The MTGO Unpowered cube will always be running cards that aren’t seen many other places or at all; at this point it’s a staple of their style. Instead of running what is considered standard or even strong, they run what they want. To a point, this is pretty cool, as there are a bunch of cards that would never even be considered that end up pretty nice. On the other end of the spectrum, your packs will have terrible cards in them, some of them pretty much unplayable.
I wrote one article on this subject a bit ago. Since then, the cube has changed considerably, and with the recent return on April ~30th, a lot of cards have been added and removed. I’ll look at some cards, talk about why they shouldn’t be in there, and suggest some nice replacements or ask to bring back some cards.
Hand of Honor: This card isn’t awful. Protection from black is always nice, and the Bushido effect could do some good things if you’re attacking into an early board. If you want to support aggressive white decks, you need to run all the one and two drops that support your early curve and fast starts. Aggressive decks don’t exist because of Hero of Bladehold, but because of Isamaru, Elite Vanguard, and the Knights like these guys.
The issue with Hand of Honor is that it is worse than a lot of cards you could be running at the two spot. For starters, I like White Knight a lot more. They both have protection from black, but the First Strike will allow you to get into more boards. Trading your Hand for a 3 powered creature seems pretty awful, but the First Strike can act as a pseudo-unblockability, getting past lower creatures or threatening with instant speed burn if you’re playing RW. Beyond the knight there’s Accorder Paladin, which I feel is important at the 2-drop spot in white. White aggressive decks without red tend to lack in the reach department. Boards can end up cluttered as you can’t attack for lethal, but you also can’t attack favorably without getting one or two of your guys eaten up in combat. The Paladin will allow you and your Shadow guys and other evasion dudes to get in there no problem for more damage once the Battlecry activates.
That brings me to another point—removing the Soltari soldiers was one of the worst things they could’ve done, as they are so crucial to your aggressive decks. If I had the choice between Hand of Honor and Soltari Monk, I take Monk every time. Monk doesn’t worry about being blocked; Monk just lays a beating as there aren’t that many non-shadow guys. You put equipment on one of the monks and you can even make mono white a consistently good archetype. Removing the Soltari bros but still supporting white aggro is baffling.
Removing Dream Halls but Keeping the Storm Cards In: Storm is no longer an archetype. I refuse to believe you can draw well enough while having enough mana to beat the fair and unfair decks in the format in a 40 card deck full of singletons. One of the reasons—and a lot of the times, the ONLY reason—I would go into the storm archetype is because of Dream Halls and how it can break open the format. Now, in an unpowered cube, it’s expected that you’ll be able to get your storm count high enough to actually kill them. How are you supposed to draw all the cards? Are we expected to lean on Palinchron and Heartbeat? Future Sight-Top?
I think that if you consciously decide to put the Storm Combo in your cube, you absolutely need to have Dream Halls. Palinchron/Heartbeat and future sight/top both ask you to have “the combo” ready and set up. Dream Halls asks you to build a deck that draws cards, and to find the Halls itself and put it on the board. It’s a lot easier to search you’re library for one card than it is to try and get two cards together. Any opening hand in the two-card combo deck is not as good if you only get one of the pieces, unlike with Dream Halls which is the sickest against most decks when you have it in your opener in a hand you can keep. On top of the top/sight-Palinchron/Heartbeat construction, you need to have the storm card in your hand. Dream Halls allows you to search for that card, building your storm count as you dig through all your cards, and do it when you have a variety of the cards in your deck instead of two specific ones.
Visara the Dreadful: Visara was once a cool creature that was super powerful. Tapping for Murder is always awesome, and swinging in for 5 in the air is pretty thorough in its own right. The thing about cube is that it includes all sets, and since Visara was printed she has been outclassed enough at a spot in the cube that doesn’t require too many roster seats. How many 6 drops in black are necessary? Enough to run Visara? Probably not. There may be some sentimental value, but she is a bit awkward too. You either have the option to attack or to kill, and there are times where you’ll want to do both but you can’t.
If you absolutely must play another 6 drop, I think Geth is an unconventional choice that has been nice in practice. Having intimidate—in this cast, fear for all intents and purposes—on the 5/5 means there will probably be less blockers out there than flying, since you are one of the black decks at the table. His other ability is pretty cool, though targeting your opponent’s graveyard makes it kind of random and not as reliable. I think the easier-to-cast Geth that can still get in there like Visara, sometimes even better than her, is a much better option than the flying gorgon.
