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Fun Cubed: The Greatest Power in the Universe (my Cube!)

 

This week I want to give an overview of my cube, from its evolution from starting as an idea seven months ago to becoming the focal point of my Magic playing today. It all started a couple of years ago. I had a shared card pool with a couple of friends, all of us avid players. We went to FNM every week, drafted on Saturdays at our local shop when there wasn’t a PTQ, and thankfully we were good enough to win product on a regular basis.

This led to a lot of packs being opened, which in turn led to a lot of excess common and uncommon cards. Obviously we’d keep the rares aside to be put into binders, as well as quality foils, but what about those copies of foil Soldier Replica that we knew weren’t going to see constructed play ever but weren’t as worthless as the countless commons littered around the house? All those subpar foils found their way into their own box, which we would tote around with us from event to event.

We quickly found ourselves digging into it between PTQ rounds and during downtime at those FNM’s as we searched for something to entertain us. We’d play mental magic, type 4, just play the cards as they were, mixing it up to keep the random assortment fresh as long as we could. From time to time I’d find myself talking about how it would be a lot of fun to have a box of real cards that were the best of the best in Magic, something we could just pull a pile out of and play with any number of people and see a cross section of great Magic cards.

Just this year I’d heard about the concept of Cube drafting and a light went off in my head: “That’s it, that’s what I’ve been trying to put together all this time!” The best of the best from both Limited and Constructed, all those cards at your fingertips ready to play sealed, booster draft, Winston draft and so on. So, with the assistance of my economic stimulus check I found a skeleton cube list online to use as a jumping off point. I quickly became wrapped up in card choices, combos, themes, color breakdowns, history versus power, playing with un-sets or not, adding Power 9 or not, and more questions about how I wanted to approach cube drafting.

As it currently resides, my Cube is 620 cards, 80 for each of the main colors, 80 total multicolor cards, 70 artifacts, and 70 lands. In my Cube primer article I mentioned that 360 is the minimum for drafting with eight players, so as you can imagine 620 is a far cry from the minimum. The argument here is whether you want to see every card in your Cube every draft or do you want there to be a larger pool to draw from in order to keep drafts and games from being similar. I like so many different cards and want as much diversity in card interactions as possible that I lean towards the more the merrier for a card pool; of course you need to be wary as you expand your Cube not to unbalance it. This will be covered moreover in a later article.

I’ve heard people argue that once you get around 600 cards in your cube you should just go to 720 so you can run two eight player drafts at the same time. I disagreed with this stance for a couple of reasons:

1) You end up in the position where every card in the Cube is in play every draft, albeit not in the same draft pod every time. This is undesirable due to the lack of variety.

2) It’s harder to have 15-16 people you can trust around your Cube playing with it at any given time. I don’t want to get into the issues of Cube security now, and I like strangers to be able to play with my Cube since otherwise it’s hard to make new friends with my Cube, but being able to keep a watchful eye over my draft helps to limit the potential for theft.

Here is a link to my current Cube.

I wanted each color in my Cube to have a theme, and perhaps depending on the depth of the color, more than one theme. Themes in each color often make for better games in Cube as well as viable draft archetypes. I’ve played with Cubes that didn’t have any themes and some of the games I’ve played felt clunky and at some points even slow and boring. Boring is the opposite effect that playing with the Cube should result in! So when picking what cards you put into a Cube sometimes you shoudn’t take the best overall card for a color and instead put in a card that fits a theme into that slot instead.

Before getting into the colored themes of my Cube I do have one theme that runs throughout that you may not pick up on when looking at the Cube list. Including a seeming excess of morph creatures in my Cube actually makes it play better. Normally people only include the most popular handful of morph creatures so every time somebody says “morph” your mind automatically says “Exalted Angel.” By mixing it up and running more morph creatures in Cube you add more to the game. Not only is your opponent playing the guessing game wondering now if that face down creature is Quicksilver Dragon or just Riptide Survivor, but morph creatures are often creatures will spell like abilities on them, making them double as otherwise linear spells in Cube while at the same time being a body with power and toughness. I even went as far as to play Daru Mender in a previous incarnation of my Cube because I became so obsessed with morph combat tricks and making morph creatures a real deep facet of my Cube.

For White I have two themes, the strongest of which is white weenie. Guys that are great at the two-drop slot with different abilities, spells that make more than one creature, and cheap efficient beats backed by Crusade-style effects. With a full compliment of Protection from Black or Red, White’s creatures offer resilience while continuing to attack turn after turn. The secondary theme is board sweeping. Often used in conjunction with burn spells or counterspells, White offers the best in the category of “remove all of something” from the table. White is the weakest color in Cube by far, so often it only supports two drafters, one on the beat down plan and the other snagging sweepers and picking off a card here and there.

The main theme for Blue is an obvious one but one that requires delicate balance because blue is often considered to be the best color in everyone’s Cube. That theme is of course the theme of permission. Looking at the grand history of Magic, Counterspell and friends have defined many a metagame, and in a format where every spell is good, every Counterspell effect is just a little bit better. The balance factor comes into play because more likely than not the number of blue spell slots you have in your cube could be completely filled with Counterspell variants. I have picked mine to show a variety of different counterspell styles without overloading Blue with redundant effects. Since Blue is so deep in Cube you’ll still see three drafters using it as a primary or secondary color in the majority of drafts. The secondary and still very strong theme of Blue is theft. Every viable variation on Control Magic can be found in my Cube and makes not only Blue a powerhouse but also helps to facilitate making cards like Disenchant a main deck inclusion. With Dream Leash, Confiscate, and Take Possession, Blue isn’t limited to taking just opposing creatures which also adds to Blue’s already deep card pool.

