Retro Combo Cube

Dovetailing off the recent thread I made in the forum, I wanted to post the list I've been tinkering with and the design parameters I established. All this is subject to change of course.

My Primary motivation for exploring this idea is a general feeling of dissatisfaction with modern Magic. This isn't news to anyone that knows me. I started a cube many years ago after reading about the format and it was an extremely fun experience that has progressively become less and less fun over time as my list has evolved. So part of this is getting back to basics. What did my list look like when I first started my cube? Well, it looked a lot like the above list because it was 2008.

Design Goals / Constraints:
1. Only brown card frame artifacts. This limits the card pool to pre-mirrodin and dramatically lowers the power of artifact creatures in particular. It also removes equipment entirely (I'm not going to run the foil swords printed in old bordered frames). Primary reason for this constraint is cosmetics. I am very partial to the brown artifact card design. But I'm also sort of excited to see artifacts take a back seat in drafting outside very specific decks that want them. No more auto picking the power artifact because it's good in virtually everything and doesn't require any color commitment.
2. Limited to mechanics pre-M10. Limiting the cube to old bordered is going to produce a list that I think will be missing out on a ton of very creative and inspired cards which came after. It's not where I want to be. But it's a slippery slope too. Part of my current dissatisfaction with my cube stems from the obscene level of value that basically every card needs to have to justify a slot. And this has warped the game horribly IMO into something unrecognizable. This also includes key wording. If the keyword wasn't established before M10, it is not eligible for inclusion. Period. My current list must have 100 different key words on all the cards. I want a list with a quarter of that.
3. Card wording must be pre-M10. Cards from post M10 can be included if the wording on the cards is consistent with 6th edition wording. So no reference to "exile" or the "battlefield". I can see an exception creeping in already (blood artist - uses the term "dies" which I believe is post M10, but the card is just so much fun to build around). This restriction is going to gut almost all the creature power creep cards from consideration. There are a handful of exceptions, and they may end up forming a small group of build around cards for creature strategies. More on that below.
4. No new new card borders (the shitty one with the black at the bottom and stupid ass hologram). Not sure when that went into effect, but this limitation means the pool of cards is effectively closed so the cube list once finalized won't be changed due to new cards being printed (only swaps if something isn't working). Being a finite card pool, it can actually be "finished". That alone is enough incentive to have this constraint (that and really hating the new card frame).

Few things worth pointing out with this initial list:

