Tesseract #1: The Contemporary Peasant Cube
3 December 2018
3 December 2018
Hello internet and welcome back to Tesseract, a series that goes hyperdimensional on cube!
Okay, I’m still working on a tagline.
Last time, in Episode #0, I introduced myself and gave some history of my content creation, as well as a basic idea of what this series will entail. I encourage those who have not read it to do so prior to reading this, but it isn’t essential reading by any means.
In this installment, I want to go over my personal cube - what its rules and legalities are for design, and why I’ve chosen to make it as such. This may seem like self-advertising, and I guess to an extent it is, but I also think it’s important to know what my frame of reference is when writing these articles. And I hope in doing so that I provide more than just a list of cards that I play. So, without further ado, I present my “Contemporary Peasant Cube”.
I want to begin by providing all the design constraints outright, and then I will go into detail about them:
Currently 455 card singleton
Even Color Distribution
Legal sets include all paper releases from Innistrad onward
Legal cards include any card that has ever been printed at common or uncommon, AND that has been printed in one of those particular releases
Lands can be of any rarity or printing
Rules are flexible
Yes, I know that this is a convoluted system for determining legality, but it's MY convoluted system for determining legality!
Alright, so now let’s discuss these stipulations in more detail. The first one listed involves the size of the cube. If it were up to me (and I suppose it is, but I digress), I’d have the cube size be 480, and it even was in the past. However, the reason why I chose to lower the overall size of my cube was due to my playgroup size.
Unfortunately, I have often found myself living in an area where the magic scene isn’t particularly huge, or where my closest friends don’t all live nearby. This means that my average pod for cubing is 4. Having such a small group of people drafting at any given time changes the dynamics for cube construction (and draft design as well, but more on that later). Thus, in order to see the certain percentage of my cube that i’d prefer in a draft, I had to lower the size. If I’m being honest, the size of my cube should probably be closer to 360 or 420 for an average group of 4, but it’s just too difficult to cut that many cards.
Next up, even color distribution. This is a pretty understandable and common design choice. While I do agree with the shared mindset that being a card or two off in any color won’t hurt the experience much, aesthetically I prefer the even distribution. The caveat to this is that hybrid cards do not have a specific section in my cube. This is something I will consider adding in some day - Possibly after the release of Ravnica Allegiance - but for now it does not exist. What this means is that all the hybrid cards either count as their respective multicolored slots or monocolored slots. For example, Dryad Militant is considered a white card in my cube, and not green. This is reasonable because green decks in my cube will almost never want Dryad Militant, and white decks almost always WILL. Kitchen Finks, however, is considered Selesnya because it rarely will be cast for 1WW or 1GG, and therefore functions closer to a 1GW creature. This is something that others in the community have covered pretty well, so I will leave it at that.
Next is probably the most convoluted rule and the one needing the most explanation. That is, that legal cards must have been printed in a paper product that released on the date Innistrad was released, or onward. When I first began building my cube, my biggest desire was to both make something unique, but also make something that helped me bring back the nostalgia-ridden happiness that I feel when I think of playing with cards from M13 or RTR or INN. And the reason why I feel that nostalgia and happiness is because I began playing in early 2013, between the release of RTR and GTC. Most of my all time favorite cards come from that era, and I knew I wanted to build something that allowed me to use those cards again.
Originally, I only allowed cards from sets that had gone through standard (i.e, no masters or commander or duel deck, etc.). I eventually removed that stipulation because while restriction breeds creativity, a low card pool breeds...well, usually a bad cube. My first cube was awful. There were so many problems with it I shouldn’t even go into it right now. But certainly, opening myself up to being able to use supplemental products has allowed me to get excited about things like Masters downshifts and reprints of cards that might be Peasant cube staples, but that were printed from so long ago that they aren’t technically legal in my cube. This does come with a couple downsides, however. For one, it's just much more difficult to explain to someone. You, yourself, might still be scratching your head, thinking about what the rule actually allows. Furthermore, it means that most of those cards I felt nostalgic towards have since been replaced by more powerful cards.
So, you might be asking yourself why I still have this stipulation in place, when all it does really is prevent me from using a small handful of staples. That’s a valid question, and the answer is one that might say more about me than about good cube design. The answer is that I need to feel like I’m making something unique. If I wanted to build a peasant cube with all of the best cards I’d just use someone else’s cube. My ability to find a niche I can stand out in goes away at that point. And I’m sure the cube would be great, but it wouldn’t be MY cube. That’s vital. And that’s the best part about cube: Everything is up to you as a designer - It’s what keeps me coming back to the format again and again.
