Community Voices

The History of The Cube Format

February 16th, 2023 — Parker LaMascus

Cube is not a monolith; it is a tapestry. The fan-made Magic format constantly reinvents itself, weaving together the foibles and masterstrokes of the designers and players who have touched it. These threads of game design are easy to take for granted, but they contribute to the diverse expression of Cube today, each different and equally important ways to love and enjoy Magic. Woven together, they define, restrict, and enrich the format we all love.

A history of Cube is a history of the players who have loved Magic. Tracing the threads of Magic’s history reveals the tapestry of Cube, full of insights and wisdom for those who come after.

Lucky Paper proudly presents: the first written history of Cube.

The Curator

Memory Jar


Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and The Matrix hit theaters. The cinematic masterpiece The Cube (no relation) has just been released on VHS (short for Video Home System, a kind of antique Blu-Ray).

The earliest glimmer of Cube first appears in 1999, just 6 years after Magic’s inception. A group of draft junkies create “Big Box Drafts”, containing single copies of every card in Magic, all 4,000 of them (except for ante cards and dexterity cards, but never fear — Apocalypse Chime still made the cut!). Otherwise, this enormous box of cards operated a lot like a really big cube. Each draft included a random selection of cards from Magic’s entire history.

Simultaneously, around the release of Urza’s Legacy another custom Limited format crops up in the French pro scene: Wagic. The creator, a now-retired French pro, used Winchester-like drafting to catch pick-up games with other competitive players at European tournaments. The contents of “a Wagic” were whatever its owner liked, like a lightly curated Big Box. There were even rarity-restricted versions called “mini-Wag”s. I can only assume that the name “Wagic” didn’t catch on in North America because Anglophones couldn’t pronounce it (it’s “ouagic”).

“They were playing Power and even Contract from Below even at the beginning. But apparently they weren't playing for ante, so Contract was just a draw 7. Seems fair.”
— Guillaume Matignon

Wagic and “Big Box Drafts” are the first thread in Cube’s tapestry: the singleton nature of these formats may inform many Cube designers’ preferences to this day. There’s also a pleasing symmetry between the Big Box and the “shoebox of cards I own” as the starting point for many a Cube. As Magic grows, these Big Box collections grow too unwieldy to maintain, laying the groundwork for the Cube curator, even though “Cube” per se didn’t exist — yet.


Tom Van de Logt wins the Magic World Championship, held in Toronto, Canada. Y2K escalates a computer error into a full-blown panic. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is the best-selling Playstation 1 game of the year.
“I'm going to bring you immeasurable joy, like nothing you've seen before.”

The local Magic scene in Toronto, Canada is the earliest known genesis of the formalized Cube format. Reports vary on its exact inception — Usman Jamil writes that Brett Allen began the first Cube in 2002, but Allen himself attributes the idea to others. It’s likely that the first Cube formed in the playgroup of Elijah Pollock and Gabriel (Gab) Tsang. Tsang, Pro Tour Atlanta Champion, is credited by Atlanta teammate David Rood as the inventor of the Cube. (Weird coincidence — the head judge in Atlanta was Sheldon Menery, who popularized Commander, while Atlanta’s winning team created Cube.) Other potential names in contention for the nascent format were “box draft” and/or “Wagic”. We can all be grateful these didn’t catch on.

We don’t have a list for Tsang’s cube, but Allen, also Toronto-based, writes about his heavily proxied cube in 2000 in the first cube primer, titled simply “The Cube”. Shortly thereafter, Allen starts swapping out his proxies — perhaps in anticipation of the 2022 collectible price bubble. Concurrently, the popularity of Invasion block leads players like Aaron Forsythe to create “Invasion Draft Boxes” for infinitely replayable, free drafting — essentially the first set cubes. (In both cases, we see custom Limited formats providing an antidote to the micro-capitalism of collectible card games.)

Tsang, Forsythe, Allen, and these other progenitors of cube are essentially curators. They are taking the 4,800 cards in existence and selecting their favorite subset for a custom draft format, like a museum exhibit selecting the right Monet and Van Gogh to pair on the gallery wall. And these curators were eager to share the results with their community! As we’ll see, this curatorial and community-centric attitude had profound impacts on the nascent Cube format.


Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring normalizes the 3-hour action movie, much to society's detriment. Magic: Online launches in 2002, probably by forking the UX of Microsoft Excel.