1. Notable creature cards from Llorwyn and after (in my mind, the true start of creature power creep).
  • Evoke creatures (mulldrifter, shriekmaw, reveillark, briarhorn). Evoke is such a sweet mechanic. It's absolutely powerful though and these creatures are leagues better than cards printed before them at their respective mana cost. That's OK though. Drafters will gravitate towards them and do well playing them. These are all P1P1 and will probably define most of the creature based decks that are drafted. Feels OK in small doses.
  • Gravecrawler, blood artist are cornerstones of my current black sacrifice deck. It's supremely fun to play. It's also guaranteed to suck people into black in this list when your other options are janky shit like Withered Wretch. I'd run Gary if it weren't for a couple words on the card (battlefield/devotion). Bob is also leagues better than most other creature options, so again more reason to run black aggro. Smallpox and Death Cloudalong with Haakon, Stromgald Scourge for more recursive/stax options. Pet cards.
  • Red has the goblin deck using mostly pre-M10 cards. Goblin Guide is head and shoulders better than every other one drop, along with Hellrider (which looks ridiculous in this list). If you have a creature deck in pretty much any color and you see hellrider, you will almost certainly want to make your deck Rx to run it. Which again feels fine to me. Having one card like that versus every damn card to where Hellrider feels pedestrian. Guttersnipe and Kiln Fiend to try and keep the Izzet spells matters deck alive (along with Wee Dragonauts). Young Pyromancer disqualified for using profanity (battlefield), which is a bummer because I like that card a lot. And Prowess is out. That one hurts a bit, but it is what it is.
  • Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Daring Skyjek. Wish I could do more for you white. You sort of suck. Lots of protection dudes here and anthems. Red is screwed in this matchup. I tried to limit the protection guys. Just one soltari. Just one knight (well, two I guess). Quicksand to the rescue? Take what you can get RDW. So maybe white is good enough in a list like this? Anyone with more input on how to make this section less vomit inducing, let me know.
  • Green has an aimless elf theme but I don't really know what to do with this section. Top end cards are just not very good, so what are you ramping into? I need to dig and find some worthwhile top end green cards that you genuinely get excited about casting. Arbor Elf is a super synergistic effect with things like Wild Growth and Squirrel Nest. So it has to be included I feel. Oracle of Mul Daya is also redundancy for exploration. I had fastbond here, but that's probably going too far.
2. Combo?
  • An old list like this, it doesn't feel appropriate to strip combo. I would normally be against trying to do things like make storm work or goblin piledriver, etc. It almost pains me to include some of this. But with fewer creatures (less than 40% of the cube... wow!) and a much lower average quality of those creatures, what else are you going to support?
  • Hellkite Overlord and Cruel Ultimatum are both absurd cards. The first is reanimator/natural order support. Second is storm/big mana. I don't know if they belong (hellkite in particular), especially with GRBS cards like Recurring Nightmare and even something like Reanimate. Dralnu, Lich Lord is a card with such a horrendous drawback that I have spoken out against on numerous occasions, I just don't know why I have it in the list. But it can do a snapcaster impression (who is banned on account of wording) and part of me wants to see if you can break super bad Dralnu in a storm deck.
  • Speaking of storm.... I can't draft this for shit or play it either really. Not sure who will try it or if the slots are just being wasted. But if any list wanted this archetype, it feels like this one does. I've been tempted by storm on numerous occasions and thought better of it each time. But I think I'm pulling the trigger finally. Crash and burn baby. You only live once.
3. "Power" cards
  • Stuff that most (myself included) proclaim GRBS... those are gracing this list. Opposition, Recurring Nightmare, Tinker. The list goes on. These cards probably won't get passed. It's all auto P1P1 stuff. Whatever. I could strip all this out, but that just leaves me back at "the midrange cube", and with the lower creature power level, what is that accomplishing beyond what my current list is giving me? Certain cards are probably just bad for the meta no matter what else you run (looking at you opposition). Others feel a lot more muted in a list like this. Again, what are you tinkering for? Nothing you can tinker for is truly game winning. Recurring Nightmare? There are not a plethora of ETB effects in this list. Sacing a dude to get back another dude. It's not a value play in a cube list this. It's only a combo play and you have to set it up. You can certainly build a seriously nasty Recurring Nightmare deck here. But you can't sleepwalk into that list I don't feel. Here though is where certain really strong finishers are going to potentially ruin things. Simic Sky Swallower in this list looks downright terrifying.

Final Thoughts
  • I did a few sample drafts. Made some bad choices (classic me) and wound up with probably only one really decent deck. But I'm not a great drafter to begin with and I wasn't sure how to draft this list effectively so I was winging it pretty hard. What I will say though is there were very clear signals I felt that pulled me in a specific direction. I liked that. Even when I went in trying to force something, I would see things I couldn't pass and I wound up somewhere I didn't intend.
  • And while many of the cards are narrow and somewhat linear, which prevents you from just good-stuffing the packs. If I wasn't already into white, I had to skip most of the creature options because WW is impossible on T2 in a RB deck. While too much of that is bad (railroading), this felt sort of nice as it made my early choices matter a lot more.
  • In contrast to all this, my current list is so ridiculously splashable, it feels like you can make almost any decision and it will just work out in the end. It's EZ-mode drafting to an extreme (made worse by the way we are module drafting). By comparison, drafting this list felt a bit more like early choices were effectively locking me out of later options but not preventing me from building a playable list. In the end, I had at least one pile of cards I could have built more than one way too. Neither was particularly great mind you, but the fact that I didn't just have only one playable deck in the end I think means things aren't as overly narrow as they might seem. Then again, it was just like 4 sample drafts against AI that probably makes questionable choices (some of the wheel cards felt pretty off to me).

Anyway. Enjoy all that. Feedback welcome of course.
Nice! Someone who can actually successfully draft storm. Awesome. Thank you for posting that.

Where do I change the setting for that (use older cards)? Doing that one by one will suck.
All good. I will go that here shortly. :)

So Daring Skyjek is disqualified for the word "battalion". I missed that. Replacement choices are just... bad. 3 drop slot feels light, so leaning on just adding another one of those. Choices are:

Mangara of Corondor - more removal and combo potential with blink
Stonecloaker - graveyard hate and a solid beater with flying but comes with tempo loss
Benalish Knight - ugh
Aven Mindcensor - fuck you combo and I fly so am not useless on offense

Mindcensor might be the right choice here? I also dig the future sight frame (go figure).

