Sunday, 1 May 2016
The Two Kinds of Cube
The more I play different cube formats and evaluate cards and decks the more apparent the divide in cube styles appears to be. Depending on how a cube is built and what kinds of cards it has on offer it will typically fall into one of two groups. It will be either a midrange cube or a combo cube. These labels seem to imply quite specific things but I shall try to elaborate on exactly what I mean by them.
A midrange cube is one where there are few narrow cards. Not only is every card high power but it is also typically broad in application or at least a mainstay in a tier one archetype. There are some very good reasons to build a cube in this way. It makes drafting much more interesting and much more skillful. Each pack will have more playables and more contested cards, your final pool will have more build options. Further more the midrange cubes tend to give the most interactive games, epic sagas with mental things happening on both sides of the board.
A combo cube is much more driven by the most powerful cards and the most powerful things you can do. It will include far more narrow cards that are unplayable in a lot of the archetypes just so long as they are disgustingly unfair in the right one. Typically powered cubes are combo ones, they generally are even if they don't run the classic combo pieces. The things the power lets you do means the games are much more like those in combo cubes. There are advantages to combo cubes, they reward experience, they give the opportunity to do some of the most powerful things you can do in magic, they allow you to be far more creative in your deck design with a much wider range of what can win games.
Combo cubes very much still have aggro and control decks in them, as do the midrange ones. It is like the primary colours, always red and blue but sometimes green and sometimes yellow depending on if you are talking light or pigment. Combo cubes are light and midrange cubes are pigment! Midrange decks get owned by combos and broken things and so they are just not viable in combo cubes where such things are likely to happen.
Good metas should be a three way power struggle like rock paper scissors but with more variance and ability to hedge your matchups. Both combo and control cubes give this effect. The control beat the combo, the combo beat the aggro and the aggro beat the control in the combo cubes. The control beats the midrange, the midrange beats the aggro and the aggro still beats the control in the midrange cubes. Obviously this is just a trend and not even a strong one, there might be as much as 5% win rate in these claims I have made but it does mean you have good options and a good format.
Combo and midrange cubes will typically look very similar. My cubes tend to wind up around 600 cards however I build them and at least half of those cards would be mainstays in both midrange and combo variants. I think I could quite easily do two cube builds, one combo and one midrange, with 100 or less different cards, in as many as 600, and have them feel entirely different to draft, build and play with.
The reason I am doing this article is that I am realising quite how much of an impact your cube type has on the value of cards. When reviewing something or talking about it I am aware of the context in which I am thinking of the card however I am not always sure I make that clear. An example I can easily give to elaborate is that of Scry lands. I rate these incredibly highly as lands however that is from a midrange cube perspective. In a combo cube lands that come into play tapped are pretty costly and as such the Scry lands tend to be pretty low down the list of lands you want. The man lands are a little in the same boat. Scry lands are perhaps the 5th best dual land cycle in a midrange cube however they might not even be in the top 10 in a combo cube (they probably would be top ten but only just).
When I do booster draft or sealed deck I mostly use an unpowered midrange cube. Decks are a littler duller but way more cards are viable and you get better games. This is a good trade in my books. I do however love to combo and do fun things with narrow silly cards. As such I do rotisserie and other constructed cube formats as much as I can (they are more of a time commitment) and in those I always try to do combo cubes. As another point of note, any cube format without card restrictions will be a combo cube. You can ban all the power and more but so long as you allow any other cards it will have the feel of a combo cube with people doing whatever they choose.
Most of my deck techs come from the perspective of a combo cube as I try to highlight the more exotic things you can do in cube. It is also much harder to show the subtleties of good deck design without also giving all the known info about that particular meta when it comes to midrange decks and cubes. I will try to be more clear about where cards and decks are specifically good in future articles. As I do both I will generally think a card is good if it is only good in one of the two cube types. I probably wont go so far as to give cards separate cube ratings for midrange and for combo. I sort of did already with my initial card reviews (which I should really just redo again...) by looking at power and playability of cards. Midrange cubes have a minimum entry level for playability rating as it were while combo cubes can almost ignore this rating and focus purely on the power rating.
It doesn't matter how you cube. They are all good, do what you like, do what you can! I write this article just so you can be aware of what kind of cube you are playing and as such what kinds of things will be more or less important to consider.