Wednesday 23 August 2017

Top 10 Ways to Cube

I thought I would do something a little different and perhaps more useful than usual. You can play cube in lots of ways and I take full advantage of that fact. Certain styles of cube cater to different occasions. Sometimes speed is a factor and sometimes simplicity is relevant. Most often numbers and preference of players at the time will determine how we play cube. This list includes most of the ways in which I play cube;

10. Eight Man Rochester

For those who don't know how a rochester draft works I will quickly outline it. You have the same starting conditions as a normal draft with 8 players sat in a ring each with 3 boosters of 15. Player 1 opens their pack face up on the table for all to see and picks a card. Then players 2 through 7 each take a card in order and then player 8 will take two cards and the direction of pick reverses with player 7 back to 2 all taking a second card. That is 1 pack done. You then repeat this process starting with player 2 opening their pack and player 1 becoming the wheel. You do this 24 times total until all the packs are drafted. You always move on to the left for the next player to open a pack, there is no change in direction other than the back and forth motion within each individual pack around the table. You either do a knockout event or swiss pairings with three rounds for a quick 3 matches per person or you can do the full round robin for 7 matches each.

So rochester is a very skill intensive format with complete information on what your opponents are up to. Being very high skill level and being significantly slower than most other draft formats makes it a fairly uncommon choice. While it does have a really high skill cap in the draft it is actually a great way to play with beginners. As it is open you are able to help, comment and explain choices as they come up. New drafters can be shown how to draft and will wind up with a decent deck and have a much better experience than they might in other cube settings.

The real reason I think this is fairly uncommon and unpopular is more how it makes people feel than time constraints or difficulty. Not only do you get to see all the cards you want taken away from you, often by people who are not going to use them but you also have to draft under the scrutiny of every body else. I think a number of people simply don't like to have their potential mistakes naked for all to see.

9.   Six Man Team Rochester

This is one of the best ways to do a team event. The format gains more from being a team event than most, if not all, other formats. It is basically the same as the eight man except you do it as a six with team members sitting in alternate spots. You then play up to 9 best of 3 matches (each person in a team play 3 matches, one against each of the opposing team) with the first team to 5 wins being the victor. I generally find it is best to make five boosters of 11 cards each for this event so that the wheel motion remains clean like the eight man. With much more incentive to hate draft and fewer cards (both with two less players and 4 cards less per pack) I highly recommend doing five packs each of 11 cards. This does mean this is one of the longest drafts going with lots of cards to get through one at a time and also lots of debate and arguing over picks! Two things to be wary of for this event are wildly different skill levels or clashing personalities of similar skill levels. In the former case you often get two people making all the choices and four people sat there bored. In the latter case you have two people arguing and four people bored! As you have complete information and it is ultimately a 1v1 fight rather than an all versus all affair the value of targetted hate picks is much much greater. It leads to a much more adversarial draft and that is not to everyone's liking. It is also a somewhat different skill set to most other larger drafts.

8.   Isca Draft

Here is a link to my introductory article on the format although I do have more current points lists;

So far Isca is my least done format but also one of the most enjoyable. It is one of the closest you can get to constructed in the cube yet you also have a huge amount of control over the meta based on how you allocate your points. While Isca is one of the most different ways to cube it is also one of the more awkward. You have to find a points scheme you like or test, maintain and balance your own. You also then have to have a far deeper pool of cards for all the exotic decks and the potential for multiple copies of cards being used. While still a work in progress I really like this way of cubing and how it leads to uncommonly seen cards and archetypes. The experience is very fresh and well worth that extra time investment.

7.   Two Man Winston

Winston draft is a pretty different way of allocating cards. If you want to do a limited format with a drafting aspect and you only have two people this is one of the better of few options. In Winston you have four face down piles starting with a single card each in them and a deck of a face down randomized cube cards. You then take it in turns to pick a pile. The process for which involves the active player looking at the cards in the first (next) pile and either taking them or adding a random face down card from the deck to that pile and looking at the next pile. Each player may look at each pile once per round, if they do not like the fourth pile they may take a random card from the deck instead. You continue play from the next pile each time, so if I look at the first two piles on my first go (adding a card to the first and taking the second) then you would start your turn by looking at the 3rd pile. One of the things that makes Winston hard is that your pick can be one card or a whole bunch of cards. Number of playables is a new factor to evaluate in Winston so it is not just a case of adding up the power and synergy of the cards in a pile. You can either pre-select a number of picks per person or you can have the sudden death mode where by one person simply says "I'm done" after a pick, the other person gets all the remaining piles and both must make their decks with what they have.

