A Magictation by Mikeal Basile
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.
This the follow up to part one in the “Building an EDH Cube” article series. In part one I discussed the reasons why you would want to build an EDH/Commander Cube, and the theory behind constructing it. In this article I will be discussing how to choose what cards to include and why. I will also be detailing how to keep track of all this stuff at the same time. I really feel that it’s important to always have your goals for the cube handy while you’re creating it. I’d like to jump right in to determining what to put in and how to keep track of it all.
VISUALIZE YOUR GOALS
Look, it’s corny, but it actually works. If your goal is to make a fun, nostalgia infused cube that plays like a rock-em-sock-em EDH bash, then you have to write that down. You have to see that goal every time you sit down to work on this cube. You need to be able to refer back to the goal periodically. This insures you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you. I kept a page open in my Excel spreadsheet that had my goals clearly spelled out. This goal reminder helped me ground myself whenever I felt overwhelmed. There were times I got off track and found myself veering away from a fun commander experience and dipping into optimized Golos territory (sorry, but I couldn’t help poking at the banned pilgrim). Thankfully, I would eventually click back to that first page to double check numbers and other goals, and then I would see those words in giant font, and I would realize that I needed to cut those last ten hyper competitive cards from my cube. I’m not saying you can’t include hyper competitive cards. I’m just saying that those cards did not fit with my goals. So, I was able to easily cut those from my cube and look for alternatives that actually me my goals.
Now, I read a bunch of other articles about cube construction a long time ago, but for this adventure I did a quick read of some people’s ideas about how to build a Commander Cube. Honestly, most of them seemed to think that including as many partners as possible was the way, and stranger yet was how others wanted to draft commanders separately after the draft or even, or before actually drafting. Additionally, a few others felt that starter packs that each person could get would “level the playing field” by giving everyone a Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and several other staples to start building their draft decks. Honestly, I didn’t like any of those ideas. I didn’t want partners running wild, because I feel it leads to lazy drafting—draft two or four colors worth of commanders and all good-stuff can get tossed in too. I also didn’t like the idea of not having the responsibility of drafting your commander during the draft. It’s neat to add or cut a color in your second or even third pack because you’ve suddenly chanced on a better or more synergistic commander. That’s fun. Also, it’s a fair punishment when you flop at doing that and are stuck with running random cards to fill out your deck because your late pack gamble didn’t pay off. Checks and balances my friends.
On the subject of checks and balances, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to do the starter packs. That just feels like a way to cut out creativity and make everyone’s decks a little too similar. If you’re all drafting 60 card decks from a cube, then your decks had better all feel and play differently. When everyone is dropping signets on turn two—it just doesn’t feel right seeing multiples in a cube draft. This sort of thing really just stifles people’s abilities to find creative solutions during the draft. If they already have a handy stack of 6-10 playables, then you’re not actually doing a limited draft. So, in the name of cubing—I opted to narrow the command choices, keep them in the draft, eschewed starter build packs, and I didn’t use partners. Partners are tricky, but I think you could probably use the mono-colored one. I suspect using the two colored ones will start to lead you down the good-stuff road. As I said, I steered clear of that. I opted to use the original 55 legends from Legends. This filled my nostalgia requirement quite nicely. I originally considered jamming only elder dragons as my commander choices, but it didn’t feel quite right doing that. Plus, it’s not nearly enough legendary creatures when you do that. I suspect you could probably use mono-colored legendary dragons to fill it out, but I’m not sure it would be all that balanced. This decision needs to be based on cube goals. Look closely at what you want to do, and then pick cards that do exactly that.
Cube Size and Commander Choices
Determining the commanders that your cube runs is also linked to the size of your cube. You want to seed your packs with two legendary creatures in each one. This makes your packs 20 cards (18 regulars and 2 legendary creatures). This way each player will open 6 possible commanders during the course of the draft. Unlike a traditional draft, you will be taking two cards from each pack. This enables people to snag a commander and a card for their deck from each of their starting packs. If you’re worried about access to colors for deck building, then I have a few things to ease your mind. When you factor in that people will be passing potential commanders as well other draft picks, then you figure that most people will see a minimum of 3-4 additional commander choices each draft round. That means each player should see somewhere around 9-10 commanders each draft as a minimum. I’ve seen some color combinations wheel time and time again—that’s usually an obvious sign that those colors are wide open. So, as long as you seed your packs with two commanders, then you will easily allow players access to their desired colors.
