Dom's Stream of Consciousness

gonna be tough to find stuff more fun to play than 5c goodstuff
You mean, like, literally anything?

I get bored with goodstuff really easily. We're talking total snoozefest.

EDIT: Just to clarify, I'm not saying that it's wrong to like goodstuff. It's just that I, personally, rapidly lose interest when the game goes from "work towards an overarching plan" to "ride out my superior value".
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Dom Harvey


These Dominaria sets feel quite safe, with all that implies. You get the familiar warmth of the backdrop for Magic for much of its early-middle era and the proven mechanics from visits to Dominaria five or twenty years ago. A lot of mechanics are just riffs on kicker and every set has its take on that but here it really is just kicker - but that feels authentic rather than phoned in (or forced like when it was a theme in Zendikar Rising) because this is where kicker started. This is Invasion 2.X/20XX and that's a great way to pique my interest!

For Cube this set fills holes rather than reinventing the wheel. Resolute Reinforcements might be my #1 Cube card from the set and I was thrilled to see it on the spoiler but it's the definition of a role-player - it just fills so many roles so well that I've wanted something like it for years. If you're just concerned about abstract power level, this set doesn't have much for you - and if you want the wacky build-arounds, there's not much there either. This is a set where you're most excited to scoop up a dozen uncommons for a lower powered Cube (and I can only imagine how good it is for Battle Box!)

We (you, me, all of us) love Sagas so these are an easy note to hit but Neon Dynasty stole their thunder with a more ambitious and pushed twist on the mechanic. The Elder Dragon War calls to me but in a fast-paced format the first chapter will leave important threats alive and the other red four-drops do more and do it quicker.

My view on Domain varies based on how sympathetic I am to fetches + duals/shocks/Triomes being subsidized even further on that particular day. Once it's that easy (as it mostly is in formats like Modern that have this setup), does it feel like an achievement or something actually different from the usual 5c good stuff deck (which I have no problem with!) any more?

Shadow Prophecy is my new favourite Domain design - it's the kind of juice a Read the Bones effect needs to compete and is excellent if you care about the graveyard at all.

The easy 'Top X Cube cards from this set' article slam-dunk. I'm going to refrain from saying this obsoletes Man-o'-War because if you still have that it's because it being old/iconic/sentimental means something to you so that would miss the point. An automatic include for me regardless.

White has a lot of these 'small' reanimation effects ala Sevinne's Reclamation, Lurrus etc and this is a good headliner for that. I like that it makes you think about the timing - do you want to run it out now and use your four mana efficiently, wait until you can make a land drop with it too and get some value against possible removal, or wait even longer until you can cast another spell. As with Lurrus you can try to build a lock that protects Paragon to let it do its thing via stuff like Selfless Spirit.

A really smooth design and hitting your own stuff to draw a card sometimes will feel very satisfying. It also has that 3/2 sweet spot of being a possible source of pressure that is likely to trade in combat - it's not always clear how many actual/virtual cards either player ends up/down when you cast Ertai.

I wanted proactive black decks to have a card like this but wasn't sure if the numbers on this were enough. Early reports from various Cubes as well as Standard/Pioneer seem positive so I'm excited to try it. This doesn't have an 'ultimate' ala Warden of the First Tree or Figure of Destiny so the endpoint is spending mana at a decent rate for a fine effect rather than forcing the opponent to pay attention but maybe that's fine.

I've happily Cubed the various components of this before (Baral, Rielle kinda, would have run mono-blue Enigma Drake) and this is the total package. It doesn't take much work to make this a Serendib Efreet (still strong if a bit outdated) and sometimes a beefy Sunscape Familiar or whatever is fine too. I like the tension of sorts between loading up on 1 CMC spells to power it up quickly and wanting spells higher up the curve to make the most of this discount.

Put cards like this in your Cube, put them wherever on your spreadsheet.

I don't know if I'll end up running this but it's such a clean and easy design that I'm shocked it took this long!

The one card I'm looking at from the Commander decks, this is a good 'big idiot' slot that works with all of my cheat effects and is a nice crossover for my creature-based and land-based ramp decks in WG

Dom Harvey

Draftapalooza - Baltimore

A few weeks ago I made the trip to Baltimore to play in the SCG team event but also to hang and Cube as much as possible. Due to real life distractions my Cube wasn't quite as refined as I'd like and followed the 'here's a big box of cards I like' approach (especially when I had to hastily add cards to accommodate a possible 10-person pod) - but, as always, people mostly had a good time with some cool decks so it's another data point against my unhelpful perfectionism.

I'll feature some of the decks I have saved from the two drafts we did with my Cube. First up, two slightly overlapping but quite different Sultai decks:

The first deck is a model for what I want Ramp to be (and a good illustration of why UG is a natural colour pair for it): some flexible, cheap ramp that works in different ways, some more flashy mana engines higher up the curve that suddenly grow the game, and payoffs that (aside from Archon - a nice Traverse target and reward for actually getting there) are scalable mana sinks.

This second list has ramp elements but is much leaner with a compressed curve, using that mana to just... do things? That confusion may explain why it was a bit less successful but it's one or two curve-toppers away from being great I think.

Finally we had my creature-heavy UG deck:

I've struggled to find a good 'theme' for UG but generating resources in tricky ways and then filling in the blanks from there is a fine fallback.

In the bigger draft I did with Andy/Anthony from LPR and their playgroup, I saw a chance to build my baby:

(had a few different MD configurations of this to try stuff out)

This deck was excellent at doing its thing. Prosperous Partnership was fine but never really overperformed while Rite of Harmony had a decent floor (lots of opportunities to cycle for 2 mana) and enabled some truly absurd turns where it drew 5+ cards. It's easy to miss that it triggers off enchantments and tokens too - Partnership is 3 cards by itself (or Legion's Landing would be 2) and Earthcraft -> creature -> creature lets you cycle through a bunch of cards to start the chain going (with the possibility of drawing most/all of your deck)

The winner of the pod was a frequent competitive player with one of my favourite cards in a colour combination I had trouble figuring out:

This is mostly a UR Control deck that has a lot of creature tricks grafted into it, but more than anything it's a Topsy Turvy deck. The drafter himself and a lot of other players had never seen the card in action/at all before but they became believers real quick (especially after I explained the Topsy Turvy + Venser + Crystal Shard lock!). Honestly it might be too much on power level and the play patterns are more weird than good but it's novel enough that I like having it around. Otherwise it was nice to see that a 'card draw + removal' deck could come together beneath all the silliness and old favourites Crystal Shard and Mimic Vat both shone here (Mimic Vat's graverobbing ability was incredible against me for example).

Anthony Mattox drafted this BG deck with a whole lot going on as God I intended. So many of the cards here link up in small ways - Baba Lysaga with Ranger Class, Grim Flayer with Discovery/Dispersal, Courser/Grist with both (and each other!), Fight Rigging with Polukranos, and so on in a whole that still looked cohesive. I was impressed that he put this together from first principles and pleased that he was impressed by Fight Rigging!

I got to draft Andy's Bun Magic Cube too, 3-0ing and beating the host in the finals with a GW Good Cards deck that was very fun to try to optimize.

This wasn't all - I had a nice WW deck in a friend's Cube and a sick-looking Lands deck in a well-designed Vintage Cube that I didn't even get to pilot because I had to leave to get to another Cube draft. 10/10 would Cube again (and again, and again...)

Dom Harvey


I wasn't expecting to write another set review this soon - I don't think I knew this set was even being previewed and released yet until a week or two ago? - but I was blown away by what we got. Each of the first few decks offered a Cube haul to rival the average retail set. The Necron deck seemed like an exception until the full list gave us everything you could hope for. It turns out the Esper deck previewed last is the (relative) dud but there are still some interesting tools there.

The big picture takeaway is that there are a lot of good Mulldrifters, and specifically some great Nekrataals. Every mainstream Cube discussion on the set currently contains some rather unnecessary comparisons of Ravenous Chupacabra to Necron Deathmark (or, even weirder, Chaos Defiler to Fractured Identity) - Necron Deathmark is much stronger for its cost but is also a lot more compelling as you can care about various other parts of the card (or just the body, which is big enough to matter). Adding the strongest cards from this set leaves your Cube a (/more) hostile place for Baneslayers - not a bad thing in itself but worth keeping an eye on.

