What if Cubes were seen not as a collection of Magic's most powerful cards, but as a display of Wizards' best design philosophies?

That's the question I am seeking to answer with my new Cube, a Cube built from the ground up with synergies, interactions, and overlapping archetypes in mind. Unfortunately, it's a rather difficult question to address. Wizards has 20 years of Magic design experience under their belt, and the components that make their Limited environments succeed or fail aren't immediately evident. Although your average FNM player may be able to pick out the game's most powerful red 1-drops from a lineup without much difficulty, understanding what makes great sets like Rise of the Eldrazi or Innistrad tick is another challenge altogether.

Moreover, not one to take the easy road, I wanted to build a Limited environment that could field the following creatures in an interactive way:

[draft]Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Artisan of Kozilek
Ulamog's Crusher[/draft]

Ramp is a classic example of an archetype that is least interesting in its most powerful state. My first ChannelFireball article railed on the MTGO Cube for inclusion of glass cannon combos like [card]Channel[/card]/[card]Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre[/card], which really scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of game design and fail to create compelling games of Magic.

The super-ramp archetype is a difficult one to properly bake into a Limited environment, and it's unsurprising that Wizards has only attempted it once. In order to create interactive games, Wizards went with creature-based as opposed to spell-based ramp. Eldrazi Spawn tokens rank among the most innovative and interactive mechanics Wizards has printed. The Spawn tokens served as a novel resource-management system that could be pressured by the opponent via attacking, or assaulted directly via removal spells.

Spawn token ramp decks are resource-intensive and vulnerable to any number of effects: [card]Mind Rot[/card]-style discard effects, counterspells, and mass removal to name a few. Further, we have to build our environment to create overlapping demand for cards like Eldrazi Spawn producers that enable the ramp decks.

Lastly, although we already have large Eldrazi creatures and Spawn tokens in our Cube design, I don't intend to simply recreate Rise of the Eldrazi. I want to create something unique for my drafters, and imbue it with a touch of whimsy. Welcome to the Eldrazi Domain Cube.

Morbid on Demand

[draft]Nest Invader
Pawn of Ulamog
Corpsehatch
Emrakul's Hatcher
Rapacious One
Kozilek's Predator
Growth Spasm
Awakening Zone[/draft]

When creating a set, one of the best ways to ensure interactive drafting mechanics is to bake in competing demand for resources. I touched on this in The Poison Principle, and here's a great example of putting it into practice. Even if you have no intention of ramping, players can draft Spawn token creators to turn on morbid and sacrifice effects.

[draft]Tragic Slip
Morkrut Banshee
Reaper from the Abyss
Gruesome Discovery
Brimstone Volley
Woodland Sleuth
Festerhide Boar
Hollowhenge Scavenger
Caravan Vigil
Hunger of the Howlpack[/draft]

Further we have all sorts of other creative ways to trigger morbid.

Echo

[draft]Bone Shredder
Ghitu Slinger
Keldon Champion
Mogg War Marshal[/draft]

Sacrificial Ramp

[draft]Sakura-Tribe Elder
Yavimaya Elder
Ashnod's Altar[/draft]

Five-Color Funfest

Now, the keen observer would note that although we have plenty of overlap between the above themes, we also have a bit of an incestuous Jund party on our hands. Here's where we start to spice things up. One of the inherent constraints of the format is that we need the environment to be sufficiently slow to accommodate ramp decks that are using weaker cards like [card]Kozilek's Predator[/card]. The strength of the Spawn token producers anchors the speed of our format, and although we can and will bolster the ramp archetypes with the likes of first-pickable cards like [card]Primeval Titan[/card] and [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], our environment will need to be slower than a traditional Cube.

One of the ways to slow down a draft format is the inclusion of a multicolor focus. To kick things off, we turn to everyone's favorite five-color tribe:

[draft]Mulldrifter
Aethersnipe
Briarhorn
Faultgrinder
Inner-Flame Acolyte
Reveillark
Shriekmaw
Spitebellows
Walker of the Grove[/draft]

Evoke plays incredibly well with morbid, although these cards tend to hold their own without the presence of additional synergies. Here we have an opportunity to build in a new archetype with just a few anchors.

