July 10, 2012
By NATHAN aka contentconsumer
My name is Nathan and I’ve been playing Magic longer than many current players have been alive. My interests have always been on the casual side of magic and I wanted to introduce you to a Commander Cube variant I’ve been playing lately with my friends.
I’m going to assume you know how to play cube and just fill you in on what we do a bit differently to make this a variant, but for those uninformed on normal cube, check out www.cubedrafting.com for lots of excellent information on how to construct a cube. The forums and articles there will help get you started. Once you are done with that take a look below for my ideas on how to customize a cube for use as a quick to play commander cube.
Modifying a Cube for Quick Commander Play
The rest of this article will detail how I’ve converted my ‘normal’ cube into a Commander cube for when my playgroup feels like something a little different.
There are commanders with the same Command Zone rules as traditional commander. We draft our generals first as it allows you to figure out what colours you are looking for and allows you to draft cards for ‘build-around-me’ generals. As our drafts are usually only 4 people, we draft packs of 4 generals, meaning going into the main draft you have 4 options to choose from for your general.
I have a pile of legendary creatures set aside from the remainder of the cube. Within this stack are two each of each guild-colours pair and one commander for each 3 colour trio. Due to the power of 5 colour goodstuff decks (a result of the high mana consistency this variant offers) there are no 5 colour commanders in my stack of legends. To avoid confusion as to which cards should be in the commander stack and which ones are part of the standard cube, the cube itself does not contain any other 2 or 3 colour legendary creatures. It’s a small sacrifice that hasn’t bothered anybody.
When choosing the commanders for my commander stack, I like to choose Legends that suggest a strategy or approach to be built around and then make sure my cube has the cards to support it. For instance, if you were going to use Bruna, Light of Alabaster as one of your W/U commanders I would suggest ensuring there are a sufficient number of enchant creatures to make it worthwhile as someone drafting her to use as their commander is going to expect at least a chance of making her work.
Mana Bases and Lands:
Instead of adding basic lands to your deck after completing your draft like usual, you shuffle up your whole stack of drafted cards, place your commander in the Command Zone and roll to see who goes first. This means you have no basic lands and a bunch of off colour and last pick cards in your stack, so how is that handled?
We’ve decided you can play any card in your hand face down as a pseudo Command Tower with basic land types appropriate to your commander’s colour identity or you can play a non basic land from your hand. Remember all those off colour cards you drafted or were handed last pick? You’ll be thankful for them when they show up as they make your decisions on what to play as lands face-down easy.
The basic land types are an important addition as it allows land types matters cards such as Veldaken Shackles and Beacon of Creation to work. Also it makes landwalk abilities matter, which helps out aggressive strategies.
A second option is to go ahead and add lands, like a normal draft. This will add time to the draft and makes it feel a bit less exotic, but if you want more traditional games, go ahead.
The second departure from traditional commander rules is if you draft mana fixing artifacts and lands, they produce the colours of mana they normally would instead of being limited to your commander’s colours. This lets you splash the odd card here and there outside your colours but makes you work for it as the colour fixing can go fast. So, for example, in the classic ‘Darksteel Ingot in a Bosh, Iron Golem deck’ scenario, the Ingot can produce all five colors of mana. We put this rule in place to allow some flexibility in the use of off colour cards you might come across in draft. To balance this there are a limited number of mana fixing artifacts in the cube. You will often find yourself struggling to grab lots of off colour cards and sufficient mana fixing to be able to play them reliably early. Keep in mind the ability to play any card face down as a land means that people don’t miss land drops unless they want to.
This play style has a number of advantages that make it nice as a change of pace. First, the set up time for a Commander Cube draft is significantly reduced due to the removal of the deck construction component, making it easier to mix this draft into your evening of card playing without it taking up the whole night. Narrow cards you should draft but don’t always want to draw can be played as a land.
A second advantage is no mana screw. Need a land drop? Just select a card from your hand and you’ve got one. Everyone gets to play! However, it also introduces a new skill element to the format: evaluating which cards to play as lands and when you have enough lands is a skill you get to exercise and develop.
You can play this style with a regular cube and we did originally and is probably the easiest way to start. However, if you find this format interesting I highly encourage considering this play style when selecting cards to construct your cube. Having your lands be facedown cards allows for some interesting interactions with other cards printed over the years.
It is important to decide how you will handle those cards and make sure everyone who is drafting understands those decisions and has been informed of a few example interactions before the draft starts. Nothing is worse than passing a card only to find out it had an interaction you didn’t know about because the rules weren’t fully explained. However, don’t ruin all the surprises for them as this format returns a little of the joy of discovery to your draft as you discover new interactions for cards you thought you knew.
“What interactions?” …I’m glad you asked.
