Category: Chris Taylor

One Two Punch: Adding a Double Strike Theme

By: Chris Taylor

So in an effort to change things up in my cube, I’ve decided to replace the GWr token theme I had with something a little stranger: A double strike deck. The two decks share a lot of overlap cards, but double strike shares additional synergy with pump spells/equipment.

So here’s the basic cards. Depending on the size of your cube, you may want to double up on a few of these, namely the cheaper creatures. Waiting until turn 4 to start attacking doesn’t work too well.

Hound might seem a little loose, but I’m willing to bet most people’s red 4 drop section has been rather stagnant since the addition of Hellrider. Mix it up a little guys.

The reason for my swapping out the tokens decks for this theme is because quite a few of the support cards overlap between the two archetypes: Fencing Ace gets just as powerful as Gather the Townsfolk with Glorious Anthem in play, after all.

Now here’s the initial warning: if you want to support this archetype, the removal in your cube will have to get worse (or at the bare minimum slower). The whole reason things like auras and pump spells suck in cube is because 9 times out of 10, the creature just gets Doom Bladed in response. Or Swords. Or Pathed. Or Into the Roiled. Or…

You get the point. A lot of those bounce spells become significantly worse by being sorceries, but try out Undo every once in a while. Card is powerful.

Anyways, back on topic. Now that we have a host of fun creatures to suit up, now it’s time to find ways to crack in for lethal. Add a smattering of cards from these categories, or at least realize they just got better in your cube:

And a few Misc cards like Varolz, the Scar-Striped, Stonewright, Kessig Wolf Run, Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Dreg Mangler. In the same vein as Edric, try Warriors’ Lesson, Mask of Memory and Keen Sense.

As well as pump spells. This part needs a whole section.

First, the small few you might be playing already:

Now a few of those are probably a maybe. Here’s a few more you might want to try:

Titan’s Strength
Brute Force
Sylvan Might
Prey’s Vengeance
Predator’s Strike
Dragon Mantle
Pyrewild Shaman
Wrecking Ogre

Also, to tie this theme to red a little more, there’s a lot of good synergy with red cards that care about the power of your creatures:

Now I’ll be the first to admit Soul’s Fire is probably going too deep, but doubling or tripling up on Spikeshot Elder is not out of the question if you want this to be a deck, and not just some incidental synergy that happens to come together now and again.

It’s also worth noting the impact that actually running combat tricks has on your limited environment. Combat becomes kinda rote and by-the-numbers if people know the only downside to attacking is a haste guy from your side. If adding Giant Growth makes games more interesting, I’m all for it. Remember your cube is a limited environment too, not just a giant collection of cards.

Shake it up every now and again.

[M14] Chandra, Pyromaster Preview

By: Chris Taylor

chandra pyromaster preview m14 cube

Getting past the double take on her new moniker (seriously guys, pyromaster? That one’s gonna take me a while to remember not to mess up), a new Chandra has been previewed for the upcoming core set, and while it’s not the three mana red walker we were all hoping for (in vain), she does indeed look promising:

Chandra, Pyromaster 2RR
Planeswalker – Chandra

+1: Chandra, Pyromaster deals 1 damage to target player and 1 damage to up to one target creature that player controls. That creature can’t block this turn.

0: Exile the top card of your library. You may play it this turn.

-7: Exile the top ten cards of your library. Choose an instant or sorcery card exiled this way and copy it three times. You may cast the copies without paying their mana costs.


Now before I even begin to talk about what she does, let me get something straight for you guys here: the odds of Wizards of the Coast printing another good three-mana planeswalker are very low.
Liliana of the Veil is arguably in the top 5 walkers of all time and is seeing a ton of play in Legacy, Modern, and Standard right now. Jace Beleren has been a solid card in standard since his inception and a solid draw engine everywhere, and the blistering speed of modern (and the presence of his older brother in Legacy) are the things keeping him out of more eternal formats.

Both have been really solid and really powerful additions to the planeswalker stable. But they’re definitely on the higher end of what is acceptable in terms of power level. We’re not gonna get them every day because they’re really hard to get right without being either absolutely insane, or downright horrible.

Also seriously guys, Koth is way better than we give him credit for. In terms of a planeswalker to embody the classic RDW deck, nobody does it better than him. That guy hits the board, he needs to be answered yesterday.

