Howdy gamers. It’s a somber week here at StarCityGames.com, with the final episode of The 540 dropping later this week and a number of my colleagues being let go as of this month. I’m going to miss being published alongside so many friends and folks that I’ve looked up to for years. While I do have the privilege to continue writing my Cube articles here, I want to be open about the fact that things are obviously different now for both you and me. I’m grateful for everyone who has read and will continue to read my stuff, and like so many of you, I am saddened at the state of things.
Of course, this isn’t a farewell article for me, nor is it my pity party. We’re here to talk about Cube, and today I’ll be talking about updating one of my projects, which is somehow a style of article that I’ve never written before. I’ve introduced quite a lot of my Cubes, and I’ve analyzed updates to the various digital Cubes, but I’ve never done a write-up for my process or for specific updates when it comes to updating my own Cubes. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty‘s incredibly well-fleshed-out artifact theme led to over twenty new cards being added to my Artifact Twobert, which makes now a great time to talk about updating Cubes with a specific focus on this update.
The first couple of times I looked through the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty card list, I was wondering if I would end up making any fundamental shifts to the Cube, meaning altering the number of cards in a given column and shifting the total volume of cards with at least one color over colorless ones. I was expecting to increase each color by one or two cards just based on how many cards were catching my eye, but ultimately the changes maintained the Cube’s previous color balance.
Changing 20 cards of 180 is a lot, but I didn’t have to move any mountains to do so. It was on the table, though, and I want to dive a little deeper into the process than just highlighting the ins and outs. In order to do this, I want to go over ins and outs a little more abstractly and then discuss the changes to the Cube that I made by color.
It has been my experience that most Cube designers have cards that they’d like to Cube with that end up on the chopping block, as opposed to not having enough cards to build a full Cube. I struggle a lot with the final slots sometimes, but this has more to do with specific card lists than not having more cards that I like. Indeed, the 180-card Twobert model, for as popular as it has proved to be, faces the most opposition from Cube designers who generally favor larger Cubes to include more of the designer’s personal favorites.
I don’t really have anything groundbreaking to say regarding finding cards to add to a Cube, but I will spell out my process anyway. When a new set releases, I pay a good amount of attention to cards as they’re previewed during preview season, but then I also go over the entire card list several times before the set is released. It’s good to have more than your first impression to go by as you consider which cards you want to try playing with.
In addition to going over the set many times independently, I also pay mind to the cards that are generating a lot of buzz on social media and the decks that players see success with as the set releases. You have to be careful not to buy into everything that gets attention early on, as you’ll see a lot of noise around cards like Rip Apart that get more hype than they could possibly deserve, but somebody else will always invariably see something that you miss going through the file by yourself.
Additionally, Constructed success won’t always translate successfully to Cube, but it offers more to go off than abstract thought. Following Constructed success will more often lead to adding cards to your Cube that you won’t end up cutting later due to underperforming.
I don’t follow a specific timeline, but once I feel comfortable with the card list for a new set, I sit down and make a formal list of all the cards from the new set that I want to add to a particular Cube. I try to err on the side of making my list too long and not always adding everything that makes my list as opposed to missing things, which means my lists are typically overly generous when I first start them.
In addition to making this list, I also consider cards that have previously just missed making the Cube when it comes time to update the Cube. Sometimes the new cards result in the Cube being more welcoming to cards that previously didn’t make the cut. Beyond that, I find that when I’m closely looking at what cards I could cut from a Cube, it’s fairly common that find myself wondering about some card or another that isn’t currently in the list and wanting to retool things to make it work.
So my list of potential adds consists of a generous spread of new cards, the cards that were previously considered for or previously cut from the Cube, and on occasion some number of cards that I previously hadn’t considered that get better with the new cards in mind. I don’t have any examples of that last category for this week, but think of things like adding Devoted Druid to a Cube because it combos with the new Swift Reconfiguration.
This is where I think I diverge more from the average Cube designer as something of an extension of larger Cubes being so popular: I always have cards on my radar to cut from my Cubes. Whether something is underperforming on individual power level, part of a package that doesn’t come together often enough to justify, not fun in specific applications, or convincingly one of the best cards in the Cube, I have a lot of reasons going through my head regarding why I would cut an individual card. No matter what you do, something will always be the strongest and something else will be the weakest, but I always strive to try to make everything compelling. This is a process of constant refinement, and in truth this is where I find the most joy in Cubing.
With regard to the Artifact Twobert, there are plenty of cards that I’ve been watching as potential cuts. I like that Krark-Clan Ironworks combo is possible in the Cube, but I’m wary of the prospect of it being the best thing to do every draft. It’s not currently on the chopping block, but it’s on something of a watchlist. To clarify where I’m coming from here, I had Ashnod’s Altar in my initial list, but I really didn’t want too much redundancy for solitaire-style decks. I like having the combo decks around, but they’re preferable as a sometimes archetype, not an all-the-time archetype.
I’ve also been generally interested in upping the total artifact count and lowering the mana curve. Being an artifact is a huge point in favor of a card over similar cards for this Cube, and costing three or more is a major liability in an environment that is trying to support Ravager Affinity and Ironworks Combo.
