It’s done. We did it. I built the Commander Cube.
Well, that’s true to some extent, anyway. I built the first draft, and it doesn’t exist in paper – just on CubeCobra. I know you’ve been waiting for the list, so we’ll start with that, but I’ll go over how I constructed it, my thoughts for the future, and more right afterwards.
So how did I go from last time, where we chose the commanders, to this point? Well, I started somewhere I thought made perfect sense: the mana.
If you missed my previous two pieces, you can catch up on them here:
Takeoffs and Landings
That’s right, I started with the lands. I wanted to make sure we had a decent balance of fixers as well as utility land, so I looked to the MTGO Vintage Cube for advice. That Cube is about 15.2 percent land, or if you’re just looking at mana fixing lands, about 11.3 percent. I tried to take that to heart when putting this Cube together, so I aimed right at that same target – 110 total lands gave me 15.3 percent land as well as a clean number I could build around. Similarly, if I put in 80 fixing lands and 30 utility lands, we got to 11.1 percent fixing lands, which is a solid starting point.
I don’t want the mana to be too good – I want players to have to make decisions when building their decks and playing their early turns. With that in mind, I chose some cycles to keep things nice and balanced.
These are representatives of the cycles I’ve chosen. Most of them are two-color cycles, or at least cycles that are compliant with commanders with two colors in their color identities. The only exception here is the cycle of ETB tapped trilands split between Shards of Alara and Khans of Tarkir, and to be honest, I’m starting to think they should be cut. Unless you’re playing exactly one of the two three-color commanders in that identity, they’re totally unplayable, so I think they probably don’t fit what we’re trying to do. I’ll keep them around for now but cut them in the next update if my friendly playtesters feel the same way.
My favorite of these are the Gates from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate and the Thriving lands from Jumpstart. Along with the Vivid lands, they’re perfect lands for any deck that can use their base color. The other lands are mostly here to help fix, with the Ravnica bouncelands shoring up mana bases while also helping with landfall themes, Bridges adding to artifact counts and lands like Scoured Barrens bolstering life gain strategies. These synergies may seem small, but when they’re baked into the land base, they help a ton.
After putting these cycles in, I added some additional fixers like Rupture Spire, Terramorphic Expanse and lands of that ilk before throwing in some utility lands. I added artifact lands, the Eldraine Castles, some card draw lands and a smattering of lands with and without color identity restrictions.
After this, I went in and filled out the multicolor section. I’m maxing out at cards with two colors – since there are so few three-color commanders, I think it’s a bit wasteful to slot in cards that just won’t be playable at all in the average draft (this same philosophy really makes me want to cut those tri-lands.) With that in mind, I carved out space for a total of 200 multicolored cards. We have the 20 3three-color commanders and 60 two-color commanders, leaving room for another 12 cards per color pair. From there, I chose to broadly split things up as follows within each color pair:
- Two mana rocks
- Two cards per supported theme (six total)
- Four utility cards
Let’s use Azorius as an example:
- Mana Rocks: Talisman of Progress, Azorius Cluestone
- Blink: Momentary Blink, Soulherder
- Flyers: Skycat Sovereign, Empyrean Eagle
- Artifact/Historic: Dance of the Manse, Ethersworn Sphinx
- Utility: Detention Sphere, Ojutai’s Command, Cloudblazer, Time Wipe
Each color pair got a Talisman and a Cluestone. As I mentioned earlier, I’m trying to stop mana bases from getting too good, and that meant going with Talismans rather than Signets. Cluestones are actually pretty decent at three mana, especially since they’re easy to cash in for a card – I think that makes them preferable to Lockets, but if players uniformly end up wanting a bigger, costlier effect, I’ll switch it up.
In the Utility area, you can see that some of these cards end up supporting the other themes to a degree, but their main focus is just doing a useful thing that most decks in that color pair will want. I expect a lot of decks to have a main theme as well as a subtheme from the same color pair, so some mix-and-match action is to be expected.
And All the Rest
From here, I filled out the artifact section with some utility cards like Pilgrim’s Eye and Ornithopter of Paradise, made sure to include some creatures, threw in some payoffs for different themes and threw in some cards I wanted to see play. I did basically the same thing for my monocolored sections – instead of having an explicit recipe, I put together a spreadsheet of all the themes that color is trying to support, then tried to mix cards into each applicable column while recognizing that some cards fit multiple themes. Is Voracious Hydra a ramp payoff or a +1/+1 counters card? Does Emeria Angel belong to Tokens or Flyers? Well, the idea is that these cards should support multiple themes, and I tried to include quite a few of these multitaskers in each color.
I was also careful not to add any additional legendary creatures or commander-eligible planeswalkers to the list. Why? Well, I don’t want to create any confusion about what is or isn’t intended as a commander. Is this the right call, or is this a mistake? We’ll find out after a few drafts!
