January 5, 2014
A Cube Story
I built a cube.
I had always wanted something like a cube even before I knew what a cube was, but once I read Tom LaPille's article my vision of what I actually wanted became clearer. Then a couple of years later my friend Neil built a few block cubes which I admired and envied, and I finally decided it was time.
I love the reusable aspect of the cube. The fact that I can build some decks, shuffle them up, battle it out, and then put them all back into the box to do again later really interests me. I always thought it would be kind of like buying a normal boardgame or one of the "closed box" card games. I can hand craft my own Magic: The Gathering off-the-shelf game.
Another thing that really got me interested in cube was my realization that collecting was a big part of the hobby for me. I love the game, but I also enjoy collecting, and for whatever reason I never really had much of a Magic collection. I guess maybe it was because I never played a real format, all I ever did was play here and there with my friends. I imagined that I could invest in this cube and it would become my collection, something I could build over time.
So, because I wanted to start building a legitimate Magic collection, and because I was interested in the customizable, reusable closed box game experience, I decided to build a cube.
Once I established that I had to consider what kind of cube to build. I was intimidated by all the cube lists I saw, or most of them anyway. Power nine and original duals were just not something within the realm of possibility for me. However, I didn't like the idea of building a regular cube sans all of the expensive of cards. I wondered instead if I could build a cube with some kind of restriction or limitation which excluded the most expensive cards, then maximize within that space. For example, what if I built a cube only from the cards within a block, spared no expense. I have a lot of Zendikar and Worldwake cards already (and I love the block) so I very seriously considered building a Zendikar block cube.
In fact, still remember painting the bathroom. It took me all day and the whole time I was mulling over the idea with the part of my brain that wasn't painting. I finally decided that it could be done, and it would be very cool, but the biggest drawback, in my opinion, of a block cube is you're not going to get any more cards from the block. Once you build it, it's done. Maybe you tweak it here and there but there's not really the concept of crafting it over time as new sets come out. So, I needed a different restriction.
My next idea was a core set cube. Specifically, I wanted to start with M10, only cards printed in M10 or later would be legal. This would solve the money problem since the worst offenders are still reasonable and it still gives me a new set to pull from every year. I think the most interesting thing about this was I just like core sets. I like the clean, back to the basics cards.
I went so far as to completely build a core set cube on cube tutor. I even started building it in paper. I still have a box full of all of my post-M10 core set cards. All that was left was to start purchasing cards and it was about this time I started to get cold feet.
So now the bathrooms are painted and I'm installing new cabinets and mirrors and again I'm thinking about Magic. I love the Titans. I love Baneslayer. I love Giant Growth, Birds of Paradise, and I love how new core sets bring classic reprints into the fold like Opportunity in M14. But the weirdest thing started to bother me. A lot of the strong creatures are things like Ajani's Sunstriker or Liliana's Specter or Garruk's Companion or Gideon's Avenger. I didn't like this. These feel like gimmicks to me. I don't care that this is Garruck's beast or Liliana's pet. I don't want Liliana's Specter I want Hypnotic Specter. I didn't want to have to fill out my creature curve with these dopes. I finally realized I'd rather just use Blade Splicer or Restoration Angel. Why can't I play Sea Gate Oracle if I want to. Why not Skylasher? I began to see that I could build a Core Set like cube without the strict restrictions.
Okay, so back to square one, a generic cube, and the money problem. What about a Modern cube? I think this is a good idea, but the banned list bugged me. Why on earth shouldn't I put Green Sun's Zenith in my cube just because some joker at the DCI doesn't like it. Okay, so I could ignore the banned list. I think this would work too, but there a few cards in my collection made me ask one more question: what about Modern frame?
The problem cards are all on the restricted list. Problem cards being cards that I'd like to have in my cube but I'm not willing to pay for. The reprint policy keeps these from being reprinted and keeps the prices forever out of reach. A few years ago I bought a Divine vs Demonic duel deck. I was probably going to resell it but I considered how cool some of those cards would be an a cube, mainly the Modern frame (and awesome art) Demonic Tutor, and the alternate art Akroma. I had some other cards that weren't Modern legal but were reprinted with a Modern frame like Sol Ring and Swords to Plowshares that I also thought would be cool to have in the cube. Why not just have a Modern frame restriction? Again, I thought long and hard, and I finally committed to this. I questioned it many times. It pained me to not be able to play my Beta Fireball or Unlimited Lightning Bolt and Counterspell, but I've stuck with it. I like the consistency of the modern frame, but most importantly it focuses my efforts. I would be ridiculously tempted to spend money on things like Beta Lightning Bolts for the cube. Instead, I can focus on acquiring quality cards, or perhaps tracking down more From the Vault specialties.
So finally, I decided to pull the trigger. I thought about building the whole cube on cube tutor but that seemed a bit overwhelming. Instead I bought 500 black sleeves and built the first version of the cube from what I had on hand. I even cracked my Divine vs Demonic duel deck, so I was committed. I liked having an actual cube I could touch and play right from the get-go. I'll admit I had some real stinkers in there, but they were just placeholders. I planned to purchase replacements.
