Magic the Gathering has been a cultural juggernaut rampaging through geekdom for over 20 years now. It’s impact on gaming has been immense, forming the collectable trading card game genre out of thin air. While its reputation as an insatiable beast that devours your wallet has been well earned, there is an iteration of the game that delivers all the fun of limited play but for free. As it turns out, Magic the Gathering may be best experienced as a home brewed living card game. I speak of the joy of making your own Magic Cube.
To make a cube, gather together a set of cards you would like to draft… then draft them. In a booster draft format, you would make three packs of 15 cards, aiming to make a deck with a 40 card minimum, and basic land being provided. After the draft, the cards go back to the cube, and you can re-draft, over and over, for free.
All aspects of your cube are arbitrary and up to you, but since you probably want to create the best possible draft experience, there are some conventions that are generally agreed upon which may be useful to you. Don’t take these as gospel, but more as points of interest that may help your thoughts coalesce around what you want your cube experience to be:
- Most cubes run between 360 – 720 cards (360 cards is just enough for 8 players to draft 3 packs of 15 cards).
- Most cubes don’t have duplicates of card titles.
- Most cubes have a balance of color distribution, and support several possible deck archetypes and theaters. (Beyond balance, symmetry is important to some cube curators, but don’t let the tail-wag-the-dog with the aesthetics.)
- There should not be one strategy present in the potential card selection that trumps all others, and no player (especially you as the cube curator) should have a major advantage in prior knowledge of the cards found in the cube.
- Exclude mechanics that need a critical mass to be worthwhile, unless that critical mass is present (for example, don’t include a Fluctuator with few cards with cycling, only a couple storm cards, or tribal boosters)
- Every card should be able to potentially plug into a deck in a meaningful way with a realistic probability (one main advantage most cubes have over a regular draft is that the regular draft experience is separating the wheat from the chaff, where many cubes strive for the delightful agony of having to pick between cards that are all wheat down to the last card in the pack.)
- Remember you want as much possibility for your drafters as possible, so while you may think that 3 color or domain cards would be a natural fit in a cube environment, in practice this is rarely the case. While multicolor cards feel like an inclusive trait, they are actually an exclusive trait.
With all that in mind, when you think about your cube, consider what you want your set to be about. Do you want to recreate your favorite block of cards? Do you want a draft chocked full of your old overpowered legacy cards you never get to play with? The options are as numerous as the pitfalls, but luckily there are also many resources online to help you navigate your way.
The most important online resource for helping you get started is Cube Tutor. There you can check out other people’s cubes with great visualizations of the different ratio of characteristics you may want to balance, you can practice drafting the cubes registered there, and use the Cube Tutor tool to upload your own design. Many of these functions you can also find at Tapped Out and for what the best cube minds are thinking, check out the robust cube discourse at Mtg Salvation. If you want to feel cubes in action, MtGO has some semi-regular play, and then there are also ways to virtually test out your design at Forge, Cockatrice, and Xmage.
One of the great things about drafting a cube is the variation, and that characteristic doesn’t have to be found in only building your collection. Cube is generally played in booster draft format, but it also lends itself to all manner of other limited formats including Sealed, Rochester draft, Winston draft, Solomon draft, Backdraft, or Auction. Whatever fits your play group’s likes, numbers, and time constraints- cube is a flexible format that lends itself to be exactly what you want it to be.
As you play, pay attention to the choices your drafters make and what their feelings are of their experience. Is there a card no one ever takes? Replace it. Is there a card that is always a first pick? Replace it. Does a certain color always dominate? If that’s not by design, you should probably tinker until it’s balanced. There is a joy in that maintenance though. Your cube is a dynamic living game growing with your efforts, and a unique experience that you have created for your players.
Are there other MtG variants that have redefined the game for you? Do you have some thoughts or advice on building a cube? Come and testify in the comments.
Feature Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast