Highball: Legacy of the Rails

Legacy of the Rails

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Important Posts:
–Cube Vision–
–Cube Archetypes–
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Legacy of the Rails
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Highball is the first cube to be built using the Thanos Approach to Cube. Cards were rated on a 1-10 scale based on their Unsupported Playability (UP) and their Supported Playability (SP). Cards with an Unsupported Playability of between 5-7 and a supported playability of between 6-10 were selected as the basis for the list. There are no more than 10 situational removal spells and cards specifically for archetype support that fall a little lower than this range. This is still a deck-not-cards format, so there were a few cases where running cards slightly outside the range was necessary for making things work.

Cube updates will be named after famous locomotive classes, and in very rare instances, famous one-off locomotives. The current version of the cube is build 1.0 Central New Jersey G3 Pacific. These engines are most famously known for pulling the luxurious "Blue Comet" passenger service running between Jersey City, New Jersey and Atlantic City, New Jersey.


Archetype Breakdown For Version 1: CNJ G3 Pacific

Azorius: Control

Azorius decks will usually be slow and controlling. They run counterspells, Banishing Light effects, and big finishers. There are multiple different ways an Azorius player can take their deck. While some will choose to build more traditional counter-draw decks, there are also Starfield of Nyx/Hanna, Ship's Navigator saga control decks that can be quite successful.

Dimir: Cycling/Tempo

There are a few different routes a Dimir player can take their deck, ranging from a more aggressive tempo build, to a classic U/B control list. The running theme in Dimir is Discard, with plenty of looters and other ways to stock the graveyard. Drake Haven is this color pair's MVP. Reanimator and Laboratory Maniac decks in this color pair are also quite good.

Rakdos: Discard Aggro/Aristocrats

Rakdos is probably the most fluid of the color pairs. There are a lot of different directions a Rakdos player can choose to take their deck. However, many of them end at either Discard Aggro or Aristocrats. Rakdos Discard usually involves Flameblade Adept, The Flame of Keld, Bloodhall Priest, and Faith of the Devoted, along with other discard outlets. Aristocrats strategies usually revolve around either Tymaret, the Murder King or Goblin Bombardment. These decks also have a little bit of "sacrificing artifacts" synergy thanks to Pia and Kiran Nalaar and friends.

Gruul: Rhythm Aggro

The Riot mechanic appears on exactly two cards in Highball: Rhythm of the Wild and Domri, Chaos Bringer. Luckily, both of these cards give Riot to creatures. Gruul plays like either a ramp deck with Fires of Yavimaya, or a more traditional R/G aggro deck with a Counters subtheme. Hardened Scales is surprisingly good in this archetype. Legion Warboss is also a sleeper here. Gruul is also home to Molten Vortex/Life from the Loam decks.

Selesnya: Counting Counters

This deck puts counters on things. Hardened Scales, Travel Preparations, and Venerated Loxodon are all MVPs in this deck. Karn's Bastion and Evolution Sage also do a ton of work in this archetype. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is a good counters engine, and also enables many combos with persist creatures such as Kitchen Finks.

Orzhov: Aristocrats

If my cube had a Pumpkin Spice Latte for an archetype, this would be it. This deck is a fairly run-of-the-mill aristocrats list. The biggest difference is that this deck makes prolific usage of the (good) afterlife creatures. Blood Artist is good as always, and Lingering Souls is here.Ministrant of Obligation, Orzhov Enforcer, and Tithe Taker all provide value beyond the grave in the form of tokens.

Golgari: Reanimator/Dredge

This deck does a fair bit of dredging, but the two-color builds usually end up as "regular reanimator" lists. Stock the graveyard with Dredge Cards or Discard Outlets, and then Reanimate them. Vivien's Arkbow, although quite good in U/G super ramp as a way to efficiently find finishers, can also act as a free discard outlet since it can be activated for 0. Underrealm Lich can also prevent you from losing the game by decking yourself. Any non-reanimator version of this list is best paired with either blue for Laboratory Maniac or red for Molten Vortex.

Simic: Super-Ramp

Step 1: Take an Arbor Elf
Step 2: Play Mana Enchantments
Step 3rofit!
This deck wants to put enchantments on lands, make them better at producing mana, and then play fatties. Woodfall Primus, Ghalta, Primal Hunger are really good 4-5 turns early. This deck can also go big with draw spells like Blue Sun's Zenith and Commence the Endgame far earlier than it's counterparts. This deck can also bleed into a superfriends/counters theme thanks to Evolution Sage, Roalesk, Apex Hybrid and Flux Channeler in combination with Planeswalkers.

Izzet: Artifact Tempo

This deck plays a fairly normal u/r tempo game, but also has some synergies for artifacts. Whirler Rogue, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Pia Nalaar, and Sai, Master Thopterist all entice players over to the gray side. Saheeli, Sublime Artisan also gives players an advantage when playing both noncreature artifacts but also other spells common in blue-red.

Boros: Mentor/Token Aristocrats

Boros can be built from multiple angles. It can come together like a base-red aggro deck adding in some powerful white splash cards like Lightning Helix and Boros Charm. It can put Pants on Mentors. Boros can also play an aristocrats deck with Goblin Bombardment and Token Producers. This color pair is the second-most-likely to get the Persist Combos to work, since it has access to Anafenza, Goblin Bombardment[/c] Finks, and Murderous Redcap. Dark-Dweller Oracle can also be used to convert random tokens into usable cards.

Most of these two-color archetypes can be mixed and matched with one another to great effect. For example, Gruul Riot and Simic Super-Ramp can combine quite nicely into a stompy ramp build. Jund Dredge featuring Molten Vortex is probably the best implementation of Life from the Loam in the entire cube. Esper Discard a great shell for Starfield of Nyx/The Mirarri Conjecture control decks. This is complemented with a Shock-Bounce-Manland Manabase, along with the Allied Fetchlands and Enemy Painlands.

Tips for Draft
-The Fetch Lands and Kitchen Finks are all great first-picks.
-Marrying an archetype pack one isn't always the best option.
-Narrow cards can wheel fairly often, but don't wait on them if they're important to your deck's function.
-Colorless cards are your best friend!

