A few weeks ago, I asked my followers on Twitter what they would like to read about in this column. I picked a few of those topics to discuss this week
– hopefully there’s a little something for everyone here.
Powered vs. Unpowered Lists
My paper cube has always been powered, and to me, playing with those cards is completely consistent with what the cube is about. And until I started
cubing online, I hadn’t given much thought to the effect Power has on the format simply because I’ve never been unhappy with having the
That said, there are good arguments for excluding it. Black Lotus and the Moxes enable plays that end games on the spot. In a casual format,
there’s no reason to run cards like that, if your playgroup finds that deeply unfun. And if you don’t run proxies, there’s a
good chance you aren’t running the Power either.
But if your playgroup doesn’t strongly object on either count, I recommend at least trying the Power – you might find that the effect on
games is less overwhelming than you thought, and here’s why: Steve Sadin wrote an article about how it’s easier to remember the games
in which you’re flooded rather than screwed because they drag on longer and are therefore more frustrating. That effect is exactly the opposite of what
happens when games are decided by the Power 9. Turn 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor or turn 2 Mind Twist away your hand? Those games usually end right away,
so while they’re unfair, they aren’t especially painful.
These days, I’ve gotten to compare the experience of playing my powered paper cube and my almost identical, unpowered online list. On average, I
don’t notice a big difference. There are still blowout games – they’re just at the hands of Sol Ring and Library of Alexandria rather
than Time Walk and Moxes.
Differences Between Small And Large Cubes
In general, the smaller your cube, the easier it is to support specific strategies. It’s easier to achieve the necessary density of aggressive
one- and two-drops for aggro, and it’s also easier to put together the pieces for Tinker, Reanimator, or Natural Order.
Aside from those strategies, specific cards benefit from a smaller card pool. Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx love a smaller cube, since each deck is
more likely to have fetchlands. Likewise, Ranger of Eos goes from marginal to quite strong in an environment that can provide enough tutorable
Another difference that has been really clear in my online cube is that having a certain card guaranteed to be in your card pool impacts how
you draft. When my online cube was 400 cards and I was drafting with eight people, you could be almost assured that someone would have Umezawa’s
Jitte and/or that Mind Twist would be in one of the decks. That helps certain strategies – you can be reasonably confident that if you draft
White Weenie, you’re likely to grab an Armageddon, Ravages of War, or at least a Glorious Anthem at some point.
There’s actually a bit of a divide in the cube community that really shows up here. There are people who, for lack of a better description, want
to build a competitive cube. They’re ruthless about making cuts and don’t have many pet cards. Others are willing to sacrifice the average power
level in order to support combos and cool plays – these are the cubes with Cruel Ultimatum or Time Vault/Voltaic Key.
The former group is better served by a smaller cube – it’s easier to balance control and aggro in that case and to balance the colors as a
The more flexibility you want in terms of running cards you like or supporting a great number of archetypes, the larger your cube should be. And as
more and more quality cards are printed, it will get easier to support a large but competitive cube.
When I think about balancing multicolor, two things come to mind. The first is the balance between color pairs. Some combinations are full of good
options, and others aren’t. For example, there are about a million G/W cards that are good enough for the cube, but I’m stretching to find
five in U/R.
The answer to that – which I’ve learned the hard way – is to keep your multicolor sections at a size that makes the weakest
combination strong. In the cube, it feels much worse to play with bad cards than to not play with some good cards.
One caveat is that although it feels important to balance multicolor, the quality of the gold cards in a color isn’t actually going to determine
how much a given combination is played. For example, U/W doesn’t have an amazing gold section, but it’s consistently a strong deck in my
cube. Gold cards can push you into a color combination, but they won’t ever make up a huge fraction of your deck.
Another choice you need to make as a designer is which cards qualify as multicolor. Nearly everyone goes for hybrid and for good reason – cards
like Oona, Queen of the Fae, Murderous Redcap, and Kitchen Finks are cube staples that shouldn’t be excluded on a technicality. Likewise, nearly
everyone runs Loam Lion and Kird Ape, although not always in the gold section. I think they should be there – they’re unplayable in decks that
are just white or just red, and so it’s not really fair to have them take up a spot in those colors.
Cube Financial Tips
I feel a little dirty writing about this, as I’m not an expert on Magic finance, and we have some people who do that full time. But hey, someone asked!
While I’m not going to tell you what to pick up because next week, it’s going to be in everyone’s cube, I do have some advice about
the right way to pick up cards for the cube.
I’m not sure why this is true, but I’ve noticed that foil commons and uncommons tend to preorder at uniform prices, even for clear staples.
For example, I preordered a foil Go for the Throat at $3.99 and a Leonin Relic-Warder at $.99, and those are now at $5.99 and $1.99 respectively.
Accorder Paladin has gone from $.99 to $2.49, and back in Magic 2011, Crystal Ball followed a similar trend. While those aren’t huge savings,
there’s no reason to wait on those cards if you already know they’re going into your cube. Unlike the rares, the commons and uncommons
don’t have much room to drop in price, so I see preordering as pretty low-risk.
In terms of trading, always ask about older foil promos. Some players don’t value their FNM foils very highly once the cards are out of Standard,
especially if they’ve had a card in their binder for a while with no interest. You can also get good deals on promo versions of older cards
because many Eternal format players would rather have the harder-to-find normal foil.
Finally, financial articles that ostensibly have nothing to do with cube are still worth reading. If you’re waiting to pull the trigger on a
particular card, you’ll want to know if it’s starting to go up in value. Likewise, you can trade more effectively if you’re paying
attention to cards that are suddenly relevant – like Contested War Zone after this past weekend.
Keeping Track Of Your Cube
Cube people seem to love data. One poster at the MTG Salvation cube forums keeps track of each card’s maindeck percentage. Other cubers use stats
like the converted mana cost versus the power and toughness of each creature to measure the aggressiveness of each one. Evan Erwin did an inventory of
his cube, listing the version he was using of each card.
I’m a big fan of statistics, so I’d recommend keeping track of everything that seems worthwhile to you. Of course, there’s a limit to
how much work you’ll want to associate with each draft. If I had infinite time, I’d record a win/loss percentage for each card, based only
on the game in which it was played. I think it would be so cool to say, “You win 80% of the games you cast Mother of Runes” or something
Maindeck percentage seems really useful, particularly if you are interested in how much your drafters like the card as well as its actual performance.
Of course, you’ll want to accumulate a decent sample size before you act on any of this data.
If you’re interested in the superficial aspects of your cube, I’d recommend keeping track of the version of each card or maybe just whether
or not it is foil. I have a database for my cube where I store the converted mana cost, card type, original set, used set, and whether the card is
foiled or proxied among other characteristics. From there, I can easily generate lists formatted for my blog or for any particular subset – for
example, proxies, cards sorted by original set, or cards that used to be in my cube. That’s probably overkill for most people, though.