All that Glitters – Gold in Cube by Ben Cottee
Gold cards in Magic are often better than same-rarity one-coloured cards with a comparable converted casting cost. This higher value is a bonus for you, a payoff for playing a more complicated (and usually more painful in a damage/life loss sense) manabase that allows you to cast the spell. In practice with Modern manabase’s (fetches and RTR shocklands), these goldies are often as easy to cast as something like Cryptic Command in a Mono-Blue deck – as you have access to two or more colours early.
Who picks a Gold card?
You open your 1st pack of Dragons of Tarkir and you see Swift Warkite and Flatten as top picks. The Warkite I believe is a better card, four power flier that is a guaranteed 2-for-1 that might get in some hasty damage. However, the better pick is usually Flatten. Its value is real, and you have a much higher chance of playing it in any deck you build – even as a splash. Also, in most cases, Warkite narrows your later picks down to Rakdos colours. You still may want to splash it, but still you have to be at least Rx or Bx. With Flatten you can be GW and splash into full Abzan colours.
Compare that to opening pack 2 and facing the same pick after you have taken just Red and Black cards in pack one. Now you are much more likely to take the Warkite, dependent on your removal/curve – not the colour.
These two cards are very similar in power level, but when you go up to the mythic Dragonlords, then you are more likely to risk a pick you might not play for the huge power payoff.
Bringing this back to Cube, where all cards possess the high power level. I don’t think that I have ever first picked a Gold card. They are all very good, but so is every other Cube card. Why risk the chance of not being able to play the card and pigeon-holing you into so many colours?
Ok, got it, never a first pick. So why have them in a Cube?
There is a payoff to being open to receiving Gold cards. They tend to be aligned to the winning strategies those colours excel at, focussing your route to victory and hinting your later picks. From what I wrote above there comes a conclusion that if you are the only Azorius (White and Blue) drafter at the table, you effectively have the Azorius Gold cards to your own. So you can early pick other powerful cards with a single-coloured mana symbols, denying them to opponents.
All that Glitters
How many Gold cards should we have in the Cube? Well, mono-coloured spells are wanted by more players. Packing your Cube full of cards wanted by the largest cut of players at the table is generally the right way to go in making the Draft environment dynamic and different each time. You want some Gold to reward players for reading signals and because lots of these cards are sweet and high in power.
Let’s assume we give each colour pair (commonly associated with Ravnican guilds) the same amount of slots and the mana fixing is good enough to not be a limiting factor.
10 combinations give us 10x total cards. 3 of each would be 30 and in a 360 card Cube would be 8% giving an asfan (number of cards in an average booster) of 1.2. In contrast 5 would give you 14% and 2.1 asfan.
I think around 10%, +/- a bit, of a Cube being Gold is a healthy number. Once you get to 2-3 cards in a booster being Gold, you start to reduce the early picks for your drafters. You also start to get into some cards questionable in their power level, if you want to keep all the combinations equal in quantity.
Three’s a crowd
So take all the points discussed and add a third colour into the mix and you polarise the card even further. To take a card of three colours you either need to be committed to a five colour good stuff or already be deep in the draft and committed to that combination. Also before Khans Block came around, finding powerful enough cards to represent each combination was a stretch. These cards will often go last pick in pack one and often wheel in pack three because even the person that wants it will know that no one else does – so can let it go round once.
What you got
Theory be gone. What Golden wonders have I got lurking in my Cube? I will not go deep on each card but will cover the combination in general and mention some close calls. Also note I love a good cycle, so I have one planeswalker in each:
[draft]Venser, the Sojourner
Brago, King Eternal
Geist of Saint Traft[/draft]
Azorius is extremely deep, boosted by Dragons of Tarkir with three cards in contention for slots. Venser just edges Narset as he is central to the flicker archetype and Narset +1 is unlikely to hit in most decks.
[draft]Aurelia, the Warleader
Chained to the Rocks
Boros is not very deep. War Flare is a great reward for the Boros token decks, with the Charm being a bit linier in using its first mode.
