Modular Cube - 5 Colors


Some time last year Jason posted a really interesting write up about modularizing cube. Here's a link to the original article:

This idea stuck with me because it offered an elegant solution to the primary problem I've run into with cubing: How do you support niche/narrow archetypes when you don't draft the whole cube each time?

My group never has 8 drafters. And even if we did, I'd still want to run more than 360 cards simply for the variety it offers (and because at this point I'm incapable of getting a list down that low). The issue though is that trying to support something more narrow (say enchantress) is doomed to fail when you can't get enough support cards for it. Even something like re-animator. You can support it in larger lists through redundancy, but you typically end up wasting slots and over-supporting it (many times with inferior cards) just to ensure a critical mass will show up in your draft. And the more narrow the deck, the worse this tends to be.

Enter the modular cube. Where cards are grouped into logical chunks and you add "modules" based on the number of drafters. You get the best of both worlds here. Variety, since not all modules will be drafted each time and you can therefore run more cards overall. And a tight synergistic list, as all cards necessary to support specific decks will be in the same modules (and therefore will either all be in the draft or none of them will).


Feel free to skip this section if you want to jump straight to the cube. I'm sidetracking a bit here to provide some insight into how I ended up on Riptide posting this cube list. It's going to be long and it may not be all that interesting.

Set your way-back machine to 1993. Most of my friends have discovered and become obsessed with a little card game called Magic The Gathering. Me? I have completed resisted the game and refuse to play it. I don't have a good reason for not jumping in at ground zero, I just chose not to. Maybe I knew what would happen if I did? Perhaps I had that kind of foresight at 18, who knows? Fast forward 10 years and in a moment of weakness I get sucked into the game. For the next 6 years or so, I completely go off the deep end. I play daily, buy entire sets when they come out, spend all my free time designing decks and read everything there is to read about the game online.

Sometime around Lorwyn, it sort of unravels though. Friends get older, move away, have kids - both move away and have kids. Guys get sick of spending money on the game too. Some are angry at changees (walkers in particular)? World of Warcraft happened. I can't pinpoint one reason honestly, but we all just sort of stopped playing. Myself included.

Around the time of M10 though, I stumbled onto an article written by Tom Lapille about a new format called "Cube". I was fascinated with the idea as it seemed a perfect blend of two formats (limited and constructed, both of which have always struck me as flawed). Limited as too low power and apart from a few blocks (like Ravnica) simply didn't offer enough game play. Constructed was brimming with possibilities and tickled my creative side, but it was too efficient and fostered things I found stupid in the game (side boards, playing the meta versus playing the game, rock/paper/scissors with match-ups). But with cube, I could choose which cards to play and which cards not to play. And being singleton meant you couldn't build constructed level decks even if the power level was far beyond standard limited (and anything that ruined the meta could simply be removed). At long last, Magic as it was meant to be played!

Of course, like everyone, I started with a poorly tuned list. It contained mostly older cards, had a poor mana curve, and it ran all the past "mistakes" (things like balance, jitte, etc.). That didn't stop it from being the most fun I've ever had playing Magic though, and it sort of took off with some of my former Magic playing buddies. We've been playing ever since, albeit inconsistently. Cube resuscitated this game for me.

Fast forward to today. M10 power creep brought a brutal arms race to cube which continues with reckless abandon. This is no more apparent than the "power-max" design philosophy which still dominates the mainstream forums. Cubes got faster and less forgiving, and as a result I found that some of the fun had been stripped from it. I took my cube in that direction originally but found it was doing undesirable things to my meta. Namely, it was making it less like limited and more like constructed. Suddenly, I was having to consider side board only cards to combat some of the stupidly powerful effects in the cube. Redundancy and a rising average power level was make a mess. I was being forced to speed the cube up, as aggro became the only universal equalizer for all the degenerate value cards that had suddenly become the exception instead of the rule. All of this was against what my group liked to draft too, so it was just compounding the situation.

Wishing to bring the cube back more to it's roots, I've been systematically culling power over the last year and a half. Not just new value creatures, but some "oldies" as well. Maybe guys got better at exploiting the cube? Maybe we just all started having higher expectations for what a cube game should be like? Maybe a combination of the two? All I know is that somewhere along the road, playing ridiculously overpowered cards stopped garnering high fives and started making guys just not want to cube.

I owe a great deal to this forum actually as it's one of the few places where lowered powered environments are discussed at all. Many ideas and card choices have come from threads here specifically. I rely a lot on testing other guys do because my group does not play consistently enough for me to get all the feedback on cards that is really necessary to finely tune my cube. I can only do so much proactive testing on my own.

Playgroup Specific Design Consideerations

Many of my players are old school and appreciate the nostalgic aspect to cube. So while I will freely run many new cards, there are classic cards which I continue to cube even though their time in most contemporary lists is long past. With that in mind, understand that there are newer mechanics and power cards which I intentionally exclude in order to keep the speed and power of the cube at a level such that some of these "oldies" remain not only relevant but appropriately attractive in drafting.

With that in mind, recognize that this cube plays more like a cube from 2008 versus one from 2015. It has no Planeswalkers. It doesn't support DFC's. It doesn't run most modern power finishers for midrange and control decks (Titan's, etc) or super value guys (Thragtusk, Hero of Bladehold). There are a handful of "bombs" which may look out of place in my list, but they either support mechanics I'm pushing or are pet cards. At the end of the day, I don't mind a handful of overpowered cards. They are fun first picks and help push guys into strategies early which aids in combatting "goodstuff.dec" (especially prevalent here as my group tends to durdle). I just want these "power" cards to be the exception not the rule. It's a difficult balancing act, and I'm very often having to redial things as the cube evolves.

Despite it's retro nature, the principle behind a modular cube should apply to contemporary lists. So don't let the "classic rock" look of my list throw you off. There's no reason this idea isn't perfectly workable with swords, Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine or any other series of cards.

Modular Cube

If you skipped ahead to this part, I understand completely. If you didn't, thanks for reading through my novel. And now on to the actual cube.

I decided to break each module into exactly 90 cards. In addition, I'm running more land percentage wise than most lists (20%). The utility draft has not been universally loved by my group due to the additional complexity and time added to drafts. As each module is very focused, many "narrow" lands are right at home here and should theoretically be worth a pick. So the modular design may eliminate the need for the utility draft altogether.

In theory, you can take two people and draft one module. Each module consists of one Shard and One Wedge. Since shards/wedges are three colors, there will be one color that "overlaps" in each module. I decided against giving each module a clever name and instead opted to refer to each by the color they overlapped on. This makes it easy for people to understand what they contain. There are 5 modules obviously, one for each color. In turn, this means all 5 Shards and all 5 Wedges are represented. That's 450 cards total, which I think is a very nice size actually. At 450, you can run some narrow choices but you won't be scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to fill in some holes at certain CC's. There will likely come a day when 450 is too hard to get down to, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Here is the entire cube - all 5 modules put together in CubeTutor:

Please be aware, the cube will NEVER be drafted this way. Even with 8 drafters, you would only ever use 4 of the 5 modules. As my group never gets over 6 (and is usually 4), we will never use more than 2 or 3 modules simultaneously. I only merged all the cards into a single list so you can see that the card pool is fairly mainstream and reasonably distributed. There are some fringe archetype and tribal-specific choices in there, but 90% of the list is pretty standard fare for a lower powered list (at least one from 2008 anyway). That was important for me to accomplish because I didn't want to overcrowd my cube with narrow cards simply because I was modularizing it. That wasn't the purpose of this exercise.

There is a balancing act we do with trying to push interactions in cube versus letting those interactions happen organically. Some of the greatest moments have been things no one thought about but which simply presented themselves during a game. As a general rule, I want to promote synergy without being too heavy handed with it.

