Pokemon TCG: the budget Vintage you...

by: Jason Waddell Last month while honeymooning in Japan, I decided I should extend my day-to-day Japanese cultural intake beyond eating westernize...

Mono-Green Artifacts

Mono-Green Artifacts One of the oldest mechanical themes in the history of Magic: The Gathering is that of artifacts matter. Magic's second expansion...

Ixalan Double-Faced Cards (Cultic C...

By: Greater Gnoll In this cube design video, I tackle the Ixalan block double-faced cards. While some of these are worth running as Wizards intende...

10 Simple Changes to Improve the Ca...

Around the start of this year CardKingdom came up with the idea to release a self-contained cube product that you could buy for US$100. It would come ...

Pokemon TCG: the budget Vintage you didn’t know existed

by: Jason Waddell

Last month while honeymooning in Japan, I decided I should extend my day-to-day Japanese cultural intake beyond eating westernized sushi, cuddling Rilakkuma pillows and marathoning episodes of Terrace House (konbanwa, btw). For the first part of the trip I thought that, perhaps, I would end my decade-long anime drought. And I don’t know if it was the plethora of Pikachu-themed vending machine, the Squirtle luggage tag or this statue of Pikachu in a Ho-Oh kimono, but something was pulling me to try the Pokemon TCG.


Scratch that. It was this cute set of sleeves I bought myself.


I had known of the card game since its inception, even dabbled in some trading, but had never actually played a single game of it.

Pokemon TCG has an official Free-To-Play digital version structured to slowly ramp you towards constructed play. You begin with underpowered starter decks against annoyingly forgiving AI opponents, then graduate on to playing Theme decks (think Magic’s retail pre-cons) against human opposition. The theme decks are surprisingly well built, and many of them require creative sequencing to properly utilize.

I started with Tropical Takedown, a five-color deck whose primary game plan is to load the graveyard with energies to fuel its main attacker.


Coming from a Magic background, Pokemon’s card economy is rather surprising. You’ll find most Tier 1 competitive decks run nothing but basic energies, and the most powerful spells in the game are given to you in the aforementioned Theme decks.


Even low power-level decks are loaded with Time Spiral effects and conditional tutors. Moreover, there’s no mana system in Pokemon, so all of these effects can be played on Turn 1. The only real restriction is that only one Supporter card can be played per turn. All told, the Theme deck ladder is quite enjoyable until you climb to high ELO, where nearly every player is queuing up with Relentless Flame, a powerful and innevitable deck with a boring, linear gameplan that is boring to play with or against.

At which point you graduate to Standard.

You can’t actually spend money within the Pokemon TCG client. Instead, in each physical Pokemon card back comes a code for a digital card pack. In practice, the way to build a deck is to buy these card codes from the secondary market for 10-25 cents a pop, then trade them through the in-game marketplace for the cards you need. I dropped about 20 euros to build a slightly stripped-down version of a Tier 1 deck. The format’s annual rotation is coming in a number of days, so I passed on trading for any of the soon-to-be-rotated cards. All told, it’s an inexpensive way to buy into a high-powered constructive format. Turns are explosive with the quality of card draw and card search at your disposal, and although luck plays a part as it does in every card game, the decks themselves require skill-intensive piloting. Often when I lose, I have the feeling that a better player would have been able to maneuver their way to victory, which is a pretty good indicator for a game.


Pokemon TCG’s biggest flaw is its card distribution. Almost the entirety of the card base is useless. I don’t mean that strictly in the sense that ‘very few of the cards are competitively viable’, but that whenever you open any given 10-card pack, from the perspective of having a functional deck-building collection, you might as well throw 8 if not all 10 of those cards in the garbage. In Magic, something like a run-of-the-mill 2/2 for 2 french vanilla creature can at least slot into a deck without being overly embarrassing. But in Pokemon, between the 9 energy types, the hundreds of evolutions and shockingly low power level of most commons relative to other cards, even as a beginner you might not be able to use anything.

My account has a couple thousand cards on it, but when the client assigns me a daily challenge pertaining to Steel Pokemon, I can’t even throw together something that feels like a deck.

This problem was further highlighted when I went to a retail prerelease yesterday. For deckbuilding materials, they give you a build-and-battle kit, consisting of two or three complete pokemon evolution lines (from a selection of 6 or so) and nearly a dozen Trainer cards, and four packs of cards. Since the contents of a random pack of cards are so useless, your deck consists almost entirely of those pre-made evolution lines, preselected Trainer cards and some basic energies. You don’t build a deck so much as you sleeve the deck that they give you.

