Category: Contest

[Contest] Green Sun’s Zenith and Knight of the Reliquary

The Submission


1. History

In barbarian times competitive Magic was dominated by more Tutors than an East-Coast city a week before the SAT, and creatures were as uncompetitive as a poor applicant to Harvard. Then the power of Tutors, which (as anyone who has spent time at rich-kid circle-jerks, like EDH games or Ivy-League colleges) in excess homogenize and impoverish experience, began to wane; thus the snap-bannable Demonic Consultation turned into the bannable Mystical Tutor, which turned into the totally unbannable Survival of the Fittest; by the time Eladamri’s Call hit stores, social Darwinism was fighting, toe-to-toe, with Mirage-era scholasticism.

Now it is 2013 and Darwinism has won. Gone is the fire-and-brimstone medievalism of Demonic Tutor. In this place we have cards like Idyllic Tutor, for which the competitive player reserves his most damning of epithets: EDH staple.

But if Demonic Tutor is a bad design choice, and Idyllic Tutor is just a bad card, where does this leave the Tutor-inclined Cube designer? Assume that the author likes creatures and durdling. Justify your answer in 3,500 words or less.

2. Biology

The one unambiguous design success of New World Order has been to make creatures competitive; I’d also argue that NWO has made creatures competitive in a more interesting way than ever before. The primitive tribal designs of Onslaught and its inferior successor Lorwyn are fading into memory, compelling Cube and set designer alike to make more interesting, less linear design choices than ‘lol let’s put in some Faeries!!!’ Now you can build creature decks around curve and synergy and lifegain, and a score of other cross-pollinating criteria; you can build Birthing Pod decks and Veteran Explorer decks and decks with Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf. Now Llanowar Elves and Wild Nacatl are both having their day; now Gaddock Teeg and Tarmogoyf stand, side-by-side, as bros (if not equals).

Green is now not only competitive, it is skill-testing. It might even be cerebral. Green is too hard to play for masters, and too easy for morons. Green is Greenwich Village in 2000, the Pearl District in 2007, and Eastern Europe for the rest of the century. Green isn’t the new Blue — Blue is the old Green.

At my Cube, half the players are high on Green — some are so high, they even first-pick the Greens! Magic is attracting greenhorns at greenback-garnering rates when they visit the local greengrocer; there are now more Green mages playing Magic than there are members of the Green party. Green is making the White players whitewashed, the Red players see red, and the Blue and Black players Black and Blue in mood and bruise. Green is making everyone from the green thumbs to the Green Berets Green. How?

In Modern, Green is the best color because all the good cards are banned of Birthing Pod. Birthing Pod is a card I am far too dumb to play when sober, and too smart to play when I am drunk. I am indebted to Jason for pioneering Birthing Pod designs in Cube; I have been happy to throw three in my Cube. But I love Green far more than Jason, and I want to double up on two cards I love more than Birthing Pod.

The first of these cards is, along with Stoneforge Mystic, one of the strongest tutors printed since Tinker. It perfectly uses the intrinsic brokenness of tutors to buff Green dudes, and it uses the fairness of Green dudes to ‘unbreak’ tutors. In Cube, as in Constructed, it leads to dizzying arrays of deckbuilding and gameplay decisions. Glory be to Green! Through this card, both the coolest of the old tutors and the NWO triumph of creatures, realize their design potential — as instigators of tough decisions and ‘every game being different,’ not the opposite.

Green Sun's Zenith

3. Meteorology

As a tutor, GSZ is broken; as a tutor that puts onto the battlefield, it is twice broken. However, as a tutor that gets only creatures, it is fair; as a tutor that gets only green creatures, it is twice fair.

In Legacy, GSZ is known for creating a handful of archetypes (Maverick, Nic Fit) while revitalizing others (Elves, the rage-inducing Enchantress). There its raw power is brought fully out by the massive card pool. GSZ is, like King Azaz the Unabridged, the Alpha and the Omega; from Aboroth to Zuo Ci, the Mocking Sage, you can grab anything under the Sun — the Green Sun. But there are more Green creatures in Magic history than in my Cube. Just as large card pools break tutors, a careful Cube design can ‘unbreak’ them. In my Cube specifically, there are a hair under 70 targets; this is few enough that there will not be Craterhoofs for 40 on turn three, but enough that you can do all this fun stuff!:

Boggart Ram-Gang Cloudthresher Creakwood Liege Deus of Calamity Wilt-Leaf Liege

For the cost of a single Green mana, GSZ fetches color-intensive cards. GSZ synergizes with the new Devotion themes of Purphoros, God of the ForgeErebos, God of the Dead, and Nylea, God of the Hunt. GSZ mitigates the issue of color screw, that has ruined innumerably more games of Cube than that straw man in the corner drafting ‘five-color good stuff.’

Deathrite Shaman Scavenging Ooze

I dislike Power Cube for many reasons, but the main one is that its threats far stronger than its answers; are you gonna crack that Lotus to power out a t1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or are you gonna use that triple-Blue to hold up Cryptic Command? In Power Cube, the games are too often EDH-style slugfests, with a minimum of interaction, therefore psychology, therefore the things that make MTG so much fun.