I don't have the aesthetic allergy to the Universes Beyond cards in this case (Warhammer is futuristic but plausibly Magic-adjacent IMO) so I'm free to run the ones I like. To wit:

Space Marine Devastator - This one is more original than it should be - where black has Chupacabras everywhere and green has Reclamation Sages, white has to work hard for a Kor Sanctifiers. This beats out the weak competition there and the possibility of scaling it makes it more appealing as a play that causes a massive swing if it has multiple hits.

Triumph of Saint Katherine - Probably won't end up trying this but Miracle on creatures is a clever way to add a level of variety on both ends.

Sicarian Infiltrator - Modal cards are a dime a dozen these days so you have to be model in a novel way to get my attention. The bodies are weak by themselves and blue is the worst colour at finding ways to care about how many creatures it has so it's not easy to make that contextually interesting (unless you also care about having artifacts etc)

Necron Deathmark
Royal Warden

The Necron deck alone might prompt me to revisit the Artifact Cube I built and then ignored earlier this year, especially with The Brothers' War on the horizon. Cards like Imotekh the Stormlord are incredible in that setting but at the same time this deck is patching up a weakness in the most generic Cubes out there. I'm not a fan of the 'here are my [colour] [X-drops]' approach to filling out a Cube but it's a legitimate complaint that black 5-drops have been remarkably shallow for years - now we have two excellent candidates in the same bonus product! Black is also surprisingly short on army-in-a-can cards for a colour with so many sacrifice synergies and Royal Warden is a godsend there if you care about artifact/graveyard synergies at all.

Primaris Eliminator - Somehow the third best Nekrataal in the set but brings me back to the days of CML stanning Gloomdrifter. I have a soft spot for Night Incarnate and can end up with clogged boards a lot in the types of Cube I like to build so maybe this can serve a useful role there.

Triarch Praetorian - Love this generally but I like it as a nod to the 'small reanimation' cards in white as well (which doesn't include Lurrus here thanks to the wording!) and Goblin Welder/Engineer.

The Lost and the Damned

There's no shortage of good ways to trigger these but it's unclear how often you need to do that for it to be worth it. I have visions of pairing The Lost and the Damned with Splendid Reclamation, Escape to the Wilds etc but I'll need to try it to have any real sense of how it plays. Poxwalkers is yet another voice calling me to just play a bunch of Gravecrawlers again (or get a move on with my Constructed Cube project where you get several copies of whatever you draft).

I love my +1/+1 counters cards and my scalable mana sinks (especially in formats with lots of random Treasure tokens etc) so I vibe with the Tyranids. It's easy to line up Mawloc vs Voracious Hydra, call it a draw, and go for the mono-green card but a. you can(/should!) play both and b. the cheaper modes on Mawloc are quite underrated AFAICT. At X=1 you get the best Fire Imp of all time and X=2 gets you what Wicked Wolf can't be without the right support. Exiling the loser can be very relevant too!

There are enough good but small one-drops and two-drops these days that a three-mana 3/3 that eats one is an excellent deal. Zoanthrope is a little more generic and inefficient but also piques my interest.

(I'm not sure if the Mawloc vs Hydra comparisons annoy me more than the Mawloc vs [RG card] ones. Yeah, Mawloc isn't better than Minsc & Boo and probably not better than Klothys even though those are totally different cards that you're only comparing because they share colour pips. Who cares?!)

Tyranid Prime - This thing is brilliant - a lord/anthem of sorts that prompts unique sizing/sequencing decisions but with the raw power to justify tackling that puzzle.

Old One Eye - I'm on the hunt for a good chungus for my green creature/ramp decks and this does the job well (perhaps too well?), is splashable so slower decks in other colours have access to another finisher, and has nice graveyard interactions. I expect it to perform very well but if you push your cheaper cards to the point where your sixes have to do this to compete then that's on you?

Deathleaper, Terror Weapon - Very cool version of the 'haste lord' idea that rarely comes together

Biophagus - Lots of good two-drop mana creatures out there but this is one of the best if you're not looking for a big mana jump

Noise Marine - Am I too greedy for wanting this to have haste too or have I been conditioned by a decade of casting Bloodbraid Elf? (itself a card I don't see included or earning its keep in Cubes much these days sadly)

Screamer-Killer - Finally something that has synergy with Fury

Canoptek Scarab Swarm

I really like these - a wide range of outcomes and they can double as incredible graveyard hate or the perfect payoffs for your own graveyard strategy.

Pink Horror - There's a lot working against this in the type of deck that might be able to use it but I don't care, this is cool as hell. I love that the distributed damage from the smaller Horrors gives you an incentive to 'crack' the main one sometimes.

Chaos Defiler - An obscenely pushed card that I'm a little reluctant to include because of how effective it is - it's all but guaranteed to trade for three cards including two of their best cards. Someone on the inside really loves Goblin Welder!

Helbrute - Looks embarrassing if you just line it up with Defiler but this is a more interesting card in many ways. With these recursive threats you often trade that stickiness for poor stats but this hits hard and fast and you can easily bring it back for another round.

The First Tyrannic War - This is bizarre but intriguing. It's very difficult to get full value from both 'events' at once but I don't think you should try - either this is a clunky cheat spell or pays for itself by coming along with a ~5-drop while building towards the 2nd/3rd chapters. I want to play the Cube where you can have it all with this though.

Night Scythe - A strong glue card especially if you care about artifacts at all
Thunderhawk Gunship - Impressive if you want a colourless/artifact finisher at this cost without the likes of Wurmcoil Engine. With these two (as well as Necron Monolith and/or Reaver Titan from this set if you want to go that far), Greasefang starts to look promising if only as a stretch goal.

Tomb Fortress - Basically the exact use case for a utility land draft (an idea which has way more options since I last saw it seriously discussed around these parts)

Dom Harvey


The card Polymorph used to be notable for a few reasons: the phallic imagery that prompted the art to be cropped in future printings, a local cheater's extensive collection of Mirage Polymorphs, and it's uniqueness. Despite a few clones later (including the creatively titled Mass Polymorph), this was an effect that blue and only blue got to dabble in and then only a little.

Recently, Wizards moved this effect to red and decided to make up for lost time. Transmogrify implements Polymorph if you want to keep it simple but there are more exotic variants too that all ask different things from you. I think this is worth the effort as it captures what's good about stuff like Twin - the threat of a big swing out of nowhere and difficult decisions from both sides around how to use/dodge removal with that threat in mind - but without as many otherwise weak cards and the instant win if you pass the remvoal check. You can make it close to that with your choice of big creatures - there's a big difference between a 4-mana Ancient Stone Idol or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn vs a 4-mana Inferno Titan or something and I prefer the second approach.

I think this is a good way to add a combo deck of sorts with a distinct playstyle to your format that also changes the drafting and deckbuilding process substantially.

For example, do you treat Polymorph as a probabilistic way to upgrade a bad creature and get a discount on a good one or a deterministic way to get a specific creature? Within that, it's not clear where you draw the line - let's say you have two or three 'big hits' and your next pack or card pool has a Fury. A 'build your own Natural Order' for Fury is a fine use for four mana a lot of the time but sometimes you will need your [big chungus] and adding the Fury hurts your odds of that (but not that much etc). In a ~singleton, draft format you can't just add more copies of your one best hit either and not all chungi are born equal - you want >1 hit in case you draw it but if this backup creature is enough worse than your main squeeze you might have a tough decision.

Creativity is/was the best deck in several Constructed formats and a player in others but it's harder to unlock its potential in Cube - you don't have manabases that let you find and trigger Dwarven Mine on demand for a Creativity target while casting Wrenn and Six or Teferi, Time Raveler at the same time. Getting triple red is often not trivial and neither is building your deck to enable it - many of the best non-creature cards that create creatures to target are artifacts. Creativity solves part of this for you since you can over-Creativity into more hits but that takes a lot more setup. It's hard to turn this to a benefit since there aren't many expensive but appealing non-creature artifacts that also play well in a deck like this.

