The Cube, According to Gatherer – Part One
Let’s make a cube, shall we?
For a while now, I’ve been daydreaming about creating a weird and unique cube (Here’s a quick primer on Cubes for those who are already lost) but every time I try, my mind spins with the possibilities. Creativity requires limitations, yo. To accommodate, I give myself an irrelevant limitation, such as “Let’s play with Mercenary tribal!” Which is great. Until I realize that Mercenaries weren’t particularly good or fun in 1999. What trick of my mind makes me think it will be as exciting as becoming a real life Ghostbuster? Also, screw this Cube. Let’s all just become Ghostbusters.
Okay, it’s a month later and the market is flooded with Ghostbusters, so that isn’t an option anymore. Back to the Cube. I got an idea that combines spontaneity with interesting new evaluations. Half the cards will be chosen randomly; the other half will be designed by me to fill in the gaps. Some ground rules for myself:
1.) The first card of the set (and every other card) will be determined by hitting the ‘Random Card’ button on Gatherer.
2.) I’m allowed to veto cards that are unwieldy or inappropriate. That’s vague. But the idea is to prevent destabilizing cards (Balance springs to mind), cards that can cause a draft to become unfun (with our group, we had problems in the past with Circle of Protection: Red), cards that don’t make sense in any cube (as much as I love Spellweaver Helix, that card requires duplicates, and lots of them to be meaningful. Maybe I could design my way out of that hole, but the rest of the set would suffer for it) as well as cards that… well… aren’t real cards (like Momir Vig, Simic Visionary Avatar) from fouling the pot. I don’t want to abuse the veto, however. The whole point is to adapt to what I’m given. So I’ll do my best to avoid binning a card because I don’t want to do the heavy thinking.
3.) Every random card will be followed by a card that is designed to respond to that card in some way. The goal is to support the cobblestone wall of random cards with an appropriate mortar. However, I’m sure that the closer I gear toward the end, the more I will need to hole fill colors and mechanics.
Time for the first card in the Cube to appear! Hitting the random button, I get…
Hahaha Chaos Confetti! Good job random button. My initial response was to veto this card due to its disruptive, albeit wacky nature. But it occurrs to me that after the card is used once, it’s gone for good. I think I can live with that. That said, it would be silly for me to design around a card that only gets one activation ever. So I’m adding it to the list and moving on, which gives me…
Land Tax. Okay, now this card is disruptive in a bad way. Drawing three cards per turn may not guarantee victory, but I don’t want to start the cube with a redundant, abusive card. I know this might seem like an odd decision to a number of Cube players out there, since I’m sure Land Tax sees play in many Cubes. But one must keep in mind the power level of cards that we’re about to see. Land Tax makes it into Cubes because it represents the best of the best. It doesn’t fit in an environment where Bog Imp is par for the course. And it doesn’t help that it’s so difficult to remove (by the time most enchantment removal is online, the damage is already done.)
If we were partway through the process, and saw the cube was pointing in a direction where Land Tax could be acceptable, then I’d be okay with this. But Land Tax as our first card will probably result in some ugly design for little gain. Vetoed. Trying again, we get…
Illumination. Now that’s more like it. It isn’t a powerful card, but it fits the needs of many cubes, while giving us some design space to work with. In case you’re wondering, I’m using Magic Set Editor to give the card a more modern frame, as well as providing the current Oracle wording. I figure that if I’m already designing my own cards, I might as well reframe the old cards to keep things consistent. I once made a custom core set based on 50% original design and 50% reprints. I always enjoyed it when people confused real cards for fake ones and vice versa. One day, after playing in a sixteen person draft with that set, I had the pleasure of getting into a conversation with someone over Brink of Madness because they felt the card was too swingy and that Wizards would never print something like that.
Anyhow, there’s a lot of directions I could have taken Illumination. This set could combine artifacts and enchantments matter themes. There could be a bunch of white counterspells in set. I could focus on the double white cost and add something Devotion-like to the set. But I want to keep things simple for now, because I don’t know where the random cards are going. A life gain theme should do us well.
The obvious choice is to make a bunch of cards that trigger when life is gained. But I don’t want to be too traditional. And besides, Illumination only gains a player the life once. There isn’t a lot of potential for abuse. Let’s see what happens when the life gain trigger ask for more commitment.
For a commitment of three life, you can get a relatively strong effect. Illumination won’t hit three life every time, but it will most of the time. In this early stage, I also want to start identifying two-color strategies, so I can slowly build toward them. While life gain triggers usually end up in White-Black, this mechanic is more likely to end up in Green-White, since black tends to gain life by syphoning one or two points at a time. Still, I’m keeping my options open by making this a white card.