My build-and-battle kit consisted of premade Water and Fighting evolution lines.  I pulled a Rainbow Rare fighting-type Aerodactyl GX from my packs, and while this should have been exciting, without a Unidentified Fossil in the card pool, there was no way to put it onto the battlefield.

Fortunately, the build-and-battle kits are thoughtfully constructed in a way that ensures the games themselves are fun to play, even if the diversity of cards that you play against (the same premade evolution lines over and over) is non-existent.

Pokemon TCG has fun Theme Deck and competitive Constructed format, but the nature of the card pool is not conducive to enjoyable casual or limited deckbuilding.

Mono-Green Artifacts

Mono-Green Artifacts

One of the oldest mechanical themes in the history of Magic: The Gathering is that of artifacts matter. Magic’s second expansion, Antiquities, was the first set to explore this theme actively. It included such classics as AtogHurkyl’s Recall, and Mishra’s Factory. However, Antiquities set an unfortunate precedent for Magic: Green, as a color, is not allowed to interact with artifacts positively. It took nearly 20 years before the first wave of green cards to synergize with artifacts to be printed en mass, and even these cards were fairly sub-par. By now, there are swaths of cards across the other four colors that can be playable in an artifact deck. For some colors, artifacts are even a defining trait. With all of this support, one would expect artifact subthemes to slide into the majority of cubes with ease. Yet, artifacts as a theme don’t fully integrate into cubes as anything other than colorless value cards without explicit support. Every mechanical theme requires some level of support, but artifacts seem to take a lot more than others. The reason for this is pretty simple: green doesn’t usually get to play with artifacts. This means that the “artifact deck” goes from a cube-wide theme to something that only about 60% of color combinations get to take advantage of fully. If an artifact theme is to become something that every cube can use to the best extent, then green is going to need to embrace artifacts instead of just blowing them up all of the time.

The Diagnosis

The general approach to artifact deck in cube usually falls into one of three categories. The first uses artifacts to make a lot of mana, the second uses artifacts to turn on cool abilities, and the third sacrifices artifacts for value. The first category is commonly seen in vintage cubes. Cards like Metalworker, the Signets, and the Moxes can be used to provide massive amounts of value. The second and third categories are more prevalent amongst riptide cubes and vary greatly between lists. Some play like the Eggs decks of old, others play like midrange decks with artifacts. Whatever the case, none of these themes mesh all that well with Green. Green doesn’t have all of the interactive cards to support graveyard and midrange artifact decks, and Green doesn’t need help making absurd amounts of mana. In fact, only the Moxes and Black Lotus are better at mana acceleration than the Green ramp cards. What this means is that Green’s approach to artifacts matter needs to come from a different mechanical angle than the other colors, while still having some form of synergy with the preexisting forms of the deck.Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast has printed the pieces cubers have needed for Green artifacts over the past 5 or so years. Now it’s up to us to design the archetype Richard Garfield never intended: Green Artifacts.

The Idea

About a year ago, memelord and know degenerate Magic AIDS posted this video:

With this video, Modern Hardened Scales decks were born. Although the Voltaic Servant origins of the deck have been lost to the annals of history, the idea of combining Hardened Scales with Steel Overseerand the Modular Cards allowed for a new version of the aging Affinity/Robots deck to rise to prevalence amongst Magic’s premier eternal format. Although it is impossible to truly port a constructed deck into cube, it is definitely possible to support a constructed archetype in a limited environment.

First, it is important to identify what the AIDS Hardened Scales affinity list is actually trying to do. Although the deck has many of the trappings of regular Robots decks, such as Mox Opal, in reality, the list is actually a +1/+1 counters deck with an artifact subtheme. This is why Voltaic Servant and Geth’s Throne have left the contemporary versions of the deck while Hardened Scales has stuck around. This revelation is important because it reveals the true overlap between Green magic and artifacts: +1/+1 counters.