Despite that, the ceiling on Creativity is incredibly high and it's a very satisfying card to build around/towards that will catch someone's eye over a more generic Polymorph effect.

Reality Scramble offers its own world of possibilities - upgrading your three-mana PW to an Ugin, turning your Saga into a not-really-hardcast Shark Typhoon - while letting you reroll via retrace or spin that wheel for the first time if your graveyard synergies set that up. You could even have a creature-heavy deck with enough incidental ways to create artifacts (e.g. cards like Thopter Engineer or Pia and Kiran Nalaar) that you can side-shift this into a Shape Anew.

Fireflux Squad can be a Polymorph - or rather the Polymorph, unless hitting Squad and then having another thing left over for Squad to upgrade is realistic - but it's also a strong but exciting threat in a deck with a lot of expendable tokens (like those Thopter Engineer variants!) where your average creature is much better than a random 1/1. It's a little Winota-esque (in a good way?) without quite as much carnage.

Lukka takes this concept further offering its own mana value subgame for drafting/deckbuilding where you can play a lot of creatures and get decent value from its +1 ability while still highrolling something reliably with the -2 - or just have it as a repeatable Polymorph in a deck trying to turn a token into exactly one thing.

An obscure option at this point, Proteus Staff with Blinkmoth Nexus/Guardian Idol/Vedalken Shackles was one of the first Standard decks I encountered. If you have anything that animates or makes a token for one mana (Hard Evidence or classic manlands like Mishra's Factory/Mutavault as well as Nexus), T3 Staff T4 setup + flip is a fine curve and Staff works nicely in a deck that digs for and cares about artifacts.

...that's not all! Proteus Staff puts the revealed cards on bottom in any order - if you don't have any creatures to find you get to stack your entire deck (while blinking that same creature)! I know there are some Doomsday enjoyers here and this is a suitably roundabout way to get that same rush.

With most of these effects now concentrated in Red, any R/x colour combination can produce a plausible Polymorph deck. You might try to seed a different variant of this deck in each colour pair - WR has a lot of token makers and Anthems with Polymorphs as a backup, BR combines Polymorphs with reanimation as another way to cheat stuff out, UR is a combo-control deck with Polymorph cosplaying as Twin. I'll focus on UR here since it's what inspired this post, I've had identity issues with UR as a colour pair, and I think it has the best ways to support this theme.

The last few years have given us not just a wide variety of Polymorphs but a lot of generally playable token makers to enable them. You can easily imagine a blue control deck with one or two expensive creatures as finishers that plays mostly at instant speed and would have an interest in all of these cards - at that point, Polymorphs add a cool and unique angle to your deck at the cost of a slot or two.

It's hard to ask for a better card for these strats than Fable and those self-transforming Sagas are a perfect match for Polymorphs but some older/newer Sagas create tokens as part of their story (The Birth of Meletis was a staple of Standard/Pioneer versions in its day) and many recent enchantments bring one or more tokens with them (Ranger Class and Wedding Announcement come to mind as Standard all-stars, as does Bitterblossom 15 years ago).

Vehicles aren't a natural pairing for Polymorphs since they rely on other creatures to crew them but a handful of pushed Vehicles come with their own Pilots - and Polymorph food.

These bonus set all-stars have been incredible for me in ~any Cube deck and together they form a colourless package of enablers that can slot into any Polymorph deck and bolster an artifact theme at the same time.

Manlands are a fixture of decks like this - the cheap ones can be activated to give you a Polymorph target out of nowhere, the expensive ones can take over and win games when you have fewer creatures of all sizes to do that for you.

Other assorted lands can get you that target too - I've always felt Kher Keep was underappreciated for how annoying it can be but that was the impetus for the Utility Land Draft I suppose.

It's not easy to line up Threaten + Polymorph but it's hard to do something more satisfying.

If you want self-contained win conditions that can churn out a steady stream of tokens, there are more and more planeswalkers every year that fit that model. Planeswalkers + interaction is the easiest and safest template for midrange/control and I generally like my Cubes to avoid that but it can also be a springboard for exploring more wacky themes and Polymorphs are the perfect example. These options span the entire power band - you can picture a RUG Oath/Polymorph deck with a curve of Wrenn, Oko, and Minsc & Boo if that's your speed.

There's a delightful variety of different ways to cheat something in that you can combine with these effects. Some of these will clash with the strict requirements of actual Polymorphs - you probably don't want that wheel to land on Goblin Welder - but balancing these is a tough yet rewarding challenge.

Some deck sketches:

(note how great Standstill is in a deck like this!)


Dom Harvey

Got a sudden chance to draft last week so the big box of cards I like came out again! A handful of the decks:

Typing up a Gyruda deck in the RL decklist interface is always a trip but I hope I get to do it more often. Gyruda is a very challenging but rewarding companion (no companion tax here) and I easily went undefeated with this beauty that I think is still far from the best possible Gyruda deck - I saw a lot of good even CMC creatures and combo pieces pass me by as I struggled to find a lane early. If anything, Gyruda felt insurmountable in a slow enough format for it. IDK how much of that is just having these other good 6s or if that's a negative - if you place this incredibly tough drafting and deckbuilding constraint on yourself you should get a nice reward! Companions are inherently repetitive and Gyruda at its worst is literally the most repetitive card possible (20 Clones/ETB Blink creatures + a Thassa's Oracle or something) but in (this/) Cube I think it's great. Sometimes it was a 6/6 + a fine two-drop, sometimes it was the best Grave Titan ever, sometimes it won on the spot with elaborate Sun Titan sequences - in the most memorable moment of the night, Freyja used Living Death to mill herself with my own Gyruda to set up a lethal Thassa's Oracle! With just one slot you get an entirely new archetype that changes the whole experience.

Altar of Dementia really shined here - you have the deterministic infinites with Redcap + Anafenza or Sun Titan + Saffi but counting to 25+ is surprisingly easy especially with Gyruda giving you a headstart.

A nice example of a go-wide GW deck that can also do some funky stuff (e.g. the T2 Shrine of Loyal Legions setting up a Rite of Harmony + crack for 7 tokens line later!)

A neat Jund Sac deck from an experienced player who has been away from the game for a bit, it's encouraging to see that it isn't too hard to build something like this

One of the least confident drafters put together a solid URza deck - it's always tough to gauge how much support 'the artifact deck' really needs but this feels like an artifact deck that doesn't have to go out of its way to earn that label.

- One drafter said this was the most fun she's had Cubing in ages, another drafter stormed off because he hated his deck so much. Preserving that first reaction and preventing the other is the ultimate goal but maybe some amount of that is priced in to a Cube that's trying to be this adventurous (though if anything both decks were mostly normal-looking)?
- 10 Triomes + double fetches + shocks(/duals) felt like a good spread for enabling two colours + splash or full three colours even if That Guy is in the draft gobbling up all the fixing
- The tension between the mostly positive reactions people have to the 'here's my box of cards' paper version of the Cube vs the sense of shame I feel whenever I look at a theoretically more coherent version of it online is a problem I really need to get over
- Chris's note: run Altar of Dementia
At the other extreme, you can certainly build a Cube around redundancy but you then lack an appealing hook - I remember the Cultic Cube on MTGO was panned for its ruthless focus on redundancy at the expense of all else, such that the average deck was a less exciting/ideal version of an archetype you'd seen a hundred times before.
Apologies for the tardy response, but I thought I'd weigh in! Thanks so much for recalling the Cultic Cube on MTGO and for using it as a coordinate for a certain take on a legacy-ish environment! I'm not sure what it means to say that a cube that goes in for redundancy lacks a "hook." I am sympathetic with the idea that it can be difficult for cube designers to articulate what makes their cube special or unique (and I'm not convinced that this is inevitably a necessary enterprise, and a pressure toward uniqueness can be detrimental to one's cube design if one isn't careful). I think there is a hook, which is the cube's fierce dedication to macroarchetypical support and its minimization of the microarchetypical. I lay out the case for the design of the Cultic Cube in some detail in my article for the Mothership: .

