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My Tier List and Approach to Vintage Cube



Vintage Cube 64 player drafts are the best daily offering for digital MTG that I can remember. It lets us play one of the most fun formats at a competitive level.


Even though I don’t wish Vintage Cube to always be up, as I think that will lead to it becoming stale, seeing it more often is something the community both wants and needs.


I’ll preface this by saying I think Cube is fairly high variance when people are drafting well, and much like any other draft format, there are a ton of approaches that can be successful.


I’m going to share my personal approaches and where I have and haven't found success.


Let's start with what most people will want to see and argue about, my tier list. This is my top 50 or so cards and where I take them early in pack one. Context becomes king as you make more picks.





Notes:

Within the tier, the top is the highest priority and the bottom is the lowest. The tiers aren't there for any specific reason other than to separate for visibility.


Cards on the far right are honorable mentions, and each instance of a land that's part of a cycle is representative of that whole group. For how I generally draft, the lands that have Dimir color pairings go up and the ones with Selesnya go down, but this changes for basically everyone, which I'll discuss later.


The honorable mention list could be longer and is likely missing cards that you or I are fond of.



First, while the Underworld Breach combo has been popularized by players like LSV, the approach is volatile. Getting Underworld Breach, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Brain Freeze is about the best deck you can have, but it's also a strategy that leads to a poor success rate overall if forced. If it comes naturally to you, in spots where the opportunity cost is fairly low, it’s fine to jump on it. Opening Breach and forcing it doesn’t often work out when so many people know about it now.


Because of how popular this Breach archetype has become, and because of how much better the threats and interaction are these days, it’s a safer approach to draft something that can play a fair game at the same time as doing something broken in some games.


For that reason, the best archetypes to draft are black-based midrange with a reanimator package or some other kind of combo finish, such as draw 7s with fast mana and cards like Orcish Bowmasters, Sheoldred, Narset and Leovold. As you can see in my tier list, I heavily lean towards this approach.


White aggro decks are good if you’re the sole one at the table drafting it, which is often the case these days. I don’t enjoy drafting white aggro much, though I have drafted it once or twice and it was good. I will say that the addition of Reprieve as a way to interact with the stack in Mono White has been excellent.


In general, the more fast mana you open, the easier it is to win in Cube. If you get +2 moxen, you have such a huge advantage compared to other decks. I have Mox Diamond a lot higher than others and strongly prefer it to Chrome Mox because it taps for any color mana. Both are great, but I tend to take a lot of cards in between the two.


The reason I like both Reanimator, and in some cases white-based aggro, is that you can win with these decks without the best fast mana cards. Reanimator gets to use Dark Ritual as a late “free” piece of fast mana that’s often good in the archetype, but Entomb is so busted because of the redundancy of cards like Reanimate, Animate Dead, Exhume, and Life/Death that you don’t need Moxen or Black Lotus to have a broken deck. They help, but they aren't necessary.


Sneak Attack faded into the sunset a bit recently, but this iteration of the Cube geared itself to give Sneak Attack love with cards like Worldspine Wurm and Atraxa as newer additions that work well with the card on top of Emrakul, Griselbrand, and Archons of Cruelty. Cards get better the more broken things we can cheat into play.


I focus on taking the good proactive cards that can do broken things, but a higher priority for me is cheap or even 0-mana interaction. With the inclusion of more reanimation cards like Life/Death, Grief keeps shooting up in my pick order.


Reanimator still flies under the radar despite being the most successful archetype. I’ve been saying it for years, and I hope people never catch on because I find the archetype fun to draft and pilot.


Twin Combo used to be at the top of the pick order for me. Even though it's a deck I sometimes pivot into, the cheap and free interaction has made the archetype too volatile and, in some cases, too slow. While I no longer take the cards in the deck highly, it’s always something you can pivot into by picking up a piece late in pack one, and you can easily play them if the cards fall in your lap.


Tinker has gone up a lot in value with the addition of cards like Portal to Phyrexia. Between Portal, Sundering Titan, Myr Battlesphere, and Bolas’s Citadel, Tinker is as good as ever.


There are no Mono Green cards on my list because I’ve gotten destroyed trying to win with green strategies. Mono Green with a splash is a playable deck, but it often gets broken apart by the abundance of interaction in the format, all of which plays well against green. Channel at face value is one of the most powerful cards in the Cube, but the archetype and requirements for the card make it a low priority. I often splash green for cards like Oko, Minsc, Grist, and Tamiyo.


People will look at my list and say Swords, Solitude, and Palace Jailer are too low. This may be true, however Cube is so contextual that I believe I’m taking them in the right spot. I often go out of my way to avoid putting white cards in my deck at all. I even avoid Balance despite loving it with Zuran Orb now in the Cube.


The approach you are biased towards should heavily influence your own personal pick order and should not be some binary list of win rate-based cards. As an example, some cards I’m always told are busted have yet to be good for me, such as Laelia, the Bladereforged and Forth Eorlingas. Both of these cards are excellent ways to add to the pile of cheap threats you’ve already deployed, but if you’re drafting in the manner I am, Laelia is not that good. My red decks are often UR with a combo element or a deck like BR Reanimator, so the cards I hit off Laelia aren’t often castable. Forth Eorlingas has been a little better, but I’m frequently trying to set up an explosive win con and don’t have other threats in play. I also find it difficult to take the Monarch back if I were to lose it, so it’s a lower priority to me than others. While both cards are strong enough to drag me into aggro, I’m not looking to draft those decks from the jump if the early packs are weak. If you are, you should be moving all that stuff up in your pick order because those cards will be better in your decks than they are in mine.


This concept is true in most Limited formats but depends on the flatness of the power level. Cube’s power level is quite flat after the top 20 or so cards. It’s hard to get an accurate idea of what people feeding you are drafting. Instead, there's more of a sense of what the wheel is giving you and what archetypes are underrepresented at the table.


The Cube is about synergy and maximizing the synergies you’re working towards. We see tons of people on Twitter posting pick orders and don’t understand how they take a certain card so highly, but many of the people making these lists have played enough to feel comfortable with their approach. Rather than try and fix it, we should try to understand it and maybe try at times to draft like it to further our own abilities.


I used to think discussing Cube was a waste of time, as it was purely casual. While it's fun to try to add a percentage or two to your win rate, it would likely lead to playing styles of decks that weren’t as fun. Now we have a small competitive reason to play the format and learn it with the 64-player drafts on MTGO and a burgeoning group of players in AlphaFrogs team draft Discord.


I enjoyed learning the format, though I find it frustrating at times because of how high variance it feels. However, that adds a lot to the re-playability and enjoyment of the format since it's not hyper-competitive, at least not yet.


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