Community Voices

2022 — Cube in Review

January 17th, 2023

2022 was a big year for Cube and for Magic more broadly. We saw record numbers of new cards, in terms of mechanically unique game pieces as well as bold, new variations of existing cards through Secret Lairs. Our largely online Cube community was manifested in real life at the first annual CubeCon. Just as in in past years, we’ve reached out to some of our friends from across the Cube world to paint a picture of what 2022 meant for the format.

This year’s review covers all the sets released in 2022:

Introducing this year’s respondents:

Justin Parnell is 15-year veteran of the Cube community. He is the host of the sadly shuttered podcast The 540 and one of the organizers of the first annual CubeCon. You can see his work on Twitter and YouTube.

Zachary Barash is a game designer best known for his work on Kingdom Death: Monster and his weekly column at Hipsters of the Coast, Drawing Live. Attendees of CubeCon might also recognize his UMA-Inspired Cube.

Myagic is an avid Cube designer and a central figure in the Cube community. She is known for her Fae Cube and her passionate guest appearances on The Uber Cube Podcast, which are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Parker LaMascus, one-fourth of Lucky Paper, is a prolific Cube designer and writer. In between Lucky Paper articles, he occasionally contributes to the Cultic Cube channel, frequently talks Cube on Riptide Lab, and endlessly tinkers with his cube, The Ship of Theseus.

Andy Mangold is the creator of Lucky Paper, co-host of Lucky Paper Radio, and designer of the Bun Magic Kitchen Table Pro Tour Cube, Degenerate Micro-Cube, and a dozen other half-baked cube lists.

Mishra's Bauble
Slimefoot, the Stowaway
Cube “Hit” of the Year

Justin: Maybe more than any other way to play Magic, Cube is about cultivating an experience for drafts, and often times this is not just the text on the cards included in any given Cube, but overall flavor of the Cube as an isolated experience. While I’m sure I will probably be able to say this for every year going forward, 2022 saw the highest number of unique variants, arts, and card treatments. Hundreds of new “old-bordered” cards, fifty Secret Lairs with brand new art, and five large expansions with buckets of variants for each card, and that’s without mentioning Warhammer 40,000. There is no year that has encompased the unique look and feel of a Cube like 2022.

Zachary: 2022 was a banner year for themes. The combination of many modular mechanics, preponderances of products, and the cumulative size of Magic has meant that more themes are fleshed out and cube-ready than ever before. Not only do staple themes like Mardu aristocrats, {U}{R} spells, {W}{G} lifegain, artifacts, and the graveyard have immense support, but they’re so supported that they’ve been transposed into different colors. Want to play Sultai Dragons? You’ve got Sivitri, Dragon Master and a whole swath of green, blue, and black dragons thanks to Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate (along with Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and Dragons of Tarkir). {W}{G} artifacts is far more viable thanks to The Brothers’ War. {U}{R} aristocrats has a whole shell thanks to Streets of New Capenna. And mono-{R} ramp gets stronger every time that a new Treasure-maker is made.

It’s an exciting time to be a cube designer, both because there are numerous options for how to build staple themes and more niche avenues to go down than ever before. That may sound a bit trite, since every year brings new Magic cards and more cards are being printed than ever before, but the modularity of this (and last) year’s sets opens up more space than ever before.

Crystal Dragon
Young Blue Dragon
Fang Dragon
Dread Linnorm

Myagic: When Commander Legends 2: Electric Boogaloo came out, I was extremely excited to see the return of Adventure as a mechanic. I personally elect all of the Adventure dragons as the biggest hit this year. With how popular Eldraine’s Adventure cards are for cube, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

Young Blue Dragon adds another cantrip while giving you a flying 5-drop later. Fang Dragon and Amethyst Dragon add to Burn while giving dragons for top end. Sword Coast Serpent and Sapphire Dragon give Blue Control options and late game creatures. Dread Linnorm has become one of my personal favorite top end cards for green. Use it midgame to protect your board and late game to close! Crystal Dragon is like if Order of Midnight and Serra Angel had a gay dragon baby. Recursion and late-game flyer is hard to beat in terms of value. My favorite part about these cards is that it gives us more top end threats that are relevant early in the game!

