Saturday 29 July 2023

Homemade Cube Part 4


So far we have looked at some general things. In this article I want to focus on a much more specific thing, and that is removal in green. Specifically removal of creatures. Green classically does not do this. Certainly not well. This is good in terms of flavour and colour identity but it is restrictive. More so in cube I have found than anywhere else. In cube the dorks are punishing, you can be locked out by an active Grim Lavamancer, or beaten to death by a quick to flip Delver of Secrets. You also just lose to cards like The Scarab God unless you have an overwhelming advantage before it is played. Cube is also a limited format where you are mostly playing a midrange dork against dork affair. Lack of removal in these situations puts you at quite the disadvantage, you are always essentially just going all in. Certainly green has things that compensate for this, mainly that of mana ramp. Typically it gets around a weakness in removal by playing one or two steps ahead of the curve and crushing opponents beneath raw power. This works to some degree but it is unreliable, and doesn't always give the most enjoyable of games. I like a bit more interaction from both sides of the table. Green can often feel a bit uninvolved and helpless. Either your stuff is better and you roll them or they have things you can't deal with and that is that. 

With all that in mind I wanted to give green good access to removal. This is easier said than done however if you are trying to stay true to the colour pie and provide a good representation of the game. Green has some tools already in the fight against creatures. It has fight effects which are getting better but are still not really there as far as common cube play goes. The effect is intrinsicly risky and conditional making it fairly bad compared to other removal, even when somewhat pushed. Green also has the capacity to kill fliers directly but this is all too situational to be something we can rely on. Every little helps but we have to house our flying removal on modal cards else they will be unplayable in a setting like cube. 

(An example of the kind of power you need in a Disenchant for it to get a look in at a cube format. Even with the modality this is still a pretty narrow card and needed a good push to look viable)

Even a smattering of well placed anti flier cards is not solving the problem, it is just a part of the way there. Fight effects will help get us rather further and makes up the bulk of my removal suit in green. The majority I have stuck on creatures so that part of the unreliability issues of fight effects is eased. 

Other fight effects I have slapped onto cards that can wait and not need mana investment at the time of use. This is another way to help avoid the issue of needing a dork in play. The Seal I highlighted in Part 2 is a good example of this. It is also usable at instant speed making it far more dynamic and safe. The card below goes in the other direction and goes for a modal approach towards gaining playability. 

Next up is an old mechanic that is a long way from perfect but that has both precedent and good flavour as far as being on green cards goes. I am talking about provoke. A mechanic only really done once and only found on 9 cards. It is basically fight but it is more restricted in that it utterly fails to do anything against dorks that can tap in some way and that can only work during your own combat step. It does have the upside of being reusable, and being sufficiently weak compared to fight, would allow me to put it on dorks for relatively low cost. It has other perks being able to tie up otherwise would be blockers but still mostly just a limp fight! The design space for provoke is also completely open what with it having so few cards and being found in a set with shockingly low powered dorks. I like how clean it looks on cards thanks to the key wording. There is also the classic "provoke of blocking" which is just flash. While one of the more common ways green has answered dorks throughout magic history it is only a defensive tool and it is not all that reliable. I do have a couple of ways green can sneak out an instant speed unexpected blocker but I don't really consider that to be out of the ordinary or noteworthy. It is probably closer to a pump spell in that it lets you "misrepresent" how you are able to block and bait a bad attack.  

Of course one of the most common places for green to source their removal effects is from the colourless section of cards. Blast Zone, Walking Ballista, Karn, Oblivion Stone and cards of this nature have been helping green handle things all over the shop. My homemade cube will be no different with colourless cards able to set in and help out in a variety of ways. 

Lastly there is some precedent for direct damage in green with the insect sting flavour. All these various green cards have been low powered and by all I think there are like three total! Even so, I felt like I was well within the colour pie creating this little green Shock. The slow pace of use, the being tied to a creature, and the general summoning sickness issues all make me perfectly happy with the flavour here. I feel entitled to take such a large leap in power because I am designing at cube power levels and with generally currently degrees of power creep to contend with as well. Dorks and removal have had that more than anything else and so this card seems entirely fine. I could probably let it hit any target and still have it be more than fair for task at hand. 

