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Upheaval of the Vintage Cube - With Week 3 Update!

Posted on May 09, 2023

Greetings! My name is Ryan Spain, and I’ll be your Vintage Cube guide today! Some of the more “seasoned pyromancers” among you may remember me from my time co-hosting the Limited Resources podcast, or my past work on Magic Online with Wizards of the Coast. Now I’ve returned to MTGO, this time with Daybreak, and I’m here today to reintroduce you to the Magic Online Vintage Cube.

Magic Online’s Most Popular Format

The Vintage Cube, a cherished favorite amongst MTGO players, needs regular updates to maintain its vibrancy and tackle any arising gameplay issues. Traditionally, this task fell to the design team at Wizards, but with Magic Online transitioning to Daybreak, the baton has been passed to us. We express our profound gratitude to Carmen Handy for her insightful iterations on the Vintage Cube for the past year-plus. Thanks, Carmen! We've deeply enjoyed the immersive experiences you crafted, and we appreciate your tireless efforts in refining the Vintage Cube into its current state.

Well, the state it was in yesterday. I kind of … sort of … blew it up today. You know, for science!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As your current curator, I'll begin by outlining my overarching philosophy for the Magic Online Vintage Cube.

Cube … with Power!

The Vintage Cube aims to epitomize the quintessential Vintage Cube experience, highlighting the game's most potent cards and combos, all while delivering an incredibly enjoyable play event. Embracing Magic's most powerful cards inevitably compels us to include certain archetypes:

Following the threads dictated by “embracing the broken” to where they naturally lead takes up a lot of a 540-card set! But which high-powered cards that have earned their way in on raw power aren’t fun enough to include, and which replacement-level cards and archetypes are? This is the eternal question of classic powered Cube design, and I am looking forward to seeking the answer with you all … which brings us back to the Vintage Cube upheaval I have perpetrated! 

Scaling Up Change

My first thought for the first iteration of the Vintage Cube under my design watch was to take it slow and easy. Make a couple of safe swaps, maybe try some of the best cards from March of the Machine, but don’t rock a boat while getting into it, right?

After some thought, I concluded that this is the perfect time for big changes, especially because a big change by Cube standards still preserves most of the cards and the core play experience. I made a whopping 80 changes in this iteration, but that leaves 460 familiar friends behind. Still, 80 cards is a ton of change for a Cube. While I don’t expect this level of change to be the norm, I went for Upheaval over Sanctum of Calm Waters this time for a few reasons:

The Way Ahead

In the long term, my goal is to establish a consistent core for the cube, providing stability and predictability without drastic alterations in each update. In the short term, however, I'm ready and willing to institute significant changes in the upcoming Vintage Cube releases as we navigate this journey together.

I will follow up this article with a more in-depth discussion on my general philosophy and approach to Cube curation. However, to provide some insight into my thought process behind the 80 changes, I'll outline the guiding principles that shaped the current list:

  1. Reset towards a “Classic Powered Vintage Cube” and bolster support for the implied archetypes.
  2. Be open to removing iconic, theoretically powerful cards that fail to deliver consistently in Vintage Cube games. After all, this is about curating an engaging play experience, not a card museum.
  3. Experiment with different build-around strategies, particularly those involving old-school cards that haven't been included in the Vintage Cube recently, or ever.
  4. Prioritize the selection of replacement-level cards that either support or combat the key archetypes implied by a “Classic Powered Vintage Cube” experience over generic efficiency.

With these guiding principles in mind, I invite you to examine the change list, where I've provided commentary explaining the reasoning behind each of the 80 changes. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the forums! I'm eagerly looking forward to engaging with you on the changes and working together to create the most fun Powered Vintage Cube experience possible.

Turning Feedback into Week 3 Changes

(New 5/23/2023)

As some of you may have heard on Limited Resources 700th podcast, we have decided to make some changes to the Vintage Cube for the final week of its run! We knew this much change to the Cube would produce opportunities to demonstrate our responsiveness to player feedback, so we decided to demonstrate it right away during the bonus week of this Vintage Cube round!