The bias towards questions over answers is, I think, connected to a limitation of singleton formats: with singleton, you can’t help but underrepresent certain types of cards, and those cards are usually answers. In my Cube, with both a powerful Reanimator and Gravecrawler theme, I knew that I wanted a critical mass of answers to the graveyard. However, I felt ridiculous adding cards, like Withered Wretch or Loaming Shaman, that were not main-deckable; that kind of card would always fall to 14th pick, would always be boarded in when it hosed, and would otherwise not see the light of day. This is a bad dynamic for drafting, sideboarding, and playing — nearly as lazy as throwing Vulshok Refugee in the Great Furnace Modo Cube!

So instead of digging deep in fallow earth, I doubled up on Deathrites and Scoozes, either of which you can grab with a Zenith. (The mana production of Deathrite Shaman also powers out on-curve GSZs.)

Qasali Pridemage Wickerbough Elder Acidic Slime

I wanted an extra piece of main-deckable artifact-and-enchantment removal, too, but I didn’t want to add a second Wickerbough Elder (for aesthetics and curve), nor a first Viridian Zealot (for lack of power).

Arbor Elf Gyre Sage Kitchen Finks Polukranos, World Eater Wolfir Silverheart Rampaging Baloths Avenger of Zendikar Craterhoof Behemoth

At any point on the curve, GSZ is your best card — you just have to draft the GSZs, draft the creatures, and remember what’s in your deck.

Brainstorm Sensei's Divining Top Windswept Heath

Legacy aficionados will love the little complexity of GSZ’s shuffle effect. The doubled-up fetches do double duty with GSZ to really give the three Brainstorms a big boost, while turning Deathrite Shaman into a reliable mana dork.

Birthing Pod Shardless Agent Bloodbraid Elf Vengevine

As in Legacy, GSZ can’t work well with everything — otherwise, it’d go in everything. As is, the anti-synergies between GSZ and Pod and Cascade help situate GSZ in a nice spot in between that ‘going in everything’ (dat Batterskull) and ‘going only in one deck’. The way GSZ, Pod, and Cascade act as competing engines also adds extra diversity to decks and archetypes. Which kind of Green deck do you want to build?

Dryad Arbor

Mana dorks are another card underrepresented in Cube, but here the utility land draft both alleviates this lack of t1 acceleration, and grants an enormous boon to GSZ. When GSZ was in Standard, the extra mana made it at times clumsy, but in Legacy you can just cast GSZ for X=0, find your Dryad Arbor, and have that extra mana to cast your second GSZ.

4. Double Header

But wait! There’s more. My utility land section (drafted with two lands per person, twice in each draft) inspired me to double up on my double trouble. I am a double agent writing a double feature on double lives. I do not dislike double negatives. I  I have been known to order double drinks at the bar, then double up in a double bed. My favorite item at In-N-Out is the Double-Double.

Double, double, Toil // Trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble;

Disclose a babe of Brawn and hooters,

Who beats and taps and sacs and tutors …

Knight of the Reliquary

Maverick, the original Legacy GSZ deck, played four of this strong, beautiful woman. Brian Kibler, himself a looker, called her (and I paraphrase) ‘the sweetest card in Magic,’ and surely it is. Why does KotR arouse the passions of old-school Magic players, to an even greater degree than ‘anything that moves’?

Just as NWO’s signature design success is balancing the creature and the spell, its signature design failure is its wholesale slaughter of on-board complexity. Anyone who has played a game of Standard the last couple of years knows what I mean. NWO games are too often boring. I know why. The whole point of Cube is for good players to screw up — Cube is like EDH, for thinking players — and what gives them a bigger chance to screw up than activated abilities? Activated abilities that tutor, of course! (And, after picking up The Name of the Rose this weekend, I wonder if ‘Reliquary’ is a reference to medieval attitudes on tutoring …)

So what does Kibler’s girl have to teach us?


If the new, completely terrible legend rule won’t let clones light up legends, the classic Legends legendary land will light up legends.

Volrath's Stronghold Bojuka Bog

Lovers of older formats will also enjoy recurring dudes, and nuking their opponents’ graveyards when they try to do the same. This ‘dynamic equilibrium’ finds the right balance between questions and answers. (I try to build my Cube with the design successes of Legacy in mind; the tension between Wasteland + Stifle and fetch + dual, or Force of Will and broken strategies, is the biggest reason why that format works.) In my Cube, KotR teams up with GSZ, DRS, and Scooze to create a fun, fighting dynamic between Green and graveyard strategies.

Treetop Village Dryad Arbor Horizon Canopy Gavony Township Vault of the Archangel

KotR can also make bodies, draw cards, pump our team, or give an alpha-striking aggro deck a very ghastly surprise.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

In my fixing-saturated Cube, Nykthos provides an incentive for decks to stick to a primary color, tapping for huge amounts of mana once you’ve fetched that Deus of Calamity with GSZ.

