This is the first entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail.
In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.
Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:
And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.
If a land or artifact is affiliated to one or two colors, I list it in that place instead, because it will be part of the color ratio of a cube. These cards here are unaffiliated, meaning that they either have no connection to any specific color at all, or equally to all colors.
About the lands:
City of Brass and Transguild Promenade are reasonable choices, but I hope WotC will print something I like a bit better – I don’t think a Grand Coliseum which doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped would be too strong, for example. Evolving Wilds is fine, but I won’t cheat on my singleton guideline by including Terramorphic Expanse as well. Generally, I want all cards in my pool to play noticeably differently – that’s the whole point of using only one copy of each card for me.
Note that all the color fixing is common to make sure drafters have access to enough of it, and the same goes for basic interactive cards like Quicksand, and elementary theme enablers like Darksteel Citadel.
This is why Mutavault is a common – an exemplary case of a card which is rare simply for constructed reasons (in other words, it is kept scarce because all competitive players need it, and WotC thus can sell more booster packs). It provides a really important function as a generic manland, and the fact it supports tribal themes makes it even more valuable. I would take it out, if there was an adequate, cheaper alternative, since it is one of the most expensive cards in my pool, but there isn’t. (Mishra’s Factory is too complicated and confusing.)
I hope there will be a few more simple lands printed in the future which provide moderate extra value, like Rogue’s Passage – that is exactly the kind of card working greatly in a land themed cube.
Urza’s Factory showcases my policy of making cards which ask for a heavy mana investment rare (I really hate those 7-mana uncommons which WotC so often include in their sets). In my opinion, highend cards are a reward for players who successfully managed to get the game to the stage where they can be used, not an omnipresent feature because they are „more fun“ – they are much cooler (and fairer) if you have to put work into them. Thus, I do not need too many of this kind of card in any cube – they are there if a player wants to commit to a lategame strategy, but there is no overabundance of them.
About the artifact creatures:
They mainly fall into two camps: Generic cards which alleviate color distribution issues (especially important in Zweidritteldraft, since there isn’t much time until you have to commit to your colors, so players should not find themselves with too few playables after a few less than ideal choices in the beginning), or provide interaction with certain card types for colors which struggle with that; and cards supporting a pronounced artifact theme.
As I also did with colored creatures, I made sure there is a minimum number of very generic creatures, often even vanilla creatures, all over the mana curve. Colorless artifact creatures are overall the most generic of these, providing cards all drafters can use to fill up mana curve slots in their decks, but which are usually not especially desirable, so that you can concentrate on getting your synergy cards without having to worry too much about the fundamentals of your deck. I cut a number of less convincing redundancy cards here after re-assessing how large I wanted my cubes to be, like Glass Golem or Obsianus Golem. When building a Next Level Cube, you might be tempted to leave „boring“ generic artifact creatures out: Do not make that mistake! They are the pizza base of an environment. Also, they help making sure artifact removal is useful, which is important to showcase some colors‘ strengths. (For the same reason, there should also always be enough enchantments worthy of being removed in a cube.)
Something I miss in this list is a well-designed 8-drop. For a while, I used Ulamog’s Crusher in that spot, but an 8-drop really should not come with a downside, and the Crusher would also have been my only non-land, non-artifact colorless card in my pool, which isn’t aesthetically pleasing, and confuses some players. The only other reasonable choice would be Sundering Titan, whose ability is rather silly in limited (and, again, constitutes a downside). That slot isn’t important enough for me to put up with cards which don’t make sense to me, so I’ll leave it vacant for the time being (with Aladdin’s Ring being able to sub in if necessary). A simple 8/8 trampling artifact creature would be perfect here (colorless creatures are supposed to be a bit on the weak side in exchange for being usable by everyone), and I really don’t understand why WotC hasn’t printed that card yet (it would probably be an uncommon, I guess).
A high-profile card I dropped from my list is Duplicant, which proved too strong for a colorless 6-drop (it would be fine at 7 mana, though).
Overall, there’s not much to say about lands and artifact creatures; they tend to fulfill the most basic roles and present the easiest decisions. I’ll probably write a lot more about colored cards. Let me again remind you: If you have any question about a specific card (or group of cards) I did or did not include, feel free to ask in the comments – I WILL have an answer ready, since I considered them all!