Cube: The Third Format – A Guide to Vintage Cube by Rob Catton

Vintage Cube: The Third Format by Rob Catton

Cube: The Third Format – A Beginners Guide to Vintage Cube by Rob Catton

It has been a while since I last wrote an article for Manaleak, but I really had the urge to write about everybody’s favourite part of Christmas and the New Years (right?) – Vintage Cube!

This particular cube is only up on Magic Online a couple of times a year, and most people agree that it is the ‘best’ one, as it features all the most powerful cards that magic has to offer. If playing turn 1 Jace the Mindsculptor or attacking with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn 2 is your thing – this is the cube for you.

Constructed and Limited as a third format

As the title of this article says, I think that cube lies somewhere in between Constructed and Limited as a third format. It obviously has close ties with limited as it is a draft, but the fact is that if you approach cube like you would approach a normal limited format, you will struggle to find wins.

Instead, you should be trying to actively draft a deck, or archetype. This way you can take advantage of the cards which are normally quite poor, but given synergy are incredibly strong cards.

Here are my top 3 archtypes, which I have ranked from top to bottom according to which ones I feel are not only the most powerful, but also perform the best when you only get half the “payoff” cards (this is an important aspect of a deck, because some decks don’t work at all unless you get absolutely everything from the draft pool).


Archetype 1: “Draw 7 Combo”

Archetype 1 Draw 7 Combo vintage cube

I have called this archetype draw 7 combo as there is a lot of crossover between storm and other combo-ish decks like Sneak Attack. The one attribute they all share is the love of draw 7’s. These decks typically have a lot of fast mana, be it from Dark Ritual and Seething Song, or from mana artifacts like Moxes and Grim Monolith et al.

The power of this deck really lies with how much you can simply ignore your opponent, and make them work to stop what you’re doing. By just playing a deck which wins with something completely non interactive like Tendrils of Agony or Sneak Attack in an Emrakul and Griselbrand, you can flat out ignore even the largest threats like Primeval Titan or Consecrated Sphinx.

Here is an example decklist for a “Draw 7 Combo Deck”.

Draw 7 Combo Deck vintage cube

I chose to share this particular storm deck as it is probably the most interesting one I drafted, though not the most powerful. Take note of the cards here, they will be the ones you want to find when drafting this deck.

Taking advantage of Fastbond in combination with 2 Draw 7’s, this deck can make a lot of mana very quickly, even though it only has 2 mana artifacts. Yawgmoth’s Will is an incredibly key card, turning Lion’s Eye Diamond into a straight up Black Lotus.

Palinchron + Clones plan vintage cube

My favourite interaction in this deck, though, is the Palinchron + Clones plan. Using Fastbond to accrue a large amount of lands, thanks to all the card draw, Palinchron comes in and untaps the 7 lands you used to cast him, meaning you break even but have +1 Storm. Now, using a Phantasmal Image or Phyrexian Metamorph, we can copy the Palinchron and end up ahead on mana (2 mana or 3 mana to untap 7 lands).

Thanks to the Palinchrons activated ability, Phantasmal Image can now “go infinite” by returning itself for 4 mana, and casting again for 2 mana.

This is a good example of making a deck work despite not getting passed the rituals or moxes normally needed for a storm deck to function.


Archetype 2: Big Artifacts

Archetype 2 Big Artifacts vintage cube

There are a lot of payoff cards for the Artifact deck, which means that even if there is another drafter on this deck you may still be able to end up with a decent deck. One of the weakness’s, however, is that strong cards like Sol Ring and Grim Monolith are in high demand, meaning other players on separate archetypes will likely snap these up – so don’t expect them to always table!

This is one of the fastest decks in the cube, but it wins with a huge board presence rather than spells – a distinction from the storm deck. Here is an example deck list.

Archetype 2 Big Artifacts vintage cube deck list

This deck is far from perfect, as it has a lot of filler (Phantasmal Image, Pithing Needle, Looter Il-Kor, Jace Beleren etc), but it highlights the power of Tolarian Academy, which makes Turnabout an actual mana ritual, making casting Inkwell Leviathan or Blightsteel Colossus a real thing.

Some cards which are missing from this deck are Grim Monolith, Metalworker, Lightning Greaves, Goblin Welder, Mishra’s Workshop and Tinker to name a few. The inclusion of these cards would make this deck into a solid 2-1 or 3-0 deck.

Again, making things work when you don’t necessarily get passed the right cards is a crucial skill to have when cubing; Dragonlord Atarka is not even close to being a ‘normal’ card for this deck, but given the mana-fixing from the lands and the big mana strategy, it becomes a solid playable. Make sure you keep an eye out for backup plans.


