The 360 Question – Part 2
Keeping a cube tight to 360 cards is one of the few decisions I made early that turned out to be correct (because learning from the ground up is a process of learning from your mistakes).
There are number of reasons that a “small” cube has worked out for me. I already covered that a tight cubes makes small changes, even single cards, weigh heavier and makes an immediate difference. Today I’d like to touch on redundancy, its impact, and why it’s not the size of the cube but how you use it (among other veiled euphemisms).
- Increases the rate you can encounter the effect (consistency)
- Provides opportunity for multiple drafters to include it (availability)
- Rewards those who understand how much to draft (optimal deck construction)
These principles, however, do not cover the full depth of it. Cube size is inversely proportional to the impact of redundancy.
Tipping the Scales
Large cubes, 500 cards or so and more, rely on the fact that multiple version of the same types of effects exist in order to provide some consistency within drafts. In order to have board sweepers do their work when the guarantee of specific cards is diminished (through randomization of the subset of card into draft packs) more copies of cards that create the effect are needed.
Redundancy is like science: it works.
Once the critical point of the growing cube size meets the limit of the number of efficient sweepers the meaning of seeing individual sweepers in draft packs changes. Instead a sufficient number of cards being available for the multiple archetypes that need them instead they become coveted and overly desirable simply due to scarcity: you may not see any sweeper other than this one in this pack.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the feeling that certain cards are “more valuable” in a cube. That’s what mythic rares and very unique, powerful cards, like Ancestral Recall or Umezawa’s Jitte, usually do. My issue is when Wrath of God, or a similar utility card, feels like a pick you cannot pass simply because it’s no longer a utility but a very rare effect.
Balancing archetypes requires that the effects desired in multiple decks – utility effects – be available reasonably. While card draw and mana acceleration are fairly straightforward and plentiful (artifacts and cantrip effects within every color make these fairly trivial considerations), Wrath of God level board clearing isn’t nearly as plentiful in the whole of Magic, especially across every color.
Keeping a small cube size allows the finite number of the effect to be available at precisely the level desired.
Mark Rosewater is “famous” for a number of reasons. The one that I recall the most vividly and that always makes me pause to consider whatever I’m doing is one of his very frequent statements: restrictions breed creativity.
During Rebound Week on the mothership, Mark explained on how rebound came about mechanically (Brain Tinsman and team brute forced their way through mechanics that only applied to instants and sorceries to discover a ‘correct’ solution, a process that as a mathematician I find both inelegant but dutifully reliable) but went a gigantic leap forward by touching on some design principles.
All three principles apply to cube design (worthy of an entire article) but the only that applies most here is the first: restrictions.
Larger cubes have it “easy” in terms of decision-making. There is far more room to include several cards that are at a similar power level than when dealing with a very tight 360. The decision to include each card comes at a greater and greater cost as a cube becomes smaller.
Size is a very powerful restriction, which plays a large part of why redundancy becomes more meaningful in small cubes: there is not only more of this but simultaneously less of everything else.
Think about that for a second, then a second more. A tight cube not only makes the decisions around individual cards harder but complicates virtually every change with an addition consideration around deep, powerful opportunity costs.
When I broke down every color pair to consider what archetypes would be supported I hinted that the more interesting cards weren’t the “most powerful” in an empirical sense (consider Blastoderm and Rolling Thunder) but those with applications for a diversity of decks (consider Civic Wayfinder and Vulshok Morningstar). Cards are not independent of other colors and the interactions they create.
Having more cards that can be used in many decks is a different type of redundancy (a meta-level consideration of cards) that can be easy to overlook but becomes absolutely vital in smaller cubes. There needs to be enough that works in a variety of decks in order to make drafts interesting: having your decks be auto-picked due to lack of flexibility or usefulness in the packs you see is deadly for a cube.
Onward and Upwards
I know this was a long time coming but I sincerely hope that any budding cube designer can take something away. There’s more to the concept of redundancy in cubes, but how deeply it affects your cube is an incredible consideration with so many facets to consider you can count on seeing redundancy come up as a discussion again.
Join me next time for more mundane, but very important, considerations impacted by cube size.
I’m working on a two-stage update to my cube:
- Update a few artifacts to weed out a few trial failures and add in what was forgotten (Tumble Magnet and Sylvok Lifestaff much?)
- Update red to be more dynamic and interesting than just “Burn and Bodies”
The first update should be ready soon (by the Blizzard gaming company’s definition of “soon”) but red will take some serious examination. You can expect some great discussion ideas to bubble up around “fixing” red the same way blue has been fixed.
Judging by how blue is now attractive for it’s own unique features I would state that we were successful there. Getting the same for red will be harder but far more rewarding!