Parker: As weird as it’ll sound, 2022’s biggest hit was the sheer volume of cardboard printed. The huge print run of Standard-legal sets, the affordable reprints of Double Masters 2 and Jumpstart 2022, and proliferating premium card treatments all make it easy to find cheap cards at any power level. And, thanks to the ripple effects of CubeCon and offbeat online cubes, the broader Magic culture is becoming more accepting of cubes that aren’t interested in old (read: expensive) staples. Taken together, this means Cube is more accessible than ever before — and that’s great for the community.

Andy: Personally, the biggest hit for me this year was attending CubeCon. Meeting old friends from online and making new ones all in the context of playing Cube in paper was a great reminder of why I love this game and this format.

Lion Sash
Rabbit Battery
The Reality Chip

From a game perspective, my answer is the Reconfigure mechanic from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. One challenge of drafting synergistic decks (and consequently designing cubes that support synergistic strategies) is balancing enablers and payoffs right. An equipment theme may look great on paper, but as soon as you draw the wrong mix of enabler and payoff, you are punished for trying to do something cool instead of just drafting a bread-and-butter deck. As Cube designers, it’s our job to make sure the fun choice is also the strategically correct choice. For those that want equipment-matters and artifact-matters themes to be strategically correct, Reconfigure allows for higher densities of synergy enablers with less risk. I’ve praised cards like Ancestral Blade and Barbed Spike in the past for their draft patterns, and it’s a boon for cube designers to get another whole mechanic in this mold.

Cube “Miss” of the Year
Arcane Proxy

Justin: Might be a little early to call this one, but I’m going to say Arcane Proxy. I underestimated how important the “if you cast it” portion of the card would be, and Arcane Proxy is just much less powerful in practice than I was expecting. Only being able to “flashback” a 1 or 2 mana value card is pretty unimpressive, and even for seven mana, getting only a 4 mana value card and a 4/3 just doesn’t cut it most of the time. Add this to a long line of cards that have tried to get in line for the Snapcaster Throne, only to be found wanting.

Zachary: For me, the most awkward part of this year is a tie between card comprehension and mechanics.

First, card comprehension. Magic has gotten wordier over time. This trend accelerated with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths increasing complexity at common and reached its apex when Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty took the record for most average words per card (granted, NEO mitigated its complexity thanks to some very smart design). At the same time, there are more products than ever before. This has the benefit of providing cube designers more options, but it also increases the likelihood of players being unfamiliar with cards while cubing, or to just skip reading and playing unfamiliar or wordy cards entirely.

The combination of wordiness and unfamiliarity means lots more reading during draft and gameplay, something I’ve found most players to not be fans of. Enfranchised players tend to enjoy familiarity, less experienced players often feel pressure not to take too long, and all players have more trouble discerning what a cube is about. Hard-to-parse cards can lead to bogged-down games more about tracking large quantities of information and minimizing on-board mistakes than strategy and tactics. I believe that most players would enjoy Magic more if it were just a bit easier to parse.

Secondly, let’s talk mechanics. The design of Magic’s mechanics has changed over time. Part of this is likely due to there being less low-hanging fruit — Wizards has mined loads of elegant design space over the past 30 years. But the nature of how Magic gets made and who it’s for clearly influences mechanical design. Before 2015, each year needed a few mechanics robust enough to appear in multiple consecutive sets at high volume. Since 2018, most mechanics only appear in a single set, with perhaps a few one-offs in Commander and Modern Horizons sets. It’s hard to get sufficient density of any new mechanic to build around without breaking singleton or waiting several years for a return.

Then, there’s the added pressure from Commander. Building a hundred card singleton deck around a mechanic requires six or seven times a mechanic’s usual density to be viable. This encourages Wizards to create more modular mechanics so that Commander decks can be built around a theme, like Grixis Aristocrats, rather than a mechanic, like Maestros Casualty. This contributed to how strong 2022’s themes were, and led to some great designs with reprinted mechanics like Ninjutsu, Adventure, and Channel, but made for fairly lackluster new mechanics, in my opinion.

