Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Magic Halloween Cube

Lurebound Scarecrow by Nils Hamm

After drafting multiple times with two other players with my friend’s two boxes of Magic: The Gathering’s Return to Ravnica set, the experience was becoming stale. I suggested to my friends that we cube draft – something that none of us had done before. For those who don’t know, Cube is a casual format where you select at least 360 Magic cards from your collection intended for drafting or playing sealed deck with other players (typically eight people). After explaining what Cube is all about to my buddy, he desired to try this out. My soul… it’s so ecstatic. Problem, though: none of us have our own cube!

Between my friends and I, I have the most extensive Magic: The Gathering collection. I have enough material to at least be able to sculpt something fresh from among my cards and not just have it be something like Zendikar: Cube Edition. So, it was up to me to put together a cube. I was relishing this chance. I’m excited about crafting a Limited experience by my own hand for others to enjoy – this must be related to why I loved making Dungeons & Dragons dungeons during middle school.

Gimme Some Sugar Cube

What kinds of cards go into a Magic: The Gathering cube? First, what makes for a strong cube is to have a theme. Every person’s cube has a different theme just as different Magic sets have their own themes. The most popular kind of cube, however, is one full of the most powerful cards in Magic ever. In fact, for some folks, “a bunch of the most powerful cards” and “Cube” are synonymous. While I have no doubts in how fun playing with those cards can be, building a cube with this theme doesn’t excite me. Also, the most powerful cards in Magic tend to be some of the most expensive. And I don’t have these expensive cards. …I’m definitely doing something else.

Some cubers (people who play Cube; or, incidentally, people who solve puzzles like Rubik’s Cubes) have pauper (all commons) cubes or “no rares” cubes. Others have tribal cubes (cards that care about creature types and a bunch of creatures with the same creature type, so you can have Elf decks or Goblin decks and whatnot). Fittingly, I ended up building a tribal themed cube; though, I didn’t do so intentionally.

Delif's Cube by Mark Tedin
I was wracking my brain for what theme my cube would be all about when I started thinking of the kinds of themes other games tend to cover. Free-to-play games, the part of the games industry I have experience in, tend to generate a lot of content (usually weekly) with all sorts of different themes, and the kind of theme always-leveraged are holidays. So, that’s when I thought of Halloween – perfect!

Here’s why Halloween is an awesome choice of a theme:

1) It creates a deadline for finishing my cube. I tend to not define deadlines for the projects I work on (a bad habit of mine). As you can imagine, the projects I begin typically are never completed. I couldn’t let this happen, especially when there’s a friend who’s waiting on me to finish building a cube.

2) A Halloween-themed cube lends itself to being consisted of the cards I love. Obviously, because Halloween is related to horror, we’re going to use cards from the Innistrad block. Innistrad is one of my favorite blocks, but so is another block that is fitting for this cube’s theme: Shadowmoor (It's the closest to a Nightmare Before Christmas feel, which is great). Shadowmoor was the first set to be released when I had gotten back into playing Magic: The Gathering after “quitting” during Fifth Dawn (Yes, this does mean I missed the original Ravnica block, Kamigawa, and Time Spiral), so it holds a special place in my heart.

On an aside, I returned to playing Magic: The Gathering after Morningtide had already released, and partly due to the nudgings by my friend while I was in college. Another part of me getting back into Magic was getting pumped by this commercial.

So, Shadowmoor block has a lot of artifact creature Scarecrows in it (over twenty of them). Mashing it up with the races of Innistrad meant that we’d have SIX major creature types. This was instrumental in deciding that my cube would have a major tribal theme – something that Innistrad wasn’t before.

You see, Innistrad is a set with mechanical themes that related to creatures dying and spells in the graveyard; also, the mostly-werewolf mechanic of double-faced cards was a big mechanic. The tribal part of Innistrad was only a lesser component – it was never a major theme. The Halloween cube is the chance to bring back Innistrad’s Werewolves, Spirits, Vampires, and Zombies and make building a deck with a bunch of creatures of a certain creature type actually matter.

