A New Approach to Cube

Scuffle D. Lux shares philosophy, tips, tricks and cards to look out for in the Arena Cube and MTGO Vintage Cube.

This week marks the return of the MTG Arena Spike Cube and MTG Online Vintage cube, each made up of the most powerful cards available on their respective platforms. Both cubes come with high-level competitive events, including the Arena Cube Open and MTG Online 64 Person “Big-Prize” elimination events. There are two ways to get you up to speed drafting either of these cubes: the first is to memorize every card that might be in a cube, become a pro drafter, and learn to build a deck of Magic’s most complex cards on a 20-minute timer. As this is tough to learn in a week, we’ll take the second approach. Today I’m going to teach you to draft a constructed singleton deck from a blueprint.

What is a Cube?

A cube is an assortment of curated cards designed specifically to be drafted in the traditional Magic style. It consists of at least 360 cards, allowing eight players to each draft three packs of 15 cards.

“Cube is a lot of different things to a lot of different players”

-Alex Nikolic, Limited Level-Ups

They’re built according to different mechanical archetypes, colors, power levels, rarities; every single aspect of Magic cards probably has a cube themed around it.

The Three Fundamental Assumptions of a Cube

These three statements are true for all cubes, unless specifically designed otherwise:

  1. Low Power Delta: “The best card I see in a pack is only a little bit stronger than the worst card I see in a pack, after accounting for the cards that can be put into a deck with it”. This means most cards have substitutes, significantly reducing the risk that a deck won’t have enough playable cards compared to drafting a regular set. There are still power differences between cards, but at the end of the draft Lightning Bolt and Strangle both kill a relevant creature for one red mana.
  2. Archetypes Are Supported: “If I draft this card that only works in one type of deck, I will have the opportunity to build this deck.” Somebody curated the current drafting experience with intention- this is what separates a cube from something like a chaos draft. As you draft, look for the missing pieces of the puzzle that is your deck.
  3. Macroarchetypical Speed Importance “I need to think about how fast I want my cards to play, and some otherwise strong cards won’t fit in my deck based on their speed.” Every constructed deck is built to pull the game into its desired Macroarchetypical theater – more commonly known as Aggro, Midrange, Control, and Combo. Constructed players know this intuitively: Embercleave doesn’t belong in a Jeskai control deck and Farewell doesn’t go into an aggressive white deck. Drafters however, will include both of these cards in a normal Eldraine or Neon Dynasty draft deck due to their raw power. Cube is a constructed draft, meaning that speed of individual cards is an important consideration in win conditions, interaction, and nonbasic lands. The average power level of each card is so much higher that it’s less about drafting the best card and more about drafting the best card for your deck. Combo decks play across all three speed theaters and will be different in every cube. It’s a good idea to take a quick look at any given cube for combo cards: this iteration of the Arena Cube only has Timeless Witness/Ephemerate/Time Warp, and the Vintage cube has many more (listed at the end!)

Constructed at 2/3 Scale

Just like constructed, Cube is a format where you can play a deck to match your personal playstyle. It’s  possible to draft control, aggro, or midrange based on what you like to play best. With this in mind, we come to our goal: have a constructed deck at 66.6% of the size, 66.6% of the speed, and 66.6% (or more!) of the power. 

Fortunately for us, there’s nothing wrong with netdecking!

A Control Blueprint

Looking at Pioneer Azorius Control, we see many powerful and efficient answers and some major threats. How could someone plan to draft a deck like this? 

Well, let’s break it down into card roles. 

Pioneer Azorius Control runs:

  • 12 Counterspells
  • 5 Sweepers
  • 4 Removal Spells
  • 3 Strict Card Advantage Spells
  • 6 Planeswalkers (Flexibility)
  • 2 Other Threats
  • 28 Lands (12 that do more than make mana)

This seems like a tall order of cards to pull out of a cube, but remember the first cube assumption. The cards we have access to will have replacement effects, and we don’t need our cards to perfectly match the blueprint. We can generally refine our card’s roles by figuring out why they’re included and what each card is meant to do.

Another way we can look at this deck:

  • 21 pieces of interaction
  • 9 sources of card advantage
  • 6 ways to end the game
  • 27 lands

Translated to a 2/3 scale Cube deck, that makes for:

  • 14 pieces of interaction
  • 6 sources of card advantage
  • 4 ways to end the game
  • 18 lands

Keep this blueprint with you and think through the changes you want to make to accommodate substitutes. More sources of strict card advantage allows for more removal with single targets and removal that replaces itself similarly means fewer sweepers are necessary.

A really good way to win the game, such as a two-card combo or singular game winning cards necessitate fewer win conditions.The strongest cards for a control deck in cube are the ones that fulfill multiple roles at the same time, such as Planeswalkers, utility lands, two-for-ones, and Counterspells with the text “Draw a Card”.

An Aggressive Blueprint

Cards in aggressive decks have even simpler roles:

Standard Mono-Red Aggro roles:

  • 24 creatures
  • 14 Versatile Burn Spells (Two of which can’t target players)
  • 22 lands (Four being utility lands)

Modern Burn’s Simpler Composition:

  • 8 Creatures
  • 4 Recurring sources of damage
  • 28 Burn spells that hit the player (16 that can hit creatures)

In Cube that translates to:

  • 16 creatures
  • 9-10 “Burn” Spells (or spells to increase/deal damage)
  • 15-16 lands (2-3 utility lands)

Aggressive decks have access to even more available substitutes, simply because there are more cards that can be converted into direct damage. Untapped dual lands and utility lands are even more important in aggressive decks.

