Hi everyone, and welcome back to our monthly cube discussion! This time around, I’d like to kick off a new set of articles that cover where it all began for me and my own personal cube journey – Multiplayer cube.
Multiplayer? What Changes?
Firstly, let’s look at what differences a multiplayer cube has over a traditional one. Having multiple opponents to dispatch generally means three things:
- Aggro strategies don’t work (mostly). If you’re trying to win via straight, creature-based aggro, you might be able to kill a single opponent, but you’re probably running out of gas by the time you get to Opponent #2. This means you probably want an aggressive combo, or a suicide deck that bleeds everyone out at once – this can work, but you’ve also got everyone else at the table trying to stop you at the same time (so you’re not exactly going to earn friends). But the aggro cards that find homes in a normal cube won’t do so here.
- The games are going to last longer, so the cube’s mana curve needs to shift to allow for this. In a multiplayer format, you’re going to see a lot less small, aggressive creatures that efficiently drop a single player to 0, and a lot more CMC6+ EDH all-stars that deal with multiple opponents at once. This means not many one-drops, and more heavy hitters at the top end of the curve.
- Anything with “each opponent” written on it is suddenly now very good. I’m looking at you, Cyclonic Rift.
A multiplayer cube will also naturally lend itself to team play. Cubes are traditionally drafted by a pod of eight people, and an eight-player free-for-all can take an eternity. So if you’re drafting this with friends, they’ll often be tempted to split into teams or have some other alternate format (I’ve seen four-on-four, four teams of two, Grand Melee / attack-left, defend-right…). This means that cards like Serra Ascendant that are broken in formats that start at higher life totals are now very much in play for inclusion in the cube.
The Genesis of My Own Multiplayer Cube
The cube format has really been around since 2005 (when this article appeared on Star City Games), but really didn’t start to gain traction as a format until around 2009-2010 (when Tom LaPille and Evan Erwin started to mess around with it). At the end of 2010, my old, weathered playgroup of grizzled veterans from the days of Fallen Empires and Ice Age were suddenly joined by a few newer players – new both in terms of their experience and their available card pools. We started having a few issues where the new guys would reach a critical point in their build-up, only to get blown out of the water by a card they’d never even seen before, let alone owned a copy of. And that’s when I realized that the limited card pool and balanced format of Cube was the answer.
When I went to piece a multiplayer cube together, there was maybe one other guy who had already attempted this, so I just took what I had, filled in the rest with Lorwyn (as we’d recently purchased a full playset of Lorwyn commons and uncommons, and my playgroup loved tribal themes), and started looking for feedback. The gang maybe nixed about five cards total, and we suited up for our first ever cube draft on Valentine’s Day 2011. When one of my new players won a game early on by beating people’s faces in using Sneak Attack, a card he’d only heard of in hushed whispers before that night, it was clear this was going to stick around.
Because you can improve a cube over time, it doesn’t look much like its initial version now (a lot of the Lorwyn cards have gone, but Imperious Perfect still stands as a survivor), but that is more about us as a group finding cards that impact a multiplayer environment better than the stuff we had in there, and less about us putting all the shiny new toys in.
So let’s step through what the cube looks like in its current incarnation, one section at a time. Some of these cards I’m obviously lucky to own, and I’ll have budget suggestions for you at the end of each article. One important point to note is that my playgroup loves multicolor, so we’ve stripped back the monocolored sections to include more gold cards – for this reason, my section numbers look unbalanced in comparison to a traditional cube (but it’s multiplayer, and high-CC cards are okay here, so I can get away with it)!
The White Section
Okay, enough with the history – here’s what my multiplayer cube’s white section looks like now, eight years on:
Firstly, it helps to look at the archetypes being used in the cube, as this explains the more esoteric card choices first.
Given that the cube started out its life tribal, it’s still doing some Soldier and Knight tribal work here. This is why we see Soldier Tribal cards like Mobilization, Field Marshal and Captain of the Watch, Knight Tribal cards like Kinsbaile Cavalier and Knight Exemplar, and a card that ties them both together in glorious harmony in Knight-Captain of Eos.
White/black has a lifegain/bleeder archetype headlined by cards like Vizkopa Guildmage and Karlov of the Ghost Council. This means white wants creatures interested in lifegain like Archangel of Thune, Sunscorch Regent, Auriok Champion and Soul Warden. Ajani’s Pridemate also fits this brief, and happens to be a Soldier for Soldier Tribal, too.
So thirteen of the 45 cards are here solely because of the archetypes I run. That means that the other 32 are cards you should be considering if you start up a multiplayer cube. Let’s have a look at each of them!
Mother of Runes needs no introduction. Even with multiple opponents, Mummy remains one of the hardest things to kill in a cube at any given moment (in fact, the only mortal enemy I’ve found at this level is Endbringer). She remains one of the best one-drops, even in a high-curve Multiplayer cube, and she’ll be saving your game-winning creatures from destruction (or eating removal that was meant for them instead).
