9 Things You Need to Know about How to Make a Set Cube

by Dave Lo on June 29, 2014

Set cubes are awesome -- it's like drafting that set, so you get all of the great archetypes and balance of that set, just as Wizards intended, without having to crack open a box. This is usually best with sets that have been out of rotation for a few years where buying a box for $300+ for a single draft just doesn't make sense.

With 7 set cubes, I get a decent amount of people asking what kind of things they should know when they get into this. Some of these things apply to normal cubes, but some don't.

How many commons, uncommons, rares & mythics do you use?

Most people run 4 commons, 2 uncommons, and then 1 of each rare and mythic. Sure, you can run 4/4/2/2, but commons are usually the limiting factor on how many people your cube can support. Personally, I've found that 4/4/2/2 is just way more cards than you need to have a good draft. Sleeving, storing, and lugging around large sets like that is usually a pain. You can usually fit a 4/2/1/1 sleeved up in an 800 count cardboard box (not counting basics).

Usually, you'll shuffle up the commons amongst themselves, and shuffle the uncommons amongst themselves. Start building piles at 10 or 11 commons, and 3 uncommons. Mythics in boxes are usually at a 1:7 ratio with rares, but if you shuffle up with rares in your cube, you'll have roughly a 1:3.something ratio. One way to fix this is to count out the packs, and pull a random mythic for each 7 packs. Or you can just shuffle up all rares and mythics and play slightly powered.

How many basic lands do I need for my cube?

I usually build my set cubes to support 12+ people. It's always really annoying for someone to have to resleeve basics. Even with the craziest of builds with large groups, I find that 60 of each basic usually has no problems.

Same sleeves for all cubes.

Use the same sleeves for all your cubes. Why? You also need to sleeve lands. Instead of needing multiple land boxes, you just have a single land box that's usable with all your cubes. So make sure you match your sleeves up.

The cheapest place to buy bulk sleeves is usually Potomac Distribution. Talk to your LGS though because they may be able to cut you a deal.

Size matters.

Some sets are large, some are small. The size of the set you pick, plus your rarity build determine how many people your cube can support. The limiting factor is usually the number of commons in the set.

For example, Betrayers and Saviors of Kamigawa only had 55 commons each. With a typical build having only 4 of each common, 55 common cards in the set puts you at 220 total commons. Some people play 11 commons while others play the standard 10. 11 commons per pack gives you 20 packs. 3 packs per player doesn't even give you a draft for 8 people. Even at 10 commons per pack, you still only have enough for 7 people. At that point you have to either beef up the number of commons past 4, and people get bored seeing a lot of duplication, or you draft packs from multiple sets in one sitting.

Compare this to Innistrad at 107 commons. That's 428 commons, or 38 packs, which is more than enough for a whopping 12 people in 11 common packs, or 14 people if you use 10 commons per pack.

If you have multiple sets, you can always mix and match sets. So for example, you could easily do one pack of each set in a block, or 2 of the first set and 1 of the second. That's up to you.

Not all sets are created equal.

Rise of Eldrazi is often renowned as the best draft set ever made. It has great balance, a truckload of very playable archetypes, a lot of interaction, and a rewarding experience for both fast and slow decks. As a larger set, typical builds can support 12 players. Of all my set cubes, this has easily been drafted the most.

Innistrad is also usually considered a great draft set. It doesn't keep up with ROE's archetype diversity, but the interaction and balance are still awesome, and the flavor is fantastic. Some groups bust out the Innistrad cube every Halloween just for flavor.

Bad sets for drafting usually include Zendikar, Worldwake, and Avacyn Restored.
  • Zendikar was too fast, and way too one dimensional -- everyone fought over BR Vampires as the archetype to play, and even when people split those colors, the other archetypes were usually still too weak. Vampire Nighthawk was just a very bad card for draft (I'll explain why in a minute). Comparatively, Gatecrash had a lot of people fighting for Boros, but if too many people split it, other guilds were usually strong enough to do well. Many drafts were won because 4 people split Boros, and a single person got all the Dimir bombs to mill everyone out. Zendikar just doesn't have this diversity.
  • Worldwake was a small set and a blip of generally unfun cards. People were cracking it like crazy for Jace and Stoneforge Mystic, but as a cube, that allure just isn't there. It's also a small set, so it can't really stand on its own. The traditional draft was ZEN-ZEN-WWK, and you still get all the Zendikar issues.
  • Avacyn Restored usually gets a lot of flack as the worst draft set ever. First, it had a few bombs like Griselbrand and Avacyn, Angel of Hope, that were so devastating when they hit the board that it was effectively game over. AVR also had 15 cards with life gain, most of them common, and multiple recurring life gain cards, which is always so backbreakingly amazing that it's bad for the overall draft. Seraph of Dawn was a 2/4 flying lifelinker for 2WW, at common. Vampire Nighthawk was a 2/3 flying lifelinker with deathtouch for 1BB in Zendikar at uncommon. These are so amazing because they're relatively hard to remove, and result in a 4 point spread practically every turn. Lifelink becomes uninteractive in limited, and it allows people to turn the game into a long grind-fest if they're behind. Instead of trading creatures and combat tricks, you end up trading points of damage back and forth. When both players have life-gain, the game can easily grind to a halt.
Some people have said Shadowmoor/Lorwyn blocks were pretty bad but I never drafted them. Personally, I thought Theros block was too grindy but I know others like it.

