Tribal Thriftiness #30 – Magic Cubed

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Thursday, July 3rd – It’s the hot new fad. Everyone’s doing it. You know you want to. A little taste can’t hurt you. That’s what they say, and the next thing you know, you’re trying to figure out how to build your own giant stack of hundreds of Magic cards with which to draft.

This year, Magically-speaking, is an odd one. This is the time of year where (traditionally) we should either be playing with some set that no one cares about or, on alternate years, figuring out what rotated in and out with the advent of a new base set. For most years, this is the time of year where things quiet down, and we all get excited about the big set that’s coming out in the fall …

… except this year, we just had that big set. And while there’s still another one coming in the fall, we still have to deal with an expansion set here in the sweltering heat of July.

Thankfully, Eventide looks to be shaping up to be “same but different” in relation to Shadowmoor, which means that I can ignore it for the time being and focus on spending my summer months doing something a little more … fun.

Cube – It’s Not Just a Steak Type Any More

Some of the guys at the local candy store have put together a Cube and have been playing it. The Cube is, essentially, a giant pile of the biggest and baddest cards that Magic has to offer, all shuffled together and drafted into draft decks that can only approach absurdity in terms of power levels. A fully-powered Cube leads to ridiculous things like slapping a Sword of Fire and Ice onto a Juzam Djinn, or regenerating your Troll Ascetic with your Mox Emerald before drawing a card from Library of Alexandria. The Cube is intended to be sort of a “Greatest Hits” album for Magic, and guys who have dedicated the time and resources to pull the “Greatest of All Time” together are getting to play in what could be one of the most entertaining Magic formats ever.

To get an idea of a fully-powered Cube, check out Evan Erwin cube, or Tom LaPille… both are fairly up-to-date and are updated when cards make the big break into the Cube.

Me? I’m not so resourceful. I have vacations to save for, bills to pay, visiting in-laws, yard improvements, and a list of dozens of other things that infringe on both my time and the almighty wallet. But that doesn’t lessen the fact that I want a Cube of my very own, to have and to hold, to pull out when my Magic-playing friends are around… because, let’s face it, all my Magic-playing friends are in the same boat as me. None of them have any interest in playtesting Faeries versus Kithkin for the seventeenth time. If they’re going to play, it had better be self-contained and it had better be fun.

To that end, I am instituting the Cost-effective Common-ish Cube Project, or CCCP. Yeah, I know that acronym has been used before, but the original users aren’t really in business any more, and I’m not really worried about legal action from the Claremont Cross Country People. The purpose of this project is to build a Cube based as much on the “Greatest Hits” of commons as possible, without necessarily excluding amazing uncommons as well.

CCCP Tenet 1 – The Best Commons: You could very easily build a Cube of all common cards; after all, they are the most… common… type of card out there. The real trick here is to identify which common cards are awesome independent of their rarity, and to start with only the best. The idea of the Cube is that you are playing with the “Best of the Best” … if you’re reduced to playing with an Amphibious Kavu because you need an extra creature, that kind of defeats the purpose of the Cube, in my opinion.

CCCP Tenet 2 – Fill In With Signature Uncommons: Any uncommons that find their way into the CCCP need to be immediately recognizable and well-known… the kind of card that Wizards would print as a textless reward card. This is because obviously uncommons are going to be more powerful than commons in most cases, and I would like to not rely on uncommons as a crutch to fill out the Cube. The point is to build a mostly-common Cube, after all, and not a mostly-uncommon Cube. This means cards like Putrefy, Swords to Plowshares, and Flametongue Kavu could make the cut, but I’d stay away from niche colorhosers like Perish or cards that are less functional than common cards that could be included, like, say, Svyelunite Temple.

CCCP Tenet 3 – Keep With Established Cube-Building Standards: The Cube is only as good as its balance, ultimately. If you build a Cube that’s half Blue cards, half of your players will draft Blue, and there will be an imbalance somewhere. An equal number of each color, multicolor (divided evenly), artifacts, and land seem to make for decent variety in both the cards chosen and the end-result decks. I decided to stick with Evan Erwin 50-count to make for a 400-card Cube. I’ve also decided to go halfsies with creatures and spells where I can, and to spread out the mana curve of the creatures as well.

CCCP – Where To Start?

As I said before, there are a lot of commons out there. So how does one go about even starting a list of cards for a common-ish Cube? Do you start with your favorites from the competitive decks that you played over the years? Wild Mongrel and Aquamoeba and Basking Rootwalla? Arcbound Worker and Frogmite and Myr Enforcer and the artifact-lands and Cranial Plating? Or do you start with cycles of commons that all have some functionality, like the Ravnica bouncelands?

I decided to take a look at what each color wants to do, from a color pie standpoint, and try and focus my search on those areas.