Blue Module - Temur (UGR) vs Esper (WBU)

Temur is built to be aggressive, focusing on +1/+1 counters. Ion Storm and Volt Charge build arounds. Hardened Scales is narrow, but absolutely wonderful here as well. Coupled with evolve guys, Bow of Nylea, and the new hasty Surrak, the goal is to get a bunch of scary dudes in play and run people over before they can stabilize. Esper plays a fairly traditional control role here, but with a slight twist. Standard mainstays like Wrath of God are here, but there is also a token value creature thing going on here. Stuff like Flesh Carver, Doomed Traveler offer road blocks early and give you value when you Wrath them. Ghost Council of Orzhova can dodge your wraths and sac your Black Cat at the same time. Bringing both themes together in blue are traditional control elements (counter spells - useful for both tempo and control) and a light wizard theme. Sage of Fables helps anchor the tie in with +1/+1 counters giving Temur a reason to splash blue. You can also just go mono blue with Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea and Vedalken Shackles (hurray for bombs).

Red Module - Jeskai (RWU) vs Jund (RGB)

Jund focuses on getting value out of creatures. Birthing Pod, Living Death, Dread Return all encourage getting dudes in play and then putting them in the graveyard so you can use them again. Pretty much every playable Shaman is in this list, and that's because of the tie in with red. Jeskai has a strong "spells matters" theme. Prowess guys backed up with instants and sorceries, coupled with the lynchpins Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe - both of which happen to be Shamans. Red has a "toolbox" Goblin theme. Goblin Matron is the star, allowing you to search for any effect you need (Warren Weirding, Murderous Redcap) and Wort, Boggart Auntie is there for recurring threats. Oh and look, Wort is a Shaman too. Which brings us to Rage Forger, a card that offers value in all three arenas.

White Module - Mardu (WRB) vs Bant (UGW)

Falkenrath Aristocrat is both a bomb and the flagship card for the Mardu theme - sacrifice. Token makers like Lingering Souls, give you food. Add to that guys you need to eventually kill (Dark Confidant). There's other sacrifice outlets like Greater Gargadon and Goblin Bombardment for redundancy, along with threaten effects (might as well sac your opponent's dude right?). Then you have effects which reward you for those sacrifices, including Blood Artist and Outpost Siege. Bant is rocking a blink theme. Ghostly Flicker is amazing here. ETB guys like Acidic Slime, Mulldrifter and Mystic Snake offer stupid value when repeatedly blinked. White merges both themes together with token guys that want to be blinked and don't mind getting sac'd because of the value they leave behind (Blade Splicer, Master Splicer, and Cloudgoat Ranger), and which when coupled with anthem effects are win conditions all on their own. There is also a warrior sub theme which bleeds from white into Mardu.

Black Module - Abzan (GBW) vs Grixis (RUB)

As one might expect, the graveyard factors heavily into this module. Grixis is where the artifact theme fell, both with Tinker and Goblin Welder / Feldon of the Third Path (giving both a library and GY approach). Wildfire and Gilded Lotus encourage a mana denial theme which will further anchor it's tie in with black. Abzan has an enchantress theme and a loose tie in with the graveyard goodness via cards like Nyx Weaver and Noxious Revival. White and Green also play the role of foil here with powerful disruptive answers to broken recursion engines in Oblivion Ring and Song of the Dryads. Black has zombies (surprise surprise), including one of my favorite cards of all time in Haakon, Stromgald Scourge. SmallPox, acts as both a discard outlet for Haakon as well as reinforcing a mana denial theme with it's friends Braids, Cabal Minion and Smokestack. Burning Vengeance in red gets extra value out of Haakon, Gravecrawler, all the flashback cards in this module as well as Snapcaster Mage. For the mono black player, Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Death Cloud offer some incentive (Death Cloud being yet more redundancy for mana denial and self discard).

Green Module - Naya (RGW) vs Sultai (BUG)

This modules has a heavy focus on lands. In Naya, it's about landfall. Steppe Lynx, Plated Geopede and Adventuring Gear tie in nicely with fetch lands and one of green's main strengths - ramp. Knight of the Reliquary, Cataclysm and Armageddon are all best friends offering both a win condition and effectively shutting down other decks in the process. Crucible of Worlds is there to abuse the effect. Sultai has a strong mill strategy, using dredge cards like Stinkweed Imp and landfall with Hedron Crab to fuel delve spells. Worm Harvest brings the "land in graveyard" idea full circle. A very light rogue theme is also present with Oona's Blackguard serving as the payoff. Green has a light elf theme, focusing on what it does best - make a lot of mana. Wirewood Symbiote offers a ton of additional value out of already great cards like Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (untag it to reuse), Wood Elves and Reclamation Sage (return to hand to recast). Natural Order offers more incentive to run a heavy green deck and as a backup plan when the ramp strategy is disrupted or not fast enough to deal with your opponents strategy.

Final Thoughts

Each module if drafted solo offers two to three really strong strategies and should be very easy to draft for new players. It's very hard to draft an unplayable deck using only one module due to how focused they are. I anticipate being able to use them as a teaching tool for new players actually. When multiple modules are drafted together, I expect the number of viable decks will increase exponentially just like any other cube list, which should produce a lot of variety and replayability.

The only problem I see is with sorting the cube. But that is pre-work I will simply need to get used to doing. I think the benefits will far outweigh the additional prep time though.

All feedback is welcome. And thanks for reading.


This looks way better than your original cube way back when, and looks like it would be a great cube to draft at 450 if you ever end up doing that. Did you find that thinking of it in terms of modules made it easier to design?
This looks way better than your original cube way back when, and looks like it would be a great cube to draft at 450 if you ever end up doing that. Did you find that thinking of it in terms of modules made it easier to design?

Thanks Grillo!

Yes and no. It took a lot longer to build this one (I made two failed attempts before arriving at this version), but I was less overwhelmed along the way because once I knew where I was going with each module a lot of the card choices became obvious. There was a lot less second guessing at the end. Usually I get a list together and then I make endless last minutes swaps and I suddenly lose focus on the objective of the changes.

I built each module separately but I was keeping in mind what the other modules had going on so I could keep as much cross synergy as possible. At the end of the day though, I did not put all the cards together in a single list until the very end. I wasn't sure how balanced it was going to end up, so I was pretty surprised at how close I was with all the colors. I half expected it to be way off.

A few interesting things from doing it this way (building each module separately):

1. Some amount of bias became evident in my card choices. Like Azorius. I only ended up with 2 guild cards (3 I guess if you count momentary blink). I really don't like the card choices for that guild and it reflected in the final list. By the same token, I have an unhealthy love for Dimir and Rakdos, so those sections are huge by comparison.​
2. I wound up with some unusual looking sections. Like Green only has one card above 5CC and 33 of Blue's 54 cards are creatures (what?). But that's just the way things ended up. I went back after the fact and looked at each module again and I don't think it makes sense to alter those numbers as they support what each Shard/Wedge is trying to do. I never would have arrived at those breakdowns building a list the typical way and so that's sort of cool.​
3. Some cards that would otherwise be an auto-include for me didn't end up making the list. And while I did go out of my way to include a few of them, others I just decided it is what it is. To some extent that was sort of liberating as I sometimes find I'm always designing around automatic card choices and that can be limiting.​
4. I had to force myself to swap out several cards to get my removal count up. I was so focused on building synergies that I realized halfway through that I had too few answers. I'm not sure I have the removal suite right yet (this is usually more art that science and takes a few drafts to figure out), but I avoided all the super efficient stuff because that is going to cause too much tempo loss on some of the more fringe strategies. I'm not even running Path to Exile in this list (a card I really like) as I wanted my 1 mana removal to only be able to deal with 2 power creatures (Rift Bolt is the exception as it requires suspend to get the 3 damage for 1). My enchantment/artifact removal suite in particular is pretty light, but by the same token there are few must-kill permanents of those types in this list. I'm also OK with those being harder to get rid of as a general rule as some of them are lynchpin cards for certain strategies. I want there to be a payoff in drafting them. I'll adjust accordingly if anything becomes oppressive.​
I need to order a few cards which I'll do sometime this week. Then I'll sleeve this new cube up. Hopefully I can get a live draft going in the next few weeks. A lot of my gaming friends are out of town right now, so it might not happen until late June. Looking forward to it though. Should be fun.

Cheers and thanks for the reply.


I actually like your green section, it looks pretty tasteful. I also really like the dragons.

This is a pretty good article on removal count that might help.

