I’ve been eager to get another crack at the One Cube ever since my first games with it—I could immediately see so many problems and flaws, and my obsessive nature compelled me to start brainstorming for solutions.
The first problem was that the Genjus, which I assumed would be good, were a lot tougher than I wanted them to be. Entire archetypes folded over, and solutions were so few and far between that games could even be unfun—I certainly played a few. Other issues came from mana stability. It was really interesting that some decks wanted ten lands while others wanted fifteen, but coordinating color was pretty tough. Adding some fixing would help that problem, and the options definitely exist. Last, but not least, conventional Limited rules seemed inappropriate.
See, games could go very fast or be grinds, but there weren’t a lot of ways to advance on card quantity or quality—you trudged through sometimes, which wasn’t fun at all. Shrinking the size of the decks, an idea I can credit to Brad Nelson (@fffreakmtg), helped that issue and focused the decks to ensure that players actually got to play with the cards they wanted to draft. His other idea, decreasing hand size, was a bit too big a change in my book—I wanted people to be able to play relatively intuitively, and different starting hand size tends to throw people off, as they’re used to sitting down and drawing seven. I decided that thirty cards, using three 13-card packs, would work just fine as an experiment. I’m not sold on it yet, but it’s at least worth a try.
The ideal quantity would be 12-card packs, but I frankly couldn’t trim the cube down to 216 cards. If I ever do, it will probably come at the expense of the generic 2/1s for one—they are surprisingly poor but serve to supplement hyper-aggressive strategies and provide players with a base pool of creatures to fill with in a pinch. Should the cube increase in size, it will certainly be to 288 for 8-mans with 12-card packs, assuming these rules on deck size stick. Otherwise, boosting to 252 for 14-card packs and 40-card decks will be the next step.
Black’s changes were small, but important. Evil Presence might look odd, but in addition to its minor manascrew capabilities it also gives black an out to Genjus (a recurring theme in this update). Alongside the discard spells included, black can now actually beat Genju of the Cedars from time to time. Will-O’-The-Wisp can function as something of an answer in this capacity as well, but it’s also a fine fighter with some equipment and pretty easy to keep around, even against pingers. Lab Rats offers black another way to go long and make use of equipment, although I’m not sure if I love the card yet or not as I haven’t had an opportunity to play with it.
As a color, blue suffered in the last version from low power level and a severe lack of identity. Fortunately, that’s changed with the new rules and playtesting results.
The switch to thirty-card decks makes mill a much more viable strategy, although I haven’t tried it out yet. Adding some new dimension to Ancestral Recall and honorary one-drop Ancestral Vision appeals to my enjoyment of bending cards in new directions. To help these decks, I’ve added a few more cantrips and pseudo-Stroke Minds Aglow. All of the one-cost “join forces” cards seem fine, because it’s so easy to time it when an opponent is mana-light while not being completely bonkers. I am concerned with the strength of this archetype, but I think that once players realize it’s the “infect” of the format, they’ll avoid dipping into it due to fighting and know to cut the important bombs.
In addition to the strength of the Genju, playtesting showed that splashing colors was hard. Blue, strangely enough, offers effective solutions to both. Cards like Tidal Warrior, Reef Shaman, and Tideshaper Mystic can disenchant opposing Genjus, and the latter two can fix your own mana for a variety of spells. Reef Shaman can even act as a way to manascrew the opponent a la Spreading Seas.
White’s “equipment matters” theme worked very well in the first draft, and I saw no reason to change it. In fact, I added more artifact-centric cards to encourage these choices. Rather than fill white with Demystify effects, considering it’s already a strong color, white can rely on its excellent removal and a few creatures capable of doing the job. Not certain if this is the correct approach or not, as some enchantments are downright miserable.