They called me a Madman
Many are reluctant to include overt +1/+1 counters matter support in their lists, and this is largely understandable. A poorly-integrated +1/+1 counters theme is parasitic and hard to make work in draft. Abzan Falconer is either unbeatable or unplayable depending on its level of support. Falconer suffers from the issue that kills many cards – it needs a fair bit of support beyond explicit archetype support to work. Throwing a Travel Preparations and Trollbred Guardian will not make Hardened Scales or Abzan Falconer playable. These cards need incidental support to be good. Many cards have incidental counters, such as Callous Dismissal and Stromkirk Noble. These cards are flexible and are already shoe-ins for many cubes. What this means is that the +1/+1 counters deck is actually easier to support than it initially looks, provided that a designer takes into account the needs of the archetype when making card inclusion decisions. Some of these needs are able to be filled by artifacts, thus making artifacts matter to green based counters decks.

Artifacts are a good way to support the needs of any deck. Many flexible artifacts have abilities that play nicely into the themes of specific archetypes without taking colored slots. They can go into any deck with vague support cards, and help a theme work. A good example of this paradigm is Hollow One, a card which really helps red-based discard decks without taking a red slot. This is one of the main reasons why +1/+1 counters overlay into the artifact section- there are a lot of powerful artifact cards that synergize with +1/+1 counters. For example, Steel Overseer puts +1/+1 counters on each artifact creature on its controller’s team. This means it can be used in both a +1/+1 counters deck and an artifact deck.

The fundamental argument for Green artifacts involves the mesh of green counters cards and artifacts that like counters. The modular and proliferate mechanics in particular help to bridge the gap between the two sections. Remember- Green does not directly synergize with artifacts. There are just a bunch of powerful artifacts that usually don’t get put into cubes because they primarily care about +1/+1 counters, and there are a bunch of green cards that can’t make the cut because they are perceived as too narrow. These two categories work very well together, but it’s not necessarily a direct correlation in terms of other artifacts matter strategies.

Card Tricks

The following cards are the fundamental pieces of the green artifacts decks. These cards can fit within the same power-band, but they aren’t necessarily required in a cube list for the archetype to work. Including a number of these enabler cards in a cube is important, but a few can be omitted because of power level or price concerns.

Hardened Scales spawned the idea of this archetype. Scales is one of the best ways to get additional counters onto creatures since it provides an extra counter each time a creature would get a +1/+1 counter. Scales does its job extremely well. Hardened Scales looks fairly ambiguous, but it fits into more decks than one might initially assume. For example, decks running Rhythm of the Wild or other mass +1/+1 counter adding cards will sometimes play scales to help maximize value. It is also great with Hangarback Walker, and the vast majority of the cards discussed below.

Hardened Scales is vital for most counters decks to function at peak efficiency.

Evolution Sage and Contagion Clasp play a similar role in this archetype: they are repeatable proliferate engines. Evolution Sage is great in conjunction with fetchlands, since it will often add two +1/+1 counters to the rest of its controller’s team. Although Contagion Clasp has a steep activation cost, it doubles as a removal spell. Picking off an opponent’s Dark Confidant before it generates any value is a simple, feel-good situation. These cards also synergize nicely with hardened scales, as it makes them essentially add 2 counters per trigger instead of one.

Steel Overseer is a great artifact lord. Although it is slow to start, it asks the opponent for an immediate removal spell or else it will usually provide some level of long-lasting value on the board. It’s floor as a 2-mana Chronomaton with no mana cost to activate its ability is serviceable, and its ceiling is incredibly good. In addition, Overseer is just insane with Hardened Scales and even the previously mentioned proliferate engines.

Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista both fill a similar role in the green artifact deck: counter based finishers. Hangarback Walker creates an army of thopters that require an opponent to either have a board wipe or lose the game when it dies. Walking Ballista just hits the opponent’s face until they die. Both of these cards play incredibly well with the Steel Overseer and the Proliferate Engines. Hangarback Walker plays better with Hardened Scales as it’s activated ability to add counters is less expensive to play. A Walker/Scales draw can look like:
Turn 1: Play Hardened Scales.
Turn 2: Play Hangarback Walker. It enters play with 2 +1/+1 counters thanks to Scales.
Turn 3: Play a Activate Hangarback Walker, adding an additional 2 counters.

Scrapyard Recombiner was actually the card that prompted me to write this list when it was previewed. Scrapyard Recombiner plays a few roles. For a start, it’s just a generally decent card in any artifact, barring any synergies with green. Although the floor of a Gray Ogre isn’t something that most decks will want to play, a Gray Ogre that provides a powerful form of card selection is very much welcome in artifact strategies. Some of the most powerful artifact creatures in cube, such as Myr Battlesphere and the Gearhulks, are constructs.