I would be interested in hearing how draining whelk does, love the card, but there dosen't seem to be a big draw-go element for it to work with. I'm also not sure burning vengeance will be able to pull its weight, even in its own shard.
Draining Whelk is probably pretty bogus. But if you can get ahead on the board and then just force your opponent to cast something big into it, it's a great card. And I figure there is a cross module combo waiting to happen in blink (really it probably belongs there instead of where I have it). We'll see if that one sticks.

Burning Vengeance I think is going to be solid though. It's a Haakon exploitation engine if I've ever seen one. Imagine that with Haakon in play and Nameless Inversion in the GY? But even in non-combo situations, all I need is for it to do 4 damage and it's basically a staggershock which is totally respectable. If you have some flashback cards and a snapcaster, it seems like you should be able to get at least that much value from it. And the BCS is straight up busted.

That card reminds me of Young Pyromancer in that guys are disappointed by the card because they are dreaming about some sort of insane combo when Young P usually just makes a couple dudes, gets in for 2 himself early and then dies. But from the context of a card that costs 1R, that is really quite good. Not every card has to be completely off-the-hook good all the time I guess is the lesson Young P taught me. Just be a solid role-player and occasionally do unfair stuff and you are welcome in the cube.
Interesting article. Thanks for the link.

Couple issues I see with the logic used though (at least as it applies to my cube):

1. It is analyzing removal as applied to NWO cubes. And I think that is missing an important point (for me at least) about how NWO has changed the dynamic between beatdown and control (talking generically about the two sides of the spectrum - control is the guy with inevitability and the other guy is beatdown since he has to win before that inevitability closes the game off to him - beatdown isn't necessarily aggro it's simply the guy without inevitability). I'm going to sound like a broken record here because I'm constantly harping on this, but the game is different today than it was back before M10. And IMO, a lot of the problems you guys are dealing with today in contemporary cube lists stem from what Wizards did with creature power creep and adding walkers to the game. They created these problems that weren't originally there by messing with how much value you get by spending X mana. There is a night and day difference between having to deal with Kokusho versus Grave Titan. As the "beatdown" player, you basically need to be in burn range at that point because you will be unable to do much of anything against a card that offers both offense and defense simultaneously. Cards like that both stabilize a losing board position and simultaneously offer a win condition - all for 6 mana. Prior to M10, you could never get both of those effects with a single 5/6 mana card, so if you had a horrific board position you had to stabilize and then try to get a win condition online. While inefficient, you can still swing into Kokusho and sacrifice dudes to keep the pressure on. That is not an option against Wurmcoil Engine, most of the Titans, etc. So the game is more polarized now. Beatdown decks MUST be in a winning position by turn 5 or they simply lose the game now. That was not really true prior to M10. So if you were the aggro player and you got disrupted, well you can still fight through the other guy's finisher if you had a solid board position. Not true anymore. There's just too much value in higher CC creatures in today's meta.

2. This article is doing a comparison between Cube and limited. While the two seem to have a lot in common, the power level of Cube is magnitudes higher even in lower powered lists. I'm of the opinion that running a lot of removal is paramount, otherwise it becomes a race to see who can get their broken synergy engine online first. Especially in a slower environment (like mine) where you aren't pushing aggro, disruption is absolutely necessary in my mind. Otherwise the best strategy IMO will always be to gum up the game and then put the best exploitation engine in play to ensure inevitability.

With all that said. I do agree there is a connection between interactive creatures and removal. I'd certainly never consider going back to the Soltari brothers just to give WW a power boost. And there's also a balance between fringe strategies, removal and goodstuff.dec that isn't always easy to pin down (but generally speaking as removal gets better the less fringe strategies are viable and better goodstuff.dec gets).

I'm completely on board with getting rid of super efficient removal which I think shuts out many creative avenues in deck building and turns drafts into easy-mode (why try and setup something if it can be undone with a 1 mana instant? Just draft power cards and tons of removal.). My only free "removal" spell at this point is Daze. I'm not running STP, Dismember. I'm not even running Lightning Bolt. Dividable burn has been kept to a minimum (both split spells fire//ice and electrolyze - and neither can do 3 damage so you can't kill elf/utility dude but you can kill token/token). If you want 3 damage you are paying at least 2 (incinerate is the best pure burn spell I run). In black, unconditional stuff is either edict based or requires some setup to get the effect cheap (murderous cut). Everything else is conditional (terror or -x/-x) and it costs 2 or more except for darkblast which can't ever kill more than a x/2 (with effort). And if I have a removal spell still in my list that breaks any of the above rules, it was probably an oversight. I tried to stick to these basic rules from the get go.


I think his argument is a little bit more nuanced than that. The author is Alex Ullman, a hardcore pauper aficionado, and the cube he is talking about is a pauper cube. Because of the way NWO design works, lower power cubes like that tend to drift more towards the pre-NWO end of the spectrum where you find a rich pool of complex and powerful commons/uncommons (e.g. cloud of faeries), no planeswalkers, etc.

He was repeating an experience that I had, where too much removal density meant that games turned into attrition matches, decided by who could stick a threat at the end of the exchange. The take away point was using an asfan to get a handle of what your cubes removal ratios should be. He just used limited environments as a base line.

This was interesting though:

When I quoted these numbers to Steve, a light switch flipped in his brain. We started talking and came to the following conclusions:
  • As the number of removal spells increased, the value of creatures went down.
  • Therefore, cards that advance card economy and draw you into more creatures are especially powerful.
  • Card-draw is the best recovery mechanism in my Cube.
  • Aggro decks are lagging behind in this department.
That reads like a neat little synopsis of my own durdle environment back in the day. Of course, I had all of that removal because of must answer threats like the titans, kalonian hydra etc, but than you want to end up buffing the creatures you do have with ETB effects (thragtusk) to make them good, which was murder on the aggro strategies, and pushed everything into durdle.cube territory.

BUT THAN (Plot Twist) you have this:

Adam’s Cube, on the other hand, has nearly three times as much removal as that bemoaned Draft environment. Our fearless leader is able to support aggressive decks in his Cube without having a reduced kill count. The answer resides in the creatures. Where I cut the shadow creatures from my environment due to the fact that they were not interactive elements, Adam not only has included them, but he also runs creatures with horsemanship. That’s quite a bit of evasion. These beaters are nigh-impossible to block and create an ecosystem that can reward drafting them highly because if they go unanswered, they win the game. In order to give slower decks a fighting chance against these undercosted sidesteppers, this Cube has to include more removal.

Boiling it down, the reason my Cube played as if it had too much removal is that I placed a higher value on creatures that could interact.

This is vaguely reminiscent of why the penny pincher cube dosen't have a durdle/good stuff problem: the temporary protection effects help provide inevitability to aggro decks vs. walls of midrange fat.

Just really exposed the issue as being much more multi-faceted than it looked.
I agree it's very multi-faceted. As with pretty much everything in cube, there are a ton of dials you can turn and small changes can often have large (even unforseen) impacts. And fair enough , I saw that a pauper cube was referenced in the article, but I didn't realize that was the primary scope of the comparison being done. I'm still not completely sold on the conclusions though. I think to some extent taking removal out is dealing with the problem the wrong way.

We had a discussion awhile back about a related topic - the midrange problem (where goodstuff.dec takes up permanent residence and homogenizes your cube). And I think super value stuff like Thragtusk is a huge part of that problem. That's really what I've been focusing on culling recently as I agree that is a big impediment to non-control strategies in general (not just aggro).

But I always come back to removal as a critical component to all this. Because even if I run less value dudes and more synergy based fat that requires work to get online, killing stuff is the only consistent way I've found to regulating all the degenerate things that will happen in every single rare cube in existence (IMO, it's not a question of "if"). The only other way is make the cube faster and push aggro more which is against what my group wants to draft - so for me it's a non-solution for balance). Even something low powered like mine... Bonesplitter, Silverblade Paladin followed by anything with legs needs to be stopped pretty much immediately. I can swing with that into basically anything in the cube, kill it and only lose my 3 drop to a 6 drop or better (there may be one or two exceptions to that but you get the point).