Mono-Blue Jace Haven

Orzhov Dudes

Gruul Rhythm Counters Combo from CubeTutor.com

4-Color Sidisi Dredge from CubeTutor.com

R/B Aristocrats from CubeTutor.com

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Draft Report 5/24/19
I had an opportunity to draft Highball for the first time on Friday. We only ended up having 5 people in the draft, and 2 of the decklists were lost. Luckily, I was able to save the one 4-0 decklist for this report. Since we only had 5 drafters, we ended up playing a round-robin style tournament. In theory, everyone was supposed to play everyone else. In practice, only one person was able to get through all 4 of their matches.

Draft 5/24/19 4-0 Boros Red

This player was the only person who was able to play against everyone else during the draft. They had a lightning fast R/W Burn deck. This deck doesn't even have all of the fixing or burn spells one would want whilst running burn. Despite this, the deck really overperformed. The one game the player resolved their Bloodforged Battle-Axe they were able to make like 4 copies of it or something insane. Most of their games lasted no more than 6 turns, and the one game they lost was only due to getting color screwed out of red.

5/24/19 TrainmasterGT's R/G Loam Rhythm Counters Ramp Stuff, 2-1

This was my deck, and it was awesome. This looks like a pile of green cards, and that was indeed what I was thinking during the draft. However, in practice, it ended up being the most synergistic deck of the day. Cards that you would never expect to be good together ended up working in such a way to support the rest of the synergies in the list. I even managed to get a couple people using Life from the Loam/Molten Vortex. This deck worked really well, and I ended up going 2-1 with it, only losing a match to the burn player.

5/24/19 Draft New Player Bant Cheons (0-3)

This deck was built by a new-ish player. Unfortunately, they really didn't draft that well. They had a fairly even distribution of cards across all 5 colors (except red) and they didn't really have enough fixing to make anything work all that well. I'm chalking this up to more of a "new player problems" issue than something wrong with the cube- everyone else was running decks fairly close to what I would be expecting to come out of the cube. I believe that the level of "archetype weaving" present in this cube makes it not very friendly to people who don't really know what they're doing, so I'll keep that in mind in the future.

The other two lists were Orzhov Noncreatures and Dimir Control. The Dimir list was only splashing black for Thoughtseize, Inquizition of Kozilek, and Enter the God-Eternals. The dimir player managed to deck someone using Blue Sun's Zenith once, so that was pretty cool. I wish I could have saved that list.

With Modern Horizons around the corner, I'm going to be making my first update to the list fairly soon. I'll need to wait and see what cards I open from the set first before making any major decisions.
Making room for Wrenn and Six: The Modern Horizons Update Discussion

Modern Horizons has brought a bunch of new toys for the Highball cube. Some provide great support for my existing archetypes, while others are going to be useful in enabling fringe strategies to become more playable. Loam decks and Cycling decks gained the most from the set, but noncreature spells matter also gained a bit of traction.

The New Cards
I have acquired the following new cards I want to test after the prerelease:

This is still a good 14 cards. I also want to test Putrid Goblin, Undead Augur and Splicer's Skill, but these cards seem either very narrow or a bit low on the power level side of things. I also want to add the Horizon Lands, but I need to finish trading for the rest of the cycle first.

Wrenn and Six and the two Red Cards from MH1 are giving me the hardest time right now. The red cards both support my archetypes, yet they fall into red, the tightest colored section of the cube. They fit the power level just fine, but I just can't figure out for the life of me what I want to cut to make room for them. Wrenn and Six is a multicolor Gruul card, meaning that it is fighting for another tight slot. Right now, I run Xenagos, God of Revels, Rhythm of the Wild, and Domri, Chaos Bringer. All three support my primary Gruul "Riot Fires" archetype. Wrenn and Six, on the other hand, is more of a value engine for Life from the Loam strategies. I'm thinking Domri, Chaos Bringer is probably the cut for Wrenn and Six, but I haven't yet decided. Addmitantly, neither of these planeswalkers fit perfectly within the confines of Gruul decks. However, I think they are around equally matched in terms of useful abilities. Each walker simply supports different types of decks.

The Artificer's Green Thumb
Recently, I wrote at length about finding ways to weave an Artifacts Matter archetype into Green. I want to implement at least some of my writings into my cube. I'm working on acquiring the rest of the cards I want to make the deck work. So far, I have the following:

I would like to get at least a copy of Steel Overseer, Scuttling Doom Engine, and Hangarback Walker before doing anything drastic. I'm also considering whether or not Kuldotha Forgemaster is a card I want to add into my format. My gut reaction is no. I will also need to implement a slightly different suite of artifacts to compensate for the more construct/sac oriented theme of the modular/counters cards. At least I'll finally have a good excuse to add Syndicate Trafficker to the cube.

My, My, Miss Jeskai Pie
The three two-color combinations that add up to the Jeskai wedge have always felt a little bit un-focused compaired to the rest of the list. U/R is supposed to be artifacts. R/W is supposed to be Aggro with a Mentor and minor tokens subtheme. U/W is supposed to be a control build of sorts with a noncreature permanents (artifacts/enchantments) subtheme. Although these decks work on paper, they're not very focused in practice. I've seen both R/W and U/W builds in action, and they're good, but they end up playing like goodstuff decks more than synergy-specific decks.

For R/W, the goodstuff paradigm is partially due to the low number of mentor cards that are cubeable at my power level. I was only able to jam 4 cards with mentor into the cube, which just isn't enough for a full archetype. That said, those four cards have plenty of support, and are extremely good in practice, so there's no reason to cut them. However, they can't be my primary archetype for boros. Luckily, the Boros aggro deck shell works very well, so now all I need to do is add some texture to the archetype.

U/R and U/W also work quite well, but for different reasons. U/R and U/W are just decent color pairs filled with decent cards. The issue isn't so much that there aren't synergistic decks in those color pairs, just that the decks I was trying to support don't really have the correct pieces to always be enticing to the draft. U/W noncreature permanents decks require more specific saga cards or artifacts payoffs to function than I had originally anticipated. U/R decks just don't need the artifacts subtheme to be good, and are often better played as a tempo deck with some artifact synergies.