Ancient Tomb Gaea's Cradle

KotR’s ability to ramp (sacrificing a turn of blocking by not activating at the end of the opponent’s turn) is buffed by these powerful cards with drawbacks …

Windswept Heath Windswept Heath

… While her body is buffed to Cube-worthy proportions by the twenty fetchlands in my 450-card list …

Tectonic Edge Tectonic Edge

… And these balanced answers to the ancient lands her archaeology unearths.

Brainstorm Sensei's Divining Top

Between GSZ and KotR activations, the shuffles, tutors, and cantrips in my Cube maximize decision points in drafting, deckbuilding, and gameplay, lifting it above the vulgarity of ‘RDW in the Modo Cube,’ and synthesizing cards old and new — the tutor and the creature — for a flavorful, interactive, and challenging experience.

Add growlers, daggers, and Legacy side games to taste!

5. Rhetoric

Travis Woo is fond of saying ‘to add a card you must cut a card.’ Peddlers of MTGS-style Powered 720s miss that this is as true in Cube as it is in Constructed. All design choices come with opportunity costs, so here are some arguments for not doubling up on GSZ and KotR, (as well as my doubling-down, double-negative arguments against those arguments):

-Green is already the easiest color to design in Cube. Though my idolatry of Green is profuse and well-documented, even the most hardened Blue-worshipping philistines can’t help but marvel at Green’s embarrassment of riches in Cube. Between its mana dorks, on-curve beaters, fixing and fatties, there are about 30 Green cards I want in my Cube that aren’t in there; so why spend two precious slots on a second GSZ and KotR? I’d answer that these cards make the existing cards in the Cube more playable in more situations, so by doubling up on them, on balance, my drafters see a greater diversity of cards.

Selesnya too is not lacking in options. I share Jason’s contempt for precise color-balance; I see it as maybe the fifteenth-most important thing you can do with your Cube, while more pedantic ‘designers’ fetishize it as a means of ignoring fundamentally rotten design. GW has way more Cube-worthy cards than UR or UG, so there are more GW cards than UR or UG cards in my Cube. (As compensation, U gets more mono-colored cards.) However, there are some more GW cards I’d like to slot in. Though a second KotR is unquestionably cooler than a first Loxodon Smiter, some designers might not judge it sweeter than a Glare of Subdual or, at the same spot in the curve, a Dauntless Escort. But I do!

Midrange is already strong enough. There is a ‘five-color good-stuff’ fallacy. It is popular among the rote Cube community. It states that Cubes with a sad sparseness of fixing are somehow supposed to make oppressively powerful ‘five-color midrange’ decks. This is dumb for several reasons. A big one is that anyone who’s played Constructed will remember how bad directionless midrange decks were, even in the mono-dual mana-bases of RTR Standard. It is true, though, that midrange decks do tend to be strong in non-power Cubes. This is especially true for Cubes, where we de-emphasize sweepers and love Green, maybe taking both a little too far. I’d answer that the competing Green ‘engines’ of Birthing Pod and Cascade are more restrictively midrange, while GSZ fits in aggro and ramp too — and that Knight is just ‘the sweetest card inMagic,’ anytime, anywhere.

-Everything costs 3. This is related to the last argument, and is especially true for gold cards; 88 out of 381 = 23.1% of my Cube’s spells have CMC 3, while 25 of 75 = 33.3% of its gold cards cost 3. Anyone who has looked at Matthew Watkins’s excellent articles on new Limited formats, or the article of Andy’s I linked above, knows how extremely sensitive Limited environments are to slight changes in curve. Three is a CMC Cube designers should actively be looking to quell, though it is nowhere near as bad as having everything cost 4. (Aside: I’m sure that conventional Cubes’ having curves that very closely approximate released draft sets, while having the power of Constructed cards, is a design failure that explains a great deal of my disregard for them.) Anyway, I’d answer that GSZ can cost anything from 1 to 9 mana, and the two KotR slots are worth it in spite of both costing 3.

Green Sun’s Zenith is not as customizable in 40-card decks. At some point in my Cube games, with my Cube’s twenty fetchlands and four utility lands per person, someone will fail to find off a fetch and it will feel awful. Similarly, with GSZ in a forty-card deck, you can just run out of bullets; maybe that extra GSZ should therefore be another bullet. I’d answer that the fetches and Birthing Pod design choices are worth it anyway; finding something cheaper than the value of X off GSZ isn’t so bad. Plus, curbing GSZ’s power a little is something I’m down with; I love GSZ, but the card is banned in Modern for a reason. (I have, however, thought about mandating 45-card decks …)

Dryad Arbor sucks without GSZ. This is a ‘poison-principle’ argument — anyone who’s topdecked a copy during a tight game of Legacy knows that Dryad Arbor is a weak card, whose application is overwhelmingly accelerating off a GSZ on turn one. I’d answer that I’ve strived to give it a few other uses — e.g., KotR’s ability to tutor it, finding a surprise blocker off a fetchland, and serving as fodder for the sacrifice theme — and also that Dryad Arbor isn’t in the main Cube. The utility-land draft is for cards you want to put in your deck, that aren’t worth the opportunity cost of a designer’s slot and a drafter’s pick; that’s the whole point!

