MTG Cube Drafting – Spreading the Sickness with Grant Hislop

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UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop

 

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.

 

Pauper Cube

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.

White

CMC 1

Gideon’s Lawkeeper
Goldmeadow Harrier
Icatian Javellineers

Kirtar’s Desire
Guard Duty
Stave Off
Sunlance

CMC 2

Benalish Cavalry
Blade of the Sixth Pride
Gather the Townsfolk
Kami of Ancient Law
Kinsbaile Skirmisher
Knight of Cliffhaven
Kor Skyfisher
Leonin Skyhunter
Lone Missionary
Loyal Cathar
Order of Leitbur
Phantom Nomad
Soltari Trooper
Stormfront Pegasus
Whitemane Lion

Apostle’s Blessing
Bonds of Faith
Journey to Nowhere
Pacifism
Puncturing Light
Shelter
Temporal Isolation

CMC 3

Amrou Seekers
Apex Hawks
Aven Riftwatcher
Ballynock Cohort
Kabuto Moth
Kor Hookmaster
Kor Sanctifiers
Porcelain Legionnaire
Soltari Lancer
Soltari Visionary
Village Bell-Ringer

Arrest
AWOL
Blinding Beam
Cage of Hands
Oblivion Ring

CMC 4

Cloud Crusader
Guardian of the Guildpact
Thraben Sentry

Breath of Life
Faith’s Fetters
False Defeat

CMC 5

Plover Knights
Totem-Guide Hartebeest

CMC 6

Daru Lancer
Razor Golem

Blue

CMC 1

Delver of Secrets
Phantasmal Bear

Brainstorm
Condescend
Ponder
Preordain

CMC 2

Carnivorous Death-Parrot
Halimar Wavewatch

Boomerang
Counterspell
Essence Scatter
Impulse
Into the Roil
Mana Leak
Miscalculation
Narcolepsy
Neurok Stealthsuit

CMC 3

Aether Adept
Calcite Snapper
Illusionary Servant
Man-o-War
Pestermite
Rishadan Airship
Scroll Thief
Seagate Oracle
Shaper Parasite
Skywinder Drake
Spined Thopter
Stitched Drake
Stormbound Geist
Trespassing Souleater
Wormfang Drake

Capsize
Claustrophobia
Compulsive Research
Exclude
Frantic Search
Frost Breath
Repulse
Rushing River

CMC 4

Makeshift Mauler
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Shimmering Glasskite

Bone to Ash
Deep Analysis
Ray of Command

CMC 5

Chasm Drake
Double Header
Mnemonic Wall
Mulldrifter
Sky-Eel School
Spire Monitor

CMC 6

Aethersnipe
Spire Golem

CMC 7

Errant Ephemeron

Black

CMC 1

Carnophage
Fumespitter
Vampire Lacerator

Dead Weight
Disfigure
Duress
Tragic Slip
Undying Evil
Vendetta

CMC 2

Blind Creeper
Corrupted Zendikon
Dauthi Horror
Dauthi Slayer
Highborn Ghoul
Nezumi Cutthroat
Null Champion
Order of the Ebon Hand
Skinthinner
Skittering Skirge
Vampire Interloper
Vault Skirge
Wretched Anurid

Death Denied
Diabolic Edict
Disturbed Burial
Doom Blade
Geth’s Verdict
Grim Harvest
Grasp of Darkness
Hymn to Tourach
Nameless Inversion
Sign in Blood
Sorin’s Thirst
Victim of Night

CMC 3

Blind Zealot
Cadaver Imp
Crypt Rats
Dauthi Marauder
Liliana’s Specter
Moriok Replica
Skulking Knight
Phyrexian Rager
Morbid Plunder
Rend Flesh

CMC 4

Faceless Butcher
Gravedigger
Heartstabber Mosquito
Mortis Dogs

Evincar’s Justice
Pestilence
Snuff Out

CMC 5

Dross Golem
Okiba-Gang Shinobi
Pith Driller
Warren Pilferers

Red

CMC 1

Mogg Fanatic

Burst Lightning
Chain Lightning
Faithless Looting
Fireball
Firebolt
Flame Slash
Lightning Bolt
Reckless Charge

CMC 2

Bloodcrazed Neonate
Fireslinger
Goblin Shortcutter
Hinterland Hermit
Keldon Marauders
Mogg War Marshal
Plated Geopede
Pouncing Kavu
Skirk Marauder
Sparksmith
Torch Fiend

Incinerate
Lash Out
Rolling Thunder
Searing Blaze
Volcanic Hammer

CMC 3

Blood Ogre
Crossway Vampire
Erdwal Ripper
Fault Riders
Hissing Iguanar
Inner-Flame Acolyte
Keldon Vandals
Fault Riders
Manic Vandal
Ronin Houndmaster
Skirk Shaman
Suq’Ata Lancer
Torch Slinger
Vulshok Replica
Vulshok Sorceror

Act of Treason
Arc Lightning
Barbed Lightning
Brimstone Volley
Staggershock
Traitorous Blood

