Cube play in my standard unpowered cube is starting to feel the most like booster limited as it ever has. I am less and less picking cards for curve or synergy reasons and am increasingly picking directly on power level. Pick the cards that win games, pick the bombs. This may seem like a good or a bad thing based upon what it is you look for in a format. There are certainly some good reasons behind why I am noticing this change but there are equally some bad reasons too. A big part of it is that there are enough good cheaper support cards at the lower costs, your mana dorks, card quality spells, disruption, etc. that you do not need to put such a high priority on them. They are no longer the bottleneck to having a good deck. That depth of support is great for cube.
Perhaps a less appealing cause is the sheer effectiveness of the bombs themselves. Things that close games do so much more consistently and quickly than ever before. It means that there is a lot less game time once the bombs land before the game ends giving a less interactive feel. It also used to feel like you won with your top end alongside your other cards, now it feels a lot more like your threats can just take the game home solo.
The game quality is still high but it can all end a little abruptly for my liking. The thing I am finding I like least about this shift is that games are feeling a lot more samey. The bomb cards are always picked and played and then they tend to be the cards winning the games. This means a small pool of cards feels like they account for most of the outcomes. Quirky and interesting cards are really failing to get a look in. Cards I want to see in play just don't get those opportunities like they used to. The result of this is that I am experimenting a lot more with alternate cubes and ways of playing. Cube felt like it had endless longevity when support cards were the bottleneck. I never tired of casting Preordain or Llanowar Elf on turn one. It turns out people do tire of winning and losing with the same cards.
Playing less cube is one way to tackle the longevity issues that power creep in threats has caused. Playing different types of cube is another, things like combo cubes, synergy/modular cubes, themed cubes, pauper cubes, etc. etc. A perhaps more simply solution is to cut/ban some of these offending articles. We had been playing with a couple of bans per player at the start of events for a while now but even that isn't enough to handle all the problematic cards. As such I have been strongly considering going to town on bans and significantly lowering the power level of my cube. I have already done this to a certain extent with the removal of Fractured Identity, True-Name Nemesis, and Ashiok Nightmare Weaver. These were cards that were really oppressive in cube and no fun at all to play into. Being either multiplayer design cards or ones tuned for 60 card lists not 40 a ban didn't feel like it went against my philosophy of trying to run the most powerful cards. As a cube curator I may now have to move away from that premise and hold on to simply trying to make the most fun to play format. The reason I tend to play unpowered cube is for the quality and diversity of games however the unpowered and powered cubes I run feel more similar than ever before with a scarily high degree overlap in pick order.
A significant proportion of the cards on my watch list are from Modern Horizons or Commander product and so I could simply forgo those sets in cube but there are loads of cards I love from those sets that add a lot to the format and so while it is an easy to understand fix I would prefer a more complicated one that had less in the way of drawbacks. It also doesn't protect against the power creep we are seeing in standard product. The cards on my watchlist not from Modern Horizons or Commander are mostly new cards. If they keep printing sets like they have been we will be back where we are now in a few years even without Commander and MH cards.
Power creep is dangerous in general but it turns out that it is particularly irksome in cube when on the kinds of cards that close out games. I think I liked the level of power we had in threats before The Scarab God and Glorybringer. Here is a list of the cards in my cube that are wearing a bit thin already due to how much visibility and impact they have.
Urza, Lord High Artificer
Yawgmoth, Thrann Physician
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Laelia, the Blade Reforged
Emissary of Grudges
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
The Scarab God
Grist, the Hunger Tide
Omnath, Locus of Creation
This list is not hard and fast by any means. There are some cards that are pretty tedious not on this list. There are also plenty of non-threat cards that and comparably back breaking and some supporting cards that are just so good and rounded you see them all the time. These share some of the same issues of making games abrupt or samey as the oppressive threats. Cards such as;
Winds of Abandon
Teferi, Time Raveler
+ Combat Calligrapher is another one from 2021 that is on my watchlist. Card's templating is rather nutso and just tends to dominate the board as soon as it shows up.ReplyDelete
I thought that Combat Calligrapher would be great too but it never really did anything in testing so I gave up on it. Mostly the aggessive white decks played walkers in the four slot or nothing at all. Four drop dorks tend to just play into mass removal. Your accolades however make me want to give it a second try.Delete
Your cube philosophy has had a tremendous impact on my choices and I have great respect for your card evaluations. However in the last year or so I think your cube has reached a critical drift point from mine. I play a large powered cube with few combos (still have reanimator and sneak/show, no twin, no storm). There has been a lot of power creep but generally in my environment the new masters creatures have helped dethrone planeswalkers as the oppressors. Bigger creature decks are viable again and everything is more balanced. I haven't found that many of the finishers you mentioned to be particularly oppressive. I think the worst offenders are Ragavan and Laelia because they are t1/2 plays that win the game of unanswered. But on the flip side they are easy to answer with the plentiful removal in my cube. The others are good cards but just kind of par for the course at 4+ mana.ReplyDelete
Good points and well made. The powerful dorks have indeed put pay to the reign of the planewalkers and that is a good thing for the most part. It is also true that the power creep in dorks is helping to improve powered cubes. The dork based and midrangier strategies are able to compete a lot more with the broken things people like to get upto in powered cubes and it has made it a more rounded format with more interactive games.Delete
I do agree that the cheap snowball cards are the most dangerous in powered cubes and to that end would suggest that even a card like Goblin Rabblemaster was a scarier threat than any of the 4+ mana cards on my list. Ragavan and Leila are foolish cards! As with all these kinds of threat, it is not that they can't be answered and more to do with how quickly they need a response before they have done critical damage.
As per your comment about drift in cubes and consequently in relevant overlap - this is an issue I have been aware of for some time now. It is part of why I am putting out a bit less content at present. I have also tried to make my content more rounded and address more of the common formats in cube rather than just my main one. Indeed, I am even playing way more different styles of cube than I used to as I mention in this article I think. There is just so much in the way of options these days that the range of cubes is huge. I only have so much play time and could never hope to be as informed on all of them. I don't entirely know what to do about this, do I dilute the content and expand the coverage or do I just focus on the few things I find most appealing? Are there any other tricks I am missing that could help with the problem (it is not really a problem, the fact that there are loads of ways to cube is great, it is just hard to write constructively about all of them at once!)
Yeah in some ways the cube card evaluation has been a victim of the cube community's success. With so many cards and so many ways to design environments, it makes card evaluation in a vacuum very difficult. I think generally writing about cards in the environments that interest you (the way you currently do) is the way to go, since that is where you have the most experience with the cards.Delete
Fod for thought indeed.ReplyDelete
Teferi Time Raveler is an obnoxious card, as proven by the bans, but
I do not feel that Ophiomancer is one. It needs a skilled player to fully use the potential of Ophi. Paired with Yawgmoth, it is atrocious, but the culprit is not Ophi. So I would do this swap in your list. Funny to see that good old Fire Covenant is in your watch list. I think most cubers think that this card is uncubable or simply do not know its existence.