Sunday 12 February 2023

Fixed and Restricted Cubes


There are many reasons to want to fix and/or restricted your cube. Hasbro themselves have advised that players skip any sets and releases that they do not feel are for them, and with the rate of release we are at that is very good advice. Beyond there being too many cards you may want to fix or restrict your cube to try and evoke the feel of a certain period of time. You may want to do it so as to reduce the cost of building a cube. It may be for time reasons and not wanting to spend as much or even any time on maintaining your cube. It may simply be to try something different out. 

There are three main ways I have seen cubes fixed or limited. The first is card based (rather than time based) and has the most potential variation. There is no real hard and fast line between this and what you might just call cube design. I have seen and/or built ones that omit colours, ones that are a select range of CMC, those that are entirely gold focused, those that are entirely artifact focused, those that are based on cards monetary value or card rarity, tribal ones etc. I have even started to see cubes restricted to planes, or at least a Ravnica sets only cube. I am sure a Mirrodin one will come soon and there after whenever we visit a place for the third time. These various and infinite options allow for the most creativity and variation in cubes. You can really put your own stamp on a format by restricting the cards it in some way. This is by far the biggest group and this is the last I will mention it in this article as typically each different way of doing things merits an article to itself, indeed I have a couple of these in the pipelines myself! 

The second two are both just time based restrictions. A from-then-till-now idea and a from-then-till-then idea. From-then-till-now is typically done with allowed cards from formats like modern or pioneer or even just standard. It is a good way to lower costs in building a cube and a great way to get started. It is also a good way to become familiar with a card pool. Modern legal cubes are great, they just have a good range and power level while remaining pretty balanced. Pioneer cubes do have quite a different feel with minimal redundancy and undersubscribed low end support. They are none the less a fun experience that have a lot of perks and conveniences. One of the best way to start a cube is just to take one of each of your best cards from your own collection and use that as your starting point. This, particularly for newer players, often winds up inadvertently looking a lot like a from-then-till-now type of cube. If you wanted to maintain cohesion as you expand and add to your cube you could simply go back a release at a time chronologically. That way when asked you can say it is a from whichever set till now cube and people will know well what to expect. 

If from-then-till-now cubes are good starting places for cubes the from-then-till-then ones are more like retirement cubes. A from-then-till-then cube is typically just cards from the pre-modern time period. They used to be fairly uncommon but I have heard increasing murmurs of people doing them or wanting to, and with far more varied time ranges. This I fear is a sign of the times. People can't keep up, or have had enough, or simply yearn for a time when they remember loving the game more. As such they want an end date. The critically different thing about a from-then-till-then restriction is that it locks the card pool in place. It means you need not worry about new releases, replacing or getting new cards. Your cube remains relevant and upto date regardless of what any lunatic companies might do! Obviously most from-then-till-then cubes start where magic stats with Alpha in 1993 but I can certainly good argument for other periods as well.   

Due to this increased demand for card pool locked formats I am going to list off the various good or obvious options for "from alpha till" periods and appraise them each in turn. You can usually lop off Legends/Revised and earlier if you want to cull the really foolish power cards without having bans instead of just starting at Alpha. If you are planning on going to some of the later sets you can lop off the pre-modern stuff and not lose all that much. I can very much see the appeal of a modern till Kaladesh or a Modern until Theros or something and why one might do a locked cube in that sort of midrange period. A way to capture a period of magic they had most nostalgia for etc. I can also see a good argument for lopping off Urza's block and earlier in much the same way as Legends/Revised. This will reduce costs a lot, remove a lot of the most egregious and over powered cards, and yet still have quite and old school feeling. Mostly the from then till then cubes are going to just go from alpha and ban/cut things they don't want to bother with. Here is my take on distinct periods and their perks. 

Old School (93/94)

Ill advised sadly. If you want to play with cards this old exclusively cube is not the way to do so. Certainly not singleton at least. There simply isn't a deep enough card pool nor enough real cohesion between cards and plans to make this much of a format. It is going to be a case of culling the absolutely unplayable stuff from what you have rather than building a cube. Not only is your cube going to play pretty horribly, it is going to cost the earth! 

Pre Urzas (-98)

For those that want that real old card nostaligia of 93/94 and want to avoid some of the more cartoony later sets of the pre-modern era I would advise going to the end of Tempest block. You get enough cards to be playing with, all be it a very small cube, that does feel aesthetically different from the pre-modern stuff and much closer to the old school style. It is the most natural of break points as far as within the pre-modern period goes. This will still be a clunky and restrictive cube but it will look lovely, play OK, and importantly look and feel like playing Magic from way back in the day. 

