Channel Cube Cast: Black

By: Jason Waddell

The fifth installment of ChannelFireball’s “Channel Cube Cast” is online, and it’s of special interest to me as it discusses a pair of articles I wrote about remodelling my cube, with a focus on bringing black aggro up to par. As of this moment, I haven’t had time to listen to it, but look forward to their comments. Listening to the Channel Cube Cast always reminds me that cube design, like any design, is a very cultural thing, shaped by your experiences. I can imagine that cubing in a Magic hotbed like San Jose is significantly different than cubing in Antwerp, Belgium.

When I wrote the articles, I got an email back from editor Andy Cooperfauss with a message along the lines of “thank goodness you wrote these, I was about to have to write them so that we could discuss them on the podcast”. Of all the cube writers, Andy’s design approach is the closest fit to mine philosophically. He is very environmentally concerned, and will disregard traditional “cube design rules” to create a better experience. His cube plays not only Rebel errata, but also errata on things like Cursed Scroll (activation cost of two).

It’s also pure conjecture, but I imagine they might take issue with some of my card choices. Something like Reins of Power is super unconventional, and I’ve left out some “obvious” archetype cards like Graveborn Muse. I stand by the approach of design not always giving players exactly the best tool, opting for cards that have a bit higher fun and splash factor (Disciple of Bolas).

All said, I’m really looking forward to listening to the podcast later today, and as a designer there’s nothing more flattering or useful than having other players take the time to really dissect your design elements. This is the third time they’ve discussed one of my articles, and it’s always a joy to listen to.

I’ll post more detailed thoughts in the forums later on, but for now, feel free to share your opinions in this thread.

Update, 12:44 – After giving the podcast a lunchtime listen, I realize this podcast was structured a little differently than the previous ones. The conversation focused more on Andy’s ventures into his black section renovation, and less on the actual articles referenced. I agreed with many of Andy’s conclusions, and although he mentioned in the podcast that he doesn’t find breaking singleton necessary for the archetype to work, he is running 2 copies of Bloodghast and 3 copies of Gravecrawler in his current cube list.

If there is one critique to be made, it’s that I get the impression that the cubes in that region have very isolated archetypes. There was an entire podcast about whether mono-color or multicolor aggro was better, for example, which I found hard to relate to. Perhaps the better question is, from a design standpoint, which works better in a draft environment? This is an item I touched on in The Poison Principle, and I think that having the strength of your cube being in monocolored archetypes leads to more problematic drafting dynamics.

I left the following comment:

If I were to pick one bone, it’d be with the notion that the black cards are creating just another “mono red” or “mono white” deck. Like any set design, it depends on what you do with the rest of the set. It can be pigeonholed if you only include one player’s worth of sacrifice cards, but if you increase the critical mass and make it a more central part of your cube-wide design, you end up with multiple players fighting for the same materials to use in decks that have very different texture.

To take a ridiculous example, you could make a Metalcraft archetype in cube (or any other set) and fill it with only cards that a single deck wants, or make artifacts a more critical part of your design (ala Scars of Mirrodin) without that same sort of mechanical isolation.

The “pigeonholing” of archetypes is one of the worst elements of MTGO Cube design, and with real sets there’s a much greater emphasis on finding ways for the various parts to fit together rather than just making “the ___ deck” work.

There was also a nice comment left by Frodie Brancis:

tl;dr – hypothesis: cubes need to be redesigned from the perspective of giving each colour some identity thing to actually do, as opposed to just the best cards from each colour, as black will always be on the bottom of that barrel.

Cube design is definitely shifting from its roots of jamming the best context-independent cards, and as was pointed out in the podcast, this approach lets you dig deep into Wizards’ cardpool and pull out fun cards like Pawn of Ulamog for inclusion. They also mentioned Puppeteer Clique, which is a card that had been suggested to me that I simply never got around to finding a copy of. I’ve put it on my list for my next order, and look forward to trying it out.

Last of all, Andy touched on a really important aspect of these aggro-sacrifice decks. They’re fun to draft! They’re fun to play! They work as “aggro-combo” decks, without the baggage of problems that are typically associated with cube combo archetypes. It’s really entertaining to play an attacking deck with so many lines, so much versatility, and the ability to play beatdown and board control at the same time. When we’re looking for updates to our cubes, this is what I think we should be striving for. Not just balance of colors and archetypes, but introducing strategies that are exciting and splashy at the same time.

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