CubeCon is almost upon us! This year’s gala has been sold out for quite some time, but as the biggest physical event of the year dedicated to Magic: the Gathering’s greatest format, CubeCon makes for a fascinating punctuation mark on the year’s theory crafting and evolution. The 48 Cube lists included in the main event, voted in by the community, could almost be seen as the awards show winners for Cube curation.
Aside from multiplayer lists, the main event Cubes represent a healthy assortment of design philosophies and restrictions, from novel approaches to set Cubes to lists that turn color conventions on their head. While it’d be impossible for a few dozen lists to be wholly representative of the Cube community, they offer an insight into the format’s current state of affairs. Today, we’ll be exploring the cards that were excluded entirely from CubeCon 2023 as a unique window into Cube and its ever-changing paradigms.
The lovely Magic Data Science is one of my favorite accounts to follow on X, the artist formerly known as Twitter. They recently did a statistical dive into this very topic, and it was this research we’ll be using as a foundation for today’s discussion.
High and Not So Mighty
Some of the most popular cards on Cube Cobra don’t belong in most Cubes. This isn’t just my opinion — from the lists voted on by the community at CubeCon 2023, many powerful cards that present unfun, uninteresting, or unintuitive play patterns can be found on the “Nega Cube” list.
Black’s 5-drop creatures were a running joke through most of the 2010s, with power-motivated Cube curators in particular grumbling about how sparse the options were relative to the notable creature power-creep found in nearly every other color and mana cost. The one exception? The monarch-triggering, creature-removing Lich.
But starting in 2018, black’s options for 5MV creatures began to improve while simultaneously, more and more Cube curators began to turn on Monarch as a mechanic, as it brings in overly-swinging elements to gameplay in a way not intended for 1v1. Many would argue removing Monarch entirely from anything but the most power-maximized Cubes will engender better gameplay, and it seems the CubeCon 2023 curators agree.
The now-compleated cycle of Mirrodin-based swords have long been popular choices for Cubes of many styles, but one in particular has always been more contentious: Sword of Body and Mind. In a 40-card limited format like most Cubes, the effect of the sword has outsized impact on the game. To add to that, milling is a strategy with little recourse or opportunity to interact from the opponent’s point-of-view, and a single card that will arbitrarily be able to get through the creatures of some decks vs. others and kill the opponent in 3 turns without an opportunity for clever countrer-play means it’s good to see this card getting retired more frequently.
Fumigate came out of the gates as a revelation to Cube curators everywhere: finally, a 5MV wrath effect that was worth running! Printed in an era where singleton was the rule instead of the guideline and only two unconditional wraths had been printed at 4 mana, Fumigate interested control players who wanted to undo all the hard work of their aggro competitors.
But this is exactly the issue with the card. Wrath effects, while not the powerhouse they were 10 years ago, are still pivotal to many varieties of control decks, giving them card advantage and an opportunity to take a ton of pressure off at once. But the life gain makes it impossible for many aggro decks to recover, something that’s challenging enough after a wrath to begin with. While it’s fallen in popularity over the last few years, the omission from CubeCon 2023 is a positive sign that curators are more cognizant of this silver bullet more than ever.
This is your sign to move on
Some of these cards were instant classics in Cubes around the world when they printed, but haven’t stood the test of time. If you’re a power-motivated or even a power-curious Cube curator and are running any of these cards, you may want to think about how many times any of these cards you’re still running have lagged to the back of packs during draft — I know this section is causing some serious introspection for me, too!
I prioritize red token decks quite strongly, so I’ve always loved Torbran. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of my playgroup. The triple-red pips are seemingly not overcome by making Bolts deal 5 and giving your goblin army a permanent Trumpet Blast, leaving the lovely dwarf a frequent member of the 15th-picked club. Not sure I can get rid of him just yet…but I should…
Listen, I get it, every time you look at this card, you think the card reads great. You can’t help but think, “isn’t this just a better Bob who can hit the opponent much more freely?” But no, giving your opponent the choice is not how you ever find greatness, not at any cost.
I’m actually in denial for this one. I love this card. It’s risky but it’s super neat and interesting and provides fun gameplay, why would I want to move on from this?? And the art???
Peons Among Peasants
CubeCon 2023 features a number of rarity restricted cubes. While your typically-kind author is not typically so kind to this kind of arbitrary restriction in Cubes, quite a few of the cards listed on the reject list have been known to be “solid” Peasant or Pauper cards, but seem to be less compelling than their more modern equivalents.
Even if not for the many strictly-better or more interesting variations of Tormenting Voice printed just this year, the instant version of the effect at the same cost, Thrill of Possibility, is now 4 years old. There’s not some neat strategic reason for running a powered down version of this effect I can think of – not even your peasant lists need a 5th copy!
While only recently outclassed with The Lord of the Rings: Tales From Middle Earth’s Rally at the Hornburg, there are enough versions of this effect now that it’s not strictly necessary to include them all, and cubes have reasons to prefer one version over another. It’s not an embarrassing inclusion in 2023, but it’s not an important one either.
When Augur of Bolas was first revealed, the card generated heated discussion in the Cube community. In the decade since, the card has fallen out of most non-restricted cubes and no longer has the notoriety in pauper or peasant lists it once could claim. While there haven’t been any strict upgrades to the card, more versatile options for the same kinds of deck are plenty, and don’t have the same feel bad as whiffing on the Augur, as was the case whenever anyone tried to play it at my tables.
Who Put That There?
It’s not as though this list is entirely without controversy! With over 25,000 potential game pieces and unlimited opportunity to create your own, it makes sense that some legitimately interesting or exciting Magic cards would miss the cut for some arbitrary reason. While one could certainly argue that the Phoenix should go in one of the above categories instead, I’m choosing the preemptively and strongly disagree with such nonsense.
I expect you’ll join me this October to watch the live coverage from CubeCon 2023 together, but either way, I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of some of the more interesting exclusions from the 48 lists of the event. Make sure to give Magic Data Science a follow on X or on their blog, and thank you to them for providing the insights used in this piece.
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