For those who have never drafted a cube, the premise is pretty simple. You typically gather 360+ cards and redraft them over and over. You randomize the pool and remake packs each time, with a pile of basic lands available for everyone to build a deck with.
The Basics of Cubing
I have recently fallen back in love with cubing. I actually built a cube about 5 years ago after playing another friend's cube and having a lot of fun. Sadly, he pieced it out and sold a lot of the more valuable cards. Thus, my playgroup switched our focus to Modern, Legacy, and Commander and let our limited skills deteriorate.
But just as Magic as a whole has a tendency to pull people back in who step away, the same phenomenon seems to occur with individual formats. Recently, I had a new coworker join our design team and he mentioned that he enjoyed playing Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic. I mentioned it to my playgroup and we invited him to come play some Commander. After a couple weeks he mentioned how much he missed his friend's cube, which reminded me of my own. So began my rekindled love of an old flame.
I grew up playing an Elf lifegain deck of my own design for my first 2 years of casual tabletop games. My favorite creature was Serra Avatar. My favorite standard environment was Return to Ravnica/Innistrad block, which was full of battlecruiser-style Jund decks.
So my cube plays a lot of ramp and big creatures. One can build an aggro deck, but it may struggle if you don't draw really well against an average midrange deck. This is actually one complaint I have had: my love of big spells has led to a lot of slow games where less play skill is required and more "my creature is bigger than yours" happens.
Admittedly, another problem I have run into is "trimming" my cube back. The Magic: the Gathering card pool increases by over 1000 cards per year, and undoubtedly at least some of those will be cube-worthy. I have a tendency to add more cards than I remove, and thus my cube gets bloated and cumbersome to carry around.
A Cube Is an Extension of Yourself
While personal preferences can and should play a role in what deck(s) are chosen to play in any given format, if one expects to do well in a tournament, concessions must be made to the metagame. A cube is different in that it is the entire card pool for the format, and can therefore include anything. That being said, a good cube owner knows that balance is critical for a fun cubing experience.
My playgroup brought up an issue with my cube in that I included cards to make a strong reanimator deck, but lacked good answers to that particular strategy. So my newest additions are Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Soul-Guide Lantern, Scavenging Ooze, and Containment Priest. As these are all powerful solutions that can serve to balance the format.
Another issue that was brought up was a lack of good planeswalker answers. This is an even bigger issue because unchecked planeswalkers can often take over a game quickly. White and black tend to already have decent answers with cards like Oblivion Ring and Hero's Downfall. Red can use burn damage to kill them, but it may require multiple spells to deal with a planeswalker when their loyalty gets high. The biggest challenge was for green and blue, as neither has a lot of cards that can directly deal with planeswalkers. Green does have cards like Beast Within and even Desert Twister. Blue is more likely forced to bounce them or counter them on the way down.
The last issue my playgroup has found is one I'm not really willing to adjust. I dislike games that end with one player color-screwed, so my cube includes a copy of all 10 dual lands, all 10 fetch lands, all 10 shocklands, and now all 10 triomes. Ironically, it's the triomes that seem to cause the biggest concern, as the combination of fetch and triome is so powerful that splashing has virtually no cost, and it's very easy to play a four- or even five-color deck by grabbing a few fetches and a single triome. That being said, I love having them in the cube, and currently have no desire to remove them.
Making your own cube forces you to think like a Magic set designer, making sure you have not just powerful cards, but answers to them. It also reminds you that people enjoy different playstyles and archetypes, and a good cube caters to as many of these as possible. Picking cards that fit into multiple archetypes or playstyles is key.
Cubists actually have more effect on card values than one might initially think. While they typically only need a single copy of any given card, this typically inspires many to get the coolest version of the card. This leaves some financial opportunities when Standard rotation occurs. The cards that were powerful enough to dominate in Standard but lack the power needed to jump to Modern and don't find a home in Commander are where you may find your diamonds in the rough.
Questing Beast is a good example of a fantastic cube card that is snubbed by Commander and Modern. Indeed, it is a card I need to add to my own cube, as it is a fantastic answer to planeswalkers in green.
Not surprisingly, Oko proved to be a problem in most formats and was subsequently banned from Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Pioneer. One would expect a card banned in most formats and not on the reserved list would be worth very little; however, that is obviously not the case. While Oko can be found in some Commander builds, he is far from an auto-include in green/blue decks. But he remains a major Cube powerhouse and typically lands in the top 25 first-pickable cards.
In a similar vein to Oko, we have Lurrus, who also found himself smashed by the banhammer in most formats and yet maintains a price far from bulk. Lurrus is nowhere near a top Cube pick, though, so his value is far lower than Oko's.
A Doorway to the Past
I have been playing Magic since 1997. I was lucky enough to play with some of Magic's iconic cards while they were still in Type II, the format now known as Standard. I have found cubing to be a good way to relive some of that joy from my youth and let others experience cards they never knew existed. I can honestly say that brings a different, but equally powerful, joy with it. I will continue to curate and improve my cube, waiting for the day I get to include my son in a draft and watch his face light up when he sees so many cards that are older than him.
I hope that those who have read this article enjoyed it. I know that a lot of people love playing in drafts and other Limited formats. I hope that those who have never cubed before consider trying it. And for those of you who do, what's your number one cube card?