Building an EDH/Commander Cube part 3

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 third article in the building an EDH/Commander Cube series is going to dive into how to support, build, and keep track of your choices as you build out your Commander Cube. This will dive into specifics on how to keep track of your archetype choices and how keeping track of it all helps make your cube more successful. This should be incredibly fun, provided you’re up to date on what we’ve covered so far. If you have already started building your own EDH Cube, awesome! If you haven’t started yet, and you’re just reading through these articles to determine if you’re interested and willing to tackle this monstrously fun task, then let’s get keep going! If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2, then you’ll probably want to do that first (there’s a lot to cover here).

Tracking Archetype Support

While supporting particular archetypes, it’s also important to include cards that work in multiple archetypes. If we return to the example mentioned in part 2 where we choose populate/tokens as a build-around archetype, then it’s important to choose cards that support that archetype. The cards I listed included ones like Doubling Season, Full Flowering, Ghired’s Belligerence, and Sundering Growth. Doubling Season, Sundering Growth, and Ghired’s Belligerence are the best choices for supporting this archetype. While Full Flowering may seem a great choice, it’s actually the weakest one to include in your cube. The first three cards also support two other important areas: other archetypes and removal. Whenever you can offer an archetype removal that supports its goals you are making the best choices for that archetype. Disenchant is good, but it doesn’t offer support to any particular archetype. Dismantling Blow (with kicker) is great, but it doesn’t support any particular archetype (unless you build in a kicker archetype). Thus, Sundering Growth is really a great card for a cube supports populate or tokens strategies. It is a little tricky to include, because it can be used as white, green, or multi-color—hybrid mana is tough to classify. Ultimately, the spell can be used as removal in any deck that might need it, but it will be prioritized by a deck that builds off that synergy. Meanwhile, Doubling Season supports tokens and counters. If your cube supports a +1/+1 counter theme and a tokens strategy, then Doubling Season is doubly good. This promotes healthy competition for strong draft pieces that play great synergy roles in multiple archetypes. Furthermore, Ghired’s Belligerence can also count as removal, and so it is a very solid inclusion in this case as well. Then we have Full Flowering—a sign-post or pay-off card. Full Flowering is really only great in a dedicated tokens strategy. Most decks won’t want this card, but decks that are all-in on tokens will be able to leverage this to great effect. Thus, it is actually the worst of the four to include in supporting a balanced cube.

Why Balance Matters

If we were to forgo balancing the archetypes or even just support them with cards that don’t cross over into other archetypes, then we run the risk of creating a very imbalanced cube. The problem with a cube that is unbalanced in its archetypal support lies in how the drafts actually play out. If someone opens Ghired, Conclave Exile in their opening pack and then proceeds to draft all the populate and tokens matter cards, they may end up getting all of those. While this might sound great it can produce an awful game. Other drafters end up ignoring populate because they never saw the commander or sign-posts that support it, and by relation they opt to stay away from them. Perhaps they end up building tribal treefolk instead? It doesn’t matter, because now we have drafters not really competing for picks, and then by extension the games will play out in a fairly predictable manner: the strongest archetype will win most of the time. So, if your populate mechanic is strongest, then that player ends up with the advantage because they drafted the commander to enable it. Or perhaps they draft the cards to do it, but never get the commander and are left stumbling at the end of the draft. Either way it ends up as a bad play experience. You want to avoid this sort of building trap. Your archetypes need to be supported and cross-supported whenever possible.

By supporting multiple archetypes with each single card inclusion you create an environment where people are competing to get cards for decks despite not being in the same archetypal strategies. This makes for a more interactive, exciting, and competitive drafting environment. Including cards that both support archetypes and offer removal can help create decks that synergize well, but also have answers to other strategies. This will lead to drafters being able to create decks that feel like constructed Commander decks –clearly themed, but also possessing necessary interaction. People’s decks should feel like one-time creations in a fun and powerful limited environment. So, be proud of your archetypes and cross support them as often as possible. People may often wish to play another round with their draft deck as one game with their new creation might not be enough to satisfy their itch to use these tools. The goal is to have the most fun, and we get there through careful planning.

Measuring Your Archetypal Support

While you are supporting those archetypes and making choices about which cards to include, you can keep track of it all via a quick spreadsheet. I recommend that you keep your goals to a reasonable amount of archetypes: perhaps two for each color combination. The larger you make the cube the more difficult it becomes to support those archetypes fully. Moving forward, I’ll be suggesting numbers of support cards based on a 500 card cube. If you decided to enlarge yours, then just be aware that you’ll want to increase support numbers by similar ratios (ex. 750 card cubes will need 1.5 times the number of support cards).