Pre-Modern (Alpha through Onslaught block in 2003)

A nice clear break point where the cards change border. I have a lot of experience with this type of cube as it is when I first got into cubing, first built mine, and consequently did an absolute boat load of cubing! It was technically Mirrodin and not Onslaught where my cube adventure kicked off but it is fairly easy to appreciate how that environment would look without the Mirrodin cards. Your cube will likely be rather more combo and control with both midrange and aggressive strategies not really having the tools to fight off the other strategies very well. They do exist in this format and can be quite fun but they are a bit more needy on the likes of Tanglewire to compete and are often a bit tier two! Comically goblins tribal was the best beatdown strategy you could draft! Generally a good fun format and the best way to maximize that old border look if that is what you are going for. Cube at this time certainly had that whacky, anything can happen, sort of vibe. Lots of power but not quite so much cohesion. You just played cards because they were good, not because they were all that well suited to your plan! 

Pre-Walkers (upto Lorwyn in 2007 )

A lot of people really don't like planeswalkers or how they play. You can obviously just do cubes without them although you are increasingly reminded of their absence in the wording of newer cards. To avoid this you want to be stopping your cube by Lorwyn which is actually still very much a pre-modern feeling cube and dominated by those cards and strategies. It is nice to have some more capable creatures in the pool from the last four years worth of card and those first four modern legal sets did bring some very cool cards to play with. For the most part this is a better format than a purely pre-modern one from a play perspective if not an aesthetic one. It is also rather better than any for quite some years to come as planeswalkers had far too few answers for too long and dominated the cube environment in an undesirable way. That is the case for powered cubes at least. Any game where fast mana got out a half decent planeswalker before the other player had anything relevant on the board was invariably game over. That meant all the fast mana kind of had to go and so it was around this time that cube morphed from a rock paper scissors dynamic from being between aggro, combo, and control, to more of an aggro, control, and midrange situation. If you like combo stop here or sooner. If you like midrange go for later than this point. Obviously you can use design to force whatever you want in cube but if you let your cube evolve more naturally you will find this is around the tipping point.   


I really struggle to see any obvious or sensible break point from Lorwyn all the way to 2015 beyond some personal sentiment you may have. Magic was very consistent through this period and while some sets were better than others I think that both Tarkir block and Origins were great sets and brought some lovely tools to cube. It would be a shame to leave them out and they do a lovely job of seeing off the period of consistency. I can see an argument for not including Origins in this cube but I absolutely would as I like the set so much. This 2015 era is a point I feel as if Magic started to steer away from the consistent course it had followed closely for so many years previous. With those people that I have discussed this fixed cube idea with this 2015 period seemed to resonate. It seems like it gave a huge depth of cards, cube was healthy and fun, and diverse and the balance was decent. It was very easy to get to this point and ignore all the sillyness. You can skip commander cards if you like here and that lets things be a lot cleaner too. I can absolutely see this as being a pretty optimal to fix a cube while retaining a great overview of the game and a wealth of cards and history. For those that dislike the current  situation in magic but still want as much untarnished magic as possible this is probably starting to be your sort of ballpark.

Upto Kaladesh

This was another strong suggestion from those interested in a 2015 era end point, for those wanting to cut and run before the magic journey started to get bumpy! Kaladesh marks two points, firstly it is where power creep starts to gather more pace. Not the sprint of post War of the Spark but not quite the gentle meander previously seen. Each set from here on in starts to have more impact that those before until things get a bit silly. Kaladesh is a more obvious start point as it is when vehicles are introduced but they are quite a nice new card type that plays pretty well. I have no real problem going a good way beyond Kaladesh until the power creep gets messy. This is cube after all. There is always going to be some oppressive cards and Scarab God, Glorybringer, Smuggler's Copter are set to be that for you if this is your end point. Seems like a pretty reasonable upper power level to me but each to their own. I quite like the way vehicles play. Indeed, there is a much greater adoption of things like clues and treasure from this point onwards and that opens up some really interesting and important design space in the game.  

War of the Spark

This is really the last port of call to remain sane. This is the point at which power creep really took off. You can include War or not as you chose, there are some nice cards from there and not too many utterly bonkers ones. It is the following sets Modern Horizons and Throne of Eldraine where the ball for sensible design is dropped and each set is riddled with bombs so powerful they are oppressive in cube. If you want a fixed cube I don't see why you would want to go beyond this point for now. Absolutely next time magic makes a change of direction another good cut off point will be created. Due to how much power the last few years brought there is likely a bit of catch up needed at this new, higher power level so as to get a few more competitive options. You will be getting a bit bored of the same old modern horizons cards otherwise... There is some degree of finality about the Phyrexian story arc ongoing at present. I understood it is five sets, of which the freshly out Phyrexia, All will become One is the third? Assuming so, there could be an argument for wrapping it up there if near now is an end point that appeals. Symbolically if nothing else! 

No comments:

Post a Comment