Arena Cube Open Postmortem
This past weekend we had the first-ever Arena Cube Open. This is my first time playing cube for anything of tangible value and it’s simply awesome. I was the fortunate recipient of my third $2k check in the past four Limited Opens. Needless to say, I hope they continue to have Limited Opens as regularly as possible.
This time the Open format and prep time were a little different. They only gave us three days to play the cube prior to the Open, and limited time prepping for Limited is in my wheelhouse.
I quickly identified UR Combo Control as my favorite archetype to play, and one of, if not the strongest decks in the format. While I haven’t power ranked the Cube, cards like Fable of the Mirror Breaker, Alrund’s Epiphany, and Oracle of the Alpha are some of the strongest cards in the cube.
Oracle may be the most controversial of the bunch, but when played on curve, the live top decks are incredibly scary and almost always applicable. A Mox drawn on turns four through six can still be a huge difference maker. Obviously, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, and even Black Lotus are insane draws deeper into the game. Blue decks are often drawing tons of cards only held in check by their mana, so Moxes are good draws in big turns as you churn through mana.
You want your Moxes to be even better? Well, Displacer Kitten is a messed-up card, and you can easily get stuff like Champion of Wits or Aether Channeler to turn top-decked Moxes into cantrips. A curve of Alpha of the Oracle into Mircomancer is also incredible, as it gives you board presence and a guaranteed Ancestral.
Let’s take a look at a few UR decks I managed to screenshot.
Examples of UR Trophy decks:
UR is a deck that provides a lot of agency and allows you to play the most combo-type stuff the cube has to offer. Mizzix’s Mastery is a versatile card, and it’s easy to work towards with a bunch of cheap removal and cards like Big Score to ramp to it. It’s a one-card combo in itself and just requires the eight mana and a good deck.
In general, almost all the cards I want to play have an impact on the board in some regard. Expensive card draw like Memory Deluge is often too slow unless backed up with a few sweepers to make up for the lost tempo. Still, when an aggressive deck is able to diversify threats with creatures, planeswalkers, and creature lands, it’s too difficult to come back from behind in this iteration of the cube. I like to focus on cheap mana commitments for card selection and card advantage, such as Expressive Iteration and Search for Azcanta. While I was a bit low on Search at first, it’s vastly overperformed for me.
Many of my decks focus on playing similar to Ondrej Strasky’s Standard deck from last year’s Worlds. I’m focusing on copying Alrdund’s Epiphany or Fight with Fire kicked. We have Mirari’s Conjecture and Double Vision to accomplish copy spells. Both can be win cons on their own when you load your deck up with cheap interaction. If you get four or five one-mana spells, Double Vision goes from meme to quite good, as you can sequence them together on the same turn to untap and go deeper. It’s the harder way to get multiple turns stacked, but I accomplished this several times in UB and was Oracle of the Alphaing a Time Walk into my deck and copying it with Sea Gate Stormcaller.
Leading into the Open, I planned on forcing UR the whole time but had some pivots. While someday I plan to write an in-depth article on pivoting, for now I’ll state that it’s a concept in drafts where you have a preferred archetype that you learn to draft, but when your deck isn’t open, you’re able to pivot into archetypes in similar colors.
For example, with this cube I planned to draft strictly Grixis colors with a strong preference for blue early to cut it and avoid green and white entirely. I went in with a preference for UR and was only planning to pivot into UB if red wasn’t open, as Mono Red was also a popular archetype that may be overdrafted at any particular table. Black and red play similarly in these controlling blue decks since you want cheap removal to work towards your expensive top end. I find the black removal to be not as efficient, and the red top end, specifically Mizzix Mastery, is better at closing than UB finishers, particularly The Scarab God.
Here are my example UB Trophy decks:
I felt the power level in this cube was fairly flat, so you’re almost always going to cater to your own biases and comfort zones. Thus, that was the plan, and draft one went as planned.
