There are certain cards that, when I see them, their allure is too strong for me to resist. They are like sirens: sometimes they sit on rocks, tempting me from the shore to crash my ship if my deck is not meant for the card, and sometimes they are like train horns, blaring, blasting, and letting you know that it’s all aboard the Awesome Express. Today I’m going to talk about a few of them and why I love them. Some will be cards that are inherently powerful—what can I say, I like inherently powerful cards—and others, well, the power level is lacking in comparison to what is typically found in a list; I know it can be “boring” to read “good card is good”, but it’s fun to write about good cards. Either way, they’re all cubeable cards.
Recurring Nightmare: When I had no idea what I was doing in magic and what cube was really all about, Recurring Nightmare opened the doors and showed me the strength and possibilities of a deck. My brother Pete, my friend Kirk, and I used to play cube ~4+ years ago where we drafted 5 packs of 15 and played multiplayer games. Games were always degenerate slugfests, matches were slow, and no one played red. We had a lot of fun! My introduction to cube was a bit of a trial-by-fire, but at that time my brother Pete was just starting on his own cube so we were all learning about the format and figuring out what worked and why at worked. By that point I had been playing only about a year—most likely less—since when I last played in elementary school back when Ice Age was a set to Mercadian Masques block. As a child, I didn’t understand the intricacies of the game, and I really only knew the basics from playing through some casual constructed games from decks Pete made from his large card collection. The decks were nice, but they didn’t “go off” like some cube decks can.
Then either Pete or Kirk made a Recurring Nightmare deck after it was added to the cube, and my view of cube went from “yeah, these games are pretty cool” to “what the fuck just happened?” The beating was thorough, the scars laid, and the ambition set. From the very first beating I receive, to all the others I’ve given and been given to, I loved this card. I even built my deck around it when we did the 3-man rotisserie draft with Sky’s cube. A solid cube environment will naturally lend itself to making Recurring Nightmare insane.
The trick with Recurring Nightmare is to have a deck full of value creatures. Creatures that make armies, kill other guys, or have other abilities when they enter the battlefield are all ideal, as you’ll be able to cycle guys in and out of the graveyard and activate their abilities multiple times. Because Nightmare only costs 3, in late game scenarios you’re allowed multiple castings and activations, pushing you ahead of your opponent by being able to re-use the same cards over and over. Once a Recurring Nightmare resolves, it’s nigh impossible not to pull the activation off if you have a switch set up. By returning the Nightmare to your hand as part of the activation, you protect it against any disenchants or what-not by being out of play before they have a chance to react. There will be times you leave it out there, like if you’re facing a deck with known discard that you haven’t seen, but it has the possibility to be an “invulnerable” engine for you.
It’s surprising when drafting how late this card will come when I would cube draft on cockatrice. It would be pack 2 or 3 and I’d often see it pick 5 or 6. There might be a couple decks to my left or right that can’t use it, but Recurring Nightmare is good enough in decks with creatures that you try and find a way to splash it if your deck is about that speed. For players unfamiliar with the card, it might be tough to really gauge value of the recurring effect, as it good be dismissed as another reanimation effect that’s “worse” because you have to sacrifice a creature. Sometimes I’ll be playing a deck where I can’t take it and I have to pass it (aggressive decks, combo), but otherwise I will find a way to play the Nightmare if my deck runs creatures.
Dream Halls: If I open a pack 1 in the MTGO cube and there’s a Dream Halls sitting there, my gears shift and I really lock in and focus. Storm Combo is a tough deck to build, but also a powerful and rewarding deck when done right. It can stand toe-to-toe with any deck in the format; all the storm combo deck needs is the right turn. You’re only fearing the instant-speed disenchant and counters, and if you can drop the Dream Halls and have the ability to go off while you’re tapped out, then it’s tough to stop the ball from rolling.
