I have started to notice a trend in the cube community towards redundant design in cube. Packing a cube with multiple 2/1’s for one, cantrips, discard spells, burn, and mana dorks is important for creating a coherent environment. This allows drafters to get the required density on certain effects to create consistent decks. However, cube’s traditional format of 360 or more unique cards can make it difficult to reach the desired number of these effects. The quality of the effects can also vary dramatically. Lightning Bolt is the gold standard for burn spells but to get the required density of burn a cube designer typically has to settle for less impressive cards. After listening to the latest episode of Lucky Paper Radio where Parker LaMascus and Jason Waddell talk about Slay the Spire I was inspired to create a cube based off the game design featured in that discussion. (Link to the episode). 3-2-1 cube design aims to broaden what is possible with cubes and create environments that have webs of synergy that isn’t currently possible with singleton cubes.
Specifically, their conversation about Reckless Charge really intrigued me. In that discussion they went into great depth about all the different ways that the card is used in the game, and how the game designers enabled every single part of the design of Reckless Charge. Even though the downside of shuffling a dead card into your deck is a downside the game still gives the players a lot of choices in how they can mitigate the downside. By building a bigger deck you can make it harder to find the Dazed later in the game. You can lean into the downside and draft a deck that will trigger certain effects such as damage or drawing another card when you draw a status card like Dazed. And a 0 mana deal 7 is a card that synergizes with a lot of the other tools in the Ironclads kit. Reckless Charge showcases the web of synergy that is possible when you maximize every aspect of the card. I thought about how to achieve this in MtG cube design and my conclusion lead me to design a cube that breaks the singleton nature of our format.
This certainly isn’t a revolutionary design principle but is one that is currently under-utilized by many cube designers. In game design all across the industry the concept of commons, uncommons, and rares is pivotal to how draftable card games work. 3-2-1 cube design works by simply assigning a card a common, uncommon, or rare value and then putting that many copies of the card in the cube. By designing a cube that follows the 3-2-1 principle you can create an environment that utilizes every single aspect of a specific card. Cubes based off of retail draft environments such as Innistrad cubes typically follow this pattern since the original environment was designed with this concept in mind. I decided to design a vintage cube following this principle and ended up with a cube that has a surprising amount of synergistic overlap between cards. (Draft 3-2-1 Cube Here).
Here’s a breakdown of my 540 card cube if that would be more helpful:
- 68 White cards (12 commons, 11 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 68 Blue cards (12 commons, 11 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 68 Black cards (12 commons, 11 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 68 Red cards (12 commons, 11 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 68 Green cards (12 commons, 11 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 70 Multicolored (30 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 60 Colorless (10 commons, 10 uncommons, 10 rares).
- 70 Lands (11 commons, 12 uncommons, 13 rares).
The design goal of this cube was simple. By breaking singleton and increasing quantities of specific cards I can then add cards to the environment that synergize well with the chosen card. As an example I’d like to start off with Arbor Elf. It is a very simple card but through synergy it can create something that is larger than itself. Typically it can only untap a basic forest but with the inclusion of dual lands it can now tap for multiple colors. If you untap a land that is enchanted you can tap it again generating even more mana. If a creature were to turn into a forest Arbor Elf can now untap them introducing even more complexity and synergy. When a drafter comes across these synergies during the draft this makes them feel smart and like they are inventing new strategies. When 1+1=3 you are doing the right thing as the cube designer. Arbor Elf is also a unique effect and the only way to consistently allow players to draft it is by breaking singleton. This applies for many different cards in the cube. Brainstorm, Fetchlands, Thraben Inspector, and Faithless Looting are all unique and powerful cards that can really shine through synergistic design.
When 1+1=3 you are doing the right thing as the cube designer.
3-2-1 cube design is something that can apply to more than just a traditional powered cube. If there is a mechanic that you really like but has a limited card pool this can obviously help. (Energy, infect, proliferate, ability counters, tribal, etc.) This is also a great way to showcase specific designs that you love and have a lot of synergistic potential. This concept can be applied to the entire cube or to specific cards that you want to increase the density of for certain archetypes. Arclight Phoenix is a fan favorite that doesn’t see much play in cube. By breaking singleton it might be possible to make it a reality. The number of specific cards that one puts in a cube is an arbitrary decision that can absolutely be tweaked to design a more engaging environment. 3-2-1 design offers a simple way to break singleton without straying too far from the nature of the format. It allows the designer of the cube to make more informed decisions on what cards will be available during the draft.
This isn’t to say that singleton doesn’t have a place in our community. Singleton cubes provide an experience that is wholly unique in Magic and can feature many more individual cards that may otherwise never see the light of day. It is a restriction that breeds creativity and that is worth exploring. Yet cube has nearly unlimited potential in what can be accomplished and restricting every single cube to singleton can make specific visions much more difficult to achieve. I hope that this design framework is useful and the lessons I have learned from it can help you with your own cubes. If you have any specific questions about 3-2-1 cube design feel free to ask me in the comments below. Thank you all for reading and I hope you have an amazing Tuesday!