A Midrange Blueprint

Put simply, a midrange deck is one that can become more aggressive or more controlling based on the opposing deck. Midrange decks are built out of cards that play multiple roles and are strong at multiple points of the game. Interaction to answer an array of different threats, threats that grow over time, and cards that generate advantage from the board are all hallmarks of midrange decks in every format.

This is Reid Duke’s Modern Jund Deck from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Singapore in 2015.

Modern Jund Cards by Role:

  • 13 Creatures
    • 6 Generate Card Advantage
    • 7 Grow Over Time
  • 23 Pieces of Interaction
    • 5 Planeswalkers
    • 6 Burn Spells
    • 10 Discard Spells
  • 24 lands (3 utility lands)

So our Cube Deck should look to have:

  • 10-12 Creatures which generate advantage or grow over time
  • 10-13 Pieces of flexible interaction (prioritize interaction that stays on board, like Planeswalkers)
  • 16-17 lands

Generally, midrange decks in cube have both the most power-per-card and most available substitutes. In order to play the most powerful cards available, a three-color mana base is often necessary. When playing three-color midrange in cube, prioritize picking up dual and tri-lands early, and trust that access to three colors will leave you with enough playable late pick-ups.

A More Specific Blueprint (Reanimator)

Do you really want to play an archetype that you see as the packs go by? Just find one and break it down!

Here is a 2020 Legacy Reanimator Decklist

Reanimator Cards by Role:

  • 10 Reanimation Targets
  • 12 Reanimation Spells
  • 8 Ways to discard creatures
  • 8 Pieces of Interaction
  • 22 Mana Sources

So our Cube Deck should look to have:

  • 6-7 Reanimation Targets
  • 8 Reanimation Spells
  • 6-7 Ways to discard creatures
  • 6-7 Pieces of Interaction
  • 15-16 Mana Sources

Of course, the first step is to find out if this deck is feasible in a given cube. The MTGO Vintage Cube has seven reanimation spells, plenty of strong creatures, efficient discard sources, and tutors to fill in the gaps. The Magic Arena Spike Cube has fallen to a mere three Reanimation Spells, which makes for a much fairer reanimation deck.

Quick Tips and Takeaways For Your Draft

  • You don’t need to memorize every card in the cube, but it’s worth taking ten minutes to look through the cube you are going to draft.
  • If you’re not sure which of a few cards to take, take the one that costs less mana. Cheaper is usually better in Cube, unless the more expensive card has a specific purpose in your deck.
  • If you’re not leaning into a specific archetype, take lands aggressively. You’ll have enough playables at the end of the draft, but its important to be able to cast them.
  • If you have a style with which you regularly play Magic, lean into it. If you don’t have a preference, pick three strong decks in the cube and learn to pivot in and out of those decks.
  • Macroarchetypes (control, aggro, midrange, combo) are available in nearly every cube unless they’re intentionally designed out. If you’re not sure which one you want to play or is available, then take cards that can fit into both aggro and control.

Cube Specific Tips

  • The only infinite combo to keep an eye out in Arena Cube is Timeless Witness/Ephemerate/Time Warp
  • Strong Combo decks in Vintage Cube include but are not limited to:

Copy Combos (Splinter Twin/Pestermite, Kiki-Jiki/Restoration Angel)

Storm(Tendrils of Agony/Brain Freeze with cheap spells and Paradoxical Outcome)

Narset Wheels (Narset/Wheel of Fortune)

Palinchron/High Tide


Academy Ruins/Mindslaver

  • Graveyard strategies are at their strongest in both iterations of this competitive cube. Both the Arena cube and Vintage cube are down to just Lion Sash and Scavenging Ooze as repeatable ways to exile cards from a graveyard
  • These are the sweepers available in the Arena Cube. They all wipe out different combinations of creatures and permanents, so knowing them can save a game:


Archangel Avacyn

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Day of Judgment

Realm-Cloaked Giant

Settle the Wreckage

The Eternal Wanderer

Wrath of God


Extinction Event

Gix’s Command

Invasion of Fiora


Massacre Wurm

The Meathook Massacre


Brotherhood’s End

Burn Down the House

Chandra, Awakened Inferno

The Elder Dragon War


Cyclonic Rift

Happy Drafting!

My first take on this topic was to teach you to draft cube by the first method I proposed, but I stopped in the middle of explaining the third 2005 article on card evaluation. Instead, this style of cube drafting will allow you to have success in just your first week of cubing!

If you want to pick my brain about cube, about specific cards in these cubes, or any of the myriad of valuable niche aspects I’ll be happy to answer your questions in the PlayingMTG Discord.

Until next time, feel free to come watch me work at Twitch.tv/ScuffleDLux.

  • Scuffle D. Lux

    Scuffle is a Demon Gambler Vtuber with 23 years of drafting experience. He’s been ranked Mythic in MTG Arena every season for the past two years, with three Mythic Rank 1 finishes, two MTG Arena Limited Open wins, five SCG Open Top 8 finishes, and two Grand Prix Top 8 finishes. He streams regular educational draft content and loves turning data into useful information to help your draft.

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