Thanks to Modern Horizons, I think I have been able to come up with a solution to my Jeskai Pie problem without needing to completely redesign the format. I simply must re-shuffle the supported focuses of certain archetypes to better reflect what decks end up looking like in practice. The new breakdown is as follows:
U/W Noncreature Spells
U/R Spells Tempo
R/W Artifact Aggro

Of the three color pairs, U/R is changing the least. Even though the name of the archetype is changing almost entirely, in practice the decks themselves won't change all that much. Whirler Rogue, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Pia Nalaar, and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer will still all be amazing cards in the deck. Red is not even going to have to change a single card to reflect this archetype update. The deck is just changing in name. The reason for this is simple: the pieces for U/R tempo are already in the cube. The pieces for artifacts work better elsewhere or under different contexts. U/R artifacts will still be a thing, but it's swapping places with Tempo as the major archetype.

U/W Noncreature Spells is also remaining fairly similar, but I am going to be making some major changes to white to help make the deck better. I want to keep my Hannah, Ship's Navigator shells supported in U/W, just with a little extra help from other places. I want to encourage other strategies than just "cheat big artifacts and enchantments into play using a very minor selection of gold cards or else just play control." There are a couple ways I plan to acheive this. For one, I plan on including Myth Realized in the list as an early play that can be used as a payoff. In addition, I will shift some major support for artifacts into white.

I am considering implementing an Astral Drift deck into U/W. This might end up being a terrible idea, but I think if any color pair can trigger cycling enough, it will be U/W. This means that U/B decks would be fighting for the Cycling/Discard payoffs that it needs to function, but it also means that R/W decks can attack the discard angle in a new way (thanks Tectonic Reformation!). I still don't know precisely what I'm doing in U/W yet, but I think this is the right track.

Finally, R/W will become an artifact aggro deck, not unlike the lists we see in the Penny Cubes. I already run cheap, efficient equipment in my cube as a means to pump the Mentor creatures. Now, I'm going to be including cards like Toolcraft Exemplar, Porcelain Legionnaire, and Cogworker's Puzzleknot to support an artifact theme in white. I think this will give more options to R/W other than simply "Mono-Red Burn splashing white for Boros Challenger."

Due to the changes in archetypes I wish to facilitate, including the hopeful addition of Green Artifacts, White is going to be getting the bulk of the changes in the next update. I can see myself adding at least some of the following:

Ok, Myrsmith is probably below the power level I want to be at, although I find it to be an intriguing engine. I'm not sure what the critical mass of artifacts a deck would need to get enough triggers for Smith to be good, but I digress.

I think white could get a minor blink theme in the next update. I probably won't spread it in to other colors unless the white cards that blink are popular with my drafters. I think a couple of blink effects would be good with the Enter the Battlefield triggers I already have, plus with some of the new cards I wish to add. Astral Drift is a blink engine, after all. To be clear: I don't want to make blink a major theme of the cube, just include a couple more blink cards in white, which is already home to some very powerful blink effects/targets.

I haven't sat down and given my White update a ton of thought outside of writing this post, so I'm really hoping for some advice.

Thanks for Reading!
One interesting direction for white that is similar to blink is ETB cast triggers. It requires a bit more work, but I find it to also be more rewarding.



This works well with the aggro plan since most of the creatures are lower than 3 CC and with the artifact plan as most of these are incidentally artifacts.

What I like is that if you add some decent artifact dorks like Filigree Familiar, you can tie it into red with Goblin Welder, Goblin Engineer, Daretti, Scrap Savant which gives you the choice of going either normal artifact aggro or grindy artifact midrange depending on the cards you see and your inspiration.

This can also go with green (I posted some thoughts here), blue with Sai, Master Thopterist and Crystal Shard or even some ninjistsu action and black as an aristocrat deck.

Even if this is not for you, I really recommend playing Shrine of Loyal Legions. It goes with most of these archetypes including green proliferate and +1/+1 counters,.Marionette Master loves it too.
One interesting direction for white that is similar to blink is ETB cast triggers. It requires a bit more work, but I find it to also be more rewarding.
Thank you for your comment!

While I don't think an entire cast triggers archetype is correct for the environment I wish to create, Bygone Bishop is a card I have definitely been eyeing as a replacement for Mentor of the Meek. Being able to push the card-draw to a later date while still generating some form of on-board advantage in the form of clue tokens is a fair bit better than mentor in most decks here.
Welcome to Daylight!
Daylight is the first major Highball cube update since it's completion, coinciding with the release of Modern Horizons. It also includes 2 M20 cards, since M20 was not an exciting or deep enough set to warrant it's own distinct update.

History of the Locomotive

The word "Daylight" actually refers to a named Southern Pacific passenger train, not the locomotives that pulled it. However, the GS-4 class steam locomotives that pulled the train between 1941 and 1958. The GS-4s were capable of reaching speeds exceeding 110 miles per hour. The GS-4s rarely reached their max speed as the Daylight timetable never required them to exceed 75 miles per hour. During the Second World War, some of the GS-4 engines were painted black instead of their usual daylight colors. This is because they were capable freight engines that could be used to support the war effort, and not simply speedy passenger movers. Today, only one GS-4 remains, numbered 4449. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the United States, in 1975 and 76 4449 was used to haul the American Freedom Train. This train featured a specialty consist of 10 display cars, carrying more than 500 artifacts of Americana.

Update Goals
This update seeks to do 6 things:

-Give white more of an identity.
-Shore up old Archetypes with new cards from Modern Horizons.
-Help support some of the new Modern Horizons cards.
-Remove vestigial cards from earlier stages of Cube design.
-Begin the implementation of the Green Artifacts Matter theme.
-Provide Izzet Tempo with better blue 2-drops.

Give white more of an identity
White has always been a color that has given me trouble during the design process. White able to do almost everything, which means that it is really good at shoring up weaknesses a deck may have. However, White is not really the best at doing anything, except gaining life and maybe making tokens. I find lifegain and tokens can have a negative impact on a format by making it too hard for non-evasive attackers to deal enough damage to win games. As a consequence of this, I run weaker life and tokens effects than most other people might.

What this does is cause white to end up playing a more supporting role in most decks. Even though White has very strong archetype ties to black and green, it still often times ends up feeling like a second color. In addition, U/W control felt very unfocused and W/R Mentor Aggro basically just ended up playing like Red Deck Wins splashing white for Boros Charm and Lightning Helix.

