Magic the Gathering: WTF is Cube?

Scrumpmonkey is here to give you a overview and some tips when building and drafting a Cube.

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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?

cube-side-1When 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:

Themed Cube

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.

Pauper Cube

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.

Powered Cube

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.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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