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How To Cube Draft!

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I've been playing Magic for over 20 years. I've played everywhere from no-format casual decks on dirty lunchroom tables to The World Championships on the tables at the literal Louvre in Paris, across almost every format in the game. While I love competitive Magic and the various Constructed and Limited formats, one of the most enjoyable to me will always be Cube draft.

Tangle Wire
Oath of Druids
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Cube draft manages a perfect balance of everything that is awesome in Magic. Playing Cube allows you to have many different experiences spanning Magic's storied history, while building your own Cube is like building a deck dialed up to 1000.

However, Cube can be a bit daunting for even experienced Magic players as there is a lot going on.

We're talking almost 30 years of Magic cards all being mixed together in weird and unexpected ways, archetypes you may have never played before, and cards that haven't seen serious Constructed play in decades! A such, your first Cube draft will often end up feeling disjointed as you start to understand how the Cube format - a wonderful mixture of both Limited and Constructed - works.

Well, today I'm here to guide you!

We're going to go over the key concepts of Cube, using the Magic Online Vintage Cube for examples but which will be applicable to almost any Cube. This is extra awesome because Magic Online is granting a free Cube draft token to every existing account this holiday season, so you can get in on the fun at no cost!

So, let's get started with perhaps the most important concept...

Build A Deck, Not Just Cards!

Your first Cube draft can be a wild ride.

If you're used to normal Limited, it can be completely overwhelming to see every pack completely jammed full of powerful and bomby cards. Normally in Limited your opportunity to take a Constructed power-level card may only come around once or twice per draft, but in a Cube draft this opportunity presents itself pretty much every time you look at a card. This can lead to some serious option paralysis.

Wrath of God
Savannah Lions

My first Cube draft over 15 years ago was a blur at GP San Francisco 2007, where I ended up with a pile of Wrath of Gods and Savannah Lions. Unsurprisingly it didn't go very well, as I had drafted a pile of good cards, not a deck. And therein lies the lesson:

In a Cube draft you are constructing a deck, not drafting cards.

Just like when you build a Constructed deck, you need to have goals in mind and all of your card choices should be informed by that goal. An example:

We're just starting pack two in this Vintage Cube draft and we're off to a very nice start on an aggressive White deck with a bit of disruption. We are presented with Ravages of War or Fatal Push as options, with Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia and Loyal Warhound as playable but lesser options.

Fatal Push
Ravages of War

While Fatal Push is perhaps the best Black removal spell ever printed, a staple in every format it is legal in, and probably a better card in a vacuum, it's important to understand the gameplan of our deck. We need early aggression and disruption, as the Vintage Cube environment is very powerful. Every kill spell in our deck is one less threat or disruptive element; we're a threat deck not an answer deck.

As such, Ravages of War is definitely the better pick. Think about what you think your deck is doing and what goals it wants to accomplish, then plan your picks accordingly!

Swing For The Fences!

Speaking of planning on what your deck is going to do, Cube draft is not the time to be timid!

Oath of Druids
Splinter Twin
Reanimate

There are many extremely powerful things you can do in a Cube draft, but it may feel daunting because you can't be sure if it will all plan out. "What if I take the Splinter Twin and never get a Deciever Exarch?" you may ask yourself, but your goal in a Cube, especially in a high-powered Cube, is to swing for the fences. Getting enough playable cards is rarely an issue in a Cube draft, so you should be taking the high risk, high reward cards whenever given the opportunity.

Put it this way:

You'd much rather draft a bunch of 10s with the understanding that some of them are going to end up as 0s and not make your deck than just have a deck full of 7s. Even if you end up with some of the 10s that didn't pan out in your sideboard, you'll still have the ones that did in your deck. This is much better than just having a deck full of straight 7s and no real upside.

