Today I’m going to bring you immeasurable joy, like nothing you’ve seen before.
How’s that for a tagline? Read on and soon you too will be a believer.
What is The Cube?
No one knows who started the cube, why it’s called the cube (when it’s kept in a nice, long rectangular box), or why it even needs an origin.
It’s just Magic. Pure. Simple. Incredible.
It takes the 50 best/most powerful concepts of each color, puts them in a big kettle and – say it with me now – stirs. What you have in that pot is what may not be the most objectively best cards. What you have is objectively the greatest draft format of all time.
Why draft the cube and no other format? Because drafting is always different. Drafting means deeper strategies than sealed, drafting means that you can think about archetypes and draft those archetypes.
But I’m guessing ahead of myself. Let’s talk how I got started and, consequently, how you can as well.
Nuts and Bolts
The cube began for me when I read an article by Sam Gomersall. I immediately wondered why there wasn’t more chatter on the boards about it – wasn’t this the most brilliant idea no one had ever heard of? What was going on here? And why were there so few Gold cards?
Our own Ben Bleiweiss has his own cube where he uses one of each card (he wrote this in an article somewhere, but damned if I can find it). But he uses real cards. With no sleeves (gasp!). Cards that can be damaged, destroyed, stolen, or lost. Not to mention that nasty Magic-gunk that builds up no matter how clean the surface of the table is or how often players wash their hands.
The cube is, quite simply, the 50 best cards of each color, the 50 best multicolor and artifact cards, and the 50 best lands ever printed. Though the latter is a bit tainted (due to the presence of fetch lands and dual lands both old and new), the effect is the same: When you play with nothing but power, you learn nothing but powerful strategy.
It is simply the best game of Magic I have ever played. I’ve drafted a varying flux of these 400 or so cards twice a week for almost six months. And I have never once been bored or felt that it was a waste of time. Sure I get screwed in a RAV-RAV-GPT draft now and then. Somebody opens bombs, somebody opens trash, stuck in the middle with you. With the cube? This never happens. When all you have are great cards, great decks (to varying degrees) are all you can build.
After taking the list that was present in Sam’s article, we immediately found a few flaws: One, some of the cards were downright goofy (Urza’s Bauble?!) and some of them were just “not right” and ended up being pass-outs time and time again (Winter Orb). What we – my collective friends and I – did was begin to hone and refine the list, adding and subtracting and creating the ultimate format. How tough could that be?
Tougher than it looks. Well, when you take the amazing stuff in Ravnica, the incredible stuff in Guildpact, the re-introduction of dual lands and the strategies that can happen as you play and play the cube, you find that it is constantly changing. That new cards are being put in all the time, and old ones must be replaced.
For the balance, we decided that 50 cards of each color, 50 artifacts and 50 lands was the right mix. For multicolor, we include 5 cards of each color combination (and since there are 10 different color combinations, I’ll let you do the math on that one). This is the reason why there’s Gaea’s Skyfolk and Teferi’s Moat in here. When Dissension is released, Teferi’s Moat will be whatever Azorious Senate bomb the Gods of R&D bestow on us, and Gaea’s Skyfolk will be taken out immediately for just about anything both Green and Blue.
And yes, before you ask: No one has actually played with Gaea’s Skyfolk. But it keeps the cube balanced, and balance is important in life and in the cube.
With that said, here is the cube as it stands in April 2006. It will change when Coldsnap comes out, just like it will change when Dissension comes out, just like it will change when Time Spiral is released. The point is, it’s the best game in town. It’s the only game in town for many players I know. Many veterans have returned to playing Magic just to play the cube.
The magical list is at the end of the article Drink it up my friends, and make it your own. That’s what it’s all about. Then come back here and read the rest of this article to find out what makes it tick.
Before you ask: Skullclamp is not in here because you rarely (if ever) play with enough creatures (let alone small creatures) that can truly utilize its power. While Sam had a great Goblin theme running through the Red cards (a theme we’re actually thinking of re-overhauling Red with), Skullclamp simply doesn’t do as much as, say, Forcefield. Which didn’t even make it into the cube until three weeks ago.
