Friday, June 14, 2013

My Pauper Cube

In my faux report on Providence I made mention of my Pauper Cube. I realized I have not discussed it in depth recently and decided, oh well, what the hell.
That is not to say my Cube has not been discussed. The awesome Adam Styborksi has featured me and the Pauper Cube not once, but twice in his various publications. While The Stybs and I might disagree about certain inclusions, I am ever thankful for the ability to just talk shop with the man. 
As with any story, the best place the start is the beginning. I was living in Westchester and had just started playing paper Magic on the regular again. I frequented a local hobby shop that sponsored Magic tournaments and I quickly established myself as one of the better players. This was not hard, as I also raised the average age quite a bit - most of the clientele at the time were too young to get married in the Song of Ice and Fire series. These kids were nice and eager enough, so I decided to put together a Pauper Cube (since I was/am the Pauper guy) to help teach the store how to draft. This quickly fell apart but the owner was happy to have me take some commons off his hands. So happy he gave me a case of awful sleeves so my cube of commons could be protected. I still use those sleeves, and they're still terrible.
At this time I start harassing anyone who will listen to me on twitter about cube. It is how I make friends with Adam and start whittling and shaping the Cube into something that is in line with other Pauper stacks, but something wholly my own. I tried to seed my favorite pieces of limited into my cube, from Tribal to Multicolor. I work with other online Paupers and figure out a way to draft it on MTO and get some games in. I was ignorant of the problems with power balance and was just having fun.
Fast forward a few months and I become friends with another old fogey at this store: Seth Burn. I recognize Seth from the Stupid Green Deck and articles on websites gone by. This feeds his ego and is the start of our friendship. When I mention my Cube, we start doing regular one on one drafts, where he smashes me over and over. He was drafting slow, three color decks and I would try to blitz him out. It did not work. Seth found out the Cube was broken in favor of blue. After a significant amount of massaging, the Cube reached a balanced power level. Seth and I drafted, one on one, countless times. He developed ways to get more games in and keep it challenging (I'll get to these later).
I eventually moved to Brooklyn and my grudge match style games with Seth grew less frequent. However, with the advent of the 20 Sided Store, the number of actual drafts I have been able to do has gone up. It was one night drafting with Seth that led my Cube down a path I have not seen others take.
Color balance is a problem in Pauper Cubes. There are tons of sweet gold/hybrid/off color kicker & flashback cards, but the allied colors have the lions share. This creates a significant limitation on the number of gold cards any Pauper Cube can have. On top of that, hybrid cards are actively easier to cast (aside from Unmake), so placing Rendclaw Trow in Golgari, when in fact it is only non-Azorius, non-Izzet, non-Boros is a fallacy. This would put a limit on the number of Sweet Cards I would be able to play. A Cube is nothing if you can't play sweet cards, and as more multicolor comes out, it would create moments of constantly cutting good cards instead of adding. Again, Seth to the rescue.
What my curmudgeonly cube compatriot devised was a scheme so devious, only he could divine it. Rather than going by number of cards in each color and color pair, Seth devised a formula that counts the number of cards in each color pair. This means each guild has access to the same number of cards, but some cards are concentrated in gold and others are mono-color. The exception is Unmake, which unlike the aforementioned Tro, only counts as white, black, and Orzhov due to the triple hybrid cost. 
The results have been awesome. My Cube still gets to run all the awesome cards and when a new one comes along, I can add it and massage the numbers to keep the balance. This necessitates having a sideboard of almost cards (I affectionately call mine the Bench or the Triple A Squad), but drafting has actually gotten better with this system. 
As I draft more, I am going to start keeping more statistics on what is working and what is not, but first, I want to describe my favorite ways to test out my cube. When I started one on one, I would always Winston, but this would take up quite a bit of time. When I learned about Winchester , Seth and I quickly took to the format as our preferred way to draft. Seth then decided it would be better to Winchester 168 cards and build three decks each, then play three matches, best of five. This would allow us to see more cards per session and see how they were working, while more closely mimicking a 6 or 8 person draft.
Seth was right; Winchester 168 is awesome.
Of course, then I found out about Grid Draft. Even faster than Winchester, this format led to stronger decks. Of course when Seth got wind of this, he decided that one deck per draft was not enough. 
I think you know where this is going. Seth declared we would Grid a stack of 252 cards and build three decks each. 
Seth was right; Grid 252 is awesome.
I love Grid 252 because it gives stronger decks overall while also letting me see what cards are consistently going unplayed. I also love how much playing it actually allows me to do. With a little more time for drafting, I can be challenged in new ways with deckbuilding decisions and then get to play three matches of Magic. This is awesome, because I am a degenerate.
So this was my first attempt in discussing my Cube in  over two years. Take a look at my list and let me know what you think.

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