So the next evolution of this experiment is likely something less restrictive that still keeps the heart of the list. I'm thinking a way to do it might be how I've done iterative testing with my modern list. For that list, I'm putting all the cards into deck lists basically and balancing by playing one archetype against another. Pretty easy to do with modules because they are focused and have specific themes you can design around. This feels super daunting with a full 360 list though.
The fundamental problem I find is with figuring out what parameters to place on the cube. Too many and you are just limiting the playabilty for no real purpose. Too few, and it drifts too far into value overload with no real reason to stretch decks you build. I've beat to death the creature power creep thing. But what I rarely say is that there is a great deal of good that has come out of modern creature design. It's pushed the envelop on synergy in a really interesting way. Something I feel old Magic is lacking a bit.
So how to find a place in the middle where we keep the feel of old Magic, bring in some of this cool new synergy but keep out the power creep that has warped the game? This is where taking the retro list as a base and infusing it was a smattering of modern cards might work. Basically a step further. But how not to go too far?
Back to the original idea of iterative testing through putting every card in the cube into a deck. Again, works really well for small sets of cards. Might be absurd to even attempt in a 360 list, but I'm going to noodle on how I'd do it. First task would be to determine what the 12 or so decks would focus on. And they'd have to be roughly split in color allotments (having an even color distribution - I simply can't get away from it and sleep at night).
Here's what I have so far. Ideally there is a decent amount of overlap, but since this is still combo in design I'm not overly concerned about having a few dozen narrow cards that really power these archetypes and single what is open.
- white weenie. I hate this deck passionately, but it's iconic I feel and I can't bring myself to cut it.
- mono red goblins. Testing reveals this is draftable, and you can salvage an Rx aggro deck if you get cut out of the core goblins.
- stax. Here is a deck that almost requires modern cards. Thinking bloodghast/messsenger. Maybe even Gary. Old school black aggro is so damn janky. I have a hard time justifying it. Drafting it in the retro list reminded me of why people went into crisis mode over WTF their black sections were doing a several years back.
- storm. Storm can go green too, but I just like that red has some cool support and this isn't the same old tired RDW shtick. I have yet to draft a good version of this though.
- tempo. Focus on the untap dudes to ramp out a bunch of stuff quickly. I like some of the modern play things with this though, so I feel like it only got more interesting with modern Magic.
- enchantments. Not enchantress. But rector into astral slide/lighting rift. Or sneak attack. Or form of the dragon, etc. Control deck with enchantment win conditions. What is neat about this is the work you have to put into getting the pieces online, but with minimal removal options you are not very disreputable once there. Every cycle card in existence goes in this deck, along with some of the delve cards I had to cut for wording.
- reanimator. nightmare/survival with blue support. Classic deck I loved to draft back in the days of my broken cube.
- rock. AKA, the value reanimator deck. Genesis. deed and what not, with some white support stuff (thinking karmic guide/eternal dragon). Maybe with some dredge (which didn't make the original retro list).
- spells matter. Another list which probably doesn't work without modern cards. I like the faster versions of this over the more controlling flavors. Prowess probably needs to return.
- sacrifice. Also requires modern pieces to be good. Is presently one of the best (if not THE best) deck in my modern cube. I want to make this a bit more control oriented. Firemane Angel? Really want to find a home for that card. life gain/life spend as a theme could really add another dimension to this too and it fits with what the deck is already doing.
- zoo. Classic efficient creature deck. I have a soft spot for this deck even though I was routinely destroyed by it back in the day.
- elves. ramp into horrible stuff. Craterhoof is sorely missed in this deck. I also really like how weak that particular card is outside this specific archetype, so it's sort of an awesome signal for the dudes-ramp-into-badass-thing plan. And without OG Garruk, a second overrun effect is desperately needed too.
- tinker/control. start off with some high powered by narrow targets and see how broken this deck is. I drafted this with triskelion as the best target and I'm just not convinced this is worth the effort. But maybe I'm wrong. Deck really needs one crazy bomb that ideally can't be played in other decks (no such card exists I don't think).
Idea would be to build the nut version of each of these decks. Then play them against one another. Invariably, some will be (much?) better than others. Then we either remove power from the good ones or add power to the weak ones. The intent being to do this by using as many older cards as possible and/or cards which play well in more than one of these decks. Also looking to avoid the unwinnable matchup problem of really well tuned and/or high powered decks. Which is going to be really really tricky (if not impossible). Some leeway has to be given since the nut deck in many cases will be next to impossible to assemble in a real draft scenario.
I want to stick with the concept of minimizing key words. And where I can cull a key word entirely by cutting a single card (even something awesome like bloodbraid), I have to at least consider this during testing unless the card is irreplaceable or a crowd favorite. Less is definitely more when it comes to mechanics. There's enough going on in cube and I have too much advantage having sunk so many hours into design exercises like this.