I recently moved from Germany to Scotland, and this week took a trip back to Berlin to collect some things I’d left there in storage. Among the various treasures I uncovered, I found an old deck box I’d almost forgotten I ever owned, and inside was a little experiment I began a few years ago.
This experiment came out of my love of playing Cube. I have a Cube of my own—replete with silly cards like Booster Tutor and Rules Lawyer—but hauling it around is highly impractical, let alone finding enough people with which to draft. As a result, I decided to put together 100 commons and make a mini-Cube—a “Cuboid”—designed for 2-player games.
I liked it because not only did the whole thing cost under $30 to make, it meant that I could easily take it to PTs and GPs and snap off little games here and there very easily. It’s perfect for between-round downtime at FNM, and can be used to play a huge variety of different game types. Before I go into the different ways I like to play it, here is the list of cards.
The whole design is pretty rough around the edges, and obviously includes some weird choices (Ampryn Tactician? Aven Surveyor?). I’ve found, however, that it’s perfect for what I wanted it for—quick, casual matches across a huge number of game types when you’ve got a little bit of time to kill and a fellow wizard looking to battle. All you need is your Cuboid and occasionally some basics to go with it—then you’re all set.
Let’s go through my favorite ways to play with the common Cuboid!
One of the primary reasons I built the Cuboid was to play Mental Magic. The basic rule of Mental Magic is very similar, and is printed with eloquent brevity on the Unhinged card Richard Garfield, PhD: “You may play cards as though they were other Magic cards of your choice with the same mana cost. You can’t choose the same card twice.”
This means that you can cast Doom Blade as Dark Confidant, or Kor Skyfisher as Balance. It also explains the Ampryn Tactician (Gideon, Elspeth, Day of Judgment) and Aven Surveyor (Force of Will). Depending on how deep you want to go, you can also dredge Darkblast (Vendetta), regrow Squee, Goblin Nabob (Act of Treason), or even reanimate Akuta, Born of Ash (Evincar’s Justice)!
You can play any card face down from your hand as a land with all basic land types, which is handy when you’re stuck with cards you can’t think of a good use for. For those new to Mental Magic, I suggest only allowing the Modern or even the Standard card pool, but once you’re familiar with it, open things up and start using Evolving Wilds as a Library of Alexandria or a Ponder as Ancestral Recall!
This format is impossible to play perfectly and hard to play even remotely well. Games can take a long time as both players wrack their brains to think of the perfect card—it’s not a format for fast-paced players, so if it doesn’t work for you, no worries! There are plenty of other formats to try.
One last piece of advice: Never play Mental Magic with Joel Larsson, as he will crush you mercilessly.
A format that requires a little more time invested into it is Grid Draft. In this format, you lay out nine cards in a 3×3 grid. One player chooses a row or column and adds those three cards to their card pool, then the second player does the same with the remaining 3×2 grid (they may only end up with two cards if there’s a particularly juicy pickup).
Agree beforehand if you’re going to keep your picks face-up or face-down. Generally, the larger the skill gap between players, the better off you are keeping picks revealed. Once you’ve gotten through 11 grids, build a 40-card deck using your pool and some basic lands, and you’re off!
Some general advice: Prioritize mana fixing. You’ll often play 3 colors, and anything that allows you to splash even a fourth color is welcome. Additionally, your deck will usually seem like a total garbage fire, but remember, your opponent is generally in a similar position!
Finally, while I prefer Grid Drafting, it’s also good fun to Winston Draft the Cuboid.
Off-the-Top is very simple indeed, and makes it very easy to churn through short, swingy games that aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. Players have infinite mana, start with one card in hand, and draw from the same deck. This leads to silly games where you draw Carnivorous Moss-Beast and immediately have an arbitrarily large creature, or ones where you draw Mana Leak and question all your life choices.
This format is perfect for a situation where you’re not sure how much time you’ll have to invest in a “proper” game. For example, while waiting for pairings at a GP. To give it more of a competitive feel, you can also try playing to a certain number of match wins. I find seven to be a good amount. Remember, however, that this format really can’t be taken seriously if you want to enjoy it, so when they draw Evincar’s Justice, just take your licks and move onto the next game.
A useful house rule is to allow players to cycle away cards that do nothing other than produce or fix mana. For example, Sphere of the Suns, Wayfarer’s Bauble, or any lands. There’s an important exception to this rule, however. To maximize the salt, you can’t cycle any card your opponent put on top of the shared library with something like Preordain!
With Pai Gow Magic being a relatively new format, I haven’t had the chance to play it with the Cuboid, but there’s no reason to suggest it won’t work. For best results, deal out 15 cards and make 5 piles to make a clear best-of-five victor more likely. I really like the inclusion of useless cards like Mind Stone and Ponder in formats like Pai Gow, as it makes for much sillier situations and better stories afterward!
There are any number of other ways to play with the Cuboid. I’ve played Judge Tower (“Danish Magic”), 50-Card Sealed (it sucked and Matej destroyed me anyway), and even Blackjack (weird, but good for a laugh). If you find yourself with time to spare at Magic events and need a quick, easy, and portable way to have fun, you should think about building a Cuboid yourself!
There’s no reason to stick to my list (Nessian Asp and Faith’s Fetters are in there just so I can blink Thragtusk with Restoration Angel)—include your favorite commons from throughout Magic’s history, and get the ball rolling! Best of all, this doesn’t require much of a financial investment. Between any leftover Draft chaff and the price of most commons, a Cuboid shouldn’t cost you more than thirty bucks.
Now that my Cuboid is back out of storage, I’ll be looking to update it with cards from more recent sets (I don’t know how much longer poor old Ampryn Tactician is going to last—sorry, old mate). I’d love to hear your thoughts. What should the first steps to updating my Cuboid be?