Let’s do another pack 1 pick 1!
Thirst for Knowledge
Braids, Cabal Minion
Path to Exile
The list: http://www.cubetutor.com/viewcube/15861
This is quite the pack. I’m considering half the pack, though not all cards are made equal in that grouping. For likely choices, these are my options: Tundra, Upheaval, Restoration Angel, Sylvan Caryatid, Braids, Cabal Minion, Jace Beleren, Path to Exile, and Shriekmaw. The lands I didn’t mention aren’t nearly strong enough to consider; Lone Missionary is filler or a niche sideboard card; Thirst for Knowledge is kind of underwhelming in an unpowered cube; Mana Tithe is sweet but I’d never take it first; Pestermite belongs to a specific deck that is crazy to assume is open at this point; and Prophetic Bolt is kind of boring and expensive here. Beyond that, everything is up for grabs to some degree, and I’d like to go through and consider the pros and cons of each.
Tundra is a safe pick with some upside. Duals are great if you want to stay open, and UW duals are some of the best as splashing for white removal or playing blue in general can be a good call. I am also a fan of drafting UW, as you can either go with a tempo or control build; in both of those decks, Tundra is great since it’s important to be able to cast your spells when you need to in cube as you can’t afford to sit around as your opponent goes through their hand and deck. In this pack Tundra is not the best option as you are passing some top-tier white and blue cards. The blue cards would be a signal to me to go into blue, and the white cards here are easy enough to splash that it would be shocking to see them return in an 8 man draft. Taking Tundra and immediately launching into UW could be crazy, as it’s better to read what is passed to you then what you pass since the people on the right will be supplying you with a majority of your packs and reads.
Upheaval is a classic cube card that has always been powerful, but it’s much more of a commitment in my cube where the powered and fast-mana starts are less abundant. (As an aside I’m considering removing signets as they are really powerful compared to the non-signet ramp available for an unpowered cube, but that’s a conversation in another day.) You need to prioritize the artifact ramp as you see it or go into UG to really see Upheaval’s power in most games. In blue control decks Upheaval is fine as a pseudo wipe, but against a lot of decks you will still need to go through with all the bells and whistles that the original early game presented you with. Upheaval is powerful enough that it’s one of the stronger contenders here, but it’s less of a slam-pick in my cube than it would be in a powered cube such as Sky’s. Regardless, I would be completely OK with taking it here and can definitely end up with a sweet deck.
The more I play with Restoration Angel, the more I love it. A 3/4 flier for 3W with flash is already pretty beefy. She’s a surprise blocker or EOT-attacker a good amount of the time, and then when you flash something with an ETB effect you’re actually swimming in a tub full of gravy…because she’s gravy…get it? Sorry. ANYWHO, cube is full of creatures that do stuff when they come into play, with enough in white that you’re not relying on other colors to make it useful such as Opposition sometimes does in blue. (Master of Waves has helped support Opposition for me; I can understand the reservations some may have with playing a Cloudgoat that murders your kitkins when he leaves, but Master of Waves has been way more powerful in practice than theory.) As a splash Restoration Angel totally works well; a single white is so easy to reach by 4 mana in cube where fixing is abundant. Restoration Angel, like the Path and Shriekmaw, keeps you the most open while still giving you a card that “does stuff” i.e. gives you a powerful effect to work towards supporting or including. Restoration Angel is one of my top choices here.
