Chaos to the Third

Posted in Serious Fun on March 2, 2010

The nigh-infinite diversity in ways to have fun with Magic is something that reaches beyond individual players and decks; it's the driving element behind always reaching for the newest set, trying out a latest take on something similar-but-not-quite-the-same as something we already like, and the explosion of casual formats and variants like the highly popular EDH—consistently unique game play is an amazing experience.

I've talked about the Stack which, in an oversimplified nutshell, is playing Magic using a shared deck and graveyard without any card repetition. Every game plays out differently, cards being used in new and surprising ways, and scales effortlessly with whatever random group of friends you have around. As you can tell, I think it's one of the most fun ways to get down and dirty with the game.

But Stack has some parallels to another form of Magic, one that emphasizes function as much as it required dedicated structure. For every similarity between these two forms of Magic there is a glaring difference, each of which is almost oppositional and counterproductive to simply having fun. Stacks are geared towards absolutely whatever your heart desires. Their form is the purest reflection of the most personal interpretation of "What's fun to you?" What the Stack is similar to is also a reflection, albeit one bred under generally very stringent requirements and limitations.

The Stack's mirror-universe counterpart I'm talking about is none other than the Cube.

Trying to Run Before You Can Walk

In writing about Stack I purposely avoided going into any truly meaty details trying to answer the question "How do I build a Stack?" because while I find organizing and quantifying large grouping of varied cards pretty fun it makes for dry reading compared to epic descriptions of how I got my face smashed. Tom LaPille, who I would refer to as one of the gurus of Cube, wrote briefly about how the Cube helped him get to be where he is today, a developer in Magic Ramp;D.

I'm pretty sure there's more to getting that chance to work in Ramp;D than winning some games and building a Cube. More importantly for us, however, I also noticed that Tom skipped over the really deep details of building his Cube. Since Tom gets to actually talk about putting together Magic as a whole from the inside—I just get to have a ton of fun playing on the outside—I figured it was most prudent to follow the same convention, lest I divide by zero and collapse the universe and all that sort of ugly badness aside from giving probably very bad development advice.

But the one thing that stood out the most from Tom's article was that for players from all over, playing with a Cube is awesome fun. I know my first experiences with a Cube were fantastic in no small thanks to the fact that the player whose Cube I played (say that five times fast) has an incredible Cube of his own. My friend Eric showed me that you didn't need all of the glitzy glamour of expensive rares (or any at all for that matter) to create an epic experience. He showed me the Stack way of playing Magic, using his Cube of course, and mentored me as I created my own Cube—and by "mentor" I mean pointed out some great changes and potential opportunities as well as gently nudged me in better directions to help me achieve the goals I had set forth for it. So where does this story take an exciting turn?


You see, like Tom and nearly everyone else who's encountered a Cube, those who have encountered my Cube have found it to be a great blast. Because of the sheer numbers of players I get the chance to interact with every week very few have any solid idea of what's cooking in my long box of sleeved cards which, invariably, makes games of Stack or Draft pretty exciting.

But my favorite way of playing with my Cube is a comfortable-yet-disturbing-at-some-level amalgam, akin to a sweater blanket (or "Snuggie," as it's popularly known): four-way Free-for-All multiplayer Sealed using my Cube.

Of Beatdowns and Boomsticks

I contemplated sharing the starting Cube Sealed pools for every player, but quickly realized that I would effectively be sharing my entire cube, minus the here-and-there changes I've made since then. Since this isn't the best place to dump out a listing of over 360 unique cards, I'm skipping straight to the very varied decks.

Bladen, a casual-competitive type player who won our local Zendikar Game Day (and there is a Worldwake Game Day this weekend if you didn't already know!) built a three-color aggro-control deck:

Bladen's Cube Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

With a healthy helping of removal and recursion it speaks of the type of player Bladen is: he wants it all. While a three-color special isn't easy without gratuitous mana fixing, Bladen threw caution to the wind to have an adrenaline fix from drawing every turn.

Brendan isn't a casual-competitive type; he's as thorough a casual-FUN type player as they come. He has as many EDH decks as me (and possibly more), the entire collection of Planechase plane cards, and more self-styled theme decks than I can keep straight. I shouldn't have been surprised when he shuffled up this beast of a Limited deck.

Brendan's Cube Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Basically, Brendan kept everything he thought was great in multiplayer in his deck. Big dudes, splashy effects, and lots of mana fixing. It's hard to classify his deck using "traditional" archetypes but it's certainly an awesome selection of crazy cards that promised to delivery something very random turn after turn.

