Introduction to My Powered Synergy Cube

Design Philosophy

Jump to the archetypes

My Powered Synergy Cube was built as a limited environment that challenges the players’ imagination to draft a deck as a cohesive unit rather than relying on the strengths of individual cards. The overall design philosophy is that decks should by synergistic, meaning that it will be rare for a single card to be able to win the game on its own.

Rather, by combining cards that work well together the player should craft a deck that is stronger than each individual card it is comprised of. This requires careful planning and thoughtful drafting, and I find that it makes for some really interesting decisions and gameplay both in the drafting process and the following games with the deck.

To enable this goal, I had to cut a lot of the cards that are independently capable of winning the game that you might expect in a powered cube. Planeswalkers are a big offender in this category, as most of them offer card advantage, board presence and a win condition all in a single card. So you will notice a substantially reduced number of them in the cube. Other examples of cards that just did too much are Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Laelia, the Blade Reforged, Hexdrinker, Murktide Regent, and Fire Covenant.

I make the distinction between powerful enablers and cards that are standalone win conditions: Black Lotus is a very strong magic card but it will not win you the game on its own. Whereas it is entirely possible to win a game of magic where the only spell you cast is Oko, Thief of Crowns.

I understand that this distinction can be confusing and it is one of the most common types of questions I get. But essentially, I don’t want players to get win conditions for free. The best way to experience what I am referring to is through drafting the cube, where you will be constantly figuring out “how am I going to win the game” as your deck comes together until finally you have an “aha” moment when everything clicks and your deck begins to make sense.

It is this experience that I find so rewarding and challenging. It has helped me evaluate cards in a completely different way and has made me a better magic player by forcing me to think on my feet and make some really tough decisions in the drafting process.

Drafting

A real pick I made in a real draft. (With an outdated cube list).

Drafting this cube is an experience unlike any other that I’ve had. There are a surprising number of times when you have to make picks that when isolated look absurd but genuinely make sense for your deck. Passing power for random synergy pieces is commonplace and you’re so often torn between which card you should take now vs which card you are trying to wheel. The best feeling is when you’re drafting a deck and finally open that one key synergy piece you had been looking for, which you will take over any other card in the cube.

The image above is an example of a moment where that happened to me, and I posted the picture in my discord where people made plenty of jokes about me passing sol ring for a random worthless 1/1 (in jest, of course).

The thing is, I was in pack 3 drafting a Glimpse of Nature elves combo deck and Shrieking Drake is a creature that is able to return itself to hand after you cast it, giving you infinite creature cast and enter the battlefield triggers. When you have Aluren, Earthcraft and Intruder Alarm in your deck, suddenly this dorky creature enables you to make infinite mana, draw infinite cards and untap your team infinitely. In my deck, that is substantially better than Sol Ring or really any other card in the entire cube.

The final deck that came together after I picked up the shrieking drake (with an older cube list).

The key to drafting this cube is to pay extremely close attention to what cards are coming around. Unlike most cubes where archetypes are largely determined by colors, in this cube the archetypes are more specific and there are plenty of overlapping archetypes within each color. For example you could be drafting UB ninjas but seeing that a Daze did not make it back around to you doesn’t mean your archetype is being cut. Perhaps they are in Grixis spells or UR discard. However, if an Ingenious Infiltrator gets taken by someone else you can be very confident that someone else is also drafting ninjas.

There are two main ways to approach draft in this cube. The first is to start with cards that allow you to stay open and fit into many different archetypes. Skullclamp is an excellent example of this: it goes in elves, black white and red based sacrifice, artifacts, tokens etc. It’s a fantastic magic card. Metallic Mimic is another one that is surprisingly strong. Its main use is in persist combos, where you name the creature type of the creature you are trying to persist, but it is also good in elves, zombies and really great in artifact aggro too as there are like 15 constructs in the cube!

Removal or disruption and lands are great in this phase of a draft too. You’re always going to need fixing and interaction, so spending picks you are unsure about on these cards are almost guaranteed to pay off later. For example, Lightning Bolt will be great regardless of whether you end up in lands, storm madness or sacrifice. Once you see a flagpost signal that an archetype is open, you can jump on it aggressively and reap the rewards of your patience. Something like a fifth pick Aluren or Goblin Bombardment is often a great sign to jump in. The biggest mistake with this strategy is waiting too long and not committing to an archetype in time.