Skullcrack: This card is unplayable. Ok, not unplayable—it’s a super fringe sideboard option that’s still pretty subpar. Cube life gain is either sparsely featured in your deck and randomly drawn or it’s repeatable and nullifies Skullcrack’s ability. Burn that only hits players at that cost is really bad in cube. In just about every situation, other than the random life gain, I’d rather have Incinerate or Searing Spear, which most of the time does what Skullcrack will be doing anyways. These sideboard-only options are really bad, in my opinion; there can be drafts where you never even think about playing the Skullcrack in any game. Wouldn’t it be better if there was another solid burn spell in the pool that players may add to their splash color or their deck for redundancy in their aggressive red decks?
In addition to the Searing Spear, Flames of the Firebrand would be a nice inclusion as well. Arc Lightning effects are great in all sorts of decks. Slower red decks need to hit multiple x/1s and x/2s, while the aggressive decks need to get their creatures in while also dealing an additional damage or two. Functional reprints are obviously not a problem with both Savannah Lions and Elite Vanguard in the cube. Wizards should take the digital version of skullcrack used in the cube and put it in a digital fire and send those ashes far away; skullcrack has no place in a cube of any size. You could build the Skullcrack Cube and I’d still be hesitant running it.
Boreal Druid: Is this card really necessary? More importantly, is it actually good? Ramp is ramp, but that’s only true to a point in cube. In green, you want your ramp making another color of some sort. Without the signets, green is the primary fixing color in cube now, and Boreal Druid doesn’t seem like it really does enough. Green is full of spells with GG or GGG in the casting cost, and part of the reason you can get greedy and play all those while still splashing a bunch of other colors—if you choose to do so—is that all your elves and rooty walls and what-not tap for that second important green in case you rarely only draw the one forest. With Boreal Druid, I don’t think a single colorless does it, as your elders and trolls are uncastable and other colors can’t be hit. Avacyn’s Pilgrim is fine because it still taps for W; Boreal Druid doesn’t help you get anywhere close to greedy.
That all being said, the green section in the MTGO cube is actually pretty nice. Pretty much all the staples and expected archetypes are there. Because the cube is so large—I believe it is still a 720, but I could be wrong there—cards like Boreal Druid and other subpar picks make the cut. And with THAT being said, Phantom Centaur not making the cut is an absolute crime. Phantom Centaur is a certifiable beast, and with all the green ramp cards included, he needs to make it as well. His protection color is relevant, he doesn’t die very easily, and if you’ve got a sword on him he is pretty much unkillable. I like him more than Ulvenwald Tracker as well, as I’d rather have a beater than something that makes my beaters slightly better.
Manriki-Gusari: Equipment can be a problem. That’s definitely true. There have been games where Jittes or Swords take over and there’s nothing you can do about it. But with this iteration of the cube missing two of the swords—who knows why; the darts probably landed on them—Gusari has become a lot worse. A deck would have to be seriously filthy and have a bunch of swords for me to want to run this card, or I would need to have no access to artifact destruction. That would mean I’m playing mono black since every other color has ample artifact destruction, counters, or relevant bounce, so that of course would never happen. Why is Gusari necessary? Instead of having another artifact that makes a bunch of maindecks and is awesome, you have this shitty little thing that gives a shitty little bonus and against a select few decks or a select few cards in the pool is good.
Not running all 5 swords in cube is just weird. If it’s because of budget reasons, I completely understand—they aren’t cheap by any means. But when budget isn’t of concern, then why take them away? Players like playing with swords, and they’re not THAT unbeatable. As previously mentioned, artifact destruction takes care of them. But they’re fun cards with cool effects that can break stalemates wide open and give the aggressive decks that over-the-top edge they sometimes lack.
At the end of the day, any cubing is good cubing. But when budget isn’t an issue, why play all these, frankly, unplayable cards? I play cube because I want to play with the sweet cards, not because I want to dick around with Gusaris, Skullcracks, or other cards which are either sideboard only or strictly unplayable. But, hey, if they want to run these shitty cards, power to them.