I have given green a fairly well rounded pile of options when it comes to handling dorks. There may not be raw power when compared to the other colours but there is breadth and depth in the options and the power gap is as low as it has ever been. It is a substantial change compared to any cube I have ever played with. I cannot imagine this is going to push green over the edge but I do hope it lets green play more interactive games of magic. 

Sunday 23 July 2023

Homemade Cube Part 3


Broadly speaking when designing my cards I was aiming at the power level my cube currently sits at. The average power level at least. I was trying to avoid any of the cards that I would consider bombs and as such was looking to hit mostly between what I would rank anywhere between a 7/10 and an 8/10 in my preliminary reviews. I am pretty sure there will end up being a bunch of sixes and a few 8.5/10 that slip through the cracks. Largely I am aiming to land cards within this range for convenience. I know what a 7/10 and an 8/10 card looks like and that will help me a lot when it comes to balancing. I think I would have more open design space if I significantly shifted the power level of the cards in either direction from what it is now.

That all being said, as I touched upon in the first part of this series, I wanted to tinker with a couple of elements. Magic is much more of an ecosystem than a single solid thing. You do not have to alter the whole, you can tweak areas of it. Broadly this is what Wizards have done themselves over the years. Spells have tended towards losing power since the dawn of magic while creatures have absolutely gained it. Even within spells this is not strictly true as removal has had to gain a lot of power just to keep pace with creatures. 

Anywho, the areas I wanted to tune a little differently were card draw, card selection, life gain, and top end threats. I wanted to make the first three things generally more powerful and abundant while I wanted to rein in the latter a touch. Each had slightly different reasons behind my doing so and as such I shall cover each in turn. 

Life is probably easiest to cover and so we shall start there. Simply put, the power creep in creatures makes it feel like you want a little more starting life. A kind of buffer so as to have time to respond and not just wind up dead to all the powerful dorks. To achieve this, to give the air of actually starting the game on 24 or 25 life I smattered life gain across a lot of the cards, a little free bit here and there. This certainly means some decks will feel like they still start at 20 and others more like 30 just from random variation in the inclusion of these "free life" cards. To ease this variance a little I tuned the power level of a  number of cards down by giving them life concessions to the opponent. Now some of your bonus life would, on average, be coming from the opponents deck and not just your own! I used it quite a lot on dual lands which will help ensure they are commonly played. Luckily this was also a pretty large pool of open design space. Milking over 30 land designs out of the inspired Grove of the Burnwillows!

Next up is card quality. This is something any long time reader will have seen me go on about no end. Basically I like my magic to be a game where choices matter and where random elements play a more minimal aspect in the game. I like random elements to contribute to game variation and not win percentages. Games where you win thanks to a screw or a flood are not good games. Not for either player as far as I am concerned. This has always been one of the things I have liked most about cube. You have a lot of scope to ensure consistency in games as a curator without having to compromise on variety. Legacy is pretty consistent but it isn't all that varied, and the reverse feels like it starts to become the case as you reduce the power level on the format. Claiming that I am increasing the power of card quality is a little misleading as there is nothing at Brainstorm level in my homemade cube. Preordain is more the level stuff has been aimed at which is apparently potent enough to command a ban in modern! I am not sure that would still be required in this day and age but that is another discussion. Cube has quite a spread of card quality from dubious cards like Portent all the way upto Brainstorm. None of the top end stuff (Ponder/Brainstorm) is anywhere near as potent in cube as it is in constructed, with less in the way of high synergy and combo decks and wildly more restricted access to sac lands and other means to abuse them present in my cube. Preordain and Consider are actually two of the best in cube and that is the bar I have been aiming at. Having more of the blue card quality at that level of power and having more card quality in other colours could be considered as a buff to the power of card quality. 

Further to that however I have tried to add a healthy dose of card quality effects to the non-blue colours. These are somewhat more buffed as the other colours tend to get less in this department, both power and quantity. It was a little harder adding in card quality effects to non-blue colours while retaining a good degree of colour pie integrity. The result of this was a heavier use of keywords like scry and landcycling effects all of which help to improve consistency in the right kinds of way. In a fairly limited setting like a cube draft you can afford to slap a little more on things that do not provide card advantage or affect the board. This fact alone let me get away with putting a little bit more love onto the card quality stuff. 