What I decided to mitigate White's weirdness do was twofold. For a start, I decided to give U/W a larger noncreature spells subtheme to work with. The biggest new piece for that deck is Myth Realized, a card that acts as a finisher for spells and proliferate decks. The W/R Mentor cards were not parasitic, but the fact that there were only 4 of them meant that I could go a little further and expand W/R to have a second bigger (but related) theme. I have added some new aggressive artifacts matter cards such as Toolcraft Exemplar to help add a larger artifact subtheme to White. This means that White now replaces Blue as the second primary artifacts color in addition to Red.

In addition, I have added Astral Drift to the cube. Astral Drift is my first real attempt at flirting with a blink strategy. Depending on whether or not people like the card, I can potentially see blink becoming a larger staple of White in the future. If this is the case, I will probably keep the blink enablers constrained to White. I have slightly increased the As-Fan of cycling cards in white to help accommodate the inclusion of Drift.

Help support some of the new Modern Horizons cards
I already touched on this a little with Astral Drift. I have added some new cards to help make my new Modern Horizons cards better. Many of these cards actually come from Modern Horizons. For example, Ayula's Influence is supported by the inclusion of Wrenn and Six, and Goblin Engineer is supported by the inclusion of Lesser Masticore.

Remove vestigial cards from earlier stages of Cube design
I was going to include an Enchantment deck in Esper colors in my original conceptualization of the cube. By the time I had finished the first finalized version of the list, I was down to Doomwake Giant and Starfield of Nyx as enchantment-specific payoffs. Although these cards could act as fun build-arounds, I decided to cut them for space for some of the new MH1 cards, at least for the time being.

In addition, I cut many of the cards which randomly referred to Dragons. As much as I love cards like Kolaghan, Storm's Fury and Sarkhan, Fireblood, a couple of my drafters actually thought that Dragons were a supported tribe. Although one could have built a Dragon deck if they wanted, I decided that it would be a bit easier to just cut the tribal dragons all together to help streamline the draft experience.

Begin the implementation of the Green Artifacts Matter theme
Recently, I wrote an article about introducing an Artifacts Matter subtheme into Green. This idea involved combining cards like Walking Ballista, Steel Overseer and cards with the "Modular" mechanic with green cards that care about making +1/+1 Counters. I have acquired a Walking Ballista and Tireless Tracker, along with a Scrapyard Recombiner, to start bridging the gap between green and artifacts. I still need to find a Steel Overseer, but this should be significantly easier thanks to M20's reprint of the card.

Provide Izzet Tempo with better blue 2-drops
In the initial version of Highball, Blue was primary along with Red for Artifacts. The U/R archetype was supposed to be a mix between the Thopters deck from Magic Origins limited and traditional U/R tempo strategies. However, it became quickly apparent that the Tempo side of the archetype overshadowed the Artifacts side of the archetype. Instead of fighting a functioning deck that was already there, I decided it made more sense to simply give U/R the tools it needed to have better tempo/spells decks. I have introduced Brineborn Cutthroat, Nightveil Sprite, and Baral, Cheif of Compliance to the cube in hopes of making U/R tempo decks a little more powerful and a lot more streamlined.

Change Log

Thank you for reading!
Cimarron and Northwestern #1- The Pre-Scout Camp Update

This update was quickly pieced together a couple of days before leaving for another trip to a different Scout Camp than my trip earlier this summer, so it is by no means perfect.

History of the Locomotive

The Cimarron and Northwestern Railroad was a minor shortline railroad owned by the Continental Tie and Lumber Company. The Railroad existed primarily to transport logs out of the backcountry and to a lumber mill in Cimmaron. The line operated between the years 1907 and 1930. Today, the real Cimarron and Northwestern Railroad no longer exists. However, most of the old railway roadbed has been converted to hiking trails at what is now Philmont Scout Ranch. In addition, a portion of the C&NWRR is being re-built at the Philmont campsite Metcalf Station.

Cimarron and Northwestern #1 is a Baldwin 2-8-0 steam locomotive acquired in 1907 by the Cimarron and Northwestern Railroad. Before coming to New Mexico, the engine worked for the Southern Iron & Equipment Company as #584, the Pennsylvania Railroad as #6295, and the New York & Pennsylvania Railroad as #165. Interestingly, this update image is quite possibly the first picture of the locomotive to be uploaded to the internet. This image is a photograph of a photograph of #1 taken rin July 2019 at the Metcalf Station museum. The real C&NW #1 was cut up for scrap at some time during the 1930s.

Update Goals
This update was a quick series of patches designed to tide the cube over for the next month or two before the releases of Commander 2019 and Throne of Eldraine. It aims to do three things:
-Implement Blink as a minor theme in White
-Slightly power-down certain aspects of Blue
-Increase the As-Fan of Zombies in the cube.



Explanation of Changes
1: White needed more of an Identity.
Even after the Daylight update, White still felt primarily like a support color. I decided to bite the bullet and try running a blink archetype in U/W to help give White more of an identity. I decided to keep the majority of the blink enablers in White (with the exception of Ghostly Flicker). I decided that using the Splicers from New Phyrexia would be a good way to help bridge the gap between White's artifact cards and White's new Blink cards.

Interestingly, I decided to remove Astral Drift, since it didn't feel supported enough to justify the slot it was occupying.

2: Everyone thinks blue is too good.
A lot of my drafters try to play blue. Partially this is because I have a lot of Iconic and powerful interactive cards in blue, and partially because people generally play Blue in cubes whenever they can. I've heard a couple of complaints that my Blue is "too powerful" from a couple of my veteran player drafters. I put "too powerful" in quotation marks because Blue is actually not too powerful, at least from what I've seen. Blue decks don't have win rates significantly higher than non-Blue decks, and none of the strongest cards in the cube are Blue. I decided to make a couple of minor swaps to help "Nerf Blue" without changing the fundamental play patterns of the color. The biggest change here was Whirler Rogue to Wing Splicer. Both of these cards add the same amount of power to the board and support both Blink and Artifacts Matter archetypes. The primary difference is that Whirler Rogue has an activated ability to make a creature unblockable that Wing Splicer doesn't have. Since Whirler Rogue was arguably the most powerful Blue card in the cube, and a similar option exists as a card, I felt this change was worth making.

Adding Dream Eater may have the opposite effect of a nerf, but I felt the card looked pretty fun to test. Since I'm only going to be playing with scouts for a little while, I should be able to determine whether or not the card is too good before anyone who had issues with the power of Blue has a chance to play the card.

