Cubing Together – The Pop Culture Cube

Cube is hands down my favorite format. Cubes are fun to design – they offer a different set of design challenges than we use with decks, they’re more elaborate than any one deck, and they’re usually an eternal format so they keep evolving as new sets are released. Cubes are also fun to play and extremely flexible in the play experiences they offer. If you take a legacy deck into your local game store there’s a chance you won’t find anyone with a deck in the same format, but having a cube, like having multiple decks, allows you to play together in the same format. Cube formats being limited, players are generally on a more even playing field. Cubes can accommodate play for as few as two or three players through a Winston Draft, four or five through sealed, and six and up through booster draft, allowing for more “ways to play”. Having a cube is like having a board game that only Magic players can play.

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The Big Idea

I’ve known for a long time that my next step is a custom card cube. I’ve tried designing a custom set or custom cards but I never stick with it. Maybe someday. I tried brewing custom cards or sets with friends but it was always difficult to settle on a topic that everyone could take part in. I wanted a cube idea that anyone could chime in about, anyone who knows any Magic at all.

One day, I was driving around with Sean and our friend Logan, who knows some Magic and plays with us but isn’t super into it. I was blabbing at Logan about the cube ideas Sean and I were discussing, and I when I mentioned the idea for a cube where the only criteria for making new cards is that they need to be pop-culture relevant, he started making up cards aloud. The idea stuck with all of us and we kept pitching cards to each other when we’d hang out. We started making the first cards a few weeks ago, and we’ve had a lot of in-depth discussions about design in the last week.

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R&D

The cube is currently only in design. As we finalize them, we are tweeting our designs on their own twitter, @mtgpopcube, and in their own imgur album, as well as occasionally retweeting on our main twitter. Most cards are privately created with no input or validation from anyone else before posting to twitter. Some we’ve created by committee or were born from discussions we’ve had. So far only Sean, Logan, and myself have provided designs directly, but we’re trying to rope in others and we’re accepting card submissions to @mtgpopcube by email. (sean or patrick @topdecklegends.com)

The final number of cards for the cube is not determined but is probably about 600-750 cards. We will produce designs until there are far more cards than we’ll ever need, at least 1500 if not many more. Then we will cut down the designs and begin a development process to ensure colors are represented equally, with appropriate CMC distributions. But for now, we put that out of mind and focus on design.

Power Level

One of the first discussions we had was about power level. After almost no discussion at all we agreed on a Legacy power level. However this was after some cards were already designed. We’ll smooth it over in development.

Force Choke

Cards should be strong but fair. No undraftable garbage. As tempting as it is to create a 0/1 vanilla Kardashian for , no one will draft it and ultimately it will not be worth the joke.

Cards can contain nonsense text and reminder text but must otherwise be rules-legal MtG cards, much in the spirit of Unglued and Unhinged.

Cards can use old magic terms and retired phrases. Prepare to see a lot of Fear, and some primitive verbiage like Bury and Interrupt. (Lookin’ at you, inevitable Kanye card “Imma Let You Finish”.)

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In and Out of Bounds

We wanted to define for ourselves what belongs in this cube and what doesn’t. Sure, it was originally just “as long as it’s pop culture relevant” but the more we talk the more subjective that seems. Now that we’re posting these online as well, we have to keep things kosher. Swearing is fine, who gives a crap. But making a card for Hurricane Katrina is not fine, nor is a 9/11 card. No disasters, no genocides, no wars. Drugs, dictators, and serial killers straddle the line – we think if we handle them well, they may work. We should treat the dead respectfully. Other sensitive topics have yet to be broached and we’ll have to cross those bridges when we come to them.

We’ve also been talking about our next cube, which will focus on US politics and will be designed alongside the upcoming presidential election. Some cards we are internally vetoing because we feel they’d more belong here. We’ve also discussed potential history-focused, music-focused, and movie-focused cubes that occasionally shape the design space of the pop culture cube.

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Influences

We can’t change who we are. Sean and I are American, from northern California specifically. What’s pop-culture-relevant here won’t hold elsewhere, and we shouldn’t strive to simulate a non-existent global pop culture. We’re nerds, we like Star Wars and Tarantino and all sorts of vidya games, and thankfully among Magic players we’re almost always in good company. We’re in our late 20s, we don’t know precisely what’s hip with kids these days. We live in a rural area, with infrequent exposure to cultural epicenters and their advertising. We’re also both straight, white males and that probably has intanglible effects on our designs.

Mario

Since what is and what is not pop-culture-relevant are subjective, we try to include as many ubiquitous people, places, and things as we can so that it’s relevant for as many people as possible. But we don’t want to limit ourselves completely. If we have a non-mainstream idea and we want to go for it, we will. If it’s too obscure it’ll get cut in development anyway.

Roadmap

We’ve started outlining movies, tv shows, music, and more to draw inspiration from. As Mark Rosewater would say, we want to hit as many notes as possible. We’re hoping to cover most media franchises with 1 card only for the most part, with additional cards for more popular franchises. If you have any media or anything else pop-culture-relevant to suggest, let us know.

In the coming weeks, we’ll have a few articles spoiling some new mechanics. Until then, enjoy this teaser for Bards, Talent, Songs, and Phrases, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.