Shawn (a different one from my Emperor article) is as good as good friends get. He not only hails from my hometown and served as best man my wedding, but loves to drive in from a few hours away to simply sling cards and have a great time. He still has original Ice Age and Mirage laden decks that were built back when we thought Giant Mantis was a truly fearsome creature. He, too, went the route of playing more good stuff.

Shawn's Cube Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

From his original pool it's clear he had a tough choice between red-white and blue-red. Going with his gut, he went the aggressive route because he "didn't want to just sit back and think about everything all the time." Also, he thought the Rolling Thunder was pure awesomeness.

And we finally come to my deck, which I was fairly happy to run. I took a more traditional route and erred on the side of the odds the game would go longer than a few turns.

Adam's Cube Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Blessed with an abundance of mana fixing and ramp effects, I opted for running all of the colors I wanted. The deck is solidly green at its core, but I layered on anything I thought was amazing: Fireball and Pyrotechnics to clear off the board, "pingers" like Razorfin Hunter and Prodigal Pyromancer for control, and Mulldrifter and Kor Skyfisher are evasive creatures that can randomly combo into card drawing mayhem.

The stage was set for a showdown of an eclectic collection of commons.

The early turns were rather mundane, Shawn and I sharing some aggression with others as Brendan mana-fixed and Bladen cursed his lack of fixed mana.

The game began to pick up around turn five when Bladen, tired of getting punted by everyone else, used a Crypt Rats to create the follow chain: Bladen asked Brendan, who had a Mudbutton Torchrunner in play, if Bladen would take 3 for killing the Runner. Brendan said "No," so pop the Crypt Rats went. I regenerated my River Boa, and Brendan's Mudbutton Torchrunner and Shawn's Martyr of Ashes were binned. The trigger from the Torchrunner nailed Shawn's remaining creature, a Saltfield Recluse, and left the board barren.

During the rebuilding turns Brendan protected his morph from an Arc Lightning with a Brute Force as Bladen cast Disturbed Burial with buyback to continuously recycle the creatures he could cast, discarding Boomerang and Framed! as his hand filled up. Shawn managed to drop Guardian of the Guildpact, leaving those of us without multicolored creatures—which was everyone else—to suffer his impenetrable threat.

Shawn followed up his nicely protected creature with abuse of a Leonin Bola to keep aggression at a minimum, which benefited him the most but gave Bladen and Brendan some breathing room to regain a foothold. As I distracted Shawn with a Sigiled Behemoth, a monster his Guardian couldn't stop, Brendan tried to get a Twisted Abomination down. Shawn wasn't fazed, and cast a Mana Tithe to force Brendan to tap out, leaving the Abomination vulnerable to Shawn's Lightning Bolt.

Bladen found his much-needed Island and proceeded to land both a Prodigal Sorcerer and Zuran Spellcaster. Brendan cast a Dragon Fodder, since there were so many better targets around that his Goblins felt safe. The massive Fireball I unleashed leveled off all of those critters. Brendan followed up the play with Shade's Form on Yavimaya Elder. That seemed pretty good.

But even recurring card draw with land fetching wasn't enough to stop Shawn's sneaky Noggle Bandit from dropping Brendan's life down to 1, which let my Razorfin Hunter knocking Brendan out of the game.

While Brendan had been knocked out, the game became slightly unbalanced due to Shawn's commanding presence on the board. Bladen and I used our combined cards to bring Shawn back down a level. My Capsize and Bladen's Journey to Nowhere set Shawn back just enough for Bladen to bring out his big gun: a hardcast Errant Ephemeron, which joined his growing aerial army.

With a soft but cruel smile, Bladen, in a flash of treachery, narrowed his scope at me and took away the little life I had left in one combat phase. Flying is pretty good against anyone without an assembled defense, including Shawn. A kicked Into the Roil later, and Bladen had enough to finish Shawn just a turn or so after knocking me out.

Squaring (Off) the Circle

Cube is a ridiculously fun way to create a unique experience of Magic. While it's more restrictive and requires a very different approach than building a Stack, Cube presents just as many interesting situations and opportunities to play an amazingly diverse collection of cards.

I hope this trip into the mayhem that something highly structured can create was enjoyable for you. Since I'm always interested in what you have to say (I haven't had any run yet) here's a quick poll:

What do you want to hear more about the most?Epic play-by-play of crazy games of MagicEven crazier and weirder Magic formats and variantsRevisiting things I've already touched upon (EDH, Group Game Draft, and more)Something completely different from everything so far

If you voted for the last choice, or have any general feedback at all, I do follow everyone's comments on the forums (the 'Discuss on the message boards' link below) as well as receive your direct messages ('Respond via email' link below) and tweets (I'm @the_stybs if you missed it earlier).

I hope to see you next week, when I have a very special adventure to share.

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