While no change will represent an upgrade for everyone, the seven changes in red below (plus the return of Laelia during Week One) represent changes that are clearly net-positive based on the feedback received from content creators and players. This doesn't represent an exhaustive list of such potential changes - we didn't want to go overboard with final-week updates - but they immediately improve the Cube experience while demonstrating our commitment to giving players and content creators a voice in the curation of the Magic Online Vintage Cube.

We will address other fixes and suggestions in the next iteration, where many of the cuts for this iteration will be back or changed again as we refine towards the ideal Vintage Cube experience. In the meantime, enjoy this updated Vintage Cube list for the final week! Be sure to check out the Limited Resources interview for a deeper dive into the thinking behind this Vintage Cube iteration, and the philosophy informing future iterations!

Changelist and Design Notes

For the Full Card List, click here

Card Added Card Removed Color Ryan's Notes
Soulherder Yorion, Sky Nomad Azorius The Yorion 60-card dream has proven tough to live out. Perhaps Soulherder will only prove to be a smaller dream to have difficulty living, but with the end-of-turn trigger, you can catch opponents tapped out and unready for the value train, and at three mana you can set up with some counters at the ready.
Goryo's Vengeance Corpse Dance Black The premium targets for Corpse Dance are legendary anyway, and every mana matters in Vintage Cube. There are more legends in this iteration and Time of Need to fetch them as well.
Cabal Therapist Cryptbreaker Black Like Cryptbreaker, if Therapist isn't in your opener it doesn't help you discard for reanimation purposes on the turn you draw it, but at least when you do cast it on turn one, it doesn't use any more mana to discard, allowing for a turn-two reanimation spell without any fast mana. Cryptbreaker is more broadly powerful, but the superior reanimation support and synergy with token-spitters gives Therapist the nod this time.
Cabal Therapy Cabal Therapist Black CHANGE 5/23: I was waffling between these two anyway, and got stuck on "creature for creature" and the idea of the Therapist sacrificing fodder turn after turn when I should have gone with the classic nostalgia win that can be used for reanimation self-discard the turn you draw it if I was going to use either. Unlikely to return next time, but is still the more-correct choice for what we are trying this time. 
Thoughtpicker Witch Evolved Sleeper Black Evolved Sleeper is "better," but Thoughtpicker Witch is synergistic with the repeat token makers and offers a wicked way to soft-lock your opponent out of meaningful draws that will tickle the twisted. You know who you are.
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician Thoughtpicker Witch Black CHANGE 5/23: Not bringing back Yawgmoth to support the sacrifice theme was an oversight, so I have put it in over the one-time "sacrifice spice" inclusion of Thoughtpicker Witch. Some players are sad to see the Witch go, and I'm thankful for their validation of the quirky inclusion ... hopefully those players had some fun with the Witch while it was in! 
Midnight Reaper Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor Black I went with the death-based reward over the combat-damage reward given the sacrifice themes in black and red.
The Meathook Massacre Massacre Wurm Black Massacre Wurm's one-sided effect is usually an upside, but The Meathook Massacre turns symmetrical death into asymmetrical pain with game-ending potential given the density of mass- and repeat-token makers in the cube.
Rotting Regisaur Pack Rat Black They have similar "awkward Plan-B discard" roles, but Reggie is a better Plan A.
Blood Artist Scrapheap Scrounger Black Scrounger is too slow a sacrifice engine to get excited about, so I brought in a sacrifice payoff that is something to get excited about.
Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia Skyclave Shade Black A steady source of sacrifice fodder for no additional mana, while the Shade asks that you play a land and pay mana to come back.
Phyrexian Tower Takenuma, Abandoned Mire Black A classic and powerful sacrifice outlet.
Paradoxical Outcome Academy Ruins Land Academy Ruins has been more iconic than useful, so I thought we could try out a new toy instead. Be careful or you might break it!
