Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken leave from the usual preconstructed coverage to begin work on our newest project, the Standard Cube. Our objective is simple: making cube construction easy and accessible for those new to the format. To do so, we’re using the current Standard environment as our framework. Complicated variables like spell-to-creature ratio and mana curves will be left to Wizards R&D, who have already answered these questions when they released the eight Magic sets that comprise today’s Standard (Magic 2011, Magic 2012, Zendikar block, and Scars of Mirrodin block). Previous columns have covered laying the foundation, White enchantments, and White instants and sorceries. Today we round out the colour by tackling the lion’s share of White’s cards: creatures.
In a 450-card cube we have 42 slots available for White creatures (last week’s graphic showed 43, and my apologies for the confusion). With the noncreature spells, we weren’t as concerned with casting costs, but we will for the creatures in order to preserve the flavor of the color. There might be 33 different creatures in White that cost more than four mana (not counting Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer), but including all of them would not only distort what a White creature should look like to the players, it would also be tactically unsound. The White creature curve has been refined over 18 years by the best minds in the game- who am I to argue?
So if the question is how we distribute 42 cards over five converted mana cost categories, the obvious answer is to use the same methodology we employed at the outset and derive our ratios from Standard itself. Doing so presents us with the following:
In many ways, this part of the cube brings us to our most subjective element of all. When you have a small list of sorceries, for instance, many players will tend to congregate around the same effects. The smaller the pool, the less variance you’ll see in different people’s lists of choices. Naturally, a larger pool invites you to greater feats of diversity. While staying true to the design of the Standard Cube, there is certainly leeway to include every Griffin, for example, giving someone the dream of drafting a Griffin Rider deck. Soldiers and Knights… flyers… lifegainers… each colour has its own subthemes, and you’re welcome to explore to your delight. Today I’ll be announcing my own picks, along with some notes on why I chose those. I’ll also pull out the occasional card I didn’t choose and explain why.
We begin with a fairly small pool, a mere 18 cards of which we are to choose only five. Rather than list the entire card pool as we have for the other card types, you may instead wish to pull up this Gatherer search to see what the slot has to offer.
Elite Vanguard- A preconstructed deck mainstay, it’s hard to argue with one of the beefiest bodies in the slot that you don’t need to use shenanigans to employ. He is our first choice, and will be our only uncommon card here.
Gideon’s Lawkeeper- A tapper is a potent tool in White’s arsenal, and gives it some versatile utility. It can lock down the opponent’s worst threat, or take their best defender out of the mix on the attack. With White on the whole populated by smaller bodies, anything that gives them a little more staying power goes a long way.
Glint Hawk- Although I don’t want to go with a heavy metalcraft theme, I certainly don’t want to ignore the fact that artifacts play a prominent role in this cube. I’d considered the Ardent Recruit here, but decided that the payoff of having a one-mana 3/3 wasn’t always worth the work to get three artifacts into play. The Hawk has a built-in interaction, but it’s not necessarily negative- any artifact that has expended all of its charge counters can get a free refill here, which makes the Hawk potentially just as useful even in situations where a 2/2 flyer isn’t worth much.
Goldenglow Moth- Although Wizards has started pushing lifegain in White a bit more in recent sets, there’s still not enough to make devoting cards to it worth it. There will be some incidentals here and there, but things that exist primarily for lifegain aren’t going to cut it.
Loam Lion- Cards like this- which compel you to play another specific colour for maximum benefit- are right out. I’d like to remain as colour-neutral as I can.
Salvage Scout- Like the Glint Hawk, this card is more than just a body, it’s a way to interact with your artifacts too. 1/1’s don’t hold relevance very long on the battlefield, but this one will be useful deep into the game if the White player has some artifacts they’ve lost and would like to retrieve.
Steppe Lynx- An iconic landfall ambassador, this one’s a no-brainer.
Student of Warfare- White gets one rare creature, and it was hard not to opt for the powerful Student. She’s very strong, and a great representative of the level up mechanic. Still, it’s not often you’ll draft a strong mono-colour deck in the cube environment, and she really demands heavy Plains to be most effective.
We have our greatest abundance here- forty-five different creatures, of which we must select thirteen. We’ll limit ourselves to two uncommons here.
Accorder Paladin- Tempting. I want to make sure battle cry sees some representation, but I’m not sure the Paladin is the card to do it. His 1-toughness means he’s often good for only one swing- Signal Pest he’s not. Pass.
Alabaster Mage- I’ve mentioned before how I’d like to get cycles in as much as possible from a flavour perspective, making this a very tough choice. I’m not taking him, but he was on the cusp.
Fledgling Griffin- A reliable body that gets evasion on landfall? An easy pick.
Griffin Rider- A little too cute for consideration, taking him I fear would predispose me to include as many Griffins as I could, and that’s not a position I want to be in. Without that optimisation, he’s a poor card.
Inquisitor Exarch- In. This will be one of the cycles I’d like to see represented. The bi-modal enters-the-battlefield abilities give some options and variety to gameplay.
Knight of Cliffhaven- Thanks to Limited Resources, I’m permanently unable to see this card as anything other than “Knight of Cliff Claven,” but it’s a solid, evasive leveler that has no difficult winning a spot in the starting lineup.
Kor Skyfisher- With its cheap cost and useful drawback, the Skyfisher gives you a lot of decisions for such a seemingly simple card. In.