This isn't unique to Silverblade Paladin either. Rare cards do broken things. That's why they are rare cards (over half my cube is rare). In limited, they are basically all bombs and generally win games in which they are cast. Even overcosted non-constructed playable junk rares all do broken things. Even something janky like Pentarch Paladin is absolutely broken if it lives for several turns. Either you kill your opponent before he can repeatedly use his janky rare, or you kill said janky rare. Option C is you play something more degenerate and get into an arms race. And that's cool, but it's actually the least interactive way to play the game and just comes down to "comboing off". Hence why I always come back to removal. Stuff needs to die in an environment of this power level. End of story.

The only balancing act I see is making sure that the tempo loss is not too high (undercoated removal is generally bad) and there must be more threats than answers, so you have to make decisions about what to kill and when versus just killing everything because you can (which to some extent is the argument of the article, I just don't think anybody is running THAT much removal to where taking it out is the best approach to solving anything). Even 3 removal spells per pack still means you have at least twice that many threats per pack. I honestly don't see the issue as long as your removal is mostly 1 for 1 and reasonably costed. I'm running roughly 15-20 removal spells in each 90 card module (give or take). That's right around 3 per pack. I honestly think it needs to be that high in cube. But it only works if your beatdown decks don't have to win the game by turn 5. If my only strategy is drop 5 guys and hope you don't have a wrath because I auto loss when you hit 6 mana, taking removal out of the cube so I can consistently win the game as beatdown on turn 5 is the exact opposite of what I want happening in my meta. I want decisions. I'd much rather you bait out my removal and make me waste it on something less important and/or slow play me if you think I have a sweeper and force my hand (like pump your Student of Warfare and force me to deal with it). All this falls apart though when you introduce super value dudes that completely undo all the incremental advantage you worked to gain. Or stupidly powerful 6 drops that basically nullify the previous 5 turns. Soapboxing again, but it's a subject near and dear to my heart. As much as I appreciate all the creature power creep that has given me tons of options in cube, I think they went way to far with it. Thankfully I can just ignore those cards and just take the stuff I want. Cube is all kinds of wonderful.

This has become an epic reply... my hats off to you if you are still reading this...

One other thing worth mentioning... something I believe is a bit of a fallacy in cube IMO... is this idea that slower midrange/control strategies have a huge CA gap over faster decks. I just don't see how that is true in most cubes. I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing close to half of the cards I run offer built in CA. Either by being a 2 for 1 or having additional replay from the GY or when coupled with something else or whatever. Look at all the "aggressive" strategies and how many of them have CA engines as good (even better) than most midrange/control strategies. Gravecrawler.dec is the obvious one here but even something like Bloodbraid Elf. I cast one card, and I get two things. You wrath the board and suddenly I have two dudes again (one that hit you in the face for 3 immediately). Poof. Just like that I've got 5+ power staring you down again all for one card. Add to that all the ETB dudes (Fire Imp, et all). I don't know. More than any other format, the lines between what is agro/midrange/control seem very blurred to me. But that could just be my group and my meta talking there.

Maybe it's just how we are building our aggressive decks. You mentioned aggro-ccontrol I think in another thread, and that is really where things have gone (probably due largely to the focus on multi-player games). Long story short though, that is where I feel things work well anyway. When it isn't about curving like a boss and doing 20 points of damage by turn 4. But more a back and forth, where one guy is still the aggressor but the game doesn't end when the control guy gets to X mana or plays his Wrath.

I could talk about this stuff for days. Thanks for trudging through this very self-indulgent post. Cheers.


The only balancing act I see is making sure that the tempo loss is not too high (undercoated removal is generally bad) and there must be more threats than answers, so you have to make decisions about what to kill and when versus just killing everything because you can (which to some extent is the argument of the article, I just don't think anybody is running THAT much removal to where taking it out is the best approach to solving anything). Even 3 removal spells per pack still means you have at least twice that many threats per pack. I honestly don't see the issue as long as your removal is mostly 1 for 1 and reasonably costed. I'm running roughly 15-20 removal spells in each 90 card module (give or take). That's right around 3 per pack. I honestly think it needs to be that high in cube. But it only works if your beatdown decks don't have to win the game by turn 5. If my only strategy is drop 5 guys and hope you don't have a wrath because I auto loss when you hit 6 mana, taking removal out of the cube so I can consistently win the game as beatdown on turn 5 is the exact opposite of what I want happening in my meta. I want decisions. I'd much rather you bait out my removal and make me waste it on something less important and/or slow play me if you think I have a sweeper and force my hand (like pump your Student of Warfare and force me to deal with it). All this falls apart though when you introduce super value dudes that completely undo all the incremental advantage you worked to gain. Or stupidly powerful 6 drops that basically nullify the previous 5 turns.

Yeah, one of the things I liked about the list was the way you had weeded out some of the most obnoxious pure value guys. Its funny that we both played during the real original Ravinca block and have more or less the same attitude towards those sort of super tempo plays (planeswalkers, titans ect.).

But since we have a number (3 removal per pack) lets put it under the microscope. First, I want to say (and I think we can both agree) that for your format its probably best to push towards a higher removal number than too little removal. Thats one of the conclusions that he came to in the article, and it helped him understand why Avacyn Restored was such a terrible format. In addition, the article's author walks through a few scenarios where he runs really reduced removal density, and it just warps the cube. So, lets scratch that approach.

You're at about the same removal/pack as both of them in the article. In the format where that works, and he still has aggressive strategies, its because of evasive creatures that can only be interacted with on a spell axis. This reduces the impact of ETB bodies, and creates a niche both for aggro and spell-based control to thrive in. High impact, low cc threats, and the spells you needed to interact with them.

In his format, the removal was of sufficent density and quality that it really smoothered out his threats, making it appropriate for him to reduce the density to better balance out his particular format.

Now, your case is interesting, because of the meta element. You have a lot of casual/creative types, and a focus on multi-player. I know how that works, because the games naturally go longer, it becomes harder and harder to tempt people into any sort of aggro strategy, unless it has staying power. With more casual players, its even harder, because they want to durdle. The type of environment he was trying to avoid, you might be fated to.

Still, I'm hoping your keep your eyes open for things to tweek or experiment with down the line, if for no other reason that conversations sake. Maybe shift focus more on utility low drops to encourage people to use their mana early, or provide threats that really emphasis the value of having good removal. And of course, I'm always excited to see where aggro control/disruption/pressure control strategies might have a place. Balancing out a multi-player cube is, i.m.o, in many ways more interesting that balancing out a non-multi-player cube.

One other thing worth mentioning... something I believe is a bit of a fallacy in cube IMO... is this idea that slower midrange/control strategies have a huge CA gap over faster decks. I just don't see how that is true in most cubes. I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing close to half of the cards I run offer built in CA. Either by being a 2 for 1 or having additional replay from the GY or when coupled with something else or whatever. Look at all the "aggressive" strategies and how many of them have CA engines as good (even better) than most midrange/control strategies. Gravecrawler.dec is the obvious one here but even something like Bloodbraid Elf. I cast one card, and I get two things. You wrath the board and suddenly I have two dudes again (one that hit you in the face for 3 immediately). Poof. Just like that I've got 5+ power staring you down again all for one card. Add to that all the ETB dudes (Fire Imp, et all). I don't know. More than any other format, the lines between what is agro/midrange/control seem very blurred to me. But that could just be my group and my meta talking there.

I think thats probably true. The gravecrawler decks fall into a category I call recursive aggro, and thats exactly what they are supposed to do--generate card advantage so those decks can retain a presence past the early game. Given how hard it can be to intice some groups into playing aggro, I am ok with that (and I really like these new dash strategies that people are talking about).

A lot of the more midrange ETB guys I think can become a problem for all of the reasons you stated, and control can really suffer in those types of environments. Granting a deck both a spell and a body at the same time is such a huge advantage over a deck whose strategy is based around the concept of spell based attrition. I'm not sure what the most eloquent solution is, but the classical one has been to keep removal ramped up while pushing a recursive aggro element (gravecrawler) or sligh aggro element (which I really dislike).

As always, I enjoy these overly detailed grognardy discussions with you.
Thanks for the reply. I got super busy yesterday, otherwise I would have responded sooner.

At a certain point, theory breaks down a bit and you really need actual playtime with the cube. The balance between threats and answers is super complicated I've found and no approach ever works perfectly twice. I just go into new builds knowing the removal is off and I try to figure out which way it needs to go after a few plays. I think that's where I'm at now. I've applied all my past play experiences as best I can to the new cube and all I can do at this point is play it. So we'll see how it all shakes out.