Rona, Herald of Invasion Gilded Drake Blue Gilded Drake is the iconic answer to reanimation. But it is narrow, and with the creatures that players can reanimate these days, the damage is often done by the creature hitting the battlefield, and the Drake is too late. Rona is a powerful looter that will support reanimation specifically and blue decks generally.
Agent of Treachery Hullbreaker Horror Blue Hullbreaker Horror seems better in a vacuum, but with extra emphasis on ETB/Blink in this iteration, I added one of the more satisfying blink targets around.
Looter il-Kor Ledger Shredder Blue Looter il-Kor plays better with Ninjas and sabotage effects, and has an easier activation hoop.
Ledger Shredder Looter il-Kor Blue CHANGE 5/23: I added Looter for nostalgia and to better support saboteur effects and the re-added Fallen Shinobi. But I underestimated Shredder love, and it is certainly the more powerful card, even if +1/+1 counters are not synergistic with ninjitsu and flying less effective than shadow for guaranteed combat damage. 
Braingeyser Memory Deluge Blue If we are going to include a clunky blue card draw spell, let's use an all-time classic that can serve as a win condition for infinite-mana combos.
Displacer Kitten Murktide Regent Blue Four mana is a lot for blink enabling in a Vintage Cube, but this kitty has some magic Magic words on it: "noncreature" over "instant or sorcery" and "nonland" over "creature." This offers maximum flexibility on what can trigger it and what it can target. It also doesn't have "end step" language on the return, so there is no "blink a thing once a turn maximum" clause. That all adds up to a card worth trying when we are leaning into blink a little.
Chain of Vapor Repeal Blue Having pulled several graveyard-control cards, I swapped repeal for a bounce spell that provides an answer to both early reanimation and to "land, Black Lotus, oppressive four drop" starts, as well as self-targeting storm shenanigans.
Dream Halls Show and Tell Blue Show and Tell has a reputation as a trap card. When your schtick is "symmetrical cheat-into-play gigantic permanents" in a world full of gigantic permanents and powerful answers, it's probably well-earned. Maybe Dream Halls will prove similar, but it combos with draw-sevens to main-phase-overwhelm your instants-only opponent, breaking the symmetry more easily than Show and Tell. Besides, sometimes you gotta dream a different dream. Head for the Halls!
Wear/Tear Aurelia, the Warleader Boros Not much connecting these two besides color identity, but I think gold Boros cards should be a) splashable in a mostly monocolored aggro deck, b) a toolbox card for "good stuff" decks, and/or c) a build-around. Aurelia feels like 0-for-3 to me, and Wear/Tear is at least the first two.
Kaldra Compleat Cityscape Leveler Colorless I wanted an option for this slot that would touch on more archetypes than the Cityscape Leveler, and so I brought back Kaldra Compleat, which does something reasonable with fast mana, Tinker, Channel, Mishra's Workshop, Stoneforge Mystic, and even blink.
Solemn Simulacrum Kuldotha Forgemaster Colorless Solemn Simulacrum is smooth, easy value, and a great stop on fourth street for Birthing Pod. I had Pod on my short list to cut initially, but with an extra emphasis on sacrifice in this iteration and a desire to see the sad robot back in the Cube, Pod got a last-minute pardon.
Candelabra of Tawnos Retrofitter Foundry Colorless An all-time classic that promotes re-using some of the absurd lands in Vintage Cube and helps mana-doubling decks achieve liftoff felt like a better swing to take with this one-mana artifact slot.
Aetherflux Reservoir Smokestack Colorless On the one hand, Smokestack should be at its best when pushing token-fodder strategies, but on the other hand, it's still not fast enough while being mechanically unintuitive and complicated. Let's try a four-mana artifact that offers up a cool finish for storm, combos with Bolas's Citadel, and provides a sideboard option against burn.
Zuran Orb Sword of Body and Mind Colorless I'm sure there are fans of this sword who are sad that I cut it, but I like reuniting Zuran Orb with Balance, and wanted another 0-cast permanent to help support Paradoxical Outcome shenanigans.
Sorcerous Spyglass Tangle Wire Colorless Tangle Wire's main job in the cube has been to remind people that it exists. Spyglass is a maindeckable control card that plays well with the return of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
Retrofitter Foundry Sorcerous Spyglass Colorless CHANGE 5/23: I considered simply reversing the swap of Candelabra of Tawnos for Retrofitter Foundry, but I don't want to remove an iconic card many are excited to see back to address the mistake of cutting Retrofitter Foundry. Sorcerous Spyglass is a better cut from the artifacts just added. 
