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Cubing on the Cheap

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube, Kitchen Table

Magic can be an incredibly addictive habit, especially when it comes to one of the most compelling formats: Limited. There is something ridiculously compelling about being forced to make decisions that can impact the deck you play and your chances at victory. It’s an adrenaline rush knowing each step you take could be toward ultimate triumph or crushing defeat.

But like many addictions, it costs a ton of money. When the vast majority of your funds are tied up with tuition, books, housing bills and the occasional Taco Bell run, it’s hard to saddle up the $12 to $20 a week. So are forced to go without fresh packs and exciting experiences. I was suffering from draft withdrawal myself, languishing in Magic limbo where I desperately wanted to draft but couldn’t actually do it because of lack of funds. It wasn’t until I discovered a box of bulk commons in my basement and began sorting them based on block that I realized I could “beat the system” and draft on my own with homemade “packs.” Thus began my love affair with cube drafting that has managed to thrive at college. Friends, acquaintances and complete strangers have come out of nowhere to express their love for the game, and began to draft in cube with our collective lack of resources.

As time has progressed, our homebrewed bunch of cards has been a source of some truly, resoundingly fun times. Like any burgeoning concept, it has also suffered some setbacks and been the cause of some truly boring games. But we have managed to press forward, and on nights when we have nothing to do (or I badger my friends enough) the cube comes out and we have a grand old time. Through it all, I’ve learned some important lessons about playing with and facilitating homemade drafts.

Remove Some Removal

In a regular draft, removal goes ridiculously fast. Cards like Terror, Fireball and Oblivion Ring are among cards I would be completely happy picking first. When I constructed the cube, it was hard not to resist cramming it to the rafters with removal. So many of the cards that have shaped my gaming experience have been spells that kill creatures. When I think back to drafting Shards of Alara, my first thought immediately jumps to moments where I’ve either used or been crushed by a backbreaking Agony Warp. As much as I enjoy spells like Agony Warp, however, a glut of powerful monster-annihilating spells can easily overwhelm even the most stable cubes.

A few weeks ago, my group of friends and I were gathered together for a few rousing hours of Lorwyn cube. During my first game I piloted a B/U control deck full of Weed Strangle, Eyeblight’s Ending, Broken Ambition and Pestermite against a W/R deck sporting a healthy dose of burn spells. What ensued was a slug-fest of epic proportions, three games of ridiculously dangerous magic. After hitting the table, a creature’s average lifespan was one turn. Of the 14 creatures in my deck, only two survived the final game. Of the 13 creatures in my opponent’s deck none made it through alive.

While this resulted in an amazing 30-minute power struggle, it didn’t end so well for everyone. Armed with enough hot fire and death to overwhelm even the most stalwart foes, I piloted my control deck to an undefeated record. The easy victories were fun for me, but I learned something from the downcast look on my friends’ faces as their strategies came to a gruesome end. Removal spells are meant to kill creatures, not the draft.

Enough removal helps make the cube better. It encourages strategic playing by making people think about their actions and consider their moves based on what you might be holding. But too much removal limits the number of relevant decisions players can make.

Ramp Your Mana Fixing

When selecting a set or individual cards for your Cube, it’s always important to ponder how easy it will be for players to cast the spells they draft. New players tend to draft multiple colors with little thought for synergy. Cards like Manalith, Rampant Growth and Farseek allow those new to the experience to build a deck that revolves around the sheer power of their individual spells rather than crafting a well-curved, efficient killing machine. The opposite also holds true. Experienced players will rely on mana fixing to fuel ambitious decks and convoluted strategies.

When building or improving your cube, always be cognizant of the need for flexibility in the ways you can cast spells. Green offers several great options for fixing, including Kodoma’s Reach, Harrow and Explore. While colored mana fixing provides many easy solutions to this problem, there are several invaluable artifacts in the never-ending quest for the perfect curve. Traveler’s Amulet, Lotus Petal and Barbed Sextant are excellent ways to ensure that no matter what type of deck you play, you’ll have an easy time playing your spells.

