It's been about a week since the weekend of Magic Online Cube happened and it went extremely well. On Twitter Tom LaPille said that Magic Online Cube is going to return eventually with possible changes to the list; it's just that they just don't know when the return is going to happen (or they're not saying when). This shouldn't be a surprise since there were many new arts commissioned for the cube including new art for all of the original dual lands other cards like Karakas and cards that aren't traditional heavy hitters in non-Cube formats like Fyndhorn Elves Orcish Lumberjack and Control Magic. Also Wizards of the Coast wouldn't have registered a trademark for Cube for a single weekend event no matter how profitable the event ended up being.
If it wasn't for the reprint policy being strictly adhered to (and this isn't necessarily a bad thing as violating it has the potential for a nasty repercussion or at least that's what I'm assuming someone in Legal told someone in R&D)—then I'd assume that Wizards of the Coast would consider making a paper version of Magic Online Cube for personal use. I doubt that's going to happen but one thing is for sure: this event wasn't a one-time thing and Wizards wants for the cube to be a part of their portfolio. I previously wrote about the format itself but in this article I'll be talking about what the online launch did for Cube online and as a whole and how even if you've never cubed with the online cube how the launch means good things for the format.
One of the main things is that the drafts went extremely well—I don't have figures on how many drafts fired off but I can say from watching the tournament queue screen and watching people talk about it online that a lot of people were drafting it and enjoying themselves. A lot of them were people who had never Cube drafted before and had enjoyed playing Cube for the first time. I had been drafting for years and enjoyed the online format. I was happy to see so many people enjoying the format as you can see from this tweet during the weekend.
One of the most important things was that Magic Online Cube helped to break down some of the barriers to entry involved with Cube something many people don't tend to think of with the format.
When I had first heard of Cube drafting years ago I heard about it through people talking about it on a local forum with what cards they thought were good or weren't good for it. I obviously had no idea what was good for it or what wasn't but I was just blown away by the concept. As someone who had recently caught the drafting bug the ability to draft all of the best cards in the game seemed insane to me and trying to figure out what the best cards in the game was looked like an exciting process!
However despite their cube being drafted pretty regularly since I didn't know anyone in that group I wasn't able to draft it (but I really wanted to!). It wasn't until I saw the "Gleaming the Cube" episode of The Magic Show that I finally decided to make one myself and started the long process of designing my own cube. But of course the process wasn't quick; my cube wasn't built in a day and there were many resources used.
I first built my list based on Tom LaPille's and Evan Erwin's cubes. I pooled them together to see what I liked about the lists found what cards out of those cubes that I needed and got the actual cards themselves. This was in addition to the time I took to tinker with the cube itself and to make changes. This was something that I encountered when making other cubes like my common cube which also took a lot of time since there weren't as many common cube lists online. I had to go through all of Gatherer to look for cube-worthy commons. There is also the cost of building a cube (including buying the sleeves a pretty big hidden cost).
I'm not complaining about the time and cost issues—if I thought they were big enough issues I wouldn't have built my common cube or be working on other cube ideas that I have going in the think tank. But it's important to realize that time and money can be a pretty big barrier to entry for designing a cube. Many people don't bother to build a cube for that very reason—why bother with such a huge time and cost investment if they aren't even that sure if the format is any good? What if it's just a waste of time and money? (It isn't!) Because of this not many people tend to have cubes. Generally it's relegated to one per playgroup (if you're lucky); I wouldn't be surprised if a decently sized city had less than ten cubes in it.
Knowing someone who has a cube can make the process easier. Before I built my own cube and after seeing Evan Erwin's video on Cube drafting I drafted with some local cubes to get more experience with the format and that got me to understand the format more. But that may not be available to everyone as the number of cubes is on the relatively low side. When I was at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Indianapolis about a year ago there were less than ten cubes in the building (that we knew of) and that number surprised me as people like myself Adam Styborski Matt Kranstuber and Eric Klug all had our cubes present. Compare that to the amount of Commander decks that were in the room (probably at least 100 if I had to make an off-the-cuff guess) and it shows that even finding someone who has a cube can be difficult.
Even if know someone who has a cube at one of these large events that cube may be unavailable. I had people who wanted to draft with my cube at the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis but I wasn't available to draft it. Eventually I lent out my cube to those who I trusted. This isn't to say that there isn't a good amount of people who know about cube and are interested in the format but cube designers are at least much fewer in numbers than cube drafters. Even then many people play Cube less often than they play other formats like Standard/Limited let alone other more popular casual formats like Commander.
These barriers to entry were prohibitive in getting people to get into Cube drafting and learning more about the format. Thankfully Magic Online Cube helped address these issues. Since the cube was essentially a custom-created set that could have packs generated and have multiple tournaments run from it Magic Online Cube helped eliminate the availability issue by making it so that people could draft it at any time.
