MTG – How to Start Your First Cube

Hello and welcome to Only On Tuesdays! This Tuesday I am doing something different. I will be talking about Magic the Gathering instead of Dungeons and Dragons. Traditionally, Magic posts on my blog have been shorter and focused on just showing off a particular deck, while my Tuesday posts would be more detailed on a particular subject in Dnd. Instead of talking about Dnd, today I would like to talk more in-depth about another subject that I am deeply passionate about; in this case cube.

 

What is a Cube?

According to Melissa DeTora’s article Building Your First Cube, cube is described as “a large collection of (often powerful) cards used for drafting and playing Limited. Drafting a cube is similar to drafting booster packs, but instead of drafting from three fifteen-card Magic booster packs, you draft from fifteen-card “packs” that you create from your cube.”

This is a very accurate description of cube, but cube is more than what is said here. What makes cube one of the greatest formats of all time, is that it can be whatever you want it to be. One of Magic’s greatest strengths is the ability to express yourself through your deck building. Cube is an even greater extension of this, it is a collection of cards that define what you love in Magic, and describe who you are as a Magic player.

What makes cube a unique experience from traditional booster draft is that every single card you look at in a cube has the potential of being the best card in the pack. In regular booster draft there is often a clear-cut choice as to what the best card is in the pack, but in cube, every single pick is often an agonizing decision. For example, in this sample pack from my cube, there are multiple cards that could easily be justified as the first choice. Want to play hard control? Damnation or Search for Azcanta are phenomenal cards for that. Want to beat face? Monastery Swiftspear and Gravecrawler work well for that. Want to stay open? Pack 1 Pick 1 Flooded Strand is a very solid option and will slide into many decks.

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www.cubetutor.com/draft/87156

Now, looking at this pack you might see a card that would surprise you. Hidden among all of the Rares and Mythics in this cube is a little common from Amonkhet called Miasmic Mummy. At a first glance, this card is terrible and shouldn’t be taking up a valuable spot that could be held by much more powerful Magic cards. But here’s the thing, Miasmic Mummy is actually a very important card in my cube, and is a versatile card that can fit multiple archetypes. It’s a great card to have in the Mono-Black Zombies deck as it is another body on the board, and also makes your opponent discard valuable spells that could answer your board. On the other hand, this card is also great for the reanimation archetype, pitching powerful cards such as Griselbrand or Elesh Norn to the graveyard to be reanimated later. This long forgotten common from Amonkhet serves a powerful function in my cube that isn’t apparent at first glance.

Another great thing about cube is that it allows you to play cards that may not see play in other formats. Gift of Immortality is a personal favorite card of mine from when I first started playing Magic, and it sees play in a surprising number of decks in my cube, often enchanting creatures with powerful enter the battlefield/death triggers. This .50 card can also lead to very fun build arounds that can prove to be quite effective. (My personal favorite combination for Gift of Immortality is with Selfless Spirit. I created a modern deck around this interaction which you can learn more about here.)

Image result for selfless spirit

Cube is the ultimate form of expression in Magic. When you design a cube, you get to choose what goes in and comes out, and this can allow you to craft an experience that is uniquely you. Cube allows you to make use of cards that will never see a Pro Tour top 8, in tandem with some of the most powerful cards ever printed. Cube is whatever you want it to be, and that is what makes it one of the greatest formats ever.

Building a Cube

As great of a format as cube is, getting into can be very daunting. Looking at a cube like mine, you will see a lot of powerful cards with very expensive price tags such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Scalding Tarn and Tarmogoyf. Many cubes tend to boast hefty price tags, especially if their owner has gone down the path of foiling each card in their cube. This can dissuade many people from building their own cube, and rightfully so.

Image result for jace the wallet sculptor

Another reason it can be so challenging is due to the sheer amount of cards in Magic’s history. As of now, there are currently over 20,000 unique cards printed, with hundreds more coming each year. Designing a cube with this many options available is staggering and can lead to choice paralysis. The single most difficult aspect about cube is simply starting one.

However, this should not stop you from building your own cube. Cube does not have to utilize the most expensive cards in Magic, nor does it require you to analyze every single piece of cardboard since Alpha. When starting your first cube, my main advice is to keep it simple. Don’t worry about your cube being perfect the first time you pull it out. It’s never going to be perfect. But working towards that perfection is half the fun, and in order to work towards that, you are going to need something to work with. Having a cube to work on is half the battle, so here are 3 strategies you can use to build a cube quickly, and at a reasonable price.

Make a Set Cube

One of the most common ways for people to get into cube is through a draft format that they might really enjoy. Some sets offer a lot of complexity that can make for really fun draft environments, but buying packs for that set each week can get expensive. If you really enjoyed drafting sets like Dominaria, Hour of Devastation, Modern Masters, Innistrad, M13, or really anything from the history of Magic it might be worth considering making a Set Cube.