[draft]Horde of Notions
Flamekin Harbinger
Smokebraider[/draft]

Most often players will simply run their [card]Shriekmaw[/card]s and [card]Mulldrifter[/card]s in whatever deck they were already building, but on occasion you can go deep on Elementals and be rewarded with a card like [card]Horde of Notions[/card]. Even in a non-dedicated Elemental deck, [card]Flamekin Harbinger[/card] is perfectly serviceable as a toolbox that tutors relevant cards to the top of your library.

Cheating Librarian

Speaking of manipulating the top of the library, one of the blue subthemes involves cheating things into play with the following creatures:

[draft]Djinn of Wishes
Conundrum Sphinx[/draft]

These two are relatively efficient bodies on their own, but can pull off some incredible plays in concert with library manipulation.

[draft]Worldly Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Mystical Tutor
Brainstorm
Sensei's Divining Top[/draft]

Blue's Domain

Blue's primary role in this Cube is serving as host to the domain theme.

[draft]Evasive Action
Worldly Counsel
Allied Strategies
Collective Restraint
Samite Pilgrim
Tribal Flames
Matca Rioters[/draft]

Although I haven't mentioned it explicitly, this Cube runs multiple copies of several cards. In this case, that includes four copies of [card]Evasive Action[/card], along with a pair of [card]Worldly Counsel[/card]s and [card]Tribal Flames[/card]. When you build a theme, it's important to properly incentivize drafters to dive into it. Magic's history isn't rich with domain-reward cards, so to pull the theme off properly, breaking singleton is a must.

Additionally, when designing a set, it's important to get design space mileage out of your bread-and-butter effects like burn spells, counterspells, and card draw. We could easily replace the [card]Evasive Action[/card]s with an assortment of generic spells like [card]Memory Lapse[/card], [card]Mana Leak[/card], [card]Remand[/card], and [card]Counterspell[/card], but we rob ourselves of design space for pushing additional themes and archetypes.

Note that since we have a multicolor focus already (more of that to come), these domain spells aren't all that narrow. Most decks will be fielding at least three colors, allowing [card]Evasive Action[/card] to do a [card]Mana Leak[/card] impression or [card]Tribal Flames[/card] to imitate [card]Volcanic Hammer[/card]. Even [card]Worldly Counsel[/card] gives you the better part of an [card]Impulse[/card] in a three-color deck.

Domain gives blue a real identity, and a natural way to incentivize the blue drafter to reach into other colors. Further, we create overlapping demand for cards like [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card] that live in the intersection of ramp and domain enabling.

As an anchor for the five-color blue decks we have:

[draft]Bringer of the Blue Dawn[/draft]

Token Disaster

White proved to be the most challenging aspect of the design. Originally the intention had been to link white to the other colors via token production and Return to Ravnica's populate mechanic. The results were abysmal.

“Dear God, my movie Cube is the worst piece of crap I have ever seen in my entire life. How could I have been so blind? It’s a self-indulgent, adolescent mess. I can barely sit through it, and now with all this hype, I’ve got a real Snakes on a Plane brewing.”
- Abed Nadir

It turns out that draft environments are rather precarious, and too much of a given element can ruin the whole batch. Here, the combination of Edrazi Spawn tokens with other token producers led to some major board stalls. To compound the matter, even the airways were clogged as players ran out [card]Spectral Procession[/card], [card]Midnight Haunting[/card], and [card]Eyes in the Skies[/card]. Further, nobody was ever really populating Eldrazi Spawn tokens, so the theme didn't even tie that well to that mechanic.

The whole thing was a mess.

It was also a mess with some serious upside. Tokens are a pretty frequent component of Magic's design, and now that our set cares about specific effects, I was finding tons of fantastic cards that fill multiple roles:

[draft]Quest for the Gravelord
Zektar Shrine Expedition
Brindle Shoat
Phyrexian Rebirth
Skirsdag High Priest
Walker of the Grove
Beast Within
Rapid Hybridization[/draft]

Ultimately I scrapped almost all the white cards that produce multiple tokens, as well as most of the populate triggers. Although the idea seems rather obviously terrible in retrospect, the truth is that design is an iterative process. It's difficult to know a priori whether a set will result in board stalls or how the games will feel. Every time we playtest this Cube I walk away with dozens of ideas for card and archetype changes. Part of the fun is watching the evolution.

