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Fun, Cubed

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Richard Bland
Richard Bland

About Richard Bland

Richard is an English pro player. He started playing Magic on a foreign exchange trip to Germany in the dark days of Darksteel, and was running sick homebrew Shared Fate decks at FNM while everyone else was playing affinity mirrors. While he has learned better since then, he still retains a soft spot for combo decks of all hues.

  • Platinum Pro Player
  • 98 Lifetime Pro Points
  • 2nd Worlds 2011
  • 2nd GP San Diego 2011
  • 3rd GP Barcelona 2011
  • 3rd GP Madrid 2010
  • 2nd Great Britain Nationals 2010

Fun, Cubed

Hello everyone,

It’s the release of a new set, and that’s a time of great change for every format as new cards come in, old cards (in some cases) leave and new decks and strategies become possible. I’m currently working on Modern for the upcoming Pro Tour, and I can’t really talk about that just yet, so I’m going to discuss the new set’s impact on another format I care a lot about. Cube.

The cube is hands down my favorite thing to be doing with Magic cards that isn’t regular drafting. Any time I’m not testing for an upcoming event, I’ll be cube drafting for fun, and it usually even comes with me to Pro Tours, though I’ll save it for after the main event.

For those who don’t know the first thing about cube, of which there are still a surprising number, it is a collection of one of each of the most powerful and fun cards in the game which you use to play games as you would sealed product in Limited.

A cube can consist of anywhere from 360 to over 720 cards. You want to be able to support an 8-person draft with the cube, so 360 is the bare minimum. Some people like this number as the best 360 cards will obviously be more powerful leading to more fun, theoretically anyway. With a small cube you also know that every card in it will be in every draft. This can be viewed as a bad thing; all drafts are going to be somewhat similar. Others prefer it because you are able to build your decks around cards you have yet to see but know will be in the draft later.

I myself favor a larger cube. At times I will have more than 8 people looking to draft, and I enjoy the variety a larger cube offers. Plus, a larger cube means you can fit in more of your favorite cards. I find the hardest part of having a cube is cutting cards from it, and a larger cube makes that less problematic. My cube is currently 520 cards, which fit neatly into a longbox sleeved with room for additional sleeved basic land to spare, though I usually also bring a deckbox of sleeved Zendikar basic lands with me, as bigger drafts need quite a lot of basic land.

The cube itself isn’t just a pile of random cards. There is a lot to think about when building a cube, and to make one that’s fun to play with takes more care than just throwing in one of every card that’s appeared in a Pro Tour, or every rare in your collection and calling it a day. Balance is the key, in color, cost and playability.

My cube is split strictly into colors. 60 cards of each color exactly, with care made to ensure each color has cards in every slot in the mana curve, a good mix of creatures and spells, and not too many 6 mana or more big guys. It’s a lot like building a limited deck, really, and when you think about what you’re doing with the cube, that’s what it is.

Building a cube is also like designing a Magic set. You need to be aware of the themes of your cube and provide cards to support them. This applies to mechanics in sets, but in cube it more generally applies to colors.

White

White in my cube has 2 main themes. White Weenie is the most obvious one, with a good number of cheap, efficient creatures and token-production and anthems and cheap creature removal to compliment them. Cards like Armageddon and Hokori, Dust Drinker allow the deck to punish slow starting control decks. The second theme is board control, with Wrath effects, efficient removal and late game power cards like Decree of Justice, Eternal Dragon and Martial Coup. These are complimented by the strong lifegain themes of cards like Baneslayer Angel, Descendant of Kiyomaro and Elspeth Tirel. There is a fair amount of overlap between these themes, making many white cards desirable for any player in that color.

Blue

Blue is a tough color to balance. It has always been the most powerful color, and that makes blue cards especially hard to fit into cube because you have so many broken, fun and powerful cards competing for only a few slots. I make extra effort to ensure that a good number of creatures make the cut, though obviously blue spells make up a significant portion of the 60. Blue has the fewest creatures of all, despite my best efforts. Blue’s themes are the classic three C’s of card-draw, countermagic and clones, but I made sure to include a good amount of looter-type cards to enable discard-based strategies, and a number of Morph creatures. Morphs are scattered throughout my cube in all colors, not so many as to make the cube too weak – not all morphs are that good, but enough to make it not immediately obvious what card a morph a player casts might be. The ‘colorless’ Gathan Raiders and Zombie Cuththroat are in my cube to help support this theme further.

Black

Black is a color that can easily be built wrong. You have the potential to support a lot of different themes with black cards, but you can only do so many, and you have to support them properly. Reanimation is a big one in my cube. The Blue looters are in part here to support the reanimation theme. There is a small weenie-creature theme to accompany the plentiful removal, and most of them are splashable, enabling Black/White or Black/Red aggro. Mono-black aggro isn’t really much of an option, and Mono-Black itself is a theme I have come to minimize in my cube, as the reward for mono-black was never really big enough to tempt players away from more powerful cards in other colors. Necropotence is powerful enough, and there are fun things to do with Urborg and Cabal Coffers, but cards like Consume Spirit, Corrupt and Korlash have fallen by the wayside. What is left is removal, plenty of it, and life-as resource cards like Graveborn Muse and Snuff Out to accompany lifegain in Vampire Nighthawk and Ribbons of Night.