[Edit: in my first pass through this article, I thought the caster of Illumination gained the life, not the controller of the artifact/enchantment. Silly me. That spell would be half-way decent. Illumination is still an acceptable addition to a Cube, so there’s no problem here. And while I designed Asmira’s Harbinger mechanic around the caster gaining the life instead, it was clear from the beginning that this creature is going to need a lot of support from a lot of different cards. So the fact that the Avengers probably won’t be triggering off of Illumination that often is unfortunate, but acceptable.]
Time for Random Card #2! We get…
Oof. What a monster. Kessig Cagebreakers exemplifies what I think will be this cube’s greatest challenge: dealing with extreme differences in power level. Cagebreakers goes wild in limited. If you fail to cast a key removal spell, the result may be these rogues battering down the locks on your game. Even Neck Snap is too little too late for a card that can put seven or more bloodthirsty wolves on the hunt with a single swing.
But it wouldn’t be right to veto this card either. Cagebreakers is just incredibly strong. I’m far too early in the process to say that this is unbalancing. That said, I’m not sure how I’ll respond when I randomly hit something as underwhelming as Gray Ogre.
I spent some time wondering if I should design an answer card. Not something overtly specific, since the chance that these two cards would meet were low. Some cheap kill perhaps, or maybe some mass bounce for tokens approaching Echoing Truth. But that didn’t seem like the right attitude to take either. In the end, I decided to make a card that works with Kessig Cagebreakers, but only tangentially.
A little group mill, and a little Call to Mind. It works in the same deck as Cagebreakers, but it stretches that player in a couple of directions. Hopefully, that’s good enough.
Admittedly, Upend Memories gets a lot of value for one additional mana (Call to Mind is a sorcery. Upend Memories is an Instant speed spell which fetches an Instant. That there’s some synergy.) I always thought Call to Mind was overpriced, though. There’s probably a good reason for that. Some combo engine featuring Time Warp would probably exploit the card if it cost . But in this cube, I’m sure we can control that problem.
Behemoth’s Herald. Oh really? Well, if we’re going to have the herald, it would be silly not to have Godsire as well. So I guess I need to reach in the bag and pull that out, too.
Godsire is another card that, if it goes online, you will likely end up a puddle of your own self. At least Godsire requires eight mana and a commitment to three colors. I find the dedication needed to cast this spell much easier to accept.
Since I added one card randomly and one card semi-randomly, I suppose I need to design two cards. The Herald really wants a good Red-Green-White creature to sacrifice… but that’s only appropriate if the Herald player also drafted a Godsire, which is unlikely. Meanwhile, Godsire doesn’t need any other cards to be special. It’s best if we support the Herald instead. And while we’re at it, why not support one of our previous themes?
I’m not sure if I’m going to get any real value out of Masquerade, but I think it’s a cool enough ability to work just with the Herald for now. My goal was to design a big enough creature so that sacrificing three small creatures could be considered reasonable, but it still wasn’t an overpowering play.
Mostly, I chose to make a red masquerader because it made sense to match the colors of Godsire and its Herald. I didn’t have any other plans for this card, except to make the cost worth the result. My initial plan was to make five goblin tokens, to replace the creature sacrificed. But sometimes you can’t find the picture you want. So I settled on double Act of Treason. In the end, that feels more exciting to me–sacrificing three creatures to get in one big swing. I’d like to design a few more cards that ask for a specific creature name, since I’d like to see the two masqueraders slipping into a number of decks. But I’m comfortable with where they are for now.
Pull Under, eh? Well it’s a bad removal spell, and it won’t take down a Godsire without help. But considering the caliber of creatures we’re dealing with, any removal is good removal. Oh, and it’s Arcane. Hmm…
Look. As much as I love Splice onto Arcane, it’s quite possible that Pull Under will be the only Arcane spell we’ll see. I’d love for the Random Card button in Gatherer to prove me wrong. But even a small handful of cards isn’t enough to make Splice relevant. One half of the instants and sorceries in Kamigawa block were Arcane. You need that sort of critical threshold for the mechanic to be fun, with multiple cards splicing onto multiple cards multiple times. A few quick changes aren’t going to cut it.
But we can still take advantage of Spiritcraft. I enjoyed the Onna cycle, and it works well here. Even if you never saw another Spirit (which I doubt, since I’m sure I can design a few of those with little effort) then this is still a small creature that removes small creatures. Add a few Spirits and it becomes an engine. And if you need to take down a 7/7 between this card and Pull Under… well you can do it. It’s going to look ridiculous, and cost ten mana, but it will work.
The power and toughness, casting cost and -X/-X are all ultimately irrelevant. I made this cost two because we saw some hefty costs early on. But as we go forward, it’s likely I will need to alter some of the designed cards. The point, after all, is to make a fun cube–not a pretty art piece.
Ten cards down, three hundred and fifty to go. It seems like a lot of work, but the work is easy when it’s fun. Click here to see whatever strange side roads Gatherer shuffles me down next.