6. Game Theory

The great deckbuilders give huge amounts of attention to individual card choices; for this reason, I value the perspicacious Legacy articles of Josh Ravitz, whose descriptions of brewing approximate my experiences at April’s Seattle Legacy Open. There I could have lost in the quarterfinals because of a single poor card choice in the sideboard. Why, then, do Cube designers, especially the ones who are accomplished competitive players, not obsess over their Cube’s card choices? You could answer ‘because in competitive Magic there’s money at stake,’ but nobody plays Magic for money — a professional Magic player is simply someone who is unaware of this. We’re all doing this for fun; fun is the most important thing.

To this end, I am now going to tell a story that will illustrate why I think Cube is more important than competitive Magic.

A couple months ago, our playgroup’s most dedicated player went off to Dublin for the Pro Tour. After bumming around Europe for a month, he returned, determined to never play a round of competitive Magic again: ‘I don’t want to be anything like these people,’ he explained. That Thursday he came over for Cube and, by the time he’d blithely Podded Erebos, God of the Dead into a Gray Merchant of Asphodel for 17, he was in great spirits. ‘This is the most fun I have playing Magic,’ he commented, in a rare display of sozzled sentimentality … That Saturday, he came to the PTQ, and, though we all scrubbed out, we realized it was no excuse for not enjoying the mojitos and Cubing thereafter, as we love Magic not because of the way competitive play is set up, but in spite of it.

Some weekends I will not feel like going to PTQs; some weekends I will go to PTQs and not enjoy myself; on balance, I get some fun out of it, but I keep going because I love my Magic friends, more than I hate the early reveilles and bush-league backbiting and atrociously high vigorish of the PTQ and GP circuit. But I’ll always try to get Cube together, every week, as there is no way I am not going to have a huge amount of fun designing or drafting or playing my Cube; it is so fun that the pointless suffering of the outside culture and the very bad Limited sets this culture has fed become, for several hours, immaterial. What the daggers and drinking and gossip outside the game, and the interaction and decision trees and dialectics and tensions and hand-reading and tutoring and designing, drafting, deckbuilding, and playing within the game ought to remind you of is that, at its best, MTG is a game about people. For all my criticism of WotC, I am glad they’ve been able to accommodate idiots who like giant Green dudes, like me, alongside the tutor-mongering legacies of yore.

Jason’s Critique

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’ll start by saying that, currently in my cube, Green Sun’s Zenith does not seem to be valued very highly by my drafters. Mistake? Perhaps. I have long touted the idea that Primeval Titan engine decks are the most fun green decks my cube produces, via a combination of the Utility Land Draft and the fact that you get to pilot a deck with a legitimate, cool, non-broken interactive gameplan rather than drawing off the top. For this reason I’ve heralded cards like Primal Command as ways to enable such decks.

Green Sun’s Zenith does similar enabling. And if we’re doubling up on the Zenith, do we double up on Dryad Arbor in the utility pile? Zenith significantly improves with a zero-drop to fetch, and, should the two copies get split, do we want one of the two to be a bit of a dud? It’s certainly a question worth considering. I hadn’t considered the connection to blue with Brainstorm, and as someone currently in the process of upping my Brainstorm count this does seem appealing.

Further, I consider giving decks a good decision density an integral part of cube design, and as an X spell, Zenith certainly has no shortage of play to it.

A second copy of Knight of the Reliquary could be useful, but I do feel that limiting gold density in cubes is important design wise, by virtue of the higher competing demand for monocolor cards. You’re right, to add a card I need to cut a card. What’s my line?

Qasali PridemageVoice of Resurgence

Both of the above cards are fairly integral to my cube’s design (Voice single-handedly makes Pod decks more viable), and Qasali is a rare maindeckable piece of artifact and enchantment hate. I’m not entirely against adding a fourth Selesnya card, but I don’t know that I’m sold on a second copy of Knight of the Reliquary. Certainly anybody doubling fetches and using the Utility Land Draft should be running at least one copy, though.

Eric’s Critique

Anybody wanna take a guess at who wrote this submission? Yeah, no, I’m pretty stumped here, too. It could have been just about anyone.

So, right off the bat, suggesting that people include more than a singleton copy of Green Sun’s Zenith sets off alarm bells. It’s probably more of a personal bias than anything else, but I feel like cards that vastly increase the consistency of decks – tutors especially – make cube less interesting. It’s one thing to need to draft a very specific curve in order to fully unlock the potential of Birthing Pod; it’s another to just draft Good Green Creatures and know that you’ll be able to treat your library as an extension of your hand. I think that Zenith is actually a decent bit closer to Demonic Tutor than, say, a Worldly Tutor, and Demonic Tutor trips the smoke detector in the same way. Maybe this is all moot if Dryad Arbor isn’t in your particular deck packing multiple Zeniths, but I’d still be very wary of including more than one copy of a generically powerful, flexible spell such as this (especially when it reshuffles itself back into the library to act as marginally more copies).

