Cubes have been around for decades now in games like Magic, but have been a little slow to catch on with the Pokémon community. For the longest time it seemed as though building and maintaining a collection of constructed decks from previous Standard and Expanded formats was going to replace cube draft in the eyes of most Pokémon players, but over the past few years cubing has been picking up steam.
As someone who finds the act of building cubes and drafting infinitely more entertaining and thought provoking than playing old constructed decks, I'm very glad this is the case! I want to do everything I can to encourage others to bring their own cubes to life.
Building a cube from scratch is no easy feat, mostly because there is no truly right or wrong way to go about it. My goal is that after reading this article, you'll have a framework to think about the design of your cube, and the confidence to do whatever feels most fun for you and your playgroup. After all, making something special and unique is half the fun of maintaining a cube.
Simply put, a cube is a collection of cards that you draft from. If you're familiar with booster draft, imagine that instead of opening packs of the latest set, you shuffle a big stack of cards that you've chosen specifically because they work well together. Then you deal that stack into "packs" of cards, and draft those.
Typically, each player in the cube drafts three 15-card packs. While there are other options, I think for the majority of cubes this is the best place to start, as each player seeing each pack twice leads to interesting drafting decisions and information signals.
Building a cube is a way to repurpose old cards from your collection that are gathering dust in your closet, a way to draft without having to constantly buy booster packs, and most importantly, an alternative way to have fun playing the Pokémon TCG.
The first step to creating a cube is determining what size you'd like it to be. How many cards go in the cube may not seem like the most important thing to figure out, but it is crucial to understanding what type of cube you're going to build and how the experience will play out. For instance, a true singleton cube really only functions if every card is being opened in every draft, so that players have maximum outs to building a playable and fun deck. If you're building a cube with several copies of the same Trainer cards to maximize consistency, you may want to make it a little bit bigger so the games and decks are more varied.
As always, there is no right answer, but here are the choices I would recommend:
360 cards will facilitate every card being opened in an eight-player draft in which three packs of 15 cards are opened by each player. This will lead to a much more consistent experience regardless of the specific type of cube you build.
The downside of 360 cards is the replayability factor is a little bit lower, simply because there are fewer cards and there's a guarantee that they will all be opened.
540 cards is the middle ground of the most common cube sizes. It's enough bigger than a 360 cube that the experience will be a lot more varied and you'll be much less restrained on which cards you can include, but it's enough smaller than a 720 cube that you can rely on high-synergy decks and combo decks coming together a little more frequently.
I personally think most cubes are best at 540 cards, but as always it is heavily context dependent.
Building a 720 card cube will allow all cards to be opened by 16 players each drafting three packs of 15 cards. As anyone that owns a cube knows it can be difficult enough to fire a draft with six or eight players, much less 16, but there are definitely areas and playgroups that want to support the maximum number of players. Additionally, 720 cards allows you to have a ton of wiggle room to jam in experimental cards, and allows archetypes to be much more varied and non-traditional.
Will your cube use current high-HP monsters like Tag Team GXs and VMAX Pokémon? If so, any single prizers you include will need to be able to stand up to the huge numbers printed on those Rule Box Pokémon in one way or another. Are you focused more on Stage 2 decks with low damage output that lead to grindy, decision-heavy games? That opens up a lot more cards throughout the history of the game for you to include, but also means you probably shouldn't play anything printed in the last five years worth two or more prizes.
A pretty common theme is to only build from a certain era. "Base to Rocket," "only cards from Diamond and Pearl sets," and "Sun and Moon forward" are all cubes that I've played and enjoyed.
My personal favorite cubes have both been designed by Kyle Sucevich. The first is what I think of when I imagine a "classic" cube. It is relatively low power level, medium consistency, and encourages very grindy, interaction-heavy games. I think this is a really good place to start if you want to explore the world of cubing, though I will say the games are a lot different than what you're likely used to if the whole of your Pokémon TCG experience has taken place in the past two or three years.
The second cube, and the one that I am currently having the most fun with, is Kyle's singleton cube. Unfortunately there is no list readily available online, but it is exactly what it sounds like: within the entire cube, there is one Charmander, one Charmeleon, and one Charizard. The same goes for every line of Pokémon and every card in the cube. The same even goes for every unique character (meaning since Bill's Maintenance (ex14-71) is in the cube, Bill (base4-118) is on the sidelines)!