This probably comes off as prickly, but I do take mild exception to your characterization of the cube's reception. I am totally with you that there are people who found that the cube wasn't their cup of tea, and that's fine! (We recently wrapped the first CubeCon in which we had 26 cubes in the main event. From conversation and from the surveying of the 200 or so participants that we have done, I am heartened and totally unsurprised to learn that literally every cube was at least one person's favorite, and every cube was disliked by some people.) As the Cultic Cube was up, I was delighted to receive so very many lovely notes from people whose experience playing the cube was very different from the one that you describe here.

Finally, I'd mention that WOTC was kind enough to commission me recently to design a new environment for MTGO, and they cited the novelty and popularity of my previous effort when they reached out. The new cube project, Cartographia, is very different from the Cultic Cube. It embraces microarchetypes and is much more Jenny/Johnny-oriented. Nevertheless, I do include quite a bit of redundancy in effects that I like and that I understand to be necessary to the way that I want colors to play. So blue has a great many 2 mv counters, green has a whole army of dorks, and so on. This cube is less extreme in its redundancy that Cultic, but duplication still exists at a high density, and it doesn't actually strike me as an extraordinarily unusual feature of the environment compared to cubes generally. For a deeper dive into Cartographia, see my article here:

Thanks for recalling my cube to mind! I hope I don't come across as abrasive, as I absolutely don't mean to be. I would simply like to say that there's a legitimate place for "high choice, low variance" design in cube space (to adopt Rosewater's language, as I cite in that article linked above). And I'd rather that posterity not be left with the notion that this particular cube experience was an abject failure. In my book, it was a huge success and a confirmation of the desirability of this approach to cube design. (I do not, of course, pretend that the Cultic Cube is the only way to have fun in cube!)

A footnote for those interested: I convinced WOTC to give me play data for the Cultic Cube, and I am working *very hard* to get data once again for the new cube, Cartographia. That original set of data allowed me to do a video series analyzing it and thinking about the lessons that might be drawn from it for both designers and players:

Dom Harvey

Apologies for the tardy response, but I thought I'd weigh in!

I don't mean to frame it as a definitive criticism (or even my own - I haven't played the recent MTGO Cubes much - or a valid one!), just using it to illustrate various contrasting approaches to that question.

In other news, Sam Black's most recent podcast episode is very good on being honest with yourself about the goals and power band of a Cube

Dom Harvey

BROTHERS' WAR + The Dangers of Synergy

At the start of the year I tried to take stock of the problems I had building a Cube that could fit everything I wanted. I realized that I could try splitting my big virtual box of cards into two shells - an Artifact Cube and a Graveyard Cube (modeled on many of the Cubes here). I figured I may as well put off the Artifact Cube until The Brothers' War but Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty proved to be an unexpected goldmine for Cubes in general and Artifact Cubes in particular. I put a sketch for that together but figured I would file it away until this moment.

This may end up being a pleasingly dangerous set for me in that regard - there's a lot of artifact and graveyard stuff going on here at the same time! Just look at a card like Simian Simulacrum - a hyper-flexible card that also touches on warm notes like blink, counters etc.

With cards that do a little bit of everything, it can be hard to gauge if they are actually earning their keep. Take Phyrexian Dragon Engine - a neat graveyard mode on a reasonably statted artifact creature that begs to be Welded/reanimated. It's easy to include it by default as a crossover card that does all the right things - but if in practice you aren't manually reanimating it often, or the artifact type line isn't relevant, or it feels like more of a last resort play from the graveyard than something actively exciting, you should be ready to categorize it as a more narrow card and reevaluate it accordingly.

This can apply in a different way for 'cogs' - these low-impact but cheap and flexible cards that help to set up other synergies or payoffs. I'm keen to play with Combat Courier but need to keep track of how often it's a clunky Think Twice that happens to be an artifact for a fleeting moment rather than an actual enabler for more impactful cards. Glue cards like Fallaji Archaeologist and Blanchwood Prowler don't have the tempting artifact subtype but fit this description too.

It's easy to label Prototype as just another Kicker variant but I think that misses the point and speaks more to how far-reaching and generic that concept is - pay A or pay more for B is a deep well and this is a nice twist on it. I like that you can upgrade these with Blink/Reanimation ala Akroma, Angel of Fury from back in the day and when you blink your T3 Combat Thresher it feels like you've done something new (as opposed to the usual blink play pattern of doing the same thing over and over). I quite like this first batch of Prototype cards and hope we get some more in the supplementary products soon.

Powerstones don't do it for me even though I mostly embrace the token/game object overload we've had recently. I've seen even experienced players mess up the 'can't be spent to cast a nonartifact spell' double negative already, the lack of reminder text on some of the cards makes that worse, and none of the cards that care about Powerstones are exciting enough to be worth it.

More spreadsheet headaches! These flexible not-quite-hybrid but not-quite-gold cards give you more granular ways to flesh out the colour pie (elsewhere in this space, Throne of Eldraine got a lot wrong but Adamant was a low-key cool mechanic in retrospect IMO). The 'just a big doofus' version of Clay Champion is appealing if you want exactly that while the white version that spreads the love has more play to it.

Some individual card notes:

Misery's Shadow - Explicitly described as a Nantuko Shade for 2022 and that sums up the debate between nostalgia and power nicely - it doesn't have the resonance of Nantuko Shade but it's unclear how playable that card was at the time and it hasn't aged at all well. Misery's Shadow is a strong, scalable two-drop that can slot in any black deck while hosing effects that line up well against black removal. It's hard to find cheap black threats that universal so this is a welcome addition

Recruitment Officer - Maybe the most compelling Savannah Lions of all and I'm tempted to run it even though I don't support the mono-Lions style of white aggro. It's the perfect early creature for something like the Earthcraft/Katilda archetype we've explored here

Fallaji Archaeologist - I've wanted an Augur of Bolas of sorts for a while but Augur is just SO bad and this has enough extras to get there

Third Path Iconoclast - Likewise, Young Pyromancer always felt frustratingly narrow in practice while the Saheeli, Sublime Artificer effect was more appealing on a clunky hull. I love this general extension to noncreature spells over just instants/sorceries. Once you look for cards that fall outside that overlap you find them everywhere and in a lot of my lists the most likely cheap noncreature spells to chain this into artifacts - the fact that Iconoclast also makes artifacts itself means you can really go hard with stuff like Urza. I'm excited to push a spell-heavy deck in the most literal sense that probably wants all three

Hero of the Dunes - 'Small creatures/reanimation' might be the WB theme I've wanted for a while and this set bolsters it well between this and Recommission. Hero has most of Sun Titan's Charming Prince/Flickerwisp/Clones/Saffi tricks but can often add more power to the board, is a little easier to search for/reanimate itself and works with stuff like Winota if that's your jam. I can imagine creature combo decks using this to return Hallowed Spiritkeeper/Altar of Dementia for some big finish

Bitter Reunion - The biggest sleeper hit for the set, this has been incredible in various Constructed formats for decks that want a Tormenting Voice (that's better against counters) and care about enchantments or have ways to blink/recur it. The haste is no joke either - it's often seen letting Reflection of Kiki-Jiki copy something immediately or an Archon of Cruelty produced by Persist/Creativity attack right away

Cityscape Leveler - Powerstone concerns aside, this is one of the more compelling 'big idiots' for Reanimator, Welder etc in a while.
Relocating the trigger to casting instead of ETB makes it less powerful in Cube but also more tolerable
The first post mentions board stalls, but maybe only referring to the Theros era, is that still a big thing? I feel like in BRO drafts everything's always dyin

Dom Harvey


(crossposted from here)

Cube Hit

This year continued the trend of great Watchwolves (or rather Fleecemane Lions): hard-hitting two-drops with some other utility. Increasingly I think two-drops are a crucial spot on the curve for a Cube deck or a Cube environment as a whole - three mana gets you everything these days and one mana can only get you so much before you get Ragavan but two mana gets you these Baneslayers/Tarmogoyfs that help to shape the game early and have relevance later but are worth removing at parity throughout.

Meanwhile, we got some even greater Armodons this year - a lot of the cheaper Commander-minded build-arounds have stats that make them at least reasonable game pieces when they aren't doing their thing (without being so good that you're meant to just bludgeon them instead of doing the cool thing). As I start thinking about Brawl/Commander Cubes more that quality looks even more essential.