Winston is a hard draft format. There is lots of memory at play and it is generally fairly different to the other draft formats. For one, it is not a precise at all. Unlike a normal draft you cannot be focused on an archetype. It is almost like you are drafting a sealed deck pool from which to build your deck rather than building the deck itself. There are lots of subtle things going on too. The more you look through the piles the more information you gain but doing this adds cards to them giving your opponent more options on more and potentially better cards first. You want to pick up powerful cards but letting slide a pile with multiple playable filler cards can be dangerous, particularly if you have no gone for the preset pick limit option. While it is a super hard format it is also a little random. You get fairly janky decks and often one will just roll the other, not because it is better but just because it wound up having a very favourable matchup. Certainly that is part of the skill but so many piles are picked entirely based on the addition of the unknown random card that you will simply not know what your opponents most powerful and dangerous things are.

6.   Two Man Solomon

This is the other draft format that works with two people. You have a deck of randomized cube cards and you take it in turns to "Fact or Fiction" split a pile of 8 cards at each other. The main difference between Solomon draft and actual Fact or Fiction is that the pile not chosen each time goes to the other player. You can do piles of any size but I have found 8 to be a good number. If you do five piles the draft takes longer and you get rather more 4-1 splits against bomb cards than would be ideal. With 8 cards the 7-1 split is substantially rarer. Like Winston you can do a pre selected number of picks each or a sudden death mode. Exactly how you chose to do your sudden death compensation is up to you. I typically just do a free pile of 8 to the person still in.

As with Winston you are trying to draft a good sealed deck pool rather than an single archetype in Solomon. This means you need to end up with way more cards than the 45 you get from a normal draft. The same is true for Winston. Do not base your pre-pick numbers based on getting 45 or so cards. You want about 80 cards to have decks that start to be cohesive and fun to play in either format. This means you want about 10 picks each in a Solomon draft. As you will average 4 cards per pick when you split and when you opponents splits two people times four cards times ten picks equals eighty!

Solomon has much of the same goings on as Winston in terms of other strengths and weaknesses. It is incredibly hard, probably even harder. You have complete information and have to base all your card evaluations on not just your own pool but also what you think your opponent has. You also have to value cards in composite forms rather than just one for one. The games can also wind up being rather one sided and rather less fun than the draft itself! With so much time put into to doing a draft I find it disappointing to only have one matchup to play with my deck at the end. Especially if it is a stomp either way.

5.   Just Build Some Decks!

I have not been doing this so much lately but it was one of my preferred things to do when there are less than four people. It is one of the main reasons I have decent experience with loads of the exotic, unusual and low tier decks. When you just want to see how some cards work together or how some new mechanics can be abused then just build that deck as if you had done so in some rotisserie style draft and play some games. That way you don't waste loads of time testing things out silly things in formats that are a much bigger time investment.

The most important thing for this format is having the right buddy to do it with. You both need to have creative ideas about things to do in the cube and ideally different thoughts on how to execute them. This is a deck builders format rather than a players format. It is more of a testing ground than anything. The objective is to have good games and learn things. This makes it somewhat less functional for people who mostly like to win.

As there is no draft involved you have to be diplomatic about dividing up the cards. Usually each person has a couple of things they want to try out and invariably there is overlap in the card pool. You then have to work out which things you can try out that have the least overlap, which cards are going to be key for certain decks etc. Then you have to consider how those matchups are going to look and build accordingly. If I am building a mild twist on a well known tier 1 archetype and I am up against some Lab Maniac sillyness then I will tone it done so that the games can be closer. Likewise if I have a super weak deck I might toss in some high power cards to help carry it. I tend to test out all the decks that use niche cards in this format which is generally the combo decks, the tribal decks and those decks based on mechanics like energy or proliferate! The reason I rate this format so highly is how it allows me to understand cards more fully. Exert is a good example, I have the best exert creatures in the cube but I don't have all the best support cards for exert nor all the OK exert cards that become good with those exert support synergies. I get to see how exert works on its own in the cube but I don't get to see the full potential of it and how much the support can raise it unless I build a deck using lots of cards not in the cube. By building the exert themed deck I see how good the good cards can get and can appreciate the range on the exert synergies and thus better judge in the future how much return I will get from including exert cards with various kinds of support.