Part of the reason we “haven’t seen a good red planeswalker yet” is that ‘walkers by their nature are meant to press incremental advantage, and red (or at least the kind of red deck you guys are talking about when you discuss this hypothetical ‘walker) is interested in ensuring the game is as short as possible, putting these two goals at odds with each other. This is why Koth goes ultimate so quickly: if it took 4 turns for him to threaten a control player, you’d have lost the game by then, even if his ult did 20 to the face. If you want a ‘walker that fits into the traditional red deck wins mold, it’ll very rarely play like a traditional planeswalker does, and more like a high impact sorcery with rebound. It needs to fit with the aggro plan: damagedudes and disruption.

Back to Chandra. 

Chandra hits the table with 4 starting loyalty is rather beefy, and on top of that she can use her +1 to defend herself on occasion.

Her mana cost is non-prohibitive, requiring only two red mana, and she’s not too expensive at only 4. We’re off to a good start.

Her +1 is an interesting one. I feel like they had a few different abilities planned out for her, and some design notes lost a period at some point and they all got put on the same ability. That being said, this is a strong thing to be doing every turn: Eliminating their strongest blocker to clear the way for your troops is something so worth doing we’ve been known to play goblin freeking war drums, and the incremental damage to your opponent that comes along with it is not to be dismissed. For the uninitiated, think of it this way: Remember in control decks back in the day or in Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse draft where you’d have all these “cantrips“, cards which did something and drew a card? they’re great for control decks because they advance your game plan while keeping the cards flowing and letting you hit your land drops.

Incidental damage is the cantrip effect aggro decks love: it lets you do something (Like say, kill a creature or disrupt their lands) while advancing your game plan of getting your opponent to zero life as fast as possible.

And don’t dismiss it because it’s “Just 1 damage”. Squadron Hawk won a lot of tournaments in his day. This stuff adds up.

The meat of her abilities lies in her 0. Some other famous planeswalker was heralded for his card advantage generating neutral ability, and he’s kinda good last time I checked, so it’s easy to see why this weird Uba Mask style card draw has replaced the utterly insane brainstorm. That being said, she does still literally draw you a card per turn, and while Staff of Nin and Deadbridge Chant are slightly more resilient than our fiery beauty here, they are both seeing play at a significant markup on mana cost.

Planeswalker ultimates are usually the marketing department of modern planeswalkers, showing off the cool things you can (but probably won’t) do. That being said, she hits threat levels in not too short order (3 turns from when she hits the board), not blazingly fast but not horribly slow either. In cube Chandra’s ultimate can provide some incredible reach, as revealing even the lowly Searing Spear eats about half a player’s life total.

Chandra does things that little to no other red cards do: she draws cards, she provides a ton of flexibility, and she resists damage quite well. Regardless of her overall power level, she’s a unique card, and certainly merits consideration.

I’m excited to give her a go.

M14 Previews:
– Garruk, Caller of Beasts
– Archangel of Thune
– Shadowborn Demon
– Elvish Mystic
– Young Pyromancer
– Dark Prophecy
Lifebane Zombie

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Wildfire Primer

By: Chris Taylor

The wildfire deck is a curious beast. Most cubes include Wildfire, but few designers consider the deck a core part of their metagame makeup, usually because it so rarely comes together.

To start making that more of a reality, here’s the card and some history.

[d title="Kai Budde 1999 Worlds" style="embedded"]


4 Covetous Dragon
1 Karn, Silver Golem
3 Masticore


4 Cursed Scroll
4 Temporal Aperture
2 Mishra’s Helix


4 Fire Diamond
4 Grim Monolith
4 Thran Dynamo
4 Voltaic Key
2 Worn Powerstone


4 Wildfire


3 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
13 Mountain[/d]

That list is the winning deck from Worlds 1999, piloted by Kai Budde, and the world’s introduction to the Wildfire archetype.

The basic game plan of the deck is to get to 6 mana (either by acceleration or control elements) and resolve Wildfire + a threat that survives it (either via having 5+ toughness, or not being a creature at all, like with Jace, the Mind Sculptor).

Kai’s list provides us a basic blueprint for the configuration of the Wildfire deck, and its various moving parts. Below is a chart illustrating what those numbers look like in the land of 40 cards:

Constructed Cube
Ramp:18 (12)
Lands:20 (13.3)
Wildfires:4 (2.6)
Threats: 12 (8)
Draw:8 (5.3)

These numbers reveal a lot:

  • 12 ramp spells is a tall order in any draft environment, especially with people cutting down on signets to make things harder for control strategies
  • 13-14 lands is almost unheard of in cube decks (though that number is probably deflated since 7 of his 20 tap for 2 mana)
  • Some cubes don’t even have 2-3 wildfires (basically anyone who doesn’t run Portal cards)
  • The combo-centric Tempest/Urza’s constructed environment saw little aggro play, as we can see from the zero sweepers in the main (this probably needs to be corrected for cube)

Furthermore, with the advent of planeswalkers and power creep, some of the cards in our deck can double as threats/draw (Consecrated Sphinx), or threats/ramp (Garruk Wildspeaker).