Card draw next and all the same things I said about card quality apply here too. A scry for 2 is equivalent to a draw 2 if you are trying to hit a land drop etc. More access to card draw leads to more consistent games. But that isn't the whole story. When playing with a 40 card deck the value of card draw is surprisingly capped. You simply can't run anywhere near as much as you can afford to in a 60 card deck else you will risk decking. You have to cut things to add in card draw and reasonably this tends to be shaved a little off everything. This includes ways to win. Sure, you can stop playing your card draw spells and avoid decking yourself but then you have a lack of threats and a bunch of dead cards. Very little raw card draw is played in my cube anymore. All the stuff that does see play is either just a cantrip or it is bolted on to some otherwise powerful threat. Psuedo card advatage is typically preferred. Cards that generate more threat or value without consuming physical card real estate. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is a premium example of this but you could argue a case for loads of stuff in cube doing this kind of thing from Glorybringer to The Scarab God to Elesh Norn Mother of Machines. With this in mind I have given a reasonable push to things I would consider more classical "Divination" style card advantage cards so as to try and get them some actual play. I imagine some of my designs have been pushed what would be too far for 60 card constructed but in a cube setting none strike me as all that impressive. While I have powered it up a little I have not made all that much of it as  it has that tendency to scale poorly with itself. Further to that I have added a fair smattering of effects that put cards from the graveyard back into libraries. This has been hard to do as it is not something anyone is really paying anything for so you need to find places to slot it in for free. Even so, hopefully that will allow for some more indulgent drawing, for as we all know, drawing cards is one of the best things in life. 

Lastly we have top end threats. Most things at five or more mana now seem to be really swingy or pushy. These cards win games very fast if not handled quickly and appropriately. I can see the appeal and in many cases the necessity. On the one hand the massive push on creature power creep combined with the nature of card worth as you go up the curve ensures there is a fairly large area of dead design space in the game. At higher costs there isn't really enough you can slap on a card to make it playable, it can say "win the game" and still be a no go. As power has crept the point on the curve this deadzone starts at lowers and squashes everything else down below it. This means cards need to do more and more at lower and lower costs else they simply won't see play. 

On the other hand, it is probably beneficial for the online market and some of the physical game as well to have a built in game timer so to speak. Long games can be really fun but they can be impractical and a turn off for plenty of players. Reducing their frequency likely assists these online platforms and helps broaden the overall player base of the game. I however love a long game where both players see their whole decks and it comes down to the last. In those you know choices mattered. Both players choices, all the way back to individual picks and deck construction. With that in mind I made my top end threats a little less pushy. Either they win slower or less reliably than the kinds of cards you see in cube these days. As I said in my introduction, I tried to take things back to pre Throne of Eldraine / Modern Horizons 1 for my five drops and upwards. Power wise that might be so but in terms of reach I would say it actually goes back further, Perhaps all the way to M11. Reach is different to power in the way I am using it to describe top end threats. Reach is certainly significantly affected by card power but it is a lot to do with how quickly and reliably that power can be brought to bear. A Verdant Force has a lot of power but it is pretty slow to take over the game. It is old school power with rather limited reach. Front loading the power as with Glorybringer ensures it is all there to be used right away and thus does a good job of swinging the game in your favour. Adding in recursion or protection assists the other element in reach which is more about inevitability. I have been careful with the latter while generally avoiding the former. And certainly I have tried to avoid putting those two things together at all on anything that could be called top of the curve. 

(Balduvian Dragon is tuned according to Thundermaw Hellkite but was an attempt to modernize the classic Shivan Dragon)

It is also worth discussing combat tricks. While I have not intentionally powered these up the result of my aiming them at cube is exactly that. Combat tricks are just very hard to find space for in cube being situational cards that are not strictly removal or threats. Sure, they have a very high ceiling but you cannot afford to play them that often. It is typically the broader ones that see play. Even so, in an attempt to make the few tricks I have designed playable they have received quite the injection of power. 

