As I alluded to last week, I made some big
changes to my cube recently, and I thought I’d talk about my process. Making changes seems simple – just replace cards with better cards
– but in reality, things get more complicated. When I was new to the cube, I anticipated that most changes would be strict upgrades. I think that
this is rooted in a belief, that the cube is a collection of the best cards ever. As your understanding evolves, and you begin to think of the cube as
a set, other reasons for making changes become more prominent. Have I mentioned that I love lists?
- An individual card isn’t working.
I’m starting here because it’s straightforward, though it’s not incredibly common. This occurs most often when you’ve added a
new card, seen it a few times, and felt completely unmoved. Maybe it didn’t do what you wanted, or maybe no one seemed interested in playing it
at all. Copper Tablet is in this position now, as I discussed last week. I’m definitely ready to take it out, but I don’t have a clear idea
of what should go in.
Making a decision about how to replace an underperformer can be a little tricky, because your decision to make a change wasn’t based on wanting
to run a particular card – just on not wanting to run one. This is the situation where I’m most likely to ask for advice or look
at other cubes for inspiration.
The result of asking for advice? Lots of people recommended Myr Battlesphere, a card I’d more or less dismissed, since Scars of Mirrodin was already
bringing two six-drop artifact creatures to the table. After all the positive reviews, I’m excited to see how it does. As a bonus, asking for
advice about your cube usually means you’ll get helpful suggestions about other cards as well.
- You really want to be running an individual card.
This is the flipside to the first reason – nothing in your cube is exactly lacking, but you need to find room for something else. Sun Titan is a
good example here. White has historically been strong in my cube, and especially at the high end, there’s no shortage of options. But Sun Titan does so
many degenerate things that we couldn’t leave him out.
This type of change is relatively easy to make, because you just need to find something you’re willing to take out (at a similar mana cost if you
aren’t interested in changing your curve). In the case of Sun Titan, I decided that I wanted him in more than I needed to hang onto Adarkar
Valkyrie, so out she went. But unlike the first situation, where a card is removed on its own merits, Adarkar Valkyrie was still fine in a vacuum but
had become outclassed in the context of other white six-drop creatures.
- A color as a whole isn’t working.
One particular problem with green is that so many of its good cards are devoted to supporting other colors, which is valuable but not hugely exciting.
Furthermore, our previous attempts to give green tools like Squall Line to fight problematic decks had been less than successful. Arashi, the Sky
Asunder and Squall Line seemed like they should be good for green, but they turned out to feel too fair – as if you were trying to beat blue
decks in the late game instead of on your own terms.
Finally, people like me who like to play decks with answers didn’t find a lot of appeal in green. I certainly wasn’t going out of my way to
draft green – it took cards like Witness or Wilt-Leaf Liege to put me there.
We made a lot of changes to green to address these issues. We added some early beaters to make it worthwhile to play a base-green deck. We took out
some high-end, hard-to-cast stuff like Vigor and cards like Sprout Swarm that were occasionally fantastic, but sometimes did nothing at all. Sprout
Swarm is also an example of a card whose best archetype is probably U/G Opposition or G/W Tokens – another green card that supports other colors.
The happy conclusion is that the results have been just what we wanted. We had two consecutive Sealed Decks that ended up being aggro vs. aggro, at
least in part because we were both really excited about the new cards. The games were really fun, and we got to play some fifteen games in the time it
would’ve taken to play six or seven of a different matchup – a great way to really get to see your deck.
- An individual card is mediocre – something else could be better.
A recent example of this in my cube was Phyrexian Processor. I don’t want to rag on the Processor in general – it was a card I really loved
when I started, and there’s no doubt that it’s powerful. But the drawback is no joke, and it can become downright unplayable when an
opponent has bounce or artifact destruction. And without acceleration, it’s pretty slow – your first guy swings on turn 6. When I started
adding more artifact destruction to the cube, I realized that the Processor had reached its time – at least for now. Again, it wasn’t
exactly bad, but I began to feel that something else might be better.
With my last update, Visara, the Dreadful ended up in the same place as the Processor. She definitely is triple-costed, but the Terminate effect is
pretty strong in black, and she just wins games if she sticks. I like Visara more than a lot of people, but black has also gotten more competitive at
the high-end lately, as cards like Grave Titan and Sorin Markov have earned their spots.
In these cases, it makes sense to swap out the card that’s a known quantity for something that might be better if you gave it a chance. This kind of a
swap isn’t necessarily permanent – it’s just saying, “I know how good Visara is, so I can try something for a while and see if
it turns out to be better.” In this case, I took Visara out in order to give Geth a try. Processor (the sweet new art one too!) left for Steel
In a mass version of this same type of change, we decided that the Signets might be taking up too many spots at one per guild. Taking out the enemy
Signets let us try out five new cards, which is basically like an extra birthday for a cube designer. A cube shopping spree, if you will.
One caveat is that you want to try new cards in the context of your cube – so it’s a good idea to take these changes slowly, see
what sticks, and iterate from there, rather than making a lot of changes at once. That’s in contrast to #2, which often comes up when a new set
comes out. There, it’s fine to make a bunch of changes at once, because the cards you’re adding are much less experimental – you
expect them to be good.
Likewise, it’s okay to do a lot at once when you’re trying to change how a color plays as a whole, since you’re looking for a dramatic difference
– not avoiding one.
- Rebalancing the cube as a whole.
The big one! I feel like these changes are inevitable after a while – your subconscious starts to think “I should change X about my
cube,” and then one day, you just do it. For me, this came up a few months ago when we (finally!) realized that cutting just one card from each
multicolor and hybrid section would give us a lot of room to play with in the monocolor sections. There’s a little bit of bargaining involved
– the realization that making some hard cuts along with some easy ones makes for easier choices elsewhere. And that restructuring led to some
other changes, such as pushing green aggro the way I discussed above.
More recently, I made the choice to add more artifact and enchantment destruction to the cube. Again, this was a case where the alternative –
letting equipment like the completed Darksteel sword cycle get more and more dominant – seemed more problematic than just cutting a few business
spells for artifact destruction. And as it turned out, it wasn’t too hard to find holdovers from the past to cut, like Feudkiller’s Verdict
and Stalking Yeti.
After this kind of change, it’s really important to evaluate the effect. Did it accomplish what you wanted? Did it go too far? It’s
definitely possible to overshoot your goal when you make a number of changes at once. That’s okay, because testing (what a chore) will help you
figure that out. In my case, it’s possible that my cube has now swung too far the other way – you don’t want 100% Oxidda Scrapmelter
when your deck needs Hellkite Charger. But at the moment, I think that changes were good, and I’m confident that any correction will be small
compared to the original change – so that’s a success.
Occasionally, you’ll get to swap in a strictly or almost-always better card – such as the Worldwake manlands replacing the M10 duals. But
that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, the changes you make will be more subtle – tweaks to the cube as a whole
rather than just one card.
Good luck with your next change, and let me know what you think in the forums or on Twitter.