I'm also monitoring Dig through Time decks. This card hasn't proven itself to be too strong in this environment just yet, but it also hasn't been in any decks that could fully take advantage of it's abilities.

Both Dig through Time and Dream Eater might not survive until the next major update.

3: Increase the As-Fan of Zombies
I like Zombies.

My Drafters like Zombies.

The Cube Supports a Zombie theme in Black.

But yet, Zombies haven't put up many results yet.

At my last draft, one of my players ended up running mono-black zombies. They went 0-3. Partially, this was due to the pilot not being skilled, and partially because they only played black cards. That being said, I decided that I could make room for a couple more 2CMC Zombies to help support the Archetype.

Thank you for reading, and see you all really soon! I have another article currently in the works, as well as a write-up about my most recent cube draft with the Daylight update on the way.

I like checking out different cubes and yours is a fun one.

One thing I was wondering is how have the ramp enchantments played out. What I mean is, does the fact that they are harder to interact with hinder game play?

I am interested in running them because I love how they play with untappers, but I am worried they make ramp too good.

On another note, I'm really grateful for your green artifact post, because it allowed me to find a way to get them across all 5 colors for a broad artifact theme :)
I like checking out different cubes and yours is a fun one.

One thing I was wondering is how have the ramp enchantments played out. What I mean is, does the fact that they are harder to interact with hinder game play?

I am interested in running them because I love how they play with untappers, but I am worried they make ramp too good.

On another note, I'm really grateful for your green artifact post, because it allowed me to find a way to get them across all 5 colors for a broad artifact theme :)

Thank you for all of the kind words :). I like hearing that my work looks fun and I'm glad my artifact post was helpful for you!

I've been quite a big fan of the enchantment ramp. I fist started using it when I used to play major enchantment themes in my earlier cubes. Enchantment Ramp has been one of the only pieces of my enchantment matters days that I haven't wanted to cut.

Here's the thing, stuff like Utopia Sprawl isn't as interactive for the opponent as something like a Llanowar Elves. They can't kill it directly unless they have some sort of Disenchant effect that they can use to get rid of the offending enchantment. This paradigm may sound like a bane, but it's actually really good for the ramp drafter when used correctly. Ramp decks don't do well when Burn is able to murder every random 1/1 mana elf with Searing Blaze or control is able to repeatedly send them back to the stone age from a mana perspective off of a single Wrath of God. Using a Wild Growth instead of a Llanowar Elves makes ramp players able to better cope with higher-powered control decks or aggro decks without having to increase the actual speed of the ramp or the quality of the finishers. Essentially, you're taking away some of the risk of trying to ramp. This means you can opt to use weaker payoffs without cheapening the overall quality of ramp. I use this to run some of my pet cards, primarily Penumbra Wurm. Apparently a 6/6 Trample that dies to make another 6/6 Trample is pretty powerful when you can consistently play it!

Despite the relatively reduced amount of interplay for the opponent, the mana enchantments open new doors of interactivity to ramp players. Green has a plethora of effects that can be used to untap lands, such as Arbor Elf and Voyaging Satyr. Blue also has some interesting untap options such as Fatestitcher and Vizier of Tumbling Sands. Combined, these two card categories can be used to create ridiculous amounts of mana fairly early in the game. Arbor Elf+Utopia Sprawl results in 4 usable mana as early as turn two! Luckily, the opponent can still Lightning Bolt or Doom Blade the untappers, so other decks don't just fold to a super-ramp combo.

Now, I still run traditional mana elves in conjunction with the ramp enchantments, but that's just because I really like ramping with nonland permanents and I want to make sure ramp is powerful without needing to throw in 37 Rampant Growth variants. If you want to add Ramp Enchantments to your cube, I would recommend placing them in the same slot as a mana dork of that color, since they usually play the same role bar for some very rare cases.

If you're worried about non-ramp players using the Enchantment-Untapper combo to make broken amounts of mana without actually being a dedicated ramp deck, you have nothing to fear. Non-ramp decks usually won't prioritize Wild Growth or Arbor Elf when there is some other, better interactive piece in the pack. The only deck I've seen use the ramp enchantments outside of a deck that was trying to ramp was a green/white toolbox deck that could tutor for it's Arbor elf with Recruiter of the Guard. The primary win-conditions of that deck were Secure the Wastes and Angel of Serenity, both of which needed a heck of a lot of mana to be used to their fullest extent.

Your cube appears to be of a similar power-level to mine, if not a little higher, so I don't think adding super-ramp stuff to your cube would hurt the environment at all as long as you're ok with increasing the amount of unconditional ramp you're using.
Thanks for such a detailed response.

The lack of interactivity was my issue with those cards, but then you mentioned Rampant Growth effects and that made me realize I already run the following non-interactive ramp:
Sakura-Tribe Elder, Harrow, Springbloom Druid.

If I cut these for Wild Growth, Utopia Sprawl and either Fertile Ground or Overgrowth (not sure I like ramping to 6+ mana on turn 4 with Overgrowth) then I'm set.

Replace a Lotus Cobra with a Voyaging Satyr and a mana dork for Arbor Elf to complete the package in green. I also have Kiora's Follower and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner in UG.

The only card I am unsure about is Vizier of Tumbling Sands. He does exactly what I want him to, but at 3 mana he seems weak. How has he played out for you as a ramp enabler?
Thanks for such a detailed response.

The lack of interactivity was my issue with those cards, but then you mentioned Rampant Growth effects and that made me realize I already run the following non-interactive ramp:
Sakura-Tribe Elder, Harrow, Springbloom Druid.

If I cut these for Wild Growth, Utopia Sprawl and either Fertile Ground or Overgrowth (not sure I like ramping to 6+ mana on turn 4 with Overgrowth) then I'm set.

Replace a Lotus Cobra with a Voyaging Satyr and a mana dork for Arbor Elf to complete the package in green. I also have Kiora's Follower and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner in UG.

The only card I am unsure about is Vizier of Tumbling Sands. He does exactly what I want him to, but at 3 mana he seems weak. How has he played out for you as a ramp enabler?