Again, I fully expect there to be imbalances and a need to further tweak removal. It's inevitable. In particular you mention removal attached to bodies, and if there is an issue with what I'm running it will likely be with some of those dudes. I'd like to run more guys like Fleshbag Marauder (who is technically card parity but can be abused) or Bone shredder (who requires 6 mana to get the effect and the very frail body) versus auto-value removal guys like Shriekmaw (I would never cut that card though and simply accept its awesomeness, I just don't want all my removal looking like that card is all). In that vein, I got rid of Skinrender from an earlier iteration just to try and remove some of these 2 for 1 dudes.

As far as recursive aggro and the dash mechanic... I am a big fan actually. Dash in particular I may try to incorporate more of in the coming months - I like it. I have a Mardu Strike Leader that I pulled in a pack from a week ago, and he was on the short list for inclusion actually. There are plenty of fringe spots though and some of those things I'm testing out are bound to fall through, so this guy may end up with a spot before too long.

As always, it's been great conversing with you. Once I have a session report, I'll post the details. I doubt I will make any changes to the list before then, but I will likely go through all the cards I was running in my older cube along with anything I have in the binder just to see if there are any solid includes that got missed. I know I dropped Sower of Temptation, so I'd like to find a spot for her somewhere. I have a friend who keeps asking me to put Control Magic back in the cube, but that's a bit heavy handed and my disenchant suite is pretty light. Sower seems like a good middle ground compromise.
Quick update...

Sent my list out to my group last week. I rarely hear back on changes, but one of my friends actually replied and had a list of requests and feedback. I'll summarize all that later. Long story short though, I made tweaks, ordered the cards I was missing (including a few replacements - turns out I lost my Vengevine!! No idea how that happened but wow that sucks).

Cards came in a couple days ago and my friend came over today. We play tested some mocked up decks I made and will likely make a few additional tweaks after we finish testing.

But we had one epic game that I wanted to put down in a post because it was just insane. He was playing a Bant blink control deck. I was running a Mardu sacrifice aggro/combo deck. So I'm doing well early with carrion feeder/bonesplitter action. His deck is classic durdle and he's got nothing going for the first three turns other than a scry land and a suspended Riftwing Cloudskate. I know that will be a problem later but I just start dropping stuff to out race what I figure is coming my way turn 6+ and I try not to overcommit to carrion feeder since that is getting bounced I figure. Not sure if he had this in hand or just luck sacks some of this of the top, but he Man-o'-wars to buy time then gets a Kitchen Finks on the table. I steal it and sac it feeding my carrion feeder. I know it's coming back and that was not a great play but damn that card is seriously fucking me over and I'm hoping I can actually kill it for good before he blinks the damn thing and resets the -1/-1 counter. No suck luck though. Ghostly flicker and I'm just shafted now. To add insult to injury, he gets a Juniper Order Ranger in play and has the infinite finks combo online. Meanwhile, I have jack for board presence after riftwing lands and a phyrexian arena that is slowly killing me. He slow plays thinking he has me which ends up being a fatal mistake though. I got a Sneak attack online at some point and an outpost siege (key card as it turns out) and kept drawing cheap dudes so I have more game than he is suspecting with a fist full of cards now from my arena and all the stuff he keeps bouncing back in my hand. Xathrid Necromancer doing fine work making me some tokens while I chump his Finks. He ends up killing it with a Foe-Razer Regent and he's thinking I'm just totally done with this retiredly large Juniper now (and him sitting on a solid life total thanks to Finks). But I rip Falkenrath Aristocrat on my next draw and do this ridiculous combo... Sneak attack in every dude I have in my hand including Falkenrath. Lingering souls, flashback. Swing with everything I can swing with. He blocks most of it, but I sack my entire army and outpost siege deals exactly what I need to kill him. Mind you at that point I had 5 life and he easily had 20 power on the board and could have killed me 4 times over the next turn.

Needless to say, I'm happy as a clam with how well that game went (not just because I won but because of how close the game was and how many great swings there were - I thought I was dead more than once). Also very happy with how well some of these cards tested (Juniper in particular is a very fun card as it turns out). More testing in progress but wanted to post this before I forgot the details.

This is what I love about cube right here.


Staff member
Some kick-ass cube story

This is what I love about cube right here.

Just wondering how it was drafted? Assuming it was just the white module along with the red module (Sneak Attack)?
How many modules would you usually draft with people? How do you draft?

I am always looking for cube ideas that cater to 4 people or less as I don't get that many people interested in cube and this seems like a pretty sweet way to do it.
Thanks for the reply Kirblinx. So that matchup I posted above was actually with cards in the White module (Mardu vs Bant). I know Sneak Attack is listed in the original post under the Red module, but it got moved as a result of having to juggle some cards around. When I get time, I'll update all that. My master list is in a spreadsheet and I only use cube tutor so I can share it with my group and online. I've tried managing my cube exclusively in cube tutor, but I just feel more comfortable doing it in my spreadsheet. I have macros and other things that help me with curve, removal density and what not, and so everything else just feels like more work to me.

Anyway… as far as drafting goes… I haven't done a full draft yet with real people. I've done some mock drafts only. My friend and I used prebuilt decks today (actually they were the base deck skeletons I used to build the modules with, just fleshed out to 40 cards). I was more interested in testing some of the fringe cards since a large portion of the cube consists of cards I've run before at one time or another (so I know they are going to work out).

For the real draft (planned for late this month), we will draft one module per two players. We usually end up with 4 players, so that means two modules, which we'll pick randomly. This will also mean we can do two separate drafts, though it depends on which guys show up (some like drafting others just want to play). Since we haven't ever drafted the cube in chunks like this, I really am not certain how it will work out. But the way I assembled the lists, I feel strongly that I have a good mana curve in each of them and an even spread of removal.

The more modules you draft, the more it will play and draft like any other cube list. With 8 people, you won't be able to tell the difference between the modular cube and any typical list. With 4 players, that means you only have two colors which will be overrepresented, so it will be difficult to make a deck that doesn't feature at least one of the two colors. Will that be good or bad? Not sure honestly, but it should be very interesting. I'm pretty optimistic though. I don't see why this won't work, and in fact I feel pretty strongly it will work out much better than drafting a random percentage of my older 400 card list (which often felt like it had a lot of synergy gaps).

One exciting thing with the overrepresented colors… it will force players (me included) to consider drafting different things. For example, I really tend to go some flavor of Ux. I like black a lot too, and green to a certain extent. I almost never draft red though (or if I do, it's some control/combo thing), and usually don't draft much white either. But if we draw the red and white modules, that is going to be a bit outside my comfort zone. It's not that I never draft those colors, it's just that I tend to look other places first. But with those modules, I'll almost be forced to and that will be challenging and different. There is one guy in the group who pretty much always drafts some flavor of Gx ramp. You can't draft that in each module though, so he will have to branch out as well. Will guys like that? Or they be upset that they can't draft the deck they want? I'm not sure to be honest. But we'll see soon enough.


Dom Harvey

This discussion was a fun read; I often want to pretend I'm back in 2009, but the sheer power of creatures/planeswalkers nowadays proves too addictive.
I have a lot of updates for the cube from all the testing I did alone and with my friend. I also have some notes from our session last Friday. I had a new guy and so we didn't draft but instead used the decks I had built for my testing. That worked OK, but the decks I built were pretty advanced so not everyone could play them effectively (or wanted to play them honestly). So two guys busted out constructed decks and it turned into sort of a free-for-all. It was still fun, but I didn't get as much data as I wanted on the new cube which is sort of disappointing.

It will take me some time to compile all the changes and document the thoughts behind why I ended up making them, but I will do that when I have time.

The main reason for this post is I wanted to resurrect some ideas on solving mana issues. The recent thread on mulligan changes (which led to discussions of flood/screw) has again sent my mind spinning on a solution for non-games of Magic due to mana. No amount of mulliganing or land to spell ratios can eliminate this from the game. Which brings me back to how to fix it?

The original solution a friend and I hatched a long time ago was a rule for resource lands. This is an updated version that is more limited than the original.

