As you’ve been reading my articles on this site about cube, you’ve noticed that they’re in the Timmy section. However, I’ve been talking all about card efficiency, critically evaluating each card in a cube and its worth to the color as a whole, continuous improvement and other such topics that are typically attributed to Spike. Is this contradictory? Not necessarily.
The ideology behind a cube, at least in the beginning, was to have all of “the best cards ever printed,” although more modern cube ideology now centers around making a cube an extremely powerful draft set that features the best cards of all time within an optimal limited environment. Due to this, making a cube isn’t simply about deciding what the best cards are then shuffling them together and making them into a pile of cards, as that’d be not only relatively easy but also quite boring. Yet, if you’ve been reading my articles, hearing these kinds of things shouldn’t be news to you. So why do I bring this up?
As I mentioned before, designing a cube is essentially about customizing an optimal draft environment with powerful cards. Therefore, as a designer and developer, you’re able to shape the environment. Want a theme to be relevant? Make it so! Of course, you’re at the mercy of the cards that are printed in Magic. If you really want to have another powerful 1 mana Zombie for your cube, you’re going to have to wait until Wizards prints another one that’s on the same power level as Carnophage.
However, what card you choose directly affect how your cube is perceived. Both Timmy and Spike see things in the cards in a cube. Before going into detail about what Spike and Timmy want, let’s go over Mark Rosewater’s definitions of them. What does “Timmy” want to do?
Timmy is what we in R&D call the ‘power gamer.’ Timmy likes to win big. He doesn’t want to eke out a last minute victory. Timmy wants to smash his opponents. He likes his cards to be impressive, and he enjoys playing big creatures and big spells.
What does “Spike” want to do?
Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory.
These goals aren’t mutually exclusive, and can intersect in several ways. Animating an early Woodfall Primus, Terastodon, or Myr Battlesphere can be exciting to both Timmy and Spike, albeit in different ways (Timmy because of the huge effect, Spike because it’ll likely win the game quickly.) However, this isn’t the only way to appease both groups in cube. I’ll go over some examples.
“Theme cubes” such as tribal cubes.
An interesting way to make an intersection between Timmy and Spike is through a tribal cube. The theory behind tribal cubes is to have each color’s creatures center around several tribes, typically a major tribe and a minor tribe like what was done in Onslaught (with white having Soldiers and Clerics as their tribes) or two major tribes. The format is much like Onslaught and Lorwyn blocks since while there are powerful universally playable creatures and cards, tribal cubes seek to maximize on the interaction between the tribes.
It is very important to provide powerful incentives for people to draft according to tribes and their interactions. A problem that can occur in cubes that try to support themes is that Spikier players can just ignore the theme cards and then win by just drafting a non-tribal, more “optimal” archetype and win. While it’s always important to keep overall strategies in mind in cube, it’s especially important to have these strategies and incentives in mind for tribes in tribal cubes so that people are rewarded for pursuing them.
Of course, you don’t want to resort to using suboptimal cards just for tribal support. In a normal cube there isn’t enough incentive to use a card like Goblin Ringleader since a deck won’t have nearly enough goblins to make the card worthwhile, but there likely will be enough in a tribal cube. Cards like Siege-Gang Commander, Imperious Perfect, Graveborn Muse, and Coralhelm Commander are already good in “normal” cubes, and are even better in tribal cubes.
But something like Lord of Atlantis, a card that has no place in a normal cube, will be a great card in a tribal cube. Tribal-hosing cards, like Tsabo’s Decree, are suddenly more cubeworthy, but whether you choose to use them or not depends on whether they are deemed to be too powerful in that environment (which I believe to not be the case.)
If you don’t want to create another cube to satisfy both Timmy players and Spike players, there are many ways to satisfy demographics in a regular cube.
“Big effect” cards.
As mentioned earlier in the definition of a Timmy player according to MaRo, a Timmy essentially wants to “win big” as a Timmy victory is much more rooted by winning with a spell with a big effect, like Terastodon and Sundering Titan, than winning through optimizing with efficient damage sources, like Wild Dogs. When many people think of cube, they tend to think of stories centered around these types of powerful and splashy effects winning the game, such as using Venser, the Sojourner repeatedly on a Terastodon or Myr Battlesphere to create an army of tokens, winning the game with a huge X-spell, like Demonfire or Fireball, or having Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker go ultimate and ravage an opponent.
As with tribal cubes, one of the important things to do is to provide rewards for people to “go big” and get there with cards like Woodfall Primus, not having their efforts stymied by some blue mage with a couple of untapped Islands. This is because if there aren’t incentives to using these cards, people just won’t bother to use them and those cards will just be relegated to sideboards or seen as a “trap” to ensnare people who are unfamiliar with that cube to drafting a suboptimal strategy.