Auramancer << Daring Skyjek - decided I didn't like any of the above. Auramancer isn't necessarily a three drop, but this list has a ton of enchantments now, so this seems like potentially a great value card (in this cube obviously).
Crush of Wurms << Worldly Tutor - seems like a good ramp target for green. Narrow but this cube has a lot of that going on and the elf deck can easily get to 9 mana if it comes together (this card might hit flashback actually which would make it an absurd card).
Kami of Ancient Law << Ronom Unicorn - art
Deep Analysis << Gifts Ungiven - Not sure about this but it ups my old border count.
Repeal << Snap - I probably have enough storm support and I don't know if tempo decks will work the same in this cube. Repeal is card parity and still playable in the tempo deck (should that actually exist) while being more generally useful.
Thieving Magpie << Tradewind Rider - rider is slow and I remember magpie being pretty good. It blocks. It flys. It reliably draws cards.
Ranger of Eos << Galepowder Mage - trying not to fall victim to the blink value disease. And I realized that ranger has the old syntax so is eligible. It gets gravecrawler. Gets lackey too or Mogg fanatic for removal. Ranger is generally useful and the body is not horrible in this cube either.
Tombstalker << Skeletal Vampire - not a better card but delve is awesome and this is the only playable one that doesn't have "exile" in the syntax. 5/5 flyers are really good in this cube and it is theoretically castable for BB. Vampire is better in control and blink. And I want less of that.
Whipcorder << Longbow Archer - jank for jank. At least Whipcorder can tap a blocker.
Standstill << Jilt - one too many multi-colored cards. Standstill is a really rewarding card that punishes slower decks. I always enjoyed playing it. It's also cool that it's in a color that tends to have a hard time getting early board advantage.
Hammer of Bogardan << Blackmail - one too many black cards. Hammer is a great CA card, though obviously horrifically slow and mana intensive. Not sure it's good enough but I don't want to run pyroclasm.
Serra Angel << Blinding Angel - Serra Angel is a classic even if not great (even in this list). And Blinding Angel is just going to squash aggro.
Elvish Visionary << Sakura Tribe Elder - elder is definitely the better card, but visionary is another elf for the questionable elf deck. And drawing cards is good. CA in this cube is probably much more important than my current cube list (where tempo is everything).
Pillage << Seize the Day - I already have Final Fortune, which is better and more flavorful. And I want another LD card. This one also doubles as artifact removal (but isn't limited to just that). Utility - old school.
Imperious Perfect << Spectral Force - the "black permanent" verbiage makes me think force is going to be really inconsistent. I like it in the green ramp deck though. Maybe imperious perfect should be Elvish Champion? Perfect seems more useful even though I'm not a super fan. Supports the elf deck.

EDIT: Caller of the Claw in for Imperious Perfect. Seems like a miss on my part in hindsight.
I don't know if you have enough islands to make high tide good. Also would have liked another win con other than tendrils. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker would have been sweet with that Pestermite.

Other than that, it looks pretty solid to me. I'm not even going to post the travesty of a storm deck I drafted the other day. LOL. I tried gold fishing it in deckstats and it was no good. Fizzled twice on mind's desire and then essentially decked myself trying to find a win con.

Storm is hard to draft and play. Or I suck at it anyway.

James Stevenson

Steamflogger Boss
Staff member
I don't know if you have enough islands to make high tide good. Also would have liked another win con other than tendrils. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker would have been sweet with that Pestermite.

Other than that, it looks pretty solid to me. I'm not even going to post the travesty of a storm deck I drafted the other day. LOL. I tried gold fishing it in deckstats and it was no good. Fizzled twice on mind's desire and then essentially decked myself trying to find a win con.

Storm is hard to draft and play. Or I suck at it anyway.

Good point about Kiki. I have never actually played combo so I'm not great at drafting.


A little bit more life gain? I was dying to find it for that B/W deck, and basically had to settle on bottle gnomes.

Format needs:

Not sure about some of the stronger value cards:

Three 187 effects in black feels like quite a lot. I like ranger more when its picking up combo pieces, here its essentially a four mana 3/2 that draws you two cards.
Serendib Efreet in for Mulldrifter? I can totally do that. Not having Efreet has been bugging me.

I want to add another black aggro dude anyway. Shriekmaw is probably too good so it's gone. What to replace it with? Mesmeric Fiend for some disruption? Or go more modern and get another 2 power 1 drop in there. Vampire Lacerator is legal and is tempting. Other options welcome.

Ranger of Eos out for Exile? Life gain options seem weak under the parameters of this cube.

Art on Erhnam Djinn is lovely and I think I have a copy somewhere. What would you swap for it?

EDIT: Oona's Prowler is another option. Or we can go nuclear with Bitterblossum. But I'd rather not.



Exile << Ranger of Eos - add removal + life gain
Thrashing Wumpus << Shriekmaw - remove 187 dude but went with a control card as I have a foil version of this card.
Psionic Blast << Dismiss - easiest cut I could fine
Serendib Efreet << Mulldrifter - blue tempo just got a really good card
Noble Hierarch << Fyndhorn Elves - was bothering me I basically had two Llanowar Elves and this helps push the Simic tempo deck.
Lightning Blast << Char - avoiding functional reprint now that Psionic Blast is in.


Erhnam Djinn I think is a good call. Art aside. I replaced Ravenous Baloth with it. Not a power upgrade, but Djinn is splashable and more aggro oriented.


Drafted a decent reanimator deck. That is probably the most broken archetype in this cube (that and the opposition deck).

Ah... the Opposition deck...

UWR Aggro from

With backup plans of Kiki + Pestermite, Armageddon + Aggro, and losing to its own mana base!

Seriously fun cube to draft, though I find it kind of hard to assess power levels simply because the context is pretty different to what I am used to.
Running Kiki feels really ambitious with that mana base, but the combo win is hard to pass up. I was faced with this exact dilemma when I built that reanimator deck above. I choose to leave Kiki/Mite in the SB as I didn't have a way to really tutor them and other cards I drafted felt like they'd be more useful and easier to cast. I also wasn't short of win conditions having landed three of the best reanimation targets in my packs.

I went through my cards yesterday to see if I could actually put this cube together. And I have a surprisingly number of these older cards as it turns out. I ordered what I was missing, so I am going to put this thing together and take it with me in September when I visit my friend. Now, how to draft it? Grid I guess? Burn 4?
Attempted an oath deck. Mana base is shaky but it looks really fun to play. None of the fatties are intended to be casted of course (though many can be). Two tutors to find oath and one additional to put a dude on top. Regrowth to get it back if disenchanted. Some removal and broad sweepers. Tons of fat things. Bone shredder is particularly cool since I can choose not to pay echo and then (probably) get another fattie. Scroll Rack is invaluable in this deck. Added orb for life gain and small pox/cloud for mana denial. Should be sweet for chaining out some fat things while culling the other side of the board.

I've never played an oath deck, so honestly not sure this will come together in actual play.

Oath of Druids from



Speaking of reanimation spells, these are your reanimation effects:

I know you had an issue with reanimation being oppressive in your original powered format, and it looks like you're on your way to that again. I think this might secretly be your favorite deck. ;)

This is way too much support at 360 cards. 2-3 actual reanimate effects in black is probably correct, with an exception made for living death due to deck building constraints.

Lets break them down:

Aura based Reanimate/Fast Reanimation

dance of the dead is also an option here. I really like these, because they are answerable by enchantment hate, and can have interesting interactions with anything that cares about auras in the yard (not really the case here). If you're looking to support reanimation combo (which it looks like you are with entomb) these do a good job at that, while being somewhat more reasonable.

I would like to see at least one of these cards survive.

Reanimate is the best pure card for this role, and I don't think you need it, unless you are specifically looking to promote life loss/gain as a B/W deck. In that case, I would rather see some ETB life gain creatures in white as a premium reanimation target. Reanimate->pelakka wurm is the classic example of this in B/G reanimation.

This should be a lower pressure format, which means life loss from reanimate shouldn't close its casting window too much.

Value Reanimation

Higher CC spells, that you are really casting for the creature ETB.

Dread return is like best in B/x decks with etb army in a can creatures (skeletal vampire!) and is a neat little combo. I don't know how well thats supported though, or if it should be supported. Deranged hermit is already pretty good with it. I like this better than something like unburial rites though, as it has more of an identity.

Recurring nightmare is interesting, because its fairly poor without good ETBs, but is kind of an iconic card. Would be funny if it was fair here. This card is a little different, because its designed to be a build around engine.

Miraculous recovery. The main appeal of these types of cards, is shifting reanimation from being focused in black, to requiring it be a B/W color pair, which means harder mana costs, and kind of passively balances out the deck. There doesn't seem to be much of a pull (white neither has a monopoly on premium reanimation, nor the best targets), though this is a cool card.

Reveillark. Combos are eternal witness and karmic guide. Really like this card, but isn't it just a G/W value engine by blanking removal?

Karmic Guide. Really like this card, but feel like it can do some more spicy things here.
I think you are correct. I'm secretly a big reanimator fan. I really like cheating fat things into play.