What makes Scrapyard Recombiner so good in this archetype is that it grabs all of the key creatures for the deck, while also having built-in counters. Hardened Scales makes Recombiner enter play as a 3/3. The proliferate engines can grow it into infinity. Scrapyard Recombiner grows with Steel Overseer, and can then sacrifice itself to add additional counters to Walking Ballista. Somtimes, just helps set up a deck’s engine, which is respectable in of itself. Recombiner might not seem like all that much, but it has so much synergy with the rest of the Green Artifacts deck that it would be wrong not to mention its strengths.

Tireless Tracker is probably the last card some would expect to see on a list of mostly Modern Hardened Scales affinity cards. Tireless Tracker is usually played in midrange or Death and Taxes style strategies, even in cube. The card advantage it provides along with its ever-increasing size means that “fair” grindy decks love the tracker. However, a quick read of the card indicates that is actually quite good in a deck that cares about artifacts and +1/+1 counters.

Tireless Tracker creates clue tokens, which are small artifacts that can be sacrificed to draw a card. The tracker gets a +1/+1 counter whenever it’s controller sacrifices a clue. This means that Tireless Trackerboth gains value from Hardened Scales and friends, while providing artifact fodder for the cards like Kuldotha Forgemaster and the previously mentioned Scrapyard Recombiner.

Verdurous Gearhulk is a beefy boy that can enter play as an 8/8 for five, act as a one-time Steel Overseer activation, or work as some combination of the two. Gearhulk has pristine synergies with Hardened Scales, allowing for up to 8 +1/+1 counters to be thrown onto the board when it comes into play. It also works quite well with the Proliferate Engines. In addition, Verdurous Gearhulk is a construct, meaning it can be tutored up with Scrapyard Recombiner. The flexibility of this card cannot be denied, and anyone attempting to make Green Artifacts work in a higher-powered environment should make sure to include a Verdurous Gearhulk.

Although the above cards are among the essential pieces for a Green Artifacts deck to function, they are far from the only pieces that help the archetype. In fact, just adding these cards alone wouldn’t allow a Green Artifacts deck to manifest during a draft. The below list includes many of the best cards to include when trying to support the archetype. At least some of them should be considered when designing a Green Artifacts archetype.

Primary Options


Despite its overall lack of support from Wizards of the Coast over the years, Green +1/+1 Counters Artifacts decks are poised to be potent competators in cube lists. Green Artifacts allows for a fun, fresh take on a pair of fan-favorite archetypes which don’t always get the level of play in cube they deserve. The best part of implementing the archetype is that it requires very little space commitment within a given cube list. Cube designers can have an easy time implementing an artifact theme into green without polluting the draft environment at large. Although Green Artifacts won’t necessarily break their way into a Vintage cube, it will almost certainly make artifact strategies better in cubes at the Legacy power level and below. I anticipate that the Green +1/+1 Counters Artifacts Archetype will eventually become a staple of medium and high power formats given enough time.


Additional Resources

For additional support cards, example decks, and discussion, please see TrainmasterGT’s ‘The Train Station’ cube thread.

Ixalan Double-Faced Cards (Cultic Cube Series)

By: Greater Gnoll

In this cube design video, I tackle the Ixalan block double-faced cards. While some of these are worth running as Wizards intended, I argue that others you should consider running pre-flipped to the back face. I suggest the sort of environment in which each of the DFC would be most at home, and I point out those that I believe are traps to be avoided. Check out my channel for more videos that treat cube design and draft strategy.

Head on over to this thread to discuss this and other Cultic Cube videos!

10 Simple Changes to Improve the Card Kingdom Starter Cube (v3)

Around the start of this year CardKingdom came up with the idea to release a self-contained cube product that you could buy for US$100. It would come pre-sleeved and in a nice couple of cardboard boxes. This would be a great way for people to get started on a cube without the hours and hours of trying to figure out the right configuration of cards to start building your own cube. You can think of it like a pre-packaged board game. $100 is pretty reasonable and the amount of hours of entertainment you can get out of it would be highly worth it. Not to mention the sleeves alone would probably cost $40 alone. There have been a couple of reviews so far: Quiet Speculation reviewed v1 and Tolarian Community College reviewed v3. Both of which have praised the product, and if I was going to review I would be mentioning a lot of the points that they have already made.