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Far // Away
[draft]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Dimir was at times the worst combination for powerful Gold cards, but it has gotten a nice boost over the past few years. Tezzeret edges Ashiok to help support the Grixis Artifact strategy.
[draft]Garruk, Apex Predator
Vraska the Unseen
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Golgari is very strong and among the hardest guilds to make cuts. For ramp decks, Garruk takes ahead of Vraska, Lotleth edges Leech to help Reanimator and to abuse Bloodghast and Gravecrawler. Dreg Mangler gives a good Aggro option with lategame relevance.
[draft]Huntmaster of the Fells
Xenagos, the Reveler[/draft]
Gruul has an issue of having a lot of four drops. However, Ghor-Clan Rampager is more often a two mana trick. Xenagos is more often playable than Domri. Huntmaster and Bloodbraid are the best cards. I can see Atarka replacing Ghor-Clan at some point. Horned Kavu adds some variety and trickiness to the colour pair.
Keranos, God of Storms[/draft]
Izzet is not very deep and not long ago contained Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius. When I power the Cube Dack and Electromancer come in for Bolt and Charm. Ral mostly edges Dack because I have a foil Ral, but Dack is probably the better card 🙂
[draft]Obzedat, Ghost Council
Magister of Worth
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Orzhov is strong but not that deep. Original Sorin wins, because he is Foil and also the more consistent card. Ashen Rider is a good reanimation target, but uncastable elsewhere.
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden
Sarkhan the Mad
Rakdos is strong and deep, and recently underwent changes. Olivia Voldaren and Blightning left for Kolaghan’s Command and Grenzo, Dungeon Warden, because Command has more play than Blightning and still is a 2-for-1. Grenzo got in mostly for curve considerations and I want to see how he plays. Aristocrat is excellent in Aggro and the Sacrifice deck.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Glare of Subdual
[draft]Voice of Resurgence
Knight of the Reliquary
Advent of the Wurm[/draft]
I could have gone on with the outside cards as Selesnya is really deep – but all at quite a flat power level. I have found Selesnya the worst performing guide pairing in the Cube and I am constantly rotating these cards trying to help it out. I have tried pushing Tokens in this combination and a Counters Matters theme, but the cards necessary to support end up diluting the overall power level in the White and Green segments without the desired payoff. I would love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas in the comments.
[draft]Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Simic Sky Swallower[/draft]
Simic is not deep, luckily the cards that bear Green/Blue symbols are all great with a great mix of tactical uses. Shardless Agent just doesn’t get there as it plays so badly with two-mana counterspells.
Shards and Wedges
Rafiq of the Many
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Butcher of the Horde
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Isn’t it Gold?
The term Gold in Cube especially is a little in the eye of the beholder. If you go panning and come up with Kird Ape, Figure of Destiny and Lingering Souls, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking you had struck Gold. This is how I rationale the categorization of these cards.
Hybrid – Potentially castable in a Mono-Colour deck, these have their own category. I don’t really try to balance it, so if they are good enough, they go in. I have also seen categorizing them based on the deck they most regularly end up in.
Kird Ape/Flashback – Spells that can be cast for mono mana, but get better with one other fit here. They usually slot in to the colour that can cast them initially and that on their own they aren’t just stone unplayable. Kird Ape especially can work off a splashed dual land with no other Green cards in the deck. Far // Away goes in Dimir partly because Dimir really needs a good card like this and also because each effect on their own is not playable in that colour. (Kird Ape isn’t actually in my Cube, but Flinthoof Boar is and same logic applies.
The last, newest and trickiest are the single colour cards that activate for Hybrid mana from Fate Reforged. I took the simple way out and just allocated them to the colour they cast for as they are all passable without the activated ability.
Until next time – make sure you pick your lands early to play all the sweet Gold!
Community Question: In your personal opinion, what is the best multi-coloured card of all time, and why?
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My Cube on Cubetutor: http://www.cubetutor.com/viewcube/24587