With this example you can see why an “amazingly broken” card has been left out and a “useless Vintage card” has become a huge early pick for control decks. When you only run, for example, ten creatures, and all of those creatures are absolutely ridiculous, the +1/-1 draw two cards when it dies thing isn’t really as impressive as the creature itself being a 6/6 Flying Trampling Hasted Vigilance Pro Black Pro Red Beatstick. Your deck slots can go to better things.
With that out of the way, I’m currently lobbying to get Pithing Needle in the cube, which was taken out at some point and desperately needs to be in here. But like any cube change: What would you remove? These debates are another reason why the cube is so popular: Everyone has their favorite cards, colors, picks, and preferences. Sometimes the debates are just as fun as the games themselves.
Setup and Installation
You’ll set up a draft (and each draft) this way:
- Separate all of the cards by color/type.
- Create 15 piles, passing out 15 cards of the same color/type on top of the piles (15 white cards, 15 red cards, etc).
- Repeat the 15 cards-per-color/type process until you have 15 large piles distributed evenly.
- Turn these piles over and randomly shuffle them together
- Count out 15 cards from the shuffled stacks. This is a pack.
- The cube can scale from 4 players to 9 with the amount of cards currently included.
- Do not “pile shuffle” to create the draft packs. This can cause massive color clumping. Just count off 15 cards from a shuffled stack and call it a pack. Trust me, they’re randomized enough.
- Do not let anyone look at the unused cards once the packs are assembled. Part of the fun in drafting and playing the cube is not knowing just exactly what is and isn’t in the current draft pool. Even if you scout games, you should never truly know what is not being used until you are out of the tournament.
Once you’ve got your packs, you’ve got your tournament. At my local store, we compete in a bi-weekly cube draft. Each of us pays $6 each and for an 8-man tournament. This is enough for a $10 “noob” prize (the highest ranking loser over time) and a $38 prize for first place (usually split $19 each in the finals). Remember, this is both a competitive and a fun exercise. I could never see giving away a box (or a Mox) for a cube tournament. It’s all about having fun.
With the setup and install done, now it’s time to talk about what makes the cube so damn special.
Some Cards Are Just Plain Better Than All Others
No matter how well you put together a “best of Magic” list, there will always be “bests” better than the other bests (yes, thank you, I actually get paid to write sentences like these). After many, many months of playing Das Cuben (yes, I like to make up German-sounding names for my goofy hobbies, thank you), here is a quick rundown of what I feel are the Top 5 Best Cube Cards. And what I mean by “Best Cube Cards” is the cards I am most excited to windmill slam as my first pick of the pack:
To cube veterans, there is no question: This card is ridiculous.
To disbelievers, they usually only need a game or two to realize just exactly what kind of card advantage can be given to a land which begins an uncounterable, one-sided Howling Mine on turn 1. Holy cow it’s the shizz. I have never (ever) lost a game in which my opening hand included the good center of knowledge here.
Once I kept a hand with 6 lands and a Force Spike. One of those lands was Library of Alexandria. Yes, I won that one too.
No matter how enticing Meloku the Clouded Mirror or Wrath of God may look to you, nothing is above this in my book. To pass it is to pass royalty.
How do you win in Limited? With damage. How do you deal damage? With spells and creatures. Why are spell-only decks never seen in the winner’s circle of the cube? Because creatures create continuous, turn-after-turn damage. Welcome to Magic 101. While Control Magic is definitely one of the best cube cards, this is a free Control Magic.
And you know what happens when you combine free and a Magic card. You usually get brokenness.
And good lord this one is broken. A free Control Magic is a gift from the Gods. While I’ve passed it before, it hurt like nothing else. Wow this guy is amazing. Take it and be happy.
This one pretty much snuck up on everybody. It was only when someone finally decided to draft a deck around it was its true power unleashed.
Can you say Deranged Hermit and this guy = Completely ridiculous? Because our jaws dropped about the same time my friend Chris accidentally stumbled on it.
Let’s not even mention its synergy with Legendary Dragon Spirits or Angel of Despair or Loxodon Hierarch or Flametongue Kavu or Insert_Unbelievable_187_Creature_Here. Let’s just say that when it’s so so good, be happy and turn your Llanowar Elf into Kokusho as quickly as possible. Then pay three mana and do it in reverse. Repeat until you win.
