Hello friends. Today I’m going to talk about the Magic: the Gathering cube that I’m building, and how I arrived at the reasoning behind it.
Aside: If you don’t know what a “Cube” is, the short version is that is typically a collection of cards someone compiles, in order to play with their friends. Many people build their cube as a sort of ‘all-star’ game of Magic, taking the best, most powerful cards from every set, but each one is different.
Imagine this, but filled with Magic cards.
I decided to construct a cube fairly recently. I’ve somewhat wanted to make one for quite a while but whether it was inertia, laziness, or not being sufficiently motivated to do so in general, I never got around to it in earnest. I did actually have a small Type 4 stack briefly but it was scarcely used and raided for cards often enough that it basically just vanished.
Why start now? Well, it’s related to recent events. Since December, I haven’t exactly been doing much. I’ve been lacking goals, and grand long term targets are just too abstract for my current mindset. Thus, realising I need to focus on things that I might tangibly want, one day I just decided to construct a cube. This idea had multiple benefits for me.
1- As cube is a casual draft format, it would encourage me to organise things with friends more often. I am terrible for actually socialising offline outside of tournaments, and seemed like the perfect excuse to go and meet people, both for playing it when finished and acquiring cards for it.
2- The actual cube list would require a reasonable amount of thought. Thus, when feeling down, I could switch my focus to which of thousands of possible inclusions I would be wanting. For want of a better word, it’s quite easy for me to obsess over the fine details, thus it serves as a fine distraction.
But what form should it take? Given the situation I’m in, a truly powerful cube was never going to be an option if only for expense. I also wanted it to be a special cube, so I didn’t want it to look like a ‘regular’ cube. No, I had different goals in mind, some of which I mentioned when talking to the guys involved in the charitable Cube 24 endeavour.
Not quite *this* special however.
Main Goal: Bring Joy
Aside from all the logistical concerns about designing my cube, I had to focus on an abstract mission for my list. I wanted my cube to bring some joy to those that draft it.
It’s easy to make fun of that mission statement. No, I don’t think people will be falling over themselves with excitement from start to finish, but I want people to find some joy in different ways. I will try to explain what I mean.
- While many of my friends are far away, asking them about their pet cards and putting them in was fun. Sure, they might rarely get to play personally, but it’s nice to know your suggested Giant Oyster was MVP.
- Discovering cards you’ve never seen before is always fun. Especially if the art, flavour or abilities are enjoyable. This is why I tend not to look at spoilers before pre-releases. I showed someone a Graceful Antelope recently, and they absolutely loved it.
- Similarly, rediscovering old favourites is great. Fondly remember kicking Urza’s Rage? Playing Watchwolf? Taniwha?! Well, maybe you’ll get passed one and be all ‘awww yeeeeeah!‘.
- Flavour victories! While these will not happen every game, naturally, some creatures or effects naturally resonate with people more than others. It’s just more fun to beat someone up with Stangg and Stangg Twin or a Giant Crab holding a Cleaver than [generic efficient creature]. (picture it, go on, do it)
- Logically, many of these janky favourites are not incredible cards to say the least. I want to create an environment where there are reasons to play every card. Not that there are no powerful cards, but I don’t want cards people will never use. For example, as funny as One With Nothing might be, no one will ever cast it. But, somehow the world loves Storm Crow. It contributes, and those that appreciate it will really appreciate it.
“Pay R, target you.”
“…can she do that?”
“If you have to ask, now it can, coward!”
Starting with a base of hundreds(!) of suggested cards from friends after putting out the call on Facebook and other online areas, and adding further hundreds of my own favourites, I then needed to make the cube, you know, actually functional as a collection intended to be drafted.
My History with Cube
I’m now going to talk a little bit about my experiences with just three of the cubes I’ve played with and how they informed my decision-making regarding my list. (Owner’s names not listed since I don’t necessarily want to advertise the presence of expensive cards.)
The Powered Cube
The first cube I ever used blew my mind. It was fully powered, with moxes, Lotus, original dual lands, the rarest versions of everything. It was the first time I ever touched or played with many old, powerful effects. However, my favourite games came from combining all the unique effects together. I remember a game where Moat and Humility were played, and we ended up in a Magic: the Puzzling scenario.
Another big thing I loved about this cube was discovering cards I’d never seen before. Sure, I won’t have this effect on myself since I’m the one putting my list together, but cube is a community project. It will bring me joy when newer players read a card and say “wait, this does WHAT?” and realise it combines with a card they have. Or older players seeing one of the new top-down designs.