Resource Land Rule
You may reveal a non-land card in your hand and place it on the battle field face down as a legendary land named "Resource Land". This counts as your land drop for the turn. "Resource Land" is a non-basic land that taps for 1. If for any reason "Resource Land" would leave play or be turned face up, exile it instead.

This helps with general screw, but not color screw or flood. Which is why this next rule came into being (this version is also revised from the original exile/draw rule)...

Once per turn at the beginning of your draw step, you may exile a card in your hand. If you do, you may reveal a card from the middle of your deck and place that card in your hand.

This rule is stupidly simple (a huge plus), but it has a lot of depth and adds many interesting decision points throughout the game (especially early - do you exile that really good spell you can't cast to help ensure you make your next land drop?). Because the card you get is completely random and drawn AFTER you exile, it is a really risky affair to use it unless you desperately need a land, must find an answer to something that is going to kill you, or you just have lands and need gas. I've play tested this rule and it works surprisingly well. It does not completely eliminate screw/flood, but it goes a very long way towards doing so. The negative side effect is that it favors combo and decks with inevitability since it helps with consistency. This is the sort of rule that probably needed to be in the game from day one. Had that been the case, Magic would be a better game overall but retrofitting this into the game now would probably cause too many shock waves.

Neither rule has garnered much support in my group unfortunately. But I bring them up every once in awhile (usually after someone loses to screw/flood). :) Ah, maybe one day.
I'm notoriously bad about updating this post. I'm equally bad about updating cubetutor. I do all this in a spreadsheet and I'm simply happy with that. I mention this because the list in the original post is out of date and I'm not sure when I'm going to get around to updating it.

With that said, I WILL get around to it most likely when Oath of the Gatewatch releases. In the meanwhile, I wanted to document some observations about my modular cube experiment along with a rough sketch laying out my next major redesign.

Modular Cube Observations
I love the way this works when you combine modules together. You get a lot of focus but still a great deal of variety. And the fact that there are 10 different combination for 4 players means it has a lot of replay value. We still have not seen even a fraction of what this setup can do. But while more than 1 module is great, only drafting one module is surprisingly lame. I think there are two reasons for this:
  1. Each module has a heavy focus on one color so it's impossible not to draft a deck featuring that color. This is by design though and at this time I'm going to try and address this. It is what it is.
  2. My original design focused on 2-3 themes per module, and while that felt logical at the time, it creates a forced feel during drafting. The problem I feel is overlap - the themes I setup are largely incompatible with weak cards trying to tie them together (Sage of Fables for example) and so you wind up on rails when you draft heavily into one of the mechanics. I believe this can be addressed with more thoughtful consideration for the themes and how I support them in each module. More on this shortly.
  3. My mana distribution is jacked up. I had this idea that in the blue module for example I'd run all the Ux lands and that would support what I wanted. But it just made running the shard/wedge less desirable. I'm going to try and smooth this a but, but I still am not quite sure where this needs to actually be.
General Observations
We've been getting a glut of cubeable cards in each set that gets released, and this has continued and will continue at a steady pace for the foreseeable future. In particular, we are getting a ton of very high powered creatures which are pushing out older staples. Not just older creature staples but non-creature spell staples. And we aren't losing non-creature spells to newer non-creature spells, we are losing them to more creatures. This is the point I want to discuss specifically because it's going to be a key point in my next update. If you look at the average cube these days, they are running 55-60% creatures to non-creatures. When cube was in it's infancy, that percentage was far lower. I posted a link to Tom Lapille's 2008 cube and he is only running about 150 creatures in a 413 list (only 36%!!!!).

What impact is that having on the meta? Well, it's making it hugely creature focused for one. More importantly though, it has happened in large part because there has been a very significant shift in the power to cost ratio for creatures across the board. Spell effects that were once worth X mana are now being stapled to bodies for very slightly increased costs, obsoleting volumes of straight spell effects. Harmonize for example was a very welcome effect in green. These days, most green lists are not only passing on Harmonize, they are running fewer than 10 non-creature cards total because we have that many really strong creatures now.

This is the modern game of Magic and while I don't agree with where it's gone. I accept that it has and that it will continue down this road. Cube I think though is poorly positioned because it is fundamentally a limited format but most cube managers are treating it like constructed. Here is what I mean by that. Eternal formats with access to the same basic glut of power creatures isn't being dominated by good stuff decks. They are dominated by synergistic decks. And this is possible because you can run multiples and craft a very well tuned list. While Riptiders have gone the route of doubling and tripling up on some cards to replicate this, the reality is you are still drafting from a limited card pool and are working with much looser deck lists even in the most capable hands. No amount of breaking singelton can bring this gap IMO.

So what do we do? For my part, I want to put very hard caps on not just the ultimate power level but specifically the number of power cards (creatures in particular). I've been focused on removing the top end power cards but only having luke warm success on the impact to my cube. And I started thinking about why that was. The problem I think is that there are simply too many above curve creatures. It isn't any one creature that is the problem, it's the collective whole. Any deck can curve almost anything out 1, 2, 3 drop and be in a very favorable board position. In most cases, that comes with a ton of CA or pseudo card advantage too. There are very few compromises being made to run cards now. I don't have to choose between card draw and advancing the board. I just play a card that does both of these things. Here in lies the primary problem I think plaguing at least my cube.
Modular Cube Design 2.0
So at a high level, here are the areas I want to focus my efforts. I'll start with general ideas and drill into more specifics in the next section. I already have a rough list in excel that I'm playing around with, but it has a ways to go and I need to actually make decks and do real testing to prove ideas out (next week maybe if I have time).
  1. I'm going to continue culling some of the higher powered cards that are dominating games. Maybe another dozen or so of the worst offenders. This will be painful as it will involve removing some cards I absolutely love (like Natural Order). But for the good of the meta, I feel it needs to be done. While this was a huge focus originally, it is now a secondary focus to...
  2. Lowering my creature count. This sounds easy, but it's really not. I added up my creature count in an earlier build and I was at 58% creatures. I feel that number needs to be well under 50% to bring my cube back in line with how I want it playing (closer to a 2008 cube). I've arrived at a number of 210 creatures in my 450 cube (46%). This is a challenge not just because I don't want to cut some cool creatures, but because there aren't enough good non-creature spells to take their place (I don't run walkers mind you). Yes, that's right. There literally aren't enough instants/sorceries/enchantments to fill the void left by removing all these creatures (and keep a similar power level). Go check for yourself in gatherer. Modern creature design has made so many non-creature Magic cards unplayable it's ridiculous.
  3. Make Harmonize good. In order to make number 2 happen, I have to make cards like Harmonize worth casting again. I'll never get my power level low enough to where you wouldn't rather cast a top end creature at the same CC. And that's OK. But a one time 3 for 1 effect for 4 mana has to be good enough otherwise lowering my creature count is effectively just making less of my cube cards playable in deck lists.
  4. Improve the theme overlap in each module. This may require that I cut themes and instead focus on spreading those themes wider. This is a WIP, all I know is I want to greatly increase the overlap during drafting so that people are fighting over a lot of cards. This makes things interesting and more importantly it makes the draft feel organic and not staged.
  5. Taking inspiration from Grillo's Penny Pincher project, I want to bring bouncelands back and include the familiars as a form of creature ramp. These are lower powered than what my cube traditionally supports, so it may end up not working. But I want to try it out and see. I ran Izzet Boilerworks as a stand-in for the upcoming UR manland and it was a really good land in Dimir control builds (I forgot how good these lands were). I really don't run a lot of LD, so it ended up being CA/fixing and an MVP card in one of my decks. The familiars are less likely to survive my power level, but I'm going to try and make them work.
By the Numbers
I posted this in the main forum, but want to summarize it here again. I did an exercise awhile back where I took every card in my cube and I tried to build decks with all the cards (every card used once). This highlighted for me gaps in CMC I had, as well as some cards that I knew were narrow but which turned out to be TOO narrow (like, they had almost no home at all). Here's essentially how the math works out on this and what I'm basing my cube breakout on.
  1. At 450, you can make 15 decks. This assumes 24 non-land cards and 6 non-basic lands cards. So 30 cards (plus 10 basics) over 15 decks. That means 90 non-basic lands cards, or 20% of the cube (higher than most people are doing).
  2. My cube is largely midrange and that's fine, but assuming a 1/3 split between aggro/midrange/control. I came to these basic numbers at each CC. These are loose numbers and I will not be sticking to this exactly only using it as a rough guideline.
    • 1CC: 80
    • 2CC: 75
    • 3CC: 75
    • 4CC: 65
    • 5CC: 40
    • 6CC: 25
    • Non-basic Lands: 90
The idea behind this is that there is an ideal number of cards you want in your deck at each CC, and if that same ratio exists in the draft pool, you are more likely going to have a good selection of cards to run at all CMC in your deck. One of the problems I had with earlier versions of my cube was that I did not have enough 1 drops, so all the one drops that came up in packs got drafted, leading to playing bad 1's in decks simply due to lack of other options.