The other approach is to jump into an archetype early and do your best to cut it off as much as possible. The really important thing to look for here is what signals you are sending downstream as you do this. If your opening pack has Tolarian Academy and Mishra's Workshop and you take one of them, the person you are passing to is going to see you passing them a fantastic artifact enabler and perhaps move into your lane.

This strategy works best when your opening pack has only a single strong signal to your archetype. You also really have to pay attention to what signals you are getting, as the person passing to you may have been the one to open a pack with two enablers and passed you one of them. If you get cut off you have to plan your pivot quickly and carefully or decide to double down and try to move the other person off the archetype.

The beauty of this cube is there are just so many archetypes that there will always be a way for every single person at the table to be drafting their own archetype and feel like they are in the “open lane”. If you find yourself in this situation, keep in mind that interaction and lands tend to get picked up by a variety of archetypes so if you can’t decide, err on the side of taking these cards first and try to get your synergy pieces on the wheel (unless they are hallmark enablers that your deck cannot live without).

One major point that I need to stress is that this cube is not the mtgo vintage cube and it should not be drafted that way. Often times passing power can be correct, as there are a lot of key synergy pieces that a deck cannot do without. That Mox Emerald isn’t going to help you if you had to give up a Goblin Bombardment as your only sacrifice outlet for it.

Additionally, since the curve is so low, even off-color or colorless power is not an auto-include in any deck. Sol Ring is probably the most notable example of this — there are so many decks full of 1 and 2 mana plays that the extra colorless mana sol ring offers is really of no use. Sol Ring is still a fantastic card but nowhere near the windmill slam dunk it can be in other cubes. Look at my deck that I drafted above to see an example of a place where sol ring would be not that great. I still might play it in the deck, but I would take something like Misty Rainforest over it if given the choice.

Drafting in Paper

When drafting this cube in paper, I highly recommend having each player begin the draft with a Cogwork Librarian in their pool. Because of the synergistic nature of this cube, you can often end up in a situation where one pack has multiple cards that you need without the ability to wheel them. The Librarian solves this by allowing you to save up your draft picks for situations like these.

The intended application of this card is picks 6+ (depending on number of drafters) where you might be in the open archetype but the distribution of the packs prevents you from being able to pick all the enablers you need. For this goal, you can ban using librarian on certain cards (like Black Lotus) or during early picks to prevent it from being used to hoard power if desired.

Other draft matters and conspiracy cards can be added to the pool at draft time, but I do not include them in the cube list itself.

This cube drafts best with 10 people and 18 card packs (that means the entire 540 card pool is opened), so if possible I recommend drafting it that way. It might seem crazy, but there are so many archetypes that this cube has no problem supporting that many players. The other recommendations for how to draft this cube with fewer people are as follows:

  • 5 and fewer: Glimpse Draft (or something similar).
  • 6 people: 5 packs of 11 cards (55 cards per player, 330 total cards opened)
  • 7 people: 4 packs of 13 cards (52 cards per player, 364 total cards opened)
  • 8 people: 3 packs of 15 cards (45 cards per player, 360 total cards opened)
  • 9 people: 3 packs of 17 cards (51 cards per player, 459 total cards opened)
  • 10 people: 3 packs of 18 cards (54 cards per player, 540 total cards opened)

The key number here is the total cards opened, which is why the 9 and 10 player drafts perform so well, as they allow you to work with a larger pool of cards so the odds of opening the key synergy pieces is higher. The downsides of having an odd number of drafters is obviously that someone gets a bye.

Sometimes I do like drafting with extra cards in the smaller group drafts. So doing a 4 pack draft with 8 people can make for some really great decks. (60 cards per player, 480 total cards opened). Making cuts from these lists can be challenging though.

Gameplay

On first glance, the cube might look like it would play out as a bunch of games of solitaire where everyone is trying to combo off. But because the cube is so synergy focused, interaction is incredibly valuable. And the interaction in this cube is very, very good. A key removal spell on your opponent’s engine piece can set them back quite a few turns if they are not prepared, buying you a lot of time to get your deck set up as well.