Let’s not even mention the ridiculousness of Karmic Guide with this card. Talk about unfair…
#4 Time Walk
It’s another turn for two mana. I’m not going to explain why this is good.
Its three cards at instant speed for one mana. Yeah, duh.
I’m pushing this list to six because Time Walk and Ancestral Recall are almost “cop outs,” but you have to give them their due. With that said, some of the most powerful creatures in the cube are Blue (Morphling; Keiga, the Tide Star; Meloku the Clouded Mirror; Jushi Apprentice) while some of the most dangerous removal is Red (Lightning Bolt, Magma Jet, Starstorm, Terminate). This card trumps some of the best pound-for-pound creatures and pound-for-pound removal and it draws you a card and it makes your creature bigger and it’s just as amazing as it was back in the Mirrodin Limited days…except on a grander scale.
To find this waiting for you beyond your first pick is to know that God is smiling on you. Or that the lucky prick to your right just opened a Library of Alexandria.
To round out this section, I asked my friends to name their Top 5 Cube Cards much like I have here, except without all that explanation. I thought this would be interesting food for though for those who have or will play the cube. Their list(s) are in no particular order:
Chris: Library of Alexandria, Treachery, Recurring Nightmare, Sword of Fire and Ice, Crystal Shard
Packard: Library of Alexandria, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Treachery, Umezawa’s Jitte
Joe: Demonic Tutor, Recurring Nightmare, Survival of the Fittest, Time Walk, Exalted Angel
Roske: Library of Alexandria, Debtors’ Knell, Beacon of Unrest, Time Walk, Treachery
Michael: Library of Alexandra, Treachery, Armageddon, Time Walk, Sword of Fire and Ice
As you can see, my list is by no means the end-all-be-all. It’s just my taste. Others like some cards more, including such newness as Debtors’ Knell which is a frickin house in the cube, as you can imagine.
Archetypes Are Important
Its one thing to draft, but it’s another to draft well. I know that sounds trite, but hey, it’s the truth: You’re not just picking 23 or 24 random cards to fill you decklist, you’re trying to build a cohesive structure. You need to find your niche and stick with it.
With that said, I can guide you along some of those archetypes and what you’ll be looking for. I’ll begin with the name of the archetype and then list the cards crucial for the deck to work. These are the early picks you take or the late picks no one wants because they’re so heavy geared towards the archetype, such as…
The tools are all here and this deck is really nasty if you don’t have an answer for it in some way. Here are the most crucial cards to the deck:
Akroma, Angel of Wrath (crucial)
Survival of the Fittest
The rest of the obvious reanimator picks (such as Vigor Mortis, Buried Alive, Entomb, etc) are great, but not as crucial as those above. And the best part of any archetype in the cube is this: Either you go that way or you don’t. Meaning that the players who don’t go the Reanimator route will never pick Reanimate and the folks who pass Survival of the Fittest never realize how it knocks your deck into the stratosphere.
Matter of fact, while I was typing part of this article up in-between rounds at the latest cube draft, I saw the following play:
Swamp, Mox Jet
Entomb targeting Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Reanimate Akroma, Lose 8 and beat for 6
He won 3 turns later.
But the best part about this ridiculousness? This is in no way unbeatable. Tinkering up Darksteel Colossus or first-turning Akroma still leaves you open to Swords of Plowshares, Reprisal, Arrest, and Boomerang or any other of the many answers offered in the cube. The most important thing to remember about any archetype in the cube is not only how powerful they are, but if you keep passing the crucial pieces of it then you’ll be bound to lose to it if you don’t prepare to face it.
The cube has also been engineered with certain cards to combat powerful strategies like Reanimator, hence the inclusion of Scrabbling Claws.
Reanimator is probably the “riskiest” option because people can easily hate-draft the crucial cards needed for it to win. But when it’s fully assembled, it can be the scariest deck at the table.
