You might recall me having referenced my cube during a few of my previous articles. Tu certainly did; he’s asked me to write a little bit about what Cube is and Cube construction. Next time, I’ll discuss some of the available 1v1 draft formats, to put your newly built Cube to use. I know it’s nearly time for whatever they’re calling the 3 PTQ’s that we’re getting instead of Nationals this year, but I can’t play in the first one, because I’m best-manning at a stag night, so I don’t really feel the urge to work on Standard too much. I was only recently made aware that I’d messed up my dates. Sadly, this was after I’d spent 3 hours building a Standard gauntlet, and acquiring all the cards needed so that there were no proxies in the gauntlet. It was quite a dark day…
Anyway. Back to cube!
There aren’t really any hard and fast rules when it comes to cube construction. A cube is essentially just a box of cards that you have, with the intention of playing something akin to a limited format. More traditional cubes will feature cards spanning the history of Magic. Cards like Primeval Titan will be fetching up Library of Alexandria and Bazaar of Baghdad while your opponent tries to Recurring Nightmare lock you out with Verdant Force Saporling Tokens.
Cubes like this may or may not include the Power Eight (Timetwister doesn’t count), that’s entirely at the creator’s discretion. Obviously, adding Power to a Cube adds far more fast mana into the pool, which, depending on your predilections, can be either a good or a bad thing. I’ve personally drafted a reanimator deck, featuring Black Lotus, a Mox, Ancestral Recall, and in one game, was able to reanimate an Inferno Titan on Turn 2 and a Verdant Force on Turn 3. Close game. On the other side of the coin, I’ve been on the receiving end of a Turn 1 Black Lotus into Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Boggart Ram-Gang.
Unsurprisingly, neither of these games were close.
Cubes can be as large, or indeed as small as its creator desires. The smallest size is generally 360 cards, as this is enough to furnish a full 8-person draft. I’ve seen prospective lists in excess of 1000 cards. Personally, I would recommend sticking to as close to 360 as possible to start with. One of the dangers of a larger Cube is the reduction in consistency. If I first pick a Survival of the Fittest, or a Sulfuric Vortex, a Time Vault or a Recurring Nightmare, I want to know that the support cards for these strategies are actually in the draft!
Perhaps, for whatever reason, you’ve decided that drafting Vintage decks isn’t your idea of fun. Poor you. Don’t worry, you can still build cubes without having to flop £2000 on the Power Eight. Either just leave them out, or you could build your cube to a theme. My own cube is what’s known as a Pauper Cube, using only commons. I’ve heard of Bad-Card cubes (Wood Elemental and Friends), Tribal cubes (Goblins, Soldiers, Faeries etc), Artifact cubes (Leonin Shikari, Qumulox and co), and that’s just scratching the surface.
My own Cube experiences have come largely from my own Cube, but also from my good friend Ben Cabrelli’s. Ben’s cube is a thing of beauty. It’s fully foiled, features black-bordered dual lands, and includes the Power Eight. As I’ve said before, when you draft Ben’s cube, you’re drafting Vintage decks.
Cubes are so named because of the symmetry in the colours, ie. exactly the same number of Red cards as Blue cards, and so on. Some cube designers take this symmetry a step further, and ensure that card-types and/or mana costs are also kept symmetrical. To me, this seems more work than it’s worth, but different strokes for different folks.
One of the other main point is Cube design is whether you will include Snow cards. Cards like Rimefeather Owl, Mouth of Ronom, Skred and pals. Obviously, this means that you’ll have to provide Snow-Covered basics, which can be a bit tedious to acquire, especially in foil. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it, but there are those who disagree.
If you’re starting building a cube from scratch, it’s important that you build decks into the Cube, and include redundancy in these decks. For example, it’s easy to include Survival of the Fittest and Fauna Shaman, Doom Blade and Terror, Civic Wayfinder and Borderland Ranger, Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate for example. If a card’s powerful enough to find its way into your cube, you’d expect it to be able to do the same twice, no? When I say ‘build decks into the cube’, what I mean is that you want to include the tools for multiple archetypes. Again, what archetypes you intend to support is entirely up to you. Popular archetypes include Reanimator, Mono-Red, Counter-Burn, Ux Tempo decks. Really, whatever tickles your fancy should be do-able in cube.