Themes - Draft
So again, I want to improve overlap primarily. The themes I had in the first version of my cube either worked well enough or weren't drafted enough for any real feedback. So I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel as much as re-orgainize. With that in mind, here is the skeleton of what is to come:
  1. Blue Module - This had a wizard theme and I've cut Sage of Fables because it didn't do enough even in decks that theoretically wanted it. I also had a +1/+1 counter theme in Temur but next to no support anywhere else. So if you drafted it, you had the same basic deck list each time. In short, it was pretty much a design failure. This module still needs some work, but I want to make it tempo and artifact focused. So I'm probably going to move blink and bounce mechanics here, and maybe incorporate a TOL theme. I'm throwing some metalcraft in here too to encourage running lots of artifacts. This is a WIP and is the module most likely to change after I do testing. I'm shotgunning this to see what sticks and then do more focusing from there.
  2. Red Module - It was goblins and shamans with prowess in Jeskai and some nondescript Jund rock thing. Less epic failure than blue, but still fragmented. I'm moving +1/+1 counters here which I think I can support across all 5 colors (black is weak, but it can be supported). Goblins stay as that was popular and Goblin Matron is amazingly cool. I'll probably cut Wort, Boggart Auntie though as she is more support than I think Goblins need and I want to free up that multi-colored slot. On a side note, Shaman of the Great Hunt is sweet here as it can be run in Jeskai or Jund or RDW and it's a shaman for Rage Forger and it's one of the best +1/+1 cards. I think this module will be tight with this refocus.
  3. White Module - this was my best module. I had sacrifice in Mardu, blink in Bant and tokens in white. All that plays nicely together. I want to move sacrifice to the black module and blink to blue so this module needs a new identity unfortunately. Tokens continues to cause me balance problems, so I want to gut some of that anyway and remove a bit of the anthem support. I'm going to try something crazy here and do a heroic, enchantress, prowess theme in this module. All those things play super nice together. Heroic is problematic though (as is enchantress) as both are very weak to instant speed removal (which I have a lot of). To combat that a bit, I want to add some hexproof dudes and well, we'll see what happens. I'm hopeful but honestly this could be a disaster in the end. I'm determined to build it out and test it though regardless.
  4. Black Module - enchantress was here with Abzan and it made no damn sense with mono black or artifacts in Dimir. All that is gonzo. Mono black was awesome and it goes nowhere (though I'm cutting my beloved Haakon as I don't want to support that much self discard). This is going to be the sacrifice recursion module. And there is a ton of support in all colors for this mechanic. This one should only require tweaking in white/green but I already know what I can do there (karmic guide/reveillark/evolutionary leap/vengevine).
  5. Green Module - I had dregde/self-mill, ramp and landfall. Dredge was the odd man out there and I've cut it (as painful as that was). Instead, I'm moving BUG more aggressive and going all in on rogue/ninjas (both fun and potentially powerful). Most of my ETB creatures will be in this module, so that there is a reason to be using ninjitsu. I think Landfall still works here (retreats are cool - people should be trying them seriously), so that will stay but if it's not connected enough I'll consider tweaking it. Green is now less ramp into fatty and more tempo oriented (hopefully). That should fit better with landfall and ninjas and provide a more cohesive shell. This module is also WIP, but I already see cool interactions (resetting Strangleroot Geist with a ninja for example).
For my part, I want to put very hard caps on not just the ultimate power level but specifically the number of power cards (creatures in particular). I've been focused on removing the top end power cards but only having luke warm success on the impact to my cube. And I started thinking about why that was. The problem I think is that there are simply too many above curve creatures. It isn't any one creature that is the problem, it's the collective whole.
Pick an interesting non-bomb creature for each color and ban yourself from adding any new creatures (no matter how sexy) who would outclass that creature?
Pick an interesting non-bomb creature for each color and ban yourself from adding any new creatures (no matter how sexy) who would outclass that creature?

Thanks for the reply.

That is essentially what I'm going to try. I've always had some classic creatures that I felt represented good high picks that did enough but not too much for their cost. Karmic Guide is one of them. It has echo, so it's really just an expensive zombify, but because it's stapled to a body it has a ton of synergy with other effects. Genesis in green is one of my all-time favorite creatures because it enables a super powerful CA engine for green. In most modern lists, it's probably too slow now. Red we have avalanche riders, which is a wonderfully designed card that has a ton of synergy potential but also is fine as an aggro curve topper with haste and stapled LD. Blue has Vendilion Clique, which is a great tempo card and can shuffle away a card you don't want or act as a semi-thoughtseize effect on your opponent. This card is pretty high power but it's not out of place with the other cards I just mentioned. In black I've always liked Hypnotic Specter. Random discard is viscous but it's a fragile creature and you usually get a turn to deal with it before it hurts you (but if you can't, it quickly destroys your hand). Excellent flavor too.

These have been my barometer for awhile now. But it's more about keeping just a limited number of higher powered cards. Like Shaman of the Great Hunt is probably a higher powered card than avalanche riders, but if it represents just one of the few cards of this power level, it's really not going to pose a huge problem. I just need to be running more Wood Elves and fewer Courser of Kruphix's overall, and I think I can shift things that way.

I have a skeleton list posted here which will likely change a lot but it's a start. If you see anything in here that seems way out of place, let me know. Again, my goal isn't to completely eliminate power or really strong creatures, it's more about making them scarce so that the average power is lower. I'm planning on keeping the gold cards pushed simply because there are very few slots for those and they should really be build around cards that pull you into the colors. Falkenrath Aristocratis an inanely powerful card, but it's gold and it makes you want to run a Rakdos aggro/sacrifice deck. Nothing wrong with that card as long as the rest of the support cast is not all equally over curve.

Stage list (super WIP - feedback welcome):

I'm going to replace one set of shocks with the tango (battle) lands I think. I like that they offer a sequencing mechanic and don't have life loss attached to them.
I went ranting early on the increase in creature counts in cubes due to power creep, and while I definitely have done this, I looked at some other popular lists on cube tutor and the reality is not nearly what I was trumpeting. Most list are running 40%, maybe 45% at the most creatures to non-creatures, which while maybe a little higher than original lists is still in line with most 2008 cubes (certainly the one I ran). Hmmm...

It's sort of interesting in a way as it highlights how easily one can fall into confirmation bias mode. Specifically, that I am not a big fan of the changes to Magic and I am very easily convinced of negative consequences. It doesn't help that several of my more vocal players are old school and have a similar mindset, so the echo chamber can be quite compelling.

But I am one to quickly recognize when I'm off base and re-evaluate things based on that. So on the subject of reducing creature counts... I still think my heart was in the right place. But I was probably headed down the road with a torch and pitchfork when maybe I should have just been leisurely strolling.

Anyway, so back on the numbers game above where I put every card into a deck and used that data to figure out how many non-basics, 1CC cards to run, etc. It occurred to me, this exercise can probably help you gauge creature to non-creature. And I wonder if that is a reason why I ended up with >50% creatures? While I was certainly trying to make an even split of aggro/midrange/control, I was also trying to be true to how my group drafts (which is largely midrange). And what does a midrange deck typically look like? Well, it has a lot of creatures in it.