4.   Team Sealed

Works well for 4 and 6 people. Each team gets a random third or half of the cube. I get an edge if we do halves as I will then know exactly what they have in their pool as it is my cube and I maintain it. As such we tend to do thirds whenever we can. With six people you can do 3 teams of 2 or just two teams of 3. With four it is always two with two. Building two or three decks from a card pool is way more interesting than just making one deck. Team sealed events are also very beginner friendly. Team sealed is one of the quickest ways to cube and is remarkably balanced compared to some other draft modes. You have less control in sealed than you do when drafting in some form and so if you have an itch for something specific sealed is a little less appealing.

3.   Heads-up Double-Decker Sealed

This is just like a four man team sealed except done with two people. It is basically just sealed deck heads up but making more than one deck each. You get a nice set of four games and it is very quick. It is what I do when I just want to play some magic and it is probably the most common way I cube these days. The decks you get in sealed are not that unusual, it is one of the least varied formats. Also having no draft element makes it less skill intensive than the others. I much prefer building and playing against two decks when doing a heads up sealed. Most pools have at least two viable decks and it is unfulfilling to not build and play one of your good options. It is also unfulfilling to go through the building process just to play one match up which could very well be a one sided or dull match up. The building process is a lot more involved and interesting as well when there is some overlap between your two decks. A minor drawback of this setup, the same with the 2x2 man team sealed is that you are playing an even number of games. Some people do not find the 2-2 result a satisfying one and would prefer a format with a more clear winner.

2.   Rotisserie

As far as I am concerned this is a pinnacle of magic. A cube rotisserie is the most enjoyment I get from playing the game. I think it is the most balanced, the most skill intensive, the most diverse and the most powerful of the cube formats. In theory Isca should be the most diverse but I simply haven't done enough of that for it to really count. Just in case some people are unfamiliar with the format I will quickly outline it. You can do a rotisserie with as few as four people but six to eight is best. You randomly order yourselves and set the card pool. I like to allow for any card in all of magic as that greatly increases the diversity. It does however put a strain on having cards or playing with some proxies. I still ban out the power and comparable cards more often than not as it again increases the range of possibilities. Despite that rotisserie is the most fair and balanced way to play with the power and should that be something you love to do in cube then I suggest more rotisseries for you! I only ever dust off the power if doing a rotisserie event. Once permissible cards are known, a pick limit is set, and people have their seats player 1 begins by taking any card they like. Player 2 then takes any remaining card they like and so forth until the final player who takes two cards and the order of picking reverses. The people in the middle again each pick one card of the remaining pool until it reaches the first player who will now pick two cards. The first and last players are considered to be on the wheel and often considered to be the premium seats as they mostly pick in pairs. While this makes life easier and certain combos much safer I am not sure it is that much better if at all. You have more time in between picks and therefore less time to respond to things. Picking bounces between the two wheels until the pick limit is reached. You should always have the last single pick on the player who had first pick. This ensures everyone has the same number. About 50 picks each is plenty and will allow for five card sideboards. A rotisserie draft is a fairly long process, generally a touch slower than a Rochester. While going is fast to begin with it slows down a lot towards the end where the options are basically just as great but all the obvious stuff has gone and lists need fine tuning. Rotisserie draft requires people to have a great depth of card knowledge and archetype understanding. It is not a beginner friendly format unless you are happy helping and advising. I have found doing the draft portion over several weeks online is the best way to go about doing it. It gives loads more time to mull over your options and really get into the draft and deck design. It also leaves way more time to play the games on the day and leads to a more manageable and desirable day of gaming. The anticipation is also that much greater as you have spent so long considering the finer points of your deck. While it is a draft format it is much more like a constructed format in how the decks play and the matchups work out. As such I find it benefits from allowing sideboards. This however only really works if you have access to the niche sideboard cards that you don't ever see in drafting cubes like Tormod's Crypt.

1.   Eight Man Booster Draft

The classic way to draft. It has a great balance of all the things, it is fun, it is relatively quick and not brain hurting levels of hard. You get good decks and good games on the whole too. While the 8 man with 3 packs each of 15 cards passing left right left is the cleanest way to do things I will happily draft with six or seven people. The fewer drafters I have the more I like to reduce pack size and increase pack number. Five packs of 11 is my preferred way to do a six man draft in cube. I have done drafts with 4 and 5 but it stops being as good as alternative formats that low down. I think the huge success of the booster draft is the way it feels like you get to open 32 packs of magic cards! You get that lottery ticket feeling each time. Cracking packs is just a really fun thing to do whether it be for high value foil mythics or for those limited bombs to put in your deck. While booster draft is the go to format with good reason it doesn't mean it is the only format, even if you consistently have a group of 8. Playing other formats now and again greatly increases the longevity of cube. It makes you a better magic player too.

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