Helm of Awakening Unlicensed Hearse Colorless Less hate, more shenanigans! This iconic mana-reducer deserves a shot. If I have over-cut graveyard control in this iteration, we will fix that next time with something other than this Hearse.
Thief of Sanity Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver Dimir Both can feel helpless to lose to, but Thief feels more answerable, more interesting, and makes attacking matter. That's a gameplay plus in general, and even more so here with crowns and initiative to take.
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas Kaito Shizuki Dimir Tezz just belongs in Powered Vintage Cube! Everybody should win a game of Magic with a 5/5 Mox Jet sometime.
Fallen Shinobi Satoru Umezawa Dimir I believe this is correcting a collation error - Satoru Umezawa is a strong card but Fallen Shinobi has some extremely Vintage Cube rules text.
Deathrite Shaman Witherbloom Command Golgari Without a deck loaded with fetch lands, Deathrite Shaman in Vintage Cube isn't quite the same as it is in Constructed, but the graveyard control is real, and it is archetype hate in the power space I like for it.
Time of Need Argoth, Sanctum of Nature Green There are enough legendary creatures that are combo parts in the cube (including the incoming Xenagos, God of Revels) that this felt like it would help assemble some combo wins more often that one would assemble the Argoth/Titania meld. 
Worldly Tutor Bushwhack Green The Mirage tutors are card disadvantage, but the instant speed and power level let you set up a hand to make up for going down a card. 
Wrenn and Realmbreaker Circle of Dreams Druid Green Replacing the fragile Druid with a more sturdy play to ramp into on turn 2, and the ultimate plays into the Lands strategy.
Deep Forest Hermit Elder Gargaroth Green Gargaroth is a value beast, but in that midrange space that is so unappealing for green in Vintage Cube. I would rather get some squirrel redundancy in for Craterhoof, Cradle, and Opposition decks with a card that can be part of the Birthing Pod progression as well. 
Pattern of Rebirth Garruk Relentless Green A reasonable four-mana planeswalker with a super-clunky creature-tutor clause swapped for a clunky Natural Order analog that fits the sacrifice themes bolstered in this iteration. Try it with Devoted Druid to really get those "Natural Order" feels - but you can fetch Iona if you want in this case!
Force of Vigor Kodama's Reach Green I was tempted to keep the Reach for the possible splicing of Goryo's Vengeance, but it felt more important to get this premium green free spell into the cube.
Satyr Wayfinder Life from the Loam Green I'm worried that cutting Life from the Loam without cutting more of the "lands' package isn't correct, but I think the fundamental land card to support is Crucible of Worlds, and we can do that without Life from the Loam. Satyr Wayfinder is a replacement-level card that does a lot of little things for a lot of archetypes.
Court of Bounty Magus of the Order Green Creatures that cost four mana and need to stay in play until next untap to do their thing tend to underperform. Court of Bounty gets green into the Monarch sub-game while being harder to disrupt before untapping for combo value.
Springbloom Druid Nissa, Vastwood Seer Green Nissa doesn't flip often and can't even fetch a Stomping Ground. The druid is less flashy, but is better support for landfall, 3+ color decks, and sacrifice/pod decks.
Vorinclex Polukranos, World Eater Green Sorry Paul, you ate too much of your world.
Primal Command Titania, Voice of Gaea Green A classic returns! I like green "midrange" cards that set up and buy time for for the green endgame.
Tooth and Nail Tovolar's Huntmaster Green There are a lot of creature tutors in green, and many of them are in this iteration of the cube, but few are as fun to resolve as an entwined Tooth and Nail.
Orcish Lumberjack Dragon's Rage Channeler Red The Channeler is tough to get going reliably, and if we want an aggro red one drop, I think there are better choices. Orcish Lumberjack is moving in a different direction, providing green ramp decks with a reason to be more in red.
Xenagos, God of Revels Meria, Scholar of Antiquity Gruul In an environment tough on midrange it can be tough to find appealing Gruul options. I decided to try using the slot in support of keeping Eureka in the cube adding back Tooth and Nail. It combos with Emrakul to send a hasty 30/30 with Annihilator 6 into the red zone. Killing Them Right Now is a great way to break the symmetry of Eureka.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer Expansion/Explosion Izzet Saheeli functions as an engine for storm that has more applications in other decks, and Braingeyser offers some targeted X draw in the cube. 
