Back when Magic first began, there was no such thing as booster draft or even sealed deck. The only way to play Magic was to build a deck out of whatever cards you owned and then find an opponent who did the same. Soon constructed formats emerged (Type 1 and Type 2) as well as sealed deck and finally booster draft in its most primitive form. It wasn't until Mirage in 1996 when sets started being designed with Limited in mind. Attempting to play Limited with sets prior was quite difficult for a variety of reasons: excessive amounts of basic lands in boosters, differing numbers of cards in boosters across expansions, high densities of cards that functionally do nothing, etc.

I began playing Magic in 1995, and I've been an avid Limited player pretty much since the beginning. A few years ago, back when Cube Drafting started to come into existence, I began designing what I called the Stone Age Cube, which contained only cards from before Mirage. The idea was I wanted to create a way to play Limited with all the cards that were printed prior to sets being designed with Limited in mind. With the rise of the Old School "93-94" format over the past two years, I decided to revise my Stone Age Cube by removing Ice Age, Alliance, and Homelands (and Mana Crypt) to make it an Old School Cube. I've been testing and tuning it with various groups of friends and it has definitely become my favorite Cube! The game play is interesting, the decks are diverse, and most of all the nostalgia factor is unparalleled.

Here is a list of all 360 cards in The Old School Cube - if you add and check out with these one section at a time the Optimizer can do all the hard work for you.

Designing and Developing the Cube

In designing the Old School Cube, I basically started by eliminating every card that had no chance of ever making it into someone's draft deck, such as Farmstead, Pyramids, Sorrow's Path, etc. This unfortunately eliminated about half of the already small pool of cards to choose from. After that I basically wanted to keep things as imaginative as possible while also ensuring there would be draftable archetypes. The finished product is something I am quite proud of and I hope that some small circles of players gain immense enjoyment from playing with this brainchild of mine for many years to come. It's a project I put quite a bit of effort into, although I think there is still some room for potentially improving it. Aside from perhaps a handful of cards that did not make the cut maybe being slightly better than the worst handful of cards that did make the cut, the one design decision I am still on the fence about is the inclusion of all the hate cards.

Magic in the beginning was quite hateful. Enemy colors would do things like Gloom, Flashfires, Tsunami, Deathgrip, Lifeforce, Karma, Cleanse, Hellfire, Conversion, Acid Rain, and Active Volcano each other. Their inclusion in the cube adds an interesting dynamic to the draft portion, as well as sideboarding, but can make for less interesting game play. Things like Red and Blue Elemental Blast I think are fine, as are Whirling Dervish, Mountain Yeti, White Knight, and Black Knight. Spinal Villain and Exorcist are probably fine too, but I could see them also going. Circles of Protection are also pretty powerful and might fall into this hate category, but they play a pretty important part in white's color identity, so I think they belong. I could see removing the most hateful color hosers, but the problem is there aren't many playables left to choose from as far as replacements. You could instead just remove the color hosers and draft with 14-card boosters instead of 15. I'm not entirely convinced which of these options is the best one, but I've at least gotten it to the stage of development where that's basically the final decision that needs to be made. For now, I'm leaving the hate cards in until someone convinces me otherwise. My deciding reason for doing so is that it preserves a big part of Magic's early feel, even if that proves to be more of a feel bad than a feel good. Obviously feel free to tailor your own version to your own preference.

The disparity in power levels between the most powerful cards and the least powerful cards in this cube is quite large. This I think is fairly unavoidable since the card pool we are drawing from is narrow as is, meaning we can't improve the least powerful cards in the cube. The only other option is removing the most powerful cards, but that would significantly take away from the enjoyment of playing with this cube if it didn't contain Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Demonic Tutor, Mind Twist, Moxen, Sol Ring, etc. This is the original habitat for those cards and so removing them would take away too much from the authenticity of the experience. I did remove Contract from Below, however, as it was not only the most powerful card in the cube but also required making an exception for adding it since it says to remove from your deck if not playing for ante. I kept cards like Chaos Orb, Falling Star and Shahrazad in the cube because they add to players' enjoyment whereas Contract from Below really does not.

