If you build it, they will come – Simplifying the Cube by Ben Cottee

If you build it, they will come – Simplifying the Cube by Ben Cottee

Hello readers,

In my first article I acknowledge how difficult providing strategic content for Cube can be due to the variety of constructions and philosophies out there. This article will help anyone who wants to build a Cube. I plan to follow this up next week with a follow on that focusses on playing with your Cube you have built.

Cube comes at a price to the owner, requiring an investment, financial, time and emotional. So, the choice to start constructing one usually has a driving motivator, some of which are below:

1. You have heard of Cube, investigated what it was, and thought it would be sweet to play with your local group.

2. You played a Cube (be it a friend’s or MTGO), enjoyed it, and now want to construct your own.

3. You’re a Johnny (a Magic demographic that likes Combo and how cards interact with each other) and want the challenge at designing a really cool and unique draft experience.

4. You are dropping out of competitive Magic, but want to retain some cards and love drafting.

I am a combination of the first and last motivators. Late 2012 I had decided I didn’t have the time or money to keep on the PTQ grind and weekly drafting, but I had a very valuable Standard collection that I didn’t really want to cash in at a dealer or eBay. At the same time many Magic strategy sites began posting online Draft videos that featured the Magic Online Cube. Having played the game since 1995 and seeing all these cool historic cards being played together, I had a plan.

tooth and nail


So, you really want to build a Cube – that’s great, the community always needs more people. I know of many players who want to Cube in real life, but no one in their local area has one. Next step then is to decide what type of Cube you want to build, but before that here’s my most important piece of advice for Cube builders:

Whatever your motivation, you want people to play with your Cube – so you want to create a draft and play experience that the people drafting it will like and want to come back to.

Focus on making the Draft format full of interesting and debatable picks and the gameplay fun and interesting. What is fun and interesting for you may not be for others. If you have an established playgroup, then think about what they find fun and interesting and tailor to suit.

1. Greatest Hits of Magic – no restrictions the whole card pool is open to you, it can be as powerful as you want but heading the advice above.

2. Pauper – only cards that have at one time seen a printing at common can be included, this is both a cost saver and a restriction that breeds creativity.

3. Peasant – similar to Pauper but can include uncommons.

4. Block – all the cards from a specific set or block, one of my favourites is the combined Ravnica Cube that has all the cards from the original and most recent Ravnica blocks.

5. Custom – you took things to the next level and designed your own cards to put into your own Draft format!

6. All the others – could be focused around a mechanic, colour or creature type, it can be built whatever you name.

We now know what type of Cube we want to build, but what cards exactly to put in it? If you are building a Block Cube, this is easy. As you start to expand the pool of cards you can draw from, the task becomes more daunting. Luckily now that Cube is more widespread there are a number of great resources to look at for inspiration and two in particular:

Cubetutor.com – set up and maintained by the marvellous Ben Titmarsh, this UK-based site is your number one Cube resource. You can view hundreds of Cube lists. It has aggregated lists for the most popular types and allows you to build your Cube online and simulate drafts. As a Cube lover words cannot express my gratitude to Ben for all his hard work on the behalf of the community.

MTGSalvation.com – the one thing Cubetutor does not have are active forums to discuss Cube with others online. MTGSalvation has great links to other Cube-related media, lists, and allows you to discuss ideas and philosophy with other Cube owners and players.

zealous conscripts


Cube lists contain vary numbers of cards. 360 is the minimum for 15 card packs for 8 players. The number of cards in your Cube will have three main impacts:

1. How many people can draft – you can have less than 360, but you will not be able to draft with 8 players or you will have less cards in a booster.

2. The more cards you have, the more diluted the power level will be – similar to the reasons why running 41 cards in Draft is usually worse than 40: each card above the minimum is worse than the ones you are already running.