_____ Goblin
Comet, Stellar Pup
Mistakes Were Made

Myagic: Unfinity didn’t have any meaningful impact to my cubes. When a cube that has dice rolling and Un-cards doesn’t want anything, it’s not a particularly good sign. Un-cards should be in more cubes in general. They add a lot of unique variations of gameplay that other formats can’t provide. I’ve played around with Booster Tutor, Summon the Pack, and several others because they create interesting draft experiences. I didn’t get that from Unfinity. Plus, the flavor was particularly rough to introduce. I’ll happily keep playing cards like Ground Pounder, but The Space Family Goblinson was nowhere near what I’d touch for {G}{R} dice-rolling. It would be nice to have more Un-sets explore the drafting process like Conspiracy did.

Parker: Unfinity epitomized the worst impulses of Magic design, especially with its complexity. Three outside-the-game resources to track. One new card type demanding a new game zone and turn phase. Mechanical hooks that turn art and flavor into meaningless data. Templates that muddy simple designs with long instructions. All in one set! Funny jokes can’t rescue gameplay that’s indistinguishable from tax season.

Jetmir's Garden
Raffine's Tower
Spara's Headquarters
Xander's Lounge
Ziatora's Proving Ground

Andy: Finishing the cycle of triomes. To me, this cycle, and its hasty completion, is representative of how the trend of Magic has steadily diverged more and more from my own preferences in the game. This is obviously just one grumbling Cube designer’s perspective, but this question is for griping so here we go:

First, triomes are needlessly complex. Their gold card frame offers no visual cue as to which colors they produce. Moreover, triomes are modal cards where one mode (the land) is leagues better than the other (cycling). The triomes would be almost exactly as good without Cycling, so the fact that they do have an overcosted additional ability stapled to them is an example of Magic R&D just making cards do more, even if it’s not necessary or resonant.

Triomes also make drafting 4-5 color manabases too trivial. As I argued in my article from earlier this year, the quantity of fixing lands in a cube doesn’t have as big an impact on the viability of many-colored decks as the quality of those lands. And even worse, their high power level will likely make this phenomenon prevalent in power-motivated cubes.

I’m certain Magic R&D is aware of all these tradeoffs and I suspect they were probably discussed at length internally. But triomes are powerful, and players like them because players like powerful cards, so this cycle was finished less than two years from its first half hitting packs with Ikoria. Meanwhile, we’re approaching six years since the beautiful “bicycle” land cycle was started in Amonkhet, which suffers from none of my aforementioned issues, but in a world of triomes I don’t know if or when we’ll ever see this cycle finished.

Cube Card of the Year
Jetmir's Garden
Raffine's Tower
Spara's Headquarters
Xander's Lounge
Ziatora's Proving Ground

Justin: I feel like people will either strongly agree or disagree here! This is a five way tie for me — Jetmir's Garden, Raffine's Tower, Spara's Headquarters, Xander's Lounge, and Ziatora's Proving Ground. Huge slops to WotC for not just calling all of them Triomes, but I’m just happy we finished the cycle of ten so soon. I love lands, and love fixing my mana, and love powerful lands that come into play tapped (yay, aggro!) so these lands are potentially my favorite cycle of lands for Cube of all time.

Tameshi, Reality Architect

Zachary: We saw some absolute bangers this year. The push to bolster White in Commander likely reached its conclusion with cards like Lion Sash, Extraction Specialist, The Wandering Emperor, Loran of the Third Path, Serra Paragon, and Scholar of New Horizons (and has me wondering whether it’ll be Black or Blue to next get the focus on Commander buffing). We also saw incredible artifacts like Containment Construct, Currency Converter, Weathered Sentinels (which is absolutely busted in 1v1 Cube, especially the excellent Devoid Cube), and everything in The Brothers’ War. But I’m a Blue mage at heart, and I’ve got to give it to Tameshi, Reality Architect.

Sure, Tameshi is very wordy, but it is a product of 2022 and only has two abilities rather than three or four. Tameshi seems to have a perfect power level band where it can fit in cubes of various strengths without being over- or underpowered in any of them. It enables a whole host of synergies while also functioning well in cubes not designed around a high density of artifacts, enchantments, gating, or bounce spells. I find that every time I see a Tameshi in play, I learn a new combo or bit of functionality I’d never seen before. That constant discovery makes the card just an absolute joy.