Drogskol Captain by Peter Mohrbacher

The Six Faces of the Cube

So, here’s what’s new being brought to the table with using these Innistrad cards: creature types matter even more than before, there’s a new tribe (Scarecrows), and cards from the previous tribal blocks, Lorwyn and Onslaught, would be used to support the tribal theme; so cards of old would be interacting with the new cards in a meaningful way. Lastly, for Humans, Vampires, Zombies, and Spirits: there’s a lot more older cards to use to join and/or replace their Innistrad counterparts.

Human creatures, obviously, are in all the colors. In Innistrad block, they were green-white focused. However, curiously, there are a significant number of red “Humans matter” cards when Avacyn Restored was released. There are also the red Werewolves that start out as Human before they transform into non-Human. So, when combining cards from Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored; you get Naya Humans (red-green-white). This led to me looking to stretch the colors of the other tribes to an extra ally color (yet another twist)! And because Shards of Alara block existed, there would be the mana-fixing cards to include in the cube to support a three-color mana base for decks.

Sadly, however, black Werewolves and blue Vampires are scarce (there aren’t any monoblue vampires). But how could I NOT include the original black Werewolves? Luckily, though, blue’s got access to “vampires:” The Mistform cards from Onslaught block. Also, for every color, there are the Shapeshifters with changeling (a keyword that says the creature has every single creature type ever). So, it’s not that bad to decide on Jund (black-green-red) Werewolves or Grixis (blue-black-red) Vampires. Though, Esper (white-blue-black) Zombies is kind of awkward, since there’s not that many white Zombies either. Well, besides the changelings.

I decided to go ahead with having three-color mana support cards, anyway; to shake up the two-color tendency of Limited Innistrad decks. Also, this enables the Naya Humans and Bant (green-white-blue) Spirits decks.

Vigilante Justice by Steve Prescott
I won’t provide my actual cube list because it’s not optimal as it is now – I don’t have all the cards that I would like to include, and I’m missing certain dual lands. This led to not having Greater Werewolf and Lesser Werewolf and me choosing to use some less-than-stellar cards in lieu of others I would have preferred but don’t own. But, I will tell you about some interesting things I’ve found when building the cube.

The first thing I did was grab all the Scarecrow cards I had. I had just about twenty different Scarecrows. Sadly, though, I don’t have Straw Soldiers or the original Scarecrow card (Straw Soldiers is totally going into this cube in the future)! So, in order for Scarecrows (and Werewolves) to be able to compete with the other creature types in terms of numbers available in the cube, I was going to need to build a smaller cube than some of the ones that others have.

The number of 360 cards, the smallest suggested amount for a cube, was perfect. This meant 45 cards for each category: white, blue, black, red, green, artifact, multicolor, and land. And there would be just over twenty cards in each color that would have creatures – this meant that Werewolves would be able to shine, and this also meant Scarecrows, being about twenty in number, can effectively inhabit the artifacts slot as if it were a “sixth color.” Lastly, building the minimal amount of 360 cards is a great place for me to start, as this is my very first cube.

Building Blocks

Having a starting point for the Halloween cube with tribal cards very much helps narrow down the decisions you make. If it weren’t for deciding upon horror creature-type tribal, then I wouldn’t have been able to narrow in on using cards of only those creature types and tribal cards to support them from Onslaught block and Lorwyn block. It also helps narrow down the kinds of cards you need to include for every color.

Moonmist by Ryan Yee
For example, Moonmist is a Fog-like effect that is a Werewolf tribal card. Green usually has a card that has an effect like Fog. Thus, since I know I’m including this card, I was able to eliminate all the Fog-like cards I had in my collection from taking up any of the remaining twenty-or-so noncreature card slots. Rise from the Grave made the creature you bring back a Zombie, which is great for this cube, which meant I didn’t need to consider other cards that bring creatures back to the battlefield.

