basically no outs. Again though, your cube is really really fast so you might not have time to assemble this sort of board state. The power of the deck is entirely based on board position IMO.

      On a related note… Of all the reanimator cards you cut, Living death is the one I'd try and save. It works very well in the sacrifice deck coincidentally. Living Death also has applications in GB graveyard decks, Ux discard/draw control strategies, and some more controllish Bx pox strategies. IMO, it’s not just a reanimated card. And at it's worst, it's still a conditional wrath effect for 5 which isn't the worst. It might be narrow, but the card is so good in any deck that can break symmetry on it. I'd never want to cut Living Death simply based on it’s ceiling, but maybe I just like the card more than I should.

    2. Regarding Living Death - I cut it mostly for being a clumsy awkward old card that either wins the game or does nothing. I have wanted to cut it for a while and flushing it out with the combo elements was just a good excuse. It has been in my cube for over a decade now without interruption! It may come back but it has earned some time on the bench for now!

      I have been finding my Blood Artist decks have been Abzan based with green offering it quite a lot. This is probably the only way it can be in my cube as I don't have the support for it that I should in red. I think the only thing for me to do is cram in all the red cards you have mentioned and trim out those that don't work out over time.

      Red is the thing that dictates a lot of the pace in my cube so as the red player you can make time to get these sorts of things working more than you could in other colour pairings. Despite my tempo driven cube I think these alternate red strategies should work out nicely. I will do a post when I feel qualified to comment on the matter and outline which cards seem strong and which work out less well. Goblin Bombardment and Mogg War Marshal are the only two I know will be nuts!

  3. I see your point, and designer is king in its own realm. But I think you went too far. In my own experience (in MTGO legacy cube, not so much in the vintage one) reanimate is a legitimate card in a midrange strategy. Reanimating an ETB guy can bring a lot of value (e.g. Gonti - let me cite him first, I know you love him; hostage taker etc.). You can steal the best guy in your opponent gy. Same for animate dead. The more WizCo prints such kind of cars, the better both of these cards get legitimate even out of cheat in strategy.

    I will look at your list in more details.

    Thanks again for the great content!

  4. I didn't take out Reanimate and cheat in strats because I think they are unbalanced, they are fine for that. My issue was the effect it had on the draft and the more polar "all in" nature of games they typically gave. Even games and good games are not synonymous!

    I am also not necessarily cutting it for good, I am more testing the waters, giving other things a chance etc. I often cut cards and find I preferred things with it and return it shortly after. So far it has to be said, I am not missing the cheat in things at all.