Since there was always some interest in my self-designed cubes, as well as in my thoughts about them (a little interest, but quite constant), I’ll keep writing about them on 00zero – or more precise: I’ll start anew to write about them. If you’re also interested in designing your own cubes (please note the vast difference between actually designing a cube and simply throwing a bunch of favorite cards together), you might want to follow my entries about this topic.
Instead of linking to my old entries on Zeromagic, I’ll give you an overview here about what exactly I’m doing (a few things have changed in the meanwhile). (If you can read German, however, you might want to look up an old PlanetMTG article of mine, where I explain the specifics of and my motivation for my self-designed limited environments in great detail: Selbstgemachte Limitedumgebungen. While not all what’s in there is still up to date, you will find a lot food for thought, and a couple of cubes I designed back then.)
Let me start with the play format I design my cubes for:
Zweidritteldraft (Two-Thirds Draft)
I never found the idea of organizing private cube drafts for 8 players appealing. Apart from space and time considerations, I wanted my cube drafts to be a gaming afternoon/evening with some friends, while 8 people felt more like a party. 4 people seems the perfect number to me for all kinds of reasons, with one important exception: Normal drafting does not work with 4 people. I had to tailor a draft variant which works well with that number, and that meant balancing a lot of factors: The size of the cube; the frequency of cards showing up, the number of cards players would end up with after drafting, how often a person would see the same booster… I won’t go into details here, but this is the best solution I came up with (and it works pretty well):
The size of my draft pools is 192 cards, making up 16 12-card boosters. The size of my cubes is obviously at least 192, but usually bigger, so that cards show up with different frequencies. My default right now is 384 cards, of which 192 are commons, of which 2/3 will be used each draft; 128 are uncommons, of which 1/3 will be used; and 64 are rares, of which also 1/3 will be used. (The difference between uncommons and rares is for booster collation only.) That means each booster contains 8 commons, 3 uncommons and 1 rare.
There are 4 booster rounds, 2 in each direction, alternating. Boosters are passed and cards are picked as usual, with an important exception: Once every player has picked two cards from a booster, the 4 remaining cards are set aside facedown (hence the term „two-thirds-draft“). Thus, at the end of the draft each player will have 32 drafted cards at their disposition. Of course, they may use basic lands in addition to construct their decks (I hand each player a box with 15 of each basic land, but there is no important reason for that restriction). As in normal drafts, minimum deck size is 40, and cards not in the maindeck constitute the player’s sideboard. In three rounds of play everyone is paired against everyone else once in best-of-three matches.
I also use two house rules concerning gameplay in my cube drafts:
1. Starting hand and maximum hand size is 8 instead of 7. While this would obviously be a problematic change for constructed, as well as for certain kinds of cubes, I found that on the typical limited power level this is an all-upside change, reducing the number and impact of mulligans, and thus vastly reducing the number of non-games, while having no adverse effect on gameplay or deckbuilding whatsoever (specifically, it’s no reasonable incentive to change your mana distribution). Note, though, that my cubes on principle neither allow for combo decks, nor contain single cards in search for which you’d want to mulligan. Also, they contain no cards which refer to the number of cards in a player’s hand, although I don’t think this would be too big an issue.
2. Players are not required to keep their graveyard in the correct order. I do not use cards which care about graveyard order, and thus there is just no need.
Other than that, I follow the official rules of Magic, even though I don’t like several changes which were made over the last years (I especially hate the loss of putting damage on the stack, which ruined a large number of interesting interactions in limited), since they are the only reasonable basis to play Magic with a changing roster of people.
So, this is what I intend my cubes to use for. Now, for my construction guidelines:
Next Level Cubes
Initially, I refused to call my self-designed limited environments „cubes“ at all, because they were so fundamentally different from what most people expected when they heard that term. While the probably most popular cube, the MTGO Cube / Holiday Cube, is still a shining example for everything I do NOT want, usage of the word has broadened somewhat in the meanwhile to the point where it encompasses what I’m doing, and so I adopted it. I call my cubes „next level“, though, to underscore the point that they are consciously designed and meticulously structured, and not just a collection of „interesting“ cards. Here’s a number of things which are important to me:
1. The cube should resemble a typical limited environment, not constructed, in both power level and draft approach.
2. The environment must be beginner-friendly, yet reward superior play and draft skills.
3. Gameplay should be interactive, and there must be no nearly impossible to beat bombs.
4. There need to be many relevant draft decisions, and they should go beyond simply selecting your colors and choosing between an overall aggressive or defensive approach.
To achieve these goals, I developed certain tools and follow certain restrictions. Among the most important of those are the following:
1. I use a distribution of cards in my cubes which closely resembles the structure of a generic draft deck. This means well over 50% creatures, with ratios of mana slots akin to those of a good mana curve; enough good answers to strong threats; few situational cards; and no real unplayables at all. It also means there needs to be the right amount of manafixing.
2. I avoid cards exceeding a certain power level. I also make sure there are enough answers for all kinds of threats, while at the same time making sure that these answers are overall useful enough that they can reasonably be maindecked.
3. I weave a couple of themes into my cubes to allow players to find synergies. I’m conscious of the necessary density minimum of cards with this theme in the cube.
4. My cubes should possess enough variety that drafting doesn’t get stale after a couple of drafts. They’re not supposed to last for eternity, but should be fun for a dozen times or so.
5. As is customary for cubes, I do not want more than a single copy of each card in it to promote variety.
To build my cubes, I draw from a reservoir of cards I keep for this purpose: My limited card pool.
My Limited Card Pool
See, my limited card pool are the last Magic cards I keep around – okay, nearly the last, there’s always a few more – since I stopped playing competitively and gave up on constructing casual decks. To resist any temptation to start playing constructed again, as well as minimizing space requirements and financial resources tied up in cards, but also to keep cube-building manageable without having to dig through needlessly large stacks, I only want cards in this limited pool which I am positive I will actually want to use in a cube someday, avoiding close functional repeats and minimizing the amount of cards in my pool in general.
My card pool is now up-to-date including Theros (at least in theory; I still need to physically acquire a number of cards). You can look at it by opening the xls file at the bottom of this entry. I will explain my selections in a couple further entries for those who are interested in the rationale behind my selections.
About the list: First column lists the name, second the converted mana cost (# for lands; x is considered 0), third color (for practical cube-building purposes) and card category (L = land, K = creature, J = other permanents, I = instants & sorceries) – the stars show the number of colors and are only there for sorting purposes -, fourth projected rarity in a cube (balanced out for density of key cards, and overall at similar ratios to distribution in cubes), fifth affiliation to a major theme (only the most relevant one), sixth affiliation to a minor theme (again, only the most relevant one). The list is ordered alphabetically by columns C (backwards), then B, then A, which is the default view I use to skim it. If you do the same, you might get a feeling for the composition of my card pool, and thus also a bit for how I structure my cubes.