Welcome to 2014 and the new year's first Cubers Anonymous! The Magic Online 2013 Holiday Cube has been in rotation for a full three weeks now, and soon many of you will be forced to come down off your digital Cube high. But fear not, it doesn't have to end this way!
After the longest run of Cubing on Magic Online, I know I have several new readers to my column that are looking for ways to keep the Cube action going. Since it's the beginning of another twelve-month journey, early January is the perfect time for a new start to owning your very own Cube. I'd like to use today's column as a start-up guide to getting your brand-new Cube operational and ready to draft.
As some of you may have guessed, writing about Cube as a format every week can often be difficult. As content creators for Magic's most customizable format, we're not afforded the opportunity to write about the ever-evolving Constructed metagame or a Limited format that has a predetermined shelf life. Though the words are never difficult to get down in any article, the space we have to both hold your attention and not pen the next Iliad is sometimes daunting to neatly fit a topic into.
Often the name of the game for Cube writing is experience (I tried this, you should too!) or opinion (hey, here are new cards and what I think of them!). In my two and a half years of writing for this website, I don't think I've ever given instruction on how to build a Cube from the ground up. Every single person that owns a Cube had to do this, and if you want to make your own Cube, this is the article for you.
I'm going to give you a step-by-step guide to putting together your first Cube and share what I did when I made mine several years ago.
Step 0: Mental Prep
I want to start by erasing any notion that building and maintaining a Cube is easy. It isn't. A Cube has a ton of moving parts, and change can come slowly. Once your have a Cube, your interaction with the community around you will change, as Cubing is the ultimate community-building experience. You could in theory play one-on-one Magic against the same person for twenty years, but with a Cube you really need at least five people other than yourself. Your building and maintenance of a Cube is now for your immediate community and not just yourself. It's going to be hard work, but the payoff is definitely worth it.
Step 1: Get A Base
When I decided to put my Cube together, I had very little direction other than a few articles I found on the Internet about the subject. I talked about these in my last article, and there wasn't too much else to be had. There was a Cube dedicated forum on MTG Salvation, where you could find a few Cube lists, but they were all the same. Cubes then couldn't afford to run 720 cards; since you were running out of good cards by the time you hit 540, that served as a soft "cap." Now there is a plethora of Cube discussion on the same forum (including a subforum strictly for lists), a Reddit page, and multiple Cube content creators for each major Magic website. Hell, even WotC has their own Cube times two!
However, if you're starting a Cube in modern times, there's one resource that trumps them all. CubeTutor.com is a website you've seen me reference almost every single article for the last six months, and there's a reason for that. Not only does it allow you to draft every Cube listed on its website, but it houses hundreds of Cubes from all over the Internet. This is really the only place you need, as the time it takes you to look through ten perfectly organized for your viewing pleasure on Cube Tutor is about the same amount of time it takes you to look through two or three anywhere else. There is quite literally no reason to go elsewhere to look for lists to start from—everything is at your fingertips here.
To find these lists, go to CubeTutor.com and then Cube Index on the top bar. This will take you to a page listing the roughly 7,000 Cubes people have entered. You then want to do one of two things (or both if you choose):
Select the icon beside the Decks tab and sort so you can see the Cubes with the most saved decks. The reason you want to do this is these Cubes are going to be the most cared for on the list without using another sorting option. This isn't always the case, but it does a good enough job sorting them out without searching for too long.
The second and often more helpful option is to hit the filter button and choose some properties. The great thing about Cube Tutor is most properties are auto-selected when a Cube is made, so you're seeing real-time computer-generated attributes of each Cube listed. Powered means it has power; Pauper means no uncommons or rares; Peasant means no rares; Budget means it's cheap to make (this is user selected I believe); Standard, Modern, and Eternal refer to the formats the cards are legal in; and small (360 and less), medium (540 and less), large (720 and less), and extra-large (720+) all refer to the Cube size. Each option is selectable so you can mix and match to your choosing.
If you don't have any idea where to start, a 540-card Eternal Non-Powered Cube is going to give you a wide base of cards without overwhelming you. 360 cards are the tightest lists, allowing for exactly eight drafters each time, and 720 cards starts to get into a few issues with relative card power across all cards.
When getting started, I would look at Cube lists for a while before beginning on making your own. Cube Tutor allows the most looking (and drafting!) in the least amount of time as said above, so you can get quite a bit of looking done.