My philosophy on cutting cards from Cubes is not dissimilar to my philosophy on bans in Constructed formats. Cutting the cards that significantly outshine the others or the cards that don’t perform opens up room for more cards to meaningfully contribute. A larger list means that more cards see play in theory, but my position is that the bigger the Cube, the more cards end up being disappointing in practice. I’m not trying to convince anybody of this position, but I’m pretty firm in this belief, and it will be useful to keep that in mind when you’re reading my stuff.
With that all in mind, let’s take a look at the change log by color.
White gained a lot for artifact themes in Modern Horizons 2. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty offered white artifact decks even more. I liked both Servo Exhibition and Barbed Spike well enough for generating two artifacts, but one-mana artifact creatures and bigger effects are absolutely welcome over them. Lion Sash is an incredible Cube card that naturally contributes to the theme, and Michiko’s Reign of Truth is close to an additional copy of Cranial Plating. All That Glitters is a realistic consideration for the Cube, but Auras are just kind of an odd fit, whereas Michiko’s Reign of Truth feels much closer to what’s going on in the rest of the Cube.
Luminarch Aspirant is another great Cube card, but it only fits the Cube insofar as lending support to the Hardened Scales archetype. I’ll get into this more in the green section, but similarly to All That Glitters being an odd fit, I am much happier having an artifact in the Cube than a card that fits more tangentially. White has enough robust artifact support that I like using a heavy hand here. This wasn’t part of my assessment, but it’s worth noting that Lion’s Sash also picks up the slack for the Hardened Scales decks.
There’s an argument for reverting Hotshot Mechanic to Servo Exhibition that I’ll be keeping in mind going forward. Hotshot Mechanic’s pilot text is completely irrelevant in the Cube, which I don’t love, and two 1/1s could very well be worth an extra mana over a 2/1. That said, Servo Exhibition feels really similar to Servo Schematic and is arguably worse with all the sacrifice outlets and things like Digsite Engineer triggers. This swap was close, and honestly I expect this slot just to go to some other new card in the future. See what I mean about me liking cutting cards more than most Cube designers?
Moonsnare Prototype and The Reality Chip have already established themselves as powerful Constructed cards, and Silver Raven was definitely expendable. I was more attached to Ensoul Artifact, but it’s redundant with The Blackstaff at Waterdeep and has similar aesthetic downsides as All That Glitters. Ensoul Artifact is more nostalgic and by that measure cooler than The Blackstaff at Waterdeep, but being a one-mana artifact wins this competition for me.
Moonsnare Prototype is mostly just a slightly upgraded Springleaf Drum, which doesn’t necessarily feel worth a blue slot with colored slots being so limited. Similarly to the comparison between Servo Exhibition and Servo Schematic, I’m somewhat wary of this. That said, Moonsnare Prototype fits incredibly well with the cast of other blue cards in the Cube. All the affinity cards benefit from this addition, and I’m convinced of this update at this time.
Despite Esper’s focus on artifacts in Shards of Alara, black has been a pretty middling artifact color to this point. All three of these two-drops meaningfully contribute to combat in this environment, and all of them will make some decks. I could see the inefficiency of reconfiguring Leech Gauntlet and/or the timing of how you need to utilize Nezumi Prowler making them easy cuts in the future, but they’re worth trying for a while.
I’ve found that this Cube rewards being proactive far more than being reactive, and I usually don’t play more than a handful of reactive spells in my decks, which made shaving some removal spells a pretty easy decision for me. Having a couple of instant-speed kill spells is great, but Bloodchief’s Thirst wasn’t much of a draw to black.
When I made my list, I noticed that red got the most love for artifact Cubes by a good margin. Once I saw the breakdown, I realized that I wouldn’t need to make any fundamental shifts on color distribution lines, but that I would have to make some tough calls regarding red cards. Towashi Songshaper was another consideration, and is actually the one card that I had on my list of potential additions that didn’t make it in. It’s really just not convincingly better than any other two-drop in the Cube in any meaningful way.
The ins here are mostly self-explanatory. Some cheap artifact creatures and a wonky little trinket that has already shown up in multiple Constructed formats that plays well with sacrifice outlets in Experimental Synthesizer. I’m not huge on Simian Sling, but it costs one and is an artifact, so for now it has a home here.
Some of these cuts are very similar in nature to the previous sections. The volume of removal in the Cube was higher than was worth playing, and in the coming weeks I’ll find out if I over-corrected. Shrapnel Blast is very similar to Ensoul Artifact in that both are cool cards that I want to like, but neither performed particularly well. Shrapnel Blast is quite bad if you’re behind, and the games that it closes that you wouldn’t win otherwise are rare.
Goblin Welder has gotten some new life as an all-star in this Cube, but Goblin Engineer hasn’t performed remotely on the same level. Further, part of the motivation for including the card was to facilitate the Thopter-Sword combo that has also made its way out (spoilers). I expect that some larger artifact Cubes will be going the other direction and adding Scrap Welder, but the 180-card size and heavy focus on pushing Arcbound Ravager make not being an artifact itself too big a downside for my taste.
