Welcome to Cube week on Channel Fireball!
As the youngest (in terms of Magic playing) writer on the site I probably have the least experience with Cube. However, this does allow me to see the format through fresh eyes and I can remember when, in the not-so-distant past, I had no idea what Cube was. Therefore I will be taking the role of explaining what Cube is and why you should try it out.
What is Cube?
About 18 months ago I read an article about the most recent Magic Cruise. In this was included a piece about a format called Cube. Apparently this was a popular format on the trip (and in general) but I had never even heard of it.
I tried to glean from the article what it was about. The image I ended up with was of a large (approximately 2ft x 2ft x 2ft) clear, perspex cube into which you put any Magic cards you liked. Then you would “draft” from said Cube. Don't get be wrong I had heard of Draft but never from something other than booster packs. So I was at a loss to what that meant. Perhaps you rummaged through the whole Cube until you found just the card you wanted to pick? Or maybe there was a slot in the bottom for cards to fall out of and you shook it until one fell out and that was your pick?
Needless to say I was completely confused. As this didn't seem to be a competitive (or understandable) format I put it to the back of my mind.
TSG to the rescue!
At PT Philadelphia I didn't make day 2 but I did get to know TSG. He invited me to play with his Cube. Drawing on my previous knowledge of the format I was surprised to be presented with a sleek wooden box containing two rows of neatly sleeved cards–670 in total.
After gathering four other interested people we took out some cards at random and made three piles of 14 each–in other words three boosters! Finally, drafting from the Cube made sense. The idea of using loose cards to form boosters to draft with was not something I had seen before and yet it is so obvious once you seen it that it would never occurred to someone to explain it for a person new to the concept.
We then did a normal draft with our ad hoc boosters.
There you have it. Nothing mysterious or complicated. Just a limited format with different cards.
So why do people play it? And, more importantly, why should you?
Well, there are a lot of different reasons why Cube is a good addition to your Magic diet. I'm sure lots of the articles this week will touch on many different aspects of this but I want to use my time to talk about what a newer player can gain from Cube.
1. Practicing Draft Archetypes
Draft formats hang around for 3 months at a time. Each time a new format comes out everyone has to learn the new strategies. What cards are good, what colours work well together, what synergies together, etc. etc.
PT Honolulu was one week after the release of Dark Ascension. Since Pro Tours are mixed format, that gives you about two weeks after the release of the full spoiler to discover the awesome new Constructed deck and master the Draft format. If that sounds easy then you should try it sometime. Pressure on your time is very high. However, you can make you life easier if you are capable of stepping back from the precise Draft format in question and can simply analyse cards that are good for a given draft archetype. This will given you an edge in the upcoming event.
What I'm getting at is that a good way to improve at Magic is to learn how to Draft, not how to Draft a particular set. This way you can apply basic principles to any Draft format you happen upon.
Cube can provide you with this opportunity. Cubes such as TSG's include a good mix of cards that enable a person to draft any number of strategies (see here for his list). For example, my very first Cube Draft was Esper control. I took powerful finishers, removal, tempo effects and card draw. I'd never drafted a control deck in Limited but discovered I could base my picks of what I had seen in Constructed decks that did what I wanted to achieve.
I also discovered the joys of fast mana when I used Mox Diamond to power into a Phyrexian Arena on turn two. Sadly said enchantment was also my downfall that game. I went 2-1 in that particular Draft and was addicted.
I remember doing about four drafts that day. All of them as control but I watched my opponents play Mid-Range, Aggro, Ramp and even Combo against me. I learned a lot more about Limited that day than doing online Drafts of the current format.
2. Playing with cards you haven't before
This is definitely a point for the newer player like myself. Cubes can include cards from any set of the makers desire. This means your booster may include Cloistered Youth, Greater Gargadon and Mox Pearl. Thanks to Cube I have now cast and used a Black Lotus and I have to say it was a pretty awesome feeling.
It's fun getting to play with the cards you've heard whispered about or seen in the Eternal formats and discovering for yourself their true power in the right deck.
3. Design your own Cube!
I've talked mostly about TSG's Cube. I'm sure he will be having his say about it this week, as I can't imagine him not getting a word in about his favourite archetype. I've used TSG's as an example as it exemplifies a good, rounded Cube which allows players to take many different strategies while allowing powerful cards to be played and enjoyed.
However, I was interested to discover the designing you own Cube is not as simple as taking good cards and putting them in a box.
Recently I drafted a different Cube designed by someone else (no, I'm not going to name names). There were powerful cards including the Power 9, like Tristan's. But something felt different. I couldn't put my finger on it straight away but it finally occurred to me that everything was powerful, too powerful. All the decks felt dumb. There was less reward for drafting an archetype well and it became more about who drew and played the biggest, most broken card.
My point here is not to belittle the other Cube or inflate Tristan's ego. But that, if you are interested in a career in game design then I would try putting a Cube together. Balancing the colours and strategies so everyone can have a piece of pie is an important skill for the would-be designer. You will definitely have play test volunteers at your local store and everyone will benefit from your hard work and dedication!
I have not put a Cube together myself. I would like to and I am definitely hoping to pick up some tips from Cube week on this topic.
Whilst I have focused on general Cubes in this article, I'm sure it has occurred to you by now that you could design theme Cubes. I have heard of Combo and Pauper as themes which have been built around. The person who was talking about their Combo Cube talked about the difficulty of not making Storm the best strategy as his original design just let it dominate. Cube provided this player with experience of balancing mechanics to make his game enjoyable by all who played.
What other Cube themes are there? As a newer player I really haven't got into the world of Cube so I'd love to hear about your Cube designs and/or experiences. If you haven't played Cube before ask around at your local store to find out if someone has one. People don't make these things to collect dust but rather to be played and enjoyed so I'm sure they'd be happy to let you play.
Alternatively, Magic Online recently ran Cube Drafts for a weekend, as you can see from all the videos being uploaded this week. These were very popular so I'm sure it will be back in the not so distant future.
That's all from me on Cube. I hope I have convinced you to try it out. If you have your Cube at a tournament don't be afraid to ask me to join in! I rarely get the opportunity to play, but I'd love to play more and meet more people. Until next week.