So you want to be a wizard…

This is a guide for building a Commander Cube. If you want to make your own, this is a great place to start.

First I’ll give you a little background on how I created mine.

I love building decks, especially EDH decks. About a year and half ago I started building new decks pretty much every week. I don’t have an unlimited budget to support having dozens of EDH decks built at once, so what I decided to do was to start turning my collection into one of each EDH staple. The idea was to have a big box full of really good cards that I could pull from and be able to make a deck on the fly. After awhile it dawned on me that what I was really doing was creating an EDH cube, about that time the MtG Commander Decks came out, so I decided to call it the Commander Cube because I adore alliteration.

The best thing about cube (from the builder's perspective) is that you get to decided what's balanced and what isn't. Another thing is that its harder for players to abuse the really broken cards because you often have to build around them to make them really disgusting, which is very hard to do in a cube draft.

Once I decided to make the plunge and turn my collection into an Commander Cube. I took some time to do some research on cube design, and if anyone had done EDH cube in the past. There are a number of good resources out there for standard cube design, but I was surprised to find that there really wasn’t much about drafting commander decks. The only thing I could find were some whisperings about it in the somewhat obscure “format variations” forum on dragonhighlander.net. It was somewhat helpful, but did not contain a lot of details, and didn’t look like it was exactly the way that I wanted to go with it.

The first thing I wanted to determine was how many cards I was going to need to have in my cube. In order to do this I took a look at how a normal cube draft goes (or any booster draft for that matter). Most of you reading this will probably already know that you draft three 15-card booster packs and then construct a 40-card deck when you do a normal booster draft. I asked myself: if it takes 3 boosters to make a playable 40-card deck, how many would it take to build a 100-card deck? Well, 100 is 2.5x 40, so if we multiply 3 by 2.5, we get 7.5 packs. What I decided to do was to have each player draft seven 15-card packs, as well as draft some number of generals at the start of the draft. Initially each player got a pack of seven generals (commanders) and we drafted those. After a while it became clear to me that seven was a bit high, so I changed that number to four, and moved 20 multicolor legendary creatures into the packs to serve as back up plans for people during the draft.

Once I multiplied all that out, I found that I was going to need 840 cards to make enough packs to be able to do an 8-player draft (eight is the standard number of players for a booster draft. It just feels right, probably has something to do with the size of the packs, if they were 11-card packs, then 4 or 5 players would be more appropriate).

Eight hundred and forty! That’s a lot of magic cards ladies and gentlemen. It was a bit overwhelming at first, so I decided to break it down into more reasonable chunks. Most of the cube design articles that I read recommended breaking down the colors evenly, and playing the same number of artifacts, gold cards, and lands as each of the mono-colors. From all of that, I determined that I needed 105 cards for each of the eight categories (white, blue, black, red, green, gold, colorless, land), and then some number of multi-color legends to be used as commanders. My initial number was 56, but it changed a bit over time.

Staples (not the EDH kind)

Once I had these rough numbers laid down I went to my box of EDH staples and started whittling them down to stacks of 105 foreach of the categories. Initially it was a fairly random assortment of cards, but since I had been hand selecting them for months prior to starting this project, it turned out fairly good from the start. After I had that initial set sleeved up and all organized, I started tuning it to make it work as well as possible (I’m still working on this six months after starting the project). While it isn’t too difficult to get a working commander cube put together, it is a very long and interesting process to get it tuned exactly how you want it to be.

If you want to build your own Commander Cube (which I strongly recommend doing) one option would be to simply work off of

the listthat I have provided on this blog. It took me a very long time to collect all of these cards (and its still a work in progress for me; for example,

If you don't have one, just make one! If you want to play with some of the neigh-unobtainable cards, just take a sharpie to the back of a basic land until you can trade for/ buy a real copy. I wouldn't go overboard, but having a few proxies in your cube wont bother anyone in the EDH community.

I want to have collectors edition dual lands in my cube, so I recently traded away my revised dual lands and have proxied the ones that I don’t have in collectors edition while I track them down).

I personally don’t like playing with proxied cards all that much, but having a few here and there doesn’t bother me while I’m trying to hunt down fairly obscure cards like collectors edition dual lands.

How should you start building your cube? I would expect that anyone with ambitions to build an EDH cube would have enough cards to get a working start. You don’t have to use exactly the list that I’m using, mine changes all the time anyways. What I would recommend that you do is to do what I did and take all of your cards that you think you’d want to play with in your cube and sort them by color and then cut down to 105 in each stack. I have mine sorted by color identity because that’s important to building commander decks. the signets are the only cards that I have in the colorless section that have a color identity (I did this when I decided to put some of the generals into the packs; I needed room in multicolor, so I moved the signets into artifacts).