Each color is often known for being really good at doing particular things. White is good with ramp…er, wait a minute that’s every other color. White is good at exiling creatures, blinking things, putting +1/+1 counters on stuff, and making lots of little tokens (the taxing concept is coming into its own in recent years, but it still needs more support). Green is good at ramping, but it is also good at making tokens and +1/+1 counters, having big creatures, and pumping up things up. Red is great at going directly “to the dome!”, and also enjoys ramping with treasures, being chaotic, and having cool cards like dragons. Black is great at killing things, reanimated things, creating zombies, and sacrificing creatures or life to get what it wants. Blue is good at saying “no”, bouncing things, copying things, drawing cards, and have pesky merfolk as well. Ultimately, you will plan your archetypes based on what you and your playgroup most enjoy about each color, color pair, shard, wedge, nephalim, and five color grouping.

Planning the Spreadsheet

While you are supporting and choosing archetypes you can type out each card and label it as to which archetypes it is supporting. I just used a simple spreadsheet with columns and put a 1 in each column that the card helped support. This helped me make sure that I wasn’t ignoring any one archetype or forgetting to add removal for creatures or enchantments or artifacts (color dependent of course). Although, I did enjoy putting my Gate to Phyrexia in the cube to help black sacrifice have a repeatable answer to any problematic artifacts. The trickiest part is deciding which archetypes to keep and which to exclude. Sometimes we have pet archetypes that actually can’t make it as a viable option for a cube. Depending on the restrictions you build into your cube, you may find that particular archetypes just can’t be supported properly. I tried to include mill as a viable option in my cube, but my restriction in allowing only original legends in the cube and no legendary creatures effectively shuts off the possibility for making a viable mill deck—most of the best commander mill cards are newer legendary creatures.  

Card nameTokens/Populate+1/+1 countersCreature RemovalTotal support
Doubling Season11 2
Ghired’s Belligerence1 12
Full Flowering1  1

What the Numbers Tell Us

I went through my own spreadsheet and immediately turned my eye to cards that were showing up with 0 or 1 as their total synergies. These cards were often removal cards, but other times they were pet cards that I wanted in the cube, but didn’t necessarily synergize with anything in particular. Including cards like these can help give your cube a certain flare, but they can also detract from your cube’s ability to actually support your selected archetypes. You have to make choices as to whether you want to include cards like Raging River, Blaze of Glory, Hatred, High Tide, or Craterhoof Behemoth, or cut them for cards that actually support the archetypes you have in your cube. It can be neat to include particular cards that otherwise might not be used in a typical draft setting or constructed Commander build, but that doesn’t mean they are the best choice. Just be wary cognizant of what your numbers tell you. If you don’t have 20+ cards to support an archetype, then it’s time to take a close look at those cards with 0 and 1 in the synergy support column. Typing out the names of the cards you’re including may sound time consuming, but it can solve tons of would-be problems and increase the overall fun of your drafting experience by cutting off would-be pitfalls. No one likes finding out that they were tricked into drafting the worst supported deck in the format.

If you have a Druid or Giant archetype,
then you want to use this card over Craterhoof.

No Banned List

This is not constructed Commander. Therefore, you are not bound by that ban list that we all use to help keep people from wrecking everyone else’s fun by building disgustingly similar decks or truly degenerate combinations. Balance is busted with a slew of other cards like Zuran Orb, Sudden Disappearance, or even Teferi’s Protection. If your cube isn’t saturated with cards that enable a busted Balance play, then you can feel free to include Balance as an awesome card for white decks. I’m not going to lie. The first place I looked when I started to build my cube was the banned list. There are cards on there that I was dying to put into Commander decks, but just can’t. This is the place to put those cards in, because you are directly limiting what cards are being offered for them to interact with. Primeval Titan is banned, but it’s not nearly as powerful when the quality of lands you fetch aren’t all that broken. Since there’s only one copy of it, we don’t have to worry about every single player running it and ruining the diversity of the game. Heck, a cube guarantees diversity. Run any banned card that’s been banned based on its ability to ruin deck diversity and you’ll likely not run into issues with it. This can be very exciting for drafters when they suddenly get a chance to play with a card they’ve never played before. Depending on how many formats they play, then they may never have seen some of those cards played before.

So, to summarize the archetype support: you must include 20-30 cards in support of each archetype. You keep track of it using a simple spreadsheet. You try to include cards that meet multiple archetypes. Cards that don’t meet multiple archetypes should serve as clear pay-offs or sign-post cards that tell people to draft a particular strategy. You want this cube to be as well supported as possible. You can’t always get the support you need or want. That’s usually a sign that you may want to abandon a particular archetype…not everything works well in a cube draft environment. I’ll share a few stories about my failures in the final article where I’ll be sharing my current version of my Commander Cube with all of you. Until then, may the archetypes and the cards be ever in your favor!

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