Hello and welcome to Only On Tuesdays! Last week I discussed how to start your first cube. That article proved to be really popular, which is good because there was a lot I wanted to discuss in the first article that I couldn’t fit in. This week I will go over the process of tuning your cube and making it into something that you can truly be proud of. There are several methods of tuning each of which I will go over down below.
Analyzing Your Cube
One of the most fun aspects of cubing is getting to add new and exciting cards to the cube. However, one of the most difficult parts of cubing is the antithesis to this; taking cards out of the cube. It can be difficult taking out cards, especially any that you might have a personal attachment to. But part of making a great limited environment is recognizing that not every card is going to fit into the cube. When you are looking at taking cards out of the cube, there are going to be a few things you are going to want to consider. The first thing I always look at when I am going to cut a card is the curve.
For those who are unaware, a curve in MtG refers to the spread of mana costs across several cards. An ideal curve will look like a bell in shape, starting low on one end, going up high in the middle, and then going low again. Considering your curve is a vital component of deck building because it allows you to efficiently cast your spells at each point in the game.
This same principle can be applied to cube as well because draft is essentially improvisational deck building. You provide the drafters with the cards that they are going to build their decks with, and if the curve of the cube is off, then it is going to be harder to build decks that have something to do each turn of the game. You don’t want a deck stuck with several 4 drops in hand when the aggro player drops a Goblin Guide.
Analyzing your curve can also be a great place to look and see what sections can have cards cut from them. If your 1 drop section is higher than your 2 drop section, it might be worth cutting a spell from there in order to improve the curve of your cube. You can also look at specific sections in the curve and identify any weak cards you might have that could be replaced. In my cube, I currently run Bygone Bishop, which is the weakest card in my 3 drop slot in white. With this in mind, when I saw the new card Brightling printed in Battlebond, I knew exactly what I could cut from my cube because I was on the lookout for a powerful 3 mana white creature.
Analyzing the curve of your cube is very easy with the help of CubeTutor.com. You can do this once you have your cube uploaded on the site. Simply mouse over to the analysis tab, and from there you can open a drop-down menu that will display your curve charts. I highly recommend CubeTutor to any cuber, as the services it provides for free are amazing, and make tuning your cube an easy process. (It’s worth mentioning that this article is not sponsored by CubeTutor.com).
Balancing the Cube
Another purpose that the cube creator serves is constructing a balanced environment for all drafters. A goal that many cubes should have is creating a draft where each person has an equal chance of winning. Creating a balanced draft environment is not only a good goal to have, but is also vital to the health of the cube. The tighter the gap between the best card and the worst card in the cube will help to create a more balanced experience for everyone.
One common problem I see when it comes to balancing is including overpowered bombs because they fit the theme. A good example of this is Kalonian Hydra. A lot of people will throw this in their cube thinking it is a great card for the +1, +1 counter deck and will power it up in a significant way. And they are correct, it is a great card in that deck! However, they may fail to realize that this card is a 2 turn clock all by itself. It doesn’t need +1, +1 counter synergy in order to be good and that can be problematic for the cube. You don’t need a lifegain deck in order to play a Baneslayer Angel. Many drafts aren’t equipped to deal with these monstrosities, and games will be warped around cards like this.
When including cards such as the above, you have to consider whether the cube can support them. My cube can handle cards like these because the average power level of the cube is much higher. If my cube were primarily composed of commons and uncommons, I would be much more wary about adding these mythic bombs to the cube. I may intend to do so in the future, but I’d wait until my cube was at an appropriate power level before I did add them.
One thing I like to do is base the cube around one card that I would consider the average. In my cube, Spell Queller defines the format. It is a very efficient and impactful spell, but not the most powerful card in the cube either. It is decidedly average in my cube, and I base the power level of everything else around it. In other cubes, the average card might be closer to Vampiric Tutor, or even Mulldrifter. What matters is that every card in the cube is as close as possible in power level to what is considered the average card. This creates for fun drafts where every single pick is an agonizing choice, and every deck has a fighting chance against one another.
Watching the Drafters
The third way I like to decide what needs to be is watching my drafters play. There are a few things that I do in order to monitor the draft and figure out which cards aren’t pulling their weight.
First thing I do is take note of which cards are being picked first and which are being picked last. If a card is being picked last multiple times then it is worth looking into. This isn’t always a call for alarm, however. Some cards can be very narrow, but can also create fun build arounds. Wildfire is a good example of a card that can be first picked in a lot of scenarios but might be the last card to wheel if it’s pack 3 and decks have already been settled on. When the card gets picked last in multiple drafts, it may be time to re-evaluate the card in the context of your cube.
Another way to identify weak cards is to see what is being kept in the sideboard after decks have been built. If you have a card that you specifically threw in for a certain strategy and the player who builds that deck decides not to play it, that’s a big sign saying the card might not be good enough. Dictate of the Twin Gods is one of my favorite cards in Magic, but when I saw the mono-red deck decide not to play it in favor of being more proactive, I knew that the card wasn’t worth the slot it was taking up.
Finally, once everybody gives their cards back to me, I like to ask my players what cards overperformed for them and what underperformed. Through this, I have learned some very surprising things, such as Skullclamp underperforming for one player, and hearing on multiple occasions that Samut is an all-star in the cube. These little things that players give me at the end are very helpful in identifying problem cards that need to be looked at.
Now, not every data point needs to be taken to heart. Just because someone said Skullclamp didn’t perform well for them doesn’t mean it was a bad card. It just wasn’t good for their deck. If a card like Upheaval is never drafted, that might be more due to your players not understanding the power behind the card, rather than it being a bad pick. Sometimes cards will be in the sideboard when they really have no place being there. However, collecting these data points is still very valuable. Once you see patterns start to emerge, you can more objectively look at the cube and really see what needs to go and what can stay.
Adding cards to a cube is easy, taking cards out, well, that’s a different story. Learning how to properly evaluate and assess cards for your cube is an important skill to have, and will help you to create your ideal draft environment. There are many ways to tune a cube, all of them being very valuable in their own right. Tuning a cube is no easy task. But it is a very rewarding task and is one of the most fun elements of owning a cube. Thank you for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!