Starting up a Commander Cube

I have the lucky privilege of playing with two very different playgroups. One I play with at home with all of my other co-bloggers, and the other is at college where I was one of the founders of its current Magic the Gathering Club. With how much fun playing Commander Cube at home is, I definitely wanted to share that with my college buddies, so here’s our start-up story on creating our Commander Cube, and tips for starting your own.


Issue 1:

Who’s cards are we going to use?

This was the first question that we came up with. We have two pretty experienced players in our club who have been playing Magic for a long time, myself and an one underclassman who both have pretty large collections of cards. Thankfully, both of us have enough “good/broken cards” that we have amassed through drafting and playing constructed formats over the years that were sitting in very large binders that each of us individually probably could have supported a cube by ourselves. However, since I was graduating this year, I thought that it would be sad to put a bunch of effort into a Cube, and just have it dissolve so it went to the other underclassman. We toyed around with the idea of doing a joint Cube and combining our card pools together, but that had the potential to get sticky with me leaving soon. It also left no ambiguity who would be holding the Commander Cube box-o-cards, which was nice for us as well.

For other people interested in starting up a Cube, if you don’t have one person who has been playing for forever I personally don’t think its a terrible idea to pool cards together. Considering you are probably all friends with the people you want to be Cube drafting with, you might even be sharing a card collection with someone already. However, if you are deciding to have multiple contributors I would make sure that you kept a very clear list  of who’s cards are who WITH THE CUBE, so no hurt feelings would happen.


Issue 2:

What do we want to spend money on?

Being Magic players, (and especially because we are college students) we like to save money wherever possible (ironic because Magic is expensive, and college is very expensive). However, it would not be good of us to all just trash these really expensive cards that are imperative to the cube. So we all pitched in and by each paying $7, we got sleeves for all the Cube including sleeves for basic lands. We would all be getting enjoyment out of playing the Cube, and by spreading the love we didn’t put the burden on any one person. We also didn’t make the person who was supplying the Cube chip in, because we were using his cards. Also, this initial investment payed for extra sleeves in case any sleeves got kinda gross from wear from playing the game (although I don’t forsee that as a problem, but better to be safe than sorry).

We didn’t spend any money on cards, and while our friend had a lot of the really broken expensive cards ([card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Survival of the Fittest[/card], [card]Wasteland[/card]) he didn’t have every original dual land or a big daddy [card]Jace, the Mindsculptor[/card]. The original dual lands are really nice to have because they help make 3 and 5 color decks work, so we just went to our computer lab and printed up some proxies and were/are very happy with them. I leant my Jace, and would take it home after we drafted, but there is a printed off proxy in there right now which is perfectly fine with everyone in our playgroup.

I highly encourage the use of proxies, at least for the original duals because they are super spendy, and help make the format easier. Also, if you don’t have enough generals for your cube, I think that is totally worth proxing up.



Issue 3:

How do we want to draft this?

Pack one was all of the Generals. We did this because it allows everyone to help decide what color options we want right from the start. I believe we talked about this earlier in the blog, but to reiterate, by having you pick the Commanders first, it can help give you some direction, and so nobody gets kinda screwed wanting to build something like a wedge deck, but not being able to because the wedge generals were snatched up out of hate in the regular packs, so they are forced to go awkwardly into [card]Atogatog[/card].

After the General’s pack, we then draft the rest of the cards with 6 packs of 15 card boosters (Just to clarify, we don’t include basic lands or tokens in those “boosters” like you would get in a regular booster pack ^^) I feel that 90 cards +your general’s booster pack picks (you can play for instance [card]Hannah, Ship’s Navigator[/card] in [card]Sharuum the Hegemon[/card]) is generally a really good number if you think you want around 65 playables. If you want to, you can do it with 5 packs of 15 card boosters, if your cube isn’t big enough, or you have a large number of people playing. Or you could in theory do 7 packs of 15 card boosters if you have enough cards to support your players. But I feel that 6 packs kinda nicely doubles what a normal draft is like, plus you have that extra general booster pack of cards.

Another option of drafting this that I heard from Samwise isn’t as time intensive is to just do a general pack and then just do 3 packs of 15 card boosters. This makes it more similar to regular drafting, which can save time and deckbuilding, and get into quicker more reliable games than you do with the standard 100 card highlander decks.



Issue 4:

How do I modify the cube?

