Antiquities War Cube Primer
The two brothers Urza and Mishra wanted only to learn about the Thran, the ancient artificers whose talents they had inherited. But their rivalry, fueled by two halves of an ancient powerstone found deep within the Caves of Koilos, brought Dominaria to full-scale war. The artificers’ war has left its mark on the history not only of Dominaria, but upon the entire Multiverse itself. This is the Antiquities War.
This started when I was thinking I wanted to build a cube of my own, but being a storyteller at heart, having a regular old cube just wasn’t enough. It was in recalling my love of old cards (particularly the Antiquities set), that I realized I could make a cube that would have a theme and a story to it: it would make my players into two warring artificers. And so my artifact cube was born.
(Link URL: http://cubetutor.com/viewcube/4004)
After a number of massive overhauls, I have reached the cube I have now. The metagame is one defined by artifacts, constructed to allow aggressive decks that utilize artifact creatures or green beaters who hate artifice as much as their controller does. The cube has been getting less and less “old-school,” just because older designs aren’t as fun, but because this is a cube based on Antiquities, I did keep out a few modern innovations to keep up nostalgia, namely Planeswalkers and Equipment. However, artifact creatures are strong, green creatures are strong, spells are strong, and a potent synergistic cube based on Wizards’ modern booster draft design (synergy first, power second).
The way this cube is meant to be drafted is with 14-card packs which are supplemented by a single artifact land at random. However, this is the Antiquities War, and all of the artifact lands are highly Mirrodin-specific. So that’s easy: I’ll make new ones with the appropriate art and flavor. This, by the way, is how you make a storyline-themed cube: with functional reprints that have been re-done to keep the gameplay you want but with the addition of the flavor you’re seeking to create.
And now we’ll go into the main archetypes of the cube, so you have some idea what happens when you draft…
There are two (slightly overlapping) primary white-blue archetypes, and anyone who has played Modern Masters will be familiar with them. On the one hand, you have Esperzoa and Crystal Shard, both equally powerful engines, while on the other you have Auriok Salvagers, another recursion enabler. Combine them with valuable comes-into-play effects (such as Faerie Mechanist and Sanctum Gargoyle, or even better Blade Splicer and Trinket Mage) and you can create a very difficult engine to stop. Not to mention that Esperzoa hits for 4 in the air with only 3 converted mana cost. The overlap in these archetypes is that both Auriok Salvagers and Esperzoa like cheap artifacts, especially artifact lands. There are a few incomplete cycles (WUBR) of artifacts in the cube, one of which is “trinkets.” Someone familiar with Mirrodin and Modern Masters would immediately think of the power of recurring an AEther or Pyrite spellbomb, but what about recurring a Dispeller’s Capsule? Or an Engineered Explosives? Even reusing an Arcbound Worker can be good, with a sac outlet and another artifact creature.
UB Artifact Ramp
Blue loves artifacts, and black loves control, so they go together quite well. Cards such as Grand Architect and Priest of Yawgmoth power out immense superpowers, along with some help from mana artifacts. Powerful sweepers such as Damnation can keep aggressors at bay, suggesting a prominent utility artifact theme, but imagine what you can do with a Master Transmuter, a Precursor Golem, and an Epochrasite? You could easily swap out the large threat for any of a number of things: Sundering Titan, Pentavus, Triskelion, Duplicant…
BR Sacrifice Value
Every color interacts with artifacts in a different way. White likes attacking with them, while blue likes tinkering with and ramping into them. Turns out, red likes sacrificing them. And its next-door neighbor, black, likes sacrificing creatures. So with the proper recursion, a deck that sacrifices creatures (such as Perilous Myr, modular creatures, Myr Retriever, etc) can go a long way. Greater Gargadon is the king of this effect, offering a free sac outlet that can’t be interacted with until it’s a 9/7 beater, but other cards can offer effective sacrifice engines to produce value, whether it be a +1/+1 counter (Carrion Feeder), a free 2 damage (Orcish Mechanics), or even a 6 mana 6/6 flying first strike demon!