Cube Miss

Here I'm mostly repeating my answer from last year. Many of this year's mechanics and themes spill a lot of ink to do something that is insular but not rewarding and double down on a recent trend of extreme wordiness. The worst offender here is Unfinity, which should be a set full of joy and whimsy and ends up being a rather tedious exercise in bookkeeping. What the hell is Myra and who asked for that?!

Cube Card of the Year

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker will be a staple in my Cubes for a long long time. Ledger Shredder is a very neat card that links themes I like. Currency Converter is one of the Commander deck oddballs that stole my heart. My actual card of the year is a rather unconventional choice that I totally overlooked at first.

It's hard to make a good Baneslayer these days that doesn't just have piles of words/keywords or raw stats. Sheoldred's apparently simple symmetry gives it an elegance that is sadly rare but also invites you to break it somehow. Its baseline impact makes it an impressive four-drop that shapes the game but it is highly sensitive to what either player is doing - you can load up on draw effects to gain a bunch of life, punish opponents who have a lot of those effects, or pair it with Wheels etc for a flashy combo finish.

It also fills a big hole in black's card pool. Black really missed a generic mid-game stabilizer/finisher that it can force through with discard, reanimation etc and there really hasn't been anything like that below 5 mana (which was itself a barren slot in the curve for a while). Sheoldred fits the model of cards I enjoy: powerful cards in the abstract that also get you thinking.

Cube Set of the Year

Dominaria United?

My original take was going to be "of course the raw answer is Neon Dynasty but the Warhammer 40K decks offered a shockingly good haul". After reading the Lucky Paper Radio review of the year I'm coming around to Andy's choice of Dominaria United because of that emphasis on clean and clear designs. I love Fable of the Mirror-Breaker but it carries a big mental burden with it - something like Haughty Djinn or Sheoldred is much easier to grok.

Personal Level Up

Get on with it!

As I mentioned in my LPR appearance (thanks again guys!), I have a very debilitating perfectionist streak when it comes to Cube and I need to either stop wasting time beating myself up about it or dedicate that time making concrete progress on my Cube(...s)

Dom Harvey


Sam Black is one of the top Magic theorists who always has something worth thinking about even if you reject the conclusions. In a recent episode of his Limited podcast Drafting Archetypes he gave some general thoughts on Cube after his experience at CubeCon - I recommend watching/listening yourself (skipping the interlude about calculating fixing if that doesn't matter to you) but I'll summarize his points (in quote blocks) and see where they take me.

- Most Cubes with restrictions/identity markers (Legacy Cube, Peasant Cube etc) are still selecting the strongest cards within that definition - the strongest cards in a Cube generally define the Cube experience and a lot of 'archetypal support' within larger Cubes that optimize for power is just shuffling around the weaker cards in a way that also sets an inviting trap for drafters.

- Asking Cube designer what archetypes are supported will yield an answer to what they tried to support but usually without an objective answer to which archetypes are actually good, and this answer will inherently not focus enough on what shapes the experience the most i.e. what are the best cards?

This is where the recent Twitter exercise of 'What are the best X cards in a Cube' helps to sharpen your focus. There can be a difference between what the best cards are and what you ideally want the best cards to be. Overhauling the middle or lower section of your power rankings won't do much if the top remains in place and slicing off the most powerful cards is an easy way to get a format where archetypes have more room to breathe.

- Do cards actually support an archetype or are they just good in a way that overwhelms synergies? The Great Henge is good in your +1/+1 counters deck but that's because it's a deck, not because it's the counters deck. Similarly, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker looks like it enables a bunch of synergies because it does a bit of everything but the experience of losing to Fable from the other side is broadly similar regardless.

This is a familiar dilemma (you can find our old jokes here about Jitte supporting the artifact deck etc) but it bears repeating. A Cube that acknowledges this dilemma and takes a bold approach to solving it is Caleb Gannon's Powered Synergy Cube that made its way to Magic Online. That Cube explicitly rejects the generic good cards - every card is intended to be a synergistic piece that links up with other cards and nothing can win the game reliably by itself. He takes it so far that the most generic good cards of all time - fast mana like Moxen - are supposedly not high priorities in this format because they aren't accelerating The Good Cards that win by themselves and you need time both in the draft and in-game to assemble your contraption first (I'm not sure if I buy this argument but it's novel that you can even make it).

I favour the opposite approach - have a lot of strong cards which can fill out a safe, normal deck for someone who wants to draft that but which also have high ceilings to chase. My new boo Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is an excellent example. The experience of winning with or losing to Sheoldred isn't always the same - maybe it chips away turn after turn, maybe you run it up with Wheel of Fortune. It's easy to look at cards like Tireless Tracker as linking together lots of disparate themes but they are also just good cards you'll gladly play in a deck. Having that stable base of reliable cards lets me chase the more exotic stuff.

- Staples are staples for a reason. One reason people play Cubes is to play cards they have nostalgia for and an emotional connection with; these will be cards they played with because it's hard to build that bond otherwise and so these are likely to be cards that were strong somewhere in Constructed years ago.

As a designer, are you trying to provide that nostalgia or a novel experience? The nostalgic cards are beloved in part because they are strong and their strength threatens to stomp on any synergies you have in mind with the new stuff.

At this point one novel experience is giving in entirely to that nostalgia. Premodern/Old Border Cubes are a popular concept that exist to preserve that in aspic with a certain aesthetic - Sam gives the example of the Old Border foil Cube at CubeCon, where just looking at and holding these beautiful old cards was a central part of the experience separate from the actual gameplay.

I think this articulates a problem I kept having when trying to have it all. I started Magic in the mid-2000s with a focus on Extended (Invasion onwards at that time) so a lot of my nostalgia comes from that time frame as well as the Kamigawa-Time Spiral era (which marked a realization in design that creatures should be important but figuring out how to do that took time). Comparing the cards from that time to the big hits of the mid-2010s is jarring and that's before you get to the broken 2019 cards or the weird and wonderful Commander stuff. I want to perform a Pernicious Deed and then cast Fact or Fiction but I also want the exciting yet intricate games that come with the recent powerful cards.

Power creep is real - but it's also unevenly distributed. One draw to power-max Legacy+ or Vintage Cubes is that the best cards from the early days are still the best cards overall - you'll take Ancestral Recall or Time Walk over anything and get the good brain chemicals from casting those cards, but the best 'normal' cards from that era fall short now. Having an lapsed or casual player turn up to Cube night and draft their favourite cards from back in the day only to get walloped by these new cards that do everything with many lines of text to parse is a great way to alienate them from your Cube or Cube as a whole.

I had unknowingly veered towards Sam's theoretical solution - base my themes around enough pushed cards from Commander and other extracurricular sets that I keep that sense of discovery without being submerged in the raw power of the recent cards. As Sam notes, this is a very tough balance to strike and I can't claim with confidence that I ever pulled it off. This also has its own tradeoffs - it's easy for players to skip over wordy Commander cards that they haven't seen before and take refuge in something familiar. Maybe I should frame this the other way - my Cube is defined by the new stuff but seasoned with the wackiest cards from 25 years ago that, like the cards from 5 years ago, are enduring and iconic because they are powerful - the Survivals and Sneak Attacks of the world. The LPR episode on Andy's Neoclassical Cube made the astute point that the pushed cards from the Premodern era were mostly build-arounds rather than objectively busted the way an Oko is - you could drop a Lion's Eye Diamond, Time Spiral, or Yawgmoth's Will into many formats and see no change - and I think they are good cards to have mixing things up as a result.

Dom Harvey

You Better Cogwork, Bitch

We're so back!

Too back, even?! I wanted to test a more ambitious version of my CubeCon submission ('any land/spell can be your Companion') for after-hours Cubes there so I mentioned this offhand to Chris' group and suddenly I had 10 (!) gamers signed up for a draft on Monday, which was far too soon for me to finish that design and build it so the 'here's my box of Cube cards' strategy had to come through again. Without enough actual Magic cards on hand for this parade of gamers I was forced to come up with a drastic solution:


I became a Cogwork Librarian and jumped in every single pack, creating one of the more bizarre draf portions I've ever participated in. Tracking the Doms as they jumped in and out of packs around the table (and caused a massive pile-up in Pack 3) was weirdly compelling and getting to double dip in a pack on demand was a boost to the synergistic decks my Cube wants to foster. I wouldn't go this far again but something like this is a good way to spice up drafts sometimes.