After having pooh-poohed all over that idea, I will say that I’m fascinated by the idea of a second Knight of the Reliquary. This beloved three-drop brings an often under-appreciated part of the deck – its manabase – right to the forefront, and allows for any manner of subtle and not-so-subtle shenanigans, while still inviting interaction from the opponent. With just one copy in a deck, it’s hard to really build around her ability, and expect to be able to harness the full power of your utility lands. A second copy would give a drafter more motivation to stock up on fetchlands, play sufficient numbers of Forests and Plains, craft a game plan around activating Gavony Township in a creature mirror, and run any number of silver bullet lands to handle any imaginable scenario. Other than amassing an army of dudes, I find that GW decks often lack direction in cube. Knight of the Reliquary is perhaps just the gal to bring the colour pair together.

It’s true that gold sections are very tight in cubes as is, and Selesnya as a color pair isn’t lacking for options. I think that Knight is unique enough to warrant taking a good, hard look at doing everything you can to squeeze in another copy. Move over, Baneslayer – the Queen of Midrange has arrived.

Return to contest entries.

[Contest] Phyrexian Metamorph

The Submission

This contest is meant to highlight cards that can be ‘built around’ in Cube design when included in multiples. Often this requires – and incentivizes – a top-down redesign of the Cube to enable the card to work properly; one entrant, for instance, said they originally considered Astral Slide. It’s an interesting card, with a lot of nostalgia value for people who played it in Constructed (which also acts as a source of ideas for exploiting it), but it can’t just be slotted into your Cube without further thought – most Cubes have a single-digit number of cycling cards, so clearly more support is needed for it to be realistic. We might look for cards in which cycling is stapled on to a regular effect and include them in place of cards that usually play that role – Starstorm and Akroma’s Vengeance over some other red and white sweepers. We also want ways to recur our cyclers, so Loam and Disentomb effects rise in value (at which point we branch out into other cards that work well with these, such as those that can sacrifice themselves). With this many ways of drawing a card at instant-speed, Miracles now look more appealing and we could use more effects that let us manipulate the top of the deck. We can also add cards that are good against cycling, such as Notion Thief.

Typically, an experiment like that is ‘successful’ if it’s able to become a noticeably important part of the Cube without encroaching on other things. That’s a hard balance to strike, though, and you can only properly support one or two of these cards at a time. It’s also not a relevant idea if you’re not in the market for that sort of commitment, so few people will get to try it for themselves. For my entry I wanted to do something different. This card doesn’t require a complete restructuring of the Cube to be good; in fact, I’d say that with no other changes, almost any Cube will be improved by adding an extra copy of this card:

Phyrexian Metamorph

Universal applicability

No matter what stance you take on power maximization as a Cube philosophy, Metamorph will make decks and games better. If your goal with Cube is to do the most crazy, powerful, and memorable things, Metamorph is just what you need. Copying haymakers like Thundermaw HellkiteBaneslayer Angel, or Grave Titan– from either side – at a discount lets you steamroll over opponents or turn lost games around in dramatic fashion. Alternatively, you might be aiming to promote synergy over raw power. Metamorph can act as a second copy of a key piece of the puzzle, increasing the payoff when an interaction comes together.

Perhaps you want games to be longer and contain more complex decisions; in that case, Metamorph has your back. Whether it’s deciding when to pull the trigger on an opponent’s play or figuring out how to bait removal to maximize the chance of copying your best card, having a good sense of timing is crucial. Cubes with a focus on ‘grindy’ cards – typically with some inbuilt card advantage mechanism, such as Ghitu Slinger or Sphinx of Lost Truths – are more conducive to this type of gameplay, and these cards conveniently interact well with Metamorph.

It also works well with many ‘build-around-me’ cards (likely including some featured in this contest!). If your deck is built around milking a card for all its worth, doubling up on it can only help. One Young Pyromancer is respectable; two Young Pyromancers can snowball out of control very quickly. Even if your deck is more ‘normal’, it probably contains cards that get disproportionately better in multiples. Hellrider is a scary card by itself; two Hellriders is even worse. It’s easy to feel like you’ve ‘unlocked an achievement’ with Metamorph, beyond the usual sense of satisfaction that Clones can provide.

Metamorph certainly can be the linchpin of a strategy – more on that in a little bit – but its primary use is as a strong and interesting tactical play that all colours and decks have access to. When opened in a pack it doesn’t stand out as a card that challenges you to take a risk on it; rather, it’s a solid card that you’re always happy to pick and play. It’s never going to end up circling the table at the end of a pack or lying rejected in a sideboard, and it’s rarely a dead card in-game. For the purposes of this contest it might not be the most flashy card, but it frees you up to try cards that are flashy by shoring up the ‘regular’ part of the Cube in a clear way.

Effect on games

Beyond its obvious and specific interactions with certain cards, it’s worth thinking about how Metamorph affects games in general. It’s costed at the sweet spot to remain fair even when it’s used for unfair things – 3 mana and 2 life is just right (cf. Phantasmal Image, which feels undercosted at times, or 4-mana Clones, which are mostly unplayable). It’s a great way of restoring balance in games where you’re behind: one easy way to lose is for you to stumble when the opponent plays a threat that can’t be dealt with by normal removal, like Titans or ‘army-in-a-can’ cards, and Metamorph is one of the few cards that can restore parity there. It enables some awesome comebacks (going from being manascrewed and having my board wiped by Inferno Titan to getting my own Titan and killing his, in a recent draft) out of nowhere, and has an element of surprise: you expect a black deck to Doom Blade your guy, but you don’t expect a white deck to get a copy of it.