One thing I haven't really mentioned yet is even with price limiting restrictions a decent cube can get to be very expensive. Some rough calculations indicated just get this thing off the ground I'd need a few hundred dollars, and more like 500 would be better if possible. For me that's just... well let's just say that's way more than I've ever spent on Magic cards before at once. Oh, but I did have a secret plan.
Quick personal history. I first played Magic in early High School. I got some kind of sample pack inside my Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. I checked it out and thought it was pretty cool. I taught my neighbor how to play and before long we were slinging Tempest era slivers, Archangels, and Crash of Rhinos. Not long after that I introduced the game to one of my friends in ninth-grade biology class. He loved it he came over to my house regularly to play. I think were playing mostly with Mirage cards at this time. Well, kind of long story short his dad was very religious and found out that we'd been playing Magic, and somehow he had heard this was not a good thing to do. He told his son, in no uncertain terms, no more Magic cards. Well, my friend didn't listen. So we played some Magic, and somehow, again, he found out, so that was it. He could no longer come over to my house ever again. So what did I do? I threw all of my Magic cards away. I unceremoniously dumped them into a dumpster. I kind of can't believe I did that now. So bad news for Magic but good news for my friendship. His dad heard I trashed the cards, praised the noble deed, and declared we could be friends again.
Then one day my friend showed up at my house with a replacement for Magic. He found Star Wars cards. He said it was just like Magic except there are no demons or magic so his dad says it's all good. And that is how we started playing Star Wars cards. That was ninth-grade and we played all through high school. First it was just the two of us but before long we had five or six regulars. The point of the story is in college when we quit playing I had the foresight to trade for some of my friend's collections, and since then I've had a small fortune of Star Wars cards in my closet. I still haven't told my friends this, and I'm sure they would disapprove, but I slowly eBayed all of the valuables out of that collection. They sold even better than I hoped (the later sets had a small print run) and as my PayPal balance grew, I spent it all on the cube.
I started with volume. There are so many good cheap cards out there. I'd buy batches of 20 or 30 cards, and with each purchase the cube got better. Initially it was just kind of willy-nilly, every card I bought easily found a home but eventually I started imposing more order. As I went I kept the cube up to date on cubetutor, and I began to use the really cool analysis feature. At some point I decided I wanted it extremely balanced (OCD style). I have 54 cards of each color, 30 multicolor - three of every two color combination (one hybrid and two gold), 30 colorless, and 30 land. I hand tuned each color's mana curve as well. I don't think this level of balance is necessary but I like it and it helps me with replacements. I just replace a card with another of the same color and equal (or similar) CMC.
After four or five batches of purchases I was happy with the cube. It was certainly not done, but I called it version 1.0. The cube blog shows how the cube changed over time. It ended up having a lot of generically good, low-dependency cards, and lots of creatures (the kinds of cards I like to play). I like good cards and I like simple cards. Sure, I like Planeswalkers, Snapcaster, and Thundermaw Hellkite, but I like simple and classic cards as well. I prefer Rampant Growth over Farseek for example, or Shock over some of it's strictly better clones.
Then it was time to break this thing in. Three of my friends came over and we kicked it off with a four man draft. I think it was a hit. I know I sure had a great time. What surprised me was how much fun it was just to draft. There was lots of hooting and comments about crazy packs. I remember passing a Baneslayer Angel to my left and wheeling ridiculous things like Titans. I ended up winning with a blue-black control deck. I drew a lot of cards, casted a lot of counters and removal spells, often Snapcasted those, and eventually would win with a Frost Titan or Tamiyo, the Moon Sage or something of the like. I had an advantage, of course, because I knew the whole cube, but it was a lot of fun to to see my friends' fresh perspectives. Kris probably built the best deck, though he found it only after switching colors after the first game. He ended up in three colors (Bant), and the deck was really strong. It was cool to see that three colors worked. I wasn't sure that it would.
Four player drafting is ideal, but it's not often I can get together with three of my friends to play Magic. What I found is best for two players is a grid draft.
I'm really happy with how it turned out as a collection, as a four player game, and as a two player game. I've also started teaching my son how to play too, and we mainly use the cube. I'll build decks I think are balanced, or not if I want to give him an edge, and we'll play the same decks against each other many times. It's good for him to memorize the cards and learn which ones are powerful. Then when we're ready for something new we shuffle it up and start again.
Recently, I discovered a entirely different use for the cube as well. I needed a new Commander deck to play with my friends. I thought they were maybe tired of the same deck I always play, and I didn't really feel like buying a new one. So, I built a deck only from the cards within the cube and all of the sudden I had a brand new, very reasonable, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV Commander deck. That was pretty amazing to me. The deck played well, and I enjoyed it. I might even buy nine more generic commanders for the other color combinations, maybe along with a small set of commander staples, and in a way, the cube ends up doubling as a set of ten Commander decks.
I recently bought the Theros gift box to put the cube in. It holds more than I needed so I put in my two Modern decks and my Commander deck and call it my box of prized possessions. And so, here is yet another way to enjoy our favorite game, and I think it may be my favorite so far.
Check out the full list.
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