What I am trying to do is to give anyone out there who has picked up the cube, or is looking it pick it up, a simple guide to improving the cube. While this is a good product, it is still an outlet for CardKingdom to dump a pile of unused draft chaff into peoples laps. This is where I want to make some suggested cuts and additions to get rid of cards that don’t fit with the themes of the cube, or are just terrible and replace them with things to improve various archetypes or just add a little spice. I will explain why I believe each of these cards should be cut, and offer some suggestions to replace them.

Cut 1: Crook of Condemnation

Does this card even do anything in the cube? Here are all the cards that care about the graveyard in this cube:

Actually, now listing them all out, there is more than I thought there was. There is a total of 14 cards that this card is effective against, but that is already after they have done their thing. Cards like this are meant to be a flexible answer to a deck that may be too strong if all the pieces come together. As you can see, there isn’t really a deck that uses the graveyard and even though this card can cycle, it doesn’t do enough for it to warrant a maindeck spot. Cards that are sideboard only always warrant red flags in draft, as (from my own experience) people don’t care too much for sideboards in friendly cube drafts. This would leave this card to never being played, and if it actually did get played, the drafter must have been really struggling for variables.

Cut 1 Suggested Addition:

While Mimic Vat is a bit hard to parse on first read through it does a lot in the context of this cube. It acts as graveyard hate for creatures (if it is still a thing you think the cube needs to have) but it helps out the populate/creature tokens strategy. This strategy is based in GW but you can bleed it into any colour as they all have creature tokens in this cube, so a colourless reward is nice. It is also quite spicy in the black sacrifice decks.
The other options are to help out some other archetypes in the cube as the clasp helps +1/+1 counter theme, which is also spread across all colours. Mask of Memory was a first pickable card in Mirrodin block draft, and is still a great card today. Gives card filtering to any decks that need it and gives another equipment for the random Valduk and Champion of the Flame strategy.

Cut 2: Memorial to War

The memorial cycle from Dominaria are all here, and they have been great in that draft format… Well, all except one of them. Was it too much to ask for this one to be able to do 2 damage to something ala Blighted Gorge? This card serves no real purpose in this cube and I can’t see it ever wanting to be put into main decks. It is only there to cut off an ambitious splash, but even that is a stretch. The main thing to talk about here is how much do we care about cycles? The only reason this card is in the cube is because it’s brethren are great cards. War is only here because of this fact and none of its own merits.

Cut 2 Suggested Addition:

There isn’t too many mono-red utility lands that could be equivalent to the memorial cycle. The best options are: Flamekin VillageBlighted GorgeTeetering Peaks and Barbarian Ring. The reason the Encampment was picked over those cards is because it is the closest in power level to the memorial cycle, it helps support what red wants to do (beat down when flooding out) and mimics the memorial by coming in tapped and producing a mana of that colour. Sure, it isn’t a one and done thing like the memorials, but it is pretty similar to the white memorial, just that you have to keep paying mana for the creature. I know it may look awkward to have 4 of a cycle and 1 being different, but some times you need to put functionality over aesthetics.

Cut 3: Resolute Survivors

This makes you think that there may be a RW exert strategy in this cube right? Here are the exert cards you could find while drafting:

Yep, that is right, not a single white creature. I am not sure why either. There are a couple of battalion creatures that could have been Devoted Crop-Mate or even Gust Walker, but they decided not to. Just to have a generic 3/3 for 3 that can drain for 1 if it swings (and not be able to swing next turn) isn’t that exciting. It is also not that great that because it is a false signal. Making someone think they can make great use of the ability of this card and draft a hyper aggressive exert deck and feel a bit sad when they have only gotten 3 exert creatures. Plus one of the other RW cards sort of supports this strategy as well in War Flare. It is a combat trick that untaps all the creatures that just exerted for value. I feel like this one is a little better as RW is a little bit at odds in this cube as it is trying to support two different aggro decks in this cube, go-wide and go-tall. I am keeping the overall analysis of this cube as a future article, so it hard to fix this problem with just 10 changes, but there is a card I think that can help bridge the two.

