Friday, October 21, 2016

You Make the Wube

a guest post by Wobbles

With the finalist of Wizard's You Make the Cube announced, I'm hoping to share a few of the ideas on cube design even though mine didn't make the cut.

Cube design is a wonderful exercise in set design with the restriction of only being able to use existing cards and there's really no limit to original cube themes that provide an interesting draft experience. While there are no original card designs in this post, I think the you make the cube criteria are great guide posts for designers building custom sets and cubes.

The criteria for the cube contest required the cubes to be 540 cards and graded the cubes on a few features: Creativity, Fun, Feasibility, and Replayability.


Want a cube with 539 copies of Relentless Rats and one Thrumming Stone? You can try it!

Creativity is the category where it felt best to go big or go home. After all, a cube is a chance to make a set that would never be commercially viable or have a theme that would never make sense as a regular set. The contest also made it clear that the typical rules of a cube could be bent, such as the one card limit or uneven colors. The trick is that while Creativity was one of graded categories, most players also come to cube to have a "familiar" experience. When you're playing Vintage or Legacy cube you want the power level and game play to feel like those formats. However this is also a tricky line to know how to cross. The Legendary cube had two "creative" aspects: the restriction on Legendary creatures and an EDH play style that rewarded casting big spells. Even with a gimmick cube, building it around familiar play styles is something that Wizards is ultimately looking for. I think Eric Klug's submission is a great example of having a straight forward gimmick (Pro Tour cards) and an identifiable playstyle (Tier One Standard decks).


Someday Spike, Someday...
Here's where the psychographics come into play. Can you make a cube that appeals to Combo players? How about uber-competitive pros and streamers? How about first time players who have never tried a cube before? It isn't easy, especially because one of the main fun factors (nostalgia) can run cross purposes with the Creativity aspect. After all, traditional cube drafters are super attached to certain archetypes like white weenie, blue control, red burn, and storm. If you don't offer those options, or at least analogs, players wind up shoehorned into unfamiliar archetypes and don't enjoy the flexibility they normally enjoy in cube. This echos the point above on creativity, but I think it's an important design lesson. The Peasant Cube finalist really hits this mark well: it has a gimmick that's flexible enough to include cards for every type of player and still tries to hit the archetype marks that are included in other cubes.


Don't You Forget About Glee
The "feasibility" restriction is an important one because there are so many go to cube formats that just aren't possible on MTGO. One of my favorite Cubes is played with Type Four rules. Obviously, Type Four is never going to be feasible on MTGO, but there are other restrictions that aren't so obvious. The first is the lack of multiplayer. No multiplayer tournaments means there's no possibility of recreating any form of conspiracy draft through a cube, even if those cards existed online. That leads to the second point that you're constantly double checking MTGO legality for certain older cards or cards from conspiracy sets. Trying to check which cards are available required loading cube lists into  MTGGoldfish as decks, checking to see if there were card discrepancies between the paper and digital lists. I'm sure there are better ways, and I would really appreciate hearing about them in the comments. Finally, there were even cards on MTGO that weren't eligible. The biggest disappointment was that Vanguard cards like Momir Vig apparently can't be included in a cube. These would have provided an interesting, conspiracy like effect for players if they were feasible. Even worse was that the ONLY silver bordered card actually on MTGO couldn't be played: Gleemox. That said, 
Simonot Timothée's Twisted Color Pie pushes some cube limits in an interesting way by pushing the card choices in interesting and unusual directions.


The aspect of replayability was the hardest to judge because the time limit makes it very difficult to test a cube in any reasonable way. Especially when a cube/set is going to be subjected to a player base like MTGO for three-four weeks in a league format. In retrospect, league format is the real killer here. In a standard draft pod, if one archetype is overpowered it might dominate when its open and fall apart when too many players try to force it. In a league format, the best archetype winds up being the third round "final boss" a disproportionate amount of the time because the pods where it's open it's going to be too good. That means that it's probably safer to go with a lower power variance between cards in the cube. I think you saw this reflected in the recent changes made to the Legacy cube, as well as several of the choices for the cube finalists.

The Method to My Madness

To compete in the contest, I got together with a group of friends and brainstormed potential ideas for themes. The result was a seven cubes that we could divy up to submit individually. In the next few blog posts I'll profile some of the design choices made for specific cubes. I'm happy to show off more than one, but low interest cubes might come up later.

Let me know in the comments which of these cubes you'd like to see first:
  • The Yuuuge Cube (Hand Size Matters)
  • Cube of Fire and Ice (UR Cube)
  • The Vegan Cube (No Creatures)
  • The Doubling Doubling Cube Cube (Clone Cube)
  • Venta Black Cube (Mono Black) 
  • Cube of Death (Graveyard Cube)


  1. Vegan, Yuge, and Venta seem the most appealing offhand.

  2. Did any other artisans submit cubes?

    1. I submitted an uncommon-only cube. It was an interesting exercise and I enjoyed it (and am beginning to build it in real life), but I never expected it to go anywhere as I was just building it for the contest meaning there was no opportunity for the play-refine-test feedback loop.

  3. Hulk Cube!

    I do have to wonder about a format that pushes every player into the same colors or archetypes.

    1. As a long time player of Type 4, that is certainly something I have thoughts about.