Size Matters

As I said in my last post, my posts in the near future are going to be covering a lot of the basics of MTG cube design, or at least what I would consider the basics. Today I want to talk about cube sizes.

On the surface, this seems like a very simple decision. I mean, how much impact can the total number of cards actually have? You would be surprised.

So right off the bat, you may have already noticed that there are some specific numbers that are common cube sizes. 360, 450, 540, 630, and 720 are probably the most popular. This is because in a traditional draft with 15 card packs and 3 packs per player, these sizes are the minimum size requirements to support 8, 10, 12, 14, and 16 player drafts respectively.

Now, this may not seem important, but remember that different cubes have their own unique rules. If you plan on having 10 card packs and 5 packs per player for whatever reason, 360 no longer makes a lot of sense. So before you just pick a random number, make sure you know why you are picking that number.

“Okay”, you say, “but that’s pretty still a simple decision.”

Sit back down, there is plenty more to go over. So the specific number is important, but the general size still has very large impacts on how the cube is going to play.

For instance, if you have a very small cube, and you are wanting to play with the most powerful cards in magic, you are going to have a pretty cookie cutter cube. There are quite a few powerful cards that stand head and shoulders above the rest and when you are running cards based solely on power level, you don’t have much room to be creative. If you are wanting to do cool and unique things with your cube, this may not be the path that you want to take.

“Alright, so if I want to make lots of unique design choices, I should make a larger cube”, you postulate.

Hold on, now. Remember those archetypes you were wanting to support? Well, for an archetype to work, you need to have a critical mass worthwhile supporting cards (cards with archetype-specific synergies) and enough anchor cards (cards with archetype-specific synergies with a high enough base power level to be played outside of the archetype in question) to bring the decks together. This will never be a problem for an archetype like goblins or artifacts, but what about the more unique archetypes? What about the “lands matter” deck? There are only so many cards that work with some of the more interesting archetypes, and the larger your cube becomes, the more cards you need to dedicate to a given strategy to support it. This is only a problem in singleton cubes, but I believe that is the majority of cubes nowadays.

So you see, you have to find the perfect balance between having enough room to create a unique experience while still keeping it small enough to avoid diluting any of your archetypes. You also need to make sure that you have enough cards in your cube to support the needs of your playgroup. And where is this sweet spot? What is the perfect size for cube? It all depends on what kind of cube you want to build.

So, what size cube do you run? Do any of you run an unorthodox number of cards? If so, why? Leave a comment and tell me about it.


For my first real post, I’ve decided to talk about Magic: The Gathering Cubes. I don’t want to get super technical in my first post, so let’s start with the basics:

What is a cube?

Well, a cube is a collection of cards made to be drafted from. While there are many interesting ways to draft cube, usually you make packs of 15 random cube cards and run it like a normal draft.

Cube drafting has many advantages over regular drafting, but the biggest are as follows:

-You only have to buy the cards once

-You can define your own unique limited environment.

I would like to focus on the second point. As someone who has devoted countless hours to maintaining and refining my cube, I notice that many cube designers don’t fully take advantage of this second point. I see so many cubes that are just a large collection of the “best” cards in magic. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. In fact, as a friend of mine once so eloquently put it – “I like playing good cards” – that is one of the big draws for cube.

But what many designers don’t really take into account is that they are designing an entire limited environment. When you make a cube, it is up to you to support various archetypes. It is up to you to maintain balance. These things don’t just happen magically. With each and every card choice, you are shaping the environment, and therefore the drafting experience. You want people to have fun drafting the cube, right? So sure, you can just jam all of the strongest effects into one box of cards and call it a cube, and if that’s what your drafters like then go for it. From my experience, however, ensuring balance is paramount to ensuring fun and interactive drafts.

There have been many articles written on where to start when building a cube, so if you are interested, I would suggest checking out one of these links:

There are many methods of cube design, but most start with the same fundamentals:

-Decide on your theme if applicable

-Decide on any special rules if applicable

-Determine which archetypes you want to support and which color combinations will support them

-Develop an outline to adhere to

Now, what you do after this, including making the list of actual cards to include, should vary from person to person. I like to start with a high power environment and slowly swap out generically powerful cards for cards that promote synergy within the cube. Others may do it differently. But I wanted to stress this list of starting steps. This may seem like a simple series of tasks, but they are incredibly important to creating a fun drafting environment. Though I haven’t covered anything new here, I just want to stress these basics one more time. Nothing I say about the more nuanced decisions mean anything if you don’t have a solid base. In future posts I will be going more in-depth with each of these fundamentals and eventually into individual card choices, but for now I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.


So for those of you who are cube designers, what are your starting steps to building a cube? Anyone thinking about making their very first cube? Leave a comment, let me know what you think.


The First of (Hopefully) Many

This is the first post of my new blog, The Smokestack. Here I will be talking about a wide array of things that interest me, but don’t be surprised if I spend the majority of posts discussing Magic: The Gathering related topics. I’m a long time player and there is always so much to talk about.

My goal for this blog is to start a few discussions. I do this because I feel there are things that I want others to know, but whats more, I do this because I want to know what everyone else thinks about the things I care so much about. I’m in this to learn, so if I ever say anything that you disagree with or don’t understand, let me know. Leave a comment telling me how wrong I am and hopefully we can start a dialogue.

I will be doing my best to get a new post out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I am in the midst of moving out to California at the moment, so things may be a little bumpy to start off, but bear with me.