CMC 4

Gorehorn Minotaurs

Chandra’s Outrage
Ruthless Invasion

CMC 5

Nearheath Stalker
Pitchburn Devils
Slash Panther

Pyrotechnics

CMC 6

Flameborn Hellion
Oxidda Golem

Fireblast

Green

CMC 1

Basking Rootwalla
Fyndhorn Elves
Jungle Lion
Llanowar Elves
Young Wolf

Giant Growth
Groundswell
Hunger of the Howlpack
Prey Upon
Rancor
Reclaim
Vines of Vastwood

CMC 2

Ambush Viper
Dawntreader Elk
Garruk’s Companion
Mire Boa
Nest Invader
River Boa
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Sprout Swarm
Thornweald Archer
Viridian Emissary
Wild Mongrel

Explore
Rampant Growth

CMC 3

Borderland Ranger
Centaur Courser
Civic Wayfinder
Nessian Courser
Phantom Tiger
Simian Grunts
Sylvok Replica
Ulvenwald Bear
Villagers of Estwald
Yavimaya Elder

Arachnus Web
Cultivate
Harrow
Kodama’s Reach
Wildsize

CMC 4

Blastoderm
Elephant Ambush
Festerhide Boar
Kozilek’s Predator
Mold Shambler
Nantuko Vigilante
Penumbra Spider
Skyshroud Troll
Wickerbough Elder

CMC 5

Aerie Ouphes
Stampeding Rhino
Tangle Hulk

CMC 6

Thundering Tanadon

CMC 7

Krosan Tusker
Maul Splicer

Colourless

Gathan Raiders
Ulamog’s Crusher
Zombie Cutthroat

Tri Coloured

Bant Sureblade
Crystallization
Esper Stormblade
Grixis Grimblade
Jund Hackblade
Naya Hushblade
Nightscape Familiar
Sangrite Backlash
Stormscape Apprentice
Wild Nacatl

Allied Colour Pairs

CMC 1

Avacyn’s Pilgrim
Kird Ape

CMC 2

Agony Warp
Curse of Chains
Deft Duelist
Feeling of Dread
Qasali Pridemage
Scab-Clan Mauler
Terminate
Travel Preparations

CMC 3

Armadillo Cloak
Blightning
Branching Bolt
Forbidden Alchemy
Probe
Soul Manipulation

CMC 4

Esper Cormorants
Henchfiend of Ukor
Mystical Teachings
Rhox Brute
Wrecking Ball

CMC 5

Cultbrand Cinder
Gravelgill Axeshark
Scuzzback Marauders

CMC 6

Sigiled Behemoth

Enemy Colour Pairs

CMC 2

Goblin Legionnaire
Jilt
Putrid Leech

CMC 3

Consume Strength
Fire at Will
Noggle Bandit
Pillory of the Sleepless
Rendclaw Trow
Shrieking Grotesque
Skynight Legionnaire
Snakeform
Temporal Spring

CMC 4

Assault Zeppelid
Blind Hunter
Steamcore Weird

Artifacts

CMC 1

Adventuring Gear
Blazing Torch
Bonesplitter
Copper Carapace
Flayer Husk
Leonin Bola
Sylvok Lifestaff

Traveller’s Amulet

CMC 2

Armillary Sphere
Executioner’s Hood
Mindstone
Perilous Myr
Prophetic Prism
Vulshok Morningstar

CMC 3

Pilgrim’s Eye
Pristine Talisman
Strider Harness
Tumble Magnet
Yotian Soldier

CMC 4

Clay Statue
Paper Tiger
Rock Lobster
Scissors Lizard
Serrated Arrows

CMC 7

Hexplate Golem

Lands

Azorius Chancery
Barren Moor
Desert
Dimir Aqueduct
Evolving Wilds
Fieldmist Borderpost
Firewild Borderpost
Forgotten Cave
Golgari Rot Farm
Halimar Depths
Haunted Fengraf
Izzet Boilerworks
Khalni Garden
Lonely Sandbar
Mistvein Borderpost
Polluted Mire
Rupture Spire
Secluded Steppe
Sejiri Steppe
Simic Growth Chamber
Teetering Peaks
Terramorphic Expanse
Tranquil Thicket
Veinfire Borderpost
Wildfield Borderpost

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.

 

Archetypes 

A few examples of the archetypes I’ve built into the cube include:-

Aggro:-

WB Evasion. Cheap guys that are difficult to block, like Vampire Interloper and Soltari Trooper, backed up with removal to deal with those that can block.

WR Burn. Small guys like Goblin Legionnaire and Bloodcrazed Neonate with Lightning Bolts to clear the way and finish off the opponent.

BR Suicide. Vampire Lacerator, Carnophage, Corrupted Zendikon and their ilk, with burn to finish the opponent off once they’ve stabilised.

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.

Midrange

BG Recursion. Difficult to kill creatures, with Gravedigger variants to re-buy them.

Control

UR Counterburn. Fireball, Counterspell and friends backed up by guys like Hissing Iguanar and Mnemonic Wall. Pitchburn Devils’ best home.

UB Control. Has access to both Mystical Teachings and Forbidden Alchemy, backed up by disruption like Probe, Spire Monitor, and the late game lock of Disturbed Burial.

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.

 

Final Thoughts

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?

This article’s long enough as it is, so I think I’ll save talking through some of the variant formats that you can use your Cube for til next time, assuming there’s interest.

Stay Classy mtgUK,

Grant

 

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