Once you feel like you're ready to get started, I recommend continuing to use Cube Tutor to create your initial list. Create an account and start adding cards based on what you've seen from other Cubes. It doesn't have to be perfect (and definitely won't be)—remember, this is just a base. Version 1.0 of your Cube may not look a whole lot this first list.
Step 2: Proxy
Once you have everything set up in Cube Tutor, you want to make your Cube a physical item. As much as I want you to buy physical Magic cards from StarCityGames.com, this is not the step where that is happening. Please take the time to make a proxy version of your Cube, either with computer print outs or even just pieces of paper with card names on them. The look is irrelevant right now; you'll have plenty of time for that later.
If you want computer-printed proxies, I recommend going to magiccards.info and printing off cards there. The card images are of very high quality, and they can evenly fit eight cards to a printed-off sheet.
For sleeves, I would just take any random assortment of sleeves to sleeve up the proxies. Even if they're different colors, you can buy brand new sleeves when the Cube is done.
Keep in mind you'll likely be replacing cards often before the first official version of your Cube, so don't worry if you start with printed-off proxies and slowly move to hand-written proxies. Most changes like this will happen after a . . .
Step 3: Draft
There are a couple ways to figure out what cards are the best fit for your Cube, and honest-to-goodness drafting is the best way. I don't recommend drafting to test your Cube with less than six total people—it's going to be difficult to see the true archetypes when so few cards are in the draft. Six- and eight-man drafts are the way to go, as most likely your Cube is going to be set up with this number in mind.
Now of course you're not always going to be able to just make a group of people appear at your house to draft, especially when it's getting late and your mind is still churning with ideas for your Cube. Luckily there is an option, and although it does take a while, you'll be able to get the most data of what your Cube archetypes look like they want and what your Cube archetypes actually need.
Play against yourself! Set up an eight-man draft and draft for all eight players. It honestly doesn't matter that you know what each seat is drafting—this will give you a true representation of what each archetype needs. After you draft, you should build decks and record anything that would help fill in the gaps where specific archetypes need help.
Even though it would be easier, don't do Sealed! It's a trap! Although it's much easier to set up and build decks with, you won't get a true representation of archetypes available. It's impossible to identify aggro as a reasonable archetype in Sealed, and lots of colors per deck is the norm. Stick to traditional Draft to get your reps in.
After the draft comes the data collection. This is a natural part of the process when doing the drafting yourself, and it can be a little more difficult when drafting with friends. You're going to have to go out of your way to ask questions about the draft, look at each deck, and watch the cards that interact differently than you imagined. If you have an odd number of people to draft, always be the one to volunteer to sit out. You'll realistically have a better opportunity to collect data when you're not distracted by playing. Get a notebook (the digital or paper variety) and start writing what you see.
Step 4: Make Sweeping Changes
Yes, sweeping changes. A card doesn't seem quite right for an archetype? Cut it and add something else. You don't like a portion of the color pie for a color or color pair? Try something else. The more cards you try in this initial phase, the better off you're going to be when you unleash your awesome Cube to the world. Cards are going to go in and out and in and out and back in before you're done. Just because something was cut doesn't mean you should get rid of the card from your mind. This is true during the entire life of your Cube but especially so during the initial run.
And now you're almost ready to finalize your Cube! All you have to do is repeat steps 3 and 4 about ten more times and you're good to go. Honestly ten might be on the lower limits. Ideally you're able to see several different configurations before moving on to the next step.
Step 5: Make Your Cube Beautiful
Away with the proxies! It's time to get your Cube looking good. This doesn't necessarily mean pimping it out with foils or foreign cards but rather making it your own. Find versions of cards that mean something to you—maybe it's foil, or altered, or even a nicely made proxy. You want your Cube to look special and different from any other Cube you've played. This is your personal museum, and you should treat it as such. I recommend KMC Mat Black or Blue sleeves for durability or Dragon Shields if you prefer another color outside of those. Always keep extra sleeves in your Cube box.
Speaking of boxes, make that a reflection of your Cube! From the time someone sees your Cube box to when they finish breaking down their deck, it should be an experience. A standard cardboard two-row box holds almost all Cubes, as does a Holiday Gift Box for Cubes under 540 cards. Treat your Cube like the valuable possession that it is.
The last step is to read this article.
For those of you out there that have a Cube already, weigh and help our new Cube owners with other tips to help them get started!
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