Wednesday, 5 July 2017

My Fixing Philosophy

Unbridled GrowthI love fixing. I have an absolute tonne in my cube. It is perhaps a little controversial and so I shall try and explain why. It is not just dual lands that I have a lot of but also subtle things like Chromatic Star and Sphere, Unbridled Growth, Renegade Map. Further to this I have a huge amount of card quality effects so that when you don't have your fixing you can at least go and find it. My cube is 21.2% lands presently. Only about five are colourless and only a couple only provide one colour of mana. I have 105 dual lands in my cube and a couple of other generic fixing lands. I have two main justifications for this high count, a theoretic and a practical one.

The practical one is fairly simple. I base my choice to include a card in the cube based on how much it gets played. If I test out a card and people are using it then it stays. Whenever I add dual lands to the cube they rank very highly in the getting played stats. Good lands are up there with the best cards, indeed I think the sac lands are the most played cards in my cube. Weaker lands still tend to get more play than the more average or niche cube cards. I have never added dual lands and found them unused or less played than other non dual land cards. Dual lands never present themselves as good things to cull for space and so my count has gradually crept up over time.

Vivid MeadowI have tried the Vivid lands, the Mirage sac lands, the Rav bounce lands, the Tri lands and even the life lands and they all saw a good amount of play. This is of course on top of the 100 or so other duals already in my cube at those times (It might have been more like 80-90 as we have had a selection of half cycles in the more recent sets). While I have cut all of those cycles from my cube this is for space reasons and not due to lack of play. I sorely miss the bounce lands despite their high risks. These cycles are on the whole worse than the other cycles I do include and that is almost entirely for speed reasons. Other than the cycles with extra utility (cycle, scry or turning into a threat) all the "good" dual lands can enter play untapped assuming you meet the criteria. The ones that do this more reliably or sooner are typically the best of those.

If I add too many more duals to my cube without adding in other cards the ratio of lands will become overly high and will cause problems in drafting. You need to be able to get enough playables and too much over 20% of your cube makeup as lands does start to get a touch awkward. You can't swap colours as easily or as late for example. You want options in packs and you want options when it comes to building. Too many lands and you will literally only have 24 playables and as such no real construction choices. Also, getting a pack where you are faced with over half the cards as lands and no real pick for you it is not a very satisfying experience.

Mountain ValleyThe higher your dual land count the more you will want to trim low playability cards out of your cube. Cards with only one archetype that they go in and the less insane gold cards for example. By cutting these less playable cards out of the cube you greatly increase the chances that people will pick playables and in turn this means you can afford to reduce the number of non-land picks people will get. I think with great design you could safely get up to about 25% lands in your cube if you so desired. How much something is getting play, particularly if you play with lots of different groups or people, is a great way in general to refine your cube. You can't follow it entirely blindly as certain things will restrict how you expand a cube.

I already play almost any half decent one drop in my cube and still they are among the most sought after cards. If I grew my cube too much more I wouldn't be able to grow the one drops at the same rate and so they would simply become even higher value. Decks would become less consistent and the game quality would go down. So while the incredibly high playability and desirability, even for the weaker duals, encourages you to just keep on adding them, there is a point that is too many. I don't think I am past that point yet so most other cubes have plenty of room to ram in lands. My high number of one and two drops relative to other points on the curve is another part of why I need such a good amount of fixing. Cheaper cards are more colour intense and able to be cast sooner and several at a time. All this requires the mana to do so and the value of being able to do so is lost when you can't! The cheaper and more colour intense your cube the high value dual lands become. Despite this I think even the bloatiest of other people's cubes would benefit from a big dose of extra dual lands.

I think people are reticent to go overboard on lands as they feel unexciting compared to powerful spells. They know they can't go silly on total cube size and so they run fewer duals so that they can cram in more sweet cards. Allow me to try and convince you further to avoid this bias with my theoretical reasoning behind vast amounts of fixing.

Chromatic SphereMagic is about options. Making the right choice at every decision point. The more options you have the better your chances of being able to do the right thing or most optimal thing. You need to be able to play your stuff to have a game. Consistency is of huge importance. How many games of magic have you simply won or lost due to mana and colour screw? It is too many that is for sure. Winning is fun and doing powerful things is fun and so we can overlook these more simple aspects of the game. It is also a nice safety blanket to be able to blame a loss on the bad luck. When you have played as much cube as me and you do it for the pure joy of the game rather than as a welcome break from a stale constructed format or a limp limited draft set then you crave the good game far more than the silly stuff. Good games actually lead to way more silly stuff than extreme decks. If the game is close it will go longer and give the opportunity for crazy things to happen. The cube is so full of interesting cards and mechanics from all across magic you really don't need your deck to be all that exotic, creative or exciting to wind up having some insane and memorable games. Games naturally have a tendency to get silly if they go long and so closer games with less decided by random screw tend to offer more of what people play cube for.

