Let’s just get something right into the open – Cube is my favourite Magic: The Gathering format, bar none. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy other formats. I enjoy them a lot. I love the socio-political aspects of Commander or the ever changing competitive puzzle that is Standard. But nothing is quite as encapsulating of the Magic experience as Cube.
What is Cube
But what is Cube, you might ask? In case you are not familiar with it, a cube is a set of at least 360 cards that is created for the purposes of drafting. Just like in a regular draft, each participant gets three booster packs containing fifteen cards, but in this scenario the booster packs are simulated and created from that set pool of cards.
So in effect a cube is a draftable set that you create yourself out of the cards that you want. Let me emphasize that. Any. Cards. That. You. Want. And now I can hear the sound of those gears turning inside of your brain. Something clicks. That’s right, you got it. Cube is love. Cube is life.
But now that I’ve given your imagination total freedom, I have to rein it in a bit. After all, if you can just put anything you want in, then why not chuck in 360 cards that you have lying around, put in some of your favourite stuff from your folder and call it a night? It’s not as simple as that. Playing Cube is an activity that is shared ideally by at least six people (eight is the Magic number) and the drafting portion itself takes about an hour, not to mention actually playing the games themselves. You have to make sure that your cube is awesome not just for you, but also for the people you play with, otherwise no one will ever want to play it.
My goal with this article is to give you the first guiding steps on how to build a cube and make it work. It’s not about making a piece of perfection (there’s no such thing as a perfect cube anyway) but mostly to give you an idea of what you need to do on your first attempt to get something playable to your kitchen table. Let’s start with the basics.
You need to pick a theme. Sometimes this will be dictated by your budget/card collection (we’ll touch on that in a bit) and sometimes your imagination will be the only thing stopping you. The most basic cube is the “good stuff” cube. This is a cube where the card selection is comprised of cards that are universally recognized and time-tested to be powerful.
There are many variations on “good stuff” cubes. They might be limited to cards that are only legal in a certain format, like Standard or Modern, and go all the way up to “powered cubes” – yes, that does mean they include the Power Nine. Then there are Pauper cubes – they can only include cards of the common rarity. Set cubes are for people who really enjoyed drafting a certain set and are designed to simulate that experience. I’ve even seen Commander cubes where the first pack is comprised entirely out of legendary creatures and the decks you draft are larger and then played in games of Commander. The only limit here is your imagination. Make it what you want it to be.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed then my advice to you would be – pick something you are familiar with. If you play a lot of Pauper then a Pauper cube might be the way to go. If you understand a certain format of Magic well, then building a cube based around that format will probably make it that much better.
But here’s the really tricky part. Whatever you choose will most likely be limited to your budget and card collection. Setting a budget is really important. Unless you’ve been collecting Magic for the entirety of its existence and never traded anything away and your windows are barricaded by draft commons from Antiquities and Fallen Empires, then you will likely need to spend money if you plan to build a cube.
So think about how flexible your collection is and how much you are willing to spend. If you want to build something similar to the Legacy cube that you can play on Magic Online then you should either have a lot of the cards in that cube in your collection or have a very good understanding with your bank’s loan manager. Not every cube will require you to re-mortgage your house but even something simple like a Pauper cube can be very expensive. Just look up the price for Oubliette. Yes, that’s a ten dollar common. And there are more of those, trust me.
The good news is that the bigger your collection is, the less money you will need to spend. But be prepared to spend a little bit – at the very least you will need 360 identical sleeves and a sturdy compartmentalized storage container that’s easy to transport. Such as a sturdy cardboard box. If it’s got Magic art on it – all the better.
OK, now that we’ve covered all the general stuff, time to go into specifics. The first thing you need to figure out is your land base and color correction. If you’re building a Pauper cube then this step is simple. Your selection is limited to good common lands like the bounce lands from Ravnica block, the Guildgates from Return to Ravnica and the more recent gain lands from Khans of Tarkir. Neither of these are expensive and worth considering even if you’re not building a Pauper cube.
Coincidentally, this is also probably the step where you want to decide if you’re going to have a singleton cube or not. Most cubes have only one copy of each card included in it, and there are many good reasons for this rule. First of all, no one wants to draft a set that has fifty Undead Alchemists – after the “LOL” factor has worn off, you realise that it’s just dumb and not fun. The singleton rule promotes balance in drafting. Sure, some cards will be inherently better than others but that’s fine. In fact, in drafting you want to have a bell curve of power level. A few cards that are just utter bonkers, a few cards that are utter garbage and a lot of cards that share a similar power level. The fact that there’s only one possible Jace, the Mind Sculptor or only one Demonic Tutor ensures that those top of the curve cards don’t get out of hand.
