Step 1: Don’t do any research before drafting. Just dive right in!
Step 2: Ignore the aggro decks.
Step 3: Draft “Spell Pierce” like you’re playing Legacy cube.
By engaging with this article, you’re already violating Step 1 on your way to winning more games of Arena Cube. Personally, learning a new Draft set is the peak of Magic excitement and enjoyment. So when I had a few precious hours of free time to learn the basics of Historic for this weekend’s Mythic Qualifier… I drafted Arena Cube, naturally.
Losing wasn’t exactly by design, but drafting in the dark certainly was. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t is a huge part of the fun for me, and boy oh boy did I learn what doesn’t work. We’ll take a look at some Arena Cube pitfalls, busted cards, and underperformers. Let’s Talk Limited!
Ignore the Aggro Decks (if you want to lose)
If you’d like to consistently lose games in Arena Cube, draft as if aggro decks don’t exist. Draft as if you can start casting cards on turn 3 every game and be just fine. Go ahead and draft that way – and you will get crushed like I did. The aggro decks in Arena Cube are no joke and probably some of the best decks in the format.
Decks I desperately tried to draft: Ramp, Mill, Field of the Dead.
Decks I actually won with: Red.
I’ll be seeing Goblin Banneret in my nightmares. The red decks are so good that my losses usually aren’t due to Embercleave or Experimental Frenzy – they just play creatures while I try to Cultivate.
Quick reminder that Glorybringer is still Glorybringer and no life total is safe with a single blocker.
Mountain mages should have a (fire)blast with Arena Cube. Red is stocked full of threats that will kill your greedy opponents (e.g. me) effectively while they durdle.
Luminarch Aspirant is miserable to play against. So is Adanto Vanguard. So is Seasoned Hallowblade. So is Maul of the Skyclaves. I guess White aggro is just miserable to play against. Committing to White allows you to play Benalish Marshal on curve which is just unfair.
When I finally broke down and consumed some content based on the last iteration of Arena Cube in December, general consensus ranked Black as the worst color. I don’t know how much has changed since then, but my opponents have been quite happy to play 1-drop into 2-drop into hand disruption and then kill me.
Not pictured: Black removal spells. Rest assured, they’re abundant in the Cube.
The Boros decks I’ve seen have looked great, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see great Rakdos lists, but I suspect drafting mono-color aggro decks will lead to a higher win percentage in the long run.
This isn’t Legacy
Stop drafting Spell Pierce and putting it in your deck. Just stop it. Right now. Stop it.
Thanks for joining my internal monologue.
My first deck in the format was a beautiful Azorius Mill list designed to beat creature decks. I quickly lost to two opposing Mill decks and a Field of the Dead deck. This small sample size first impression gave me a horrendous picture of the format. I started taking cards like Ashiok Dream render and Midnight Clock far earlier than I should have just to beat Control mirrors.
It’s still Limited. You still need ways to deal with creatures.
If you want to mill your opponent (I do!), there are plenty of options to choose from. One of my mistakes early on was putting too many Mill pieces in my deck. I’d be milling my opponent for four with Ashiok while they’re attacking me back for 6. Not a great exchange. These days, I’m much more likely to grab something like Teferi’s Tutelage or Folio of Fancies with Fae of Wishes later in the game rather than filling my main deck with too many mill engines.
If you want to build control/mill decks, you can do that, but you’ll be facing a variety of decks including the aforementioned aggro decks as well as Control mirrors so lining up your answers with their threats can be difficult (as is usually the case with Control).
Since we’re talking about Blue, might I interest you in a Shark Typhoon? I have no idea what the win rates are, but Shark Typhoon gets my vote for most fun card to take Pack 1 Pick 1 and build around. It’s barrels of fun, but I suspect its win rate is also quite high as it’s nearly impossible for most opponents to deal with the shark storm if you untap after resolving it.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
The answer: Standard, Legacy, Cube Draft, pretty much everywhere she exists.
Question: Where is Chandra, Torch of Defiance excellent?
You can add to the board with the two extra mana, kill an opposing threat, or just start generating card advantage. Four-cost Chandra does it all and is stone cold excellent.
Oracle of Mul Daya
I’ve seen this card played on coverage. I’ve read it and I understand what the words mean. And yet… the first time I put two lands from the top of my deck directly into play, I thought maybe it was some type of Arena bug. This card is completely absurd. For those who don’t know, playing a card from the top of your deck is like drawing a card so Oracle of Mul Daya can potentially ramp you and draw you extra cards every turn. Riiiiiidiculous.
Honorable Mention: Elder Gargaroth. Some decks just can’t beat that card on turn 5. Also, Esika’s Chariot is great in Cube too.
