Greetings, I am Callan, although I sometimes go by the moniker Laz. Like Aaron, I too maintain a Magic: The Gathering Cube. Cube is a fantastic format, in that it is essentially ‘design your own limited environment’, and this means your personal Cube can be built in such a way as to promote which ever sort of gameplay you and your playgroup enjoy the most. If you have read Aaron’s cube intro (here), you will see that he favours a style of gameplay which resembles EDH, with huge swingy effects and a focus upon cards which excel in multi-player contexts. While I enjoy this style of Magic on occasion, my passion lies in 1v1 Magic, where games are decided by a number of smaller decisions. In this regard, I suppose you could state that where Aaron aims for EDH-like insanity, I aim for Legacy-like interactions.
This was the mission statement of my latest cube redesign, that I wanted a Cube which had as many layers as Legacy. As a point of illustration, recently, while watching a Legacy Miracles player, I noticed that their sequencing was entirely about maximising the number of shuffle effects that they had available to them, in order to maximise the value of their Brainstorms, and give them the greatest chance to find cards they needed with Sensei’s Divining Top. The moment that I realised that ‘shuffles’ were a resource that could to be carefully hoarded and spent for advantages, I knew where to set the goal posts for my cube.
While I do think asking for Cube to play like Legacy is probably asking too much, given that so much effort goes into creating incredibly consistent decks, with massive redundancy and highly focussed game plans. What I do want is a cube with Legacy-style decision trees, where games are won by, to paraphrase Sid Meier’s, ‘a series of meaningful decisions’.
These meaningful decisions need to start at the drafting level, and I feel this is a point that many Cube designers miss. From randomly drafting cubes on Cube Tutor, I have noticed that there isn’t very much emphasis on creating competing demand for cards or mechanics, and so manoeuvring the draft is kind of ‘auto-pilot’. The recent featured Tribal Cube is one of the worst offenders, and therefore one of the easiest examples to utilise to demonstrate this point. The decks at the end look interesting and seem like they have heaps of cool interactions, but the draft is basically ‘Am I being cut in my tribe? Ok, what now?’, where there is massive reward to being in an open tribe, and huge difficulty in transitioning if you are being cut because most of the interactions involve a critical density of mediocre cards. I am convinced the games are a blast to play, but the draft is really kind of boring.
While a more typical Cube doesn’t have the issue of mediocre cards which are dependant upon one another, which allows for an easier transition, but it does suffer from lack of flexible mana-fixing. Rather than being stuck in a tribe, you tend to become stuck in a colour or two, as there simply isn’t enough fixing to branch out. This is less true of control decks, because they don’t care as much about ‘come into play tapped’ lands and have time to find their mana. It is absolutely the case for aggressive decks, where the curse of being cut out of mono-red aggro is a real one, simply because there isn’t the density of fixing to enable a transition to Rakdos, Boros, etc. These emerge as gameplay dynamics, but are actually issues with drafting dynamics.
Focusing on making the draft interesting almost works to create interesting gameplay by default. You can create competing demand for cards through the use of overlapping mechanics, and the interactions between those mechanics surface in-game. Faithless Looting is awesome card filtering for aggressive decks, letting them throw away lands in search of threats, but also puts certain cards into the graveyard, for decks which care about that. The card will be taken and played in order to do both of these things, though likely in very different decks (excepting Rakdos Gravecrawler aggro…).
In future, I will discuss the mechanics I focussed on in each of my cubes, and how overlapping themes and archetypes were designed to promote both interesting drafting decisions and interesting gameplay.
Links to my cubes:
Primary Cube – My main 360, which has recently gone through a large rebuild. A more typical cube, though focussed upon providing a rich, decision-dense experience, rather than simply being about playing individual cards which demand immediate answers.
Scuttlemutt Cube – A fun design experiment, with emphasis on colour-matters as a design space, along side manipulation of counters on permanents. Named due to the primary purpose, which was to make a cube in which Scuttlemutt excelled. Lots of custom cards make this less readable on CubeTutor.