This is the deck I used to battle. I didn’t love my deck because I felt I was in an awesome spot after pack one. I wheeled Strangle and Grim Lavamancer indicating to me that red was open. An important aspect of this deck is the cheap removal. While I only saw a Strangle and wheeled it, I thought I could pick up an Unholy Heat, a Fiery Impulse, and/or a Lightning Bolt and have a solid interactive deck that can explode at the top end. I was especially excited after opening the Epiphany, as that’s my favorite card to use to close the game. Unfortunately, about half of my deck came from pack one, and I didn’t get much after that. I only saw a Spikefield Hazard as cheap interaction, which I took my first or second much-needed dual land over.
I didn’t find any sweepers outside of Star of Extinction, which also made my deck a lot weaker to aggro, an archetype I expected to be overrepresented.
After losing to Chris Larsen‘s solid Boros Aggro deck in round one, I thought I’d lose to aggro again, but I managed to squeak out a few more wins to make it to draft two.
In between the first and second round I saw this tweet from J-E Depraz, someone I deeply respect as a player and one of the best active players in the world:
I never tried BR Sac in the cube, as I was focused on blue, but I thought, “Well, I have an hour and a half or so until the next draft. I’ll hop in a draft and force it to see how it goes.” I drafted a really nice BR Deck, played a few rounds, and dropped undefeated to get back in the queue to draft once more to see if I could replicate it and add it as a potential pivot option in the colors I like drafting. While I was constantly forcing blue, occasionally I’d leave some value on the table.
Here’s the second deck, which is worse than the first, but it played out a bit better than expected:
When we get to the second draft, I used my newfound insight to draft this:
It wasn’t red, as red was not open, but black was wide open, and I got everything I could want except a few value lands like a Mutavault, Hive of the Eye Tyrant, or a Castle Locthwain. I’d have also liked a card like Heartless Act or Go for the Throat to add a bit more removal.
I cut the Blade of the Oni for Retrofitter Foundry in the final list I registered. Foundry ended up being one of the better cards in my deck. It’s a lot stronger than it looks. I was never worried about playing my combo blue decks since it was too slow, and I could go over the top of it easily. It provides a way to go wide and big and provide fuel for Yawgmoth, which was the true MVP of the deck.
This deck was a pure delight. It was more of a sacrifice deck that I thought it was and won games I thought might be unwinnable. I made the mistake twice of cutting Massacre Wurm from my deck when I thought it wasn’t great, but the static ability was extremely good even if the opponent creatures were larger. Mazemind Tome was by far the worst card in my deck. I played it for flood protection, but my deck was mana hungry and finding time to activate the tome to draw cards was nearly impossible. I may have drawn one or two cards total with it in all four rounds. A 3/1 Menace for two mana turned out to be the better play in my match-ups, as I played against almost all midrange decks.
I ended up running the table from my first round loss and taking home the $2k check, but the most fun part of this experience was learning the format in a couple of days, making some conclusions, and sticking to my guns on them being flexible enough to capitalize. When you have infinite time to test for a Limited format, you can spend time learning to draft everything. This was the experience I had for Worlds, as we had something like seven weeks to prepare, but learning a format in under a week is a lot more fun, and it lets you focus on learning and leveraging a few specific aspects.
My advice for this cube is to draft what you like and learn your pivots. Figure out what a great deck looks like, then try to copy that as close as possible. For example, if you love playing aggro decks, focus on drafting Mono White, Mono Red, and Boros Aggro. Figure out which, if any, are open and what to do if your deck isn’t open.
Additionally, focus more on early parts of your curve, as spending mana early is important. While Fiery Impulse may not look all that good, it’s really good at trading up on mana, which is important. Good one- and two-mana spells are key to this format. Only pass on them for the best actual top-end and midrange threats. If you miss out on one or two four- or five-drops, you’ll find another that’s almost as good.
While I love the Arena cube, a lot of the decks end up looking similar. Rather than look at people’s decks for what they have, I mostly look to see what pieces they are missing. While I’ve seen people pushing to have Arena Cube Opens regularly, I think once every few months would be best to keep it from becoming stale.
From here I’ll look to start focusing on Pioneer for the upcoming Pro Tour in February, but I hope I get to cash a couple of more $2k checks in the meantime.
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