Gut, True Soul Zealot

Myagic: Gut, True Soul Zealot is such an impressive card. While I only run her in my multiplayer cube, Gut should be played in more higher-power cubes. It’s a Rabblemaster that can overlap things like artifacts, aggro, and aristocrats. Best part about her is that she doesn’t have to attack herself. I highly recommend her if your environment can support it.

Wilson, Refined Grizzly is a solid runner-up for this slot. There are so many ways Wilson can be played that feel great to draft. You could make a more fair Bogles deck, stompy, or even midrange. Wilson is a strong card that fits a lot of cubes. You can’t go wrong with a bear with keyword soup. Just make sure your environment can handle that power.

The Wandering Emperor

Parker: The Wandering Emperor isn’t just powerful. She also represents a sea change in what a Planeswalker can be. Rather than unlocking more decisions as she remains in play, her decision space is greatest before she’s even cast, growing easier to manage (for both players) as the game goes on. Even after 15 years of Planeswalkers, The Wandering Emperor shows that the card type still has plenty of gas in the tank. A design masterpiece.

Ledger Shredder

Andy: Ledger Shredder. This card is clean and powerful. It rewards being built around while maintaining a decent floor, leads to interesting sequencing decisions for you and your opponent, synergizes with anything that cares about discarding cards or +1/+1 counters, plays in aggressive and defensive decks, and perhaps most importantly has a sick name. Honorable mentions to Lion Sash and Mawloc, who respectively offer incidental grave-hate and enters-the-battlefield fighting that I have loved.

Best Set for Cube

Justin: Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. I feel like this was the most complete set this year, and perhaps not for the reason one would think. Neon Dynasty didn’t provide a huge amount of “must includes” as many sets in the FIRE design era often do, but rather provided a lot of different angles for Cubes like artifact focused or mono-colored Cubes and niche archetypes like Ninjutsu, Channel, or Sagas. I really love when sets provide cards that make you want to try new archetypes or even build a new Cube. But even if you do have a more traditional Cube, Neon Dynasty still provided a handful of future Cube Hall of Famers like The Wandering Emperor, Boseiju, Who Endures and Fable of the Mirror Breaker.

Zachary: There’s a strong case to be made for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty — an excellent Limited format coupled with powerful & fun cards plus ample enchantment, artifact, and Ninjutsu support made it an all-timer. There’re also the gorgeous alternate-art reprints from Double Masters 2 and The Brothers’ War’s retro artifact sheet. Dominaria United was no slouch, either, especially if you’ve got a lower-powered or lower-rarity cube.

I’m going to go against the grain and pick the Warhammer 40,000 Commander Decks. No, they weren’t in booster packs and yes they’re controversial with some folks, but they were jam-packed with cube toys. The Necron deck alone opens up enormous possibility space for artifact cubes by turning black from a support color to a major player. 40K is not only chock-full of powerful and archetype-creating cards, it’s also going to be less looked over because it’s an undraftable supplemental set which had major product availability issues when people were paying attention to it. It will be a fantastic resource for cube designers looking to make their cubes stand out among the rest, either through unique card choices or unique archetypes.

Myagic: I really resisted nominating Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. We don’t want this to just become the year of Baldur’s Gate. So instead I’ll talk about Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty! Neon Dynasty was a good set for a lot of cubes. Even as a set it was a lot of fun to draft. The Channel cards were particularly good for a lot of places. Mirrorshell Crab and Colossal Skyturtle should just be in more cubes in general. Reconfigure is a slam-dunk mechanic. Nothing is worse than drafting a bunch of equipment and being short on playable creatures. It felt like this was a set that had a bit of everything for any cube.

Parker: My head says NEO, but my heart says Double Masters 2. Reprint-focused sets offer tons of benefits to Cube designers. Young designers get access to historically significant cards; rarity downshifts help everybody stay on budget; old heads get new bling. What’s not to love? Keep your eyes peeled on 2023’s Dominaria Remastered for the same reason.

Resolute Reinforcements
Haughty Djinn
Cut Down
Electrostatic Infantry
Tear Asunder

Andy: Dominaria United. While I think Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty was the best set of the year for Magic as a whole, DMU edges it out for me for Cube because of how it stands out from the other offerings. In a year of peak growth for both the quantity and complexity of Magic cards, Dominaria United delivered a lot of simple and flexible cards that feel like they are from a bygone era. Shivan Devastator, Cut Down, Aether Channeler, Electrostatic Infantry, Quirion Beastcaller, Tear Asunder, Haughty Djinn, Resolute Reinforcements, Rona's Vortex, Battlewing Mystic — the list goes on. They may not be as exciting or powerful as cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Lion Sash, they are clean game pieces that will stand the test of time.

