Hello Cube aficionados!
I’m Adam Prosak, and I'm a developer in Magic R&D. My job description is best described by the illustrious Sam Stoddard, who brings you tales from development each week in his Latest Developments column. When I’m not busy playtesting future Magic products during my day job, I enjoy playing more Magic! I enjoy playing my favorite game in many different ways, but Cube Draft is definitely my favorite format. I built my first Cube nearly 10 years ago, before Cube had been popularized, and I’ve drafted more than 45 unique different Cubes. When the fine people in Digital R&D approached me about updating the Magic Online Cube, I jumped at the chance.
At its core, a Cube is a collection of cards that you can shuffle up and generate piles of cards that simulate a booster pack. Then, you draft! The beauty of Cube is that it can be about many different things. I’ve drafted everything from Multicolored Cube to tribal Cube to Mercadian Masques Cube. The Magic Online Cube, like most players’ Cubes, is about the entire history of Magic. The Magic Online Cube has 720 cards from nearly every set from Alpha through Magic 2015. Many of the most iconic and powerful cards in the history of Magic are present, but we’ve also taken care to focus on cards that create enjoyable games.
Personally, I love Cubes because they give you an enormous amount of variety in game play and nearly endless replay ability. The ability to generate interactions between cards printed a dozen years apart is something that is very unique to Cubes. Master of Waves and Opposition combine from over a decade apart while Attrition combines with a card like Bloodghast to systematically destroy opposing creatures. Cards from Portal Three Kingdoms show up next to cards from cards from Journey Into Nyx and Conspiracy. Cube games are full of awesome Magic cards and crazy board states.
If you simply scrolled down to the bottom of the article, you may have noticed that the number of cards being changed is bigger than they have been in the past. This is because the Digital R&D team felt like there was a significant opportunity for us to improve the Magic Online Cube experience, and it was a goal worth focusing on. As a team, we decided on some goals for the Magic Online Cube, and we set about the task of making the Magic Online Cube the most fantastic experience it can be. This iteration of the Magic Online Cube is the first step in our new process—we will continue to improve upon and update the Cube as we feel provides the best experience for you. If there is something you like and/or don’t like about the Magic Online Cube, do not hesitate to share your opinions. They are valuable to us!
One of our primary goals was to balance out the various colors and archetypes in the Cube. In general, we feel that the Cube is most fun when all of the cards in the Cube have the ability to contribute to a winning deck. When we looked at winning decklists from previous iterations of the Cube, we noticed that some strategies were either too successful or not successful enough. In particular, red as a color had an unbalancing effect on the Cube. Many of the successful decks were not only red, but mono-red aggressive decks. Red decks were generally more successful when they did NOT have other colors in them. We did not like the overwhelming success of mono-red, particularly because having combinations of colors is what helps provide variety in gameplay experience. Many other cards and strategies were less successful because of how strong the mono-red strategy was against them.
When a face-to-face Magic set is in development, we do our best to identify these problems and fix them before a set is released. With the Magic Online Cube, we have the opportunity to continue to work on balancing the Cube even after releasing it. As you’ll see in the changes, we’ve moved red cards away from total aggression and more towards middle- and late-game red cards. You’ll see cards like Chandra Nalaar and Form of the Dragon where you previously saw cards like Reckless Charge and Ball Lightning. This helps diversify the strategy among the cards in red and line them up with other colors better. Our goal is not to eliminate mono-red aggression as a strategy – there are still cards like Goblin Guide and Lightning Bolt after all – our goal is to give the archetype the same tools as the other archetypes. Not more. Not less.
The other thing the team did was to balance the number of lands in the Cube. We felt like nonbasic lands were at their most interesting when you have to decide between a land that fits into your deck and a non-land you can also fit into your deck. We think the drafting experience is more fun when different cards with different roles compete for your attention during the draft. For example, we want the decision between Ghor-Clan Rampager and Stomping Ground to be an interesting one. We decided to remove a cycle of nonbasic lands (the Ravnica bounce lands) in order to help these decisions become more interesting.
