The Cube project continues! If you missed any of the saga so far, you can catch up here:
Part 1 – Finding the Beginning
Part 2 – Counters and Counters
Part 3 – Sorted by Colour

When picking out the cards for the remaining colours, I kept running into the same issue: I had too many interchangable cards. These cards were so similar that it made it difficult to decide which ones to include. I knew that I would need some redundancy here and there, like the sacrifice outlets for the aristocrats archetype, or the payoffs for casting instant and sorcery spells, but how many of these cards do these archetypes even need? And what about more generic cards, like removal? If a group of similar cards can straddle multiple archetypes, should I include more of them because they’ll be in higher demand, or do I increase scarcity by only including one or two of them? Trying to juggle all of these factors, while also considering the subtle differences of creature size and mana cost, I was starting to feel very overwhelmed.

A Recurring Problem

Black cards in particular have a lot of redundancy. Whether it’s a removal spell, or a way to draw cards, there are so many small variations on the same basic card that it’s incredibly difficult to choose between them. Take these self-reassembling creatures, for example:

The artistocrats archetype loves creatures like this, and depending on which creature you include, aggro and control decks can make good use of them, too. The trouble is, which one, or ones, should I put in my Cube? Reassembling Skeleton and Bloodsoaked Champion are probably two of the more generically powerful cards, but Sanitarium Skeleton pairs better with discard effects, and Oathsworn Vampire is one of the best ones in a pure life gain archetype.

My personal playstyle tends toward aristocrats as an archetype, so I knew that I’d have to watch myself; it would be very easy for me to make it the single best archetype in my Cube, throwing all attempts at balance out the window, but that would be a disaster. Including too many of these reassembling creatures would easily pave the way for that, so I decided to rein it in. After a lot of back and forth, I ultimately decided to include Oathsworn Vampire in my first version of the Cube, but none of these other creatures. It would serve as a unique payoff for the life gain deck, but could still be a strong choice in the aristocrats decks if they were able to build around it a little bit. Knowing that there would be at least one Blood Artist equivalent in the Cube, I figured that wouldn’t be too difficult in the long run.

Of course, this just led to the problem of which Blood Artist creatures to include, and the cycle continued…

Redundant Redundacy

With each subsequent colour, it felt like my task was getting harder and harder. Once I’d figured out the black cards I moved on to red, and while a couple of picks felt easy, I quickly hit the same wall. In particular, I struggled with red’s removal; how good should a Cube’s burn spells be?

Red’s primary source of removal is damage based, meaning how good it is is entirely dependent on the average toughness of the creatures surrounding it. For instance, Electrickery is one of the go-to mass-removal spells in Pauper because so many creatures in that format have 1 toughness, but trying to use it in Modern or Commander would be foolhardy. Generally, two damage is enough to take out anything that costs two or less, while three damage will kill most things up to about four mana; Magic Origins was a great example of this formula in action, and Fiery Impulse was right in the middle of these two categories. At only one mana you were never sad to use it on a small creature, but if you could get enough spells in your graveyard to turn it into a Lightning Bolt it would be so much better.

Most of the creatures in my Cube paralleled the sizes in Magic Origins, with three or more toughness rarely showing up at lower mana costs. With that in mind, and not wanting my removal to be too strong, I decided against using Lightning Bolt itself, but Lightning Strike seemed like it hit a good balance between quality and cost. I spiced things up a bit with some of the other spells, like Volt Charge and Stoke the Flames, but my personal favourite might be Twin Bolt; it’s not big and splashy, but you always feel so clever when you can take out two creatures with it.

I also determined that the burn spells in red could afford to be a little bit worse on average, and a little less abundant since they would be supplemented by a number of damage-dealing creatures, like Grim Lavamancer and the tokens from Dance with Devils. This meant that red wouldn’t feel like it was just a stock Burn deck, with a pile of interchangeable direct-damage spells. I was able to do a few different things with the colour, hopefully making each card serve a similar, but ultimately unique role in the Cube.


The Same, but Different

Ultimately, each colour needs an assortment of cards that are similar enough to provide redundancy, but different enough that they don’t all feel identical. It’s a tough balance to strike. Trying to decide on which mana creatures to include in green was arguably the hardest decision yet; these creatures are incredibly similar by definition, and in many cases they are effectively the same card.

Looking at most Cubes, they typically include several one-cost mana elves, whether they are Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, Fyndhorn Elves, or any of the others. For a while I thought I’d follow suit in my Cube, but the more I tweaked my list of green cards, the less I actually wanted any of the Llanowar clones. I know they’re strong, and enough of them together support strong ramp strategies, but it occurred to me that none of my archetypes quite fit into stock “mana ramp”. Red/green wanted big creatures, and green/blue wanted creatures to untap, but I wanted something other than the stock Llanowar Elves.

My choices at two mana proved far more interesting from the onset. Not only was there a a variety of power and toughness, but the mana abilites themselves were more nuanced. Did I want mana of any colour from a Paradise Druid, or would I prefer occasionally adding two green mana with a Leafkin Druid or Whisperer of the Wilds?

At the end of the day I settled on a few different mana creatures, namely Loam Dryad, Whisperer of the Wilds, Voyaging Satyr and Blossom Dryad. To supplement these I also included Fertile Ground and New Horizons, which could each bolster a land. These enchantments are especially good alongside Voyaging Satyr and Blossom Dryad, as well as the blue untap effects, like Vizier of Tumbling Sands. Compared to Llanowar Elves, these all seemed far more interesting.

Once I settled on the mana creatures I could focus on other issues, like the giant pile of four-mana creatures I wanted to include. After a lot of puzzling I went back and took a hard look at my green archetypes, cutting out the four-drops that didn’t fit anywhere. In the end I had to cut a lot of cards I like, but I think I finally settled on a good selection. My one indulgence was Greenhilt Trainee, which I fear won’t see much play in my Cube. He’s really powerful when you can activate his ability, but getting him to that point may requires far too much effort. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Nearly There

It’s been a long journey, and I appreciate all of you who have joined me up to this point. I hope you’ll come back next time for the conclusion of my Cube Route saga. I only have artifacts and lands left to add and then it’s done. Finally.

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