Here’s an interesting archetype. This is just as you would expect: slow and boring, but ultimately a winner. The most important cards you can get are:
Wrath of God (and variants such as Akroma’s Vengence or Final Judgment)
Swords to Plowshares
This is an archetype that uses one or two huge creatures (such as Exalted Angel; Yosei, the Morning Star; Eternal Dragon; Akroma, Angel of Wrath – yes, hardcasted) and lots of countermagic to win. Mana Drain is just as good as it’s always been, and of course Orim’s Chant is a welcome addition. Also keep an eye out for Bosium Strip as well – what’s one Wrath of God or Mana Drain when you can play two in a row?
G/W Weenie Aggro
Ah, one of my favorites. This one I found through simple necessary: No one was passing me anything but cheap, good creatures. So I decided to take them and see what happened. First-pack-first-pick Cursed Scroll over Meloku the Clouded Mirror made me think of a deck that would keep few cards in hand. The deck went on to be undefeated. Here’s what you’re looking for:
White Shadow Guys (Soltari Priest/Soltari Monk)
Umezawa’s Jitte / Sword of Fire and Ice
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
You know the drill: Play guys, beat. Equip them with unfair equipment and make haste to their face.
While you may scoff at Flickering Ward, and perhaps its inclusion in the cube at all, rest assured it is ridiculous. We told Chris he was crazy to think of it as one of the top 50 White cards, but we were proven wrong. One of the most powerful assets of this archetype is that its creatures are very difficult kill. They’re virtually immune to the natural removal colors (Black and Red), and Flickering Ward covers the mirror match (or anything else running White) and the Shadow guys can carry games by themselves.
Speaking of Flickering Ward, that card can cause a lot of problems for all sorts of decks and has been well-used in the U/W Control deck that I just detailed and this next archetype…
Ah, one of the most ubiquitous archetypes. One of the “good players” at the table will always choose this archetype because huge scary creatures (Blue and Red), efficient burn and removal (Red) and amazing counter/control elements (Blue) equal dominance that only hit prevalence when Guildpact was added to the mix. Why?
Because Gelectrode is one of the best creatures in the cube.
“Wha-Wha-Wha?” You say. Yes, seriously. Here’s an example:
Ping you for 1, play Brainstorm. Ping you again.
Ping you for one, Counterspell that, Ping you for one again.
At the end of your turn, ping you for one, Fact or Fiction, ping you again, Boomerang that, ping you in response…
And so it goes.
Instead of a list of good (and probably very obvious) cards, here’s a very solid U/R build I’m playing as I type this. This is not the optimal draw, but it’s pretty damn good. I only lost to a B/U build with plenty of removal and counterspells and some of the best control you could have: Control Magic and Capsize. Anyway, my current list:
- 1 Kumano, Master Yamabushi
- 1 Uyo, Silent Prophet
- 1 Avalanche Riders
- 1 Rainbow Efreet
- 1 Merfolk Looter
- 1 Ryusei, the Falling Star
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 1 Jushi Apprentice
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Arc-Slogger
- 1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
- 1 Masticore
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Gelectrode
- 1 Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
This build features plenty of mana denial (Avalanche Riders are a house in the cube) and with that denial also comes a built-in way to beat Library of Alexandria. Meanwhile I’ve got plenty of countermagic, card drawing, and burn. Between these three elements I can take care of most problems. I’ve also got the mondo combo of Masticore and Squee, Goblin Nabob and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
While I didn’t get the nut high of Capsize and Treachery/Control Magic to go along with it, I still spilt in the finals with a U/W Control build I had beaten earlier but didn’t have time to face again.
Here was my favorite play of the tournament:
I was playing against Reanimator. He doesn’t play a land on the draw, opting to discard Juzam Djinn instead. On his next turn he uses Reanimate targeting the 5/5 Djinn. After several turns of chump-blocking and a few attacks of my own, I was finally out of turns to do anything and was at five life. He was six life.
I inhale during my final turn a see: Threaten. Swing for five with your monster and you die during your upkeep. Good game, sir!
Such are the life and times of a cube player.
Join me next time when I take you through a step-by-step draft and a subsequent cube tournament report.