RG Wildfire/Big Red
Traditionally, red takes the aggressive role in most cubes, with “Big Red” being a more niche strategy that maybe tags onto another color’s ramp or artifact strategy. However, red doesn’t play aggressively with artifacts (not the way white does), and so the traditional aggressive role that red fills doesn’t work here. However, artifact ramp is very much a strategy in this cube, which makes Wildfire exceptional. This deck generally pairs red’s burn and land destruction with green’s cheap creatures and accessible ramp to create a deck that goes for the enemy’s manabase early enough to prevent them from stabilizing in the face of a Polukranos or Steel Hellkite (backed up by artifact mana).
GW Straight Aggro
With red unable to provide the cube’s aggro, the aggressive colors become white and green. Each color pursues its aggressive strategy in a slightly different way—white likes metalcraft while green just goes for straight value—but they can be combined in a number of interesting and effective ways. Straight GW beats could follow a Wolfbitten Captive with an Accorder Paladin to apply pressure until the Indomitable Archangels and Wolfir Silverhearts drop, or an Ezuri’s Brigade can follow up an Ardent Recruit, Court Homunculus, and Epochrasite lead. And of course, in the absence of Bonesplitter, an early Rancor makes every creature a threat.
WB Tempered Steel
One weakness to Selesnya Aggro is that neither green nor white has easy access to reach (ie, punching the last points of damage through to your opponent), a role traditionally filled by burn in red or drain in black. That’s why when black is paired with white’s aggressive Tempered Steel strategy, it can help close out games even after an opponent has stabilized at low life. Early aggressive artifacts buffed by a Tempered Steel can be hard to stop, especially with black’s powerful removal keeping blockers out of the way, but the inclusion of a Disciple of the Vault or a Blood Artist can change an early assault from difficult to stop to downright unbeatable.
UR Izzet Spells
One feature that was very popular in my previous cube build was the “creatureless spells” deck, which relied on cards such as Grid Monitor and burn spells to hold off enemy creatures while Bosium Strip and card draw gave inevitability. In this much more aggressive and much more interactive build, the spirit of the deck is retained in the addition of two exceptional creatures: Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe. While the pyromancer turns all of your bounce, card draw, counterspells, and burn into chump blockers (or sacrifice fodder), Guttersnipe ensures that your board-control spells also give inevitability. Bonus points for setting up an Isochron Scepter lock with one of the creatures out—the scepter gives you a spell every turn, even to an empty hand!
BG The Rock
While a black-green build doesn’t have the same kind of synergy most of the other color pairs have, it makes up for it in sheer value. On the one hand, allied color combinations are supported slightly more just due to the extra fixing available in the presence of the manlands, while on the other, enemies often offset each other’s strength. In this case, a mono-green aggro deck (which is possible in this cube) is heavily supported by the removal and reach offered by black. Sometimes, a nice curve and cheap removal is all you need.
RW Recursion Value
The biggest weakness of the black-red sacrifice deck is the limited recursion options. However, when red’s sacrifice engines are combined with white’s much more plentiful recursion outlets, ranging from the fragile (Argivian Archaeologist) to the dominating (Sun Titan), it can become difficult for an opponent to match the value generated by sacrificing artifacts again and again. Once more, artifact lands come heavily into play here, but so do more pricey enters-the-battlefield artifacts such as Pilgrim’s Eye or Solemn Simulacrum.
An interesting thing about artifacts is that they often use counters. Modular is fairly common in the cube alongside some charge counter-wielding artifacts. Combine those with green’s love of +1/+1 counters and you get the perfect space for proliferate, which only exists in the cube in repeatable forms. In addition, the use of vivid lands and cards such as Cultivate or Yavimaya Elder make it much easier for a green mage to hit domain to make the most use of the sunburst cards in the cube. Etched Oracle and Pentad Prism are already respectable cards, but when you can proliferate every turn or every other turn, things get downright nasty.
This should give you a sense of the ten primary archetypes in the cube, though they are far from exhaustive, and each can be stretched into related colors or built a number of different ways. None of them are exclusive enough to be ignored by fellow drafters, but all have cards that only a related deck would want that can table. I challenge you to try to come up with other decks and archetypes that are possible, for the play should be very deep. For the risky players, there are enough pieces to attempt a Golem Tribal deck, and for the really brave ones, powerful utility artifacts such as Unwinding Clock and Trading Post can quickly take over games, if protected appropriately.