It’s similar to providing aggressive support to decks in cube, because if someone drafts a Isamaru but doesn’t have the proper support to enable an aggressive deck, people who draft that cube will eventually realize that aggressive strategies don’t work and thus, Isamaru will be relegated to sideboards. Obviously big effects don’t require anywhere near as much effort to support, since aggro decks work based on consistency and redundancy (an Elite Vanguard is mostly the same as Carnophage, at least in terms of overall function.)
So how do you aptly provide support for “big effect” cards?
Let’s look at Rise of the Eldrazi for comparison. It quickly became one of the most beloved recent draft environments since it supported many strategies, like U/W levelers and B/R tokens with Bloodthrone Vampire.
It’s important to aptly support mana-acceleration in your cube. The Eldrazi Spawn producers like Nest Invader, Overgrown Battlement, Growth Spasm, and Ondu Giant helped green support “big” effects like Gelatinous Genesis and the infamous Eldrazi creatures like Ulamog’s Crusher. Typically, this is not a major problem in cubes, particularly powered cubes with cards like Sol Ring, Mox Diamond. and Mana Vault, but it is nonetheless an important factor to be cognizant of in case the “big effects” aren’t working out.
Another important point is to have colors play to their strengths,making sure that colors have big finishers to ramp into. In the SWOT articles, I noted that all of the colors have non-aggressive elements that are useful to support and including cards like Terastodon and Woodfall Primus have been mentioned many times in this article because they align with the goals of what you want from Timmy effects – a hefty price but one almost certainly worth the cost.
The exact amount of these effects is something that may vary from cube to cube based on how much the desired effect is wanted, but it is always important to make sure that all avenues of cube strategy are well-represented. It’s good to have big creatures and spells to make Timmy players happy, but not so much that the overall picture of efficiency is diluted.
Build-around me cards.
Another manifestation of Timmy (or more specifically, Timmy-Johnny) in cube is through the use of “build-around” cards. That is, cards that are generally useful but are even better when the deck (and cube) provide specific support for them. Anthony Avitollo and I have talked about these types of cards on our podcast, but I will review this concept as well as discuss how they can appeal to Timmy strategies.
Cards like equipment such as Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Light and Shadow technically need support from other creatures in a deck, but this isn’t very hard to achieve in a deck since all the effort that is required is to essentially get both of these cards onto the battlefield at the same time and have the creature damage a player. There are synergistic creatures like Soltari Monk and Soltari Trooper which are nearly unblockable, almost assuring a sword trigger but these are much more in line with general card synergies than a card to specifically build around.
Build-around cards align with the Timmy victory since they provide for a unique and splashy effect to win the game (in addition to being generally efficient.) Venser, the Sojourner may be useful in a deck with a couple of cards that can take advantage of re-used triggers, but it gets better with more cards. Although this may sound obvious, the increased utility also aligns with the Timmy ideology of an impressive effect. Blink my Myr Battlesphere and then blink my Woodfall Primus next turn? Sweet!
Other build-around me cards, like Stoneforge Mystic, also align. Initially I disliked the card due to the perceived inefficiency when the card is used with only one equipment, but that is still a useful effect and cubes presently have more than enough support for Stoneforge Mystic.
I once saw someone draft a Stoneforge Mystic deck with 3 equipment along with many interesting and flashy interactions. While the deck was a good deck, it also provided for a fun and dynamic experience. Also, much like with aggressive decks, it’s important to ensure that these types of “build-around” decks are winning their matches and aren’t simply decks that end up in the loser’s bracket because even though Timmy isn’t all about winning, they still want to win.
You definitely don’t want to sell yourself on including suboptimal cards just because they are useful with other cards or that they can make for interesting stories (“I Tinkered my Darksteel Colossus and I won, isn’t that awesome?”) and a general useful rule is to ask yourself if you’d honestly play the card if it wasn’t for a interesting use or a flashy combo (like with Darksteel Colossus.)
The most important manifestation of the Timmy ideology is that when you really think about it, despite the fact that maintaining a well-balanced cube is a lot of work, the overall experience is all about having fun. The times when I’ve had the most fun playing Magic is when I’ve cubed, sharing stories about insane plays and experiences, chatting with friends and having an overall great time. Aside from personal pride, nothing’s on the line and it’s all about sharing a wonderful experience with friends and I can’t think of any other Magic experience that I’d rather be doing.
I want to thank all of you who have enjoyed reading my material. It has truly been an honor to write for this site and it has been an honor to provide content for you to read.