Fantastic Cubes and How We Build Them

Posted in Ways to Play on April 29, 2016

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

Cubes are like fingerprints, each one unique to the person who built it. They're snapshots of our favorite cards, our favorite formats, and our favorite archetypes. They're thousand-piece puzzles of their builder's creation with hundreds of different solutions played out each time they're drafted. They're yet another reason and another way to play Magic.

Building a cube from scratch is a daunting task, and one that takes vision, planning, time, and effort. Below are the stories of a handful of unique cubes and the players who built them—their inspirations, their philosophies, and the touch of magic that makes their cube special.

Zac Fisher is a player from Dayton, Ohio, whose first Magic love is Limited.

"I love love love Booster Draft, so for me it's all about simulating a real draft from an era that I didn't get to experience. I think Wizards has already designed some incredible Draft sets, so instead of reinventing the wheel I prefer to recapture the magic of old sets."

Photos of his triple-Innistrad Booster Draft cube, complete with a Vampire slayer's kit, garnered significant internet attention last year.

"Innistrad is widely considered to be one of the greatest Draft formats of all time, but I didn't start playing until Magic 2014. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about."

His Innistrad cube follows the traditional structure for set cubes: it includes four of each common, three of each uncommon, and one of each rare and mythic. The cards are then randomly divided into packs that mirror Innistrad boosters.

"It supports all the same archetypes that a normal Innistrad draft would. Yes, you can spawn Spiders to your heart's delight!"

While Zac had all he needed to draft the fondly remembered set, he decided to go a step further and make an on-theme home for the cards.

"I searched 'Vampire slayer's kit' online and used the images as inspiration for the build. I'm really proud of scrounging up thrift store items and handcrafting most of the wood pieces to bring my vision to life. The book cover booster pack holders are my favorite thing about the Innistrad-themed Draft cube. I actually used pages from the books themselves to wrap the pre-constructed packs. Carrying your booster packs around in an old worn book cover really ups the flavor factor!"

While Zac's cube already shines thanks to its flavorful accessories, he isn't quite satisfied.

"The hallmark of a good Vampire slayer's kit is a variety of trinkets, but there just wasn't enough space in the chest I was working with to do too much. I'm actually planning on rebuilding the whole thing and designing the chest from scratch so that I can fit as much as I want into it!

Ben Titmarsh is a London-based Magic player with a taste for Eternal formats. He's also the creator of, a website that helps Magic players build, maintain, and hone their cubes. The website originated with Ben's quest to better his own cube.

"I wanted an easy way to work out what to cut when making new additions. From there I decided to build in the blog page so I could keep track of my motivations for making various changes to the list. I liked the idea of maintaining a sort of diary that would chart the evolution of my cube."

Ben maintains one eponymous cube, "Ben's Cube," which he describes as "a powered list with a Best of Magic: The Gathering sort of feel."

"Cube means many things to many different people. For me it's about getting to play with the coolest, most broken or most beautiful cards in Magic's history. It is a tribute to what I honestly believe is one of the greatest games ever made."

Ben's Cube-format philosophy focuses on the limitless possibilities that a cube offers.

"Cube is unique in that it has absolutely no restrictions whatsoever. I say dream big! All you need to do is start somewhere and I guarantee that you will enjoy the process of designing and refining your list from that point onward. I love having an excuse to maintain an awesome collection of the best cards in the history of the game."

April King is a longtime Minneapolis Magic player and a level 2 judge. She maintains a 720-card unpowered cube.

As she says, "That means it contains a lot of really broken cards—Upheaval, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Natural Order, etc.—but none of the truly busted cards that lead to unfun game states, such as the Moxen, Sol Ring, or Black Lotus."

April's primary concern in cube development is gameplay and ensuring that the colors remain balanced in relation to each other.

"Some colors in my cube are incredibly strong all the way across the board. Swapping out an old card for a new card can be pretty agonizing. And while green is incredibly strong in Cube, it has a pretty big drop-off around card 70 or so—a problem when each color has 98 cards."

April's cube is also sized and curated to support a wide variety of archetypes.