Visit Jurassic Park

Everybody has a bad day. Sometimes it rains when you’ve left your umbrella several blocks away at your apartment. Other days you studied the wrong material for a major test or forgot a significant other’s birthday. These days happen and when they do the best thing to do is simply grit your teeth, tighten your grip, and press on.

Just like in real life, you can have some truly crappy drafts. You may open two or three game-breaking spells only to be completely cut out of that color for the rest of the draft. During those situations, you are left with the momentous task of salvaging what’s left of your deck and turning it into something that can actually win games. Steve Sadin has written recent articles about how to salvage a terrible draft. But for our purposes we’ll be focusing on “dinosaurs” — essentially any large creature with no abilities that can be played with a little manna acceleration, and perhaps some removal to support it.

The concept is simple: Play big creatures and swing. The strategy takes into account that some opponents will simply not be able to handle the sheer size and strength of your monsters. It may not be pretty or graceful, but it works. These creatures act as a failsafe for drafts that have gone horribly wrong when you can’t seem to salvage a plan.

The best part about these creatures is how prevalent they are in almost every color (not just green gets all the cool toys). Blue is renowned for giant sea serpents and my personal favorite, the almighty Vizzerdrix. Red boasts several big, brutish giants and ogres that do only one thing. Even black and white, two colors renowned for efficient monsters, boasts a few large bruisers Black has access to Zombie Goliath and Terrus Wurm (a card with fatness and flexibility) while white boasts the mighty Loxodon warriors.

Much as it pains me to say so, there have been many times during a draft where I have been forced to saddle up my T-Rexes and ride headlong into battle Dinotopia style. In one particularly intense game of Innistrad cube, I crafted a strange B/U/G deck with two Kindercatch, several Caravan Vigils, and the omnipresent Traveler’s Amulet. Miraculously, I was able to lead my army of dopey beaters into a heated victory as they gradually ate away at my opponent. When you have no plan, little synergy and almost no hope, sometimes the best possible solution is bringing in the club.

Beating the Bank

As I have mentioned, Magic is a relatively expensive and addictive habit to feed. Many college students have been forced to find new and creative ways to stretch the few dollars they have while maximizing their options. Remember that how you build your cube and the way you use the resources you’ve been given is just as important as the cards you put into it. These tips will help you in your quest to build the ultimate cube and not go broke in the process.

Induct some newbies

Bringing new players can be one of the best ways to expand a cube and make friends at the same time. Players with large collections may be generous and allow everyone to use their cards as a quasi cube for a short time. Those with smaller collections may be willing to swap or loan cards that add new selections, strategic interactions and unique strategies to the cube. Even those players with few or no new cards can bring much needed perspective on the way your group plays.

Hit the “Reject” Bin

Many comic/game stores have boxes of unwanted commons, uncommons and bulk rares they want to sell. These boxes are a great way of expanding your options when it comes to cubing. When I was little, I used to spend a dollar a week on 10 commons from the “reject bin” at our local store. Those cards brought me into Magic and became the basis for my collection. Now that I’m older the “reject bin” has proven invaluable to my cubing endeavors. Great cards like Doom Blade, Terminate and Mire Boa for 10 cents each? I think so, good sir.

Expand Your Hunting Grounds

Yard sales, auctions and rummage sales often have entire collections of old cards for sale (I recently procured one that had a Force of Will). These kinds of venues are the perfect places to grab key commons for the Cube or just find cards to bulk up your selection. For the truly bold, I suggest running a “Crap Pack Draft” done entirely out of the prepackaged cards from bookstores. It’s interesting to watch experienced players adapt to lower card quality, strange synergy and strategies that could only spawn when 12 sets or more are mingled. Its not only a ton of fun but a great way to practice the fundamentals of drafting skill.

Draft the New Set

While this may seem counterintuitive if you want to avoid spending a ton of money, drafting the newest set helps you build a new and stronger cube. Learning the new mechanics will help you decide if you want to incorporate them in the cube. It’s also a great way to introduce yourself to new players looking to cube, and is an excellent way to get your hands on cards that no one wants to take home. At a recent draft, someone left a Conjured Currency and a pile of commons and uncommons on the table. Good thing scavenge is a mechanic in real life ….

— Kyle Ott

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