Interacting with your Facedown Lands
If my lands are facedown cards, what if it’s a morph creature? Can I use the morph ability? We allow you to unmorph them which raises the power level of morph a bit. Its quite fun to wrath the board and unmorph a land and swing. This may seem overpowered, but keep in mind that added to the cost is “sacrifice a land” as you are now set back a land drop. Besides, big things happen in Commander right? Your traditional strong commander morphs are good here too but with a little extra surprise factor. Willbender, Bane of the Living, and Chromeshell Crab are all strong. Pretty much anything with a turned face up triggered ability can be worth picking. Akroma, Angel of Fury and Krosan Cloudscraper can make for some pretty scary beaters after a wrath effect.
Land bounce as a cost
Ravnica bouncelands have a special, positive interaction here: they have allowing you to get back cards played as lands earlier in the game. In some ways they feel like card draw. Don’t forget all the additional cards that can perform a similar function. Sea Drake (if you have one), for example, can change into an all upside card when you cast late game and you end up drawing two cards you stored as lands earlier. Similarly, Meloku of the Clouded Mirror is even better than she usually is, and many of the moonfolk are worth considering. In particular, Uyo, Silent Prophet and and Soratami Cloudskater become far more valuable. Having a few of these in your deck makes your early land choices easier knowing you can get that key disenchant effect or late game bomb back later. With my cube having a minimal amount of land destruction, it can even be safer to store cards as lands than keeping them in your hand!
Land Types Matter
Cards that count the number of a certain basic land type get a bit of a power boost. Beacon of Creation, Blanchwood Armor, and Dungrove Elder are all as good in this format as they are in a mono green Commander deck. Or if you are feeling old shool, you can rock a Gaea’s Liege. Likewise, Vedalken Shackles and Flow of Ideas are amazing in any deck with blue. A quick search on your favourite online card data base for each Swamp, Mountain, and Plains can suggest some cards that benefit similarly in Black, Red and White.
Guaranteed land drops every turn can give a similar boost in power to landfall cards from Zendikar block. Bloodghast becomes playable in any deck, and barring graveyard removal is coming back any turn you want him. Eternity Vessel can demand artifact removal in order to kill you if played early enough and even the life gain from Grazing Gladeheart will demand attention after a few turns. Emeria Angel, Ob Nixilis and Rampaging Baloths are even more bonkers than in normal, ‘Constructed’ Commander!
Venser, the Sojourner and to a lesser extent Admonition Angel open up some amazing options here as they allow you to flicker your own lands. In case you aren’t aware of the interaction: face-down cards that are removed from the game come back face up. Most flicker effects don’t let you flicker lands. However, both of these cards allow it and both of them can spell bad news for your opponent. Any permanent you play early as a land can be flickered out the turn you cast Venser and will return at the beginning of your end step face up. Similarly, the angel can store away your permanents for later for a huge advantage should someone wrath the board.
Part of the fun of this variant is the discovery of all the old cards out there that work in new ways or are improved by the variant. If you come across any other categories of cards that play well or differently in this sort of format let me know!
There are a few other cube construction considerations to think of:
The good news is Ravnica and original duals are not really that great in this format. This either frees those you have up for other uses or saves you a fair bit of cost on the construction of your cube. Unfortunately due to the removal of the dual lands, your land section will likely be small. In order to increase the variety of lands you come across I encourage you to fill it out with as many utility lands as possible.
The most important are a complete set of Ravnica bouncelands. The Planeshift Lairs are good too if you have them, though they aren’t nearly as good as the Ravnica bouncelands. Additionally, try and flesh your land section out with lands with activated abilities. The new lands in Innistrad block work nicely for this. Go ahead and fire up MagicCards.info and mine the history of Magic for other lands with activated abilities.
Mana fixing is another thing to consider. I have a very limited mana fixing suite in the artifact section in my cube. It’s nice to be able to draft mana fixing to support a splash if you find a card or two outside your commander’s colours you want to play, but you don’t want people drafting too many colours or you’ll stray too far from the feel of commander.
Additionally, a large number of green mana fixing cards become much worse with no basic lands to search for. Funnily enough, I’ve found Ranger of Eos to be one of the best mana fixing cards in my cube as thinning a couple of 1 mana guys (especially dorks like Birds of Paradise or Weathered Wayfarer) can help out a ton.
One last gameplay decision
What do you do with extra commanders you drafted when drafting commanders at the start? My playgroup decided not to allow their use in our drafts, even when they are the same colour or a subset of colours of the commander you chose, but I would be willing to give this a try at some point with a willing playgroup. It adds another element of strategy to the draft of commanders. Do you go all in drafting commanders in a 3 colour wedge and force that or do you draft a rainbow of commanders to leave yourself as flexible as possible within the drafting of your deck? If you try it out let me know how it works for you.
I’m hoping I haven’t overwhelmed you with all that. It can seem like there are a lot of changes but most of them just seem to make sense. If you give this a try either with your own preexisting cube or a cube made especially for it please let me know what you think in the comments or alternately if its a quick thought you can hit me up on twitter @contentconsumer. I don’t tweet a lot but will try and respond to any messages I get there. I’m interested to hear some feedback from the Magic community. If there is enough interest I’ll post an updated cube list once I update it with some Avacyn Restored cards.