Competitive Casual: Since when was Mono White good in Vintage Cube?
This week, the world cried out in sadness as the Vintage Cube departed Magic Online for the next six months.
For almost a month, we got a chance to enjoy the best format in all of Magic, casting broken spells left, right and centre. But this time, there was a disturbance in the force. Something had changed.
Mono White was winning
Now, for those of you who aren’t used to drafting Vintage Cube, Mono White has traditionally been considered almost unplayable. On the face of it, it makes sense. While other people are busy casting [mtg_card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Tendrils of Agony[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Splinter Twin[/mtg_card], you’re casting [mtg_card]Knight of the White Orchid[/mtg_card]. It’s underwhelming, to say the least.
This seems weird, right? Having considered why this has happened, I think the rise of Mono White is down to four things:
- The self correcting nature of draft
- The lack of ‘sweetness factor’ of Mono White
- The variety of tools available to white
- The lack of natural predators to Mono White
Let’s start with 1, shall we?
The self-correcting nature of draft
Experienced Vintage Cubers will know how good the Signets are. These two-mana artifacts, originally from Ravnica block, do a great job at enabling any deck to cast its powerful four and five mana cards more quickly. And in combination with other artifact mana, can form the basis of whole deck archetypes.
Those experienced Vintage Cubers will also remember how much easier it used to be to pick up the Signets you needed for your deck in earlier iterations of the Cube. But now, the public at large have realised this power, and now it’s rare to see a Signet later than third or fourth pick.
This is draft self-correction in action. Some cards are underappreciated, but powerful. They result in powerful decks. People catch on that these cards are good and pick them higher. Now those powerful decks are harder to achieve.
This specific correction has strong implications for Mono White
In the past, decks powered by Signets could get ahead on mana easily, which had two effects. Firstly, the ‘taxing’ White cards like [mtg_card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/mtg_card] were less effective because opponents had abundant mana. And secondly, opponents could use that mana to play powerful, expensive spells which outclassed what Mono White was trying to do.
Now, with Signets harder to come by, Thalia’s mana taxing effect is truly punishing, and those powerful trump cards show up later in the game, meaning you’re able to pressure the opponent with your aggressive creatures. Additionally, since your cards are cheap, you aren’t reliant on using artifact mana to get ahead in the game.
So, now that Mono White is better positioned, does that mean the next time Vintage Cube rolls around, will more people start picking White cards more highly? Maybe, but maybe not. This is because of point 2:
The lack of sweetness factor for Mono White
What’s the most fun part of Vintage Cube for you? For me, it’s those times when I do something totally awesome, like combo someone out with Storm, or cast a massive [c]Upheaval[/c]. It definitely isn’t those times when I cast a few efficient disruptive creatures and attack my opponent a few times. By and large, Vintage Cube is a popular format because of all the sweet things you can do. That means that the majority of people, when they sit down to draft, want to pick sweet cards.
The result? Mono White continuing to be undervalued. Here is where the difference with Signets is crucial. Signets enable your deck to do sweet stuff. Mono White is a deck which is practically incapable of doing anything sweet. That means that even if it’s known to be a good deck, many people will still avoid Mono White because it isn’t what they want to be doing in Cube.
I call this the Mono Red problem. Mono Red is a very strong deck in Vintage Cube. However, it is regularly under-drafted because it isn’t what people want to be doing.
That means that Mono White is open in almost every draft, with the cards you want for your deck frequently tabling. While the people who want sweet decks fight over Signets and blue cards, the Mono White player gets their choice every pack. On top of all this, Mono White has ability to combine aggressive cards with disruptive elements to give it a fighting chance against most opponents.
The tools available to Mono White
While Mono White can’t necessarily do anything particularly broken, what it can do is interact well with what the opponent is trying to do.
Your opponent is trying to combo off with Storm? [mtg_card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Vryn Wingmare[/mtg_card] can cause them fits.
Your opponent is armed with lots of spot removal? [mtg_card]Mother of Runes[/mtg_card] says hi.
Artifacts and Enchantments? Meet [mtg_card]Leonin Relic-Warder[/mtg_card].
[mtg_card]Stoneforge Mystic[/mtg_card] finds [mtg_card]Skullclamp[/mtg_card] as removal insurance or card advantage, [mtg_card]Batterskull[/mtg_card] against aggression, [mtg_card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/mtg_card] against creature decks, and Swords against the right colour pair.
[mtg_card]Swords to Plowshares[/mtg_card] is the best creature removal spell in the Cube, while [mtg_card]Council’s Judgment[/mtg_card] is a flexible answer to any permanent which even gets around protection and hexproof.
Mono Red is often referred to as the ‘fun police’ of Cube. Well Mono White gives it a run for its money by having such a broad suite of answers at its disposal.
But there must be something good against Mono White, right? And there is. But there are some problems with that.
The lack of natural predators to Mono White
The best solution to a deck that’s largely creature-based is of course to kill its creatures. Even better: use cards like [mtg_card]Wrath of God[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Damnation[/mtg_card] and kill ’em all at once.
Problem solved, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, many decks in Vintage Cube run few or no creatures, and the ones they do run tend to gain them value anyway. So if you load up your deck with removal spells, you’re going to end up drawing a load of dead cards. As a result, most Vintage Cube decks run only a couple of removal spells, and will sometimes leave wrath effects in the sideboard.
One type of wrath effect that can be run main-deck is Wildfire. Wildfire decks prey on creature decks as a part of their natural strategy. But those types of decks are a lot harder to achieve nowadays, thanks to the relative scarcity of mana rocks.
This lack of removal is greatly exploited by Mono White, which often can’t afford to play around removal in fear of giving the opponent time to reach their more powerful late game.
Is this a problem for Vintage Cube?
Next time Vintage Cube rolls around on Magic Online, it’ll be December. And it’s more than likely that Mono White will remain a very powerful deck. Does that mean that our leagues will be over-run with the Mono White menace?
I don’t think so. Firstly, the archetype isn’t that popular, due to the lack of sweetness factor mentioned above. Even though I knew I’d have a good win rate with Mono White during this Cube season, I didn’t attempt to play it very often. Why? Because I valued sweet Cube decks over powerful ones. The same is true for many others who play Cube – who Cube for fun, rather than to grind Player Points.
And when Vintage Cube first comes back on to Magic Online, people tend to gravitate towards the cube staples like Storm, Reanimator and ramp.
And even if Mono White does become more popular, then the self-correcting nature of draft comes in. When it’s harder to get a top-tier White deck, overall those decks become less powerful. And if people start facing a lot of creature-based aggro decks in their Cube leagues, then more removal spells will creep in to decklists, weakening Mono White naturally.
So what do I suggest? Next time Vintage Cube rolls around, alternate drafting Mono White with some of your sweeter brews. You might not have as much fun, but you’ll probably win a whole lot – which of course, funds those drafts where you get to go deep.
And me? I’ll probably go into hibernation until Cube time rolls around again. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for reading,