The best way to have good magic is to minimize the random element. For all but the mono coloured decks that means having a great mana base. If you don't have a great mana base you should be looking to splash that second colour or cut it all together if you can. Even with all the fixing I have in my cube the best archetype is the mono coloured RDW. Even though you can splash for some amazing cards with  Treasure Cruise, Atarka's Command or whatever overall the best version is just the mono red one. That is because it is the most consistent. It doesn't have to worry about RR cards and silly things like that.

Spirebluff CanalIt is not even limited to actual screws at all. It is common place to have a great keeper with loads of cheap cards and basics of both your colours in hand allowing you to cast everything and yet still get a bit stitched. Turn one plains into one drop suddenly means you can't make two red one drops or a RR card turn two. So often you are forced into playing a weaker one drop turn one so as to let you cast things better the following turn. Your options are much more limited throughout the game by your colours than you realize. We remember those games we lose to the hard screw but we don't attribute the loss to the screw when we were forced into a mildly sub par play in the midgame due to slightly awkward set of lands and spells. Dual lands don't just help you play your spells, they greatly increase the freedom you have as to how and when you cast your spells. Remembering of course that it is options that make magic good and help us win.

If you look at constructed decks in deep formats they play as many duals as they can sensibly play. Often it is the odd basic to evade Wastelands or secure value when eating Path to Exile. Cube decks would ideally be the same. For any two colour deck I am always going to be pretty happy replacing basics with good dual lands. An Izzet tempo deck would play as many Spirebluff Canal as it could! It would ensure it had the consistency of a mono deck. So, unless you find yourself in a position where you have on colour dual lands in your pool that you are cutting from your list then you have a very easy way to improve the quality of the decks. Given that most decks are around a third lands and of the multicolour decks most would play mostly duals if they could you can see why a fifth to a quarter lands in my cube doesn't even feel like that many. With sufficiently good ones, perfect drafters and otherwise perfect cube design you could argue for 30% dual land makeup! You would end up with a lot of people with 5 card sideboards or fewer in drafts! That does happen in my cube plenty but it is like a person or two every couple of drafts rather than everyone bar the mono players every draft!

Sulfurous SpringsRegardless of your cube design I think you can safely take it to 20% land count. I don't advise over 25% but I would certainly be interested to see such a list and hear how it works out. If you are under the 20% mark and move towards it then you should notice significant improvements to the closeness and quality of your games. You will likely also notice an increase in the value and effectiveness of one drops. Almost every cube has shock, sac and original duals. Most also now have quick lands and the dual man lands. The pain lands are amazing and should be in every cube yet are often not. They are always untapped and always give you all the colours. Filter lands are likely the next best to add in and after that the humble check lands or the scry lands would be my advice. There are some pretty good one off dual lands kicking about like Grove of the Burnwillows and even Gilt Leaf Palace! While some are quite high power level it is hard to include these if you wish to try and maintain some balance in your lands.

This was supposed to be a short article essentially just saying fixing is great. The power level in cube is huge and still rising, powered and unpowered alike. The opportunity cost of not playing something or even playing a sub par thing is huge. The ways to avoid this are to have great fixing, card quality and/or cheaper cards. I think I probably could have reduced the whole essay to just that! One last plug for more dual lands in cube and somewhat of a rephrasing of a previous argument. What has more value out of the choice between two comparable power level four drops of which you can only play one or the ability to swap a basic land for a dual land? While options are nice these are both actually options despite not seeming so. The fact that it doesn't seem so should be an alarm bell. The land is an auto include and thus not a choice at all! As long as people have a little over enough playables there is room for more dual lands in your cube. If you are not up to 20% lands in your cube yet find people are struggling with their playables then I suggest refining your cube and culling the narrow and less played cards as the first plan of action.


  1. Awesome article. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    For what it’s worth, the high land count in your list was one the catalysts for me questioning the conventional cube design which tends to only have roughly 1 full dual land cycle for each 90 cards or so. I think the average cube runs 11-13% fixing. Operating under that paradigm, my cube had become notorious for color screw and you really couldn’t pick fixing high enough to completely avoid it. CC cards became the bane of everyone’s existence. Which led me to really start questioning my ratios.