Now let’s talk about lands in my cube. Those of you who decided to look at the list prior to reading all of this may have been keen enough to notice I have a multitude of rare lands in my cube. Originally, I decided to be full peasant and only play with lands such as the gainlands from KTK block or the gates from RTR block. I cannot stress this enough: it was awful. It led to people not prioritizing lands during draft and made all the lands feel like bad picks. It prevented aggro decks from having good manabases. And it really limited what I could include for lands in my cube. Ultimately, I decided it was much more enjoyable and healthier to include lands from any rarity or printing in my cube. Technically, even OG duals would be legal...I just can’t afford them. Sometimes rules exist to be broken. Do remember that only you choose what you can and can't do at the end of the day.
And really, the final rule is the most important one: all of these rules are flexible. This is important because constraining oneself can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it leads to trying out unused cards and finding out they are actually quite good. Sometimes it leads to frustrating design decisions where you know the answer to your problem is right within grasp, but “technically not legal”. Ultimately, I know that I will have problems I need to fix with a rare that would never be printed at uncommon. Or perhaps I need one important piece to push an archetype and it was only printed once in Shards block. Things like this are much easier to fix with an exception to a rule than reinventing the wheel. One such example of this is my inclusion of Runechanter's Pike. Currently, this is the only other card in my cube that breaks the rarity rule. Simply put, I wanted another way to push the "spells matter" archetype, but I wanted it to be attacking from another angle, and I wanted it to be splashable in other archetypes.
Alright so now let’s discuss some of the finer details about my cube. My cube is intended to support 2-color decks primarily, and 1 or 3 color decks sometimes, but rarely. Anything outside of those bounds isn’t impossible but unlikely to be the correct deck building decision. My somewhat small multicolored section, as well as my not TOO forgiving land base is primarily what allows for this to happen, but it’s also important that I don’t include too many cards when intensive mana costs. Something like Gifted Aetherborn is an exception to the rule - not the baseline.
One other glaring thing people may have noticed is that I currently run the whole (half) cycle of “xxyy” multicolored creatures form Guilds of Ravnica. Most of these are intended to be the big payoff for being in that particular color combination. I recognize some of these are stronger than others, and that some of them probably aren’t even good enough to make the cut, but my playgroup wanted them all so in they went! This is maybe a topic I should cover in another article, actually -- “When do playgroup opinions matter more than power or balance in cube design”. Perhaps one I get through the other...dozen or so ideas I already have…
I have a very small banlist currently that includes I believe just Sol Ring. Yes, this means that Skullclamp is both legal and in my cube. This is something that I had to be convinced by my playgroup to add in, and so far it hasn’t shown to cause any real issues, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one day it needed to be taken out due to power. As a result, I’ve tried to balance token and skullclamp strategies by including extra mini-wraths and artifact hate that isn’t god-awful. This is yet another example of curtailing your design behavior when it diffes from the desires of your playgroup. At the end of the day, I can remove clamp on the basis that it is warping the format, but until it actually causes issues I will leave it in for them.
Alright, so the last main topic I want to cover in this piece is the archetype breakdown of my cube. As previously mentioned, this is a run-of-the-mill, ten two-color pair and therefore ten archetype cube. I suppose there are a couple build-arounds as well, but I think I’ll discuss those in another article. Let’s discuss those archetypes now.
We will start this off with Azorius. Azorius in my cube is primarily a blink archetype. Though because there’s only so much support that can be had for that, most UW decks tend to end up as tempo decks. Until just recently, I was trying to push control in white as well, allowing for UW control to be a common occurrence much more often than tempo. This is something I’m trying to pull back at the moment, and I might see about replacing Azorius Signet with something that supports those archetypes more. Lyev Skyknight is one card I could see bringing in. Another that doesn’t fit as much with those archetypes but might just be fun is Migratory Route.
Dimir has gone through many archetype changes over the time that I’ve had my cube, from Zombie Tribal to Graveyard Matters and currently to just Control. I think it could still use some fleshing out, but for now people seem to be okay with and enjoy it mostly just filling the role of Control in the cube. I’m currently testing both Thought Erasure and Nightveil Predator in the dimir section. One or both may not make the cut, and I probably should just be playing Agony Warp still, I’ll be honest. I've been slowly trying to add in more support for a UB discard theme, and this is not uncommon. UB is one of the 2 main reanimator colors as well.