This lack of a colour requirement is what makes it so flexible and fun. There are some understandable objections to cards like Dismember existing, on the grounds that they do unnecessary violence to the colour pie; Metamorph gives every colour access to an effect that’s always been reserved for blue, but because it’s often a reactive card it feels much less offensive. It adds a whole new dimension to games in a way that few other cards can, without blurring the identity of each colour: your green deck gets to play with Archangel of Thune, but Archangel remains a quintessentially white card.

It also has wider implications for Cube design, and not in the obvious way suggested by the more ambitious contest entries. We have to consider not just how cards fit together when played, but whether the tools are there for opponents to keep them in check: in the Zombie theme headlined by Gravecrawlers, cards like Pillar of Flame ensure that the usual threats vs. answers dynamic is maintained. Often, this can feel a little forced – if I’m playing a control deck I might be pleased to have Pillar when the situation arises but still wish it was a Firebolt instead, since I have to play other matchups too.

Why does this matter? Well, Metamorph by itself prompts an evaluation of cards from another perspective. As designers, we can stack the Cube with cards that create an interesting dynamic when controlled by both players. Whip of Erebos caught many people’s attention as a curious and fun card in its own right; when both players have a Whip, some truly epic board states can occur. The changes to the legend rule gave Metamorph a new functionality: rather than acting as a Vindicate, it can now match whatever benefit a legend is having on the other side. It was nice for your green deck to have an answer to Meloku, but it’s a lot more fun for your green deck to conscript its own Meloku and face off in the skies. As anyone who played Standard a few years ago can testify, Metamorphing an opposing Consecrated Sphinx leads to good times all around. Metamorph doesn’t need any help to create this excitement – it feeds off of cards that you would be including anyway.

Ways to exploit it

Restoration AngelReveillarkFiend HunterLeonin Relic-Warder

Most Cubes have a large number of creatures that work well with blink effects, from Wall of Omens to Flametongue Kavu, and copying them is just as good. Those effects also go nicely with Metamorph, allowing you to reset Metamorph when needed. Fiend Hunter and the champion mechanic can ‘protect’ a Metamorph, as can Relic-Warder (which can also go infinite if you have effect that triggers on a creature entering/leaving play).

Strangleroot GeistEpochrasiteGeralf's MessengerKitchen FinksGlen Elendra ArchmageMurderous Redcap

Copying a persist/undying creature with Metamorph gives you a second barrel to fire later in the game when there are more appealing targets on the other side, and the opponent always has to be wary of killing the Metamorphed guy for fear of it turning into something bigger and better. With a sac outlet, you can pull off some ridiculous tricks at instant speed.

BatterskullSensei's Divining Top

Metamorph’s ability to copy artifacts gives you a manual reset option when combined with these cards. Duelling Batterskulls leads to some incredibly intricate games.

Mayor of AvabruckDiregraf CaptainDeranged Hermit

Anything that gives a bonus to your team gets much better in multiples, and so Metamorph is in especially high demand in any kind of tribal deck. Some, like Captain, only make the cut if you’re pushing a tribal theme, but the likes of Mayor and Hermit stand on their own merits.

Gray Merchant of AsphodelMaster of WavesFanatic of Mogis

If you’re one of those wise souls that supports a devotion theme, Metamorph is great both in advance to increase your devotion count and as a follow-up to your devotion card. It’s truly excellent with Master of Waves (as most things are).

Overgrown BattlementThran DynamoGilded Lotus

If you have more refined tastes and prefer to cast 11-drops on turn 5, Metamorph does that too!

Sphere of ResistanceTangle WireSmokestack

Phyrexian Metamorph has added a lot of depth to Mishra’s Workshop decks in Vintage, and its applications there can be replicated to good effect in Cube. If you’re pushing a heavy artifact theme, you can also set up loops with Goblin Welder or Trading Post or turbo-charge your draws with Etherium SculptorGrand Architect is basically the perfect card with Metamorph, letting you play it for free most of the time and acting as another copy-able anthem.

As you can see, there are a lot of cool things you can do with Metamorph, and since it demands nothing of you there’s no reason not to try doubling up on it. Give it a try!

Jason’s Critique

Phyrexian Metamorph brings an interesting angle to the contest, as it’s not a card that explicitly supports any given strategy, but is full of subtle interactions and gameplay decisions to be made. I personally don’t even run a single copy, even though it certainly qualifies on the basis of power level considerations.

I’m all for cards that increase the decision density of games, and Metamorph certainly brings that to the table. This entry made a compelling case for me to consider re-including a copy of Metamorph, but I wish it had done more to argue the merits of a second. I suppose the argument boils down to “one is good, more is better”. Would a second Metamorph increase the net fun of my cube? Quite possibly. Does it open up or bolster archetypes that were previously underpowered or unfeasible? Unlikely. But it is a card that many different decks can use in diverse ways, and one that produces its fair share of great gameplay stories. The question is, does that warrant a second slot?