Cut 3 Suggested Addition:

You see, RW has this random go-tall equipment strategy with these three cards:

While it may be easier to just cull this strategy all together and make RW go with the tokens strategy that is more abundant, it is an interesting angle a drafter could take if they felt so inclined. Weapons Trainer helps bridge the gap between the strategy, by picking up equipment to anthem up your army of tokens, and thus if you already have equipment you would be more inclined to pick up these cards and add them to your deck. While Danitha can hold her own as a decent card and Valduk is competent if not boring without equipment/auras the champion is terrible without. While I believe a future version of this cube should probably cull these cards due to being a trap (exactly what I was calling Resolute Survivors, the card I am trying to cut) Weapons Trainer should hopefully be enough of a strong enough draw to make the cards more playable, while strengthening an already strong archetype.

Cut 4: Invoke the Divine

Enchantment/Artifact hate always has a weird place in cubes. You feel like you need them as you need to be able to remove problematic permanents. It is just a problem that not everyone runs artifacts or enchantments. This cube also doesn’t have too many archetypes that are reliant on these card types that you would feel ok main decking this. There isn’t even anything in this cube that cares about lifegain for you to want that effect either. I mentioned above how I don’t like ‘Sideboard-only’ cards in cubes and this falls under that category.

Cut 4 Suggested Additions:

There are a pile of cards that can replace this by being more flexible. The only problem is, if you make it too flexible, it becomes a different card then what you wanted it to be. This is why I think Forsake the Worldy to be the best choice for this slot. It may not be the flashiest card in the world, but it does the job of being able to deal with an artifact or enchantment, and being main deckable. Cycling is such a great mechanic, as it just makes any niche card convert to a real card if the effect is inapplicable in that game. I also suggested Fetter’s as it has the life buff that Invoke did, to help those controlling white decks stabilise, but it adds in another piece of white creature removal, which I am not sure is needed but only playtesting will tell. I also really like Angelic Purge for some reason, so thought I would suggest it if the other two cards don’t pique your interest.

Cut 5: Willbender

I love Willbender. It has a unique ability that catches everyone offguard and leads to some memorable game states (remember that time I redirected your Door to Nothingness? Good Times…), except in this cube. It isn’t that it doesn’t have anything to redirect, only that it won’t catch anyone offguard, expect for a particular group of players, and they are the ones you don’t want to put at a disadvantage. They are the people who haven’t seen/played your cube before.
Let me explain by showing the other morphs in the cube:

So there are a total of 3 morphs in the cube. None of which share a colour, so when someone plays a facedown card, you have a decent idea as to what card it would be. This is where the detriment of not knowing cube comes in. By all accounts everyone should be able to see a Willbender in play in this cube and then try to play around it. The fact that the other two are proactive spells, where you want to flip them up straight away for value, while willbender is the only reactive one adds to this facade of it being ‘hidden information’. If it was a face up card with the ability to redirect something once, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. If there were a couple of other blue morphs, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. As it stands though, I can’t justify the amount of feel bads that this card would produce to include for it’s unique effect.

Cut 5 Suggested Addition:

I mentioned before that each colour has a +1/+1 counter theme. There is also this bird horror that seems out of place in the blue section:

It needs a little bit of help. That is where the plunderer comes in. It can’t spread as many counters at the bird, but it hits a bit harder, and in a cube where there seems to be a theme of 2 1/1’s for 2 mana, taking to the skies seems like a good archetype option. Plus, curving Cloudfin Raptor into the Plunderer sounds like a really quick clock.

Cut 6: Deadly Designs

Have you ever wanted to invest 12 mana to be able to get 2 Murder‘s? Because that is exactly what this card is asking. This card was printed in Conspiracy 2, as it was a multi-player limited format you could use politics to get another player to do some activations for you. This cube was not built for multiplayer, and I don’t think most people who buy it would be looking to play multiplayer with it either. There is enough removal in this cube that drafters don’t need to dig that deep to play this card. Did anyone ever play this in Masters 25? I don’t know why it was reprinted there either. Surely there was a better card to get from that set. Anyway, moving on…

Cut 6 Suggested Additions:

I feel that the black section is pretty solid and I am not sure what it needs. Here are just a couple of suggestions to help buff a couple of the random archetypes. Dread Wanderer give the black based aggro decks another one drop, and allows the sacrifice decks have a recursive creature (at a bit of a cost. Swarm of Bloodflies gives both control and the sacrifice decks a decent sized evasive beater. The only difference is what side the creatures would be dying on to give it the counters. Fallen Ideal was a spicy card I thought of to give the token/sacrifice deck a free sac outlet. It may be a little too swingy, as most people won’t expect you to swing in the air with haste for a possible 10 damage out of nowhere. Probably best left in magical Christmas land, but it didn’t hurt to but the idea in your head ;)

