Time goes on, we’re all still hunkered down at home, but at least I’ve made more progress on my Cube.

If you haven’t seen the other articles in my Cube Route series, you can find them here:
Part 1 – Finding the Beginning
Part 2 – Counters and Counters


Write Lists

With a task this size you have to know what you’re looking for. Lists are your friend here; it’s far easier to look things up in a database like Scryfall or Gatherer and jot down the names of the cards that catch your eye than it is to pull out piles cards you might not even need. If you write a general list of things to focus on before you open any boxes it’ll help narrow your focus and keep you on task. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get distracted by something cool in your collection that’s completely unrelated to your list and you’ll want to set it aside anyway. At least if you have a list of specific cards you’re trying to find, you should end up doing that less often.

It’s easy to make your lists needlessly long, which defeats the purpose of making them. Still, it’s a lot easier to strike a name off it than it is to dig out a card only to have to put it away again; that just leads to a disorganized mess. Ideally, you want to curate your list before you even start searching, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your list will probably have too many cards on it no matter what you do, but if you’re as selective as possible at the start it’ll make everything else easier.

Your list doesn’t need to include every card you like; when you’re going through your collection you’ll probably want to pull those cards out anyway. Instead, focus your list on the cards you absolutely need for your archetypes to function. You can always fill in the gaps with other cool cards later, but you want to make sure you find your key cards first. A list can really help with that. You want life gain archetype in your cube? Make a note to find payoff cards, like Ajani’s Pridemate and Bloodthirsty Aerialist. Your Crackling Drake needs instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard? Add spells to your list that help to fill your graveyard, like Strategic Planning! Once you start digging through your boxes for cards you’ll have a plan, and it’ll go a lot faster.

Sort. Your. Cards.

As useful as lists are, the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone wanting to build a Cube is to start by sorting your collection. It’s probably the longest, most tedious part of this process, but it makes everything so much easier. Finding cards for your Cube go much faster, and if you keep it organized then any future projects will also go more smoothly.

The first thing I did before even starting work on my Cube was to go through everything I owned and organize it by colour. I’d done this piecemeal over the years, but I didn’t always keep up with it, meaning I had several boxes that were just a jumbled mess. Finding things in my collection was difficult, to say the least. Now that I had more time at home, I didn’t really have an excuse to leave my boxes as they were, so I hunkered down and powered through it. I forced myself to focus only on the task at hand, and didn’t stop to read any cards like I often do. Still, I can usually identify a card pretty quickly at a glance, so even though I wasn’t stopping to read anything I was able to remind myself of the contents of my collection as I went through everything. Having a loose inventory in the back of my mind was handy when I started writing my lists; with it I was able to make the occasional note that some cards I wanted for the Cube I just didn’t own, like the Noggle Ransacker.

Once I had everything sorted by colour I could start pulling out cards for the Cube. With a list in hand I picked a colour and got to work. To make my life easier, I continued to sort my collection as I went. I decided to split my cards into two piles to start: creature cards and noncreature cards. From there I could sort them alphabetically, though I found that sorting beyond the first letter was overly tedious. I was already getting tired of all this sorting, so I decided that it didn’t need to be perfect. Thankfully, even if my Blue > Creature > K cards were a bit jumbled, it would still be significantly easier to find a specific card later if necessary. Going through a small stack of cards is much faster than digging through several boxes, after all.

Unfortunately I don’t have a set of proper dividers for each section, which I’ll have to rectify as soon as I can. Keeping everything organized with dividers should be much easier than without them, and I’d really like to avoid my collection falling back into disarray. That’s really the key to organizing your collection: no matter how you decide to sort your cards, do it in such a way that you can easily maintain it. There will always be new decks to build and new sets to collect, and if your filing system is too complicated it can be easy to get complacent and just start dumping your cards into a disorganized heap again.

Make Cuts

Once I’d finished going through all the cards of a colour I went back and reviewed the stack of cards I’d set aside for my Cube. I knew I’d need to get my selection down to about fifty cards (actually closer to fourty-six thanks to the hybrid cards I added), and the fewer cards I had the better. Adding cards back in wouldn’t be an issue, but if I could cut my pile down to the bare essentials I knew my Cube would be better for it.

I needed to be pretty ruthless with these cuts, too. As much as I might want a Willbreaker in the Cube, I had to ask how well she fit into my archetypes. I laid out my cards like I was building one large deck, by type and converted mana cost, and tried to make cuts based on a rough mana curve. Did I have too many two-mana creatures? Was there enough removal? What about my selection of noncreature spells? I tried to give special consideration to each archetype of that colour, too. Were there enough cards to make a blink/bounce deck work? What about tap/untap synergies? Were these cards flexible, or would they only be good in one archetype? Anything that didn’t fit nicely into two or more strategies had to be really important or else I’d remove it, no matter how much I liked the card.