Black has the reanimation package. From the classics like Reanimate and Animate Dead, to the newer Dread Return and Beacon of Unrest, Black has the full arsenal of moving guys from the yard into play. Often a combination with the discard spells of Blue like Frantic Search and Careful Consideration, getting the reanimation deck to come together is often a thing of beauty. Finding each of the pieces and picking up cards you may have normally overlooked in order to get that turn three Simic Sky Swallower is a lot of fun. The secondary theme in Black is one that overlaps with Red, land destruction. I’m sure some of you out there consider LD to be even less fun to play against than permission, but I feel with Cube it’s rare to find yourself completely shut down by a few Stone Rain cards. It’s more of a positive boost to have land destruction to punish those players who try to play five-color control without enough backup mana sources. Black is the color in Cube that while defined still remains the biggest mystery. Black has had the ability through Magic’s history to bend or break the color pie, normally in exchange for life points. This makes Black a great compliment color in draft without being too well defined by itself. I’ve seen Cube lists where black has the “Monoblack” theme. Mind Sludge, Korlash, Nightmare, and others, where if you draft Black you have to draft all the Black. I don’t like this theme because unless you’re playing with eight players all the time, Black quickly becomes undraftable, especially in a 1v1.

It would be difficult to call burn spells a theme; they are more of a function of playing Red, but having a decent sized collection of the quality ones make drafting the burn deck a viable option. Red is the most straightforward color to draft: Deal damage, play creatures with more power than toughness, and maybe decide you want to blow up a land or two. Red actually has a large variety of land destruction in its arsenal and I would consider LD to be the major theme of Red in my cube. Now I’m sure some of you question how viable drafting land destruction is, but let me say that even if you can’t get eight LD spells in your draft deck every time, there is still great value in LD. With enough cheap early drops, making the tempo play of destroying a land can really count. The obvious upside to packing a few LD spells without the full compliment is when facing the multicolor control decks. It can be devastating just to hit that dual land that your opponent fetched up on the previous turn in order for him/her to be able to cast that Vindicate, Fact or Fiction, or Balance they’re splashing for.

When it comes to Green, it’s about more bang for our buck. Playing BOP and two versions of Llanowar Elves as well as half a dozen two power creatures for one mana, the main theme for Green is power versus casting cost. All of the creatures in Green either serve a utility purpose or are just plain big. I’ve won a great many games by laying turn one creature, turn two creature, turn three creature, turn five Stunted Growth or Plow Under. Cube drafting is populated far less by creature stalls on the board and often games can come down to who resolves a big dragon last. But Green goes against the grain and plays the rush game, assisted by finishers in the form of real strong fatties or powerful effects. The secondary theme in green is the Regrowth and friends spells. All Sun’s Dawn is a bomb and Eternal Witness has always been a great card. While Cube has fewer combo interactions than most people would expect, you can start to do some game breaking things with the assistance of Regrowth and friends.

So lets say you’re eating up all this information and are inspired to start your now Cube. You’ve already read the primer I hope, and have seen at least one example of how to expand on it with this article, so I’m sure many of you are wondering how much does it cost? I’m guessing most of you out there are like me, and when you decided to make a Cube you didn’t simply have all the cards laying around. Now I understand that price is a factor when it comes to building your Cube, as you may create your own Cube list and want to include the power 9 and friends but don’t have the budget to include cards like Tarmogoyf. Some people go right to the proxy solution, printing upwards of half their Cube list as proxies in order to not compromise their card selections or personal collections. I didn’t want to put proxies into my Cube as I feel part of the Cube experience is playing with real cards, having that touch and connection with the real thing makes the game feel more real. When I sat down with the skeleton list I wanted to use at first there was power on the list, and I quickly either cut or found replacements for those cards. Running Fellwar Stone, Prismatic Lens, Coldsteel Heart, Darksteel Ingot, and Coalition Relic over the five Moxes is an example of how you can adjust your Cube list to play on a budget while still keeping the basic card concepts intact.

Slowly but surely over time I’ve upgraded some of the cards in my Cube, but I don’t see myself playing power anytime in the future, as I’m happy with my list today as it stands. Instead it was a series of little hurdles, where every week or so I’d look to add another piece of the puzzle. The week I decided to add Library of Alexandria was a rough one but now I’m glad its part of the Cube family. Even losing against that card is entertaining and part of the experience of playing Magic.

So armed with this knowledge I hope you find the creation of your Cube as exciting as mine has been for me. Until next week this is Tristan Gregson hoping your top decks are live and your lethal damage always resolves.

2 thoughts on “Fun Cubed: The Greatest Power in the Universe (my Cube!)”

  1. Yes the basic concept of Darksteel Ingot is similar to Mox Pearl. This is in the same way the basic concept of Mon’s Goblin Raiders is similar to Goblin Lackey.

  2. Tristan,
    After reading this, I’ve been inspired to make a cube of my own. I do not have a lot of cards and I’m on a very tight budget, so I thought of making my cube based around 1/1 creatures.Would this “format” work out? I guess there could be some pretty cool card interactions within my cube (Goblin Sharpshooter, Pendelhaven, Spectral Procession), but would it work out? I’m afraid that the format will be really boring because players would exhaust so easily, and the whole game would become a topdeck war. Is it a viable cube idea? or should I trash it and find a more traditional play style?
    Thanks for your help.

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