Eric’s Critique

First of all, I should note my obvious biases when it comes to a card like Phyrexian Metamorph. Undercosted artifacts? Not a fan. Cards that can slot into any deck, and thus are high picks during the draft, but don’t require any commitment? Yuck. A card that doesn’t take much skill to harness its considerable power? Check, and check.

Having said all that, I can’t deny the satisfaction that comes from copying a gigantic threat – I’ve answered an opponent’s Consecrated Sphinx with a Metamorph, and it was a hoot. And while Metamorph is juicy even in the hands of a beginner, there’s no doubt that skilled players can squeeze even more value out of cloning persist bodies or hard-to-answer artifacts. A cube with multiple Metamorphs wouldn’t lack for excitement.

Ultimately, though, the same argument could be made for any generically strong colorless card that fits into most any deck, aggro, midrange, or control. Multiple Metamorphs will provide for more varied situations than simply jamming multiple Wurmcoils or Jittes, but if everyone is always on the Metamorph plan, I could conceivably see things getting stale after a period of time. “Cast Grave Titan. No counters? Oh, you have the clone, then. A-yup.” I don’t see that Metamorph pushes any particular archetype to the forefront, a la Jason’s Gravecrawler theme, and I find it hard to get behind a Universal Creature For All Archetypes. Again, a cube with a whole bunch of clone effects would always let people come from behind with giant haymakers. But something that takes a little bit more effort and synergy before its potential is unlocked makes for better a build-around, and would be more satisfying when drafting the archetype in question, as well as during gameplay.

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[Contest] Splinter Twin

The Submission

Splinter Twin
One of the big advantages to having a singleton cube is that there is a lot of variety in the cards. However, without duplicates, sometimes it’s hard to support more niche, build-around strategies. Adding duplicates can create interesting new strategies that, while decreasing the variety in the cards, creates more variety in the deck archetypes. I like how including duplicates of Birthing Pod opens up a new archetype and also helps to give black more of an identity.

The color in most need of a refresh in standard cubes is red. Red is generally very focused on burn and aggressive creatures, and other aspects of the red color pie, for example, land destruction, aren’t robust enough to support a new archetype. My proposal then is to use duplicates to create a new archetype in red that doesn’t focus on attacking or burning and meshes well with other colors. The card that I think would best accomplish this is Splinter Twin.

Splinter Twin is an interesting choice because it would help diversify red and give cube something that people have been interested in, a viable combo deck. The main combo is Splinter Twin + Zealous Conscripts, but it can also pair with blue to combo with Pestermite. Like Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin is a versatile card that is good with almost every ETB creature. Constructed decks have used Wall of Omens to generate card advantage and other choices like Thragtusk can easily overwhelm the opponent as well. Something like Venser, Shaper Savant is a soft-lock

However, the Twin combos are easy to interact with because they are fundamentally creature-based, which creates an interesting tension and requires no additional hate to control; the cube already has a ton of answers. It’s a high risk, high reward option, which fits well into the red philosophy.

The Splinter Twin package I propose is as follows:
Splinter TwinSplinter Twin

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror BreakerZealous Conscripts


From Jason’s cube, I would cut:
Smash to Smithereens
Reckless Charge

+2 Splinter Twin
+1 Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Most of these cards are supporters for the aggressive decks, and the idea is to diversity red, so the weakest players are the ones to go.

-1 Fettergeist
+1 Pestermite

Both cards are decent in blue tempo decks so this is a fairly even trade.

Here are some other options:
Tooth and Nail – creates a one card combo
Commune with the Gods – Finds either piece, synergizes with the graveyard
Siege-Gang Commander – a good twin target

Eric’s Critique

You won’t get any argument from me that red is the colour that could most use some sprucing up. There’s only so many decks you can include Hellspark Elemental in, after all. So colour me intrigued when you say you want to add some capacity for combo.

But then you say you want to go all-in on the Splinter Twin / Kiki-Jiki combo. Uh oh. My alarm bells are going off.

I like the idea of Splinter Twin as a value card, where it might create a couple additional copies of a body with ETB effects, and then hopefully lead to some interesting game states from there. I’m less interested in two card combos that immediately end the game in draft formats. Limited is not Constructed, and it’s not really reasonable to expect everyone to pack redundant copies of instant-speed, one-mana removal spells to deal with a combo that one drafter may or may not have assembled. Think about the drafter who’s predominantly in green, maybe with a splash of blue. Would they need to go out of their way to draft some bounce spells, ensure that they draw them, and then leave mana up once their opponent has three mana available? Unless you plan on going up to at least 4 Dismember effects – and then, even if you do – this kind of instant-win combo will lead to a net reduction in interesting gameplay.

Now, having said all that, I think there’s plenty of potential for Splinter Twin as a pure high-risk, moderate reward value spell. Maybe you get a pile of extra bodies from a Mogg War Marshal. Maybe that Ghitu Slinger keeps on slinging fire. Or that Avalanche Riders keeps eating land. Relatively harmless stuff like that. Even with those interactions, though, it may not be worth doubling down on Twin. While there’s a bevy of cute tricks to be had, I can’t say I’m on board with going heavy on the “Oops I Win” combo package.