There we have it, a brief overview of the things I expect to lie outside the normal realms of current cube and magic power levels and balances. Hopefully these few minor tweaks will have the desired affects and not utterly collapse the ecosystem of cube play as I understand it! I am looking forward to learning about the impact of these changes and how well I manage to hit the mark with them.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Homemade Cube Part 2


This article is going to a look into design space and where to find it. When trying to hit a similar level of power/playabiltiy on your card design, while trying to also keep them simple, it is restrictive to say the least. As such I was milking any areas of untapped design space pretty hard. Unsurprisingly this meant that a few of the more interesting set mechanics that have not been revisited were some of the most untapped and open as far as design space goes. Things like exert have only appeared once properly so far and thus has room to expand. 

Some of the newer mechanics that are more ever green are also still somewhat open. Ward in particular is relatively new and also a really strong one that helps solve some other design issues in the game. I found I used a whole lot of ward throughout the set. It is just such a clean solution to the issue of higher cost cards that do not have an immediate effect. Without ward they are just hard to play and mostly contribute to dead design space. Sprinkle in a bit of ward and suddenly a lot of otherwise overly risky card designs become possible.

Treasure, clues, and to a lesser extent blood, food, and incubate tokens, are all relatively new to magic and are a fantastic way to tune cards. Just between clues and treasure the design space in magic grew a pretty vast amount. While these mechanics have been around for some time now we haven't really seen the surface scratched yet in terms of their potential and so plenty of that has shown up in my cube too. Add a mana cost to a card, add a Treasure to the effect. Remove mana costs and give treasure away! That already gives most balanced cards a fairly wide range within the normal casting bounds. 

Clues on the other hand are less direct. You can turn a card draw into an investigate and lop some mana off the initial cost of the spell. Or increase the power of the spell. Alternatively you can use it to make low power effects that are not worth a card but that need to remain cheap to be useful and viable. Halting Order is just a reworked Remand

Seals of Something were a surprise area of untapped potential that isn't new or linked to a set mechanic. Just taking an effect normally found on an instant or sorcery and slapping it on an enchantment of the same cost that you sacrifice to gain the effect. I am somewhat shocked Wizards has not returned to this concept since Masques block. It is clean and interesting, and because Wizards have not I went fairly heavily in on the Seal design concept with several for each colour.

Energy was over powered when released into standard with Kaladesh but it was never cube worthy being too narrow with too few powerful cards able to support it. It wasn't popular because of the power level but I really liked the mechanic, both from a design point of view and a play pattern perspective as well. Designing energy cards for a limited environment is a little more awkward as it is somewhat of a parasitic mechanic. To overcome this I made quite a lot of energy cards, contained them to three colours, and made almost all of them playable in their own right. This latter aspect wouldn't fly in a set going to standard, the cards are simply too good if you could use four copies of the ones you want. Further to that the cards are a little messier than I would like as they tend to have a means to gain energy as well as a means to spend it. This extra mess is worth it as I get to play with energy in the cube and I get a huge amount of open design space as you can somewhat do everything in terms of energy, often in several different ways. One of the nice things about designing a set in isolation is that you do not need to worry about the effect of the cards in constructed events. That lack of having to consider other formats probably opened up more design space than anything else. A lot of the cards that shouln't be printed in standard could easily be fixed for that with extra wording or powering down but those things take away from my goals with this cube and as I don't need to I didn't bother. 

Phyrexian mana is another hated mechanic but this was broadly because of how poorly it was used in design and not the mechanic itself. It is just an interesting alternate cast mode and used sensibly you can create some very clean modal cards that neither break the colour pie nor leave themselves open to abuse. The most awkward thing about the mana type was flavour. A bit like incubate tokens I felt compelled to have a phyrexian theme on cards using their mana symbols. Phyrexian Dictate is just an Infernal Grasp, which is a fine card, and Murder, which is weak but functional. This design offers a very minor upgrade to Grasp that adds a little extra interest while also cleaning the whole thing up a little. Not that Grasp is messy but still, elegance is always appreciated. More room for flavour text!