While this may seem like a recipe for disaster, I have found it to be incredibly fun and rewarding. The entire cube is drafted every time, meaning that all the cards will be opened, even if the ones you want won't necessarily come to you. Having to pay attention to what is missing from packs and change your drafting strategy on a dime is a huge part of the fun. While it's true that your deck will often not come together as picture-perfect as you planned, I have rarely seen anyone have an unplayable deck in this cube. The games are more high-variance, but also much more quick and explosive than the "classic" cube, and the drafting portion is an emotional rollercoaster I'd recommend to anyone that loves playing card games.
Once you've determined the size and power level of your cube, you are basically ready to go. There are a lot more decisions to make about what specific cards to include and how many of each, but that is something that you'll ultimately have to answer on your own, and will very likely change with time and tinkering.
Before I go, though, I would like to leave you with a few smaller recommendations:
In general I would aim for 60-70% of your cube to be made up of Pokémon, and the rest Trainers and Special Energy. In my experience, this provides enough variation in Pokémon to allow for playable decks even if the deck of your dreams doesn't come together, and enough Trainers to make sure your final build is consistent, while forcing some tough decisions in the drafting portion.
This is probably the most commonly asked cube question in the community. At least, it's the one I've been asked the most in my time cubing.
In Pokémon, a "mutant" format means that Pokémon Evolution is done by Stage (Basic, Stage 1, Stage 2) and Type rather than by name. For example, under mutant rules, Charmander (pl4-59) > Charmeleon (pl4-35) > Charizard (pl4-1) is a completely legal Evolution line, but so is Charmander (pl4-59) > Salazzle (sm75-14) > Emboar (bwp-BW21).
The advantages of mutant rules are that it allows for the draft to be a lot more flexible. You no longer need to worry about not completing lines while drafting, as you can just include anything that matches the Type and Stage you're looking for. Additionally, it allows your cube to mirror cubes from other games by being sort of a collection of "greatest hits." An average cube looks a lot different when you can replace the five copies of Monferno with cards that have a little more play to them.
Although I have advocated for mutant in the past, my most fun and engaging cube experiences have come from non-mutant cubes, so I would personally shy away from them. I think having to adhere to normal evolution rules adds a layer of complexity to both cube construction and drafting that is sorely missed in an environment without such restrictions.
Assuming that you're going to build a non-mutant cube of one of the standard sizes listed above, I would generally aim for your Pokémon lines to have between eight and 10 of any given Basic, six and eight of any given Stage 1, and four and six of any given Stage 2. As an example, your Charizard line would look something like this:
I've also found that most cubes want to have a single Stage 2 line (such as Charizard) and a single Stage 1 line (such as Salazzle) per Type, in order to make sure there are enough Pokémon of each Type to go around. I would recommend slightly smaller lines for the Stage 1 line of your choice, something like six of the Basic and four of the Stage 1.
Because of the way that the designers of the Pokémon TCG like to tinker with things every so often, the game has gone through a lot of rule and aesthetic changes. For instance, we now have Pokémon Powers, Poké Powers, Poké Bodies, and Abilities. From a pure rules standpoint, there are consistent changes to what each player is allowed to do on their first turn. These changes are important and generally positive, as they create a more streamlined rules engine for each era of constructed, but they can get a bit messy when playing with cards from 2020 alongside those from 2002.
I believe most cube designers will be best served by leaving things alone as much as possible. Play the current first turn rules, adhere to what is written on the cards, create as few rules as possible that are not going to be intuitive to the average player, and try to avoid as many hidden rules as possible. While there are some advantages to changing the first turn rule or considering all Poké Powers to be Abilities, cube is already an intimidating experience for most players. Reducing the amount of homework is very important to cultivating a positive experience and encouraging a group of players to want to play your cube repeatedly.
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I hope that you are excited about the world of cube and everything it has to offer, even if you want to build a 900 card mutant cube with 15 different rules changes. Cubes are a deeply personal project, and I hope that you become as enamored by them as I have.
I'll leave you with links to three cubes that I have either played and enjoyed, or which seem interesting to me: