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SPOTLIGHT CUBE SERIES: NEGA-CUBE
Posted in Magic Online on March 30, 2021
Welcome to Nega-Cube! Available on Magic Online from March 31 through April 7, the latest in the Spotlight Cube Series looks at great cards that haven't been a part of the popular Eternal format cubes before.
Filled with surprises and focused on interesting choices, Nega-Cube gives players one week to explore everything it has to offer. Hop into the Magic Online Limited Lobby to check out a cube unlike any other you've seen before!
Hey there, cubists! My name is Natalie Weizenbaum (@nex3 on Twitter), and I've been running drafts of my personal cube here in Seattle for about a decade now. I call it "Moddy," and you may know it as the basis for the first two iterations of Magic Online's Modern cube, which I also designed!
When Allison reached out about doing a spotlight cube, I decided I wanted to make something new and unusual. To that end, I came up with a restriction that's only possible in this new era of cubing where Magic Online's cubes are the center of gravity for what constitutes a "canonical" cube: only cards that are not in the most recent versions of Magic Online's Modern Cube, Legacy Cube, and Vintage Cube are legal.
I call it Nega-Cube, for the negative space it inhabits.
A NEW KIND OF LOW-POWER CUBE
I've always been intrigued by the idea of low-power cubes that are designed to play down the incredible bombs and massive blowouts that are a staple of traditional "all the best cards" cube construction. This is usually accomplished by limiting the cube to a subset of cards that tend to be more "fair," such as Pauper cubes that only allow commons, Peasant cubes that also allow uncommons, and even more unusual concepts like Kyle O'Neill's Core Set Cube. But even though each of these restrictions lends its own unique flavor to the resulting cube, they also exclude many thousands of possible cards that would otherwise match those cubes' power levels.
When I was designing Nega-Cube, there were only 899 cards that I couldn't use. Because those 899 included the majority of the most powerful cards ever printed, the power level was inherently limited but the card selection was wide open. This let me create an environment that had the depth of drafting and deck building that I wanted from a cube while also featuring interactive creature-based gameplay that's closer to a booster draft.
Not found in Nega-Cube.
I didn't just take all the most powerful cards in the remainder of Magic, of course. Every draft format will have some power variation from card to card, and thus some number of cards that function like "bombs," so I carefully curated which bombs would exist in the cube. There are only sixteen planeswalkers in the cube: one for each single color, one for each color pair, and Ugin, the Ineffable. Although none of these planeswalkers is the most powerful in its color pair, I tried to put the cube at a level where they're among the best cards available. I want to capture the excitement you feel when you crack open a booster at the start of a draft and see a planeswalker beckoning you to draft it.
RESTRICTIONS BREED HEADACHES
When I started building Nega-Cube, I realized that my clever restriction was going to cause me a bit more hassle than I had originally anticipated. Of course, it blocked my access to all the most powerful cards, but the MTGO cubes also have their fair share of role-players: cards that fill a specific need or enable a specific synergy without being all that powerful by their own merits. When I needed better early plays for the blink strategy, I realized that Wall of Omens and Satyr Wayfinder were off limits. When a play tester told me red wanted more discard to grease the wheels of black-red sacrifice reanimator, I discovered that Rix Maadi Reveler was forbidden. Even Wilt-Leaf Liege snuck her way into the Modern Cube at some point when I wasn't paying attention!
This is especially tricky for more recent sets, where the MTGO cubes tend to test out a bunch of cards at first and only later cut those that aren't a good fit. I don't know whether Thassa, Deep-Dwelling will make it into the next iteration of Modern Cube, but I certainly can't use it today!
The other side of that coin, though, is that I get almost unfettered access to cards from Kaldheim. Only the Vintage Cube has seen play since Kaldheim released, so I get to use any cards that might yet make it into Legacy Cube or Modern Cube—as long as I don't think they're too powerful, of course.
If you pay very close attention, you may also see a place where I followed the letter of the law more than the spirit by including a card that's functionally identical to one in Modern Cube. In my defense, if it were really that powerful, they'd have included multiple copies in the first place like they do for Llanowar Elves, Fyndhorn Elves, and Elvish Mystic. (Don't tell Allison!) [I won't. – Allison]
ARCHETYPE CLUSTERS AND OVERLAP CARDS
To my mind, some of the most fun you can have when drafting is finding ways to mix and match different aspects of different archetypes to build a deck that feels wholly unique. To that end, when building Nega-Cube, I wanted to make the supported archetypes extend beyond two-color pairs doing something in isolation and into clusters that could overlap and interact in interesting ways. Most archetypes are present in three (or more) colors, even though most decks in those archetypes will tend to play two colors or a splash. Which two colors a deck chooses and how it overlaps with other archetypes strongly influences that deck's feel.
To make this all run smoothly, I use as many overlap cards as I can find. These are cards that can fit in multiple archetypes and are at their best when those archetypes are combined. Much like creatures with changeling help enable tribal synergies in Kaldheim, these overlap cards provide synergistic options for multiple decks at once and make it possible to bridge archetypes.
