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
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
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 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 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
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- (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,