Ten months ago I made a Pioneer cube in response to the brand new format being announced. It’s a very traditional cube that has a lot of powerful cards, but isn’t gated by a huge history of Magic, and has a much lower entry point than a typical Legacy 360. This cube, however, has a lot of issues with it and I know this even though I’ve never drafted with it. Pioneer has changed a lot since I created the cube, most notably being the many different bans that have shaped the format, and 3 new sets coming out since I made the cube.
However, in the ten months that I’ve neglected this cube it still gets drafted all the time on CubeCobra. And before I go through and make changes to this cube, I wanted to gather all the data that these drafts have put together and give a clearer image of what exactly needs to be changed to make for a more balanced experience.
Disclaimers: This data is not at all conclusive. There are only 166 drafts to work with, which is a tiny amount of data in the grand scheme of things. Every single one of these drafts were done with bots that have gone through many updates and revisions in the past year. I have never played a draft with any of these decks, let alone a game meaning I have no idea which archetypes win the most. Finally, a lot of the drafts that were submitted didn’t finish their decks which meant I had to infer what their final deck would have looked like. Even with these limitations, it is still easy to paint a picture of what this cube represents.
To start things off, I want to show the percentage of decks that have a specific color in them. This is showing everything from mono color decks, to 4 color piles, if it had the color I would mark it down. At first glance the colors are well represented across the board with two outliers in Green and Black. Green is, unsurprisingly, the most popular color with 24.6% of decks featuring Green. Black on the other hand is suffering the most by far with only 16.9% of decks featuring Black.
Green is often considered one of the best colors in Magic, and with the presence of Oko in the cube many decks would stretch their mana bases to include Oko since it was simply the right thing to do. It isn’t as clear why Black suffered so much, but my initial inclination has to do with the way I designed Black to work in the cube. Green gets very general archetypes such as Ramp and Stompy that are very easy to draft and play, whereas Black got much more niche strategies that require specific things to come together such as Delirium, Artistocrats, Artifacts, and Madness. This strong focus on archetypes proved to be detrimental to Black’s presence in the cube.
There are a few ways I can go about changing this. For starters, Black needs a lot more cards that are strong no matter what deck they go into, to serve as a stronger pull for the color. The focus on these archetypes can also be diminished so that if the draft fails to come together, you’ll still have a playable pile of cards. This is only half the problem, however, and to fix Green’s dominance on the draft it might be prudent to introduce a more parasitic archetype into it’s colors so that it doesn’t see play because it simply has the strongest cards available. I’m aiming for each color to be played 20% of the time, and if these two colors can be reigned in things will look a lot better.
The next point of data that I would like to cover is the amount of multicolor decks that are present in the cube. In most cubes I make, I want to strive for dual color decks to be the most popular with mono color and tri color taking second and third place respectively. The data isn’t too far off from what I’m aiming for, but again, it needs some work. Two color decks are the most popular, followed by three color decks. Then it goes off a sharp cliff and we see only 15 mono color decks and 3 Four Color Piles that all had no Black.
The first thing I can draw from this data is the mana almost lets people get away with too much. This could be a product of bots not drafting lands very highly, or me seeing a draft and assuming it’s 3 colors when they would have trimmed the deck to be 2 colors. Regardless, seeing this many 3 color decks isn’t particularly upsetting to me. Seeing only three 4 color decks makes me happy as I want five color goodstuff to be viable but not common, and the decks that went this direction often had to play Chromatic Lantern or Oath of Nissa in order to support the manabase which is ideal.
What I’d like to see more of, however, is mono-color decks. These decks are very popular in Pioneer due to the breezy manabase, and the Theros sets encouraging devotion strategies. They were pretty uncommon in my cube, however, and when they did show up it was overwhelmingly Mono-Green decks and 0 Mono-Blue. It breaks down as follows: White (4), Blue (0), Black (2), Red (1), Green (8). This again shows that the cube needs to take the focus off of Green and redistribute the love to other colors. I don’t want to do it by outright nerfing Green, but if that is what it takes to bring it in line with the other colors I’ll do it.