    I stumbled onto an article on Channel Fireball that talked about how much fixing you needed to reliably cast spells on certain turns and with certain mana costs (C or CC or CCC, etc). And the numbers are surprisingly high for a 40 card deck. For a two color deck, where you wanted to be able to cast say a T1 white card and a T2 double red card (an example you cited in your article), you’d need 10 white sources and 14 red sources in order to have a 90% chance of doing this. Assuming 17 lands, that’s 7 fixers (8 fixers with 16 lands). Granted, this is a fairly extreme two color deck but not that far off the reservation either. In the average cube, even if you took every dual land for that color combination and managed to grab all the city of brass type lands, you still couldn’t get to 7 fixers. There literally aren’t enough. And this only looks worse as you start building 3 color decks.

    Your 20% number seems really solid to me in light of all this. Just a simple calculation, but consider 6 fixing lands and 23 playables in a reasonably built cube deck. That’s 20.69% right there if we look at the ratio at face value. From that, I believe we can extrapolate the following: If lands are less abundant than 20%, players will be forced to choose fixing over playables while drafting. If lands are more abundant, the opposite is likely true and that makes it easier to assemble 3+ color decks. While I can see leaning one direction or the other, I feel most cubes are leaning way to far towards not enough fixing. To the point where drafting is being negatively impacted.

    The mana article for reference:

  2. Really well phrased. I had arrived at the 20% mark through experience however your explanation and logic is more convincing. Thanks for siting article. Obviously everything Frank does is great!

    One funny thing about cube mana bases is that 3 colour decks actually can get better or comparably good mana bases to two colour decks in a lot of cubes. When you have a maximum of five duals per pairing you can fit in all 15 in one 3 colour deck and be more consistent than a two colour deck with with all five of its fixers. This is predominatly due to the interaction with sac lands and lands with dual types. If they get less than the full five in their pairing you will also be more consistent. For a while I had a meta dominated by three colour decks. I have managed to tone them back a bit by culling a lot of the gold cards but they are still some of the best archetypes.

    1. Good observation on the 3 color decks. I've noticed that as well. I think this is compounded by the fact that in going with more colors, it opens you up in the draft to a larger pool of playables. I believe this is the primary reason people use to argue less fixing. Why focus on two colors and limit what cards you can draft when you can easily go 3 colors and just have more options? End of the day though, if there isn't enough fixing all decks suffer and you wind up with too many games decided by screw. It seems like you have more options, but in fact you have less because you wind up with cards in your deck that can’t be supported by your mana. 

Somewhat related, part of what has encouraged me to look at a more combo oriented list is the 3+ color "good stuff" deck building problem (defined as just grabbing powerful cards and jamming them into a deck with no real archetype focus). As the average power level of cards in cube has gone up, the value of synergy has gone down I feel. There was a time when building a Reveillark / Karmic Guide style synergy based deck was so much value, it was simply better than just cherry picking bombs and making 3+ color good stuff. 

I believe you allude to this a bit in your archetype articles comparing powered vs unpowered. In powered, the archetypes are much more specific and well defined. They are heavily synergy based and often tend to be degenerate - in short, it’s much more powerful than whatever value you get from running a bunch of random bombs. In unpowered, it's a lot looser and less defined. It's in this space where "good stuff" drafting is thriving IMO. At least in my lower powered rare lists it was. I found good stuff drafting was often just the best way to go outside some obvious things. I miss the days where power level was lower and we were happy running phyrexian rager as filler in our Bx synergy deck.

    2. I know what you mean! I do love me a Phyrexian Rager but at least the 2/1 for 1B can't be too far away now! While I also get your sentiment about missing some of the more exotic things you could try and pull off in cube I do feel we generally get much better games in the unpowered cubes these days. Decks are a little slow and a lot more consistent. There is more redundancy in the good effecets archetypes want and way more outs in all the colours to all the various problems they face. Games are a little more homogeneous now but a wider range of decks are possible and quality of games has gone up along with skill level. I think in all that is a great trade off and I am not sure we can have it all. I just make up for it but doing a bit of powered cube every now and again to get the silly out of the system! Then I do some weird constructed event where I can build the rare and exotic and then I am done with all that and just back to wanting good quality games.

    3. Well said. And I agree with you (mostly). Recent sets have added a great deal of depth to cubing. I can't deny that. I still hold out that there's a perfect combination of cards that gives you the best of both worlds though. Some of the fun degeneracy of powered cubing with the quality that you can get in unpowered. A place where combo and midrange are both viable at the same time. Is that too much to ask for? :)