Making the Cut

So far, I have spent most of my time on this blog talking about the basics of building a cube from the ground up. I would really start talking about specific archetypes and individual cards, but I wanted start out with the basics. I thought it would be good to build the groundwork of my cubing philosophy so that you, the reader, would have a lens through which to view my opinions. Basically, I want everyone to understand where I am coming from when I talk about the specifics. To do this, there is just one more thing I want to talk about, and it really should come as no surprise.

What makes a card cube worthy?

Now, the answer to that, also unsurprisingly, is “that depends”. No card is an “auto include”. No card is “completely unplayable”. It all depends on the context of the cube that you are building. It wouldn’t really be much of a post if I just said “it depends” though, so let me go over a few things that I try to look at before adding or cutting a card.

Mana Cost – This one might seem obvious, and in some instances it is. Vizzerdrix would be game-breakingly powerful at 2 mana, but at 7 mana he is rarely given the time of day. But beyond simple power level, make sure you are also keeping in mind what archetypes the card is supposed to support. You might want to say that Inferno Titan is a sweet mono red aggro curve-topper, but if your mono red aggro deck is hitting 6 mana regularly, it may need a little more help on the low end instead.

The biggest mistake that I see by far though, is not looking at the colored mana symbols. At a first glance, you might say that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Precinct Captain are both going to be hitting the field on turn 2 and should be evaluated as such. In mono white, this is accurate. In my cube, however, 2-3 color decks are supported and all of my specific archetype support stretches 3 colors rather than 2. Mono white decks are actually pretty rare at my drafts – most at least splash a second color. When you expect the majority of decks to be playing 2+ colors, a card casting WW cannot be reliably cast on turn 2 unless you have really good fixing.

If Precinct Captain only came down on turn 3, effectively costing 1WW, would he be playable? Maybe, maybe not, but it is definitely worth considering. The biggest offender that I think I see the most often is Savage Knuckleblade, believe it or not. You are going to need God-tier mana-fixing to reliably drop that sucker on turn 3, and if it cost 4-5 mana, I would not even think about playing it.

Power/Toughness – Now, this isn’t nearly as important in the really high power cubes, as most people just jam the strongest creatures they can think of. But in mid to lower power cubes, there are a few things that you should be considering. Compared to the other creatures in my cube –

How often will this creature trade up? If it is way stronger than cards of a higher cost in your cube, there may be a discrepancy in power level that needs to be adjusted.

Which creatures can this one fight and survive? If it is meant to be wall for control decks, it better be able to beat the majority of 1-3 drops.

Which burn spells does this creature dodge, and which ones will it fold to? With 1 toughness, red decks can sneeze it over, and if every burn spell is a Lightning Bolt, 4 toughness is basically untouchable.

What kind of clock will this provide? We strive for balance, which means trimming the fat and steering clear of the overpowered nonsense.

Interaction – This one is important and my favorite offender is True-Name Nemesis. TNN is the poster child for non interactive magic and is very rarely a healthy addition to cube. But wait, a 7 turn clock isn’t all that scary. It still dies to wraths and sacrifice effects, what’s the problem? And for people that talk like this, I have just one question: What makes a good game of magic? When you lose a game of magic, what makes you look back and go, “Man, that was a great game?” What makes magic fun? (I know, that was three questions, but they were all basically the same).

I think more often than not, you will find that the most fun games are the ones with a lot of interaction between players. When someone plays creatures and turns them sideways until they win or lose, it’s not going to be much fun for very long. When the combo player goes off on turn 2 and wins on the spot, nobody will be writing home about that one. There needs to be threats and answers. There needs to be meaningful decision making throughout the game. TNN scoffs at this idea. Most decks in cube will have no answer to TNN and because of this, it represents a fairly game-warping force. This is something you want to watch out for and avoid like the plague. This might mean individually powerful cards like TNN or even entire “combo like” archetypes like reanimator or show and tell style decks. You need to keep in mind that cards and strategies can be too powerful for your cube.

These are certainly not all of the things to consider, but definitely the ones that I see most frequently ignored. So what kinds of things do you try to look out for when making cube adjustments? How often do you cut things for being “too powerful”? Leave me a comment and tell me about your process.

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