The last cut was Endless One, which actually consisted of cutting Endless One and changing the classification of Bomat Courier from a red card to a colorless one. Endless One has always been on the chopping block for being a completely unexciting Hardened Scales card, but the Bomat Courier reclassification was more of a stretch for me.
When it comes to cards that technically don’t have strict color requirements, it’s not uncommon to see me classify the card differently in different Cubes. For example, I have Scrapheap Scrounger in the colorless section of this Cube, whereas I typically put it in the black section. When the colored elements of a card are splashable or not necessary to happily play the card, I don’t lose any sleep about how I classify it.
Of course, this is my first classification of Bomat Courier as anything other than a red card, and I think it’s fair to say that this classification is objectively incorrect. That said, exact color distributions are guidelines and nothing about this is damaging to the play environment, so it’s a lie that I’m willing to tell myself.
In terms of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty‘s modernity-versus-tradition theme, green was firmly in the tradition camp. There’s no artifact support to speak of. This is unfortunate for those of us who maintain Cubes with artifact themes, as green is already the color that offers the least support. The issue is so pronounced that the Artifact Cube on Magic Online last year didn’t even bother including green cards.
I do have some appreciation for Hardened Scales in my Artifact Twobert, given that it is a well-established card to play alongside Arcbound Ravager. I also am happy to give Ancient Stirrings a home here. That said, if I were to fundamentally alter the color distribution of the Cube, then cutting all the green cards is absolutely on the table. Something like only keeping Hardened Scales and Ancient Stirrings is also a potential option, but it would look messier on paper.
Servant of the Scale is cool and Verdurous Gearhulk is an artifact, but Swarm Shambler sure is an eyesore. Maybe doing something like cutting four green cards and some green gold cards and giving the other colors additional cards is worth exploring. Green is useful in terms of adding a couple of interactive spells, with Oxidize being both more aesthetically satisfying and appropriate for the Cube than Smelt given what each card’s respective colors have to offer, but trimming on the total number of green cards is a serious consideration for a future update.
Prodigy’s Prototype over Chrome Courier is a bit of a lateral shift. This slot originally belonged to Dovin, Grand Arbiter, and honestly I’m lukewarm on all three cards. I’m sure we’ll get something better here someday.
In a Cube with so much actual affinity, I have been very cold on improvise as a mechanic. Kappa Cannoneer is on my radar at this point with how much success the card is seeing in Legacy, but Maverick Thopterist just wasn’t making decks. So many of your artifacts are creatures that you don’t want to tap them for mana sources anyway, and there’s not a ton of mana-fixing to want to play a gold card. I could go either way on Enthusiastic Mechanaut, but it should at least be a meaningful card in decks with Skullclamp and/or Mystic Forge.
Bloodtithe Harvester is a fine card, but making an artifact is much less valuable than being an artifact. Rakdos gold cards have been kind of tough, with Kolaghan’s Command and similar cards being unpalatably anti-artifact for my taste. Oni-Cult Anvil is a breath of fresh air here for the weak Rakdos slot, but I am admittedly considering also cutting Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast at some point. The card has proven to offer a bit more than I would like for an individual card on rate, and is generally better at killing cool artifacts than anything else.
I had Scab-Clan Mauler in as a potential card for Hardened Scales decks before this update, given that Destructive Revelry was another anti-artifact card and the Cube was long on that sort of thing. With red losing a removal spell and Scab-Clan Mauler being much less of a draw than the Luminarch Aspirant, cutting it made sense to me to dust off Destructive Revelry.
Lastly, we see Thopter Foundry on the outs. I liked that the card had uses beyond the Sword of the Meek combo in the Cube, but it didn’t have enough to justify without the combo, and the combo is as unfun as it has ever been. Thopter-Sword wasn’t showing up in every draft or even dominant when it did, but the games where this combo did win were not at all fun to participate in on either side.
Foundry Inspector basically always made my sideboard, and my hope is that Enthusiastic Mechanaut’s cheaper body will cause it to actually show up in decks. Most of the new cards speak for themselves, but I will say that Mechtitan Core probably sucks. I intend to keep the card in the Cube long enough to make Mechtitan at least once, and we’ll see how I feel about the card after that happens. I could honestly see it being either too weak and inefficient or too easy to activate in this environment, and that’s honestly pretty exciting for me.
I’m somewhat sad to cut Cursed Scroll, as the card is incredibly cool, but it’s less a good artifact and more a good card that happens to be an artifact. It performs fine in artifact decks, but I’m somewhat ambivalent about it aesthetically. I have other plans to continue Cubing with Cursed Scroll. More on that next week.
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty delivered a ton of cards for my Artifact Twobert and really any artifact Cube. The set also has plenty to offer for enchantment themes, and I expect that the set will result in a lot of updates for a lot of Cubes in addition to turning the wheels for new Cube designs. These are exciting times for those of us who enjoy the process of curation.