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Cube Goldberg Machine: What is a Cube?


What is Cube?

Hello folks, and welcome to a new series: Cube Goldberg Machines! In this series, we will be exploring the ins and outs of the cube format, as drafters and even as designers. Today, we’ll start with a brief introduction to cube; next week, look forward to a deeper dive into play strategy!

Cube is perhaps best viewed as the unholy marriage of constructed and draft formats. Predetermined groups of cards chosen by their “managers” (owners), cubes are intended to be drafted like normal packs of Magic. (If you are unfamiliar with normal drafting, here’s a nice link from the Wizards site to get you up to speed!) Basically, they are custom Magic sets designed only for limited, using real Magic cards.

Of course, if you want to draft a Magic set, there are many options. Your local game store certainly carries boxes of many of the latest releases, and modern set design has facilitated better and better draft environments. So why do you need a Cube at all?

Why Cube?

Drafting is awesome, but sometimes the formats aren’t perfect. Sometimes you get to play sweet cards like Beast Whisperer and Flower // Flourish, but other times you're stuck opening cards like Unmoored Ego and Wand of Vertebrae. Packs are seeded for constructed with important cards like Alpine Moon and Damping Sphere, but there’s no worse feeling than opening up yet another piece of tron hate as your rare. 

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Some formats are incredible to play, like Innistrad with Spider Spawning or Dominaria with cards like Tatyova, Benthic Druid and The Eldest Reborn. But then you also have formats like Ixalan where tribal battles become stale very quickly, and frequently reprinted cards like Colossal Dreadmaw can get boring fast.

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Cubes allow you to control the draft environment. If you’re sick of opening up Colossal Dreadmaw in your Ixalan/Rivals/Masters 25/M19 drafts, you could simply make a clean swap with, say, a Brambleweft Behemoth. But the fun doesn’t stop there! Let’s say you want to try a draft where you never draw a bad card, never have to deal with an Amulet of Safekeeping in your first pack or an Omniscience in the second. Normal sets have to balance limited playability with printing cards for constructed, and formats suffer in response. You don't have the same burden.

Consider Amonkhet limited. If you weren’t drafting at that time, the metagame was pretty alright—except for Glorybringer. If you opened a Glorybringer, your chances of winning basically doubled. It got to the point that people were sneaking Glorybringer into tournaments and pretending it was in their sealed pool started to be a real issue. But, let’s say other than that it was your favorite draft format ever!

Well, what if you just took one of each Amonkhet card and put it in a box. (Well, hopefully in a sleeve, and then in a box.) Then you could draft it all day! Turns out, it’ll play a lot better if you add more than one of the Commons and Uncommons, so you do that. It’s starting to feel more like drafting the real thing! But you still have the Glorybringer issue. You’re tired of losing to the card, you’re tired of winning with the card, and you want it out of your sight.

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Well, it’s your cube—you can just take the dragon out! And maybe you take some of the other Rares out, the Hazoret the Fervents and Angel of Sanctions that break the drafts in half and the Glorious End that’s only ever killed one person—its owner. Maybe you add in some extra copies of powerful Commons like Naga Vitalist, and you all of a sudden have a very different draft environment, one dominated by attacking, blocking, tricks, and honest to goodness removal like Cast Down, however inefficient it may be. You and your friends get to gather around every Sunday afternoon and recreate the FNM drafts you loved so much.

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But let’s imagine you go down the path to the darker timeline instead. Don’t take the dragon out. Add in cards that can compete with it, and then cards that can compete with those cards, and then… Suddenly, you’re not playing with Naga Vitalist, you’re playing with Birds of Paradise; Manalith becomes Coldsteel Heart or a playset of Signets for fast mana. With that fast mana, you get to run cards like Terrastodon, and to keep them in check, you throw in Counterspell and Swords to Plowshares. While you're at it, why not throw in Splinter Twin and some of its old friends like Pestermite? Limited games are no longer simple magic as Richard Garfield intended, but instead slugfests between tuned decks full of premium interaction and heavy hitters and broken, broken combos. Suddenly, Glorybringer doesn't seem quite so unfair.

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These are only two of the paths you can go down. Like in all things, often restrictions breed creativity, and whether it’s a cube of Legacy-legal cards, only Commons or Uncommons, or just “cards I had in this box,” cubes can be a great chance to play in new and compelling draft realms. And as the set designer, you can do all sorts of fun things, like making the cube all about tribal synergies or graveyard interactions, or include crazy cards you’ve never gotten to play with before like the spicy Puca’s Mischief or Planar Collapse. The possibilities are literally infinite. (Well, about as close to literally as you can get.) Managing a cube has been my favorite Magic construction activity of all time, and I know many more people could enjoy it just as much.

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Second, drafting a cube is fun—and free. These environments that you and your friends have constructed can be delightfully whimsical to draft—or staggeringly powerful. It’s an excuse to have a bunch of friends over and play a bunch of Magic, which is the best way to play Magic. (Fear not, though! If, like me, you find it hard to schedule all of those people at once, there are many ways to have a great draft with only two people. Look out for more down the line!) And, best of all, it’s free, once you buy in. The cards don’t rotate, the metagame doesn’t have to evolve, because the format plays by your rules. Beware, though—new cards that are great for cube are constantly being released, and though they keep your cube fresh and exciting they may also undermine the whole free thing. But you get to play with sweet new cards!

Last Thoughts

Cubing can be what you make it—a passion, a side gig, a bling opportunity, or a great budget option. If you use your friend's cube, it's even easier, and the Magic Online cubes are a blast. For some great basic cubing resources and sample lists, check out https://www.reddit.com/r/mtgcube/ and http://www.cubetutor.com/ (although, fair warning, cubetutor has seemed glitchy lately). There are some great examples of cubes that come in under $100, and you can also just use cards in your collection to get started—that’s free! Watch out next week for a great set of tools to help you enjoy your next cube draft, and after that, some pointers on building your own in the weeks to come!


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