I’ve found that many cube designers under-support aggro decks in their cubes, to the point that first-picking a Goblin Guide is almost a trap. This is a bad thing. Aggro decks need to exist in cube as a foil to the Control decks, which in turn trump the combo decks. Obviously, I’m speaking very broadly here, but there is an element of Rock-Paper-Scissors in the dichotomy of a cube. Essentially what this boils down to is to ensure an even spread of threats across all points of the curve, to ensure that all of the strategies are equally viable. In an ideal world, there won’t be a ‘best deck’ in a Cube format, as all are similarly competitive.
I sound dangerously like a communist here, please forgive me…
I think that this is as good a point as any to show you my own Cube. I only intend to show this as an example. It’s not perfect, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and have drafted it quite often, so I’m pretty confident in most of the choices. Another thing to consider is that a Cube is never really ‘finished’, in the traditional sense. My own Cube is updated as each new set is released, and, as it’s quite close to the 360 card mark, each change I make has a knock-on effect on the format as a whole. Cards that were fine previously lose value, and the reverse is also true. It’s important to not be particularly married to any of the cards in your cube. It’s like building a 60-card deck, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.
As I’ve said before, my Cube is Pauper, which means to say I only include cards that have been printed at common rarity, which explains some of my choices, and others being absent. I’ll run through the cards I’ve chosen to include, and afterwards, I’ll talk a little about what I’ve tried to include in the list. I’ll list by curve, and Creature/Non-Creature. If you don’t want to read this wall of text, control+f ‘Wildfield’, and I’ll see you on the other side.
Blade of the Sixth Pride
Gather the Townsfolk
Kami of Ancient Law
Knight of Cliffhaven
Order of Leitbur
Order of the Ebon Hand
Enemy Colour Pairs
Golgari Rot Farm
Simic Growth Chamber
Obviously, this list isn’t perfect. As I’m looking at it now, I’m noticing that Blue has too many 5 CMC creatures, and the curve could do with some work in green in general, but overall, I’m pretty happy with the list as it stands. You may have noticed my decision to include Un-Cards in my list. I’ve only used Un-Cards that could feasibly be real-set Magic cards, and in my experience, a great many people have enjoyed playing with them.
As I said above, a lot of work of cube design goes into making sure that there are several archetypes that are supported, and people are ‘rewarded’ for correctly reading the signals from the players around them. I use this Cube to draft with newer players quite a lot, and it’s pretty good for that. As everything is a common, almost all of the cards include reminder text for the keywords, which is helpful. I’ve tried to force people to play with a realistic curve. Limited Magic is generally about attacking for two, and again, that’s what I’ve tried to emphasise in my Cube. Sure, a lot of the creatures are bears with abilities, but most of the time, you’ll be attacking for multiples of two. I’ve said to multiple people, ‘If you want to get better at limited, draft my cube a lot’, and I genuinely believe that.
The mana-fixing available at common isn’t great, so for the most part, if you’re using my list, you’ll find yourself drawn into a 2 colour deck. It’s been a conscious decision on my part to limit the fixing by not including the Signets from the Ravnica block, or indeed all of the Bounce-lands. I’ve chosen to limit the Bouncelands to the Mid-range and Control colour pairs, where they’ll be more useful.
A few examples of the archetypes I’ve built into the cube include:-
GW Aggro. Curve based aggro deck, very similar to the Innistrad block GW deck. Efficient creatures, removal and pump. My favourite archetype, if I can’t draft UB Control.
BG Recursion. Difficult to kill creatures, with Gravedigger variants to re-buy them.
Because my Cube is only a little over 360 cards, these are generally decks that are able to be assembled, and the rewards for recognising that you should be in them is there. I’ve won drafts with each of these archetypes, and several more to boot. This isn’t to say that this is an exhaustive list of the viable archetypes, just a starting point.
As I’ve said before, I think one of the fastest ways to get better at limited, and by extension Magic in general is to play a cube like this with something approaching regularity. You’ll learn about creature combat, and drafting to curve and all those other lovely limited tricks almost without realising it, and the fact that it’s a cube means that there’s no cost if something goes horrifically wrong in the draft.
You can easily knock out a few 8-man drafts in an afternoon without having to buy packs, not to mention that, as it’s all commons, I’d expect that you could buy almost all the cards that you need from Manaleak, and have change from £50. My own version is almost entirely foiled, so cost a bit more than that, but again, the cost-to-fun ratio here is off the charts. Perhaps if we ask Tu nicely, he could do a bulk-buy package/discount?
Stay Classy mtgUK,