After my dispassionate cuts I got down to about forty-two cards. That left me with some wiggle room to put some cards back in. I tried to use the space available to fill in any gaps that I felt the colour might need, either to support a specific archetype or to provide more general utility, mostly in the form of removal and card draw.

Too Many Cycles?

When I first started thinking about this Cube I started thinking about all of the card cycles I could include, like the cycle of ten “CCDD” guild creatures. The trouble was that I wanted to include too many of them: I didn’t need all five Retreats from Battle for Zendikar, or all five Sieges from Fate Reforged, did I? If I put all of these cycles into my Cube then I’d run out of room, and I was quickly learning that there isn’t nearly as much room in a Cube as it seems. Nevertheless, I figured I could afford to squeeze in two card cycles without it being a problem, especially if a couple of the cards in each cycle supported my archetypes.

With only room for two cycles, I decided to include five War of the Spark uncommon planeswalkers and the six Mares from Core 19.

The Mares were an easy inclusion for me, since they are very near and dear to my heart, even if they don’t necessarily fit that well into any of my Cube’s archetypes. I was comforted by the fact that when drafting M19 the Mares were always solid picks no matter what deck you were building (except perhaps for poor Lightning Mare, whose low toughness was always a bit of a liability), so I imagined that they could fill a similar role in my Cube. Given my personal history with these cards I really wanted to include them; after all, I wouldn’t want them to feel left out!

On the other hand, I wasn’t initially planning on including any legendary cards in my Cube, especially planeswalkers. I’m not really a fan of the way planeswalkers warp games around themselves whenever they’re in play, but after some careful consideration I decided I could make an exception for a handful of uncommon planeswalkers.

Most planeswalkers constantly generate an advantage while they’re in play, and the longer they stick around the harder it is to deal with them. What sets the uncommon planeswalkers apart is their inability to increase their loyalty on their own, making them much easier for an opponent to destroy them. Chipping in for a little bit of damage each turn is effective when the planeswalker’s loyalty can only decrease; even a 1/1 can eliminate one of these threats given enough time.

The uncommon planeswalkers are still disruptive when they’re on the battlefield; their static abilities are not unlike powerful enchantments, so they usually can’t be ignored. That said, unlike most planeswalkers, beating an uncommon planeswalker never feels like an insurmountable task, just a difficult one. I might eventually swap out which five planeswalkers I include in my Cube the end, but the ones I picked strike a good balance between powerful and beatable, so I’m pretty happy with them. Ob Nixilis might be more suitable than Davriel, but the only copy I own seems to be in one of my Commander decks. Arlinn is also a safer card to include than Yanggu, but unfortunately she breaks my rule about creature types; otherwise I might include her.

Take Breaks

I highly recommend taking several breaks as you work on a long project like this. Find a good spot to stop, then step away for a few hours. It’s tempting to try and do everything in one long marathon in an effort to finish it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not only will you burn yourself out and get frustrated by the project, but it gets easy to tunnel in on one idea or archetype too much if you don’t take a moment to step back.

By doing something else for a while you can return to your work feeling refreshed, and with a new perspective. If you’re stuck on a decision, looking at it it after a day or two of doing other things can make finding the solution a lot easier. Sometimes all you need is a fresh look to see what doesn’t fit, or to realize what you’re missing. Just remember not to leave your project for too long, or you might never get back to it!

An Open-Ended Project

It’s important to remind yourself with any project that your first draft is just that: a draft. I fully expect to make changes to my Cube as I get closer to finishing it, and nothing that I’m doing is set in stone. Just like my Commander decks, I’ll inevitably end up tinkering with my list after it’s finished anyway. It’s easy to lose sight of this when working on something of this scope; you want everything to be just right when you’re done, because anything less will feel like a failure. If something isn’t quite right after your first draft it’s ok, and you need to remember that. No one should expect perfection from the first version of anything, whether it’s a Cube, a deck, a drawing or whatever else you create. Great works don’t just spring into existence, they start as a rough cut before getting polished. Don’t lose sight of that, and don’t beat yourself up over imperfections.

Next Steps

While they might not be perfect, I’m pretty happy with my choices for mono-blue and mono-white cards in my Cube. I’m working diligently to get the other colours finished, and once I’ve settled on a preliminary list for all of the mono-coloured cards I can go back and review my archetypes to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I can make some tweaks if needed, but I also know that I’ll be able to fill in some gaps here and there with my selection of artifacts and lands. I’ve made a lot of headway so far, and with a bit of effort it shouldn’t take too much longer to get my Cube to a point where it can be drafted. I think the end is nearly in sight!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.