Acquiring the cards.

The first thing you need to do once you've picked out what set you want to cube, is to acquire the bulk of the cards -- that's usually the mass of commons and uncommons. There are a few ways to do this.

The first is just to see if you already have the bulk -- if you cracked 2+ boxes on your own, you probably already have it. Let's say you're working on Innistrad. There are 67 uncommons in the set, you get 3 uncommons per pack, and you get 36 * 3 = 108 uncommons per box. Assuming you're doing a 4/2/1/1 build, you'd need 134 uncommons. Buying 2 boxes isn't guaranteed to get you 2 of each uncommon, but with 216 uncommons between the two boxes, the probability that you make it is pretty high. Commons are usually not an issue. I'll cover how to get the rares below.

Lots of people don't like the idea of buying 2 boxes just to build a cube base. That's why you should go on ebay and buy a common/uncommon playset. These usually go for $20-60 shipped and can pass $70 for older stuff, depending on how far back you're going with sets. Standard legal playsets sets are usually around $40 shipped immediately after launch, eventually falling to low $20s, and a few years later can go for $70+. Here are some links for auctions with queries that get you what you need and filter out most of the spam. As inventory on ebay varies, you many have to check back frequently for certain sets.So now you've built up the huge base of cards and you need to fill out the rares and mythics. The first thing you'll want to do is check your own stash, trade binder and bulk... no sense acquiring a card you already have.

The next step is to hit the bulk boxes at your stores and local events. Do not forget the bulk boxes at local events -- a GP will usually draw multiple vendors, and you can usually get bulk rares for 25 cents. When you buy a massive stack of bulk, most vendors will even haggle, and you can usually get 10-20% off on top of that.

Also hit up your friends for trades. Some might even be willing to donate bulk to the cube.

The rest of the cards simply need to be acquired from your favorite money card source. Sometimes that's trades, sometimes that's LGSs, and sometimes that's online.

To pimp or not to pimp, that is the question.

You're more than welcome to pimp your cube. A few sellers on ebay do huge foil lots that you can use as the base instead of a common/uncommon playset. The cube will cost a bit more to build, but it'll be very shiny. We've even joked that foil is so dazzling that all foil creatures have "Creatures blocking or blocked by ~ cannot parry or riposte." Take that Steamflogger Boss.

Promos are often an awesome way to pimp the cube, but please only use English cards (or if you're in another country, the local language). It's always frustrating to get a pack that has cards in a foreign language which you don't know. Someone at the table will definitely not recognize the card by the art, especially if it's a promo with alternate art. For the same reason, do not use the textless promos, or custom alters that have hard-to-read text.

Also with promos, I find it nicer when all cards in the set have the same exact expansion symbol. If they don't have the same exact expansion symbol, the card should be a rare or mythic -- otherwise you end up having commons and uncommons with gold set symbols. This can be really confusing to newbies. This means the prerelease, Launch Party, and Game Day versions are usually fine. FNM, WPN, and Media promos are usually only good for rares. It's also nicer to have the same set symbol for every card in a set, just in case you've built multiple set cubes and want to split a draft among them.

If you do foil out your cube, make sure you pack the box tight. Add spacers if you need to so that it's extra tight. Otherwise, the cards will bend and warp as all foils do over time.

Cut the jank.

One of the most frustrating things you can do in draft is crack open the pack, flip to the rare, and cry as you just opened a Search the City. Seriously, there are some cards that are highly unplayable.

For this, I usually go to Bestiare's Draft Sim stats and look up the set I'm building. I usually remove all the rares and mythics that are in the bottom 10-20% of that list. For example, my Rise cube does not have a Near-Death Experience, Repay in Kind, Baneful Omen, Dormant Gomazoa, or Realms Uncharted. These usually range from extremely bad to unplayably bad -- Realms Uncharted is a great constructed card, but the only archetype that might actually have 4 different lands will be Eldrazi beats, and your opponent is always going to pitch the two good lands. I also usually reduce the number of copies for commons and uncommons that are in the bottom 20%. How many I take out usually depends on how far down the list it is, and whether any archetypes actually play it. For example, Luminous Wake is pretty low on the list, but it's usually played in RW with Lust for War.

Be mindful of who you play with.

I don't want to scare anyone from not cubing, but as with all cubes, you should only play with people who you'd let borrow your cards. After all, they're literally borrowing your cards. This ranges from people manhandling your cards with their Dorito-greased fingers, to people just stealing them outright. Theft among your playgroup should never be tolerated. If you cube with people you don't know, they should be friends of friends who you trust enough that it's not an issue. You don't want to be sorting out your rares and mythics after the cube to find that the guy no one knew probably walked off with the chase mythic.

So that's it... enjoy your draft!
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