Jason’s Critique

If you dig deep enough into the MTGS archives, you’ll find a certain poster by the name of Trunkers who started all sorts of threads on combo related topics, from Dream Halls to Reanimation to Splinter Twin. I was quite enthusiastic about this combo, and slotted the various combo pieces (including Restoration Angel) into my cube, and happily drafted the deck.

Then I played with the deck.

My opponent made some play on their third turn, and on their end step I killed them. Was it satisfying? Not particularly. Good Magic? Certainly not.

I don’t mind the combo in a constructed setting, but one thing to keep in mind is that in a constructed setting, all sorts of decks and matchups produce Bad Magic. It’s one thing to fight the deck when packing playsets of Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile and Lightning Helix. Although I’m sure the deck can and does “work” (in the sense that it wins), I don’t think the tools are there for making it a healthy part of a limited environment. Our instant speed removal density is naturally constrained by the strength of our aggressive decks. To me, this combo seems like one best left to the halls of constructed, where more decks are equipped with the tools to produce a tactical, interactive experience.

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[Contest] Young Pyromancer

The Submission

Young Pyromancer
I would include four copies of Young Pyromancer. As a stand-alone inclusion, it is interesting because it naturally appeals to a variety of different decks. Not only is it decent in classic red aggro decks, as well as classic Xr control decks – it also supports red tokens, which have been getting more and more tempting with the introduction of new cards such as Tempt with Vengeance and Purphoros, God of the Forge (neither of which are bad in conventional decks). It also makes things like Goblin Bombardment a more salient inclusion, since before it was primarily aimed at recursion or token decks, which are commonly found in a non-red base.

Of course, a red token subtheme synergizes with the usual token crew; anthems, pox/stax, etc. Likewise, it synergizes positively with storm subthemes, which are commonly found lacking, and grants support to a potential “spells matter” archetype (e.g., Guttersnipe, Gelectrode & Talrand, or even Kiln Fiend, Nivix Cyclops & Spellheart Chimera, depending on your preferences. Likewise, this might be a time to reconsider Delver – perhaps even as a 4-of!).

Jason’s Critique

Recently when discussing black two drops, I bemoaned that I couldn’t find a splashable creature that both aggressive and controlling decks are both interested, and, while not black, Young Pyromancer certainly fits the bill. What’s most interesting about this proposal is how well Young Pyromancer intersects various supportable themes: spells matter, tokens, anthems, sacrifice effects.

The proposal here to supplement Young Pyromancer with various spells matters is perhaps a bit shakier. Many of the archetype’s reward cards are rather underpowered on their own, and I’m not terribly enthused with the idea of including a card like Kiln Fiend that at most one of the table’s drafters will be interested in. Ditto for the idea of storm cards.

Another problem with “spells matters” cards like Spellheart Chimera and Nivix Cyclops is that including them naturally cuts into our spell density. Izzet sections, prior to the printing of Ral Zarek, were usually completely filled with instants and sorceries. I think a quartet of Young Pyromancers (plus possible Delvers) is likely sufficient creature support for the archetype, so attention should likely be turned to finding ways to allow various deck types to play higher spell counts. Are we interested in more free spells like Gitaxian Probe and Manamorphose? Gut Shot? Flashback cards like Reckless Charge? Spell-based token creators?

Further, how do we handle red control, whose traditional route to victory relies on the use of efficient board wipes. Young Pyromancer sits on the board and is anti-synergistic with cards like Pyroclasm and Slagstorm. Perhaps we can emphasize other sweepers?

Mizzium MortarsSudden Demise

On the whole, Young Pyromancer is a card that captures my imagination, that I could legitimately see including in multiples in a tight cube environment, but I wish this submission had done a bit more of the legwork in fleshing out how to incorporate it into an environment.

Eric’s Critique

Young Pyromancer is like that basketball team’s first round draft pick. There’s clearly so much potential there, and you’re expecting a breakout performance somewhere down the line, when all its potential comes to fruition, and you can say “I told you so”. But as of yet, you’ve seen only mild results, nothing that would blow you away, and nobody’s quite sure what to expect.

I like most of the author’s suggestions, and teaming up Pyromancer with Purphoros seems like a spicy number. Fitting into multiple archetypes is another strong point raised that makes Pyromancer seem like a good build-around in multiples.

Like Jason, though, I’m a little more skeptical of going down the ‘spells matter’ path. Other than in cubes built entirely around the concept, people’s experiences with trying to get the Izzet spells theme to work in their own cubes has been rocky at best. Delver of Secrets is a notoriously fickle card to try and accommodate in cube, while most of the other suggestions require too much setup for too little payoff. I think Jason’s onto something with combining the free spells mechanic with Pyromancer, though, because if we’ve learned anything from Constructed, it’s that we want to be paid off immediately.

My overall impression of Young Pyromancer is that in cubes with enough dedicated support for some sort of spells-matter theme, it’s viable and justifiable to include multiple copies of her. Without stronger suggestions as to her supporting cast, though, I’m not convinced that a set of Pyromancers is the right fit for most cubes.

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