The undefeated deck was the kind of UB Ninja/Tempo jawn I've wanted to see for a while:

Full of flexible + powerful cards and able to switch between assertive/defensive on a dime. I try to be pretty selective about which planeswalkers I include these days but Kaito Shizuki proved to be the ideal blend of strong and engaging.

I got to draft one of my favourite Pioneer decks of all time bolstered by some busted Legacy/Vintage cards:

Bolas's Citadel powered by Dark Ritual and supported by Sensei's Divining Top (/Altar of Dementia) + Vampiric/Demonic Tutor is a thing of beauty. Without a consistent or cheap way to gain life back there was a real element of danger to it in a lot of games.

The 'fake' cards proved to be very real. Canoptek Scarab Swarm is a Warhammer 40K banger that doubles as graveyard hate and graveyard payoff while juicing artifact/token themes all at once. Chatterstorm and Awaken the Woods is one of Gavin Verhey's Unknown Event Playtest cards that does just what it says on the tin but with a wide range of outcomes - sometimes making 2-3 mana dorks on Turn 2-3, sometimes shooting out five bodies for free off Citadel.

Skullclamp tends to weirdly underperform in most Cubes even where it's one of the best cards on raw power level but it was predictably incredible in this deck - too good if it consistently performs at that level but as one of the best incentives to build a deck like this maybe it's ok?

This nifty tokens/graveyard deck made great use of Agatha's Soul Cauldron, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite cards in years. I don't think I've ever seen a Cube deck with a 'safe' number of hits for Collected Company (including in the project where you can P1P1 Company as your Companion and draft around it the whole way) and that didn't change here; maybe it's just a trap even though people love drafting and casting it?

Also cool:

A Grixis Prowess deck similar to where @Chris Taylor might end up with a reanimator sub-theme ala the Young Pyromancer + Reanimator decks that won some hearts in Legacy ages ago. This deck badly wanted a fetchable Rx dual and maybe another big reanimation target but came together well otherwise and the pilot had a great time
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Thanks for the draft report! The pictures don't work, but I'd love to see the Citadel decklist!

Canoptek Scarab Swarm: I picked up a copy of that card and then promptly forgot it existed. Fits my themes and has big synergy potential. Thanks for the reminder!

Chatterstorm and Awaken the Woods: I didn't know this card existed, but holy smokes, it seems busted. The floor is totally acceptable, but then you trigger all of the landfall shenanigans, token benefits (Goblin Bombardment, Earthcraft) and spell velocity payoffs. Crazy high ceiling that you have to work towards. I think these are tough to acquire, but I'll have to try and get a copy!

Agatha's Soul Cauldron is such a fun build around. It's cheap to cast and activate and you never know what crazy sequence of plays it will enable. I am looking at Virtue of Loyalty as a teamwide buff to give Selesnya decks a fun little combo.

Dom Harvey


(extended podcast version here)

After hearing great things about last year's event I was determined to make it to CubeCon this year and the organizers made that call for me by inviting me as a Special Guest for the Wisconsin vs England grudge match. Those unaware of the long history of sectarian conflict between these two superpowers (history is written by the victors, after all) were surprised at how keen we were to settle this old score.


After successful mediation at the bar we learned that they still wanted us to play Magic for some reason so we trekked downstairs and drafted the Bun Magic Cube from Lucky Paper's own Andy Bungold with me as the featured drafter. In Andy's episode giving advice on his Cube he mentioned that the 4+ CMC cards should be taken and played very sparingly so I took that as a challenge and ended up with a nice chonky WG deck that was basically the same deck I drafted when I played with their group in Baltimore. Listen to his bafflement over my draft and life choices here and watch me take on reigning CubeCon champ Caleb Durward!

I 3-0ed but my teammates were less fortunate and the locals defended their home turf. An effigy of the King was dunked in a vat of molten cheese and we scuttled back to the bar with our tails between our legs.


I then got to try dinrovahorror (AKA Greg)'s Companion Cube again - the natural extension of the various Commander Cube ideas submitted (including mine) and one I feel more emboldened to build myself now. My P1P1 had Mox Opal which I was keen to force and see if it felt properly supported as a Companion - if it is I'll have a sweet deck and if it isn't that's useful info for Greg. The support was there and I 3-0ed with this little number (switching Opal out for Soul Cauldron as my companion post-SB, a sick combo card that was also on-demand GY hate vs multiple opponents' GY-themed companions)


The Cube design world is much wider and more open-minded than it was 5 or 10 years ago and the variety of Cubes in the main event put that on full display. The structure of the main event had its own flexibility that matched this: there were 3 drafts on each day, and for each draft you would rank the Cubes you want to play/avoid and be assigned a Cube/pod by the almighty Algorithm. You could try to play specific Cubes as often as possible or spread your wings and try a bit of everything. If you want good honest Magic or weird and wacky stipulation Cubes, you can get your fill; everything from Pauper/Peasant to power-max Vintage is there somewhere. Do you think Universes Beyond is a horrible stain on Magic's identity or that actually Magic already died in the mid-2000s somewhere? Bathe in the shiny glow of the Old Border Foil Cube! Is your whole personality based on wanting Splinter Twin unbanned? Museum of Modern and Modern Darlings have something for you!

There were no real prizes for the main event so you didn't have to optimize your chances of success at all costs - once I was chasing Reid Duke and a few others at the top of the standings I was keen to overtake them so I had a personal choice of targeting a Cube I had played before and felt confident in or meeting a goal of playing a different Cube in each draft. If you didn't like your deck or the Cube or just didn't feel like gaming, you could skip a session as my friend did to get to lie in after a strong Day 1 ensured his place in Top 64.

You can see the photos and notes together in this Twitter thread.


I wanted to try the weird stuff, knowing I could circle back to safe Cubes later. Even though you aren't trying to break a single format as you would for a competitive event, I still liked the idea of analyzing and solving these unique puzzles. The Changeling Cube (all creatures have Changeling in all zones) caught my eye so I decided to test my mettle there.

I developed a theory of what that new rule would mean and scanned the Cube list to apply it to the card pool:

- Tribal payoffs tend to be powerful at the expense of being narrow so making these universally applicable means the baseline tribal payoff is probably better than even the strong, generic cards. Scavenging Ooze is a card I'm keen to pick up in my colours in most Cubes but looked weak here (except as a dedicated hate card)

- Payoffs for obscure tribes get to be very pushed since their power is hard to unlock normally so those gain the most; Ayula, Queen Among Bears is broken here!

- Lords and similar payoffs scale with the number of creatures you have so cards that make multiple bodies and cheap creatures that immediately benefit from those payoffs improve

- Tribal synergies are more than the sum of their parts so they excel in bigger games where players have access to more cards

- Removal gets even better as the best creatures are either payoffs that improve everything else or stand-alone threats; as a result, cards that line up well against spot removal (e.g. token makers) get better too

- Tribes with a lot of cheap creatures (Elves, Goblins) tend to have different payoffs from tribes that go slower and bigger (Dragons) so think about how the scaling changes in either direction. Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury is a fine card as your only Dragon and in Standard the goal was to pair it with Thunderbreak Regent for +2/+0 on everything; here it's easy for dashed Kolaghan to represent +5/+0 on everything for an extra 25 damage!

- Being able to parse the implications of this rule for unfamiliar cards on the fly is key: I haven't thought about Nezumi Shadow-Watcher since I bought my very first cards with the Rat's Nest theme deck but a one-drop that can kill anything on demand is incredibly strong!

Looking at the list, Elfball (Heritage Druid/Birchlore Rangers + Glimpse of Nature etc) looked like it should dominate anything that couldn't interact with them and it made sense that Allies would be the best 'goldfish a bunch of damage' deck if you could bridge the colour requirements. From that framework above I was immediately drawn to BR thanks to its abundance of removal, strong Goblins/Zombies synergies that both asked for similar things, and the crossover between them: BR got to make a lot of bodies, sacrifice them for various payoffs, and often interact in the process (I read Deathspore Thallid and realized I had the perfect synergy piece that could also shoot down a Priest of Titania on sight)

Muxus stood out as an incredible card if you can survive that long so I was thrilled to take it P1P1. I never drew or cast Muxus in the whole draft but it put me in the lane I wanted and my deck cruised to an easy 3-0. Kolaghan was excellent and I learned mid-draft that I even had Twin with Goatnapper and the GOAT Kiki-Jiki!

