Fun Cubed: An Introduction to the Greatest Format

Hello and welcome to my first article by yours truly on the greatest Magic format never to be sanctioned, Cube.  The overall goal of my writing here is not only to spread the word of the Cube but also broaden Cube player pools near and far, bringing Magic players of all different interest and skill levels around a table to play with Magic’s greatest hits.  Before I get into this week’s topic let me start by giving you a short Magic-related history in regards to me and my Cube experiences.

I was introduced to Magic in the summer of ’94. As a tween whose early life experiences of playing games were centered on baseball and Nintendo up until that point I was instantly fascinated with the fantasy images and the competitive nature pitting would-be peers in mental combat.  Requesting packs for my birthday that year from everyone I knew, I started the following school year with a meager collection of Revised cards and dreams of making new friends playing Magic.  Simply a casual player into high school things quickly changed as Magic was no longer considered cool at the time, and it didn’t help that Wizards was printing Masques when I finally decided I was bigger than a kids game.  Not thinking twice about the game until a year out of high school, one afternoon my roommate and I were eating lunch and he says, Hey, remember Magic, didn’t you say you used to play that game?  The remainder of that meal was centered around a conversation on the fun we had as kids playing Magic and we literally drove to the local card shop after eating and bought one of each booster in Standard and a tournament pack of Odyssey to go home and play sealed deck with.  This spawned an almost immediate urge to get back into the game, quickly learning about the DCI, where PTQ’s were held, and what formats were popular at the time.  Our interest was high, and playtesting quickly became our number one activity around the house.  Over the past handful of years my Magic involvement has had peaks and valley’s, where one week I’d sell off my collection to increase my poker bankroll, and the next week I’d be brainstorming sideboard options for whatever was currently popular in Extended.

So while life would often interrupt my weekly Magic playing, I stumbled onto something that I could pickup and play whenever I had the chance, and it didn’t require as much involvement as learning about the constant shifting that takes place with more popular Magic formats.  The Cube, Cubing, or simply Cube, was in many ways something I’d been looking for from Magic for years.  Remember being able to cast Sylvan Library in a real format?  Did you ever wish you could have to pick between Loxodon Warhammer and Chandra in the same pack?  Equip Mask of Memory to Ball Lightning, draw Blistering Firecat off of mask, and then repeat the process the following turn!  Cube is the opportunity to see old faces of cards you may remember from childhood, put card combinations together in a limited format you’d only laughed about with friends in the past, and play games of Magic unlike any you’d find in any current constructed or limited format.

So what is Cube and how do you play it?  The jumping-off point starts as a simple question and opens the door to endless possibilities.  Pretend you had the opportunity to make your own Magic set from all the cards in print, what cards would you put in your set?  How big would you make it?  Would you want there to be a theme or themes within your set?  What mechanics would you want?  There are as many different ways to build your Cube as you can think of, with emphasis on whatever you’d like. There are a few fundamentals that are the foundation of Cube that make it the format that it is, simple parameters that keep colors from becoming unbalanced or card counts from being skewed either in the short term or over the long term of Cube play.

First you want to set the number of cards that will be in your Cube, with 360 commonly being the jumping off point. That’s just enough cards for an eight person draft, and all the cards in your Cube will potentially be in play every draft.  I’ve seen Cube lists with fewer than 360 for player pools under eight people, but I feel 360 is an easy basement level for building a Cube if you want to see all the cards come together in every draft.  There is no upper limit to Cube but just think that the more you add to the mix the more it becomes diluted.  Ballooning up to 720 cards is very popular with Cube builders as this gives the opportunity to run two drafts at the same time.  Just beware that with the more cards you add they can’t all be of the same quality as that base Cube list which really reflects the best that Magic has to offer.  For the rest of this primer we’ll consider the skeleton Cube to have 360 cards in it.

Once you know the size of your Cube you need to determine how you want to split the colors as well as the percent of the Cube that you want to contain artifacts, lands, and multicolor spells.  For my skeleton Cube I have 50 cards per color, 40 cards for multicolored cards and 40 for lands, and then the remaining 30 for artifacts.  This distribution works well when you’re building a card list that isn’t necessarily interconnected between the colors like Magic sets are crafted for today.  When drafting with eight people I would liken it to drafting core set with multicolor cards.  If the proportions are kept the same as you expand a Cube most drafters will be playing two colors maybe splashing a third.  Mana fixing as also found in abundance in the Cube to back up the ability for anyone to play any color combination in draft. Keeping a close eye on color fixing in your Cube is important to make sure certain color combinations don’t become unplayable while at the same time not going overboard with lands and artifacts that just make colored mana.  Even if you haphazardly hand shuffle your Cube like I do, this color breakdown makes for a good mix of different colored cards in each pack for a draft.  Sure, every once in a while you’ll riffle through a pack and find no cards of a single color but that’s never hindered the drafting experience for me or the people I’ve played with. Between lands, artifacts, multicolor cards, and splash capable cards it always works out.

Make your Cube something you can actually draft.  If you want your Cube to be just all the best cards of each color all the time this might not make it something you can actually draft.  If you have 50 slots for blue cards and you think that counterspells are the best cards in the game, and fill each of those slots with counterspells you may have just made your cube not only unbalanced but unfun, and undraftable.  The simple rules to follow are for white, black, and red, its fifty percent creatures, and fifty percent spells.  For blue, two thirds spells, one third creatures, and vice versa for green, two thirds creatures, one third spells.  Multi-colored spells and artifacts are much more free form, put in what you like or what you feel is lacking from your Cube.  If you want more creatures, play more artifact creatures, if you feel you need more fixing play more artifact mana and so on.  When it comes to lands I like to have access to more rather than fewer.  You have to remember that this isn’t exactly like drafting a set where if you open a pack with a foil basic land and a land in the rare slot you might feel like you’ve opened a 12 card pack, lands are often drafted high in Cube and mana fixing can be very important to your deck.  Just the other night I picked up a pack in booster draft with 5 lands in it. I didn’t feel like I was losing out on quality picks and was glad I could get a land to support a splash.