This is a very organized version of winging it, but at the end of the day, it was definitely an improv exercise to some degree. I’ve played very little Commander Cube in my life, and I think the best thing to do is put something together, test it out and see how it feels, and that’s the plan overall. I haven’t gotten a chance to get friends together for a draft yet, though that’s my next step – first, I did some solo drafts against the CubeCobra “bots” to see how the Cube felt. Obviously I’d get more insight by playing it, but drafting should tell us a lot. Let’s see how my two drafts went! I won’t go over every pick, but I’ll show you the first few packs and then get to the end result. As a reminder, we’re using four 15-card packs and drafting two cards per pack (until the last card is passed, of course.)
Our first pack is very exciting… or is that the right word? We have zero eligible commanders in this pack, so most of the time I’d be minded to pick up a couple of cards that share a theme or just try to grab the two most powerful cards in the pack. In this case though, we have two very strong mana rocks in this pack – Mind Stone and Everflowing Chalice – and we’ll end up playing both of these in any deck, so I chose to start with those two.
Well, if we want a commander, or at least a provisional one to get started, this is a great pack. With testing in mind, I wanted to see if we could make a three color deck work, so I grabbed Jan Jansen – happily, he works well with our mana rocks if we decide we don’t need them anymore. With artifacts and tokens in mind here, I picked up Myrsmith to go with Jan, though in retrospect I might have grabbed Zulaport Cutthroat instead. It’s a close call, and with Blade Splicer and Sun Titan both in the mix as well, there are a lot of options.
Now that we’re in three colors, we probably want to be in the lookout for some fixing – at least, if we decide to force the issue with Jan Jansen at the helm. With that in mind, I should probably have looked into Cliffgate here, but instead I was blinded by some other cards. The danger of cool things here is strong (who else remembers that classic article?)! I ended up grabbing Experimental Synthesizer and Prosper, Tome-Bound here. I think Prosper is a great pick as it lets us hedge our bets – we can keep picking card for Jan while potentially reducing the deck into Rakdos. With eight players in this draft, we’re not going to see this pack again, so I wanted to take the Synthesizer while it was available, but I think Cliffgate might have been correct.
We have some juicy stuff here. Idol of Oblivion is a great match with our token generation strategy, so that’s a lock, leaving us with the more thematic choice of Bronze Guardian or the deck-smoothing Inspiring Overseer. At this point in the draft, we have plenty of room left for high drops, so I picked up Bronze Guardian to work with Jan.
The deck ended up here:
I feel pretty satisfied with this overall – we have a decent mana base, an overall combined theme of tokens and artifacts and good cards to support them. I’d be very excited to cast Awaken the Blood Avatar in this deck, and I’m very happy that we seem to have enough artifacts to make Myrsmith worthwhile. Intangible Virtue was a great pickup.
We could easily start with Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn here and just try to get set into a color pair, but with no synergies immediately available, I’d like to stay more open. I see the powerful pairing of Incubation Druid and Kalonian Hydra, and I’m sold.
If we want to shove our chips in on a green-based counters theme, that shouldn’t be too hard with Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Obsessive Skinner. We could pick up some fixing here, but I think I’ll just grab those two and see where we end up next.
Inauspicious. We have to pick up some non-green cards here, and I think Inspiring Overseer is a solid choice to get us into a good counters-based color pair. I’m going to hedge a little here and grab Rabbit Battery too, as Gruul modified/counters is a possibility too.
Kami of Celebration is pulling me toward that Gruul setup, but none of the other cards seem to fit the bill. I’ll take Kitt Kanto, Mayhem Diva since we’re somewhere in the Naya zone. Let’s fast forward to the end:
I ended up trying to stick to Gruul, partially out of a desire to see what drafting a two-color deck felt like, and the process was a bit strained. I got a big hit with the Chishiro, the Shattered Blade and stuck pretty close to the counters/modified theme, but I ended up having to slot in basically every legal card to stay within two colors. I could have added a few cards with white, but it would have made the mana significantly worse, and our commander would have been far less directly relevant. If this is the general experience drafting only two colors, we may have too many multicolored cards overall. Obviously, this is just one draft and we can’t draw inferences from it alone, but it’s something to look out for if it continues to occur.
Overall, I’m really happy with this cube as a starting point. If you’re interested in giving it a try, head over to CubeCobra and try drafting it by going here and pressing “Start Draft” under the “Default Format: Commander Cube Draft” heading. If you’d like to help me out a little, you can even tweet your feedback to me at @RagingLevine. Next week we’ll be back to some more traditional articles, probably involving Dominaria United if I’m reading the preview schedule correctly, but you can expect to see this Cube come back around as I test, iterate and update it.