Another point of data I’d like to present is the broad representation of archetypes in the cube. This isn’t entirely accurate, as many of the decks that show up that were classified as midrange might have been mislabeled, and Tempo was grouped in with midrange but even with that disclaimer it’s clear to see that this cube is designed for midrange slugfests.
The presence of so many 3 color decks lends itself to this grindfest, which is something I want to avoid moving forward but disregarding midrange for a moment we can see that the other archetypes actually present at a normal ratio with Aggro and Control at almost equal representation with combo and ramp taking up the last 12.2%.
Now back to the midrange problem. One of the clearest ways to solve this is by again nerfing Green, which is consistently showing itself as the problem child in this cube. The natural predator of midrange is control, so if we make control more viable in the cube it stands to reason that midrange will suffer. And if we make control better, we will want to make aggro stronger as well to maintain the balance. This essentially means we need to take the glut of options that are available in the center of the curve and spread it out more so we have more one drops and finishers respectively. (Or instead of finishers, more answers).
Finally, I’d like to talk about the archetypes that I initially presented in my first article and talk about which archetypes proved successful and which ones crashed and burned. Gruul stompy comes out in first place, which was surprising to me as Gruul is almost never the best color combination in other cubes but it was very popular in this cube. Control, Tokens, Aristocrats, and Spells all take second place which is great to see.
Delirium performed pretty well as an archetype, despite it’s parasitisim and past that I’m starting to see archetypes that either performed poorly or outright failed. Madness is a really fun mechanic but didn’t have enough support and a large part of that is due to the smaller card pool. Heroic also didn’t show up often, and with this and Madness being unpopular it explains the low presence of aggro decks in the cube. GU ramp seems like it wasn’t popular, but the data above shows that ramp was doing just fine. Shoehorning it into a 2 color pair didn’t achieve much. Finally, we can see here that UB artifacts performed terribly with only 2 decks to show for. However, this data doesn’t show the whole story and artifact decks actually showed up a total of 6 times, but it was always Blue plus another color, typically being Red.
Out of all the decks that were drafted 104 of them were considered to be part of these archetypes, which means that 63% of the decks drafted were intended. This is a number that I am happy with, as I want the decks I planted to show up, but still want to allow for creativity in the draft. Now given this data, what are some things we can do to make things more balanced.
For starters, UB needs a change of focus. Artifacts is a strategy that is doing well outside of blue and black, and chaining it to these colors only holds it back. Expanding it to have options available in all 5 colors will allow for more unique decks to appear and free UB to carve it’s own identity. Madness and Heroic are fun mechanics that may have to take a backseat in favor of more aggressive strategies in order to facilitate the changes I outlined earlier. Simic could also be narrowed down into a strategy that isn’t as broad as “ramp”. The other archetypes I’m pretty happy with, and don’t feel like they show up too frequently to warrant significant changes.
Wrapping all of this together has lead me to a few conclusions:
- Green is overcentralizing
- Black has too many niches
- Three color decks show up a little too frequently
- Mono Color decks need more support
- Control and Aggro need buffs to compete with Midrange
- There needs to be more balance among the color pairs
Using these conclusions I can effectively make changes to the cube to make a more balanced environment. To add onto this, a few things about the design philosophy of the cube have changed. Two card infinite combos are no longer accepted due to getting banned in Pioneer outright (with Felidar Guardian/Saheeli and Walking Ballista/Heliod) and I want to update the size of the cube to 540 as looking at 166 decks in a row made me realize that a lot of decks were pretty repetitive. This update will also be including cards from the last 3 sets.
I will have an article out later this week showcasing the updated version of the cube, but if you want to draft the cube before that article comes out feel free to at https://cubecobra.com/cube/list/k23. In that article I will go over what specific changes I’ve made in order to make for a more fun play experience. Thank you all for reading, have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!