Weathered Wayfarer was a card I searched out a few years ago when Land Tax was prohibitively expensive, and when I put it in here, it rewarded me. Land Tax remains the better card, but this is about a third of the price and is almost as good, so it’s well worth grabbing if you’re setting a cube up on a budget. It’s found a particular home in the grindy Orzhov decks that come out of my cube – they’re particularly mana-hungry at times, and the Wayfarer comes down as an early blocker that can solve all the land problems.
Knight of Meadowgrain is one of the few remaining holdovers from the Lorwyn tribal mash that the original cube was. While there are probably better two-drops now, it still ticks the boxes of lifegain and Knight Tribal, and so it has remained. It’s also really good at holding equipment (and it sneakily gains you six life if you make it through to someone’s face while holding Sword of Fire and Ice). Super budget as well!
Remorseful Cleric is a recent addition. We have a couple of players in the playgroup who are fond of the UW Spirits deck in Modern, and there was a fair bit of reanimation work going on on the other side of the table against white. Indeed, there weren’t even that many graveyard removal strategies to begin with (we haven’t had room for Grafdigger’s Cage, Leyline of the Void or Bojuka Bog). So this is in to see how it goes (and it hasn’t offended anyone yet).
Stoneforge Mystic is Stoneforge Mystic. If you have one, play it. It’s bonkers.
Intrepid Hero is a little guy who has been living up to his name. He’s been in my cube a long time, and has hung in there intrepidly and heroically. It’s a Soldier for tribal purposes, and gets truly scary once it gets protected in some way (such as Mother of Runes or Lightning Greaves). At this level, a large proportion of the creatures have power 4 or higher (and they’re usually the biggest threats to boot), so this guy is either busy executing things, behaving as a rattlesnake to those with big threats on the table, or making people think twice about playing their threats in the first place. He ends up playing like an easier-to-cast-and-activate Royal Assassin.
Mirran Crusader is the absolute centerpiece of the Knights with Sticks deck (Knight Tribal + equipment). People forgot how big a Limited house the Crusader was, and complained bitterly when it was reprinted at rare in Modern Masters 2015… until they started winning more boosters with it after they’d drafted it. It hits hard, is hard to get rid of, is one of the nastiest things you can hand a Sword to, and goes into overdrive in this cube with Knight Exemplar sitting next to it.
Mirror Entity is another Lorwyn holdover. It’s hanging on nowadays, but it remains a useful card, especially with decks that create a pile of tokens – it has the ability to turn them all into monsters at instant speed towards the end of the game. It’s also handing out all of the tribal bonuses from the other tribal cards in this color (e.g. Field Marshal, Kinsbaile Cavalier).
Paladin en-Vec is another Knight, and another extremely hard-to-remove one (given it carries protection from probably the two most relevant colors it could pick). While it’s not as good as Mirran Crusader, it remains a fine second.
Transcendent Master has been in the cube since its early days, and is yet to outlive its usefulness. It remains very good at lifegain, but is also a giant threat that has to be dealt with in the mid- to late-game. If you have this on the table with a whole pile of land, someone is going to want to remove it before you manage to make it an indestructible 9/9 (and, from experience, if you do get it to that level, it wins the game, mostly due to the incredible life swing it produces each turn, even if it’s being blocked).
Emeria Angel remains an incredible value card. It easily produces more fliers for you, and can at times act like a Bitterblossom without the life loss if you’re hitting your land drops. I suspect it’s incredible next to Serra the Benevolent too, but I’m yet to try this out.
Hero of Bladehold is another hard-hitting Knight that also happens to produce Soldier tokens for the other tribe in white. It also plays nicely with tokens – Anointed Procession will produce four every attack, and the battle cry ability will make the tokens you’ve already produced an even bigger threat. Couple it with the other tribal cards, and things get out of hand fast.
Restoration Angel is a blink card in a cube that doesn’t have many, but it finds a slot anyway on account of being such a good Limited card. Don’t sleep on it.
Sublime Archangel is not only a large flying threat itself, but it will also turn token decks increasingly dangerous. It’s also particularly cheap to purchase a copy at the moment, thanks to its Ultimate Masters reprint.
Baneslayer Angel is still Baneslayer Angel. If you have one, run it. Its abilities are even more relevant in this cube, given that red has a strong Dragon Tribal element – this is one card red is likely to want to burn off the table very quickly.
Wingmate Roc is a card that actually gets better in multiplayer. It’s so much easier to find a vulnerable person to attack for the raid trigger when there’s multiple targets to choose from! So the Roc is essentially two 3/4 fliers for five mana here, along with some lifegain stapled on to boot.
And finally, Sun Titan is still the fun titan. In this cube, it recurs all the Swords, Seal of Primordium, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Eternal Witness, Yavimaya Elder… and that’s just the green cards it’s often seen in conjunction with. We keep finding new applications for it. Some day, someone is going to pair it with Remorseful Cleric to horrific effect.
Enlightened Tutor not only works with the enchantress archetype, but also fetches the equipment. One mana tutors… gotta love them.
