Why We Play: Cube

This week’s episode is going to attempt to deconstruct the value of creating your own draft set- be it a set or block specific one, or a custom one (also known as a cube).  I’ve owned a few different cubes and draft sets in my time playing Magic, and from my experience they tend to come and go as you and your friends play Magic.  What I want to figure out is if they’re a worthwhile investment, so let’s jump right in.

The standard Draft set is one Magic set with four of each common, two of each uncommon and one of each rare and mythic- there are variations on this numbering, but I’m going to use the standard one.  I recently built a Shadows over Innistrad draft set by collecting draft chaff from a month of drafts and buying about $80 worth of rares and mythics (I drafted the majority of the very valuable cards, which saved me a bunch of money- so this number might change a lot for you).  I got my lands from two Shadows Over Innistrad fat pack land packs (donated generously by friends), and the tokens I use are little scrap pieces of whiteboard in 1.5”x2.5” rectangles, which cost me $15 for enough whiteboard for 50, plus a sharp knife and some time.

My draft set might differ from yours, but you can endeavour to spend as little as possible by drafting the set either with friends or at your Local Game Store.   I played about 20 drafts with my SOI draft set before we got bored of it.  Assuming after selling all your cards from a draft, each one costs you $5 (some drafts will pay for a draft and a bit, some will pay for less than a full draft, eventually you balance out to around $5), then twenty drafts saves you $100 of value; given they both are the same level of fun, that’s a pretty good deal.

The other main draft set format is Cube- which is a custom draft set, with your own custom restrictions for what cards are included.  Cubes can take a ton of forms- Pauper cubes include only cards that have been printed at Common; Peasant cubes include cards that have been printed at Common or Uncommon; Old-bordered cubes are only cards printed before 8th Edition; and there are a near infinite number of other cube options- All Relentless Rats/ Pack Rats? Who knows!

One of the members of my playgroup curates an un-powered Vintage cube (Cards legal in Vintage, not including the power 9).  His cube is a ton of fun, featuring a bunch of very well balanced archetypes and mid-to-high complexity, which is one of my personal criteria for a fun draft format.  He’s probably spent close to $3500 on his cube, due to it being about 50% altered, foil, or misprinted- so let’s use that as our absolute maximum for a “fun cube”.

If you were to build his exact list with nonfoil cards and non-full-art basics, you could probably look to spend about $1700, which is admittedly a lot.  How much is that in FNM drafts at net -$5? We’re talking having to play 340 drafts to break even with an FNM draft, which is a lot (we’re talking 1300+ hours of Magic).  The advantage of such a cube is not the value of building it, but rather the play value- High complexity drafting is extremely fun for more experienced Magic players, and personally this sort of cube is one of the most fun experiences I have.

Weighing the draft set against the custom cube also comes with a big factor- resale value.  It’s very difficult, if at all possible to re-sell a standard draft set in one piece.  Most of the money you might make back is from selling off the valuable rares and mythics, which if you bought them in the first place will usually lose you some amount of money.  If you’re investing in a custom cube and pouring thousands of dollars into it, you’re likely to see a fair bit of that money back if you decide to cash out and sell your cube.  It’s not a huge consideration to keep in mind, I’d rather pick what’s best for my play style than what will return my money when I’m done with it, but it’s worth thinking about.


Finally- we’ve got to talk about other pricing concerns: carrying solutions, sleeves, perfect fits, and dividers… Cubes come with many hidden costs, since you’ll have to buy anywhere from 500 to 1000 sleeves and some way to transport your cube (all dependant on the size of your cube and how many players it supports), this can be a very expensive part of the build.  I cannot recommend more to properly protect your cards with a solid carrying solution and sleeving system.  I’ve seen thousand dollar cubes spill onto the floor because an older Holiday Gift Box broke (the newer ones are of a very high quality, just make sure the lid stays on).  Do your research and decide what’s right for your cube and budget- and remember to buy extra sleeves, you don’t want to have someone shuffle poorly and break 4 or 5 sleeves and have to de-sleeve lands every time it happens, just get an extra 10-20 sleeves and you’ll be fine for a good period of time.

All in all, I don’t know if I can recommend building a cube if you don’t already have a sizable collection, but if you have friends with cubes, I can recommend playing them often as cube is one of my favourite formats.

Signing off from Cube 2: Hypercube

-Steven

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