Dark Steele Cube - Why Cube?
Hi! My name is Thea. I’ve been writing on my blog Masked Admirers and occasionally on cubedrafting.com for a while now and I’m really excited to have a column here. I’ll be writing about the Cube a format where you take the most powerful cards ever printed and treat them as a set for Limited play. This week I’m going to explain how I got into the Cube in the first place and I hope to convince you along the way that I know and care about this format. Then I’ll talk about why the Cube is so awesome and discuss how to begin your own Cube. In future columns I’m going to write about every facet of the Cube that I can think of including set reviews archetype discussions match videos and the role of personal preference in Cube design. And maybe some of those sweet game play decision polls that Menendian uses. Let’s go!
I started playing Magic when Eventide was in stores and I learned to play using the Cube. My now-fianc is mostly a Limited player so that’s the way he taught me to play. At first I’d play a deck that someone else had drafted. As I improved I learned to build decks from Sealed pools and then to draft. As a new player the powerful things that can happen in the Cube make for a strangely forgiving format. Sure I lost a lot of games by not understanding interactions or seeing the best play but I also got to win in pretty crazy ways such as Black Lotus into Mind Twist or an unanswered Debtors’ Knell. As I got better I started to appreciate that the Cube has solutions to seemingly unwinnable situations and answers to every broken card. In a recent game my opponent Briberied me taking my Oona Queen of the Fae. That’s scary. Playing Puppeteer Clique to take Aether Adept from the yard getting the Oona back? That’s fun. In another draft my opponent had out an Iridescent Angel and played Clone to make another one. That’s a pretty gnarly situation for a RB deck but I pulled it out with Void.
Although I’ve gotten more involved in Magic and I play other formats the Cube is still my favorite. These days I draft the Cube 3-4 times a week and more when I can. I’m lucky to be able to do so. The result is that I’ve spent a lot of time playing and playing against a huge variety of decks. While my Cube list isn’t perfect (the Cube will always be in a state of flux since it by definition changes four times a year) it is tuned and tested by virtue of how often we play.
What is the Cube?
In broad terms the Cube is a set of the best cards ever printed designed to be played in Limited. There are permutations of that principle – All Commons Cubes Tribal Themed Cubes – but they all share the same crucial virtue: the Cube contains whatever you want it to contain. You (and the people with which you play) determine what archetypes to support choose pet cards to include (and others to exclude) all solely to make it fun. While most every Cube includes some of the same cards the Cube is an individual list. There is not one definitive Cube. Most Cubes are around 500 cards in size but that’s up to you. A bigger Cube will let you support more archetypes and include more pet cards. A smaller Cube makes it easier to balance the power level of each color (since some colors are "deeper" than others) but makes choices of what to include much more difficult. In this article I’m going to be talking about "Best Cards" Cubes i.e. those with no restriction except possibly excluding the Power Nine. Although individual card choices will be different the principles should also be relevant for All Commons or Non-Rare Cubes.
The short answer: because it’s the most fun you can have in Magic. The longer answer: because it can involve any cards you want you can do it with any number of players the price is only what you want it to be and once you have your Cube it has infinite replay value. All right let’s go with longer answer still…
The Cube is Awesomely Fun
To some extent of course the fun is built-in. In choosing the best cards you naturally achieve a huge variety of archetypes - there’s something for everyone. Most players gravitate towards an archetype or color combination or have some particularly beloved card. One of my favorite things in the Cube is to draft with someone new and in doing so see a card they value highly in a completely new light. Sometimes a particular card - Palinchron for example - will see little play for a few months. Then someone will play a deck that abuses it to great results and you see it become a higher pick again.
Conversely some play groups don’t value certain cards highly and if that’s the case there’s no need to include them. For example I don’t run Armageddon. It’s unquestionably one of the strongest White cards. However White has a huge slice of the color pie and doesn’t need Armageddon to be strong and it’s not an effect my group considers fun. We do run land destruction in Red because Red’s slice of the pie is narrower and I’ve found that Red needs LD to be strong in the Cube. Other groups come to completely different conclusions which is fine. For example this guy was sick of Wrath of God being a fifteenth pick. Hey different strokes…
Another incredibly fun thing about the Cube is the way that it serves as a cross-section of nearly everything that has happened in Magic. There’s a great sense of nostalgia in seeing new and old borders foils and alternate art cards together in a pack. The same goes for playing a game that features free spells and Moxen alongside cards with Ninjitsu Morph or Exalted. I love seeing old cards with hilarious templating (Ancestral Recall’s "force opponent to draw" for example) or baffling art - Hymn to Tourach has got to be the only time that discarding cards has been represented by jesters drinking tea.