While we noticed that mono-red aggressive decks were too strong, we also noticed that a number of cards were very rarely successful. Many of the cards that are removed from the Magic Online Cube are cards that we considered “traps.” In general, a trap is a card that looks powerful and fun, but is not supported by the rest of the cards in the Cube. I previously stated that one of the goals for the Magic Online Cube is to provide avenues of synergy from across Magic’s history. Unless we actually include the cards that provide the cool interactions, the card will fail. Lots of individual cards suffered due to a lack of support around them, including Goblin Welder, Deadbridge Chant, and Etched Oracle. In addition, the storm archetype significantly underperformed. Personally, I love watching a storm deck come together. However, it didn’t come together often enough to be worth taking up space in the Cube. Mind’s Desire and friends, I’m sad to see you go, but the Magic Online Cube is not the right place.
Finally, we had a goal of introducing new cards to the Magic Online Cube in a way that meshes well with the rest of the Cube. Each new set becomes part of the history of Magic, and Cube is a way that we can celebrate this history. We want to provide new cards without making the Cube feel like it’s dominated by the new set. With that goal in mind, we settled on 12 cards from Magic 2015 that we thought would be valuable to the Magic Online Cube experience. We will continue to evaluate these cards as they are drafted in the Magic Online Cube.
I am a big fan of all types of Cubes, and I draft them whenever possible. After years of drafting Cubes, I definitely have some pet cards and cards that I have a very difficult time passing when they are in my pack. These aren’t always the most powerful cards, but they are the cards that I enjoy.
5. Lands! – One of my favorite parts of Cube is that it is almost trivial to get enough cards that you want to put in your deck, due to the fact that every card is powerful if the Cube is built well. This allows me to make speculative picks that may or may not work. I will take an Entomb early, even without a card like Griselbrand or Animate Dead. Even if I have to abandon the Entomb, I am still likely to have options available during deckbuilding.
Often times, I use these “extra” draft slots to take nonbasic lands. If I am drafting a deck without huge mana requirements, I place a very high value on a land such as Rishadan Port or Mishra’s Factory. If I am unsure what I am drafting, I will often take a multicolored land to keep options open. I particularly look to draft a fetch land + Ravnica or Revised dual combination, as it provides exceptional flexibility when it comes to what colors I can draft and fit into the final deck. Sometimes I get a little too ambitious with this strategy, take too many lands, and don’t have enough cards to fill out a deck. However, I really love a 4-color deck with perfect mana.
With this version of the Magic Online Cube, lands will be at a higher priority because there are fewer of them to go around.
4. Guttersnipe – Guttersnipe is one of my favorite Standard cards of all time. There’s nothing quite like casting an Izzet Charm while having a Guttersnipe and a Young Pyromancer in play. Much like Standard, I’ll often play Guttersnipe in blue decks, so I can chain draw spells together to finish an opponent quickly.
3. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker – The biggest, baddest Planeswalker in the Multiverse. The Magic Online Cube offers enough so that a huge endgame card like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker can realistically come down and dominate a game. Gilded Lotus and Eureka provide ways to get Nicol Bolas (and other huge permanents) into play in ways that would not otherwise occur in a game of Magic. I am still a sucker for huge, awesome permanents.
2. Smokestack – There are so many cool things to do with Smokestack, I don’t know which one to draft most of the time! White tokens—think any of the Elspeths—provide a constant stream of permanents that allow you to ramp up the Smokestack to higher numbers. Black disruption decks can use Smokestack to layer on top of discard spells and other disruption, while maintaining the constant sacrifice with cards like Bloodghast or Bitterblossom. Red mass-disruption cards such as Wildfire and Burning of Xinye increase the likelihood that my opponent will have to sacrifice something he or she doesn't want to sacrifice.
1. Palinchron – What do Sneak Attack, Mirari’s Wake, Phantasmal Image, Heartbeat of Spring, and Recurring Nightmare have in common? They can all make infinite* mana with Palinchron and a bunch of lands! You might notice that many of the cards on this list are older cards that don’t really see play in Eternal Constructed formats. That is not a coincidence! I love finding new ways to use cards I’ve loved for years. I also like making excessive amounts of mana. This makes Palinchron my favorite card in the Magic Online Cube!
*technically only an unbounded amount. There is no infinite in Magic!
I hope you’ve enjoyed a trip through the changes that are in the Magic Online Cube. Personally, I really enjoy Cube Draft and have a great desire to spread my love of Cube to as many people as possible. If you haven’t drafted Cube before, I highly recommend you give the Magic Online Cube a try.
Below are quick links that will allow you to explore the full Cube list!