3. The higher the percentage of cards that will be opened in the draft, the easier it is to support particular strategies and archetypes – if all the cards are opened, then when you draft that Splinter Twin, you can take it knowing that Pestermite will be opened by someone. The flip side is that more cards creates a bit of variety. Maybe that Pestermite was still left in the box.

In my Cube I try to have a happy medium. I started at 450, but we regularly had 10 drafters which used the whole Cube – so I upped it to 540. This means you can support archetypes, but each draft has a little variety thrown in for equal measure.

craterhoof behemoth


So, you have a plan, you know the type of Cube you want and the number and identity of the cards to go into it. But you have a problem, you don’t own all those cards…

There are very few players in the world that can boast owning every Magic card ever printed. It is likely that from the ideal list you have drawn up you don’t have everything. This ideal list is important however, as it is your end goal for your perfect Cube. This will change – after you actually playtest and as new cards enter the Magic card pool – but it gives you something to aim for.

How do you get the cards for your Cube?

Hopefully, you already own some Magic cards. If you have been playing for a couple of years, you may be pleasantly surprised by how many of the cards you want you actually have. Wizards have been very good at reprinting cool older cards in supplementary products such as Conspiracy, Modern Masters, and Duel Decks. Also many of your creatures will come from the more recent sets as they are much better now than in the early years of Magic’s existence.

Once you know what you are missing you have some options:

1. Buy – when I started playing Magic, other Magic players you met or booster packs were your only methods to get hold of cards you wanted. Now you can go to any online retailer to acquire specific Magic cards such as this very site. Not to mention eBay.

2. Trade – again, technology has opened this up. Most countries/cities have multiple Facebook groups to meet other traders. These tend to operate with a feedback system to reassure traders along the lines of eBay and have admins to help you with questions and concerns. PTQs used to be great ways to trade with people outside your normal circle and PPTQs still offer a bit of this. GPs such as the one in London in August have multiple large traders as well as thousands of Magic players carrying around binders just like yours. I took my Standard collection along to GP London 2013 and traded for two days. It was then and there that my Cube was really born.

3. Sell – being able to buy requires money. If you haven’t found anyone locally who wants some of your trades and you aren’t travelling further afield, then don’t be scared to sell these over eBay or to a dealer to give you liquidity to purchase the cards you really need.

4. Proxy – if you are just playing in your own home, then don’t be afraid to proxy to test new cards or test with cards you have yet to acquire. I personally will not proxy cards I don’t own or at least realistically intend to acquire in the near future, unless it is for cards not yet released. Taking a full proxy Cube to your local store to draft doesn’t exactly encourage people to buy cards – setting a dangerous precedence. We want fun, sure, but also we want the Magic community to expand. The last thing on proxies is that now Cube is a sanctioned FNM format, so you cannot use the proxies there.

You could wait until you have all the cards for your perfect list – but that means you aren’t drafting! Try and add in or borrow cards to fill the gaps, using cards that are close approximation of the cost, type and effect you are shooting for. For example: you want Dark Confidant, so use Pain Seer for a moment.

There are a few finishing pieces before you can draft. Some are required and others are optional.

1. Basic lands – the amount you will need depends on how likely Mono-coloured decks will be drafted and how many non-basic lands you have included. I would side on having too much, I nearly once run out of Islands which would have been embarrassing.

2. Sleeves – Magic card backs are not always identical, especially where wear and tear has happened to older cards. Sleeves give uniformity in addition to protecting your cards. Sleeve up all your cards and basic lands. I suggest you buy a lot more than you need in one batch to replace breakages and to avoid batching problems where the colours are slightly off.

3. Tokens, dice and counters – these are a nice touch and having them means you have a whole Magic experience in one box.

So, you have a great looking ready to go Cube. Next week I will look at playing with this cool new toy from the draft and gameplay to managing your playgroup.

This week I thought I would sign off with my favourite combo in my Cube.

Or maybe I’ve already done it throughout the article? 🙂

Ben Cottee

Community Question: What makes a good Cube deck?

What makes a good Cube deck

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