Set The Bar

Justin takes a much-overdue look at the Magic Online Cube after holding his criticisms for a year to address what he sees as its inherent flaws.


Welcome to a low-hangin edition of Cubers Anonymous.

I think, for the most part, that I’ve been able to keep quiet publically about the Magic Online Cube. I kinda talked about it in the article from last year talking about Cube’s involvement in the Player’s Championship, but that was more about direction and intention than the Cube itself. Today I want to reach into all corners of the MTGO Cube, where it’s been, what it means to me and the community (Cube and otherwise), what I would change, and more. So if I’ve always been mum on the topic, why now?

In leading up to this particular entry of Cubers Anonymous, I asked some friends and coworkers what they would like to see me cover for an upcoming article. Whenever I serve up this question, there is always banter back and forth about what makes a topic compelling, if I’ve talked about it before, how much I have to say about it, or if I’m really the person to be talking about the subject. Once the Magic Online Cube came up, it was tough to disregard.

“Have you written about the MTGO Cube? Wait, have you even talked about it? WAIT, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard you talk to me about it!”

Compelling? Yep. Talked about it? Nope. Lots to say? Yep. Should I talk about it? Why the hell not?

I guess all good things must come to an end eventually, right?

I’ve avoided covering this topic until now because I wanted to give Wizards the benefit of the doubt. I felt like it was acceptable they came out of the gate a little gimpy, since it was their first try and they wanted to see if certain things worked or not. They tested that initial version of the Cube in a Seattle playgroup [Editor’s Note: Hello there!], and deemed it worthy to unleash to the millions out there in digital cardboard land. It seemed like the list was weak, but felt like they should be treated like a new Cube owner would from the community, and softly give constructive-only advice until they had a chance to hone their Cube’s metagame.

I felt this way even considering the fact that this wasn’t just anyone’s Cube, but the Cube the company that creates the cards that goes into it – it’s their Cube. I wanted to give Wizards time to flesh out their vision of what the ultimate Cube experience should be, and I knew that was going to take some time to get right.

At this point, the fruit is so low-hanging that if I didn’t go ahead and pluck it, it was going to droop to the ground and tangle up my feet as I kept walking past it.

What’s So Wrong?

I don’t intend to speak for every other Cube writer or content creator, but it does seem like the consensus from most other people that I talk to about it is that they feel some sort of disappointment. It’s not that I think I could do a better job – whether I could or not is completely irrelevant as a consumer of the content Wizards is producing. I want this to be a better experience for myself and everyone else using the MTGO Cube, and I simply want the best product for the main representation of my favorite format ever from the creators of Magic itself.

I do want to make it clear that I don’t like Magic Online at all, so this may slightly color my opinions of the experience from top to bottom. It isn’t a program I ever use, but despite that I still did the lengthy program download last year just to Cube, which I did a handful of times.

I also want to make it clear that I don’t think the collection of cards used to make up the Cube is terrible as it currently stands. It certainly isn’t the way I would put together a 720-card Cube, but I’m no more right than anyone else on the top with experience in the matter. As I recently stated on Twitter, I’ve drafted 21 different Cubes that I could count, and have enjoyed drafting all of them. The MTGO Cube is certainly fun because Cube is fun in most forms, but I feel like that is more indicative of the format than the specific list.

And yet, I kept my opinions to myself

Here is the crazy thing: I bet the Magic Online Cube has been drafted more since its release last year than every other Cube in that time frame. I don’t mean compared to each Cube, I mean drafted more than every other Cube combined.

Let that sink in.

Get Over It

There are a few things that simply will not change with the Magic Online Cube. As such, I don’t think we need to spend too much time talking about them.

Cube size: Outside of the holiday powered Cube (which will probably return), the Cube is going to remain 720-cards. I think this is fine, as the Cube gets drafted so much that anything less would cause major redundancy. Main reason – the more cards there are in the Cube, more cards you see that you may want to buy. This feeds into…

Emphasis on the most recent set: Though the Dragon’s Maze Cube update only had four cards from the set (don’t worry, I’m not done with this topic), featuring the newest and most desirable cards from each set helps sell packs, plain and simple.

Cube will appear online six times a year, max: supply and demand. Even people that love Cube wouldn’t draft it with the frequency they do in the one-week windows that currently exist. Wizards also needs you to draft new and returning sets cause, you know, more money.

Everything else should be on the table.

Transparency is Key

My single-biggest issue is how the list of changes to the MTGO Cube is presented.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that the folks at Wizards are smart people. I know Max McCall was the one who initially developed the Cube list, but I’m not quite sure who is responsible for its upkeep now. Whether it’s Max or someone else, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for me to ask for full-fledged article EVERY TIME the Cube is updated. It’s clear that Wizards is interested in supporting Cube as a format given that it’s a format on Magic Online and in last year’s Player’s Championship, so why are we left guessing at what Wizards is thinking at every update? Every time a card is banned in a constructed format there is an accompanying piece or two, so people drafting the Cube should get the same treatment.