Rakdos is currently sitting at “make tokens and kill them all yourself”, aka Sacrifice dot deck. Goblin Bombardment is definitely a key card to try to pick up for this archetype, but even just normal sacrifice shenanigans with Blood Artist usually does the trick. I’ve actually been very impressed with Claim / Fame, as the claim half can actually fit well enough into Golgari and other color combinations. This color pair used to be the sort of all-in aggro colors, but I’ve since removed aggro support from black to move it into a more support/combo color. I'm also toying around with the idea of allowing RB to be a control color pair, with cards like Slice and Dice and Drown in Sorrow and Pyroclasm leading the way. The difficulty here is balancing the main archetypes and not accidentally removing aggro from the metagame.
Gruul right now is in a strange place where it’s mostly trying to be stompy, but I’m still trying to figure out how to support it best. Additionally, a friend of mine really wanted to make dinos work in the cube, so gruul also has a dinos matter package that is somewhat small, but I’m hoping remains not too parasitic. Much like Dimir, I think Gruul needs a little more fleshing out, as many times it turns into “mono green ramp splashing for bolts”. That’s not necessarily what I'm going for from a design perspective. I'm looking forward to Ravnica Allegiance to hopefully provide some more aggressive green cards at 2 and 3 so Gruul has more play than just "mono-red aggro splashing green for Bloodbraid Elf.
Selesnya in my cube is traditional midrange. You’ve got mana dorks, aggressively costed creatures, removal for just about anything, and even plentiful artifact/enchantment removal. GW also serves as the go to release-valve for when Red-based aggro gets too happy with its burn spells, as there is plenty of life to gain from white, and from key cards such as Kitchen Finks. I’m also considering adding in more enchantment support and trying out Satyr Enchanter, but for now I’m seeing if Sumala Woodshaper can make the cut without the enchantment push. I think I want GW to act as an "easy" deck to draft and pilot. Not everything has to be overly complex, and it helps lesser-skilled players have something to do without getting completely steamrolled.
Orzhov is one of the two main token color combinations, along with RW. Most BW decks will either get enough removal and bombs passed to them to simply be a midrange/control deck, or will end up being a token-filled, Hidden Stockpile/Blood Artist/Promise of Bunrei/Intangible Virtue deck. Things can definitely get out of hand quickly if BW can establish a board presence. Currently, I’m testing out the newly-downshifted Angel of Despair in the multicolored section, mostly as a reanimate target, but also as a midrange/control finisher. I have high hopes about it but time will tell. Putting On Serra's Wings on a Gurmag Angler is also pretty sweet, for what it's worth.
Golgari, as expected, loves the grave in this cube. Everything from Reanimator to Blood Artist stuff with Poison-Tip Archer to attrition-based Death Denied builds. GB has definitely proven itself to be one of the top color combinations in my cube. Sometimes it can get a little out of hand, but thankfully a good red aggro deck can put it in its place pretty easily if piloted well. This color combination is definitely a playgroup favorite. One card I'm testing right now is Masked Admirers for this color pair. It seems like it would be really cool to just keep looping value out of it with Eternal Witness and Shriekmaw and Phyrexian Reclamation. I'm not sure if it'll make the cut but I do love testing new cards. I should also probably note that I'm testing out Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker as well. Initial tests make it seem to weak but I'll still give it a shot.
Hoo boy. Simic. Those of you who are more familiar with cube might be familiar with the problem of Simic not usually knowing what it’s actually trying to do. This cube isn’t too different, unfortunately. Currently, it’s your traditional “mega-ramp” color combination. River Hoopoe is a pet card of mine, as is Horizon Chimera which is currently being tested. I’ve tried a few different styles of archetype for Simic thus far. One of my favorite ones was an “on-board tricks matter” theme to make use of the excess mana simic can tend to have. Good examples of cards that took advantage of this theme were Beetleform Mage, Frilled Oculus, Basking Rootwalla, and Duskwatch Recruiter Flip. I may go back into that theme a little bit at some point because I think it gives incentive to playing already-good cards, and helps breach the gap between the lower to the ground decks and the mega-ramp decks during draft.