After that draft I was tempted to camp out in the Changeling Cube until others started contesting this deck or something else called to me. I had more Cubes to play though - as long as they would let me!


The mysterious Algorithm went a little haywire at some point on Day 1, sending many people into Cubes they had ranked low or not ranked at all. This Cube was low among my 'endorsed' Cubes simply because I like the concept but I was trying to temper my expectations - I'd heard horror stories of a version of this Cube from the previous year that was full of the most powerful artifact hosers (it turns out the cards that are amazing at the one job of destroying artifacts are great when that's all you want to do), making it easy to clean up with non-artifact decks that weren't exposed to that removal themselves but got to use all of it.

That flaw had been patched but this year's version still had generic power outliers that went against the main theme. My P1P1 was Chrome Host Seedshark, one of my favourite Cube cards of the past year and likely to be a top tier card in a lower power Cube but its artifact synergies warrant that here. What I didn't understand was the Mystic Confluence passed to me - guaranteed to be one of the best cards with no stance on artifacts. It was an obvious pick over cards that cared about artifacts at all and suggested there would be more such outliers in the draft. Sure enough I picked up another easy 3-0 with a UB Control deck that barely cared about artifacts (and which could have leaned into artifacts more with cards like Herald of Anguish but found no reason to).

These strategies that deliberately avoid artifacts to dodge the premium removal are a common and necessary part of artifact-heavy retail Limited formats (the emergent RG Dinosaurs deck in Scars of Mirrodin Draft comes to mind) but a Cube that takes artifacts as its main theme can use its creative control to ensure that these aren't dominant. There are many artifact Cubes out there and enough good options for them to draw upon that there is a safe template to follow and there's no reason to let the premise fail in that way (contrast that with the Changeling Cube, a rare and radical tweak to the rules that ensures that broken stuff will happen and challenges you to find the most broken thing). I hope to see a more refined Artifact Cube in the event next year (and may have to be the change I want to see there otherwise).


To wrap up Day 1 I aimed for the featured draft of the Creative Cube. This Cube mostly models the type of synergy I like to focus on - overlapping themes from generally strong cards - and in that sense is more safe or conventional than the name might suggest but it felt like it did a good job of bringing that type of Magic to life. My WG Tokens deck could play as a goodstuff deck but Chatterfang, Felidar Retreat (still a personal fave), and Hero of Bladehold offered big rewards for going wide.

When you are a low-synergy Cube (Bun Magic) or all-synergy Cube (Caleb Gannon's Powered Synergy Cube or the Buildaround Cube from Day 2), your mission is clear. Trying to get the right mix of synergy and default power introduces its own risks, especially now that most of the best new cards are both powerful and flexible - Fable of the Mirror-Breaker does something for everyone and you have to find reasons not to play it, whereas some of the most notorious Urza's Block cards that really did almost kill Magic could be dropped in some formats without anyone noticing. In a Cube that cares about synergy, you need the ideal build of a synergistic deck to be more successful than the safe goodstuff deck in those colours and the card choices have to support this.

Take the WG Tokens theme and the Food subtheme within that. Garruk Wildspeaker, Caldaia Guardian, and Esika's Chariot are fantastic in those decks - but will shine in any green deck. Provisions Merchant looks out of place next to them because it's obviously worse in generic green decks but it's also worse even in the picture perfect Food deck! I'd rather see that become a card like Feasting Hobbit - much more demanding but also incredibly powerful in the deck that's willing to wash those gigantic feet.

This goes for the draft/decks too - if you get to deckbuilding and tend to find that you have more than enough playables and the marginal synergy cards are getting cut, it's worth asking if those slots in the Cube should go to cards like Hobbit which you know you definitely do or don't want. The more mainstream archetypes have so many good options now that it's easy to oversupport them - a good problem to have but one to monitor anyway.

You can catch my draft and my marathon match against Ian Braverman that gave me my only Day 1 loss here. His UB Control deck was strong and fun to play both with and against but it was a classic control deck without any synergies that would set it apart from another Cube.

Part 2 below!
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Dom Harvey


Ryan Saxe's Buildaround Cube is quite different from the Creative Cube philosophically - instead of using generally good cards that can also fit together, you use these building blocks which have high potential but need the right tools to unlock that. He says in his overview that you can't just draft a goodstuff deck and the Cube is built to lock that out. I was keen to see what elaborate contraption I could assemble.

It's tough to parse a Cube like this just from a glance at the list but one trend that stood out was the lack of interaction. In a Cube that's all about synergy it's tempting to scale back the cards that do nothing but break other synergies up and limit the interaction to cards that can also enable synergy themselves like Bone Shards. This meant you had to prioritize interaction in the draft (an interesting tradeoff if it's another strong but replaceable threat vs another removal spell but if there's a crucial combo piece for your deck you feel priced into taking that even if you need that Lightning Axe). This also created a strong incentive to just do the best proactive thing and dare the opponent to do their worst.

With that in mind, my P1P1 forced a tough choice. I saw Wilderness Reclamation as well as Expansion/Explosion and Dig Through Time - Rec seemed like one of the best enablers and endgames in the Cube and I could use my Cogwork Librarian to pick up Dig or E/E too (maybe even hoping to wheel E/E!). However, my 'bonus sheet' card was Dark Depths - one of the best build-arounds when it's in the pool and when nobody else has seen Depths or knows it's in the draft I'm more likely to get any enablers that work with it. I took Depths, followed up with another bonus sheet card in Survival of the Fittest, and ended up with a weird and beautiful lands/creatures/graveyard deck that did a lot of stuff - except remove a creature. Boseiju was clutch in my deck that could find and recur it but I really needed a simple Shriekmaw or something to keep up with a lot of the nonsense.

No normal deck pic here because all of my matches went so long that between submitting my pool and checking it out I never had enough time to take one! The combination of drawn out, decision-heavy games with decks taking lots of game actions (R1 was against a Food/Token synergy deck) and a casual vibe with (often less experienced) players not being pressured to play quickly meant that all of my rounds went down to the wire.


I'd heard a lot of press about the Cascade Cube (every player starts with a Maelstrom Nexus emblem) and the idea was deliciously intriguing. I hadn't seen many games or decks from the Cube and figuring it out on the fly seemed daunting so I was hoping to watch some of it on Day 1. That didn't happen and I knew I couldn't guarantee a slot in a later draft since it was very popular so I decided to jump in and enjoy the ride.

How do you handle this twist? There are simple first steps - artifically high mana costs like Evoke or pitch cards let you cheat on mana, instants are strong as you can Cascade on their turn as well as yours, free instants like Solitude are premium. It's hard for anyone to run out of resources when each card begets another - this can lead to a truly gigantic game where mana use is a main chokepoint or to a game where early highrolls lead to a quick steamroll that forces the other player to have cheap plays to keep up. The idea of taking a few turns off so that your curve starts higher and every Cascade has a higher impact is appealing on the surface but unlikely to hold up. If you can get at least the first good zero-drop, you level up your one-drops and can justify more of those
which in turn lets you play more two-drops and so on. You end up rebuilding the idea of a mana curve, just under strange conditions.

I was very happy to pick up Sol Talisman, one of the best cards in the whole Cube, but lacked a direction beyond that. With no strong colour signal I was taking good artifacts to 'stay open' (or maybe out of a fear of commitment) and was passed some decent green cards but 'messy green artifacts' is not an archetype, to put it mildly.