For those of you that disagree based on the enormous discrepancy between how much Wizards cares about a format like Standard versus Cube, I don’t buy it. I understand my niche format is the lowest on the totem pole out of everything Wizards cares about supporting, but that doesn’t mean measures should go untaken to supporting the clearly growing player base you have invested in the Cube format. I know I’m not the only person frustrated by this, because I don’t even draft the damn thing and I feel like I’m left in the dark whenever an updated happens. I can’t imagine how people who actually are invested in this specific Cube feel when 60 cards are shifted with nary a sentence scribbled down anywhere on the internet for us to grasp at.

I would say this is comparable to me refusing to answer a question about my Cube for someone who just drafted it, and instead handing them a bundle of papers that just had my last round of changes on it and walking away.

I don’t expect any sort of Commander-esque product to be produced for Cubes, ever. We have the ability to get cross-wind cards from every set, Commander/Planechase/Archenemy or otherwise, and don’t need ones especially for us. Promos and From the Vault sets are printed all the time with nods towards cubing. Why is a card explanation so hard to dig up? Any content created by Wizards for cubing is going to dramatically increase interest way more than anything me or Usman or Cooperfaus or Kranstuber or Styborski say, no matter how much we love this format. Their voice is so incredibly far-reaching that it is absurd no time can be put into saying anything more than “Hey, Cube is back on MTGO! Here is a list of changes!” and not a word more.

How many people have never heard of Cube before last year? How many people built Cubes copying the MTGO Cube after drafting it? Why are we the only ones who understand how important it is for Wizards to speak about it?

The Ultimate Experience

I again want to reiterate that I love that cubing is on Magic Online. As I reread through this article while I type it, I know it comes off as unappreciative and full of complaints. I’m coming from a place much like a parent, and my kid is bringing home C’s when I know they can be an A+ student with just the slightest bit of effort. I only get upset because I care so deeply about the format as a whole and I know the potential has yet to be reached.

Even though I’m not an avid drafter of it, I talk to people quite a bit about how they feel about the Cube itself. A short list of things I hear about, often:

Seeing the same terrible cards, like Rite of Ruin, go 15th pick.

Ugly and unsuccessful attempts to draft aggressive decks of any kind.

The fact that the “correct” deck to draft competitively is green ramp.

The fact that part of the payout is in Cube tickets, unusable in anything besides Cube drafts.

Storm being only a partially functional archetype (Adam Prosak would beg to differ, I’m sure.)

There’s more, I’m sure. I know that Magic players love to complain, but when I hear the same issues over and over again from people whose opinions I respect, I tend to think there is some truth to it.

As I said earlier, this should be the End All, Be All of Cubes. I want the team at Wizards to take me to school and teach me something about how to build a Cube. Instead, we get a Dragon’s Maze update that includes only four total cards, when I included nearly three times that many in my smaller and much more inclusive 540-card Cube! It isn’t worth your time for me to chronicle each update to the Cube, but believe me when I say that any Cube ever being updated with just four cards from a brand-new set is completely bizarre, especially when you consider that Wizards wants to use this Cube as a platform to sell the new set. After seeing some of the cards that were included over the last year, I assumed no less than twenty cards would be from Dragon’s Maze.

My other main issue is the use of the MTGO Cube as a testing ground, rather than already having things figured out before presenting them to be included – especially new cards and the several times they’ve simply failed to include cards that I personally consider very playable if not staple-level cards for a 720-card Cube.

I feel like the cuts are literally done by throwing darts at a dartboard, and oftentimes I see new cards coming in that can be helped by cards they cut at the same time. Maybe I’m just dumber than the average MTGO Cuber, but doing something like taking out Vampire Nighthawk when you add cards to “help black” is as backwards as can be. I expect the people running the entire operation to know more about metagame building and card evaluation than someone like myself, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case.

The sad truth is Wizards is content to just rake in the dough from a high-dollar phantom format that they don’t have to spend any extra cash to program or pay out in redemptions. When you have cash coming out of your ears, I suppose the product can suffer as long as it makes you money with little effort.

I still think there is time to correct the course. Whether or not anyone in Renton cares enough to do it is another issue all together.

You have to set the bar Wizards. There is no other option.

Nice. Deck.

Justin Parnell

Draft my Cube on CubeTutor.com!

@JParnell1on Twitter

Official Facebook Cube Drafting Page

My and Ali Aintrazi Custom Cube Project Facebook Page

My Cube List