The date was February 29th 2012 and I found myself in a predicament. A dilemma. A quandary. A pickle if you will. The mystical Leap Day that only comes every four years was staring me in the face and I didn't want it to come back in four years—I didn't want it to come back ever again. After what I had gone through it's only appropriate that I completely broke down on the day that isn't a real day at all. Normally this day is reserved for wondering if it should take people born on this day 64 years to get their licenses (you know since it's really only their birthday in Olympic years) or what would happen if we just stopped having this crazy extra day. No this year I had some different to think about:
I am now a cube addict without a cube. What the eff do I do now?
I could always hope for the miracle that the gentlemen that had jacked my backpack three days prior at GP Baltimore with cube in tow had gotten home played with the cube and had so much fun that they couldn't possibly fathom the thought of its owner being parted with it any longer. Turns out miracles are a lot less common in real life than they are in our favorite card game.
Option two was to accept the very generous offer from hundreds of kind souls in the community to help rebuild my cube from their own collections. Although I was moved by their actions more than any experience I've ever had I never felt right about it.
I certainly couldn't rebuild it myself nor had any real desire to. Once your first-born child gets snatched out of her crib you're not exactly excited to replace it with a new baby. Option three was out before it was considered.
And yet by the time you read this after exactly four months my cube will have made its triumphant return to action at GP Atlanta.
But before we get to how that happened why don't we start an article?
Welcome back to Cubers Anonymous. Today we're going to return to the roots of building a cube and what I learned in the process of rebuilding mine.
When I (re)started on my journey to build a cube I knew a few things I wanted:
540 cards - Not too big not too small. Supports up to twelve players or two six-man drafts without any repeated cards. This is the same size as my previous cube and I saw no need to change that.
Ignore even multicolor distribution - All things are not printed equal. Black-green section? There are 3.5 "good" cards that exist (Pernicious Deed Maelstrom Pulse and Putrefy with Putrid Leech being the .5) and the rest are just okay cards and things that fill specific roles. I don't have a problem with cards being in cubes for that reason—there should be several in fact—but when you compare smaller subsections of cubes like a color paired section within itself the difference in card quality is startling.
Some sections like white-blue and black-red have just a huge amount of powerful and unique cards where the aforementioned black-green and blue-red well struggle. The solution? Largely ignore which multi-what goes multi-where and just play the best cards. Now I'm not going off of the deep end and including ten of a certain color combo and one of another but I'm going to give each identity (what's an identity? read on...) enough tools to make it function.
No bouncelands - This helps green more as a ramp and fixing color. 6/10 signets still exist but six cards don't cut into green's real estate too badly.
Power - This was the hardest decision. I've always had power in my cube but I have played with more cubes that don't have power over the course of my cubing life. I absolutely understand that a powerless cube is ultimately more balanced but I love the feeling of drafting Moxen Mind Twist and Library of Alexandria. More and more cubes are going without so I'll stick with mine being powered up for now.
As most people that have a basic understanding of drafting know Limited is all about colors. More specifically Limited is all about how colors interact with other colors. In each of these colors lies something(s) that a color is good at doing and often that something changes slightly when combined with another color's something. This gives each combination an identity as well as each single color in and of itself.
This is the meat of my re-categorization and something I'll be using in every cube I have ever going forward. I'm focusing on setting up identities for each of the ten color combinations (10); one for each mono-color (five) a handful of tri-colors and a couple of specialty identities formed by very specific cards.
I'll be the first to say that this idea isn't revolutionary in nature (unless you beat me to it over the last two paragraphs) but the concept of adhering strictly to the identity sheet (I need a better name) is something that not everyone does. No more just adding cards willy-nilly; they better fit somewhere or they don't get a ticket to ride.
For standard cubes the best thing you can do is to set up about twenty identities rather than archetypes. I prefer the term identities as it better represents the general guidelines when someone is drafting especially when a draft is successful but a supported "archetype" isn't really achieved. Identities are about tools and archetypes are about finished products. We can't know how any specific draft is going to turn out but we can know the tools we're going to give the drafters to make the product.
This isn't something you have to really concentrate on doing per se; most of the work is done for you if you have a cube list that is remotely draftable (it's very very hard to have a stone-cold crappy cube list.) I used my cube list from four months prior. If you're starting from scratch (welcome to being a cube addict!) this is almost easier as you don't have any preconceived notions on what certain colors are supposed to do in your cube—you can figure out what you want each of them to do and then fill in the holes.
The twenty identities should be (for the most part) the ten color combinations at least three single color decks (I personally think having all five is best) one to three three-color combinations and up to three 'unique' identities usually focused around a subset of cards that have very specific effects.
To start it's as easy as making a list of each identity you want supported. For example my cube's identities are:
White/blue: Tempo-oriented small creatures low curve evasion.