Escape is another mechanic really only found in the one set that I have tried to make reasonable use of. I wanted the graveyard to be a more general resource rather than a specific one for big bombs like Treasure Cruise. As such I have carefully added a bit of general delve and escape to ensure yards are relevant and in need of management. I found I was using it on build around cards as a way to make those effects more available to decks wishing to use them. This Bloodseeker is a weaker Zulaport Cutthroat however it adds more to that sort of a deck by being more available. 

So there we have it, the places I managed to find room to do simple clean stuff without having to innovate massively. I am sure there are some more untapped areas and mechanics one could do more of this with should one be so inclined. Quite impressive for a game that has tens of thousands of unique cards and that has been going for thirty years! I did an article recently wondering if magic was "nearing completion" and I concluded that in many ways it was as it was not lacking for anything. In another sense however there is near infinite potential. In a month or so of designing without the aid of a team or a multi-million dollar corporation backing me I have managed to find a whole cubes worth of relatively fresh, simple, and playable designs. And it has been a blast doing so! 

Saturday 8 July 2023

Homemade Cube Part I

I have recently embarked on a project which has fully rejuvenated my love of Magic. I have been designing my own cards for a fully custom cube. I didn't really plan to do it, a couple of other projects and ideas collided and that is somehow what I ultimately found myself doing. Not only that but I found I was really enjoying it to the point of near obsession. Once I had made a card I was happy with I started to gain a weird affection for said card. It became apparent this was quite the passion project. 

It started with the Blueprint Cube ( ) and an article I wrote about magic feeling complete ( ). Both mercifully short articles by my standards! The blend of those two sets of ideas floating around my head at the same time lead me to consider what remaining design space there was in the game. Obviously infinite but when you are trying for clean, clear design, as per the Blueprint cube, and when you are aiming at a very consistent and even power level and playability on the cards, it all becomes a whole lot less infinite. And that much more of a challenge. 

I started out wanting to just see how easy it was and what I could make. I was just aiming at cube power level cards that were really simple and elegant designs and seeing if I really thought Magic was complete and running out of things to do. This is where it turned from a curiosity into a project. I am forever complaining about polar cards, win more cards, un-fun cards, and general bad design. (Obviously most cards are done very well but given I review it all the bad stuff does get discussed and slated). It never sits well with me when people are out there throwing about shade without ever demonstrating how they would fix it or do it better. That became part of my aim - I was now trying to showcase all that I have learned in near three decades of play and over one of critical review. Now I was not only trying for well simple cards that were novel and consistently powered, I was also trying to showcase what good design looks like by avoiding as much as possible all those things I complain about in actual cards. 

As the set started to take shape and direction I picked up some aesthetic notions about what I was trying to achieve as well. I convinced myself I was doing some kind of welfare, or charity work as far as one can for inanimate cards! I was trying to upcycle old cards and ideas that had never had their chance to shine. Loads of lovely art in magic does not get the love it deserves because it is attached to a rubbish card. I was all about finding lovely art on bad cards and reusing them to give them a new lease of life.


Another aesthetic notion that had crept it was that I was paying homage or tribute to the game of Magic, and a bit more specifically to Alpha, which is just such a work of art. I was trying to represent the flavour and lore of magic as accurately and appropriately as I was able. I was trying to haul Alpha through 30 years of improved understanding of the game and all the changing power levels too. Certainly no easy feat tipping the hat to iconic cards like Serra Angel while also trying to hit a current power level of card. 

Speaking of power level I actually wanted to experiment a little. While for the most part I have pegged everything at the level of my (un-powered) cube, what I consider to be the reasonable upper limit of magic power, I have tweaked a few areas. I wanted card quality and card advantage to be a little more accessible for all the colours and costed at a very small amount less than you typically find in real Magic. Secondly I wanted to rein in the insanity of top end power creep on threats. I am not a huge fan of how so many good five drops in magic these days will just end the game all by themselves, if unanswered in most settings, and in short order. I tried to stop five and six drops gong completely off the charts and was aiming more at a pre MH1 / Throne of Eldraine era of power level on those. The idea is to make games a little longer and a little more interesting. A few too many of my cube games just seem to end upon the arrival some random unanswered top end Preator or gold card or whatever that has only existed for a couple of years! 