By design, most of the engines are either creature or artifact based meaning they can be interacted with by plenty of removal spells. (For balance purposes, enchantments are a bit more safe from removal than artifacts, although there are still ways to remove them.) The result of this is that the games often play out grindy and midrangey for a time as both players slowly unfold their plans until eventually someone is able to establish an engine after all the interaction has been exhausted (or sidestepped when an opponent is tapped out). For me, this makes for an engaging and exciting experience.

What I mean by “engine” is a series of cards that play well together, allowing you to gain tremendous value (or win the game immediately). The three cards I have listed above form a pretty strong card advantage engine as an example. You can tap Goblin Engineer to draw a card and exile the top card of your library then play it every single turn. That is a substantial way to pull ahead in a game if left unchecked (it is approximately like casting an Ancestral Recall every single turn).

Another example of a fun engine is Gravecrawler with another zombie and Skullclamp. This gives you the static ability of 1B: draw two cards. If you add Headless Rider and a Blood Artist into the mix suddenly things get a lot scarier for your opponent as 1B now gets you 2 cards, creates a 2/2 zombie token and your opponent loses one life.

The key to creating decks like this is to establish your engines to be as robust and broad as possible. You won’t always draw specific cards, your opponent is going to interact with you and you need to plan accordingly. Kitchen Finks and Melira, Slyvok Outcast are technically an infinite combo with Ashnod's Altar, allowing you to gain infinite life, infinite colorless mana and infinite death triggers. But you likely shouldn’t run these three cards in an otherwise aggressive red/white shell just because they are a combo. The key thing to always be asking yourself is: “What happens if my opponent has a single piece of removal”. In this case, if they kill the Melira and you have no follow up then your Ashnod's Altar and Kitchen Finks are probably not going to be doing very much in the rest of your deck. The thing is, your combo plan didn’t mesh with the overall objective of your deck.

Now let’s consider a very similar situation but instead of Ashnod's Altar we have Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Goblin Bombardment in an aggressive red/white list. We still have an infinite combo, as the counters from Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit counteract the persist counters from Kitchen Finks.

The difference is that each of these cards are just independently fairly good in our deck. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit makes our creatures larger when they enter and Goblin Bombardment provides removal and reach. Kitchen Finks is also just a fine recursive value play. Now if our opponent disrupts one of the pieces of our combo, our deck will still operate just fine. We didn’t have to sacrifice the overall game plan of our deck to include cards for our combo. The even better part is, Goblin Bombardment gives us the ability to disrupt our opponent’s game plan too!

The above example is one philosophy: only to include synergies when they are convenient for the deck. The other approach is to overload your deck so full of redundant synergies that almost every single card in your deck will help you out. This is perhaps most evident in the elves game plan (such as the list I showed above). The essential combo is just having creatures in play with things that care about creatures in play or casting creature spells. If one elf dies you have 15 more to replace it immediately. Aluren, Earthcraft and Intruder Alarm are never dead draws because they’re good with just about every single creature in your deck.

This extreme level of redundancy and synergy allows you to fight through some interaction without the whole deck just falling apart. (Also in the case of elves, speed is your friend too. Elves might just be the fastest deck in the format, so if you can kill your opponent before they are even able to stop you that is yet another way to beat interaction.)

Anyway, the main point I am trying to get across in this section is that while the cube is full of awesome and powerful synergies, you have to remember that it is a vintage power level cube. The removal and disruption is good and efficient. Your opponents are going to be building out engines just like you are, and it is very important to be able to interact with them either to disrupt their game plan or to protect your own. Combo pieces that are also disruptive, defensive or recursive should be taken very highly for this reason.

For example, Sylvan Safekeeper is a great card to have in your creature combo lists, as it offers excellent protection (and it is also a land sacrifice outlet for certain combos!). Masked Vandal is a Zombie Elf Ninja that is also capable of exiling key artifacts and enchantments on your opponent’s side of the board (and it can be recurred with things like Wirewood Symbiote or Relentless Dead). Engineered Explosives is an extremely efficient removal spell (remember, explosives for zero kills tokens and moxen) that is also a lot of fun with Scrap Trawler.