Third Path Iconoclast Thousand-Year Storm Izzet More token-making in, and a clunky-but-fun storm engine out, but storm picked up some other fun win conditions in this update that don't even say storm on them, like Aetherflux Reservoir and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer.
Underground River Creeping Tar Pit Land White-blue gets to keep Celestial Colonnade out of respect and archetype function. But with the 10 Tri-lands entering tapped, I didn't want any other ETB tapped dual lands. We might not even want the tri-lands, but fetchable fixing for three colors is nice to have.
City of Traitors Field of the Dead Land Field of the Dead wasn't paying off, often even after it got going, while City of Traitors can be good for turboing something out in a fair deck, and can be broken wide open with effects that allow playing lands from the graveyard.
Sulfurous Springs Lavaclaw Reaches Land See Underground River above
Karplusan Forest Raging Ravine Land See Underground River above
Atraxa, Grand Unifier Progenitus Multicolor Progenitus is super splashy, but ends up being much less flexible and successful than you want it to be. Atraxa is a fun ramp and reanimation target, and still works with Natural Order and other "green creature" effects.
Mayhem Devil Bloodtithe Harvester Multicolor This card can seem unassuming until you realize that it triggers off of any sacrifice, including your opponents and all of their fetch lands and other sacrifice effects. This card is the "signpost uncommon" for the direction I took Rakdos in this iteration. We'll see if we stick with it for the next go-round.
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharoah Tezzeret the Seeker Multicolor CHANGE 5/23: Adding a big, gold planeswalker to support both the Dream Halls and Arena Rector adds, while pulling a monocolored planeswalker the cube can give up to a gold slot. I went with seven-mana Bolas over eight-mana Bolas because it's an easier play in a deck not cheating it out, and it has a more useful suite of effects to select from after an Arena Rector/sweeper combo.
Dreadbore Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger Rakdos Putting back some of the interaction I've cut elsewhere in a simple Rakdos classic.
Valki, God of Lies Olivia, Crimson Bride Rakdos Olivia never really belonged, Valki never should have left.
Robber of the Rich Abbot of Keral Keep Red Robber asks more of you than Abbot to get your reward, but I like the higher upside and freedom to play it on turn two without feeling like you've missed your value. It's also not the only rogue in the cube!
Bloodfeather Phoenix Bloodthirsty Adversary Red A couple of nice aggressive two drop red creatures appear in March of the Machine, and we're giving this one a shot.
Greater Gargadon Goldspan Dragon Red A sacrifice outlet for a single mana that opponents can't interact with is powerful enough to include in an iteration pushing fodder-makers.
Embercleave Hazoret the Fervent Red Is Embercleave "unfun good?" I enjoy playing it when I'm red aggro, and there are instant-speed answers to fight it, so I included it
Jeska's Will Ignite Memories Red Ignite Memories is a payoff and Jeska's Will more of an enabler, but a storm deck adding 7 mana after a draw-seven effect is probably going to get there.
Fiery Confluence Jokulhaups Red With the UI issues addressed and Jokulhaups underperforming, let's bring back a sweeper-class card more worthy of Vintage Cube.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame Koth of the Hammer Red Koth probably returns to the Cube if we pull support for the sacrifice fodder deck, but Chandra will refill your cannons and re-cast some of the most powerful spells ever printed, so let's give her a shot this time.
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider Krark, the Thumbless Red A small change that leans into sacrifice fodder over spells matter, but I could see Krark coming back given how it combos with "whenever you cast..." text even when you fail to double your spell.
Rampaging Ferocidon Laelia, the Blade Reforged Red With the added emphasis on repeat token generation, this may be a better counter to what the Cube is doing than is ideal, but this is a powerful card that deserves a shot in the cube where all the powerful cards hang out.