Recurring Nightmare was my problem child in my original cube, but that all started with the ETB/persist/undying revolution. It just got too easy to turn it into a super value engine and run it in all Bx decks. On my first draft attempt at this list, I snatched up Recurring Nightmare thinking I was going to make something broken and it didn't even end up in my final deck. So while it might not be "fair", it's far down the list of things to worry about.

This being a combo cube, I sort to want to have a lot of this in there though. Balance is probably not possible without destroying the cube or breaking the constraints originally laid out. And if I end up doing that, I'll just wind up back at where my main cube is at. And that is just not the point of this.

On the subject though of reanimation spells. The only one I'd consider cutting is Necromancy, but it's supremely fun to steal your opponents dude in the yard. That's a unique effect I'd hate to lose. I know I'm running a lot of those effects but that is sort of what black likes doing.

Honestly, I think the truly weak part of this cube is white weenie. I keep passing all those cards every time I draft this list. That said, I don't really like white weenie. So I'm clearly biased. And I did draft a really good zoo deck above which shocked me honestly (one - that I drafted it, and two - that it turned out so good).

Not having equipment I feel hurts the "fair" creature decks a lot. I'm running just about every playable aura I can to help replace that effect, but I just don't know. Take that oath deck above. How do you beat that with WW? I probably just need to put every shadow creature I can find in the list and make WW the unblockable red/black death squad deck. Pretty sure that is the only viable solution. If someone wants to talk me off that ledge, please feel free to do so. ;)
So considering the following:


Soltari Monk << White Knight - Swapping on prot dude for another so I'm not upping that count. Monk is clearly the better aggro dude.
Oona's Prowler << Black Knight - Might as well get rid of the other one while I'm at it.
Soldier of the Pantheon << Deftblade Elite - As much as I love deftblade, he does not work as well in a list without silverblade paladin, equipment, etc.

I know the knights are iconic, but they are all sorts of swingy. Worst part about protection is that it's amazing on offense and defense. But only against one deck. Against everything else, it's a useless creature.

The only way I can see WW being appealing is if you get access to hard to remove threats that can't be blocked. Those dudes plus anthems should be GG against a lot of decks. And if it's not, why are you bothering drafting the deck when you can run something ridiculous like storm or reanimator?


You could run the necromancy + animate dead team, and than cut the other black value reanimation, with recurring nightmare and living death remaining as build arounds. The main thing might just be taking reanimate out, to reduce/mixup the density a bit, and that could be your dread return. Dread/recurring nightmare seem like reasonable G/B value cards, since they both like green token makers.

Miraculous recovery can probably go, and than in G/W you have your value reanimation with karmic guide and rev.

Would like to see some more storm support. I made a few tries at that deck and always seemed to come up short. I'll give some more thought to it, but it feels like there there should be more cards that are reasonable on their own, but work well in storm.

In these older formats, savannah lions did great work. You're not seeing quality creatures until turns 3-4, and those little 2/1s can do a lot of damage. The first true aggro decks, were basically just a collection of fallen empires orcs and dwarfs, that were purely winning off of a consistent curve into an opponent's 4-5cc durdle, maybe with some sb land destruction mixed in to slow down the game.

A G/W value deck, with some anthems, and rev to rebuild board states seems reasonable. White decks have a lot of mana disruption, and those shadow creatures are a crude but effective design.


Here is old school sligh murdering cascade Jund. Damage on the stack + mogg fanatic gg.

I could see cutting Miraculous Recovery. Being instant makes it a very powerful effect but it costs 5 too. So what should I add in it's place? Another aggro dude?

As far as storm support, I don't know man. What else is there that isn't just terrible? Grinning Ignus? I feel like the well is pretty dry with storm cards that aren't super bad. I'm already justifying questionable stuff like Storm Entity (it works in the spells matter deck damn it!).

I think there's enough overlap with other archetypes on some of this stuff though. Like Priest of Gix is still a dude that can swing and he lets you play another dude so provides tempo in more aggroish builds, etc. I'm up for more things like that but there isn't a lot and too many of them is just going to start infringing on other decks and make other stuff worse. Without fast mana, storm is a hard deck to build I think. And anyone trying to support this deck above 360... I don't know how they are doing it.
You gotta love the consistency of a constructed deck. 4 copies of everything makes a world of difference.

While a fast win like that is possible in cube with a god draw, it's just a lot harder to orchestrate with the singleton nature even at 40 card decks. Stating the obvious of course, but I call it out because I think it's one of the best parts about limited in general. And cube in particular, you can customize this with redundancy and how many slots you dedicate for archetypes, etc. I really love that part of cube.