Cut 7: Goblin Trailblazer

When I decided I would cut a card from each colour there wasn’t anything in red that stood out to me that much. Then I realised in the spoiler that these two cards are right next to each other:

While this kind of card did used to be uncommon and was a good card in it’s own right, I don’t think this cube needs two cards that are practically the same at this point in the curve (even though Ire Shaman will probably never be cast as a 2-mana spell). I mean the card isn’t bad, it is just boring and doesn’t contribute to any archetype in a meaningful way.

Cut 7 Suggested Addition:

All of reds creatures are aggressive. The gold cards for RG want it to be midrange and UR wants to be control. There needs to be something to fit the stop-gap. I was going to have multiple other suggestions, but I have been such an advocate for this card, that I want it to be highly considered for this cube (I am surprised it isn’t in to be honest, as I assume they would have bulk stock of it). It can hold off a decent amount of attacks in the early game and late game it can get you back a piece of removal to help get you back in the game, or just get back a game winning spell (Fight with Fire anyone?). It is the flexibility that makes this card great and gets picked relatively highly in various DOM draft archetypes, so it should have the ability to shine here as well.

Cut 8: Naturalize

Remember how I said that I don’t like non-maindeckable spells. Yeah, well, I probably just should have put this in the same category as Invoke the Divine. But in saying that, I think there is enough artifact hate in green already (there aren’t really that many enchantments in this cube worth removing) with:

All of these are fine as they have other uses (Crushing Vines is pretty narrow, but closer to maindeckable than Naturalize). This is more than what white had, so I am fine with not trying to replace it with any similar effect like I did there. Instead let’s add a card to fix green’s other issue.

Cut 8 Suggested Additions:

Green needs some kind of sifting effect to help reduce variance. CardKingdom added in Krosan Tusker between versions 1 and 3, which is a nice addition, but there needs to be a couple more. These are all nice cheap ways to ensure you either hit the land at the start that you need or hit a creature later on when you have started to flood out. I am quite partial to Grapple the Past, as it can get any creature that has died throughout the game. Can even act as a surprise pump spell for Multani, which is a little too cute to matter, but interactions like this are what make cube games great.

Cut 9: Bloodtallow Candle

Colourless cards are tricky to evaluate. They can go in any deck, so they are usually picked pretty highly. This is even a piece of removal, which also gets picked highly. The real question is how much does this have to cost for someone not to play it? This kind of card is decent enough as filler, and was slightly more useful in DOM drafts as it could trigger historic. The only problem is that this has no secondary purpose in this cube other than a Scour From Existence, and while the difference between 6 and 7 mana in limited is quite a decent step, it doesn’t save this card from it’s inflexibility.
This will most likely be a 12-15th pick everytime and only see play in green/white decks that didn’t pick up any other removal.

Cut 9 Suggested Additions:

It came to me in a dream. This card hits so many different archetypes that it seems like a shoo-in to be included. It hits the equipment theme mentioned before, plus the sacrifice theme. If we want to stretch it even hits the token theme. It is also a piece of mediocre colourless removal that the candle was trying to be, but actually being wanted by a variety of decks. What more could you want from a card?

Cut 10: The Deserts

This is a little bit of a cheat, as there are technically 5 cards here, but I want to bring these cards to people’s attention. While most of the changes between versions 1 and 3 of the cube were fine, the decision to cut the trilands (Arcane Sanctumand friends) was a bit of a blow to the cube. They replaced them with the cycle of memorials (see cut 2) and this cycle of deserts. Good mana fixing and make or break a draft and cutting a whole 10 lands worth of fixing was a bit harsh. The good part was that they also cut the amount of gold cards, meaning that fixing wasn’t as required.

It is just mean to include this cycle of lands as a replacement, as they don’t really do anything in the context of this cube. There are no desert interactions, there is nothing that cares about cycling these away (Like Drake Haven for example). Looking through the list, Multani is the only card where having a cycling land matters. They may claim that they are there to help prevent flood, but if that is the case, why not include Drifting Meadow or Secluded Steppe cycles instead? They are both just strictly better in this case. This is an obvious change for $$$ reasons, as the trilands can sometimes go for $1 a piece, and the deserts are worthless and from a current standard set, so they would have heaps of them lying around.