Thundermaw Hellkite Rampaging Ferocidon Red CHANGE 5/23: I shouldn't have cut two five-mana dragons, but I wanted to keep in Rekindling Phoenix, and for this iteration at least, Greater Gargodon. Cutting the just-added Ferocidon felt like a fairly inoffensive way to bring back a dragon. The dino may return, as might the Goldspan Dragon, but blocking Thundermaw Hellkite is a reach for most decks, making it nice for planeswalker control and for snatching away the initiative and/or the monarch. 
Laelia, the Blade Reforged Karn, Scion of Urza Red CHANGE 5/10: The emergence of a bug with Karn skipping the draw step after activating its first ability means that Laelia makes a U-turn right back into the Cube.
Karn, Scion of Urza Dark-Dweller Oracle Red CHANGE 5/12: Dark-Dweller Oracle won the popular vote in Discord to give their spot for Karn's return!
Purphoros's Intervention Rolling Earthquake Red With Fiery Confluence back in, I wanted to use this "red X" slot on something that could produce the Channel-Fireball win on turn one with Black Lotus while doing the creature-control job better. Purphoros's Intervention fits the bill, and can close out a game with the sacrifice fodder it produces.
Rekindling Phoenix Thundermaw Hellkite Red Two iconic mythic red flyers, but I went with the less-expensive one that had some sacrifice synergies.
Firebolt Unholy Heat Red Two spells in one card, and it goes to the face for the new Phoenix.
Kenrith, the Returned King Archangel Avacyn White I don’t mind taking away an anti-control card for an imagination-stirring toolbox like Kenrith. "I'll just untap next turn with this five-drop still in play" can be wishful thinking in cube, but he represents some fun possibility.
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines Baneslayer Angel White Baneslayer had her matchups, and perhaps she will make her way back, but Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines offers some sweet doubling dreams while shutting down a wide variety of cards in an enters-the-battlefield-heavy environment. She can also be searched up with Time of Need in your ... you know.
March of Otherworldly Light Destroy Evil White A strong Disenchant effect that scales with the game.
Elspeth Conquers Death Elspeth Resplendent White I'll admit it, I don’t really know what Elspeth Resplendent does. But I know I wanted Elspeth to conquer death more than I wanted her to resplend.
Arena Rector History of Benalia White We're in the "try out sacrifice" iteration, so how about this sweet trigger? Wrath of God into Ugin, anyone?
Angel of Sanctions Karmic Guide White Karmic Guide wasn't filling the role intended, so let's get a control flyer in.
Boon-Bringer Valkyrie Angel of Sanctions White CHANGE 5/23: Karmic Guide was a reasonable cut, but the generically solid Angel of Sanctions was an uninspired replacement. I had also cut Baneslayer Angel in this iteration, and at least that card has a job to do in the format over the angel I brought in without a clear purpose. This change brings back a Baneslayer Angel analog with an interesting and powerful rider.
Enlightened Tutor Land Tax White Enlightened Tutor is the much more useful iconic white one drop. It can even go fetch you a Land Tax ... but not in this Cube! Land Tax just hasn't had a worthwhile job to do in Vintage Cube for a while. Let's bench it until we miss it.
Seal from Existence Oblivion Ring White The more oppressive mana felt worth the ward. It also doesn't so stack shenanigans like Oblivion Ring, but that rarely happens given that it's an enchantment, so let's try the new kid.
Guardian of Ghirapur Silverblade Paladin White There are some dreams to live with Silverblade Paladin, but I like adding another blinker here.
Tithe Taker Soulfire Grand Master White Soulfire offers some dreams that are hard to capture, while Tithe Taker just drops in and does work. Annoying, annoying work that doesn't tax you as well, like Vryn Wingmare and Thalia do.
White Plume Adventurer Steel Seraph White Seraph has applications in brown ramp and Channel decks, but we should see how one of the better creatures in Vintage plays in the Vintage Cube!
Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle Sun Titan White Sun Titan's light has faded a bit - let's see if a less-expensive version can actually serve as a top end for white aggro or a functional combo piece. I have a feeling this won't be in the next iteration, but I don't think Sun Titan will be either.
Loyal Retainers Vryn Wingmare White With Tithe Taker picking up the tax slack, I liked adding some white reanimation support given the exit of Karmic Guide with this update and Unburial Rites in a previous iteration.