The Cube is Accessible
Sure a lot of people draft their Cubes with seven of their favorite people and that’s a legitimate way to do it. But if your group is busy and that means your schedules coincide only once a month that’s not a death knell for your Cube. I do most of my Cube drafting with just two people. That method works well it’s easy to make it happen and best of all you can tune the power level of your decks by choosing to use more or less cards in the draft. I actually really like to draft with two people because it lets you spend more time actually playing your deck. We generally play to best-of-nine which minimizes frustrating situations where you mulligan to 5 each game or your opponent opens with Sol Ring as consistently as if they were running a playset.
The Cube is also accessible in terms of price. Not only is it completely free once your Cube is built - though admittedly the prize structure sucks - but it’s totally reasonable to run proxies in your Cube. I do it Evan Erwin does it and generally most people with powered Cubes run some proxies. I agree with common wisdom here which is that it feels nicer to play a real card and I downright dislike bad proxies of the sharpie-on-Island variety. But a high quality print looks pretty nice and there’s no shame in wanting to play with the best cards ever printed without spending thousands of dollars to do so up front. The Cube isn’t exclusively made up of pricey rares either; my Cube is near 50% non-rare and some of the rares are super cheap like Clone or Sacred Mesa.
How To Get Started
To get started with your own Cube you’ll need a list lands and sleeves. I’d recommend just choosing a list to start with and worrying about what you would change later. I’m obviously a big fan of my list Evan Erwin’s is popular and you can find many more in the cubedrafting.com forums . Undoubtedly you won’t agree with anyone else’s choices 100% but the best way to figure out what you would change is just to play. You’ll want to use the same sleeves for everything and having some land sleeved is a good idea. I also have tokens (in different sleeves) for each token-maker in the Cube.
Making it Your Own
When choosing a list to start there are some structural questions that you should keep in mind. How will you deal with split cards hybrid and off-color activations? What about color-associated lands? How about Portal and Unsets? What will you do about functional reprints? I choose to divide hybrid and multicolor and to take hybrid to mean "playable with either color better with both." That means that I can run Fire//Ice in UR hybrid and I don’t feel too cheaty about that. I don’t use three-color split cards or off-color activations but there are plenty of great cards to run if you do. I don’t mind running Portal cards but I draw the line at Horsemanship - to me that feels like the card isn’t working the way it’s meant to work. Similarly I don’t have Un-set cards in my cube but there are powerful choices there if you choose to. I have one more rule which is that each color can only have one planeswalker. I felt like White was too good without that rule but I see that changing eventually when Red Black and Green also have a number of good choices. There isn’t a right answer to any of those questions – it’s definitely personal preference - but those are all things to keep in mind when building your Cube.
As soon as you start playing with your Cube you’ll notice that you miss some effects don’t like some cards or feel that certain strategies are too powerful. My Cube began with Evan Erwin’s list but after a while we diverged somewhat. I didn’t add as much multicolor during Shards block but I did keep hybrid and multicolor separate. Evan removed some cards and I removed others and with each new set we added and replaced different cards. Evolution to suit your style is a good thing and it’s always right to play the cards you are excited to pick highly.
There’s a really enthusiastic knowledgeable community of people who Cube draft and I often look to other people’s lists when I’m looking for a replacement for an underperforming card. The experience and thought that has already been put into this topic is a huge resource. However I’d urge you to be skeptical and to stick by the cards that have been great for you even if they are unusual choices. I generally try to give popular cards a try in my Cube (after all everyone with a Cube has the ability to see how good a given card is in their Cube) but if I’m not impressed with them they aren’t going to stay in. Objective quality isn’t as good a measure as "how excited am I to have this card in my Cube." For me part of the fun is debating what cards should go in and I love when I champion a card that turns out to be great. I really pushed for Sphinx of Lost Truths in my Cube and I still loving see it even when I’m losing to it.
Next week I’ll talk about how considering the Cube as a set leads to intelligent choices about redundancy curve and sideboard cards. I’d love to hear your feedback and you can also reach me on twitter @wmap. Thanks for reading!