You’ll start making more complex decisions like that once you start tuning your cube to fit how you and your play group like to play. Don’t worry about the little details when you first get started, just get those stacks of 105 worked out and find yourself between 30 and 60 multi-color legendary creatures for your cube. Having enough of those is the only card selection criteria that I would say is necessary before you start drafting. Make sure that you have at least 30.

She doesn't really need any specific support cards. All you have to do is draft some number of artifacts greater than, say, ten, and she's radtastic

One thing that you may consider doing is selecting your commanders/generals before you start to put your cube together. The reason for this is that you may want to consider slotting in specific cards to support your generals. Some generals like [card]Glissa, the Traitor[/card] won’t really need any special attention because they’re just generally good with cards that you will already have in your cube, but if you want to include generals like [card]Zur the Enchanter[/card], or [card]Uril, the Myststalker[/card], you’ll want to include some specific support cards for them. This becomes a lot easier to do when your commanders have some overlap (for example, [card]Shield of the Oversoul[/card] is amazing in [card]Uril, the Myststalker[/card] and [card]Rafiq of the Many[/card]).

Another important thing to check before you start drafting is what your creature-to-spell ratio looks like. You’re going to want to have it be approximately 50/50. I believe that my cube currently has more spells than creatures, but if you want to foster a more aggressive format, you may want to have more creatures than spells. I personally find that most EDH decks (at least that I build) tend to have a relatively high spell count and only include the most powerful creatures. Don’t fret about this too much when you’re first starting out; you’ll be able to adjust the content of your cube as you do more drafts with it. Pay close attention to how the games go, from that you should be able to determine roughly what needs to change. If your games are going too long and no one seems to have good ways to end the game, maybe you have too many control cards in your cube and not enough powerful threats (hint: put in some DRAGONS RAR!). On the other hand, if you see board-states getting to cluttered and confusing, you may need to add more removal into your cube.

How many basic lands do you need to have sleeved up and ready to go? I have 70 of each, which seems to be about right for 8 players, but you could probably get away with 60 of each (I’ve never had one basic type be used completely).

Lastly, don’t worry about having all of the best cards right away. Cube drafts can be a ton of fun even without all of the crazy broken cards. It’s fun to have a long-term project. Enjoy the process of building a Cube and make sure to ask the people who play with it what they thought. Be prepared to defend your card choices, and if you end up not knowing why a card is in there, or if someone has a compelling argument as to why you shouldn’t have it in, just swap it out after the draft. Each time you draft the experience will improve.

Look out for more articles coming up soon. I think the next one might be on how to build your cube to support specific deck archetypes and more tuning advice.

Good Luck and Have Fun,

Sam

7 comments to So you want to be a wizard…

  • Panzerbjorn155mm

    Thanks a lot for this article! I have around 450 cards, and that should be just enough to do a 4 player draft. I’m really excited to try it out this weekend. The only real problem is obtaining that many sleeves hahaha.

  • @cmartinell

    Great article. I had heard people talking about Commander Cubes over the past few weeks on podcasts, and I was wondering how it worked… thankfully Hayley was on CommanderCast this week and told us all about it! I’ve been thinking of building a Commander Cube myself, but haven’t really gotten the “we support you and would like to draft it!” vibe from my playgroup just yet… not to mention that they would have to contribute a few cards as well. This article an the rest of the site a a great resource to help me on my way. Thanks!

  • lewij66

    I must say, you all were a great inspiration to our local playgroup. We have had a pretty strong core of EDH players since the format really took off about 2 years back, and we were starting to get a tad too monotonous. We needed a new spark to break away from the usual pitfalls that EDH brings to the table….and then we stumbled upon this site.

    Over the past 2 months, we have assembled, sleeved, playtested, argued, laughed, playtested more, torn cards in half, brought it to a local cardstore, and you guessed it, playtested. It’s been a crazy journey….but that’s the beauty of it. It shook us up enough to give us something new every single week! While we still love our regular constructed EDH nights, it’s always a blast when we break this beast out. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us, and giving us the push we needed to continue enjoying what is truly a great format.

    • samwise

      I’m glad I was able to inspire you to make your own commander cube. I’ll be sharing more of my insights on construction and tuning in the future.

      Hopefully this format will pick up even more popularity. Spread the word!

  • BattleHippo

    really good article, I am inspired and have discovered how I will lose my evening tonight.

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