Tergrid, God of Fright
In Kaldheim Draft the goal is usually to play Tergrid’s Lantern, but you can cast the God of Fright if need be. That’s not so clearly the case in Arena Cube. The Cube is packed with discard spells and sacrifice effects. Even if you don’t have a ton of sacrifice effects, opponents play cards like Hedron Archive, Mind Stone, and Terramorphic Expanse.
Don’t misunderstand me – the Artifact side of Tergrid is still a great way to close out a game – but creature side of Tergrid is significantly better in Cube than Kaldheim Draft.
If making a ton of cheap 4/4 angels is your thing, this card is for you! Elspeth Conquers Death is among the best cards in the entire cube but I wanted to include this Kaldheim addition because it’s bused and oh so splashable after it’s been foretold.
Thassa & Gonti
I have no idea why Gonti stealing my cards makes me so miserable, but it does. And you can make your opponent miserable every turn with these two cards!
Hornet Queen & Return of the Wildspeaker
When my opponent played a swarm of 1/1 flying deadly units, I sure didn’t expect to die the next turn thanks to an instant speed green pump spell on my next turn. Thanks Arena Cube!
Scute Swarm & Lands
A classic combination. Didnt mention it in busted cards, but the Swarm plan is very real.
Waking the Trolls
Your aggro opponents don’t care if you destroy one of their lands on turn 6. Your fellow Ramp opponents might be enacting their gameplan more effectivley than you are so you get 1 or zero trolls. This card is so much worse than in Kaldheim Draft.
I can’t be reasonable when I see this card in a draft set. Icy will always be serviceable in a limited deck, but I’ve found the cost to be a real liability against the aggro decks in the format.
There are tons of ways to mill your opponent. No shortage or removal or burn spells. But some deck roles are harder than others to fill in Arena Cube.
There are only two one-mana accelerators in the format – Llanowar Elves and Gilded Goose – so they should be taken aggressively if you want to pursue Green Ramp.
Sweepers* – Doomskar, Ondu Inversion, Cleansing Nova, Realm-Gloaked Giant *Thank you to Reddit user u/crispytofugremlin for informing me about the ones that I missed!
“Sweepers” – Languish, Crippling Fear, Magmaquake
Golos. Just being Golos is unique enough but here’s Field of the Dead as well.
Now that Ugin is no longer in the cube, exiling two permanents with Ulamog and then milling your opponent for 20 is the most busted thing you can do in the format.
There are a few X burn spells, but I’ve found Devil’s Play makes killing your opponent much easier than most.
The mana base in your typical limited deck is, to be clear, atrocious. We play 17 lands with a 9/8 split out of necessity. You can do better in Cube and should probably be drafting lands more aggressively than you are. Even your two-color decks should have 3-4 dual lands in them.
The one thing I truly didn’t expect while drafting Arena Cube was to enjoy it so much even while losing. Getting crushed by my opponents’ sweet decks hasn’t detracted me at all from wanting to draft more. Arena Cube is a blast, there are so many possibilities to what you can build, and figuring out how to do it well is a huge part of the fun. If you’d like to win while playing Arena Cube, I highly recommend you do your research. Like all great limited sets, Arena Cube rewards the well informed. After about 10 drafts or so, I listened to this episode of LR, read LSV’s Ultimate Guide to Cube (CFB Pro), and this Comprehensive Guide to Arena Cube from MTGA zone.
My Arena Cube decks are just a turn too slow right now. I seem to always be half a step behind my opponent. That’s fine – that’s room for improvement. That means I get to draft more and draft with purpose. I expected to enjoy Arena Cube but I’m absolutely loving it (to the point where I actually bought gems. Ya know, cuz of all the losing.) Win or lose, you’ll probably love Arena Cube if you enjoy drafting. My usual advice to drafters is Be Boring (an Eternal article I wrote about building better decks. Most parts also apply to Magic) but in Arena Cube? Be bonkers. Be bananas. Just slam cards that you want to play and have fun with them. This drafter can’t wait to hear about what cool combinations you discover.
-Schaab, Draft Enthusiast
Writing about draft is a hobby of mine that started last summer while I was preparing for the 2020 Eternal Draft Championship. If you’re not familiar with it, Eternal is fantastic game with an even better community. The draft format is excellent and I’ll be publishing an article in the near future telling you, Magic player, why you should check out Eternal. I’m not affiliated with Eternal or its parent company in any way.
You can find all of my work at LetsTalkLimited.com. This is my second Magic-specific article (First one- The UnderDrafted Undead: Rise of the Dread Marn)but I’m sure there will be more in the future and many of the articles I’ve written about drafting and gameplay are applicable to both Magic and Eternal.
A few card evaluation/gameplay articles of mine you might enjoy:
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