Magic the Gathering: WTF is Cube?
Let’s talk about Cube. Of all the formats I will talk about in Magic the Gathering, Cube is one of the most unusual, but one of the most rewarding because it involves you building your own format out of cards you like and want to play with. On its most basic level, Cube is a limited format with a large pool of cards that players use to draft from repeatedly, with only one of each of those cards being included in the pool. The advantage of doing this over booster drafts is obvious: you don’t need to keep buying sealed product in order to have fun limited gameplay. So players with a regular playgroup who play a large amount of limited would really benefit from creating and curating a Cube. Cube is generally a casual format in most of its iterations and so the goal of Cube is to just have fun.
How does a Cube Draft Function?
When you draft Cube, you don’t assemble packs like you would in a regular booster draft. You assemble three fifteen card simulated “packs” at random from the card-pool. Many first time Cubers make the mistake of also trying to have the same ratio of rarity as in a sealed pack. In Cube, a card’s rarity isn’t important it’s function is, and so you don’t have to worry about organizing packs as long as your Cube is well randomized — Cube is a very good demonstration of why you shouldn’t be blinded by rarity in Magic. Apart from this, Cube drafts generally work the same as any other draft you would attend. Be sure to ask whoever is running the Cube if there are any special conditions or quirks with how they run their drafts.
Where can I play Cube?
If you are not interested in building a Cube but want to experience the format then your best bet is to ask around your local card shops or in your circle of Magic playing friends to see if anyone has a Cube they are willing to run drafts with. Some Magic shops themselves keep an in-store Cube — so there is no harm in asking. Some stores may ask for a small fee to help improve the Cube, so be prepared for that eventuality. Outside of physical MtG, the first place many players will come into contact with Cube is on Magic the Gathering Online. They run a legacy Cube, holiday Cube and other seasonal Cube events that are a great way for people outside of a playgroup or out of reach of a local game store to experience the format. If it is your first time playing limited, a casual playgroup or store event is a great place to learn in a more relaxed environment than a competitive booster draft. Cube should be a casual, fun format.
How Big Does a Cube Need to be?
To start with, I would suggest assembling a small Cube which requires a pool of 360 unique cards. This is a Cube that serves 4-8 players and is the least complex to assemble. Once again Cube is generally a singleton format. They can become more advanced as skilled players build in multiples of certain cards, but this not generally the norm. Complexity increases significantly when moving to a medium Cube (540 cards for 8-12 players) and even a large Cube that can service two pods of eight players for parallel drafts. For assembling packs and running drafts smoothly, it is generally recommended to keep to these nice round numbers as they divide by 15 and scale quite nicely depending on the size of your playgroup. If you stick to any of the “guidelines” of the loose Cube format, this would be the one to stick to closest. For those wondering, yes all of these numbers exclude basic lands.
Basics of Building a Cube
Building a Cube can be intimidating, but once you get over the initial hurdles it’s one of the best ways to express yourself as a player. Be sure to check out Cube-lists on forums and dedicated Cube resources such as CubeTutor. The best way to learn about Cube is to look at other people’s Cube lists that might have years worth of refinement put into them. You can stick to templates as closely or loosely as you want. A Cube is very personal. These are your favourite cards.
Cube is about drafting with the best and most fun cards available to you; no one likes playing with bad cards so you are not looking for filler or janky cards. That’s the appeal of Cube: it’s the cream off the top of your collection and that leads to exiting gameplay and interesting interactions. If a few cards are strictly worse than the rest of the Cube then they will always be drafted last — generally never making it into well-built decks. The most solid rule in Cube-building is making sure each colour is equally represented. There is no perfect number of each colour or type of card but there needs to be a balance between all five colours. Be sure to take into account multi-coloured cards in this process too as they add to each colour’s representation. More tricky than simply ensuring numerical parity is ensuring equality of power-level between the colours and making sure you have a mana-curve. A mana curve is the number of each card you have for any given mana-cost. For example: a deck just filled with cards costing seven mana and over would be miserable to play. You need a good mix of casting costs with a higher number of lower and mid-cost cards.
This generally comes with testing and refinement or by using pre-existing templates, no Cube is perfect on its first outing. You shouldn’t try to build a Cube from the ground up on your first try because it might not even function — never mind be a rewarding play experience. Conversely, don’t feel pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on the most powerful cards in magic. Balance is key in a Cube and you can achieve that at almost any power-level. Look for more budget lists or lists that include cards you already own.
Types of Cube
Cubes come in many forms and variations. These are some of the most common archetypes:
Many Cubes have certain restrictions or themes to them that help narrow down the cards used in, or simply as a way of creating interesting game play. For example: a Cube might consist of only artifacts, or a Cube might have only certain tribes in it. The theme could be only multi-coloured cards or only cards below a certain mana cost. Themed Cubes can be the most difficult to get right and balance as the restrictions may end up pushing you into under-power certain colours, or not putting in enough cards to fill basic roles like removal. I would recommend a first time Cube focus more on functionality than theme or flavour, but when done correctly it can produce a rewarding and unique experience.
Block or Set Cube
One of the best ways to make a Cube in my opinion is to use existing limited environments. Most modern sets are built with drafting in mind and so simply choosing the 360 best draft cards in a full block or large set can go a long way towards a functional draft experience. Having a block made into a Cube also lets you re-live past sets without having to open — often — expensive older boosters. A good tip when making a block or set Cube is to identify cycles and archetypes that work well in draft and retain those whilst simultaneously removing all the cards considered unplayable in normal draft. Look at the viable decks in the existing format and retain what was good about their game play. Cube is meant to be the best of cards: the first thing to go should be overcosted or useless limited filler.
As I talked about in my Pauper article, assembling decks from just commons is a good value way to experience a format. Cube is much the same with a Pauper Cube being assembled out of only common cards. This also removes some of the worry of playing with strangers as you will not be losing a $300 mythic to light fingers.
A powered Cube will go all out. Its aim is to assemble the ultimate pool of the most powerful cards in the history of Magic the Gathering. This includes cards from the power nine, original dual-lands, overpowered banned cards and unfair combos. Many players will go so far as to foil out these Cubes and make them the maximum value. If a Cube is worth a lot of money then it is unlikely the owner will lend it to players or let strangers draft with it since powered Cubes can run into the tens of thousands of dollars at the top end. You don’t need to have a fully powered Cube to have fun, but boy are they impressive collections of cards in of themselves. Like the fantasy football of Magic the Gathering.
Silly or Unusual Cube
Some Cubes include cards from the “Un-“ joke sets or “draft matters.” Cards like those from Conspiracy that effect how cards are drafted. This can lead to very fun and interesting game play but it can also lead to chaos. Be sure to know what special or unusual conditions a Cube may have if it is using these cards as players unfamiliar with them may struggle to understand interactions during draft or game play.
So to Recap
Cube is a singleton format consisting of a card pool of 360-720 cards with the aim of creating a balanced and fun drafting format. It’s driven by the kind of cards the creator of the Cube likes to play with. It comes in many variations, but is works best when following certain guidelines.
I hope this has taken some of the mystery away from what a Cube is and have inspired you to seek out a Cube or build one of your own. As you grow as a Magic player — and your collection expands — so will your basic Cube grow into a format you can put your mark on. Cube is also a great way to learn how limited formats themselves are constructed and see some of the reasons behind the placement of cards in certain sets. As always, be sure to have fun, and good luck on the next step in your Magic journey.
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