Kirtar’s Desire was terrible, as white is rarely being beaten down and has tons of better solutions to problematic attackers. I decided to substitute in Detainment Spell, which is an interesting way to solve pingers and can even follow around something odd like Shuriken or Viridian Longbow. I don’t know it this card will stay, but I think it’s worth the look.
Green’s pretty cool—there’s a very draftable Elf deck in there, for the record. The only real revision I made was to add some beaters and cut the creature tutors for Mutagenic Growth and Gather Courage. I like the trickiness of these free pump spells, both in combat and in conjunction with other cards, and the creature tutors sucked. Frankly, none of the creatures are worth mulliganing and losing a mana to grab, especially when you also have to draw it! Blue has plenty of ways to locate Hedron Crab. It’s possible that they’ll make it back in, but I personally dislike them enough that I doubt I’ll add them.
Few more beaters, burn, and artifact destruction. Nothing to see here!
The biggest shifts in the artifact department came in mana. I set out to make this update with a dedicated interest in making mana-fixing available and open to every color—I didn’t want junk like Utopia Sprawl defining that aspect of the cube. The Borderposts are a cute and sensical “cheat” on the one-drop rule, as I highly doubt they’ll be cast for three in this cube the vast majority of the time. If I’m somehow wrong about that, I’ll be cutting them and looking at other options. I like the idea of Springleaf Drum and Mana Cylix alongside the blue creatures making five-color decks possible—it’s an interesting notion.
I also boosted the equipment and added in Grindstone, a house for the mill deck. Early playtesting showed Cursed Scroll to be a very difficult card to beat, and possibly the best card in the cube—Grindstone may actually have the potential to surpass it.
Explosives does technically violate the X rule, but as it will only be cast for one I decided to make it an honorary one-drop. Contrast it to Chalice of the Void, which will never be a one-drop and thus is excluded. In the process of this exception, I’ve created a new contender for top overall pick!
I excluded several of these cards before because I didn’t see a home for them and didn’t want to overly weight gold one way—I don’t care about either of those things now. The Boggle is a fine man in equipster/exalted decks and Memory Sluice is a likely bomb for mill. The rest are just reasonable cards that cost one mana to play!
Cards worth considering: a lot!
Rupture Spire was actually the card that gave me the first idea for a one-drop cube, as it’s a land that costs a mana. All of these, in some way, imitate the cost of a mana for an effect. In the case of Glaciers and the other fetches, you’re “paying a mana” on the turn you drop the land in exchange for access to its effect. Glaciers seems particularly powerful, especially alongside Hedron Crab, and it’s the least loyal to the theme, so it may get sliced.
I’ve contemplated adding bouncelands because I think they’d be healthy for the format and also kind of apply to the theme. For some time I was certain I’d add the one-cost manlands because manlands are sweet (Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, Mutavault, and Mishra’s Factory). I’m aware that my “cheat” for allowing lands essentially legalizes any tapland, but my goals are clear: I want to facilitate omni-fixing. Manlands like Creeping Tar Pit, Raging Ravine, and Treetop Village would clearly be quite over-powered in the format, well beyond their color utilities. Some archetypes would be ice-cold!
I’ll be thinking very carefully about how many lands and their functions as I tool more with this. It’s entirely possible I’ll go back to zero, but I’m attracted to the idea enough that I prefer experimentation. Very close to making it in on this draft were Shimmering Grotto and Unstable Frontier, for example; I let the Borderposts consume their slots for the time being. If I decide to add cards in order to increase supported players or pack sizes, adding lands will be where most of that size boost comes from. There are plenty of good spells, and sideboarding is deep enough already.
Right now, the major questions are:
1) Which lands belong?
2) Is 30 cards the right deck size, and does it make mill too strong?
3) If I go back to 40-card decks and to 14-card packs, will mill still be viable? Blue really needs that identity.
If you’ve got any questions about the cube, especially about reasons for exclusions/inclusions, you can leave a message here but I’d really prefer you hit Twitter—I’m way more likely to see it and be able to fire off a reply there!