Vizier of Tumbling Sands has only seen play a few times in U/G ramp specifically, since both U/B, U/R, and even occasionally U/W decks want it for the cycling ability. I think the card is best in U/G, but I also have a variety of other decks that play it. Ramp decks can generally get it out on turn 2 thanks to a Utopia Sprawl type effect, so It's not quite as clunky as it initially might look. Your cube doesn't seem to have the same cycling payoffs as mine does, so I would say you wouldn't be amiss to forgo including the vizier. Since you're running double Faithless Looting, I think you could get away with trying Fatestitcher.

I actually like leaving in Lotus Cobra since you're running 20 fetches. The snake is a card I've wanted to try since I added fetches to my cube, and I'm only running 25% the amount you are. I'd say cut Incubation Druid, a Harrow Effect, or some non-ramp card higher up the curve.

I have a question for you- How's Vital Splicer been? It seems a bit weaker than my other green 4s, but I remember it being somewhat ok in MM2017 limited and it fits with the other golem cards I've been trying. Is it worth a test?
Yeah Vizier seems a little out of place for me, but I'm a little too obsessed with maximizing Birthing Pod to be objective :p

I'm considering cutting Lotus Cobra because of how easy and effortless it is to get a lot of mana from him in my cube. I really like the card and recommend it if you don't go ham on the fetchlands like I did.

Incubation Druidis not going anywhere though as I found it to be quite a fun challenge to get him active through other means than his adapt ability. I kind of see it like the ramp enchantments that are fine by themselves, but get unlocked with an untapper.

I've been pleasantly surprised by Vital Splicer. I was looking for an ETB value 4 drop in green and there aren't that many worth running.
Blinkable/Pod target
Decent offensive/defensive option
<2 power/toughness for some recursive options
Gives green some artifact synergies
They usually have to kill the artificer before taking out the golemn
Pairs nicely with your other Splicers

Looking at your list it seems it would fit best in GW (Ephemerate, Recruiter of the Guard, Master Splicer, Restoration Angel) or GB (Dread Return, Phyrexian Scriptures, Marionette Master, multiple bodies for sacrifice dudes).

I'm honestly not sure if that is enough synergy to include over another dude as he needs synergies to make up for his smaller size (vs other green 4 drops).
Princess Royals
The Throne of Eldraine Update.


History of the Locomotive
The Princess Royal Class of Steam Locomotive are a series of engines designed by famed mechanist Sir William Stanier for the London, Midland, Scotland Railway. These 4-6-2 Locomotives were built to handle express passenger work along the West Coast Mainline. The Princess Royals were named for Mary, Princess Royal, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Scots. The engines were often called "Lizzies" by railwaymen, after the second example of the class named for Princess Elizabeth, who would later become the Queen of England. Twelve examples of the class were built between 1933-35, and two survive today. No. 6201 Princess Elizabeth can be found roaming the UK rail network on excursion tours. Meanwhile, No. 46203 Princess Margaret Rose can be found at Midland Railway – Butterley on static display whilst awaiting restoration.

Update Goals
This update primarily exists as an update to include a bunch of new cards from Throne of Eldraine. I removed some of the questionable includes in Blue and Black for more removal and archetype enablers. I included support in U/R for the "Draw 2" archetype seen in Throne of Eldraine and Modern Horizons. I also replaced the Apocalypse Pain Lands with the Enemy-Colored Horizon Canopy Lands

Finally, I made some changes to White to make that color a bit better. Up until now, White has primarily played a supporting role to most other colors, despite my best efforts. Now, base White Blink builds should be able to exist in the cube.



Looking Forward
The next update won't be coming until Theros: Beyond Death has been completely previewed. I know I want to make some changes to green, but I'm not sure what direction I wish to take the color yet. Over Christmas, I will be doing a private update including all custom cards which I will be using for some special Holiday drafts with my friends. If there are any holdovers I like, they may have a permanent home in the cube.

Thanks for reading!
Warbonnet: The Land of Enchantment Update
History of the Color Scheme
Unlike previous updates, Warbonnet is actually named after a color scheme used by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway for their dieselized passenger equipment. First patented in 1937, the Warbonnet color scheme was designed to look like the headdresses worn by the Native American tribes indigenous to the Southwest United States. Engines wearing the Warbonnet would lead some of the Santa Fe's most luxurious named passenger trains, most notably the El Capitan and Super Chief. The first engines painted in the Warbonnet were Electro-Motive Corporation E1 type locomotives #2 and #2A. However, the Warbonnet scheme is usually remembered as it appeared on the Santa Fe's F units, such as the A-B pair pictured above. The Warbonnet color scheme continued to be used on some locomotives all the way up through 1996 when the ATSF merged with the Burlington Northern Railway to form the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad company. Today, some BNSF Dash-9 diesel locomotives can still be found wearing a Warbonnet color scheme held over from their Santa Fe days. In addition, many locomotives in preservation are painted in the Warbonnet, such as EMD FP45s numbers 92 and 108, which are preserved at the Illinois Railroad Museum and Southern California Railroad Museum, respectively.

Update Goals
Warbonnet attempts to achieve the following goals:
-Implement a New Enchantress Archetype
-Replace non-enchantment cards with similar enchanted alternatives.
-Cut narrow and expensive cards for cheap interactive options.
-Add more "Bread and Butter" style cards to the cube.
-Increase the density of cards for Ramp and Aggro.