I also kind of wanted to tone down the pace of the game a bit in general but I didn't want to set about making all my threats low powered. If stuff isn't comparable then I cannot so relevantly test and demonstrate things. My solution to this was to make life gain a lot more abundant and cost very little so as to give the feel of starting on 24 or 25 life on average. This is roughly what I think it should be anyway with the power of things as they are but it is fun to solve game issues in design rather than resorting to changes actual rules of the game. 

The last objective I have is to make a cube that I can use to introduce people to the game. My cube is horrifically inaccessible. The odd card not in english isn't even really the problem. The cards are just complex and from a complete spread of templating and mechanics. Lots of things show up once with no reminder text, writing in unfamiliar terms, sometimes very unclearly. I teach a lot of people magic and it is dull for me doing so with dull formats, cards, and decks. My hope is that this cube will be a good tool for introducing people to many of the mechanics in magic in a more gentle way without being dull for me! The advantage of simple card design is that you can fit the reminder text in! Lots of nice little things like that add up to really help new players. 

As this is quite a long project and quite so consuming I thought I would drip feed some progress on it in article form rather than just neglecting the blog, which is what I have been doing with this exciting distraction on the go. I am very keen on feedback for cards, of all kinds, from mechanical to flavour. I am not great at naming things either so all kinds of suggestion welcome. I'll try and do some showcases of cards I really like and what it is about them that I really like, or why I think they are examples of good design. My plan is to get to about 600 cards then print them off and play with them and then use that testing to refine and perfect a 540 finished article cube. I am on about 460 cards at present, ranging from perfect-in-my-eyes to needing a lot of work or just an idea. Most sit in the middle of the bell curve as you would expect and middle is the curve is all I need for my initial printing of 600 so I am well on my way to the testing and refining stage. As you can see though, there is more than just designing cards and putting art and names to them. Getting the templating correct and consistent will take a while. Not to mention balancing properly. Defender was missing from the wall at the start, how many of you noticed that? I didn't until proof reading this article! This is why you have teams for this kind of thing...

Saturday 1 July 2023

No card is an island


With the title I do not refer to the basic land type of Island but the poem by John Donne. What I mean by this reference is that no card can be judged in isolation. There is no absolute measure of a card's power level. A card's power is determined by the context the card exists in, the other cards around it. A card can be a bomb in one deck or format while being unplayable in others. Changing from one deck or format to another is quite sudden and can have these more marked effects. Time however will also change things within a format. Often slowly too as cards are released, banned, or rotate out of formats and people adjust to those changes in a back and forth way. One of my favourite things to observe in cube is old cards that are slowly growing in power under the radar as the environment around them becomes a more suitable home for them. Cards obviously go in both directions, with the general tend being towards that of less relative power but more potential or absolute power. This relative decrease is due to power creep and just more stuff to compete against. Without that increase in power over time the trend would be in the other direction as more cards would allow more favourable interactions and thus more options and more power overall. 

Cube is one of the slowest and most glacial of movers when it comes to the individual power level of cards. Mostly this is down to so few new cards entering the format compared to others. It does also have the quirk of being a relatively small selection of cards from all of the cards. This gives it a kind of extra layer of insulation. It is not just a case of legal cards and decks as is the case in standard or modern etc. It is a case of all the cards, those that are chosen for the cube, and then the decks that can be built out of those that are chosen to be the cube in that case. Cards need to be allowed from the greater pool of all the cards into the smaller pool of the cube itself in order for them to affect the others while in games and decks. With change in the power level of cube cards being slow it can be easy to overlook it. Convenient to remember how powerful something is rather than test again and re-evaluate. This can often mean we do not revisit cards that have been cut for one reason or another. It can mean not considering older cards. It can even lead to cube stagnation and evolutionary dead ends of a sort. 