I would be on the lookout for is how much love you are giving to niche-style decks.  As much as I love silly decks that go crazy off of [card]Krak’s Thumb[/card] or [card]Donate[/card]-ing [card]Zedruu the Greathearted[/card] decks, generally speaking you are probably going to be better off just making those decks and playing normal commander with them, instead of sticking them in your cube. For instance, we had lots of the stuff that fits into most standard Zedruu decks, and while some of it got picked earlier (like [card]Vedalken Plotter[/card]) a lot of it just tabled. I liked that there are enablers for things like a big recursion style deck with [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] and [card] Buried Alive[/card], but some cards felt a bit too corner case and kinda forced into the cube because they were good with a certain general in regular commander. That isn’t to say don’t put in fun cards that are kinda group huggy, or require a coin flip, but rather put in cards that are usable in multiple different decks, and if they have a group hug or a coin flip to them all the better.  Some niche cards can be fun to see, but too many niche cards, and can feel off balance and too-hands-on.

That being said, you don’t want to be too-hands-off with your Cube either. One of my favorite things about Cube drafting, is that by making the Cube, you will have some control over what people are playing. Everybody doesn’t all play abusive answer-me decks (aka sit down and all massive land ramp/value decks that copy [card]Primeval Titan[/card] and [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] all day) that race to ramp and then win. Instead you see more variation, and you have people who play cards that are answers to the board state. Cube drafting forces people to interact more with each other because of the limited number of cards that are available.  This is a very roundabout way of saying that I think that while you should have value engines (like [card]Mistmeadow Witch[/card]+[card]Mulldrifter[/card]) and huge bombs (like [card]Insurrection[/card]) that are fun for Commander, you should make sure that you have good balancing answers in your cube like [card]Pithing Needle[/card] and [card]Withered Wretch[/card] and that a good focus would be to have a good mix of threats to answers.

There isn’t a really good answer to best modifying the cube, and I think that feedback from your playgroup on things they liked and things that they didn’t like and balancing the group’s love of certain archetypes would be the best avenue to go down.


Keep Smiling-


5 responses to “Starting up a Commander Cube”

  1. Excellent advice, especially the points on distribution of monies from the players to help support the cube builder, and the stuff on doing a joint cube. While those ideas seem great in theory, I imagine at some point it would end up creating more needless complications than anybody wants. The easiest solution is, as usual, to just proxy up whatever you need.

  2. We’ve got an EDH cube that we’ve been playing for a good while now. It’s not as large as yours since we generally have between 4 and 6 players. I was curious about the deck size you use and the land:spell slot ratio. We’ve found that just like in regular limited a smaller deck size promotes a more focused deck, and a smaller cube size increases the general power level of the decks being built. If you want to take a look at our list here is the link. -> [530][Unpowered] LostCondottiere and Theogony IX’s EDH Cube

    What we’ve found is that EDH limited is not like EDH constructed. How a general plays in a constructed deck is not the same as how he/she can play in the cube. For example, Zedruu is actually a really cool general in a police deck. Rather than function the way that Riku of Two Reflection, or Rhys the Redeemed functions where you drop them and your entire deck functions to win off their back, a general like Zedruu is your spare gas tank. You wait to drop him late game and donate whatever you can (land when everyone already has a ton) to refill your hand and win off sheer card advantage.

    Just a thought to look at some of your generals a little differently.

    • I tried drafting with smaller decks, and I must agree that it has been much more efficient. More fun things that happen more often and more consistently. We had 6 people total, so we did 2 games of 3 players, and one huge free-for-all game. It was a lot of fun, and we were able to get more games in. I think a big reason behind it was that people were able to get to their bombs faster. Also, surprisingly mill was a more viable strategy. One of the biggest all-stars of the night was [card]Sword of Body and Mind[/card], which is normally regarded as the worst sword. The best play of the night was [card] Jester’s Cap [/card] taking away [card]Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre[/card], and followed by the sword stomping away 10 cards, and [card]Prosperity[/card] for the win.

      As far as [card]Zedruu, the Greathearted[/card] goes, I was not trying to say to take her out of the cube. I think that she is great on her own for the reasons that you mentioned. What I was more going for is trying to find the right balance between niche-y cards and universal good-stuff cards. I think one of the beauties of a commander cube versus a regular cube is that a commander cube tends to have more unique cards (thinking something like [card]Finest Hour[/card] or [card] Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactian[/card]) as opposed to only the most powerful cards of magic ([card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], etc.), simply because of the presence of Commanders and it still being multi-player. However, it is important to not have too many unique purely niche cards. Something like [card] Statecraft[/card] could have the potential to play in not just Zedruu, but [card]Mindmoil[/card] is going to have a hard time in a deck that isn’t [card]Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind[/card].