White: White wants to make little guys or big flyers, give them protection or prevent damage, and maybe gain life a little. White is willing to use a little creature control, but usually by leaving the creature on the board. Little creatures like Soul Warden, Master Decoy, and Icatian Javelineers get included. “Removal” spells like Oblivion Ring, Faith’s Fetters, and Temporal Isolation are good creature control, as well as conditional removal like Second Thoughts or Neck Snap could have a place. Uncommons in-theme include Swords to Plowshares, Mother of Runes, Angel of Mercy, and Reprisal.

Blue: Card drawing, counterspells, and unblockable or big flying creatures should be the role of Blue in the CCCP. Brainstorm, Deep Analysis, and Impulse should be the start of what will probably turn out to be really good card drawing. For countermagic, you can start with the namesake Counterspell, then progress to Mana Leak, Rewind, and Arcane Denial. A little bounce comes in handy as well… Man O’ War, Unsummon, and Capsize would make the cut. Multipurpose creatures like Merfolk Looter, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Mulldrifter, and Ophidian are all commons as well, as well as the big flyer Errant Ephemeron. Uncommons to consider include Dissipate or Dismiss, Fact or Fiction, Tidings, and Air Elemental.

Black: Creature removal and discard should probably make up the spell count in Black. Dark Banishing and Diabolic Edict are both commons, as well as Terror. Hymn to Tourach, Duress, and Coercion are common discard spells. As for creatures, black likes to tie discard into its creatures as well, so guys like Ravenous Rats, Chittering Rats, and Okiba-Gang Shinobi are good choices. You can put in little guys with drawbacks like Carnophage and Barrow Ghoul, or evasive guys like Severed Legion, Shinen of Fear’s Chill, or Corpulent Corpse. Uncommons to include would be guys like Shriekmaw and Nekrataal, and Chainer’s Edict and Smother for good removal.

Red: There are enough good common burn spells that you could probably avoid anything else, but I think it would be remiss to not include staples like Stone Rain. Incinerate, Shock, Firebolt, and Lightning Bolt are all commons that should be included, as well as mass burn spells like Fireball, Rolling Thunder, and Rain of Embers. Red creatures should continue the idea, like Ghitu Slinger, Mogg Fanatic, Frostling, and Martyr of Ashes. Uncommons to include would be boardsweepers like Pyroclasm or Sulfurous Blast, and creatures like Flametongue Kavu.

Green: I don’t think there should be any dearth of big dudes in the Green section. Green is filled with good common creatures like Wild Mongrel, Blastoderm, River Boa, Rogue Elephant – and that’s just the small end of the scale, when you consider bigger guys like Krosan Tusker, Deadly Insect, and Uktabi Efreet. Green should also get a good number of mana accelerators when it comes to its dudes, like Llanowar Elves or Civic Wayfinder. Spells should either make more creatures – Elephant Ambush, Sprout Swarm – or pump up the guys you’ve got – Rancor, Giant Growth, Armor of Thorns, and Thrive. Uncommons like Overrun certainly fit that idea… and I think Regrowth is a pretty powerful uncommon.

Gold: I think it will be tough to narrow down the choices for these slots thanks to Shadowmoor. Five for each color combination? Could be tough. It could be fun to use all five of the Deity enchantments (like Steel of the Godhead), and we get (presumably) five more in Eventide. Scarscale Ritual is a good card-drawer, and Elvish Hexhunter could be good removal depending on how many enchantments we end up using. I always enjoyed Azorius First-Wing, for example, and I think he would fit in with Silver Drake to make a nice Blue-White flying contingent.

Artifact: I’d start with some cycles first, like the Ravnica Signets and the Invasion Cameos, for mana-fixing. Good common equipment would make a good addition, like Bonesplitter, Leonin Bola, Whispersilk Cloak, and Vulshok Gauntlets. For artifact creatures, what about the Darksteel Golem cycle (Oxidda Golem and the like) or the Replicas from Mirrodin? Or the Shadowmoor Scarecrows?

Land: Again, I’d include all ten of the Ravnica bouncelands, as well as both the Urza’s Saga and Onslaught cycling lands. I’d also include all five artifact lands. From there, I’d look at mana-fixing lands like Terramorphic Expanse before looking at uncommons. I seriously think I’d rather use uncommon lands like the Vivid lands, Vitu-Ghazi, Zoetic Cavern, Gemstone Mine, Mirrodin’s Core, heck, the Mirage fetchlands before I use Saprazzan Skerry and the like simply because they’re commons.

The Next Step

This is a start, but I want your help, if you’re willing. Post up thoughts and suggestions in the forums, and I’ll take those suggestions, and build and play the CCCP Cube over the holiday weekend. Next week you will get to see the results of all the labor.

If you’re going out this holiday weekend for festivites, please be careful. The Fourth is one of those holidays where your good ol’ boy neighbor Jesse Joe might have had a little too much to drink in his celebratory nature. Take it easy, enjoy some fireworks, and eat some bbq’ed chicken for me.

Until next week…