As for the Power (and other broken mana production) itself, sure, it’s funny to Tinker out an early Sundering Titan, or have a Sol Ring and slaughter an un-powered opponent, but for me the novelty of that wears thin over repeated plays. MTGO brings out the powered Vintage cube often enough my quota of lop-sided beatings is filled.
My lessons: Have novel effects, combine cards from different eras, limit acceleration.
The Peasant Cube
One of the things that made me most want to make my own cube for a long time was playing a Peasant cube, which means only commons and uncommons were allowed. I will always remember Winston Drafting with a friend inside a pub after an event in England, more so than the event I was actually attending!
I appreciated that I was getting to play with cards I didn’t normally see. If you don’t have Goblin Guide or Figure of Destiny, you need unusual red 1 drops, you know? With no rares, the lower power level lead to longer, more interactive games which tends to be nice. I like it when people can say, miss a land drop or be colour screwed for a couple of turns and the game not be instantly over which tends to happen when people play Jaces and ramp out Titans.
I had tons of fun playing cubes like this, but I miss being able to take some bizarre rare and build a theme deck around it, for example non-combat ways to win tend to be hard to find at lower rarities.
My lessons: General principles of low-ish power led to fun games, but plenty of rares are not overly powerful. Also, Winston drafting is great, and I like making people re-evaluate cards in a new context.
How afraid *should* you be of this hitting you?
The answer may surprise you.
The Legendary Cube
The Legendary cube is a Magic Online experiment. The idea was to have a cube where every single creature was a Legend. The 2nd iteration of it relaxed that requirement, but that’s the guiding principle at least. It also had lots of mana fixing, and slow card advantage engines.
Now this cube was not terribly popular among the online magic community as far as I can tell, but I rather enjoyed it for the brief time it was around and so did several friends. I dug being able to jam a bunch of cool flavourful creatures into play, and I got “good” at the format such that I could basically draft it infinitely.
However as much as flavourfully I enjoyed it, this cube had some big problems. The size of the cube was small, meaning that every card showed up every time, which accentuated all the other problems I’m about to mention.
Certain cards were just far and away more powerful than anything else you could hope to do. Maelstrom Wanderer was chief offender for this, instantly winning the game basically every time it was cast regardless of board position. It was such that whatever you were drafting, you should take it and splash it if need be. The slow nature of the format meant that you rarely didn’t get to cast it if you built your deck right. Thraximundar was also unreal, Cruel Ultimatum was harder to cast if you got it late, but along the same lines, it was an easy way to just end whatever interesting exchanges you were having. If battle-cruiser Magic involves a back and forth, with big spells acting as artillery launched at each other until one person is defeated, Legendary cube had a few too many nukes, and someone would have them *every* draft.
In some ways this power disparity is actually more egregious than having say, three Moxes in your cube. While they provide powerful effects in the early game, you wouldn’t always have them in your opening hand, and drawing them later on they’re similar to a land. Having unbeatable game-enders in a slow format means losing to them in basically inevitable.
Due to the ‘Legendary only’ constraint, most types of decks couldn’t exist. You could barely scrape together enough cheap creatures to actually be an aggressive deck. There were basically no ‘build-around-me’ cards. Due to the prevalence of high cost multi-colour cards you basically could never have a mono-colour deck even if you wanted to. Why be 1 or 2 colours when all the best cards were 3? Thus decks felt homogeneous, typically all ending up as 3-5 colour piles. Now I like multi-colour durdle decks fine, but since the pool was so small, there was never a chance to do anything else.
Lessons learned: Having a large cube automatically mitigates ‘best deck’ and ‘unbeatable card’ issues over multiple drafts if I do let something through the metaphorical power level net. Don’t have an overwhelming amount of gold cards, and make sure to have enough cheap cards that can be used if you want to be proactive in some way.
I’m certainly not saying I’ve made some kind of wonder-cube where everything will be in complete balance, not will everyone appreciate it as much as I do. I feel like it shouldn’t need to be said, but to preempt some people, I’m NOT claiming this is ‘the best way’ to build a cube or anything.
If you’re expecting to see the full list, well, tough! Didn’t I mention I wanted people to be surprised? But the cards I mentioned here or there and cards that people have suggested can give you a nice teaser. I hope those that can will join me to get Narwhal‘d when I next see you.
See you next time!