The same goes for the kinds of abilities on creatures. Green usually has a creature that taps to give you mana. Avacyn’sPilgrim is a Human and does fulfill that criterion – this means Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise are not eligible for including in my cube!


Spirits were exciting to work with since they are found in every color. Also, there are quite a few Spirit token-making cards! Sure, there are creatures from Innistrad that gave you Spirit tokens upon dying, but there’s Funeral Pyre, Spectral Procession, and Midnight Haunting all available to be used together! Because of this, I knew there was now a tokens archetype in my cube, so I included cards like Intangible Virtue and strongly considered anything that made tokens, whether they were Humans or Zombies.  An example of this is Penumbra Spider, providing not only the reach keyword that green needs but the token that token decks care about. Finally, black has Aether Snap to combat the tokens (and counters of any kind) specifically (don’t worry, though; the other colors have ways to handle a bun of tokens, too; Evacuation in blue, for example).

And Kamigawa was a gold mine for Spirits, giving me cards like Wandering Ones (a vanilla 1/1 for blue with a creature type that matters) and Harbinger of Spring (protection from non-Spirit creatures? How tribally-relevant). The big thing was having Spirits to include that had Soulshift, a mechanic that returns Spirits specifically from the graveyard to your hand. It’s combining cards together like these that made me discover how much I love putting together a cube.


Ghoulflesh by Igor Kieryluk
Zombies provided the most extensive amount of creature cards available to choose from, so I’ve got cards like Cemetery Reaper, Grave Defiler, and Soulless One in the cube. I was most excited by using Ghoulflesh! You see, black has a thing where it has both negative Auras (cards you’ll want to enchant your opponents’ cards with) and positive Auras. Often, the positive Auras can also be negative in that it might provide more in exchange for taking away from toughness. In Ghoulflesh’s case, the fact that it turns the creature into a Zombie matters in this cube. In fact, it might become a positive card when you want a non-Zombie you control to benefit from a card you have that cares about Zombies.

Sadly, alongside not having the card All Hallow’s Eve (a must-have for a Halloween cube) I do not own Zombie Apocalypse. Once I acquire one, it’s totally going in. And when I eventually cast it, I'll enjoy the relevance of Flight of the Conchords' "Humans Are Dead" song.


For Vampires, I had to include the iconic staple Vampire of Magic: The Gathering: Sengir Vampire. Next, the fact that Vein Drinker is a black Vampire with as red activation cost made it a perfect inclusion. To support the potential for a Grixis Vampire deck, I had Szadek, Lord of Secrets included among my gold cards (he also supports the milling strategy).

Sengir Vampire by Kev Walker


Now, the Werewolf-y cards in Innistrad block didn’t just care about Werewolves – they also cared about the creature type Wolves. So, I made sure that both green and red had Wolf cards alongside the Werewolves. Howl of the Night Pack has never been so exciting! What was really cool was finding Tel-Jilad Wolf in my collection. Its ability is perfect for interacting with opponents’ Scarecrow cards! Lastly, having Tundra Wolves in white to fulfill a one-drop slot and the need to have first strike in white somewhere was awesome.


Since there are so many Humans to choose from, after auto-including the cards that mention caring about Humans specifically, I looked to include any Humans that support any archetypes. While Hedron Crab and Merfolk Mesmerist are fine cards for supporting a milling strategy, Cathartic Adept’s “Human-ness” made it more valuable as a milling-related creature in my cube.

Actually, a note about Hedron Crab: It’s a powerful milling creature. I would love using it in my own milling decks. However, it would be so wrong to include in this cube, and it’s not because it’s a Crab creature instead of a Human. It’s because the card cares about lands entering the battlefield, which detracts from the tribal theme of the cube. This is a lesson in Magic: The Gathering design – the cards you have in your set (or Cube) need to pull their weight in contributing toward the greater good, especially the commons.