For Izzet, I’ve chosen to go with the “spells-matter” theme, but this shouldn’t be mistaken for always functioning the same in every cube. Originally, the spells matter izzet decks were much more tempo-focused with cards like Stormchaser Mage and Delver of Secrets Flip. I’ve over time changed out of a lot of the tempo payoff cards as these proved themselves to be a bit too parasitic. Cards like Young Pyromancer are good in nearly any spell-heavy deck, so they stayed in, and since a majority of the spells in Izzet (that are actually good) lent themselves to favor control, I decided to give izzet control some spell-based control finishers. Rise from the Tides is the quintessential version of this, but both Crackling Drake and Cryptic Serpent function in this way as well.
Lastly, Boros in my cube functions as the most aggressive color combo as this point, as well as the second of the two token-matters color pairings. Boros tends to follow the tried and true “go wide and kill them” strategy, but if one drafts specific cards like Wall of Omens, Serra Angel, Lightning Bolt, and Slice and Dice, the deck could also end up being midrange or straight up control. This is something that has been a little difficult to prune when cube-designing, as I want to make sure I do the right thing and let aggro have the chance to thrive. Since I’ve decided to move away from black having aggro 1-drops and the like, I’ve been trying to balance that by removing some of white’s lesser quality midrange and control cards, and move them towards aggro cards so that a white drafter isn’t feeling pulled in multiple directions. I believe this will lead to a healthier metagame.
With this list of the 2-color pair archetypes completed, I believe we find ourselves at a good stopping place for today. I know this first real article to the series was a bit lengthy, but I also think providing a comprehensive description of my cube will pay dividends later on for those who really are interested in what I have to say in future episodes. It’s vital to you that you know my point of view and focus will be on Peasant cube. As such, I will likely fail to provide succinct knowledge on Powered or Unpowered cube. For that knowledge, I recommend the Solely Singleton podcast, and the Third Power podcast.
If you enjoyed what you’ve read, make sure to let me know either in the comments below, or you can find me on Twitter at @Spootyone! Next episode I will be covering Peasant Cube from a broader perspective, and discussing the positives and negatives on building and playing a Peasant cube versus the other formats of cube out there. Until then, don’t be square!
There are a few construction rules that I raise my eyebrow at:
•Legal sets include all paper releases from Innistrad onward - so, you are excluding standard sets from before innistrad, but you include all masters sets, which is really weird and I have no idea why do not just ditch this arbitrary thing. For example:
- Living Lore was a rare in Tarkir, so a couple of years ago, but now it is getting an uncommon printing in UMA, so it is a viable inclusion. Demonic Tutor is being reprinted in UMA as a mythic, and even though it has an uncommon printing in earlier sets, it cannot be part of your cube?
•Lands can be of any rarity or printing - but why? Peasant cards, especially those from newer sets, do not have stringent color requirements.
Now, given that you have included supplemental sets too (which makes the exclusion of pre-innistrad standard sets even weirder), there may be the case that some cards have a bit more stringent color requirements. However, in peasent cube, 2 color only basics manabases are completely fine and three colors with peasent CIPT lands also is.
•Rules are flexible - giving yourself leeway is always nice, but on the other hand, not having strict rules makes cube building flimsy - if you can change any rule, then why have any restrictions at all?
December 3, 2018 3:15 a.m.
Sure, allow me to explain in further detail. And thanks for the comment.
Given your example given, I can see I did a poor job explaining the legality. Living Lore certainly is legal dueto its recent downshift, but Demonic Tutor is actually legal as well. For one, demonic tutor was reprinted in Duel decks anthology on Dec 5, 2014. That is within bounds. But furthermore, I think you misunderstand one of the key legality rules here.
Reanimate is also legal in the cube due to its printing in UMA. This is because the rules are that is has to be printed at uncommon or common EVER. THEN, it has to have been printed since Innistrad. So since Reanimate was printed at uncommon for most of its tenure, and then was printed again now, it becomes legal.
So, to recap:
First check: Was this ever printed at uncommon or lower. Then check: Was this printed in paper since Sep 30, 2011.
Hope that clears it up.
As for the land restrictions, I assure you that the aggro color combinations need good dual lands to draft from. It's impossible to be able to have a T1 Monastery Swiftspear into T2 Consul's Lieutenant without a painland or shockland or some other kind of untapped dual. Everything but aggro can get away with the slower, weaker mana base. But aggro cannot. In theory, I could change the land rule to ALSO only include cards from Innistrad forward, but that felt like an unnecessary hurdle for something that is crucial to game balance. I certainly don't need to run Celestial Colonnade, but I do need Sulfurous Springs.