Red

Red is classically the weakest color, and it has the opposite problem of Black – too few themes. Red has burn. And aggro. And that’s almost it. This problem can be approached in a few ways. You can either just go all out on that theme and have ‘red’ as a single playable deck or you can try to introduce other themes into the color, like Goblins, or land destruction. I’m not a big fan of the latter route, as I find this makes red even narrower, and with goblins especially, weakens the color further with padding in random goblins that aren’t particularly strong to support the one or two powerful themed cards like Goblin Ringleader, Sparksmith and Goblin Warchief. I have opted for a middle ground, and have tried to provide the tools for the aggressive red deck, but have also given red more utility creatures, ways to kill artifacts, and X-spells, to encourage more mid-range and big-mana red decks, as well as a few sweepers to potentially support a controlling deck.

Green

Green is the creature color, and as you might expect, has the most creatures of any color. Mana acceleration is present and there are a few cards that reward piles of mana, but isn’t the main focus. Green instead has a large selection of efficient, hard to kill creatures all along the mana curve that provide card advantage and utility, with plenty of ways of destroying artifacts and enchantments. There is a minor ‘aggro green’ theme supported by cards like Berserk, Rancor and Plow Under, but I eschewed the classic combat tricks of green, mostly due to the high number of removal spells in the cube making pump spells very risky to play and not all that exciting to draft.

Gold

60 cards of each color make up 300 of the 520. Next I have 70 gold cards, 6 of each color pair and 2 of each 3-color shard. This ensures that the colors are perfectly balanced across the cube and that multicolor decks of any combination are supported, while keeping the gold card numbers relatively small in relation to the main bulk of the cards means that mono-color and simple 2-color decks aren’t marginalized. In doing this, I do have to include some less powerful dual-colored cards. Izzet and Azorius colors seem to have few good gold cards compared to the spoiled-for-choice Rakdos, Selesnya, Orzhov and Golgari pairings.

Artifacts

My cube has 80 artifacts, including 15 Signets and Talismans for mana fixing and acceleration, 10 equipments and a variety of other artifacts and artifact creatures. I feel this number is enough to ensure that players have the chance to draft cards that require artifacts to function without the risk of not finding any, while not overloading the cube with too many artifacts which lessen players commitment to drafting actual colours and make signalling difficult.

Lands

Finally I have 70 lands. The majority are for mana fixing, and my cube plays a full 50 multi-color lands of the Dual, Bounce, Shock, Fetch and Tri and Man varieties. The other 20 are utility lands of varying sorts, from manlands, to cyclers or just generally powerful cards. The lands you choose to include in your cube do a great deal to affect the type of decks your cube encourages. I personally love having all the best duals in the cube, making fun splashes easy, while I also have a good number of colorless lands for decks with less extravagant manabases to enjoy. The Ranvica bouncelands are powerful, but risky due to the presence of light land destruction in the cube, but not enough to make running them a negative overall.

So now you know what goes into a cube, what do you do with it?

Drafting is the obvious answer and one people are most familiar with. The cube is shuffled and split into 3 packs of 15 cards for each player, or in cases with fewer drafters 5 packs of 9 cards can be preferable. The cube is then drafted like a normal booster draft, with additional sleeved land added as required. This works well with 8-man drafts as well as 3-on-3 team drafts.

If you don’t have time for a full draft, or only have a few people, drafting isn’t an option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use the cube. Over time I’ve experimented with different ‘topdeck’ formats using the cube, and found that this one is the most enjoyable.

  1. Each player takes a chunk of around 60 shuffled cube cards as their library. Players draw 7 cards as usual. With more than 2 players the player going first also draws on the first turn.
  2. Players may play any card in their hand face down as a land. The land is non-basic but has all basic land types. If that land leaves play it reverts to being the original card (if returned to hand by a bounce-land, for example)
  3. Any card that searches libraries for basic lands and puts them into hand or play instead puts the top card(s) of the library into play as a land. Cards put into a player’s hand this way are kept facedown and may only be played as land.
  4. (Optional) Any mana-only producing dual land you draw naturally can be exiled to draw a card at any time. This does not apply to land cards you specifically put into your hand (eg. with Weathered Wayfarer).

This format is simple, fast, fun and works well with 2-4 players. If playing a lot of this format compared to drafting I might strip out the 40 lands that are strictly worse than the utopia lands, but this is usually unnecessary.

If you still want to draft but have only 2-3 players, the cube can easily be used in the Winston, Winchester or Solomon draft formats. I prefer the Winston draft system myself. (Rules for Winston Draft)

The new set brings with it new cards to compete for places in the Cube. For every card I add, another must make room, and with Return to Ravnica being a gold-card focused set I must look very hard at my current choice of gold cards. Abrupt Decay, Izzet Charm and Vraska are obvious shoo-ins, and Crime/Punishment, Spellbound Dragon and Spritmonger are likely going to have to make room, but I have my eye on Detention Sphere, Lyev Skyknight and Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius too.

Until next time, thanks for reading, and consider building your own cube,

Richard

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