Stop me if you have heard this one before.... A guy puts five colors into a blender...
This isn't far from the truth. Building a cube is a lot like making your favorite recipe. To be exceptional, you have to make sure things are in perfect balance. Let it get off-kilter just a bit and you find yourself with a bland result; or at worse an unpalatable mess. Over the last six weeks we have journeyed through the entire color pie, going deep into what makes each of Magic's colors tick and helping you build a cube skeleton of your very own. Today we tie it up in a bow and discuss the "other cards" - artifacts and lands with a dash of colorlessness that provide the glue that holds it all together. It's like mayonnaise for the cube. Now I'm hungry, lets dig in.
Listen to the land.
Fixing. It is one of the most important components of the cube. While it can come in many forms, the most popular form of fixing is the dual land. In a micro-cube (or a cube skeleton) you have room for one full set of dual lands to cover every color pair. If I have to choose only one cycle for cube, by far my favorite is the "Shock Lands". These dual lands give the player a decision - bring the land into play untapped for two life, or into play tapped for free. These are great to provide turn one fixing for a cost, and late game you can just put them into play without taking the damage. This cycle is also my favorite because they have been reprinted and are relatively affordable. Unlike the original ABUR lands from the Reserved List, if you lose one or one gets stolen you won't regret it forever. Its important to remember a cube is made to be played - and putting your most valuable cards in a cube that may get shared with strangers is a recipe for disaster - just like adding too much salt to a cookie recipe.
Beyond the color fixing you have a little bit of room for cool "utility lands". Utility lands can also be used for fixing (like Mana Confluence in my cube) or to make an important ability available to all the players. They can also be included because they are just wacky fun. Don't feel handcuffed to only add "accepted lands" in these slots - it is a great way to personalize your cube without worrying that you added a "dead draw" to the draft. In my tiny cube, my wild card land is the retro classic Maze of Ith. Sometimes you just have to represent the Old School.
Artifacts are in many ways the foundations you build your cube on top of. These colorless cards offer simple utility that is draftable by all players running all deck types. This is by far one of the toughest parts of a cube to establish. There are so many good choices than many times the great ones fall by the wayside. This section of the cube can also become a "nostalgia magnet" with most of the slots filled solely by artifacts the curator has a fondness for; so it is always wise to take a step back and evaluate your artifact choices as objectively as possible. Each one of them needs to be a card that players would almost always include in their deck, either to build around or to fill an important role.
In our cube skeleton I have slotted 12 artifacts that are all considered "requirements" when building a cube. They all fill important roles for archetypes that may not be natively available in their slices of the color pie. For example, Sensei's Divining Top provides additional card draw and scrying, Sol Ring provides mana ramp and Coalition Relic more fixing. They may not be exciting choices, but they are important includes.
Finally, you may want to save a few slots for artifact and colorless creatures. In the 180 card skeleton, I managed to reserve room for three cards in this category. I typically use these slots as top end ramp targets. In a small cube you really don't need more than a handful of these and the color lists are so tight that it is hard to justify more than one in each. Putting a couple artifact and colorless targets gives ramp decks a couple of more chances to draft their "big creature" without diluting the color pool. My two ramp selections here are Wurmcoil Engine for its insane value and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for her sheer epic-ness. She is a card that "makes stories" and always changes the game. In the last slot I have cube mainstay Solemn Simulacrum. A card that provides ramp, card draw and a ready blocker in a single slot is hard to ignore.
Taste the rainbow.
Multi-color cards are the bane of cube builders everywhere. They are tough to evaluate, tough to balance and even tougher to playtest as the end up a lot of times in that pile of cards drafted but not used. Throw in a 180 card cube and this task becomes almost impossible. It has take me almost two years of building out my cube to come to this set of ten cards - because when you are running a micro-cube, all you get is one card in each color pair.
My first set of ten cards was strictly based on other cubes and what was considered the top card of each color pair. Let me tell you now this doesn't work in a 180 card cube. They may have been great cards - but in a draft of 2 to four people they were just dead draws; and frustrating ones at that because the actual cards were so good.
Now that you know what doesn't work, here is how I cracked the problem. Hybrid and split cards. Seriously. These utility focused cards are great in a small cube. In a pinch they can fill out a spot in twice as many decks and always provide some value. I would love to one day move to all hybrid because I think it would be a more "elegant" cube design, but some of the hybrid pairs are just to weak to matter in a cube environment, so the fallback in those pairs went to their slightly awkward but reliable cousins. Down below you will see all ten. I'd like to tell you that you can slot your own choices here, but in this case I'd say if you are curating a micro-cube for the first time, these are the droids you are looking for. Use these 10 exactly.
So that's Cube.
I think it's probably the most flexible of all the Magic formats. Cubes come in all sizes; some are themed, some are built around power level. There is a cube out there for every type of Magic player. I love a format that has something for everyone. Cubes are also spontaneous. Old friends that haven't played in years can sit around a cube and have a great card night with little to no preparation. It has all the social aspect of Commander without the deck building. Hopefully by reading this series you have figured out what kind of cube fits your playgroup and have started down the path of building one.
As a last piece of advice, take your time building your cube. It doesn't have to be perfect on day one. A lot of the enjoyment of cube building is the journey of obtaining that rare card you have always wanted through a trade or from a dealer at a show. It's a little like going on a scavenger hunt with a prize at the end for the winner. When its over, you realize the fun wasn't in the prize, it was in the hunt. Not that curating a cube is ever "over" as your play styles change and you grow as a magic player so will your Cube. It will become a reflection of you as a player and that is what makes it so special. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
Have cube questions? Hit me up in the comments below!
This is a seven part, introductory series on cube. Here's how to catch up.
Travel Cubed (Introduction),
As always, my entire list can be found on Cube Tutor.