I don’t mean this to discourage you from pursuing some wild ideas. Please, by all means go deep! This cube definitely rewards creativity and imagination. All I’m trying to say is that sometimes you just gotta make room for a Thoughtseize or an Abrupt Decay in your spicy zombies list (and also maybe a Masked Vandal).

Metagame

This cube has a VERY low mana curve. It is not uncommon to be able to companion Lurrus of the Dream Den, for example. You absolutely need to interact or make a play on the first or second turns of the game unless your play on the third turn is strong enough to make up for the tempo loss.

Over 80% of creatures in the cube have two or less toughness, and roughly 40% have one toughness. Shocks and pings are very, very good. Disfigure is actually stronger than doom blade, as there are actually more black creatures than there are creatures with greater than two toughness. So take removal spells like Tarfire and Disfigure as you would Terminate and Flame Slash in other formats.

On the flip side of that, most of the removal in this cube is either based on dealing damage like Lightning Bolt or mana value like Abrupt Decay. Creatures with greater than two toughness are fairly difficult to kill. Creatures with four or more toughness are essentially immune to all but the most premium of removal spells, especially if their mana value is greater than three. They also block really well. Sometimes a 2/4 body can just hold down an entire army from the opponent.

These cards are substantially better than most people expect. A Ratched Bomb for 0 kills all tokens, moxen and cards like Stonecoil Serpent. Explosives for 1 can give elves a really hard time. They are flexible tools that can slot into any deck since they are colorless, and there are quite a few ways to recur them as well.

Damn, Fiery Confluence and The Meathook Massacre are the only wraths in the format (and I will likely remove some of these eventually). In a 540 card cube this means it is unlikely you will run into a wrath of any kind. Since most archetypes end up creature based, there are few decks that would even want to play The Meathook Massacre for more than two. For the most part you are safe to go wide, especially with high toughness creatures.

Mana

Because this cube has such a low curve it is absolutely vital to have access to all your colors of mana as soon as possible. On the flipside, this also means you will frequently run fewer lands than in a traditional cube format (12-16 lands including moxen is about standard for the cube). Both of these together mean that decks have a dire need for fixing, and not just a dual land or two, decks need GOOD fixing.

In order to have 10 sources of each color in a 14 land UB deck you would need to have a minimum of six on color duals. To facilitate this I have broken the singleton rule on the manabase in this cube and am running an all fetches/duals/shocks/triomes manabase. There are three copies of each fetchland, two copies of each shock and dual land and one copy of each triome. I am running 15-20 lands more than the standard amount for a 540 card cube.

The way the manabase works, on color duals are at a premium as the first one unlocks a variety of fetchlands to be able to fix your colors of mana. It may not seem like it, but the first on color dual is an exceptionally high priority pick, even if there are four copies of it in the cube.

Often the concern with having too good of fixing in a cube is that it makes it easy to just take the best card in every pack. The benefit to having a cube so balanced towards synergy is that there is little reward for drafting in this manner. Your deck will be slower and less focused than the other archetypes, and you will often lack substantial ways to get ahead in card advantage or close out the game.

Sure it is possible to draft a 5 color nonsense deck, but without cards like General Ferrous Rokiric this deck will still require an overall plan to take advantage of the synergy based cards in the cube. The Lands archetype featuring Field of the Dead can be a decent shell for this, but often it will still be better to focus on a 2-3 color pair at most.

The benefit of this incredible amount of fixing is that you can reliably craft solid 2-3 color decks that can reliably hit their mana on the first turn of the game. This opens up so many more possibilities for chasing some wild synergistic dreams and I am excited for that. I would just caution against splashing colors without a purpose, as that can easily lead to getting lost in the sauce.

The Archetypes

This blog post will be far too long if I write out all the specifics of each archetype here, so I’ll just link to them in separate articles.

Green Archetypes In My Powered Synergy Cube

In my Powered Synergy cube, green is perhaps the most different from what one would expect out of a normal cube. After seeing green mostly serve to ramp into big stuff in many cubes like the MTGO vintage cube, having the curve essentially stop at 3 mana can be a bit confusing. To clear things […]

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