Implement a New Enchantress Archetype and Replace non-enchantment cards with similar enchanted alternatives.
As the "Land of Enchantment" subtitle may imply, Warbonnet is in no small part about re-implementing an enchantment archetype into the cube. I started playing Magic during Theros block, and so enchantress has always held a very special place in my heart. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough support to ever make an enchantment archetype actually function in a cube environment. Theros: Beyond Death may have just changed this. The set introduced an admittedly small number of good payoffs for the enchantment deck, with only Setessian Champion and Archon of Sun's Grace being deemed good enough for inclusion. However, THB's strength came from it's introduction of great new enablers.
I've recently begun talking to the gentlemen on the MTG Cube Brainstorming discord server. Highball is a very different cube from what many of the people are trying to build on that server, but I think a fair amount of their underlying theory is solid. One of the things that I realized from talking to them is that enabling an archetype isn't so much about what exactly you use to support a deck, but the density of things you use as enablers. Your Setessian Champion doesn't care whether you're triggering it's constellation ability with Starfield of Nyx or Frogify. It only cares that you played an enchantment. I realized that I could get away with playing a few of the broader payoffs without needing much targeted enchantment support simply by using cards with the enchantment type in creative ways.
One of the ways I was able to support enchantress without vastly re-shaping the cube environment was with cards like Omen of the Sea. Omen is an enchantment, but it fills a spot we would normally give to an instant. Most decks aren't playing Omen because of it's enchantment qualities, they're playing it because it's a good card. I was able to make multiple "type swaps" throughout the cube to help increase my density of enchantments. For example, I replaced Prey Upon with Warbriar Blessing, and Inquizition of Kozilek with Brain Maggot. Some cards, like Anax, Hardened in the Forge were cards I was going to cube with anyway regardless of enchantment status, and his being an enchantment was just gravy. I was able to get about 60 enchantments into the cube, and there are still between 3 and 10 more that I can see testing and adding in future updates if this theme ends up being successful.
I decided to use mostly Constellation cards as my enchantment payoffs. These cards allow for synergy with my blink deck in U/W. For example, one can Ephemerate their Eidolon of Blossoms to draw 2 cards. New addition Brago, King Eternal can blink an entire board of enchantments to make an army of tokens with Archon of Sun's Grace or nuke an enemy's position with Doomwake Giant. Synergy-wise, my decision to Constellation cards should have a positive impact on possible play decisions during a game.

Cut narrow and expensive cards for cheap interactive options and add more "Bread and Butter" style cards to the cube.
I love Dismiss as much as the next guy, but a 4-mana counterspell is just way too expensive for most control decks to be casting when they're getting run over by Goblin Guide and friends. I realized that I could get more milage out of my "spell slots" if I cut the expensive cards for cheaper options. Dismiss became Condescend, Goblin Dark-Dwellers became Firebolt, Foe-Razer Regent becomes Satyr Wayfinder, and so on and so forth. Even though the older, more specialized top end cards were fun, they weren't always getting played over more "premium" options in their respective colors, I thought my drafters would get more mileage out of an increase in the number of filtering/interactive spells in the cube. Now, a blue player with 5 mana can usually slam their Drake Haven and still have a counter up instead of having to choose whether or not they wish to go shields down to play their important card despite having extra mana up. Hopefully, this increase in cheap interaction should help to make my control decks more viable against aggressive strategies without requiring me to power-down my aggro strategies.

Increase the density of cards for Ramp and Aggro.
Speaking of aggro, I wanted to help Black and White based aggro strategies by giving them a better suite of aggressive one and two-drop creatures. Black gets some nice new evasive beaters like Aphemia, the Cacophony and Changeling Outcast. These cards should help black decks get through armies of large creatures produced by midrange decks without necessarily needing to use precious removal spells. Changeling Outcast is particularly exciting since it gives some much-needed reach Zombie Tribal strategy without being overly specific.
White gets a powerful new two-drop in the form of Daxos, Blessed by the Sun. Daxos is great because his toughness scales with his controller's devotion to white, something which is usually quite high in aggressive white strategies. His ability to gain life also helps in races against Red Deck Wins strategies, allowing the white player to focus on killing the opponent instead of saving themself. It goes without saying that Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis is an absolute bomb in cube. I have heard extremely good things about this card, and she may even prove to be too good. Although I am putting her in as a curve topper and late-game mana sink for aggressive white strategies, she works well in basically every white deck and may very well end up being the best white card in the cube.
One last note on aggro is that I changed some of the colorless and multicolored slots to help support aggressive decks. I was finally able to acquire a copy of Grafted Wargear, a powerful equipment cut from the same cloth as Heirloom Blade. Gingerbrute is a colorless, hard to block threat that every aggro deck can play. I am surprised they were able to print it into a standard set, honestly. Figure of Destiny is the Boros hybrid I didn't know my life was missing. This card has over-performed for me so far in testing, being playable in both mono-red and mono-white decks. It's ability to serve as an early game beater and a late-game threat is second to none. Last but not least, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden has come in as a decent card advantage engine and scalable threat for Rakdos Aggro decks. Like figure, Grenzo also has over-performed and may even need to be cut for power reasons in the future.
Meanwhile, I added more ramp enablers, chiefly Wolfwillow Haven, Noble Hierarch, and Mind Stone. These new additions should help to make ramp decks easier to draft and play. I worry slightly that I no longer have enough huge creatures for blue/green super-ramp strategies to function at full strength anymore. There's still a good enough density of high-powered 4 drops for ramp to use as finishers, but the massive things are mostly gone. The newly added Ulamog's Crusher should help with this, but I'm not sure my density of big things is currently correct.


Here's the link so you can check it out on CubeCobra!

Thanks for reading!
Digging Through Time, Part 1

While Coronavirus is shutting down the world, I'm hard at work creating my Ikoria update for Highball. After all, there are only a few short days until the new set is released, quarantine restrictions will be relaxed, and I can start cubing again. Luckily, Ikoria wasn't a particularly heavy set for cube. I'm probably going to be steering clear of the Companion cards given the absolute warping effect they have on the game, and I think the majority of the Mutate creatures are just unplayable except for in dedicated mutate environments. That just leaves me with new Cycling cards to play. Now granted, these are some of the most pushed cards with cycling ever printed, introducing cards that can cycle for {1} for the first time. However, none of them are so horribly broken that I need to rethink my entire environment to accommodate them. Overall, Ikoria is not going to cause any cube-shaking changes, which is a nice break considering how much impact every set since I first built this cube except m20 has had on the environment.

Despite Ikoria's somewhat lackluster non-cycling offerings, I've still got a lot of changes I might need to make "under the hood" of the cube, as it were. One of the issues I've been having lately has been grappling with what I want this cube to be going forwards. I've always had a shaky relationship with cube design philosophy. On the one hand, I want my cube to be a unique, synergy based environment featuring under-represented cards. On the other hand, I want a place where I can play all of my favorite high-powered cards and interactions without needing to drop 1K on a single modern (or legacy) deck. What I've come to realize over the last year is that I can do an environment where both of those goals are accomplished. Still, it means I have to start drifting away from more traditional Riptide mantras into what is, effectively, uncharted territory.

Take decks-not-cards design. Now, I love this little quip, which has become so essential to so many of our cubes. The point of this mantra is to build our cubes in a way so which our decks are full of cards which add to more than the sum of their parts. All of the cards are reasonable, if not good, but they're going to have a hard time winning by themselves. This turns out to be problematic when you just want to play cards that are, for lack of a better term, flat out good.