There are also a couple of good reasons to break the singleton rule but I suggest not doing so when building your first cube – with one exception. Lands. For one, your budget might be restrictive and one of the ways to cut a financial corner is doubling up on the good common and uncommon lands for your mana base.
So instead of spending the same amount of money that could pretty much buy you a PS4 for a set of fetch lands, you could, for example, get two sets of Mirage fetches. Whilst they are certainly not as powerful as their fetch cousin, they work just fine in cube as they can successfully find shocks and tango (or battle, depending on preferred nomenclature) lands in your library. Talking of tango lands, these are a great pick up for any cube right now.
Tired of lands? Me too. But we’ve got one last thing to cover before we move on. Lands are not just there for fixing your mana, they are also great for utility. Something like Cavern of Souls will make tribal archetypes more viable, Desolate Lighthouse will help you dig towards that Kiki-Jiki combo and Shambling Vent will let your Esper Control deck survive those pesky mono-red players. And finally, you’ve even got combo potential with the likes of Dark Depths and Thespian Stage.
A large part of playing Cube is drafting, and drafting is all about dem choices you make. Let’s say that you built your little cubicle out of draft rejects but had a Jace, the Mind Sculptor kicking around in your trades folder and decided to include it. Now imagine one of the players opens that Jace in his pack one. They’re going to immediately windmill slam that card. And that’s dull as dishwater.
The reason that situation is no fun is because that player didn’t have to make a single decision. It was made for him. The Jace in that hypothetical cube is miles better than anything else. And now, you have just rewarded that player with arguably the best card he could ever put in his deck without even having to try for it.
That’s why you have to be very much aware of the power level of your cards. If you do decide to include ol’ Jacearooney then you better make sure you have at least another fifty cards that can keep toe-to-toe with him. The idea is that when a player picks up his first pack, there is an average of three cards they find hard choosing between. Sure, not every card can be as powerful as Jace, but they have to be comparable.
Then, there’s the archetypes to think of. You want a couple of aggressive strategies such as white weenie, red deck wins. You want to have control decks, combo decks, reanimator, midrange – the list goes on. Some archetypes can be general and some a little bit more specific.
Think what cards support each archetype but also think of how each colour can add to it. If you want to have control decks then Blue will obviously give you counterspells and card draw. Black can give you a good selection of removal, but so can red and white (see: Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares). Even green can give you some control power with cards like Den Protector or Hornet Nest.
And then there’s the very specific stuff like tribal decks and combo decks. If you decide to include a tribal strategy like Goblins or Elves, make sure that this archetype is powerful but doesn’t overtake the cube. There have to be enough cards in that tribe to make it playable and hopefully some of those cards can play roles in different decks to make drafting more interesting. Personally, I’m not a fan of tribal in Cube but there’s no harm in experimenting.
Combos can work really well if you can offer a wide selection of cards that interact with each other somehow. Try and make a chain of cards. If you want to put in Tinker in your cube, then maybe consider Myr Battlesphere. Battlesphere also works well with Goblin Welder and so does Blightsteel Colossus. Both Blightsteel and Battlesphere also work well with Tooth and Nail, but so does Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. And so on and on. By making these chains you ensure that drafting remains dynamic.
Finally, when you have a rough draft of your cards, lay them all out (or use online cube-building aids, such as Cube Tutor), each colour separately according to converted mana cost. Your goal is to have a nice curve. Make sure your two drops and three drops are the most dominant. Then count how many cards you have in each colour. They don’t have to be equal but at least close to one another in quantity.
If you want a lot of multi-coloured cards then make sure that you have ninety nine problems but mana ain’t one. If you can’t afford a lot of good lands then maybe consider some other sources of mana-fixing, such as Ravnica signets. In either case, try to avoid cards with three colours or more. People tend to not pick them as they are very restrictive in terms of drafting. There are a few good exceptions like Siege Rhino or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Cards with four or five colours should be avoided completely (sorry, I knew you were itching to include that Coalition Victory).
Some cards are just bad. Don’t include them for LOLs. It might seem funny to put in a Tibalt, but seriously, no one wants him. Go home Tibalt, you’re drunk. Some cards are obscenely good. Jace, Memory Adept might just be broken in a 40-card scenario. Avoid him like the plague. Other cards might be too strong as well, depending on the power level of your cube. True-name Nemesis and Pack Rat spring to mind.
You can have more than 360 cards in your cube. That means you won’t be drafting with all of them all the time. Some people build deliberately larger cubes so the format never becomes predictable and stale. Personally, I never found the need for it as my cube never stays the same.
And that’s the one final bit of advice I can give you. Evolve your cube, keep adding bits, changing bits. Don’t keep it the same. Your first attempt may not be the best cube ever built, but don’t let this get you down. Every new set released for Magic is a great excuse to see what cards can go the way of the do-do to make stuff for the new shiny. So keep experimenting, keep researching what other cubes do and keep building!