White's New Identity

Rather than provide multiple bodies with a single card, white's new role involves pumping armies via anthem effects. This forces a white drafter to reach out to other colors for best effect, as the Spawn tokens are created elsewhere.

[draft]Mirror Entity
Archangel of Thune
Ajani Goldmane
Sublime Archangel
Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/draft]

As an alternate use for pump effects, I provide a sprinkling of double strike:

[draft]Fencing Ace
Silverblade Paladin[/draft]

Multicolor Matters Aggro

As part of the multicolor focus, I include a double dose of each of the following:

[draft]Bant Sureblade
Esper Stormblade
Grixis Grimblade
Jund Hackblade[/draft]

In addition to the usual assortment of gold cards, thanks to Return to Ravnica block we now have a critical mass of hybrid permanents that can get the blade cycle online.

[draft]Judge's Familiar
Augury Adept
Rakdos Cackler
Tattermunge Maniac
Burning-Tree Emissary
Dryad Militant
Rhys the Redeemed
Deathrite Shaman
Nivmagus Elemental
Figure of Destiny
Boros Reckoner
Duergar Hedge-Mage
Gift of Orzhova
Nightveil Specter[/draft]

The blade cards create interesting deckbuilding and gameplay constraints, as well as adding a layer of complexity to the attack phase, as instant-speed removal can become a blowout combat trick. They have been surprisingly fun to play with and against, and allow for some explosive openings. Last draft an opponent tutored for a turn 3 [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] with [card]Green Sun's Zenith[/card], then dropped a hasty [card]Jund Hackblade[/card] to the table with the resulting mana.

Proliferate Aggro & Ramp & Tokens

Oddly, a theme that tied together several of the sets themes is proliferate.

[draft]Tezzeret's Gambit
Volt Charge
Contagion Clasp
Grim Affliction
Fuel for the Cause
Thrummingbird[/draft]

I only include a small peppering of proliferate cards, and most of them are usable at this Cube's power level without any explicit synergies.

[card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card]
[card]Ajani Goldmane[/card]
[card]Student of Warfare[/card]
[card]Parallax Wave[/card]
[card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card]
[card]Enclave Cryptologist[/card]
[card]Coralhelm Commander[/card]
[card]Ludevic's Test Subject[/card]
[card]Guul Draz Assassin[/card]
[card]Mortician Beetle[/card]
[card]Thrill-Kill Assassin[/card]
[card]Quest for the Gravelord[/card]
[card]Black Sun's Zenith[/card]
[card]Rakdos Cackler[/card]
[card]Stromkirk Noble[/card]
[card]Gore-House Chainwalker[/card]
[card]Keldon Marauders[/card]
[card]Splatter-Thug[/card]
[card]Taurean Mauler[/card]
[card]Experiment One[/card]
[card]Gyre Sage[/card]
[card]Champion of Lambholt[/card]
[card]Renegade Krasis[/card]
[card]Festerhide Boar[/card]
[card]Animar, Soul of Elements[/card]
[card]Everflowing Chalice[/card]
[card]Pentad Prism[/card]
[card]Gemstone Mine[/card]

X-Spells

Lastly, a great way to smooth out the draws in an environment with a heavy ramp component is to include x-spells that scale throughout the game.

[draft]Slime Molding
Genesis Wave
Green Sun's Zenith
Devil's Play
Profane Command
Black Sun's Zenith
Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Chimeric Mass[/draft]

Wrap-Up

This Cube is still very much a work in progress. For the interested, you can find my complete Cube list here, along with hundreds of posts in design notes.

Although I will continue to iterate and improve this Cube's design, perhaps the most interesting takeaways from this experiment were the lessons learned about Magic's design. I'll cover those starting in my next article. For now, I leave you with some of the sweeter cards from the Eldrazi Domain Cube. How many interactions can you find?

[draft]Furnace Celebration
Myr Superion
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Ogre Battledriver
Rosheen Meanderer
Fierce Empath
Eternal Dragon
Spellbound Dragon
Undying Evil
Crypt Ghast
Etched Monstrosity
Composite Golem
Eldrazi Monument
Civic Saber[/draft]

Thanks for reading!

Jason's Cube Design Site - http://riptidelab.com/