Breaking Singleton

The term “breaking singleton” refers to the act including more than one copy of a given card in a cube environment. In some cubing circles it is considered somewhat taboo, as the early proponents of the cubing format envisioned it as a singleton collection of the game’s most powerful cards. Gradually that vision has shifted, as players demand an experience defined less by its novelty and more by the quality of the gameplay.

Originally a cube was put together as the most powerful cards in the history of Magic. But I’ve gotten to the point where I am now sculpting a specific environment of how I want drafts/sealed/rotisserie to play out.
– Justin Parnell, Planeswalker Magic: The Intervention

My goal in cube design is simple: to make the most fun draft environment I can. In a previous ChannelFireball article, I discuss and breakdown many of the common counterarguments people have against breaking singleton. The counterarguments mostly spawn from false design principles (power maximization mistaken for game design) and a failure to understand that redundancy is a spectrum rather than a binary quantity. All draft sets are built on redundancy to create an experience, whether they be a redundancy in aggressive 1-drops, redundancy in removal spells, redundancy in effects that care about the graveyard (Innistrad) or redundancy of effects that allow players to cast multiple spells in a single turn (storm, Time Spiral).

Unfortunately, limiting our designs to only those that can be supported by a single copy of cards from Magic’s history does not necessarily produce the most enjoyable results. Many cubes past and present are rife with with problems, from balance issues, non-interactive drafting, or even decks that just aren’t a lot of fun to play.

I argue that selectively breaking singleton addresses these issues, and leads to a more enjoyable cubing experience. Specifically, breaking singleton can yield:

  • Better Balance
  • More fun and synergistic decks
  • Greater number of supportable archetypes at a given power level
  • Increased number of supportable archetypes in a single environment
  • Greater interactivity during drafting

Better Balance

For years, cube writers and enthusiasts alike have bemoaned underpowered archetypes like white- and black-based aggro. Designers struggled to find a way to bring these archetypes up to par, and repeatedly fell short (as evidencced by the aforementioned years of articles about certain archetypes poor poerformance). From an outside perspectivve it can seem a little silly. Imagine Mark Rosewater and company were working on a new draft set, and for years black decks were underpowered. You would probably wonder why they didn’t simply:

  • make black decks stronger or
  • make the other decks weaker

Unfortunately, the mantra of singleton power maximization doesn’t leave room for either of these options. Their black decks are already pushed to 10, and if you lowered the power level of the other colors, you’d no longer be power maximizing.

One possible benefit of breaking singleton is that it allows you to selectively crank the power past 10. For example, say my white 1-drops looked like this (scale left intentionally abstract):
white aggro cube

I can’t make it better by including any of the more marginal cards. The only way to improve its power (in absolute rather than relative terms) is to double up on some of the stronger ones.

white aggro cube

More fun and synergistic decks

However, we wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t lead to more fun results. One of the biproducts of the above change is that all of a sudden the drafters were excited about white aggro for the first time. They loved snagging multiple copies of Steppe Lynx, then drafting synergistic cards like Knight of the Reliquary, Life from the Loam, Crucible of Worlds and a stack of fetchlands.

Steppe LynxKnight of the Reliquary
Life from the LoamCrucible of Worlds

These decks were loaded with interactions and interesting lines of play, and were both more fun and more powerful than the vanilla GW beatdown decks of old.

The same principles were applied to increase the efficacy of black aggro, adding multiples of Gravecrawler, Carrion Feeder and Bloodghast, while overloading on synergistic affects in all five colors.

Greater number of archetypes at a given power level

One of the drawbacks of a singleton environment is that we are limited by the number of times Wizards has printed a given effect or cards that support a given archetype. In most sets, Wizards only prints a handful of cards at a traditional cube power level. As a result, the candidate archetypes are restricted to those that have multiple high-level supporting cards from across Magic’s history. This leads to many cubes including archetypes like Reanimator, as it is a unique archetype that is sufficiently powerful given Wizards’ card pool.

This leaves some cards out in the cold. For example, Birthing Pod is a great build-around, but often times it’s not worth actually building around if they only have access to one copy. Birthing Pod decks require careful attention to the curve, an exceptionally high creature density, and reward players who draft cards that benefit from being sacrificed.

Further, Birthing Pod has a lot of positive qualities: it’s a “combo” deck that opponents can interact with, can slot into any number of color combinations, and is both unique and skill-testing to pilot. By including multiple copies in my cube, we get the good without the bad: a fun archetype enabler that is actually worth building around.

Birthing PodBirthing PodBirthing PodBirthing Pod

Increased number of supportable archetypes

The end result of making cards that crisscross solutions is that you increase the amount of potential synergy. As a nice side benefit, you also lessen repetition in game play as you allow players more choices in how to customize their strategy.
– Mark Rosewater, Living in Synergy

My second cube, the Eldrazi Domain cube, supports a huge number of interesting archetypes and mechanics. The reason this works is because I have doubled or tripled up on various cards that support the intersection between multiple archetypes.

For example, the cube cares about ramp, tokens, and things dying to activate Morbid triggers.
Nest Invader

The set also cares about +1/+1 counters and has a multicolor-matters subtheme.
Rakdos Cackler

By including multiples of such cards, we provide support for archetypes that is embedded into our sets other themes. An aggressive proliferate deck might not get played each draft, but when it does, Rakdos Cackler will be there for support.

Similarly, these overlap cards afford the drafter more flexibility and better safety nets during drafting. A player could start on an Eldrazi ramp deck, get cut, then transition into some sort of Junk Aristocrats style deck that cares about playing and sacrificing tokens.

Greater interactivity during drafting

Lastly, the corollary to our cards supporting multiple archetypes is that there is increased competition for cards during the drafting phase. This relates to the Poison Principle, as instead of having many cards that are each only appealing to a single drafter, we have multiples of cards that several players are competing for. In addition to making the drafting more skill-testing, it also makes it more entertaining. Greater competition means that packs will yield more cards for a player to mull over, and fewer autopilot picks.

Back to the Cube Academy

One comment on “Breaking Singleton

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cube and multiples in a cube has to do with semantics.

    Cube by definition is singleton. At least that was the original intent from the originators of cube. People who draft it expect this. MTGO online cubes are all singleton. If you include more than one copy, your going to have to tell everyone which cards you have multiples off before the draft, which can be annoying and cumbersome.

    If your “cube” has multiples, than it is called a draft set. There is nothing wrong with draft sets. They can be more fun as you point out than cube.

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