"Every cube size has its own trade-offs; smaller ones ensure that you'll always see those build-around cards in every draft, while larger cubes offer a greater variety. My cube is about as large as they get, because I get bored easily. However, this means that I don't get to see my favorite cards every draft."

April is also a big participant in the Magic art community and owns a prized collection of original Magic art. This is reflected in what she calls the cube's "excessive 'bling' factor."

"Most of the cards are either Limited Edition (Alpha) or Limited Edition (Beta) or premium foil printings. There are about a dozen or two foil artist proof cards with sketches on the back. They're marked with a silver S on the sleeve, and you can pull them out as you draft and see the art. I love the looks on people's faces as they open up packs of my cube for the first time. When they see a foil Force of Will, Gaea's Cradle, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or the San Diego Comic-Con blacked-out cards, you can see the color drain from their faces. It's the best!"

Like Ben, April sees Cube as a truly limitless format.

"Play around with things that you could never do in a normal draft," she says. "Four packs? Sure! Want to use 20-card packs? Why not! The cube is your oyster!"

Elliot Raff is a level 2 judge from Boston whose primary Magic passion is Cube—so much so that he maintains not one but several diverse cubes, including a fully foiled powered cube, a commons/uncommons cube, a combo cube, and a multicolored theme cube developed with friend Mike Lucas.

Elliot and Mike have even gone so far as to create a new Cube format, Vintage Constructed Cube, where players get to add up to a full four copies of each card they draft to the deck, with the obvious exception of cards that are restricted in Vintage.

"Originally, I began building a cube because I saw the challenge as kind of like a massive Commander deck," Elliot says. "I've always been fascinated by the subtle interactions of Magic and how picking up on those can make a deck tick."

Elliot puts considerable time into honing his frequently played cubes and crafting an experience that players will enjoy, and it's a constantly ongoing process.

"I think that anyone who has their own cube knows that it's a labor of love. The time that I have spent working on mine and creating special play experiences for me and my friends has brought me some of the greatest memories of my life. I update all of my cubes with every set release. I do a testing night with every set where we 'seed' packs with the new cards to ensure they see play, and then ask people to give impressions."

"I think that building a cube is sharing a bit of yourself with your friends. You're not doing this work because you're being tangibly rewarded—you're doing it for love of the game. By this point, I have so many great memories from my cubes (and half of them are me just getting blown out by Mana Tithe)."

Kelly Redman is a semi-competitive player from Atlanta, Georgia, who—like Zac—has a fondness for Limited formats. Kelly's cube has two stipulations: first, all cards must be premium foil, and second, they all must be found "in the wild." That means she must open them in a draft, trade for them, or receive them as part of prize support.

"My cube is an autobiography of my journey through Magic. Many of the cards are Prerelease promos, remind me of meeting new people while trading, or have significant meaning to me due to how they were acquired. For example, a Liliana of the Veil promo was given to me as prize support for winning a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier."

For Kelly, building a cube initially began as a way to meet new people and feel more at home at her local game store.

"When I started regularly going to my LGS, trading was very intimidating for me. When I tried to trade with other players, I often found that I didn't know what I wanted to trade for. Building my premium foil cube gave me a purpose when trading that has not only expanded my knowledge of older cards, but has also motivated me to engage with new people. My favorite thing about building my cube has been all the people I have met through trading. I would have otherwise never had the nerve to be such an active trader."

Kelly's cube is more than a snapshot of her Magic journey—it's an entire photo album. Her approach to building has led to a cube that reflects her experiences rather than traditional cube-building philosophies.

"Don't let the opinion of others dissuade you from building a cube that represents you. Know that it will take time to build and doesn't need to be perfect the first time you play. Building a cube has been my most enriching Magic experience, and will continue to be for years to come. Over the years, I have improved the cube from a pitiful pile to something that I think is beautiful, fun, powerful, and different—just like me."

Cubes offer their builders a way to showcase what Magic means to them, whether it's personal achievements, incredible art, or a best-of list from the history of the game. No matter what route you might choose, two pieces of advice hold true: the possibilities are limitless, and the best way to start is to dive right in.

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