Extra! — A Sample of Cube Coverage
To whet your appetite, here’s a sample game between the U/R Counterburn deck from above and the U/B control deck I lost to. This is game 2 after I lost game 1 when it was seemingly “in the bag” when my friend Packard, as usual, climbed his way out of it.
I sideboarded out Force Spike for Pyroclasm after his Stinkweed Imp, Dimir Cutpurse, and Hypnotic Specter gave me a fit during the previous match.
My opening hand: Rainbow Efreet; Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind; Threaten; Merfolk Looter; Brainstorm; Kumano, Master Yamabushi; and an Island.
I’m on the play and begin with the sole Island. He plays a Swamp and I Brainstorm at the end of his turn. I find land, laying a Mountain and playing Merfolk Looter, passing the turn afterwards. Packard plays an Island, taps both lands and lays down a Talisman of Dominance. I draw and use my Merfolk Looter to dig for an Island and play it.
Packard plays another island and drops Nightscape Familiar. I draw a non-land, and with only three lands I pass the turn. Packard then tries to resolve a three mana Thieving Magpie, which I Arcane Denial. On my turn I play a Mountain and lay down Jushi Apprentice.
Packard then plays a Volcanic Island and swings with Nightscape Familiar. I block with Jushi Apprentice like an idiot. He regenerates Nightscape Familiar and finishes my Jushi with a Darkblast. Then he plays Man-o’-War and bounces my Merfolk Looter.
I drop another Mountain and play Kumano, Master Yamabushi. On his turn he plays an Island and then enchants Master Yamabushi with Control Magic. He swings with Nightscape Familiar and Man-o’-War.
On my next turn I play Strip Mine and tap out for Niv-Mizzet the Firemind. Passing the turn, Packard plays a three mana (thanks Nightscape Familiar!) Fact or Fiction that shows:
He has eight lands in play (note: Chainer’s Edict costs seven to flashback and I only have Niv-Mizzet in play). This is not good. I offer him three Lands and a Night’s Whisper versus the Edict. I went the 4-to-1 route because giving him the Edict in hand would be suicide at this point. He takes the land pile, untaps, plays a land and flashes back the Edict as predicted. Then he beats my face some more.
On what could only be described as my last good attempt at staying in the game, I tap out again for Uyo, Silent Prophet. Packard plays an Island and Recoils Uyo. I discard Uyo. Packard then beats for seven taking me to two life. He then drops Scroll Rack, scrolls for five cards and finds Fire/Ice, finishing me off.
Result: Packard Wins 2-0
So, as you can see, the variety of tempo, good plays, and good enablers make for very interesting games. Of course this wasn’t the best game played that evening (certainly not by myself), but this is just a glimpse. Next time you’ll get the big picture.
Until then, get that cube built however you can. You can thank me later.
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
Dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Genju of the Spires
Hammer of Bogardan
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Ryusei, the Falling Star
Seal of Fire
Squee, Goblin Nabob
Wheel of Fortune
Words of War
Angel of Despair
Fires of Yavimaya
Glare of Subdual
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Pillory of the Sleepless
Fact or Fiction
Force of Will
Keiga, the Tide Star
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Sakashima the Imposter
Show and Tell
Stroke of Genius
Thirst for Knowledge
Uyo, Silent Prophet
Crucible of Worlds
Karn, Silver Golem
Sensei’s Divining Top
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of Light and Shadow
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Impulse
Talisman of Indulgence
Talisman of Progress
Talisman of Unity
Tatsumasa the Dragon’s Fang
Avatar of Woe
Beacon of Unrest
Hymn to Tourach
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Kagemaro, First to Suffer
Knight of Stromgald
Kokusho the Evening Star
Seal of Doom
Visara the Dreadful
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Caves of Koilos
City of Brass
Library of Alexandria
Miren, the Moaning Well
Tendo Ice Bridge
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Decree of Justice
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
Mageta the Lion
Mother of Runes
Order of Leitbur
Pulse of the Fields
Seal of Cleansing
Swords to Plowshares
Wrath of God
Yosei, the Morning Star
Birds of Paradise
Call of the Herd
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
Kodama of the North Tree
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Silvos, Rogue Elemental
Survival of the Fittest
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Roots