Cube design

Hiya, and welcome back to the Ultimate Guard blog! I’ve enjoyed getting to tell timeless tales about Magic, and today we are kicking off a whole week of content about one of my favorite formats of all time - Cube!

I’ve been an avid Cuber since 2005 or so, and over the last few years it’s skyrocketed to the top of my power rankings. Today, I’m going to go over the four most important points of Cube design, for those looking to build a Cube or tune their current one. Of course, you ultimately are the master of your own destiny when it comes to your cube, so take these as the suggestions they are.

For reference, this is the current MTGO Vintage Cube, and I think it’s in a really good spot.

4) Don’t Include Any Traps

This is a big one - you will often be cubing with people who haven’t played your cube before, and it’s important you don’t ambush them. What I mean by “no traps” is that you support all the build-around cards in your Cube. For example, don’t include Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker without also including Deceiver Exarch - you don’t want players to first pick Kiki and then find out there’s no support. This also extends to not having enough cards in a particular theme, like having Reanimate and Animate Dead, but failing to provide enough discard outlets.

If you can avoid any traps, the draft experience for both new and veteran cubers will be much improved.

Reanimate  Animate Dead

3) Have Enough Fixing - But Not Too Much

Mana fixing is important, since you do want players to be able to play their spells, but it is possible to go overboard. I like the proportions in the current MTGO Cube, though we’ve liked adding Triomes as well. There are more cycles of lands than you can include in any Cube, so depending on whether you’re doing Vintage, Legacy, Modern or whatever, here are the cycles I’ve liked (in order).

  1. Alpha Dual Lands
  2. Ravnica Shocklands
  3. Onslaught/Zendikar Fetchlands
  4. Triomes
  5. Fastlands (Seachrome Coast etc)
  6. Slowlands (Stormcarved Coast etc)

You can definitely include painlands, filter lands, or any other cycle that fits your cube best, but I’ve liked the above lands as a baseline.

Having around 80 out of 540 cards be lands has been good in my experience - it lets players have good mana if they prioritize it, but doesn’t make it free to just play all the colors.

2) Have Defined Archetypes

Archetypes are integral to making the draft portion exciting, and lead to great game experiences as well. Archetypes can be big or small, and sometimes just a couple cards can really change how the cube feels. I like having an overarching theme for each color pair (RB Sacrifice, UW Blink, UR Spells, etc), as well as archetypes like Reanimator, Kiki Combo, Sneak Attack, Storm, etc. Here are some of my favorite Vintage Cube archetypes, many of which can be ported to other formats.

Kiki Combo - Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Deceiver Exarch, Pestermite, Zealous Conscripts, Restoration Angel

Reanimator - Animate Dead, Entomb, Necromancy, Recurring Nightmare, Reanimate, Putrid Imp

Sneak Attack - Sneak Attack, Through the Breach, Eldrazi

Artifacts - Urza, Urza’s Saga, Metalworker, Tezzeret, Upheaval, Karn

Karn Liberated

1) Play The Cards You Think Are Fun

This is a controversial one, as many people are on the page of not using fun level to determine what’s in the Cube. I think that’s crazy, since the whole point is to have fun, and we have cut plenty of cards from our Cube that didn’t lead to games we enjoyed. Where that line is can vary for everyone, but some examples are cards like Bribery or Hullbreacher, which we just didn’t enjoy playing with. Likewise, adding pet cards is not only good, but I’d encourage you to do it. Riftwing Cloudskate has lasted a lot longer in our Cube than strict power level would imply, because I just love the card.

Riftwing Cloudskate

At the end of the day, it’s your cube, and you ultimately should design it to play the way you want it to. Best of luck, and enjoy the cubing!

Author: Luis Scott-Vargas

Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, Member of Team CFBUltimateGuard

Luis is one of the most accomplished players in Magic: the Gathering history. His journey with Magic began in 1994, when he and his friend Seth bought a starter deck of Revised and two packs of The Dark each. Little did he know that this was a life-defining moment, as once he opened a Fire Elemental and Wrath of God, he was hooked. Learn more about Luis.