Cube Level-Ups
White Plume Adventurer
Seasoned Dungeoneer
Caves of Chaos Adventurer

Justin: I want to thank Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate for giving me a truly significant moment in my fifteen-year Cube journey, and giving me a buzz word/phrase to think about when considering Cubes — mental load. With the addition of new Dungeon cards (good ones this time) I finally was able to take a step back and evaluate what having all of these mechanics is doing for, or in this case to, my cubes. We have so many card options in Magic now, and it can sometimes be difficult for old heads like me to not include something just because it’s powerful. So this coming year I want to focus on reducing that mental load for my drafters. We don’t need Dungeons of any kind, or hidden information cards like Morph or Foretell, or even double-faced cards. All of that stuff takes up brain space, and we as Magic players have enough to think about without having to evaluate so much that’s external to the game being played.

Zachary: So, so much changed this year. I finally built my second cube, which I’d been wanting to make for years, and am in the midst of designing a hopefully wild, but potentially awful, experimental third cube. I played some fantastic games of cube online and in-person. I even got back into streaming cube after a decade-long hiatus. But those pale in comparison to the real level-up for the year: community.

In 2022, I met more cube designers, talked more cube, and played more cubes than ever before. CubeCon got me deeply excited not just about playing and creating cubes, but about cube philosophy, discourse, and experimentation. How do people communicate effectively about their cubes? What terms are helpful, and which are less clear? What fun design space is there for cubes with special rules, like The Turbo Cube and Reading Rainbow Cube? And when can I play one of those awesome-looking sticker cubes? 2022 lit a fire in wanting to connect with the cube-munities of the world, to understand and help develop cube discourse, and to push the boundaries of what I’ve understood cube to be.

Myagic: The removal of Dungeon mechanics from my environments. It’s humbling to be reminded that Cube is a shared experience. Even if I personally enjoy a mechanic, sometimes it’s better to just cut it. It was difficult since that was a cornerstone to one of my cubes. The lesson that was learned is that your cube should evolve to fit your pod’s needs, even if that means changing what your cube’s identity is. It was tempting to list Dungeons and Initiative as the miss for this year, but I understand that some environments still benefit from them. My players noted that they were overwhelmed with them. They created too many things to track. It’s always important to follow the fun of your cube.

Parker: Conducting Lucky Paper’s retrospective analyses this year was super rewarding, both as a way to serve the Cube community and to level up my own design instincts. Looking back showed me my blind spots as a designer, so that I can course-correct in 2023 to better meet my goals.

Andy: This is the year that Magic’s complexity really caught up with me. Since my cube’s inception over six years ago, I have always considered experienced players to be its primary audience. I was therefore willing to accept almost any amount of complexity so long as it was attached to a card that served my other goals. Thanks to Anthony’s concerted effort to grow our local Cube playgroup, my cube was drafted by more new people this year than perhaps any year prior. This, along with reading emails and comments we get on the podcast from people who are just getting interested in Cube, and personally playing 3-4 different, new-to-me cubes every day at Cube Con, has made me realize just how complicated Magic has become for eternal formats. It would be easy to simply blame players for making gameplay mistakes because of complex cards, or for not fully reading a wordy double-faced card in the draft that would be perfect for their deck and missing out on it, but I do not want to punish those players. I don’t think making your cube deep, nuanced, and skill-testing is fundamentally at odds with making it approachable for less experienced players. This year, I have come to recognize that my players misunderstanding rules interactions, missing on-board information, or just being plain overwhelmed is largely my fault as a Cube designer. As such, complex cards have to clear a much higher bar before I’ll consider them for my environment — I won’t be playing with White Plume Adventurer, Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes, or Brutal Cathar any time soon.

As always, thank you to everyone who contributed to this article. If you’d like to nominate someone for future year in review articles, send an email to [email protected].

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Colossal Skyturtle — Nicholas Gregory