I went and googled this and found a few threads around the net talking about ideal creature count in limited decks. 16 creatures, 7 non-creature and 17 land is a pretty popular answer. Cube is more limited than constucted, but even so 16 feels like a lot when you have access to things like counterspell, fiery confluence and the like. Still, most decks win games with creatures (all decks do realistically in my meta). And so I can't imagine myself at least ever building a deck with fewer than 10 creatures. Even if I went all in on a control draw/go type of deck (which is really hard to assemble IMO), I'd still be running Sea Gate Oracle's and the like. Most decks are going to have at least 13-14 creatures realistically. Well, 14x15 = 210. If you went with the 16 number, that's 240 creatures (or 53% of the cube).

So yeah. One of the premises of my redesign is already being challenged.

At this point, I absolutely have to do some real play testing with the new list. Further theory craft is just muddying the waters and not really value add. My skeleton list is 95%+ done and it has a few oddball things I wanted to mention real quick.
  1. I'm trying to do a few different things in addition to the above bullets I laid out in an early post. In particular, I want to incentivize heavily mono colored decks. Mono black was a blast to build and run and drafting in modules makes this possible to actually draft a near mono-colored deck. I'm intentionally trying to include some heavy mana/color requirements cards to encourage this. I'm likely taking this too far with a few things (Crusade over Honor of the Pure for example).
  2. Speaking of which, Story Circle. So yeah, that's probably a WTF inclusion for most people but the Tenth edition artwork is amazing and it's a very real incentive to running a heavy white deck. There are dangerous aspects to this card obviously. It's an enchantment, so good luck getting rid of it. It durdles like no tomorrow which in my group is like free crack to the crackhead (I guarantee this card is getting drafted). But it also hoses other decks (RDW in particular) in a fairly un-fun way. I don't like running hoser cards, so this is a very dicey include and may not survive testing.
  3. Going overboard on supporting the primary theme in each module. Like Greater Good. Sacrifice outlets in green are sort of lacking, and this draws cards and feeds the yard for shenanigans. But it's 4 mana to do very little unless you build around it. Also unlikely to make it out of testing, but I ran this in a casual deck years ago and it was very powerful with the right support. So who knows? There's always this uncertainty for me when it comes to supporting fairly narrow cards like this. Same is true for Hardened Scales for example. But if the cards end up sought after build arounds, I think you can justify a handful of cards like this.
I don't really think you should be counting creatures as a % of your total cube. I think a more useful metric is setting aside the lands, and then seeing what % of the remaining cards is creature spells vs non creature spells.

But then you might want to count the gray lands and monocolor lands which have a very powerful spell effect as a spell, and of course raise the alarm is a creature... the very rough ballpark you're already doing is a lot less work.
I'm more interested I think in where the balance points are. Specifically, let's say that your group trends heavily towards creature decks. For illustration, let us go with that 16 number. What this means is that if you run less than 240 creatures (assuming 450 card cube), there will be a perceived shortage of creatures during draft (since guys want 16 and there won't be that many for each drafter). This is true of non-creature spells as well. It's true of non-basic lands. Every card type technically. Whether that is something you actually want in your cube - I don't think there's a right or wrong to that necessarily. The important thing is to recognize that you are creating a perceived scarcity based on the ratios you run and how your group tends to draft.

The most recognizable example of this is removal. How much removal do you want floating around in each pack? Removal density makes a huge impact on how your meta will play. Well, technically the same is going to be true of creatures too. If you reduced your creature count to 120 out of 450, you would force players to make heavy spell based decks which would make certain strategies and card types more/less valuable, etc. Again, not necessarily good or bad just another dial you can turn.

Anyway, long story less long... my goal here is to try and hit that even balance point on everything I can. Not that I don't want people fighting over resources, but more that I don't want to create any artificial shortages (or the perception of that). I figure if drafts feel neutral from a card type availability standpoint (like going in there will be enough of everything), it will foster more creativity during drafts.

This idea may not be super meaningful in practice, but it helps me put goals around my card choices (without numbers to target I really struggle with cube design). I have to laugh at some of the mental gymnastics I have gone through making tweaks to my cube, and how much of that has gone completely unnoticed by my players.
UPDATE: 4/20/16

All cube tutor lists have been updated with the current lists post SOI. Lot of changes in the last few months, none of which I've documented in this thread (or anywhere really). Links to the lists are in my original post. While much of the focus of each module has changed (themes and synergies), it's still the basic layout from my original design. Each module is one shard and one wedge.

In quick summary:
1. Blue Module - Artifacts is a theme throughout, ETB with some blink effects. Tempo in Temur. Traditional control in Esper (control). Mono blue can go either way. Devotion is supported.
2. Red Module - +1/+1 counters. Black is weak sauce in this area, so it's largely just control pieces and removal. Jeskai is aggro/control with +1/+1 focus. Jund is rock style control with some graveyard and life/molten vortex combo. RDW is alive and well, but also has +1/+1 support. This is a pretty aggressive module.
3. White Module - heroic/enchantress/prowess. Lots of enchantments. Lots of cards that target to trigger heroic. Prowess supports itself pretty much. Bant is control with some ramp and value. Prophet of Kruphix is a really interesting card. Not sure it stays a long time, but I have enjoyed it so far. Mardu is aggro/control. White is not white weenie as I've gutted anthems for the most part. It's more midrange now with some token makers and defensive stuff. It's surprisingly powerful and feels closer to what I've always felt white was about. Human subtheme throughout. \
4. Black Module - graveyard/recurssion/sacrifice. Grixis is big mana/reanimator. Abzan is aggro with some combo elements and engines (genesis/lark/guide). Mono black is here and I love it. Gary, Death Cloud, stuff that comes back to life. Ritual + Hippie for the win. Word.
5. Green Module - landfall, ETB dudes, ramp. Sultai has ETB coupled with ninjas. Pestermite is there for untap goodness which plays into ramp. Naya is my control color but it's really more aggro/midrange/control buffet. Landfall with some control elements to get crazy alpha strikes through. It's not exactly where I want it, but it's not rubbish either. Green has elf stuff, tutors and big things to play with mana. It's been neutered with the removal of natural order and silverheart, but still capable of scary stuff. Craterhoof wins games.

Few points I want to mention:
1. I've done a lot of testing on my own. Only 2 drafts since my last post, but both were good and confirmed most of what I was theorizing. So that's nice.
2. Several cards have come in and out during testing and I've lost track of a lot of that (did I just test with it? Was it in a draft? I have no fn clue). This is my bad and I'm getting to the point where it's hurting me a bit that I've been so sloppy with revisions and what not. But it is what it is.
3. New cards from SOI that ended up in a draft. Sin Prodder wrecked me in an aggressive midrange build. Once he started flipping 4+ mana cards, I was pretty much done. And menace was legit against what I had built. I really liked that card. Tireless Tracker single handedly won at least one game. So that confirms the numerous reports that say it's good. Very happy since green 3's are either weak sauce or cost GG. He's neither which is awesome. Asylum Visitor died to deftblade elite in a hilarious misplay. That tends to happen a lot against Deftblade. I really like that card. Everyone reading this, add it to your cube.

I'm really happy with how modules draft together. And I've been tuning each list and increasing overlap between modules in particular. It's just creating a log of replay value I think. Not sure how long I will continue to feel that way, but with the (in)frequency with which we draft, I'm guessing a long ass time.

In closing, I want to again mention some of the permanent type ratios that I'm running and how they differ from traditional cube philosophy.

Specifically, non-basic lands. 20% of my cube is non-basic lands. It sounds like too much, but it's not. People want non-basics in their deck and fewer of them floating around packs just makes those cards unnecessarily scarce. Maybe people want that to increase tension during drafts, but I feel like there's enough of that worrying if the card you wheeled will come back around. I don't need a fixing famine on top of it. My 2 cents.

Creature counts are at roughly 46% of the cube. I've set a rare/mythic limit of 50% of my non-land cards. I know that sounds arbitrary, but I'm actively trying to prevent a power explosion in my cube. I've spent so much time depowering and each time I go to add cards, the power just keeps creeping back in. This isn't an iron clad solution by any stretch, but it forces me to reconsider some rare includes. If it forces me to bump out another rare, I ask the question "is this a card that is helping my cube? Or is it just a powerful card I'm tossing in because I have an opening?" Anyway, rules like this help me from hitting analysis paralysis from too many choices.