I am fine for budget cuts, but manabases are what make magic function and we need to right this wrong.

Cut 10 Suggested Additions:

These are probably the best uncommon fixing lands ever printed. They are like a double Aether Hub/Tendo Ice Bridge, allowing for ridiculous splashes and giving you the right mana you need at the right time. These get picked highly and won’t be a mediocre middling pick like the deserts, and actually contribute to making the deck function rather than mitigating mana flood, plus that is what the Memorials were put into the cube for, and they are doing a much better job (well other than Memorial to War, but we dealt with that issue). These isn’t another cycle of 5 lands that help fix mana, as they are usually 10 card cycles, so the vivid’s have found their perfect home.

There are several other cards that are subpar in this list, but the goal of this article wasn’t to give you a hard and fast route to converting the CardKingdom starter cube into a ‘perfect cube’. In essence, there is no such thing as a perfect cube, and even if there is, it won’t exist for long with the amount of cards wizards output each year, there will be some that are better suited to go in more cubes than others. Just know that this product is a great way to get started, and that there is no correct answer as to what cards should replace others. These are just suggestions from years of pouring over cube lists and drafting more cubes than I can count. Just personal opinions that may help edge to a more enjoyable play experience.

The Quest Questions

On the Eve of the Expansion

Journey to Ungoro will be the first expansion to release since I started playing Hearthstone, and although my Magic card evaluation skills are fairly well honed, I’m not sure how well those apply here. Particularly when it comes to evaluating a new card type.

Hearthstone to me feels like a game of much slimmer margins than Magic. Mana and color screw are removed from the picture, and even the power level gap between a staple Legendary and an unplayable basic card is fairly small in absolute terms.

Image result for leeroy jenkinsImage result for reckless rocketeer hearthpwn

Given these small margins, it’s hard to say whether a given quest will be competitively viable. I do think we can critique the design though.

The design of Hearthstone’s quests borrows heavily from Magic’s quests. Each serves as a form of temporary card and tempo disadvantage, recouped later by some eventual gain.

Magic’s quests largely fell into two categories: value quests and build-around quests. The former are simple quests that can be slotted into most any deck, netting a discount in mana at the cost of time primarily.

Khalni Heart ExpeditionIor Ruin Expedition

Divination or double Rampant Growth for two mana. And obviously the power level of each depends on deck construction and sequencing.

Quest for the Holy Relic

The build-around quests placed much tighter constraints on deck construction. At the time, a “Quest deck” implicitly referred to an all-in strategy that sought to cheat a high-costed equipment like Argentum Armor into play in the early turns. The primary contents of the deck were more or less fixed, from the quests and equipments, to cheap creatures that could quickly trigger the quest’s completion.


I’m a little disappointed that Blizzard has opted to go exclusively with this build-around approach, although I can imagine they might be holding smaller “value quests” aside as future design space. None of the quests offer much counterplay, directly or otherwise. There’s currently no way to bounce or destroy them, or remove counters (ala Vampire Hexmage and friends).

What I find most egregious about the design is how prescriptive the quests are. Do X action Y times. Especially when there are very few ‘X’ actions in the cardpool.

Take the Warlock Quest…


Currently there are really only 3 playable discard outlets in the cardpool, with a fourth being printed in Ungoro. Maybe Clutchmother Zavas will edge a card like Succubus into playability, but the fact remains, there’s not much room to maneuver in terms of your discard package. Your Soulfires, Malchezaar’s Imps, Doomguards and Silverware Golems (etc.) are already locked into your deck once you choose this quest. There’s some room to maneuver with the remaining contents, but it feels a lot like Jade Druid where large swaths of the decklist are more or less “pre-built”.

Now, admittedly I’ve cherry-picked perhaps the most restrictive example, and it’s likely that Blizzard has been fairly conservative here in their introduction of a new card type to Hearthstone. I do wish the quests had been more diverse in their size and scope, but the decision to print all quests at Legendary rarity likely precluded the existence of smaller “value” quests in Ungoro.

I am very curious, however, to see which quests will prove to be playable. Board control matters far more in Hearthstone than Magic, and stabilization much more difficult. The cost of a card and tempo in the early game is far from trivial, but some of the rewards are blatantly outrageous.

Let’s find out tomorrow…