To keep a cube fresh I find it important to do little overhauls (if such a thing is not an oxymoron) as well as ongoing upkeep. The ongoing stuff is simply adding new stuff as it is released and I acquire it, and of course cutting cards. I tend to add in bulk and then cut gradually and continually but this is a logistical convenience rather than optimized for play and testing. An overhaul on the other hand tends to be much more of a restructuring, usually cutting a bit and then adding a bunch more than I should back in its place! These tend to be little synergy pods of cards that go together. Perhaps I decide I am done supporting a sacrifice theme so heavily in the cube and gut all of the support cards and those that obviously don't stand up on their own. I then use this space to add in another group of cards that work well together, perhaps so self mill support and payoff. This changing of the guard lets you see what works and what doesn't, it gives you a better idea of which types of cards work better and which of the more payoff style cards are actually worthy of the support. 

It is also very important to strip back the support for synergies you have in the cube every now and again to make sure you are not just artificially inflating the power level so to speak. Those all important "natural disasters" have to happen so as to test an archetype. If certain cards cannot exist without others they are likely too parasitic and narrow for the cube but if you get stuck in your ways you can fail to stress test either things in isolation. It can all get a bit self fulfilling too, you think something is good so you support it and so it becomes good and so you support it more and bam, your cube gets locked into certain immutable strategies. 

A little example of this I am testing out at the moment is a very small changeling package. I think just three additions with the aim of supporting a couple of new cards that are particularly impressive when assisted by certain dork types. Otharri, Sun's Glory and Slimefoot and Squee are those cards. Both of those also then work really well with looting and self mill effects. As such I will pair these changeling support cards with a smattering of red looting effects. All very minor but interesting (to me at least!) and revealing. It is also the best way to give unlikely cards a useful home. I love to play the unplayable, the awkward, the unknown, and the quirky. I love it so much when I find a way to do so that is good and justifiable. Cute little support packages and the areas in which a couple overlap are the best places to search for those especially eclectic cards. 

Basically I love support cards. Low powered low cost role fillers that scale well with other cards. Satyr Wayfinder, Mental Note, and Stitcher's Supplier are great examples. Of support cards for any graveyard matters synergies. Wayfinder and Mental Note however stand up all by themselves, they are useful cards for other synergies and may just be something you play in their own right. Supplier not so much. Without payoff the card is unplayable and as such the bar for justification on it as a cube inclusion is that much higher. It is absolutely the sort of thing you need to starve your cards of every now and again to see if they work without it. Judging how much to strip back is tricky, you can't take everything as it will ruin a whole pile of things and stop it working all together. You just want to skim off the top, all the parasitic stuff and perhaps a little more, and see how that pans out.  

One of my favourite slow rises to prominence was Urza's Bauble. Long before Mishra got his Baubles printed in Cold Snap Urza had his out in the cold Ice Age of '95. Urza's Buable is a little weaker in that you cannot sneak a scry effect out of it with a shuffle effect but that is a super minor part of what the card(s) are about. In cube both of the brothers Baubles are comparable in power and role, they are fairly interchangeable, and critically for this story, both started getting used at around the same time in my cube. Urza's just happens to be a decade older and thus a more impressive sleeper. I feel like these cards should have started to see play around 2015 however it isn't really until 2018 that I really start to get on board with the Baubles. I suspect had they been first printed at some point between those two times I would have immediately put them in cube but the fact that they were already out there took me seeing them used in modern with other cards that are good in cube. Baubles have probably always been good enough for cube simply by virtue of not costing you that much to thin and improve your deck. The ever increasing number of strong synergies they have however has taken them from mere deck filler to actively potent support cards. We have morbid, prowess, delve, escape, delirium just to dip out toe in the waters. We have cards like Lurrus, Urza;s Saga, Urza himself, Ledger Shredder, and many many more individual cards that also pair up well. The lesson here is not just that some cards are sleepers, but also to keep an eye out on other formats, other cubes, any other source of inspiration, as places to give you hints as to where you might find a sleeper or a new synergy package direction. Even if you don't discover anything better or new you will have still learned, still benefitted from the variety of experience. Fluid changing dynamic cubes are healthy, rigid ones run some risks! This is not to say all should always be chopping and changing, it really should be a thing you scale with use. If you only play your cube a handful of times a year then it isn't going to matter how much tuning you do while if you are playing it weekly it will become a dull tool far quicker if left unmaintained.