Archetype 3: The Fair Deck

counterspells mtg banner

The best fair deck in the cube is usually going to end up being base blue, as counterspells are the best way to keep all the unfair decks in check. Cards like Swords to Plowshares and Dismember are fine vs half the unfair decks, but what about if you are paired up against a deck with no creatures? Or even no non-land permanents? Hand disruption and counterspells are the only interaction left, beyond minor exceptions like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Lodestone Golem.

This archetype is by far the safest, as you can really just win the game with a simple counterspell vs a storm deck. You are looking to slow down the tempo of the game, and win by amassing card advantage, and pushing through with a threat backed up by your disruption.

Here is an example decklist.

Archetype 3 – The Fair Deck vintage cube

The 4 C’s – Counterspells, cantrips, card advantage and creatures that provide card advantage; this deck is quite slick. I think instead of the Ugin at the top end I would prefer a big flier like Consecrated Sphinx, but Ugin really does hammer a few decks.

Typically, the base blue control deck will be using white or black as the secondary colour, to gain access to some harder removal. Personally I prefer white, as cards like Banishing Light or Oblivion Ring are great catchalls, and often better than cheaper creature removal like Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile.

As crazy as it sounds, Mana Leak or Remand are slam dunk first picks over more expensive counterspells like Cryptic Command. It is so easy to lose because your countermagic only came up on turn 4, so you couldn’t stop your opponents Show and Tell or Entomb into Reanimate.

The most important thing to remember when drafting a fair deck, is how many pieces of interaction you have. Be it countermagic, hand disruption like Vendilion Clique, mana denial like Wasteland, permanent removal like Oblivion Ring or Ancient Grudge (a maindeckable card!), you need to have interaction abundant – the cheaper the better.

There are still more archetypes to explore including MonoGreen Ramp, MonoRed Aggro, UB Reanimator, UR Splinter Twin, MonoWhite Creatures, but a lot of those are quite simple to draft and I have already ranted on for too long about specific archetypes. Instead, here is a brief guide of what to avoid drafting, and how the colours match up.


Draw 7 Combo
Base Blue Fair Control Deck
Big Artifacts
UB Reanimator
UR Splinter Twin
MonoGreen Ramp


MonoRed Aggro
MonoWhite Creatures
Anything Naya coloured and fair

Ok, maybe you CAN draft MonoRed, but its just so miserable when your opponent is doing cool busted things, and you have Goblin Guide. All in all, you should obviously just draft what makes you happy – these lists are just what you should and shouldn’t draft if you want to win (MonoRed can maybe be swapped over if you get passed something like Sulfuric Vortex).


Unpassable Cards

Unpassable Cards vintage cube

The last thing I want to touch on, is a list of cards you should not be passing. A good amount of these are colourless, because it is usually acceptable to pass an Ancestral Recall if you are not in blue (and you have no fixing, and its pack 3…).

The obvious ones are the power 9, with the exception of Timetwister. This card is quite niche, as you need a combo with it for it to be decent, or just extremely fast mana.

Below is a complete list of cards you should not be passing Pack 1 Pick 1, and you also shouldn’t be passing most of the time regardless of what pack it is.

Black Lotus (0)

Library of Alexandria (0)

Mox Emerald (0)

Mox Jet (0)

Mox Pearl (0)

Mox Ruby (0)

Mox Sapphire (0)

Mana Crypt (0)

Ancestral Recall (0)

Fastbond (0)

Mana Vault (0)

Sol Ring (0)

Mana Drain (0)

Time Walk (0)

Honourable Mentions:

Yawgmoth’s Will (0)

Yawgmoth’s Bargain (0)

Skullclamp (0)

Tolarian Academy (0)

Demonic Tutor (0)

Jace the Mindsculptor (0)

Tinker (0)


Final Notes

  • You have heard it a thousand times, but take mana fixing. You aren’t often short on playables in cube, so make sure you use a few picks on lands. Splashing is often important, as well as taking off colour duals so you can make fetches better (for example taking a badlands so your Marsh Flats can now fetch White or Red).
  • Sideboarding really matters! I often end up siding at least 3 cards per game, as there are a lot of sweet sideboard cards in the cube, for example Pithing Needle or Phyrexian Revoker.
  • If you play fair, have interaction. If you have some random pile of creatures that dont interact with your opponent, and no interactive spells, you are almost a dead cert to not win the draft.
  • Play the right amount of lands, and its often 16. Games are over so soon in this cube, for one reason or another, you not only can’t afford to flood out in the early game, but you also probably won’t last long enough to hard-cast your 7 drop. This means stay away from cards like Elesh Norn or Craterhoof Behemoth UNLESS you have mana ramp or a bunch of counterspells to buy time. Otherwise, it just won’t happen.
  • Last but not least, get drafting! The Vintage Cube is only up on Magic Online for another week, finishing on January 6th. It’s only 10 tickets or 100 Play Points to join a queue, so make sure you don’t miss the boat! If you do, it will be up later in the year.

Hope this was helpful!

Rob Catton


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