I've also found it frustrating to not be able to get cube drafts going because of people flaking out or just not being interested in drafting (especially when it gets to the most awkward number of drafters: three). I've known people who took apart their cubes because they simply couldn't get enough people to draft it. Due to the extremely high demand of Magic Online Cube people didn't have to make an effort to scrape together enough for a draft.
In fact Magic Online Cube drafts were firing so often that the price of Dark Ascension and Innistrad packs went down by a significant margin. Jon Agley discussed the price dynamics in his article as the huge influx of people entering Cube events getting their prizes in Dark Ascension and Innistrad packs selling them to bots and quickly entering another draft (to the point of where people were double-queuing events) resulted in a huge flood of the marketing and a pretty noticeable drop in the price of packs.
People were still able to easily convert their packs into tickets but the price impact of Dark Ascension and Innistrad packs going down helps to show just how popular the events were. I can say from personal experience that the last time I drafted on Magic Online aside from using the Limited Resources clan cube was drafting Master's Edition 1 and a few Lorwyn and Kamigawa drafts. I was very happy to get tix this time even though I mainly drafted Magic Online Cube for the experience. I saw several messages from others who were in the same boat and will gladly do it again when Magic Online Cube returns.
Another important factor to note (but not related to barriers to entry) was that social media had a very big part in helping to spread word about how fun Magic Online Cube was and how people were encouraged try the format for themselves. People who don't play Cube that often like Todd Anderson Sam Black Simon Goertzen Cedric Phillips Marshall Sutcliffe and AJ Sacher used Cube video footage for articles and streaming content because people were intrigued with the format and wanted to learn more about it.
People were talking about things like going turn 2 Channel into an Eldrazi on Twitter and Facebook and people wanted to see more about the format. This helped to spread the love of the format and gave people more opportunities to learn about Cube. These two factors combined help break down the barriers of entry as well; much like how when I saw Cube draft footage and people playing when I was in the formative stages of making my cube it helped to flesh out and make more real the ideas that I had about the format.
I knew for example that green midrange was a deck in Cube but seeing it happen in actual drafts was something that was much more exciting to me as a player. When I heard that Tinker.dec (aka a deck with Tinker but obviously one that gets better with a nice Tinker target like Myr Battlesphere or Wurmcoil Engine) or Reanimator was a deck back in the day seeing people draft it in Cube made me more interested in the format as I could see the possibilities of decks that I'd heard about happen! Think about when you heard that Spider Spawning was a deck in triple Innistrad or how Bloodthrone Vampire and Tokens was a deck in Rise of the Eldrazi Limited and how much more interested in the format you actually saw someone draft it yourself.
On the design side Magic Online Cube helped people get around barriers to entry for trying a card in Cube! As I discussed in my article about "outsourcing" in Cube a few weeks ago seeing a card in other formats can help to "de-theorize" experiences with cards in a cube. I was initially hesitant on trying Arbor Elf in my cube because of its inability to untap non-Forest green mana producers but I found through drafting online (and asking Kenny Mayer of course!) that its "drawback" wasn't really that bad. I've seen people learn that Geralf's Messenger isn't just a card for mono-black and that it's a solid role filler in decks that can reliably cast it on turns 3-4 (with about ten black sources if I had to wager.)
Seeing some cards used in Magic Online Cube also made people who traditionally don't use cube cards try them in different ways that experienced cubers aren't used to. This isn't to say that the non-experienced people are wrong: they're looking at it through a different lens. I've found experienced cubers can sometimes look at a card in a certain way while people who aren't experienced will look at the cards in another way and I've found that both can be correct. For example in a draft that I saw on AJ Sacher's stream I saw him use Geralf's Messenger in a Grixis Control deck and it seemed to have worked pretty well!
Lastly Magic Online Cube helped to introduce people to some cards that they may not have considered before like Sneak Attack and Reckless Charge for their own cubes. This is something that wouldn't have happened had it not been for the Magic Online Cube! (And although storm combo performed… slightly better than I expected with people like Matt Kranstuber and _shipitholla storming people out the cards required to support it didn't seem worth making the occasional storm deck happen. Still I gotta say that I was pleasantly surprised that it worked!)
But the best thing about the introduction of the format online and helping to reduce the barriers of entry to the format was that it made people actually play Cube helping people to realize that it's a fun and dynamic format. Before people really got into Legacy many people assumed that the format was all about broken kills broken beyond belief and not worth checking out. But because of the increased relevance of the format due to Legacy events at the StarCityGames.com Open Series people have learned more about the format and realized that it's a very fun and dynamic format.
I've found that people have similar misconceptions about Cube which in my years of playing the format I've found to be wrong. Having the Magic Online cube available for people to actually be able to go into and draft at just about any time that weekend showed people that those perceptions may not have been entirely true and that they've been missing out on a great format. I look forward to when Magic Online Cube comes back because it'll hopefully get more people into the format and help them realize that Cube is an excellent and very rewarding format.
Justin Parnell said that at the very least Magic Online Cube would be a "gateway drug" to many people to introduce them to the greatness of the format or at least give them an incentive to look more into it!
May all of your opening packs contain Sol Rings!