Blue/black: Very controlling minimal creatures high answer-oriented.
Black/red: Near infinite removal middling creatures.
Red/green: Aggressive slower but with size ramping.
Green/white: High P/T:CMC ratio creatures very little reach play large threats quickly.
White/black: Lots of tokens high answer high threat oriented heavily benefited by discard.
Black/green: Not supported.
Green/blue: Ramp-oriented draw heavy quick large threats recursion.
Blue/red: Counterspells and burn heavy value creatures almost exclusively.
Red/white: Very aggressive low curve moderate reach.
Solo white: Tokens Anthem effects each spell is a threat.
Solo blue: Counter everything that moves utility creatures pairs with artifacts.
Solo black: Aggressive creatures discard is reach.
Solo red: Hyper aggressive lots of reach low impact spells.
Solo green: Huge monsters very quick threats almost zero reach.
Grixis (black-red-blue): Planeswalker oriented removal heavy draw heavy minimal but excellent threats.
Red-blue-green: Ramping draw heavy value creatures.
Naya (green-red-white): Very aggressive incredibly low curve some reach.
Reanimator: Huge monsters Looting heavy recursion (this can be any colored paired with black; each has a few supporting cards).
Artifact-centric: Often paired with blue central to Tinker defensive ramping.
Having a list like this helps mold what kind of cards you'll be likely to add and makes it easier to spot cards that need to be cut.
What I like to do is go through card by card and make sure each card fits in minimum two identities hopefully more. If it barely fits in two or just fits one then you've located a potential cut. This doesn't have to be a long process; usually just skimming and giving a quick "yes or no" to every card suffices. If a card is a "yes" excellent: you can move to the next card. Only the cards that you say no to take much time and that's quickly looking over the identity list you've put together and seeing where the card fits. If it's tough to find a spot for it then either make a note about it or cut it.
This may seem time consuming but this process only takes a couple hours and whenever you're looking at cards to add. The first time takes the longest; every time after that is pretty easy. This only works if you're being honest about how a card has been performing and I know it's easy to get caught up in nostalgia. Also don't feel like you ever have to cut a card if you absolutely love it. I think Morphling is crap but some people still have it in their cubes because it makes them happy. Don't forget that part of this process!
Although most people don't have many cards that are in 'Shards' are the worst offenders. They're often powerful but go undrafted and unplayed since you need to draft them so early to attempt to fit them into your deck. I have three cards of such in my cube: Nicol Bolas Planeswalker Maelstrom Wanderer and Lightning Angel (one of my personal favorite creatures ever) and Lightning Angel is rarely drafted at all. Bolas and Wanderer see more play but even they occasionally sit out. I would take a hard look at how those cards are all performing and see if they need to go.
No Such Thing as a Finished Product
Once you have the identity sheet the cube list and some fellow Magicians it's time to tackle the tough part: data collecting. Fortunately for us data collecting is also called cubing so it's only tough if you hate cubing. Hooray!
Now that you have your cube identities fleshed out you have something to look for upon completion of drafting. It becomes easier to figure out why certain cards went late or were undrafted rather than just to note that they simply did. If you see a card go unplayed even twice and you know that it doesn't fit an identity you've already made your next cut that much easier.
It takes a handful of drafts to really get your identities where you want them but once you do everything falls into place much easier. You can even go back and further define each identity once you see them in action multiple times. Maybe white-blue is reacting differently than you had anticipated—you can either add that to the identity of that pair or try and focus on what you had wanted it to do previously.
At the end of the day this is still a cube and new powerful cards will always find a home in an identity. You're not going to be missing out on anything awesome by categorizing into identities and I personally think it makes it easier to evaluate new cards for your personal cube.
After embracing this method I cut/added 43 cards from my previous cube list which is a fair amount in any sized cube. As far as how my cube reformed like Voltron I hate to disappoint you but I went with 100% proxies. Even though it isn't the beautiful cube I knew and loved I'm looking as this as a positive. Now any person I meet I can cube with immediately without them having someone to vouch for them or otherwise. This will let me reach more people through cubing than I would have been able to previously so hopefully I can fulfill my duty as Cube Addict Enabler and get even more people hooked on the sweet sweet cube juice that we all know and love.
Thanks for reading today; I hope this was helpful in taking a look at one of the simplest (yet most important) parts of cube design. As usual check out this sweet cube deck this time drafted by my little buddy Blake Clark at my LGS Cape Fear Games. He managed to put together this monster in a twelve-man draft!
Blake didn't name the deck but I'm gonna call it "All the Things."
Be sure to check out Episode 2.2 of the Custom Cube Project video series by Michael Mirielees. Episode 2.3 is coming soon!
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My and Ali Aintrazi's Custom Cube Project Facebook Page
MY CUBE HOME (now updated through most M13 spoilers)