When somebody says the word “cube” a very specific idea will pop into the minds of Magic: the Gathering players. They will envision a box of cards that is meant to be drafted, and has the most powerful and iconic cards of all time. For the most part, this is true. Many cubes fit this mold and will only stray so far as to decide whether they are including the fabled Power 9 or not. But what I’ve realized is that cube is capable of so much more. Rather than viewing cube as a collection of the most powerful cards, many designers view cube as their own game that is programmed with the help of Magic cards. Today I want to showcase 5 different cubes that all take an element of cube that we take for granted, and flip it on it’s head.
The Desert Cube: Altering the Draft
When discussing cubes that completely change the idea of cube as a format, look no further than the desert cube designed by Loxodon_Meyerarch. This icon of the cubing community has a simple rule that fundamentally changes everything. Basic lands are not available after the draft. With this single restriction, all traditional drafting principals go through the window. If you open up a powerful bomb in pack 3, you’ll have to choose between it, and a basic land that you know won’t wheel. If you get greedy and only draft spells, you’ll be spending all of your games mulliganing to oblivion. Drafted too many lands? Hope you like flooding.
This delicate balance of lands and spells drives so many decision points for the players and also the designer. One angle that the designer decided to go down was having many of the lands in the cube deal damage to the players when tapped for mana, forcing them to consider another resource as they play. This kind of design restriction also imposed many limitations. Planeswalkers, and other spells that can generate continuous value turn after turn have the potential for completely overwhelming the opponent who may still be struggling to get on their feet. Another interesting design choice about this cube is the difference in colors. Red has 78 cards to it for example, while green only has 30 cards. This really hammers home the theme of this being a desert.
The desert cube accomplishes all of this, by abolishing one of the fundamental rules of draft. Not being able to acquire basics changes everything, and this decision is reinforced by the design decisions of the cube. We have seen other ways the drafting process can be changed to alter the cube experience through cards such as conspiracies. What other ways can the draft be altered to encourage such imaginative design? Fortunately, the draft is not the only thing we are in charge of when it comes to design.
The Jund Cube: Altering the Colors
Another cube that completely blew my mind when I first learned of it was the Jund cube, designed by /u/LordRiku. Denying access to 2 different colors was an option I had never considered before, and I was skeptical it would even work. But, this cube is not only capable of playing fun and powerful Magic, but it can even support archetypes that wouldn’t seem possible without other colors such as Storm. Aggro, Midrange, Control, and Combo are all present here even without the presence of blue and white.
Now of course, with this restriction a lot of things change. When drafting the Jund cube it’s not as easy to say “green is open”. More people are going to be in your colors, and rather than asking what color is open a more productive question might be what archetypes are open? If the controlling red cards are tabling, that’s a much stronger sign than seeing a white card go around the table.
Showcasing what is possible with just three colors is great, but we can take the concept even further. Mono-color cubes pose an interesting challenge to solve when enchantments are literally impossible to deal with in black. Try to taste the rainbow and make every single card in the cube multicolored, or go the other way and make everything colorless. Tweaking something so fundamental to Magic can have profound effects, and will make for a fascinating environment.
The Modular Cube: Altering the Archetypes
Have you ever wanted to try to fit that draft archetype from the brand new set into your cube but couldn’t find the space for it? Do you think Infect is amazing and deserves to be in cube even though everyone claims it’s parasitic? Do you like Jump-Start but want to make it into a draft? Fortunately for you, Path to Cube has already done the hard work for you. The Modular Cube has a very simple premise. Take a core of 58 cards that work in many different decks and then add modules that have 37 cards each until you have enough to draft. These modules can range from anything, from the Power 9 to Homarid tribal, and are entirely customizable.
Now, you still want to be careful with the modules you introduce. A Power 9 module is a ton of fun, but invalidates many of the picks that would be present in other packs. Finding an appropriate power band for a modular cube is very important in order to maintain a large amount of modules. If you want Homarid tribal to be viable, you are probably going to have to eschew the Planeswalker module. Another thing to consider when designing this kind of cube is how cards will play with other cards throughout modules. Ideally, you want a draft of the modular cube to have decks that look like a mish-mash of every single module rather than each player sitting in their lane only drafting the Infect cards that come along.
If you do decide to create a modular cube, try experimenting with the module size to create the balance between fun archetypes and strange combinations of decks. Tinker with the core of the cube to allow people to create decent decks even if everything goes up in flames, and maybe even add on modules that could change the rules of the draft such as a desert module. There are infinite things you can attempt with a modular cube, and it is a prime example of the possibility of cube.
The Land Cube: Altering the Card Types
Everyone who has drafted should know at this point that your deck should play approximately 17 lands and 23 spells. Who needs that formula when all 40 cards in your decks are lands. Designed by /u/SonOfOnett the land cube, just like many of the other cubes on this list, really pushes the limits of what is possible. But, thanks to the long history of Magic: the Gathering achieving the wincons of the game are possible only using the tools that are meant to cast everything else. Creature lands and spell lands create an interesting dynamic, and cards like Strip Mine become the best removal spell ever printed.
When you draft this cube, it is vital that you draft a win condition. Creating creatures has never been so important, and if you can create the biggest creature on the battlefield you will be well poised to take over the game. Cards such as Tomb of Urami have a chance to shine when the removal is so limited. You’ll never not have something to do because getting flooded is the whole point of the cube.
Lands only is an exciting way to start this discussion off, but there are other avenues that can be explored. Artifacts are another great thing to explore, especially when every basic land is an artifact land. 215 Planeswalkers have been printed so far, which gives plenty of space to add in support. Basing the cube around a specific type could lead to a fun and varied environment.
One CMC Cube: Altering the Mana Costs
Many cube designers are well acquainted with scraping the bottom of the barrel for playables at a specific mana cost. But what if that mana cost was the entire cube? The One-CMC cube shows us that it’s not only possible to have an entire cube made out of one drops, but that it can be really interesting as well. Designed by elkaiserguapo, this simple cube has plenty of decisions surrounding it.
One of the most difficult challenges when drafting this cube is finding good mana sinks. With such a cheap hand, it’ll be really easy to go empty handed. One mana cards that can be cast in other ways such as Hypnotic Siren are the key for other decks besides aggro existing in the cube. In this specific cube, tribal is even supported through Humans, Goblins, Zombies, and more. The efficiency of powerful standby’s such as Path to Exile matter less when everything costs the same. One drops are an elegant choice for this style of cube, because as long as you draw one land you will be able to play Magic.
There are more ways we can interfere with mana costs, however. What if every card in the cube was given Delve? Glimpse the Unthinkable becomes a ridiculous ramp spell, or an efficient kill spell when everyone is trying to dump things into their yard. Mana costs are one of the most important things in the game, and cube can do so much with it.
I was initially drawn to cube because of how it is the ultimate expression of yourself in Magic. I have stayed for so long because of how creative this community can be. Changing fundamental rules of the game and then designing a format around that conceit is only possible with cube. No other format is capable of the same amount of self-expression and game design fundamentals. In essence cube is designing a board game with Magic cards as the tools of the trade. Cube will always be the traditional vintage draft environment we have all grown to love, but I hope that you realize it can be so much more.
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Here is the imgur thread for the stunning cube used as the featured image for this article.