An example:

In this example we see a late pick in pack two between Toski, Bearer of Secrets (a medium card in our ramp deck) and Progenitus. Now we don't have a Natural Order yet, but there's a good chance if somebody opens one in pack three that we will get a look at it. Considering we'd already love to have a Natural Order in our deck, having the ability to Natural Order for Progenitus is an extremely powerful avenue for our deck to have.

And if we don't get a Natural Order? No big deal! It's just one pick. We don't need Toski, and we're going to have plenty of playables.

Keep Yourself Open!

Part of this idea of swinging for the fences is also about keeping yourself open and flexible.

The more powerful picks you have, the more options you have to potentially move into a different direction when that direction presents itself. Speculative picks that may or not pan out but have high upside if they do are the bread and butter of good Cube drafters. You have to give yourself ample opportunities to put together something very powerful and be ready if the pieces come together.

An example:

Here we can see the beginnings of a very good looking Mono-Green Ramp deck after pack one, with a Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath that has already been speculatively selected opening a potential path to Blue/Green.

Upheaval

Pack two shows us an Upheaval, one of the most powerful mana ramp payoffs in the Cube, alongside a pair of middling Green cards. If the deck ends up going in a more Simic direction, Upheaval is going to be the centerpiece of the deck, allowing you to cast it with extra mana floating and immediately replay all of your mana creatures to leave your opponent with nothing.

And if it doesn't pan out and we end up staying Mono-Green, what did we lose? Neither Finale of Devastation or Fauna Shaman are particularly exciting or powerful, but Upheaval has the potential to be the best card in our deck if we end up Blue.

Make Sure You Can Cast Your Spells!

Our last tip for the day is perhaps the most important.

Scalding Tarn
Taiga
Concealed Courtyard

If you can't cast your spells, you're not going to win consistently in Cube draft. You need to think of the mana base in your Cube draft deck like a Constructed mana base. If you're a Blue/White deck and your mana base is 9 Island and 8 Plains, you've haven't done a good job drafting.

As we said earlier, there are tons of playable cards in a Cube. Finding enough cards to fill out your deck should not be challenging, which means you should be spending high picks on dual lands and fetch lands to keep your mana options open. Very often, your mana will dictate what cards or colors you can actually play, rather than the spells themselves.

I'll say it again because it's so important: if you can't consistently cast your spells you are going to have a very hard time winning consistently.

An example:

We've started off our draft very well here, with a first pick Mox Pearl and a second pick Mind Twist, and as such we don't really know much yet other than we are a Black deck (Mox Pearl is perfectly excellent even off color). The only Black cards in the pack are Scrapheap Scrounger, which is not worth an early pick, and Kolaghan's Command, which is a good card but still sees us committing to two colors right away and isn't an out and out bomb.

Given that no card here pulls us strongly in any one direction, this is a very easy spot to take a land to make sure our mana is good while keeping our mana open. Tropical Island is the only dual in the pack, but is theoretically two colors we are not.

Marsh Flats

However, Marsh Flats is perfect for us. A Black fetchland can get any Black dual we may end up with regardless of our color combination, whether we are primarily Black or just splashing. Furthermore, we do have a Mox Pearl, so while we aren't necessarily White yet, we've now got two free White sources to either move in or for a splash.

You can always fill out your deck with whatever cards, but your home run archetype staples and good mana fixing is few and far between. Take advantage of it!

Have Fun!

The most important Cube drafting advice is to have fun!

One of the best parts about Cube is that you really get to do whatever it is that you like doing. There are many defensible first picks or strategies because there are so many good cards, and if you have a path you like going down or a deck you like to draft you can just do it.

If you want to see more Cube excitement, the holidays is also the time for Cube4Charity, a now annual event I run with Cube master TeamJbro where we duke it out over 48 hours to see who can get the most Magic Online Cube trophies, all while raising money for charity.

We've both assembled amazing teams and the event will be held on December 27th and 28th, where you can watch the whole thing unfold live on Twitch.tv!

Whether you're watching us draft or drafting yourself, have a wonderful holiday!

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