Here are the primary archetype clusters I've designed for Nega-Cube:
This archetype cluster is all about the silver frames, but it doesn't play like the colorless ramp decks you may be used to in Vintage Cube and Legacy Cube.
- White-blue is focused on grinding out value with cards like Sanctum Gargoyle, Sai, Master Thopterist, and Dance of the Manse.
- Red-white is an aggro deck instead, with its focus on equipment synergies such as Puresteel Paladin, Fireblade Charger, and Akiri, Fearless Voyager.
- Blue-red works more like a combo deck, discarding artifacts with cards like Riddlesmith and looping them with Feldon of the Third Path and Goblin Engineer.
Colorless cards like Foundry Inspector and Scrap Trawler help bind it all together.
This archetype cluster, which is built around enters-the-battlefield (ETB) abilities and ways to rebuy them, was a staple of high-power cubes back when I first started cubing. It was gradually pushed out as the high end of raw power increased, so I'm excited to bring it back to life in Nega-Cube. Each color brings its own skills to the table:
- Green has card draw like Masked Admirers as well as ramp to let you quickly cast the heaviest hitters like Sylvan Primordial.
- White has token-makers like Master Splicer and blink-enablers like Galepowder Mage.
- Blue has bounce like Exclusion Mage and card advantage like Sea Gate Oracle.
Conjurer's Closet and Panharmonicon are both excellent colorless supports, although there are enough ETBs throughout the cube that you'll need to take them quickly!
This archetype cluster may seem familiar to Historic players: send your creatures (or artifacts!) to the graveyard for fun and profit. Although Korvold, Fae-Cursed King would love it if you played a full Jund deck, you can also specialize in a two-color archetype:
- Black-red is the most traditional version, with token-makers like Hordeling Outburst feeding aggressive sac outlets like Carrion Feeder while you sit back and reap the rewards with cards like Mayhem Devil.
- Red-green takes advantage of green's token-making effects, with cards like Kozilek's Predator even having sacrifice options built in. Goblin Sharpshooter is one of several good options for sacrifice rewards, and with Sarkhan Vol's -2 ability, you can even sacrifice your opponent's creatures.
- Black-green mixes sacrifice with recursion. Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Nissa of Shadowed Boughs allow you to rebuy green's ETBs and black's death triggers.
The colorless section provides support in the form of sacrifice fodder like Perilous Myr and outlets like Mortarpod.
REANIMATOR (BLACK AND X)
This archetype cluster will probably feel the most familiar to drafters of the official MTGO cubes. The bones are the same: put a big strong creature into the graveyard, then bring it back for way less than its normal mana cost (maybe even multiple times!). The core cards of this archetype, like Blood for Bones, Diabolic Servitude, and Stitcher's Supplier, are all black, but it can combine well with any other color for unique benefits:
- White provides redundancy in the reanimation package with cards like Breath of Life and Karmic Guide.
- Blue provides the best card selection in the cube, often with discard outlets attached, like Enclave Cryptologist and Rain of Revelation. Cards like Port of Karfell and Obsessive Stitcher also give it the most reanimation-focused gold section.
- Red integrates nicely with the sacrifice theme, giving you extra payoffs for cards like Victimize and Hell's Caretaker.
- Green makes it particularly easy to recur cheap creatures with ETBs with Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Nissa of Shadowed Boughs. If you think that sounds the same as the black-green sacrifice deck, you're right! You can focus more on sacrifice or more on reanimator, but the black-green core plays similarly either way.
There aren't many colorless cards specifically devoted to this archetype, but there are high-cost, high-power creatures scattered throughout the colors that are great reanimation targets, such as Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger and Zetalpa, Primal Dawn.
AGGRO (RED-WHITE AND X)
It's crucial for a well-balanced cube to have viable aggressive archetypes to keep the pace of play quick and keep the most grindy strategies in check. I've already talked about the red-white equipment deck, but either red or white can also serve as a base for an aggressive deck with any other color.
- Red gives aggro decks cheap creatures like Jackal Pup and Robber of the Rich that can deal a lot of damage to an unwary opponent, and burn spells like Roil Eruption and Flame Lash can close out the game.
- White doesn't have as much reach as red, but its creatures, like Cloistered Youth and Luminarch Aspirant, are bigger. In the midgame, it has powerful anthems like Ajani Goldmane and Dictate of Heliod to ensure its creatures stay one step ahead of the opponent's.
Each secondary color also brings something valuable to the table:
- Blue has flyers like Warkite Marauder and bounce in cards like Exclusion Mage to keep pushing damage through in the face of the opponent's defenses.
- Black can produce a lot of damage for relatively little mana with cards like Pitiless Horde and Herald of Torment.
- Green has the best aggressive gold cards for either color pair, with cards like Voltaic Brawler on one hand and Fleecemane Lion on the other.
CHEATY RAMP (GREEN)
This archetype isn't part of a cluster. It can work well on its own as a monocolored deck, or it can be spliced onto another archetype as an extra angle of attack. All it cares about is getting big, expensive creatures into play by any means possible. You can either ramp to them with cards like Fertile Ground and Overgrowth or put them directly into play with Elvish Piper or Champion of Rhonas. Make your inner Timmy happy!