When it comes down to it, creatures do the most work to win games, especially in limited formats.  Not since the days of Ravnica has anyone reliably drafting an archetype that could win without sending men into the red zone.  So when building Cube remember that creatures will be doing the footwork, and while spells like Giant Growth seem very narrow in Cube, having quality combat tricks in Cube make it feel like a real limited format.  I have seen Cube lists that include a copy of Minds Desire, Brain Freeze, Millstone, and so on.  While I can see the argument for making a color, say blue for example, have a milling theme, you have to remember in Cube you want all the picks to have potential impact on the game. If I’m a blue drafter who isn’t trying to play that archetype, and I get handed a pack with the only blue spells being milling spells, than I’m going to be a little disappointed.  Not to say that combo doesn’t have a place in Cube, I prefer not to include combos that are up-front obvious and necessary to build a deck around like Brian Freeze.

With the basic parameters in place you can start to choose which cards you want in your Cube.  Often it’s easy at first, thinking of the best of the best in all past limited and constructed formats.  If you stick to the guidelines from the above paragraphs you will never end up with an unbalanced Cube.  I remember when my Cube was just a stack on cards on my desk, starting with a short brainstormed list between friends followed by rounding up cards from my collection and random boxes in my house with older cards in them.  As you make your own card selections however you may want each color to have a theme, reanimation in black, bounce in blue, land destruction in red, and that’s where the Cube experience shifts away from just a collection of Magic’s greatest hits into something a little more unique.  What do you want to be able to do with your Cube?  While the potential is there for each color or color combinations to share themes of your choice, I know for my own personal cube that keeping balance is an issue.  Blue has countermagic, so green and white have cheap efficient creatures, while black and red have land destruction, all simple themes that aren’t to overpowering.   This topic leads directly into the question of whether power cards should be included in Cube.  Does the potential for first turn Mox, Mox, land, spell make the format unfun?  Does the blue player casting Ancestral Recall while across the table the other player has a few Plains on the board make the card pool unbalanced?  These are decisions you’ll have to make when you build your own Cube, to personalize the experience for you and your player pool.  Few Cubes are identical and almost never card for card. With that said view the skeleton list I’ve posted, built it, play with it, see what you like and don’t like and change it and add onto in accordingly.

Putting together your Cube at first can be a lot of fun before you even have the opportunity to play a Cube game.  A scavenger hunt of sorts for Magic cards starting within your own collection, moving onto trading with friends and filling in the missing pieces from your favorite website makes the initial Cube experience fun in itself.  Since most people who build their Cubes don’t start shooting out of the gate with exactly the list they want card for card, it becomes an evolution process as you head towards whatever you consider to be Cube perfection.

Once you’ve moved past the stage of simply acquiring cards for Cube and making card selections you obviously need to find the best way to store and mange it. I keep my Cube in a double wide long box, with the Cube contents on one side and on the other side basic land and life counters as well as extra sleeves.  It comes with me whenever I go to play magic, and otherwise resides on my kitchen table waiting to be Winston drafted at the drop of a hat.  I hand shuffle my own Cube and make sure to separate and mix in cards from the most recent draft so you don’t pick up a pile of cards to make packs just to find out you’re staring at somebody’s deck from the previous night.  Making up packs is easy, just count out as many cards as you need face down and lay the would be packs in front of each player, just like drafting sealed product.  Now I’ve seen computer programs that will randomize your whole Cube for you in order to make packs, this just seems like a little to much work for me personally, as the following step of the process is to match what the computer requires you put into in one pack together while sifting through your Cube.  Another popular method is separating all the Cube cards into respective color piles, and taking a couple cards from each pile and a few random selections to make up 15 card packs.  This method makes sense to me and does help in determining signals from other drafters around the table.  A shortcoming of my method is potential for no draft signals to be given.  Two players right next to each other both trying to draft the same two colors has happened in Cube before, and while normally this would be considered a failure to communicate during draft thankfully each pick in Cube is powerful enough that nobody feels like they get the shaft when being potentially hated on at the table.

When it comes to formats for your Cube anything and everything works.  I’ve booster drafted, Rochester drafted, Winston drafted, Solomon drafted, played 6 man sealed deck, team drafted, and I’m always looking for new formats to try out with my Cube.  That’s another great feature of the Cube, you can learn to play new limited formats with it.  Until Cube I’d never Solomon drafted before, now every once in a while I find myself drifting off into thought about Solomon draft strategies.  Remember that your Cube needs to be sleeved, which also means you’ll need to have basic land sleeved in quantity enough to cover the size of your draft pool.  For my Cube that often drafts with eight people at a time I have 55 of each basic land type sleeved in my draft box.  I’d also recommend having extra sleeves handy for those failing during play.

Cube is a great way to make new friends at events.  Often times you and a buddy can just be Winston drafting between rounds at an event, the different cards will catch people’s eyes and before you know it you’ve got a full draft ready to go when the final round of the tournament is over.  From there the possibilities and permutations are in your hands, if you want a Cube of just Ravnica block cards, go for it, just commons, just rares, you can make it.
Until next time, this is Tristan Gregson hoping your top decks are live and your lethal damage always resolves.

3 thoughts on “Fun Cubed: An Introduction to the Greatest Format”

  1. My skeleton cube list as well as my full cube list should be on my author page in the near future. If those lists don’t get posted with my next article I’ll make sure to get them up myself. Check but later this week to see those lists.

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