Since the storm combo deck is so stream lined, I rarely like to commit to the deck past the first pack. The earlier the better, as the picks will be clearer and you can put the blinders on for storm combo cards. When you commit in pack 2 or 3, you need some kind of control shell heavy with card draw, and even then there is a good chance that you’re going to have at least 1 high pick that is unplayable in storm, along with a missed Empty the Warrens or Tendrils of Agony. If it’s p1p1-4 and I get a Dream Halls, I’m pretty much always instantly moving into the archetype. The odds are long, but with many cube drafts under my belt with the MTGO cube, I’ve hit them and cracked the Dream Halls in the first pack a bunch.
The best part about the Dream Halls combo deck is the surprise. I’ve won one game at 2 life once, and I’ve won on t3 before, and the feeling of blowing them out when you should be dead or still playing is always marvelous. You’re on the ropes, hoping for a chance, and when that window opens and you can go through, it feels like you just evolved into Charizard.
Griselbrand: To give you an idea for how much I love this demon, at the pre-release I bought sleeves for my deck; on the back was the Griseldaddy, keeping it real…really awesome. The biggest of the baddies and one of the baddest too, he flies around gaining you life, drawing you cards, and making your opponent want to scoop.
There are a variety of different decks that want a Griselbrand as well. In the Show and Tell/Eureka decks, you can either drop him on his own with the Show and Tell to start instantly drawing cards and probably outracing opponents with card advantage, or you can drop him after a Eureka chain to re-fill and help you guarantee a victory as you can back up your permanents. In reanimator you can sneak him in, and if you’re looking for targets and have the life, 7 cards can usually do it, if not the 14. Even in control decks he’s possible. BBBB is quite a tough cost to pay, but once he’s on the board you can draw into all your counter spells and removal along with gaining a bunch of life when you attack or block with him. In the combo deck he’s an essential piece too, as he refills your hand with gas needed to go off and win the game.
Take warning: Griselbrand is not meant for every black deck. I’ve seen far too many players jam him into a black deck just because they are playing black. Even though he costs 8 and color commitments mean less by that point on the curve, you need to be playing a deck with either a ton of fixing or a heavy black commitment to make Griselbrand a castable option if you’re not trying to sneak him in. The temptation is strong, but holding onto a Griselbrand because you’re stuck at 3 swamps is probably a sucky feeling.
Upheaval: As you can see from this list, I’m a fan of ridiculous cards. Archetypes that exist because of the high power level of a single card appeal to me; strong plays from a single spell that turn the game around is my style of magic, instead of gaining incremental value through a series of smaller or quicker plays. Upheaval is the big-ol bomb ready to drop on baghdad, clearing the board and often filling yours up. It’s rare that I’ll pass an upheaval, as I love to be blue and if I’m playing blue then I’m probably going to be playing Upheaval.
I like to go in two different directions with Upheaval: mana stones or going UG. With mana stones, I prioritize signets as they allow me to have my base be blue and to splash of off them. Having blue as your base color seems strongest, as you have access to all the card draw that will allow you to get to your Upheaval, along with the counters and soft removal to keep your life total comfy. With green it’s pretty obvious that I’m looking to ramp off of mana dorks and cultivate-style spells. Green is fairly worse because you have less of a chance of being able to replay all your spells as you’re often ramping up with spells that put lands into play instead of castable permanents, but it’s much easier to spread the mana and get the colors that you need. In addition, green gives you access to Thragtusk, which is one of the best Upheaval cards in my opinion. Being able to go Thragtusk, Upheaval, and then have an empty board with at least a 3/3 beast on your side is, frankly, nuts. You can of course play both signets and green ramp spells; aka cake and ice cream.
Upheaval is nice because, for the most part, it’s fairly effortless. You’re trying to stay alive until you can get to your upheaval, and if you don’t need it you can use it as a fail-safe in case the situation goes drastically wrong. If you have a planeswalker on the board that’s doing the job for you, there’s no reason to cast upheaval until you know it will get you or you can replicate your board completely without fear of instant speed disruption from your opponent. It’s pretty awful to burn an upheaval when you don’t need to, only for your opponent to climb back into the game.
In the future I’ll write about more cards, as this is a fun series to do. (Liking about cards you like is fun—who’d-a thunk?) If there are any selections people enjoy especially and want to see a little written about, leave a comment or shoot us an e-mail!