December 3, 2018 6:51 a.m.
Ok, the legality thing is quite convuluted. So the Eternal Masters mythic Force of Will is legal, because it was printed as an uncommon in Alliances, even though after Innistrad, it was never printed as an uncommon or common after Innistrad?
Honestly, this excludes so little, that I do not know what card is impactful, yet being excluded? Can you give a couple of examples of a powerful card not being included in your deck because of the legality?
I do not think there was a deck in standard that could go Swiftspear into Liutenant when they were both legal in STD. I think it is a mark of a good player not to draft that sort of curve, where color might be so problematic that fixing is dire. I feel the rare lands a crutch players do not need and is actively hampering their decks.
I would still not play those two cards together, because the amount of fixing needed to achieve this is not solved with two mana fixing cards. I do not think that the 1 pain land, 1 shockland and 1 checkland are really enough - the checkland cannot enable that play and you need specifically a plains as your second land to allow you to play that. I mean, you could draft the City of Brass too, but that is in high demand from other decks too. To enable that play, you will probably need both the Confluence and the city of brass to be sure, and then you need to draw those 3 cards...
As an aggro player, you would be better served to cut one of those cards that clashes the most with your main color and play the other.
To me, it seems someone complained there was not enough fixing and rather than say "Deal with it", you provided some. This is enabling greedy plays rather than teaching people how to work with limitations. IMO, it dilutes the identity of the cube to include rare lands.
Finally, 41 lands is a really weird number in 455 card cube.
December 3, 2018 7:21 a.m.
I actually forgot Force of Will was originally uncommon, honestly. I'd probably not include that in my cube though. It's either ridiculous or horrible depending on the hand. The newly legal Foil seems more balanced.
I can provide some examples are cards excluded due to legality. Off the top of my head, the talismans, Crypt Rats, Accorder Paladin, Miscalculation, Joraga Treespeaker, Enclave Cryptologist, and a smattering of stuff from original Ravnica and Shards block are excluded. Certainly, not all these cards are so powerful they would be excluded on that reason alone, but they are staples.
Ultimately, the rule IS convoluted, but it's also key to the identity of my cube as not having access to a handful of staples means having to adapt a bit. Additionally, while masters sets have legalized many cards, having the rule in place makes masters set release season very fun for me which I enjoy. Same goes for other supplementary produ ts. That's something I want to hold on to.
As for the mana base discussion, I assure you 1 person complaining is not what resulted in the issue. The issue was that cards like Boros Garrison and Wind-Scarred Crag were dead picks in draft. And I wasn't going to only provide dual lands for 7 or 8 guilds. As mentioned before, I could see an argument to banning rare lands that do more than fix mana, I.e. Celestial Colonnade and Strip Mine, as these act much more like spells than lands. But the argument of replacing Blood Crypt with Bloodfell Caves to keep the identity of my cube rings a bit hollow to me. Better mana allows for easier deck building, which also allows for a bit easier drafting. I WANT players to be able to draft red 1 drops and double white 2 drops. I think being able to do so helps balance the aggro decks against the green/white midrange decks that can easily support a deck with more color pips. Now I can understand if you'd disagree with that sentiment, but I'd have to agree to disagree there.
December 3, 2018 8:14 a.m.
In my cube I run RG werewolves and that gives some overlap with my RW agro (Tokens). But the other advantage is my UG color pair is +1/+1 counters (Evolve and other such mechanics); this allows me to use some of the cards from Theros with Monstrous in both color pairs. Ravenous Leucrocota for example helps evolve, is a mana sink for RG to spend mana and still flip the werewolves, and last gives +1/+1 counters to play with for a card like Shapers of Nature.
I also have UB as control, it started as a Zombie tribal and I just wasn't happy with it. however I am also not liking just "control" and may change it to mill.
Shefet Dunes may be something to put in for the White based agro decks. It is a land that has proven for me to not be a dead pick and as it though doesn't fix it does allow for that deck to hit it's much needed land falls and still have a pump for latter.
looking forward to the next article.
December 3, 2018 3:56 p.m.
Pervavita: I think it's funny that both of our Dimir sections took the same trajectory. I would be careful with mill, though. It has a long-trodden history is being too good for fun's sake, or not good enough for fun's sake. I'm not saying don't try it, but...well...
Shefet Dunes is certainly interesting. All the desert lands make me take a second glance, though, because they get better with more deserts while most of the deserts are just unplayable. Thank you for your comment! :)