Leonin Skyhunter- An efficient aerial beater. Wanting to give White some options in the sky (second only to Blue), cards like this virtually include themselves.
Lone Missionary- Although I’m looking to avoid heavy lifegain, I feel that a little is needed just to stay true to White’s flavour. The Missionary is a good value for his cost, so he makes the cut.
Myrsmith- Aaaand here is our other uncommon, also kicking off a cycle. Since we’ll have a lot of artifacts in the cube by the time we finish it, it behooves each colour to have ways to take advantage of the fact.
Stormfront Pegasus- Neither sexy nor glamourous, but it’s two power for two mana in the sky. In.
Sunspear Shikari- I like creatures that ‘come alive’ when they’re equipped, but didn’t have room for the Kor Duelist or Kitesail Apprentice. The Shikari makes up for that, and is a solid body for the cost even played plainly.
Suture Priest- One of New Phyrexia’s more iconic cards, she’s a slam dunk as a two-drop common. With lifegain and life loss built in, she gives a little bit of reach to the White player even when the red zone is congested.
Twenty-nine critters fall into this casting cost, but we’ll only be needing eight.
Apex Hawks- Not only a great example of multikicker, but a very useful mana dump when drawn later in the game.
Dawnglare Invoker- A third tapper? Not exactly. Given the almost prohibitive cost of the Invoker’s ability, this is more of a finisher should the game go too long. That makes it something of a safety valve, so we’ll be taking the cycle.
Kor Hookmaster- Surprise effects like this often provide breakthrough moments for a carefully-planned attack, or even a brief respite from attack.
Kor Sanctifiers- A strong kicker card, this gives White another answer to artifacts or enchantments.
Porcelain Legionnaire- Not only strong, but the Phyrexian mana gives other players a shot at drafting this even if they’re not in White. Bad news for the White player, but fun for the table.
Priests of Norn- Infect was a difficult decision, but like allies I determined that there simply wouldn’t be enough space available to give either strategy their due. It’s hard enough drafting a solid deck of either archetype when you have the possibility of seeing multiples. In our singleton format, no such luxury is afforded. The Priests are in, however, because they are exceptional blockers, and with enough power-pump an occasional poison counter victory isn’t out of the question (Armored Ascension, anyone?).
Roc Egg- Every so often you’ll want to be sure to include a card more for its fun factor than for its power. The Egg is here for precisely that reason- it’s a cutely callback for those of us that remember the Rukh Egg, and a solid blocker besides.
Another small pool, we get to take six cards here out of the nineteen available to us.
Glimmerpoint Stag- The enters-the-battlefield effect of the Stag is one of the strongest appeals of the card, though its 3/3 body is welcome as well. There are a lot of applications here, including recharging an exhausted artifact or clearing out a difficult defender.
Kabira Vindicator- A solid card like this salves the pain of passing over the Student of Warfare. Although the level up cost also needs White mana, the Vindicator is a later-game card and better positioned than the Student, who loses some of her power if she’s not a 3/3 first-striker on turn 2.
Kor Cartographer- The mana-fixing the Cartographer provides comes a touch late to be as useful as some others, but it’s still a solid effect worthy of a slot here.
Makindi Griffin- The Griffin’s 4-toughness makes this card appealing, and 2-power in the air fits right in.
Stonehorn Dignitary- This is an unusual ability. While the loss of an opponent’s next attack phase can essentially buy you a turn, remember that that also means that your next attack will find most if not all of their creatures standing by ready to defend. Like the Roc Egg, this is here for novelty.
As we look over the thirty-four creatures that cost five or more mana, we encounter an unusual problem: common is somewhat scarce! A large proportion of White’s rares and mythics wind up here, meaning we have a rather shallow pool from which to draw most of our selections here. Still, there are just enough to allow us to be picky and avoid taking cards like Caravan Hurda. We’ll also be taking our rare here in addition to a pair of uncommons. We get to select ten cards from this pool overall.
Battle Hurda- A 3/3 first striker is far more palatable than its 1/5 lifelinking cousin.
Chancellor of the Annex- Another cycle I love, but chasing this one will demand too much space from the very limited amount of rares I can select. I’ll be content with the Exarchs to fulfill my Phyrexian-cycle fantasy and veto her in the name of diversity.
Sensor Splicer- Not the worst card of the set, but taking this fellow compels me to ensure there are a few other Golem options in the cube to give some options for the strategy here.
Serra Angel- She might have long ago lost her lustre from age and familiarity, but she’s still sexy when you open her in a draft.
Shepherd of the Lost- Another strong Angel at uncommon, we’ll take her as well.
Siege Mastodon- Not a lot of folks love this guy, but he’s rather hard to kill which makes him somewhat worth the cost on the battlefield.
Sunblast Angel- There were a lot of options to choose from in rare, but I decided to go with this one for a couple reasons. First, as an Angel she’s iconic to White and very flavourful. Second, she can be absolutely decimating to an unprepared opponent, and that makes her a worthy bomb.
Tireless Missionaries- As pure an act of desperation as you’ll find on this page, there wasn’t much at common here.
Totem-Guide Hartebeest- Not the best card, but a useful tutor in a format where we’re not going to see a lot of them.
We’ll wrap it up here for now, having selected our arsenal of forty-two White creatures. As mentioned at the outset, these choices are amongst the most subjective you’re going to see in your cube-building experience. Let me know what creatures you’d have chosen differently, and what rare card really caught your eye over the Angel! Until next time…