When I saw Mox Opal, a plan took shape - the Chromatic Stars and Spheres I'd picked up now had two good zeros to hit and Opal would already be close to Metalcraft. Conjurer's Bauble could fill this role too, as could Gumdrop Poisoner (an unsung hero of this Cube - an instant-speed zero on their turn and a bigger cascade + removal spell later!). I could quite reliably get Sol Talisman and Mox Opal into play by Turn 2, which could power out the stuff at the top of my curve or let me double spell while powering up my Urza's Saga and cards like Nettlecyst or Karn, Scion of Urza. A late Lurrus tied the room together - Star/Sphere helped to cast it and then they or Bauble would turn it into a strong draw engine if it wasn't recurring other threats. Once Upon a Time, Endurance, and Force of Vigor gave me strong free instants against the right opponents (in OUAT's case, everyone).

I'd invented an archetype out of desperation and at least had a coherent plan - but was that plan any good? I couldn't interact frequently or reliably, especially on the stack. If my opponents were going much bigger than me or doing something crazy, I couldn't stop it. Threats that cascaded into removal (or vice versa) could let more normal decks keep up with me too. Going into the games I had no idea if my deck was great or awful - a wonderful problem to have and one I sought out this kind of puzzle for!

Thankfully my deck performed very smoothly and carried me to another trophy. My R1 opponent had a UW deck with a lot of Brainstorm effects and Temporal Mastery and I lost the game where he Miracled Mastery with a good Cascade hit with it and then had a strong follow-up on the extra turn but otherwise I got to do my thing.

I was keen to draft the Cascade Cube again soon and once you have a draft or two under your belt I expect everything looks different. Going into the last pod, I had a short list of Cubes that I wanted to play but hadn't managed to hit yet. I snagged the Tiny Leaders Cube for the draft that determined if any of us mortals could catch Reid.


The Tiny Leaders Cube was a sensible execution of a concept that had promise but flopped so badly that it has become an iconic joke in the Magic world at large. A version of Commander that mostly fit within Magic's regular game engine and encouraged people to care about their mana curve sounds great until you ask why people enjoy Commander!

On one level this necessarily embodies an increasingly popular idea - keeping your curve low leads to more decision points and fewer non-games - and the card choices point at the intricate, interactive gameplay that crowd favours. On the other hand, the mana value restriction pushes out the curve toppers that can define the expected endgames in a Cube with just a few slots and which are integral to a typical control deck (and many combo decks - you aren't building Reanimator in Tiny Leaders!). The Commander is an extra card, which already prompts bigger games, but there's also the natural consequence of the Commander replay/tax - one of the most important cards in your deck gets to be played at least twice (the most expensive Commander is 3 CMC and costs 5 the second time which is easy to reach in the midgame, and that's before you get into cheaper Commanders or decks with ramp etc) - making it easy to shove on your Commander early forcing them to have an answer and knowing you can just present that threat again soon.

Finding the right general for me was easier said than done. I took an early Ancient Tomb and hedged with good artifacts, scooping up some white cards late including some that were artifacts or had artifact synergies. That gave me a clear base for the rest of the draft but that never went anywhere - I was thrilled to see Jan Jansen but couldn't find fixing for it or good B/R cards for the life of me. Some decent green came my way but with no clear direction and I knew green wouldn't offer my artifact stuff anything. I saw a late Gylwain which was nowhere near my list of ideal Commanders coming in but could fly the flag for my weird WG Aggro deck. The final product was a bit messy - some good offense but with gaps in the curve, and a lot of Vehicles or other stuff that enhanced/used creatures but not much overlap in which creatures worked with them. Luckily, Flowering of the White Tree is messed up no matter how legendary you are.

This scrappy beatdown got me a 2-1, with a win and a loss in very close matches that I could have thrown or won if I hadn't fried my brain with the previous Cubes. I needed the 3-0 to catch Reid and someone else did instead but I was still pleased to be ~4th going into T64 (not that this meant anything other than a lifetime supply of Sprecher's).

This event was a real endurance race - the first draft started at 9am and we didn't leave the hall before ~10:30 each night. The GP/SCG days were long grinds and the Pro Tour forces you to bring your best game for the whole thing but 9 rounds + 3 draft/deckbuilding segments is the longest block of Magic I can remember.

I left exhausted but satisfied - once I had waited for one particular match to finish. When I finally got around to finding a place to stay, Lincoln (designer of the Penrose Cube from the main event) kindly reached out from the CubeCon Discord and offered me a space on the couch in their delightful lakeside Airbnb. Going into the last pod of Day 2, Lincoln had to 3-0 to have a hope of Top 64. After battling through the first two rounds of the featured pod, the last villain in his way was none other than Reid Duke. After a slugfest on camera, Lincoln slayed the dragon and gave Reid his first loss in an actual match on the weekend... only to finish in 65th. We all showed up early on Sunday just in case there was a no-show, which there was! Lincoln claimed that final spot - and left our other roommate in 66th on the outside looking in instead.


For Top 64 I went back to old faithful - the Cascade Cube was an option but I knew there were strong players who had drafted it more aiming for it, and none of the weird and wacky Cubes I'd tried were there instead, so I decided to play some good honest Magic. I ended up with a beautiful and functional Jund Midrange deck that let me understand the Reid Dukes and Foil Jund Guys (and GGTs) a little better. I fell to Teferi, Time Raveler + Spell Queller after a long and bizarre match vs UW Control (featuring several extended judge calls about Dress Down in the same turn), ending my run.

With my newfound free time I hopped in Duplicate Team Sealed, which you can read about here. Sam Black getting to build three different Gaea's Blessing decks at once is the perfect example of fun being zero-sum, broken formats being fun, and probably other things too.

After dinner we went to Misty Mountain Games, a pillar of the Madison community and a hub for formats like Premodern, where I got to close out the weekend in style.


I'm not a big Vintage Cube guy. I think the power and fast mana crowds out most of the cool stuff and I don't like the way it monopolizes popular Cube discourse (so that people make definitive statements about Cube when they really mean stock Vintage Cubes). There might be some analogy with the complaints about the Universes Beyond sets, especially with the Marvel announcement: I want more people to be involved in [Cube/Magic] but if all that means to them is [Vintage Cube/Wolverine] how much will I have in common with them?

However, the universality of Vintage Cube meant it would and should be a central part of CubeCon too - it was the most popular choice even among this room of Cube hipsters and it makes sense for it to be the Top 8 Cube on stream to crown a winner. If I didn't get my fix of it in Top 8, I wanted it somewhere else.

Luckily, I got to draft perhaps the coolest Vintage Cube out there. Aquaone's Vintage Cube is fairly tame design-wise but is incredibly ambitious and unique aesthetically - foils where possible, oldest/original versions otherwise, and custom alters everywhere - and has evolved over ~15 years. It's a thrill to open a pack and be in awe of the money and history in your hands.

I went 2-1 with this Reanimator-Hullbreacher hybrid losing a G3 to a broken and beautiful combo deck where my T1 Entomb T2 reanimate Archon of Cruelty lost to his Black Lotus -> Demonic Tutor -> Tainted Pact + Thassa's Oracle line even after he messed up the math and burned the Lotus to delay the kill by a turn. If I had just reanimated Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on T2 I'd have won instead!

It was a bizarre ending to a game that was barely a game at all... and I wouldn't have it any other way. It was the perfect sendoff to a sublime weekend of Magic.

I'm now even more motivated to design and play as many Cubes as I can - a blow to my hope to take a break during the off-season and focus on competition again for the Pro Tours next year, but I think I'll manage. CubeCon 2024 is already the biggest event on my calendar!
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Dom, this is awesome. Thanks for taking the time to catalog and share the experience! Work and health permitting, I am planning to CubeCon next year. Was there a good opportunity to play outside of the "event" for those of us that are washed-up casuals (or should attendees plan on playing the main event if they are looking to play cube-like magic)?

Dom Harvey

Dom, this is awesome. Thanks for taking the time to catalog and share the experience! Work and health permitting, I am planning to CubeCon next year. Was there a good opportunity to play outside of the "event" for those of us that are washed-up casuals (or should attendees plan on playing the main event if they are looking to play cube-like magic)?

Totally! That was one thing I forgot to touch on - there was a ton of free play/extracurricular Cubing of all kinds and even though there's more Cubes per person than in any other event it was still easy enough to round up enough for a pod if you wanted to draft your own Cube(s)
Great write up and I really enjoyed the podcast episode too. I've been looking at booking my trip to CubeCon next year in part because of it!