Image result for innistrad set cube
Zac Fisher’s Innistrad Cube

 

A Set Cube can be designed in a lot of different ways, but the general consensus for designing a set cube seems to follow the 4/2/1 ratio in relation to commons/uncommons/rares and mythics. This ratio allows you to have important commons available in multiples, while still providing you the chance of opening that sweet mythic rare. As awesome of a card as Baneslayer Angel is, you can’t have the ratio of Baneslayer Angel be equal to Doom Blade in a Set Cube.

Image result for doom blade alter
tomgreystone.deviantart.com

The article Cube Design by Jason Waddel on Channel Fireball goes into a lot of depth about Set Cubes, including math about common to rare ratios, general pack construction, and suggestions for Set Cube construction. I would highly recommend taking a look at this article if you are seriously considering building a Set Cube.

Copy Someone Else’s Cube

As a DM, one of the most important things I have learned is that it is ok to copy others in order to obtain inspiration. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The same can be said for Magic and cube. Building a cube can be a very challenging task, so why risk building something bad when you can copy somebody who already has a grasp on what they are doing.

When copying a cube, you first need to consider what you want out of the cube experience. There are thousands of cubes out there, and choosing the one that best fits you can be quite difficult. If you want to give the format a try without breaking the bank, consider looking at Pauper Cubes, which only use commons from Magic’s history. Pauper cubes are great for beginner cubers because they offer all of the tactical gameplay that a more powerful cube might provide, at a fraction of the price.

PauperCube
Thanimal Pauper Cube

You don’t necessarily have to buy all the cards either. Want to try out a Power 9 cube, but can’t afford a Black Lotus? One option that I have heard people try is simply printing off all of the cards on paper, and then sliding the printed card and a basic land together to effectively create a Magic card. Cube is a casual format, and you can approach it however you want.

Image result for starter cube mtg

Another good option is to buy the Starter Cube from Cardkingdom.com. This product was designed by Magic Professional Chris Van Meter and can serve as a great entry point into cube. The product comes complete with sleeves, a box, and a phenomenal draft environment complete with rares and mythics, and for the low price of $99. Tolarian Community College put out an excellent review of this product and can offer you insight as to whether this product is for you. MTG – Is it worth it to buy a Starter Cube for Magic: The Gathering?

Build it from the Chaff

Finally, we come to my method of building my first cube. When I first got into cube design I went overboard trying to sculpt the perfect draft environment. I created charts showcasing what each color combinations role was while trying to find overlap between each archetype. I spent a significant time working on this until finally a friend of mine told me that all that theory is great, but I still didn’t have a cube put together. I scrapped the overly complex draft archetypes in favor of just simply building a cube.

I dug through all my boxes of old draft chaff finding powerful playables such as Aerial Guide, and Territorial Hammerskull. Instead of focusing on including obscure cards to favor specific archetypes, I simply found the best cards I could for those colors and put them in the box. I showed up that Friday with a box of unsleeved cards and asked if people would be willing to test out my new cube.

Image result for aerial guide
Aerial Guide – Sidharth Chaturvedi

I was able to get a playgroup of people and I watched as everyone drafted it. I was worried about it being a terrible format, but soon into the draft people were excitedly showing me picks, and shouting in joy when the Goblin Electromancer wheeled. We played some games and they all had a good time. My roommate told me afterwards that he was expecting it to be very boring and unplayable and was pleasantly surprised by how fun it was.

From this box of chaff that was worth almost as much as the box of cardboard that I brought it in gave me the starting point I needed in order to work on a cube. I bought some sleeves for the cube, plundered my commander decks for better cards, and slowly tuned the cube into what it is today. I am very proud of my cube as it stands now, and all it took for me to get there was simply throwing something together that I could use as a baseline.

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My First Cube

When building a cube in this fashion, I would recommend putting the most powerful cards you have available in the cube and not focusing on any synergies. Whether the most powerful cards available to you are Grizzly Bears or Tarmogoyf doesn’t matter, as long as the overall power level of the cube remains the same. Simply jam whatever you have lying around and get it drafted as soon as you can. Ask the drafters what cards performed well for them and what didn’t. Take note of what ended up in the sideboards of each deck, and pay attention to the cards that were picked last. Work on taking out these underplayed cards, and then do it again in the next draft.

Conclusion

Cube is one of, if not the best, format ever in Magic’s history. It is incredibly deep, with no two cubes looking the same, and is filled with complex Magic that is fantastic and fun at every stage of the cube experience. Building and maintaining a cube is one of my favorite things I do in Magic and being able to share the joy with others is an absolute blast. While building a cube can seem like a difficult task, there are a few things that you can do to make the experience much easier, and ultimately get a cube into your own hands. Thank you for reading and have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!

 

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My current cube created by Aaron Cain

 

Off-topic announcement: I will be doing my first ever stream this Friday! I will be playing a Modern deck in preparation for Grand Prix Vegas, and I will include a very detailed guide explaining the deck and all its intricacies. The stream will be held at 11 AM Mountain Time and I will be streaming at https://www.twitch.tv/tuesdaytastic. Feel free to tune in and let me know what you think. (Hint: The deck plays my all-time favorite card which may or may not be featured at the top of this blog).

 

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