The key card to include here are the Wildfire variants, acting as both a Wrath against aggro decks and an Armageddon effect against control. Here are some possible inclusions:

WildfireBurning of XinyeDestructive ForceDevastating DreamsDeath CloudRite of RuinDevastationJokulhaups

Here are a few without the sweeper aspect if you feel like a card aggro might be able to use as well:

EpicenterKeldon FirebombersRitual of SubdualTectonic BreakThoughts of Ruin

Do note that Destructive Force is far harder to leverage than Wildfire is; a creature with 6+ toughness is a much taller order than a creature with 5+ toughness. As well, the additional mana that force costs is critical, representing an additional turn for a deck to slip in something to kill you, or worse: survive a Wildfire.

Rite of Ruin, Devastation and Jokulhaups represent a more creatureless variant of this deck, employing planeswalkers and suspend cards as its main win conditions. Devastation can act as more of a value card (much like Upheaval, another excellent card for this deck, which I’ll talk about below), leaving the board empty but for your artifacts, enchantments, and walkers. Again, be aware of the extra mana (and extra turn) it takes to cast these 7 mana variants.


Second most important for the deck is the acceleration: artifact, ramp or creature. Artifact proves the most effective: not committing you to another color, surviving both of Wildfire‘s effects, and generally accelerating faster than other methods (hello Coalition Relic!). Ramp spells prove an effective middle ground, accelerating with the conceit that some of them will die when you Wildfire. Creatures, on the other hand, all die to Wildfire, but provide a nice plan B for when Wildfire doesn’t show its face.

Most cubes (rightfully) curb the ubiquity and power of acceleration in their cube to lend more power to aggro decks. For this deck to be a mainstay in your cube, you will almost assuredly need to add more artifact mana. While the 12 number shown above is probably unreasonable, if your drafters can’t get at least 6+ pieces of acceleration, the deck will wither on the vine.

My suggestion if you think this change will make control decks too powerful is to tightly control the power of your artifact mana: Sure a control player will draft an Azorius Signet without a second thought (even though the Wildfire deck needs it so much more), will they really pick Fire Diamond? Prismatic Lens? Talisman of Impulse? Guardian Idol?

Lastly: pay REALLY CLOSE ATTENTION to anything that adds more than one mana. Grim Monalith, Mana Vault, Sol Ring and Coalition Relic are all strong cards to be sure, but the ability to jump that far ahead really hampers the aggro decks in your cube at large.


While most cubes don’t really need help supporting Wildfire in this aspect, (seriously, any creature with 5+ toughness will do) I will take some time to mention some more unconventional/extremely effective ones:

Greater Gargadon

This is the granddaddy of all win conditions in this deck. With him suspended, cast Wildfire, sacrificing all your lands and creatures which would die anyway, leaving him at one counter. Then play your land for turn, sac it, and swing for 9. Pass, and drink deep your opponent’s tears.

Aeon Chronicler

In a similar vein to Gargadon above, but kills slower while providing card advantage. This can work worse in the more ramp focused variants, since so much acceleration will shrink your hand size, leaving it a puny bear the turn it comes down.


This depends on the makeup of your cube, but the thought of Wildfiring and having this guy come in next turn, destroy a land, and swing for 5-8 damage sickens me. In a good way.


Doesn’t matter if he dies to Wildfire, cast it anyways! Bit slow, so keep that in mind.

Koth of the Hammer

Just remember to untap a mountain AFTER you Wildfire, not before. (Though can you choose the creature mountain as one of the lands you sacrifice? Will that work?)
Using his -2 to power out Wildfires is highly recommended, as it lets you use the extra mana to cast a threat post-Wildfire, instead of specifically needing one that survives it. Sometimes that extra Goblin Ruinblaster cinches it for you.

And anything with 5 or more toughness. Some examples include:
Abyssal Persecutor
Crater Hellion
Inferno Titan
Thundermaw Hellkite
Frost Titan
Rampaging Baloths
Consecrated Sphinx



Special mention must of course go to Upheaval, the blue Wildfire (this is an understatement) because it synergizes so well with the same cards (mostly) that Wildfire does: manafacts and suspend cards.
For those of you unfamiliar, the plan with Upheaval is to tap as much mana as you can (hopefully 9-12 mana), play Upheaval, and either replay your board or play a threat with the leftover mana, essentially acting as 6 mana sorcery that lets you cast Karn Liberated‘s ultimate.
This, while doubling as the most effective sweeper in the cube.

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