Another fairly unavoidable issue with regard to disparity of power level is that between colors. Blue is definitely the most powerful color in the cube, followed by black. Third is pretty close between red and white, and green is the weakest. Today's design philosophy always seems to strive for color pie symmetry and balance in power levels for Limited play, but I think having imbalanced color powers plays out fine. It just means there will on average be three or four players at the table trying to draft blue in some capacity and only one or two trying to draft green. Some of the most powerful blue cards can be splashed (Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Timetwister), so the people trying to commit hard to blue will be the ones fighting over Control Magic, Mana Drain and Braingeyser whereas anyone could pick up a dual land or two and splash for a blue power card. If too many try to go heavy into blue, then all the blue drafters will end up with weaker decks that get beat by the drafters that have free reign to take all the best cards of the other colors.

Another design decision I made was to use the Alpha versions of Orcish Oriflamme and Orcish Artillery since they are each printed as costing 1R instead of 3R and 1RR respectively in Beta onward. These mana costs I think are more appropriate for this cube, giving red a little extra boost. The rest of the cards in the cube are from Collector's Edition, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, and Fallen Empires. Aside from the two cards mentioned, I chose Collector's Edition instead of Alpha or Beta because they look nearly identical and are much easier to acquire.

Combos and Archetypes

The cube has lots of individual card combos to look out for that can help give your deck a significant boost. These are a few of the noteworthy combos in the cube.

Twiddle + Time Vault = extra turn
Power Artifact + Basalt Monolith = infinite mana
Ball Lightning + Blood Lust + Berserk = 20 damage
Channel + Fireball = dead
Lord of the Pit + Breeding Pit = strategy win and flavor win
Rubinia Soulsinger + Diamond Valley / Ashnod's Altar = kill each turn
Icy Manipulator + Royal Assassin / Tetsuo Umezawa = kill each turn
Chaos Orb + Argivian Archaeologist / Guardian Beast = reusable orb
Winter Orb / Howling Mine + Icy Manipulator / Relic Barrier = one-sided effects
Land Tax + Land's Edge = 6 damage per turn

These are some of the archetypes that are draftable in the cube:

White Creatures

White-Blue Control

Mono-Black

Red-Green-x Zoo Land Destruction

Grixis Reanimator

Green Ramp

These are some more draftable archetypes:

Green-White Erhnam Geddon

Jund Land Destruction with Nether Void

Blue-Red Counter-Burn

Blue-Black Control

Mono-Brown Workshop

Multicolor midrange good stuff decks

The best part is that this list of 12 archetypes is by no means exhaustive. For instance, you could draft a heavy artifact deck around Balance, a white-red deck built around Land Tax and Lands Edge, a Eureka deck with Demonic Tutor to find it, a haterade deck with all the color hosers and Jalum Tome to filter away the ones that don't work in each matchup, and perhaps there is even a way to draft a Stasis deck (with Serra Angel?). I meant it when I said one of my top priorities was to preserve as much space for imagination as possible when drafting this cube. I believe creative exploration was one of Magic's greatest strengths in the beginning, and so I wanted to make sure to capture that as best as possible with this cube. I also wanted it to be fun the twentieth time you draft it and not just the first; novelty of experience is the best way to ensure that happens.

Should you invest in assembling an Old School Cube?

It is obviously very expensive to assemble it, so most people will not be able to even if they wanted to. For the few who can afford it or who have a lot of the cards already and it's just a matter of picking up some of the more obscure cards like Telekinesis and Tawnos's Coffin, I'd say go for it. And for anyone who is financially able to buy the whole thing outright, I believe it is a financially strong long-term (and even short-term) investment. I put my version together around eight years ago and it was worth around $2,500. It is now worth nearly $20,000. This is largely due to climbing prices of Legacy cards combined with the explosion in popularity of the Old School format. I see no reason to believe either of these sources of demand will slow down anytime soon. So if you have the resources to invest, it is likely a good financial decision to do so. And you will also get a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of playing it with your trusted friends while it appreciates in value.

The Old School Cube is perhaps the most awesome piece of nostalgia you can pull out of the closet and play with your friends that you first learned how to play Magic with in the early nineties. Even if they haven't played Magic in over twenty years, drafting the Old School Cube will likely be one of the most enjoyable experiences playing Magic you or they have ever had.

Who's ready to Cube Draft like it's 1994?

Craig Wescoe
@Brimaz4Life