When considering cube size, if you intend on having a cube that can be drafted by 8 players, then you need twenty-four twenty card packs (3 packs of 20 cards for each player). This means your cube needs to be 480 cards. Remember, you are seeding each pack with two legendary creatures (commanders). Once you have included 48 different legendary creatures, then your cube will actually only need another 432 cards to round it out. With 48 commanders that means you can allocate 3 for each two color combination and then give the remaining 18 slots to three color commanders and maybe toss in one or two 4 or 5 color commanders. Again, I chose to make my cube slightly larger, and included 55 legendary creatures. It really just depends on what you want people to be able to do. If you want to make it as balanced as possible, then you should consider doing 60 legendaries that include 3 of each two color and then 3 of each three color combination. This keeps people away from being able to draft 4 or 5 color good-stuff, and forces people to commit to two or three colors and one or two archetypes.
Now, you figure that if you give each of your five colors 65 cards each you have 107 cards left to split between multi-color, colorless, and non-basic lands. I opted to round my cube up to 500 cards so that if 8 people drafted there’s no guarantee that a particular card is actually in the draft. Long-term this would give the cube a bit more wonder and make playing around certain cards a bit more fun. Bluffing can be a real thing when and if people get used to particular cards. When no one knows if it’s actually in the cube or not it can make things especially interesting and surprising. Now, you’ll probably already have quite a few multi-color cards in the cube for the 50 or so commander options you put in. So, that will naturally satisfy some of the balancing required for multi-color.
The larger you make your cube, then the more difficult it can be to strongly support particular draft archetypes. If you want to make treefolk a draftable tribe, then you have to make sure you have a forest worth of trees in the cube for each draft and enough pay-off cards as well. This can be tricky when you head up toward the 750+ card mark. You have to realize that your cube will be randomized, and you can’t guarantee (especially the larger it gets) that your players will actually see all the treefolk cards each draft. They won’t see them all, and so in order to actually have it supported each draft you need to reach a critical mass. This is a much easier to solve problem when you keep the cube to 500 cards. Also, if you’re building a cube for the first time, I recommend starting small and then building larger later on. You really need somewhere around 18-20 cards to help support an archetype in each color. This means that you should shoot to have about 20 cards in each archetype. So, if you wanted a treefolk tribal archetype, then you need around 20 treefolk matters cards in the cube. Additionally, you’ll want at least 10-15 cards that synergize well with this approach as well. These don’t need to be tribal treefolk, but cards that work well with them like Assault Formation or Belligerent Brontodon. Ideally, these cards should also cross the boundaries in support of other archetypes as well.
On a fun note, including “draft matters” cards like Cogwork Librarian, Lore Seeker, and Caller of the Untamed adds a unique element to your draft experience. These conspiracy set cards are usually very inexpensive and add lots of fun to your draft experience—great bang for your buck cards. On that note, using Lore Seeker means you really have to have an extra 20 cards lying around so that you have that extra pack handy. In the end, it’s your cube, so you make it the size you want. I just happen to like having 500 cards as my round number goal. Ultimately, it can really be anything close to 480 and you will still be able to follow my basic guidelines.
Archetypes refer to basic strategies for building your deck. I didn’t fully clarify that earlier, but when you draft, you try to lean into building strong cards that work well together. You can try and just draft bombs or good-stuff, but decks like this can fall prey to a focused deck that keeps building on itself as it goes. The synergies outweigh the card quality. These synergies can be difficult to see while you are drafting, but as the architect of your cube, it’s your job to make people see these things. You might try including “sign-post” cards that signal what archetypes are available or you might saturate the cube with particular pay-off cards for each archetype. The best way is really to just do both. When you include multi-color pay-offs or commanders that are build-around cards, then you are making it clear that people could and should build around these strategies. For example, you might include Ghired, Conclave Exile in your cube if you have a tokens or populate archetype. If a drafter chooses to build around that archetype, then the cube’s architect needs to include cards that actually fit into this strategy. Cards like Doubling Season, Full Flowering, Ghired’s Belligerence, and Sundering Growth all fit into this archetype. So, while you consider which archetypes to include you need to take into account what your goals are. What do you and your friends like to draft? Tribal? Blink? Go wide? Go tall? Enchantress? Reanimation? Sacrifice? Tokens? So many questions, and no wrong answers. The only wrong answer is an under-supported archetype.
When you choose your archetypes you can do something I like I did and ask everyone what their favorite Commander decks are. I was able to adequately support almost everyone’s favorite type of deck by supporting draft archetypes that fit with each player’s “favorite style” of constructed Commander deck. I went for a more nostalgia driven cube, so I was unable to actually include their favorite commanders. If you’re not bound by that restriction, then you have a very fast and easy route to focusing the archetypes for your cube and your commanders right out of the gate. I’ve already spoken about the mess that can occur with partners, so be wary of that particular trap. Partners work really well in a powered-down and more constricted format like Commander Legends, but I’m not convinced they’re going to be so smooth in an EDH Cube. The quality of cards is just too strong. Next time I’ll discuss the ins and outs of keeping track of all these choices, and how to maximize your fun while doing so. Until then, may the cards be ever in your favor!