Because Scarecrows were going to be a major tribe, it needed to be on the same level as the other tribes. The other tribes have cards that “hate” against them. Human Frailty destroys Humans and Angel of Glory’s Rise wrecks Zombies. I needed a way for players to foil Scarecrows (but not too much – Fracturing Gust would just be mean). Thank goodness Magic R&D decided to design Boggart Arsonists. I love this card so much for specifically referencing Scarecrows AND for actually having plainswalk, a rare ability to find on a creature.

Boggart Arsonists, while awesome, isn’t enough. It’s a good thing there’s already red, white, and green cards that destroy artifacts. I actually considered including Terror for the unique situation of black NOT being able to have an answer for a creature with a major creature type when facing Scarecrows, but my cube was too small to include this destruction spell when I already had tribe-related “destroy” effects in the form of CruelRevival, Pack’s Disdain, etc. In fact, I may have too many! But I opted to include potentially too many awesome tribal effects like these rather than not have enough. Part of having a cube is that you often update it at least four times a year due to a new set releasing with new cards that would be applicable for your cube.

Ancient Stirrings by Vincent Proce
Ancient Stirrings was beneficial when playing with Eldrazi back in the Rise of the Eldrazi set. Ancient Stirrings in this cube’s context means you can pick up a Scarecrow! Sa-weet. Also, blue’s Fabricate pulls more weight in this Cube with being able to tutor for the Scarecrow you need (perhaps a Reaper King?).

Also, props to Innistrad for adding one more Scarecrow, which was an appropriate decision given the setting of the plane.

Solving the Cube

Creating a Halloween cube was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself in terms of Magic: The Gathering. I’m a Magic design enthusiast and creating a cube helped my development sensibilities. As I was going through the cards in my Magic collection, I was sorting the noncreature cards by the types of effects they provide. Now, I know I’ve been involved in Magic design theory and know what sort of effects go in each color, but there’s nothing quite like seeing all the iterations of the same kinds of effects in front of you. All the Giant Growths, Murders, and Lightning Bolts; and deciding which ones will matter most with the context of the other. And when I play this cube with my friends, I’m going to see what worked and what didn’t. And that’s doing Magic development.

Doubling Cube by Mark Tedin
The decisions I was making from the starting point of Halloween theme all the way down to the individual card choices were like solving a puzzle and placing down the puzzle pieces. I love that. But, this puzzle was like solving a Sudoku puzzle. When you select a card to put into your cube, it’s not just putting that metaphorical ‘3’ in a square for a row – you’re also fulfilling the ‘3’ needed for that same column and larger square it is in. Again, Hedron Crab wasn’t quite the ‘3’ you needed for the collection of milling cards in the cube – the Cathartic Adept was. And it’s a Human, for cards like Human Frailty to care about (not that there will be many games where someone will actually cast Human Frailty on it rather than a more-threatening Human card). And it’s a creature that costs one mana, to fulfill the need for a certain number of cards in blue that cost one mana. God, I love how it all fits together.

It’s Halloween as I write this, which means I’ve got a completed cube and a Halloween board game party to attend (cthulhu-themed and zombie-themed board games!). And the after-party: Magic: The Gathering Halloween cubing! Happy Halloween, guys!

All Hallow's Eve by Christopher Rush


  1. Should've included the list would've liked to see it :)

    1. I plan to do a follow-up post where I post my cube list. I'll probably be tweaking my cube after my first few cubing sessions. Also, given that this is my first cube, it's more likely I've got a few things wrong. =)

  2. Did you ever post this list? Id love to check it out, I am also building a halloween themed cube.

    1. I never did! Thank you for asking. I started version two of the Halloween Cube, but I never completed it. I'll write a new post when I do a new version. And I hope to remember to comment here letting you know, Anonymous!

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