A big problem in green is keeping the 1-2 land hands that “work” because you have that elf or Wall of Roots that will help you reach your Cultivate/Rampant Growth/what-have you, and then watching that hand and subsequently the game crumble as your opponent bolts or STPs your guy and your draws are terrible. Sylvan Caryatid has given green an option to work around this problem while also performing other roles. At a minimum, a 0/3 body is enough to stop aggression, but adding any color mana reliable on the next turn lets you figure out your future plays much easier. As the only green card in the pack, it sends a clear signal that is worth noting and if you get passed green good stuff you can all but guarantee a second pack that continues to bloom. The sick, ramp-player-4-eva in me would have a hard time passing Caryatid in this spot, and Caryatid is definitely a top contender. Being just a ramp card without giving me a unique or powerful way to interact with my opponent’s board and mess with their lifestyle makes me sad to pass so much good stuff, but Caryatid at least lets me cast my big things without really caring what my opponent is doing. Likely not the pick, but wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
Braids, Cabal Minion is either loved or hated. People either think she’s soul-crushing, or find her kind of useless. Obviously I think she’s great because I’m considering taking her here, but compared to all my other options she’s one of the biggest commitments to a deck. The Braids deck—which uses tokens, recurrable permanents, and an early/faster board to peck away at them as they struggle to stay afloat to take the game away by applying a symmetrical effect in an asymmetrical way—is menacing and kind of like a bully, holding your opponent down by the neck as you give them little slaps to death. There have been games where the turn 4 Braids on the play resolves and your opponent has 3 lands and doesn’t draw a replacement. She is not good against every deck, but where she shines she shines hard and the more focused you are on the Braids/Pox package, the easier it is to still use the attrition to win against other fast/”fast” decks. In this spot I don’t take her as I like to side towards more conservative picks regarding my mana when the power level of my choices are similar. Like, if Jace, the Mind Sculptor was in this pack I take him every time because he’s that much better than what my other options are. But nothing here jumps out as so-much-better, so a more versatile or powerful card would be a better choice.
Jace Beleren is the blue Phyrexian Arena; this is a compliment. Draw 3 for 1UU sounds like a great deal, and Jace is that and more. (More drawn out, but still.) If you choose to tick him down to death, he is a draw 3 for 1UU, as previously stated. If you want to let your opponent draw one every once in a while so you can keep on drawing, he can net you more value if not some life gain from your opponent attacking him instead of you. And if you have the game on lock without a typical win-con that attacks for damage, Jace’s + ability will mill most decks by that point when you can reach a point to activate it. Jace is like Braids here in that I’m more likely to take a different or more powerful card because of how much of a mana commitment it is, but I am a moth at times with magic and blue can be the light that shines the brightest. (Ignore previous “green-4-lyfe” mumbo-jumbo.)
Path to Exile can be worse than Swords to Plowshares, but we’re comparing gold to platinum here. Fairly unconditional removal of a creature permanently is highly sought after when graveyards can be abused in an abundance of ways. Against reanimator or regrowth decks killing the threat cannot be enough when they return it soon after. At one mana it’s easy to keep open, and one of the best pieces of creature removal. The drawback is not negligible and definitely is worse than giving your opponent life, but there are many points where they can do nothing special with that basic land and giving them that card in the form of a land is a sweet trade. Path to Exile is a safe pick here and a top consideration, but probably not the best one.
Shriekmaw is really two spells: a sorcery doomblade, and a 3/2 fear doomblade for 5. The first part is nowhere close to cubeable at this point, but that ability attached to a creature with evasion is awesome. Being black is so much better for Shriekmaw as you have graveyard shenanigans that turn Shriekmaw into a 2+ for 1. I feel that Shriemaw is kind of underrated since the five-mana version is kind of expensive for a 2 toughness creature, but perhaps I’m delusional. It can be dangerous to splash for Shriekmaw as the real black deck will nullify his ability, and if they can somehow blink or bounce their non-black creatures then there are times where you are forced to destroy your own creature—that is shitty. But that is also quite rare. Shriekmaw is great. Shriekmaw could be the right choice here, but I don’t know—it’s a tough decision!
Ultimately I think I’m going to take Restoration Angel. Upheaval has the higher upside, but Restoration Angel comes down faster while also giving you the option to blow out your opponent in so many different ways. Caryatid is the only green card and a strong one at that, but Restoration Angel is enough stronger to make it a no contest.
What would you take? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading!