The idea of a self-contained limited environment or “Cube” for Magic has been around for as long as people considered the idea of limited play. Clearly it was much more efficient to build your own selection of cards rather than crack packs every time you wanted to get that limited experience. The original way this worked was with repacks or even just drafting or building sealed pools from stacks of leftover cards. In the last few years Cube Drafting has spawned an entire sub culture among Magic players and created an entire generation of development focused players. It seems that literally everyone with the inclination today has a cube they want to draft with you. Some people have copied the MtGO Cube verbatim or some other popular one, others have painstakingly crafted their own format out of all their favorite cards and still others have given themselves artificial limitations such as Pauper (only cards printed at common) or only cards from specific sets or blocks when building and developing their cubes. Some people have cubes made entirely of fantasy cards they or their friends have created.
That may all seem fine and good but when you’re first getting into the idea of building a cube all these options are pretty daunting. Wizards spends more man hours on the average draft environment than you will probably spend even drafting your cube. However you should still expect to have at least as an enjoyable experience as drafting a modern set. In addition, cubes generally encompass a large number of physical cardboard cards and therefore a significant amount of space, making them hard to travel with. Keeping a cube environment fresh for an 8-man simply requires a large card pool to draw from.
With all this in mind I present the Square. The Square is a type of mini-cube optimized with the following things in mind:
- It must be portable.
- It must support up to 4 drafters.
- It must support two-player draft formats like Winston.
- It must allow for two players to immediately start playing again, without shuffling after they play once.
Portable is not the same as able to be carried in this context. When you’re travelling to or at a Magic tournament you don’t want to keep a 1000 count box on you. Ideally it should fit in a small box not larger than a deck box. I like the cardboard boxes from the Land Stations for this purpose.
In order to support a 4-man draft you need to be able to make twelve 14 card packs or to put it another way 168 cards. Some people prefer 15 card packs for Cube drafting but the portable nature of a Square means we need to make sacrifices in favor of portability. Using the modern 14 card pack saves us the little bit of room we’re going to need to fit in our sleeved lands in or box.
Supporting two-player draft formats is more a matter of development and card choice which I will get to in a minute. The ability to immediately draft again with two players however is built into our model already. If two players do a Winston draft, they will use half the Square and have the other half ready to go the minute they are done. This leaves more time to play rather than shuffle! Another happy accident of the math on the number of cards in the Square is that two players can just as easily build sealed decks by simply splitting the Square in half. Of course if you do that you will need to shuffle in between sessions but it can save a lot of time if you don’t have the time to draft.
With a 168 card environment, the Square feels a lot more like drafting a large set of a block than a Cube does. This also means that we need to be very careful with card selection and not try to shoot too high in our esoteric draft archetypes. Each color and color combination needs to be strictly balanced to make sure that as many strategies as possible are viable and so that it constantly feels fresh. It’s easy for two players drafting from the same card pool to constantly go for the same types of decks, so by including cards that require non linear support we can make sure that our Squares don’t get old just because we’ve drafted them a ton.
I first started experimenting with this concept during M13 but solidified a build during Return to Ravnica Block and by Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal I had a pretty good limited style Square that I would take with me to most events and play pretty regularly in the hotel or at the airport. My goal was to make every guild draftable but in the end that was not attainable due to the sheer number of gold cards, so instead I started looking at three color combinations and it started to feel a lot like how Dragon’s Maze would end up. Cards that unsurprisingly shined in this environment were the Keyrunes and Guildgates. We even discovered an unintentional 4 or 5 color draft strategy filled with removal and Keyrunes we called “Keyrune Control”. Through playtesting the Square with other friends I adapted it to this and made it possible to beat that strategy if you saw it coming, with either fast aggro or more pure control strategies. Despite that, we didn’t nerf Keyrune Control and it is still a popular and powerful archetype in the RtR Block Square.
Here’s the entire RtR Block Square as it exists today and will most likely remain: http://cubetutor.com/viewcube/8449
One of the fun things about a Square is that you can leave it together pretty much indefinitely. Unlike a cube where you may feel the urge to constantly update it with new cards and new strategies, a Square can be “finished” after you’ve developed it into a fun environment. What this also means is that at some point in the future you can do Square mashups. You can literally take any two squares in your collection and mix them up to do an 8-man draft! Four squares can support an 8-man sealed tournament or even just give you the breadth you’d expect from a more traditional cube.
I’ve built several Squares since I originally came up with this idea and they’ve all been received well by my playtest group. What do you think of the idea of a more portable and easy to build/develop “cube”?