One of the issues here isn't so much that these cards are too good in a vacuum. If Rekindling Phoenix was the only thing stopping my old +1/+1 counters decks from functioning as coherent units, I would have just cut the offending Phoenix. But that's not the problem. Recently, I added an enchantress deck to my cube. One of the things I realized is that the enablers for enchantments (Stuff like Omen of the Sea, Utopia Sprawl and O-Ring Effects) were very good, and often playable in almost any deck. It's just that the payoffs felt... not worth the investment? There is no denying that Setessian Champion is an excellent magic card when it's in the enchantment deck, but how often is playing Champion going to be better than just slamming The First Iroan Games or something? All of the enchantments surrounding the Champion are well worth the deck space to play and use, but Champion itself feels lackluster compared to some of the other things it's competing with.

This isn't to say that synergy decks are bad, though- far from it. However, in many cases, when I see my synergy cards rise to the top, it's because they're also just good cards on their own. Take Archfiend of Ifnir. Sure, better black fives have existed, but it's not like this card can't just win the game by itself. Archfiend just happens to also become insane in a discard deck.

A few cards requiring deep support cards can still succeed; however, they tend to turn the deck into a strategy about them. Cards like Life from the Loam and Drake Haven have a very low-floor but have game-winning ceilings. When you're playing a Drake Haven deck, you're playing a Drake Haven deck and not merely a discard deck anymore. This is a hallmark of cards-not-deck designs, where players are meant to search for the proper shell for a card instead of looking at the components of a section to see what they should be doing. For example, a card like Opposition says, "go wide with me."

The problem here is that cards like Drake Haven are nowhere near as good as Opposition. Even if you're playing a Drake Haven deck, you don't just win because you've managed to get the absolute perfect shell and played your win con. Opposition ends games if it's played and not removed. Drake Haven doesn't, at least not most of the time.

I recently began looking into the design philosophy of Sirfunchalot and his friends. They build what I think could only be described as powermax decks-not-cards cubes. These cubes are running at such a high power level that the only archetypes that exist are aggro, midrange, and control, but, every card in the cube goes into at least one of these decks perfectly. Nothing is in the cube to be built around- they all feed the archetypes. These cubes are very different from Riptide cubes in the sense that the goal of these environments is to min-max win ratios instead of min-maxing fun. Even though I'm not looking to emulate these environments, I thought it would make sense to at least try some of their philosophical elements in my cube. For example, I decided to start adding some more aggressive one-drops to my White, Red, and Black sections to help make aggro decks more consistent.

After my first draft using this change, I had two red-based aggro decks pop up at the table, as well as a black-white deck that was incorporating a number of the new aggressive cards I had included. I was pretty happy with these changes and thought that I had hit a golden ratio of sorts. Despite this, when I was talking to more Funchian practitioners, they kept telling me I was short on aggro cards. Apparently, they recommend 11(!) or so one drops at 360 to fully support aggressive strategies. Now, I want a cube that's maybe a turn or two slower than these people's formats, but it still struck me that they said I didn't have enough support for aggro even when I just had two aggro decks fighting in the same color play and win quite well. When I went to start updating my cube for Ikoria, I tried squeezing in an extra 2 or 3 one drops into each of my aggro colors, but found myself unable to, even in red.

What I came to realize is that Funchian cubes are what I am calling "Strategy not Synergy" cubes. These environments are foregoing synergy to shore up the basic strategy of their archetype decks. A deck like Aristocrats is built on getting a certain mix of enablers and payoffs to run its strategy. Generic aggro, by contrast, is really only looking to hit a certain curve threshold. Two aristocrats decks can have completely different curves, dominant gameplans, and win conditions, while two aggro decks are almost always going to be composed in a similar fashion. Aggro, as an archetype, still needs space to be supported like a synergy deck, but this space is being eaten up by more generic cards that fill the curve.

I think this is why I was having such a hard time making room for more general "aggro" cards. I want a synergy format, not necessarily a "Decks not Cards" format. One of the only one drops I was able to easily make a cut for when working on my Ikoria update was Foulmire Knight. This card is useful in aggro, but also can be played in the Zombies deck I'm trying to support in black, and even the occasional control or midrange deck. This is how I realized: I want this to be a synergy driven format over a strategy-driven format.

Now comes the real question: am I building a Decks not Cards format or a Cards not decks format? For example, which of these is correct?

Whip of Erebos says: Put things in the Graveyard
Sultai Says: Put things in the Graveyard.

I think the answer here is... both? I'm not sure, and that's the problem. I can't tell whether or not these cards are asking to be individually broken. Do I just happen to have a mass of cards in my Sultai section that say "Do thing X," or is the section collectively saying, "do thing X." There are arguments on both sides of the issue here since all of these cards are powerful enough to make you want to build your deck with them in mind, but they're not necessarily so good that they warp your entire drafting process outside of picking a deck.

Then, of course, there's the issue of cards like Rekindling Phoenix.

Now, I don't think Rekindling Phoenix really qualifies as a synergy card. But, it fits really well into a bunch of the synergy decks. Gruul Rhythm loves having a nice chunky flier to Riot into, and Izzet tempo likes having a resilient threat. I also still plan to support a mono-red strategy, since I've been doing it since day one, my drafters and I enjoy it, and the core components of my red decks go into other decks. My fear is, does Rekindling Phoenix really count as a synergy card? You don't need other cards in tandem with it for it to be good. Phoenix just is better in certain builds than others. It definitely feels more like a strategy card than a synergy card, but I'm not sure that means it doesn't fit with what I'm doing. After all, Polukranous, World Eater doesn't have much synergy; it just happens to be good in ramp decks. Are finishers exempt from the Synergy/Strategy paradigm since both want ways to end the game? I'm not sure. But whatever the case, we're learning.

You may have noticed that I mentioned a number of cards that aren't currently in the cube in this post. I was originally going to talk about some new cards I want to test in the Ikoria update and show some sample decklists, but this little post is almost 2000 words in of itself. I definitely would like some input from the community here. Also, let me know if you would like me to do a Synergy VS. Strategy primer once I have a better idea of what the boundaries of this concept are. I'm interested in your thoughts.