      I think it also does have to do with your playgroup’s perception of these weird cards too. If you have lots of Johnny’s who like these (and can also see them in draft form) funky-weird interactions, then you should find ways to fit in more unique and fun cards.

      I think that we went a little overboard with the presence of these niche-y cards right off the bat (biggest offenders being all the Zedruu toys, because I like Zedruu and group hug a lot), and a lot of stuff tabled, and I felt that it was almost like I was trying to force things that people didn’t want to play. But maybe reintroducing these fun things over time might be a little better.

      Thanks for the reply!

      • Ah, I see you point. Yeah, I have to agree. Too many niche cards isn’t good for the draft environment. Having a card consistently go last, second to last pick means there is probably a card out there that your playgroup would like to see a lot more even if it’s nothing more than your utilitarian Disenchant. When we first constructed our cube, I spent a lot of time going over my co-manager’s choices for inclusions and being very critical of their breadth of effect and general desirability. You are absolutely right in that you want to include cards that support your specific generals, but you also want them to be relevant to the draft when that general isn’t present. Not only that, but you want a high number of redundant utility effects because those cards are what really make games interactive.

        Along that vein, how has supporting a mill strategy been working for you. We don’t’ really support it in our cube because of the exact same reasoning I explained in the last paragraph, but more in regards to a redundancy of the strategy to pull off a win with it. I would hate for someone to try it and fail because they couldn’t draft enough of the cards to make deck work consistently and then have terribly frustrating night because of it.

        Continuing that thought, I would love to see a blog post where you go through how you constructed each color’s identity in your cube. What effects you chose to include and in what quantity and why that for that color as opposed to supporting some other strategy.

        • I really like what you said about still enjoying having fun and good cards for lots of decks as your last pick. Enough on beating that horse into the ground 🙂

          For mill, it was a sort of surprise mill victory, because our commander cube isn’t something that explicitly supports it/we made it to have one of those themes. A lot of the mill cards have other effects, and someone just happened to have grabbed all of them, and it worked much better in this 40-card deck.
          The big cards he had were-

          [card]Sword of Body and Mind[/card]-because all swords are good generally speaking, and we have all 5 in the cube.

          [card]Jester’s Cap[/card]-put in the cube because it is a cute anti-combo tech, and you can hate out some things if you play with the same person again. It’s also cute with someone who maybe had a recyling artifact theme with like a [card]Hannah, Ship’s Navigator[/card] or [card]Sharuum the Hegemon[/card]

          [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]-planeswalkers in general are still really strong, and we have all the Jace’s in our cube.

          [card]Prosperity[/card]-I love group hug cards and the slightly political side that they add to the meta-game.

          [card]Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind[/card]-Was the the general he was going with ([card]Oona, Queen of the Fae[/card] would have been better but someone else took it and didn’t play it, the jerk) and the player’s original intent was to take your standard controlling blue cards and some cantrips to burn out some card advantage with Niv-Mizzet (pun intended), and the mill strategy just seemed to come together during deck construction as an extra path to victory.
          Other slots in the deck were standard burn/removal/control spells [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], [card]Mind Control[/card], and [card]Spell Crumple[/card] I think were some of the big ones. He also had both [card]Morphling[/card] and [card]Torchling[/card] as late game beaters

          We don’t have more of the “staple” just mill you cards that don’t do anything else like [card]Forced Fruition[/card], or [card]Mind Funeral[/card], or [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card], [card]Nemesis of Reason[/card], etc. in our cube. Especially because we were basing this off of fun cards that we liked in Commander, these cards we felt were a bit narrow because they were generally only accentuating pieces in a deck that relied on mill, since mill in commander is normally through a combo, as opposed to incremental advantage (as a little note, [card]Forced Fruition[/card] actually was in our first draft, but then we cut it). However,since this is slightly different than regular commander, and especially if we do want to keep the 40 decks instead of 100 decks (we are still in debate on what feels more fun/epic/awesome), I think we will have it be some things that could also mill yourself, so if you want a dredge/reanimate theme we could use those as well.

          I would love to make a big post on “color identity”, and structuring strategies in constructing the cube.That sounds like a great next post.

          *side note, I am being sad and can’t update my gravatar picture for these comments 🙁