Luminarch Ascension is one of those cards that is mostly useless one-on-one, but becomes incredible in multiplayer environments. If you can set up some level of defence and then drop this in a game with several players, chances are it might even be activated before your next turn. I’ve seen this dropped on Turn 4, activated by the time Turn 5 rolls around, and then followed with Primal Vigor in an Enchantress deck out of this cube.
Crib Swap has lasted this long because it had some cute tribal interactions (especially when Haakon, Stromgald Scourge was still in the cube back in the day). In reality, this card is next off the boat – it’s about to get swapped out for Winds of Abandon (which scales incredibly in this environment).
Duelist’s Heritage is sneakier than it looks – it doesn’t have to be your attack phase, and it doesn’t have to be your creature getting the bonus. If you’re in a free-for-all, you can hand double strike to the creature belonging to the guy next to you during his turn (because you’re friends, right?), and if you’re in a team game, you can hand the bonus to a teammate’s creature. And this is an enchantment for the Enchantress deck too.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is a recent add to this deck (and one that I only have because I pulled it at pre-release… nothing like pulling future cube cards in your PR pool). It replaced Ajani Goldmane, who is fantastic, but usually just gains you some life before getting squashed in a multiplayer game. The new Ajani is just as easy to ultimate, but does a bit more in the meantime. If money was no object, this is probably Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or some version of Elspeth, but this Ajani is certainly servicable.
Anointed Procession drives the token decks in the cube into overdrive. It’s easy enough to splash for in other colors, and it’s an enchantment for the Enchantress deck. In white alone, it’s doubling tokens for Emeria Angel, Wingmate Roc, Hero of Bladehold, Knight-Captain of Eos, Captain of the Watch, Luminarch Ascension, Mobilization, Smothering Tithe (yeah, really!), Ajani’s emblem and Sigil of the Empty Throne.
Smothering Tithe is a brand new toy, and it is nuts. It essentially amounts to ramp for white, and is rarely paid for by your opponents. The treasures it hands you get doubled by Anointed Procession, and, as artifacts, will do all manner of other nasty things as well (e.g. get swapped out by Goblin Welder, get Tinkered, switch on Metalcraft if you need it).
Wrath of God is Wrath of God. There are plenty of alternatives to this, but I like to roll with the original.
Cathars’ Crusade works with both token and enchantress decks. It may not look like much, but it can switch on scarily fast. Whirler Rogue? Sure, all my other creatures get +3/+3 permanently. Siege-Gang Commander? Make that +4/+4. It turns your team into a game-winning mob very quickly.
Finally, Austere Command ticks all the boxes when it comes to what makes a good multiplayer card. Does it affect all opponents? Yes. Is it flexible? Like a gymnast. At times, this acts like a one-sided sweeper.
Starting with a Budget
The vast majority of these cards sit somewhere in between the $5 and $10 mark, and a lot of them are staples. If you’re missing them, start with the next-best thing that you have lying around – that’s how this cube started too.
But a few cards in this list are over $10 a copy. If we’re starting out now, what’s a good budget way of replacing them?
Stoneforge Mystic finally got unbanned in Modern in the past week, and its price has gone molten accordingly. If you want the next-best thing, Stonehewer Giant has been in this cube before, and can flip equipment onto the battlefield at instant speed for you. If you want to go even cheaper, or stick with the same casting cost, Relic Seeker is at least serviceable.
Enlightened Tutor is mostly irreplaceable, but with a lot of equipment, Open the Armory is at least a good budget version.
Baneslayer Angel and Archangel of Thune can easily be replaced by lower-tier Angels (or even something else at the same casting cost if you wish) – they’re simply just two of the most efficient creatures at this cost, and nothing more.
Grasp of Fate is a ridiculous Magic card in this format, and its price reflects that. You can easily drop down a tier by grabbing the next Oblivion Ring variant.
Weathered Wayfarer is starting to climb towards Land Tax levels itself, and needs a reprint. There aren’t too many other things like it, but Oreskos Explorer is at least serviceable.
Anointed Procession is starting to spike into staple territory. It doesn’t have anything quite like it in white, unfortunately. About the closest you’ll get is Oath of Gideon.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is just the white planeswalker of choice in this cube at the moment. There are plenty of cheaper white planeswalkers available that could replace him (yes, even The Wanderer or Gideon Jura, if you really need to run a planeswalker).
Wrapping it Up
So that’s a good look at what the white section of a multiplayer cube looks like. As always, if you can’t find anything close to some of these cards, it doesn’t matter – just wing it with the best card you can find in that casting cost (or the most fun one to play)! I hope that helps you start one of your own up. I’ll be back next month with blue!
Martin first caught the Magic: the Gathering bug at university in Australia in 1995, just as Fourth Edition was released (naturally just missing the era of opening dual lands in booster packs). One degree, career, marriage and two kids later, he is still slinging cards across a kitchen table with friends and is spreading the infection to the next generation via cube, EDH and multiplayer formats.