Cube begins to proliferate during the early aughts. Some folks who started around this time are still prominent members of the Cube community 20 years later (although they may use their influence to cancel me when this sentence reminds them how old they are). Anthony Avitollo, who inspired this article, starts his cube sometime before 2005. Tom LaPille frequently blogs about cube on “”. Star City Games also begins to host content concerning Cube, including draft reports of Brett Allen’s “The Cube” and at least one Cube primer. These early Star City authors frequently reference game nights of “the cube” with each other — that is, cubes in the pattern of Tsang’s and Allen’s.

Another early author, Evan Erwin, introduced Cube in 2006 by saying, “I’m going to bring you immeasurable joy, like nothing you’ve seen before.” A fitting manifesto for this format… even if the rest of the article goes off the rails. Not only does Erwin rate Skullclamp as worse than Forcefield, he says with a straight face that ”Gaea’s Skyfolk is the best {U}{G} card in the cube”. Gaea’s. Sky. Folk. Really?

The incredibly short shelf life of these sentiments reveals a couple more threads in Cube’s tapestry. Erwin’s liking for Gaea’s Skyfolk reflects the initial symmetry of Cube as an idea. As Usman Jamil would later explain, just as the geometric cube is defined by six faces of equal size, the name for this new Magic format stuck because of 6 equally sized sections of 60 cards each (the sixth being an agglomerate of artifacts, multicolored, and lands). In other words, Erwin and his friends had to include a {U}{G} card, because if they didn’t, their format wouldn’t be a Cube. Cube began as a collective project between a friends-of-friends group of highly invested (in 2005, read: extremely skilled) players, which is why these early writers talk about “the cube” as a singular idea.

For Cube to spread beyond that group, it needed a catchy description, and there’s nothing catchier than “six equal faces of the best cards in Magic.” These curators’ attention to aesthetic symmetries enabled their homebrew format’s growth. Proof of that viral growth comes in 2007 — when Wizards of the Coast itself created a cube.

The Grinder

Cryptic Command
Ajani Vengeant

The Invitational Era

Time Spiral block releases along with Taylor Swift's first studio album. The iPhone 1 is the first cellphone capable of lightsaber noises. The DVD mail rental service Netflix launches on-demand streaming with a mind-boggling 1,000 titles available.
“All the cool cards from Magic are in here... Library of Alexandria, Rakdos Augermage, Mox Sapphire, Ancient Hydra... This is a crazy, wacky, very fun format.”

The 2007 Magic Invitational, hosted on October 18, included two Cube drafts, including Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Shota Yasooka, Tiago Chan, Shuhei Nakamura, and many others. Four other formats were played at the event, but this was by far the biggest spotlight Cube Draft had ever received. Tiago Chan goes 1-2 in the Cube events but goes on to win the Invitational. His victory is commemorated by an iconic card in Cube and many other formats: Snapcaster Mage. Meanwhile, the spry and ever-energetic Mark Rosewater makes a promotional video for the event in which he shows off an unsleeved(!) powered cube, and credits Aaron Forsythe for making the Invitational Cube event a reality.

“Cube started as the pro player's kitchen-table Magic.”

The 2007 Invitational further highlights the tight connection between early Cube and high-level tournament Magic, a thread starting with Gab Tsang’s early influence and continuing to the present day. Cube’s progenitors were often highly competitive players, invested tourmanent grinders who would shrug off one-sided cards like Abeyance, Necropotence, and Mistbind Clique like it was just another Grizzly Bears. There’s no social contract against maddeningly one-sided cards on the Pro Tour; you just take it on the chin and pray to Urza that you’ll be the one to dish it out in Game Two. The ethos of the grinder contributed to Cube a preference for these dramatic cards — especially ones with a history in Constructed. Cube started as the pro player’s kitchen-table Magic; another thread in the tapestry.


Mythic rares and planeswalkers debut in Magic. The Tesla Roadster, though very cool, is the first of Elon Musk's many unneeded ego trips. Iron Man uncorks a tidal wave of superhero films, each more unremarkable than the last.
“They blow you up today; you blow them up tomorrow. It's just business.”
— DJ, a fictional person with a Grinder mentality

Adam Styborski creates The Pauper Cube. It’s unknown whether this was the first cube to adopt a rarity restriction, but it would certainly grow to be among the most famous. Among its other firsts, it was certainly ahead of the curve on the True-Name experience thanks to its inclusion of Guardian of the Guildpact. This is more evidence of the Grinder approach to cube, where a format’s one-sided blowouts recapture the spirit of Constructed formats past. The early players of The Pauper Cube had survived Combo Winter and Affinity Standard; what’s a 2/3 with protection compared to that?

The Playtester

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Training Grounds
Wurmcoil Engine


Christopher Nolan's Inception mis-educates the entire world on what 'inception' means. The last Hunger Games book ruins the series for everybody.

Tom LaPille, who at this time is a designer of Magic (and responsible for bannings during the Caw-Blade period of Standard) wrote the first Cube primer on the Magic website itself, further legitimizing the ten-year-old format.

“Everyone who played Cube left the experience a happier person, and that was enough to convince me something awesome was going on.”
— Tom LaPille

Around this time (2009 or earlier) began the MTG Salvation forum for Cube design discussion. Much like the present day, conversation topics centered on individual cube projects, archetype discussions, and new cards (Obelisk of Alara was all the hotness back then, and Noble Hierarch was greeted with comments like “this seems like it’ll be an uncommon; it’s too weak to be rare”). Many of these first threads still referred to “the” Cube as if it were a monolith. Even so, users like wtwlf123 built up a community that was extremely passionate about Cube and its design.

“Powerful cards are not at all required to create a good cube.”

Usman Jamil, another early MTGSalvation user, first sets pen to page in a series of Cube theory articles, proposing a critical-mass-based, linear aggro support strategy heavily sourced from Constructed knowledge. The year-old podcast Limited Resources hosts Jamil to talk about Cube.

“Cube is a cool and legitimate thing.”

During Jamil’s interview, it’s clear that the Cube community is actually beginning to flex its design muscles, actively shaping the contours of their format’s metagame, but it has inherited a lot of assumptions from Cube’s beginnings — namely, powerful Magic derived from Constructed history. This is much like the approach of a tournament playtester, who optimizes their decklist with the intent to maximize power, but allows the nuances of the format to shape their card choice.

Thea Steele, a competitive player and SCG Open grinder, also writes about Cube on Star City Games and Preposterously, Steele is the only non-male Cube-focused author in these early days, as far as I can tell. (Cube’s close ties to competitive Magic may be partly responsible for this less-than-admirable tapestry thread.) She advocates for the use of proxies to finish a powered cube, echoing sentiments from the earliest Cube curators like Brett Allen and Evan Erwin. She also argues for one of the first instances of running uneven sections, breaking the original symmetry Cube for better gameplay. It’s a small change — lumping hybrid cards in with guilds rather than running a full cycle — but we had to start somewhere!

“When I was new, I anticipated that most cube changes would be strict upgrades... As you begin to think of the cube as a set, other reasons become more prominent.”
— Thea Steele

Simultaneously, Simon Walker and Thea Steele bring a series of design articles to This is one of the first rumblings of treating Cube as a design challenge like any other multiplayer board game, i.e. explicitly questioning the core principles of Cube like budget and singleton restrictions.


The first official Commander preconstructed decks hit shelves. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is responsible for many an overdue homework assignment. The Modern format begins with a tournament in Killadelphia.

Usman Jamil and Anthony Avitollo begin The Third Power, the earliest and longest-running Cube podcast to date.

“The main key to outsourcing card evaluation to Constructed is understanding that format.”

Andy Cooperfauss, egged on by Luis Scott-Vargas, erratas all his white creatures into Rebels, in a famous experiment to enliven white aggressive decks in his format. This is one of the first instances of custom house-rules implemented into Cube, strengthening the thread of bespoke design choices in Cube.

Paulo Vitor Damo de Rosa writes an introduction to Cube shortly after his first-ever online Magic Cube draft, drafting Thea Steele’s cube on a third-party software.

The r/mtgcube subreddit is created. It defines cube using a quote of Evan Erwin’s: Cube is “drafting hyperbole”.

The MTGO Era

Return to Ravnica block releases. Yours truly learns to play Magic with my brother. We have just purchased our first cards and are trying to decide why we opened 300 copies of Sky-Eel School. (Don’t buy repacks, people.)

The Players Championship makes it possible to qualify for the Pro Tour playing Cube. Cube Draft also makes its MTGO debut. For the first time in the format’s history, it’s possible to play a cube without knowing a Cube owner. This weaves the thread of the drafter into Cube’s tapestry at an unprecedented scale. No wonder the MTGO Vintage Cube remains the best-known cube, even if that notoriety is sometimes to the format’s detriment.

MTGSalvation user wtwlf123 posts the first of their now-famous “set (p)reviews” for Avacyn Restored. Griselbrand, the #18-strongest card by wtwlf’s ranking, was compared unfavorably to Kokusho, the Evening Star. Even though that card evaluation aged like milk, wtwlf’s cube, a powerful alternative to the MTGO Vintage Cube, is now the most-followed on Cube Cobra.

Tom LaPille writes an intro to his cube on the Magic home page, giving the format even more visibility and legitimacy.

The Designer

Riptide Laboratory


The Office airs its final season. The video streaming company Netflix begins producing original content. Lucasfilm announces the theatrical return of Star Wars. Feel old yet?
“If the choice is between good gameplay and good cards, gameplay wins out every time.”

Jason Waddell begins writing for Channel Fireball with a doozy of a pullquote: “Choose the card that’s best for your cube, not best in your cube”. Along the way, he casually invents Grid Draft for 2-player enjoyment of Cube, popularizes non-singleton design, and writes a Khans of Tarkir Review Part 1 that never gets a Part 2. He founds the Riptide Lab cube forum later in 2013. Thanks in part to Jason’s persuasive writing and Riptide Lab, serious advocates for lower-power formats (not just rarity-restricted) gain broader traction.

Even in higher-power formats, design-oriented thought gains traction. Justin Parnell, who began writing about Cube in 2011, exhorts his readers to prune their cube like a plant, choosing the cards which produce the best play patterns rather than considering power above all else.

This tapestry thread of the designer, emerging from Steele, Jamil, Parnell, Waddell, and others, is in slight contrast to the threads of Grinder or Playtester. These designers tend to question or even abandon the assumptions implicit in “Magic’s best 360 cards”. This is no better or worse a way to enjoy Cube than any other, but the tensions and differences among these threads make Cube’s texture more rich and complex.

The Abstractionist

Mind Grind
Thespian's Stage
Voice of Resurgence

The CubeTutor Era

Ben Titmarsh launches the website Cube Tutor on May 7th. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this website — the ease of curation enabled many users to create their second, third, and fourth cubes, creating a vastly enriched design ecosystem. Cube designers begin to apply past design technology in bold new ways, changing or even abolishing fundamental assumptions about Cube and Magic itself. The newest thread in Cube’s tapestry is that of the abstractionist, who sees the rules of Magic itself as just one more design knob. These innovators fuel their passion through an ever-growing online Cube community.

“Cube is not just drafting... Cube provides you with experiences you can't get anywhere else.”

For example, the CubeTutor user Loxodon_Meyerarch launches “The Desert Cube” in 2014, a cube where each players’ lands — even the basics! — must be drafted. For decades, the “basic land station” had been a pillar of Limited Magic, but removing that fundamental assumption led to new design space. Similarly, in 2017, Corey Murphy and Max Hero create a cube whose minimum deck size is 15 cards. This ultra-powerful cube eventually came to be known as “Fifteen Card Singularity”. These are just two examples of the many, many cubes designed on CubeTutor, and this trend of Cubes breaking Magic’s assumptions has only intensified.

Along with these bold innovations in Cube design, Cube’s visibility got a huge boost in the form of content from well-known players like Numot, Luis Scott-Vargas, Caleb Durward, and many others, who introduced Cube to newcomers and made its gameplay widely appealing.

“Cube is a casual format and there are no clear-cut rules. You have every right to build it the way you prefer!”

Even more important, Melissa DeTora, a then-pro who has since joined Magic R&D, codifies many of the thought technologies of prior years in an amazing official Magic article. Not only does she debunk the myth that Cubes must be powerful, but she also emphasizes the importance of personal preference, calling Cubes “fully customizable.” That messaging from Wizards of the Coast itself was important to legitimize all the experiments happening on CubeTutor, Riptide Lab, MTGSalvation, and elsewhere.


Magic becomes more accessible than ever with the launch of Magic: Arena in 2018. The same year, CardKingdom releases a product called “The Starter Cube,” a great entry point for new curators at a reasonable price.

Star City Games hosts a Cube event with a $10,000 prize pool as part of its SCG Con Winter event, the largest and most visible competitive Cube event since 2007’s Magic Invitational. The cube was designed by Justin Parnell.


Yours truly is living in Boston, where even one's eyelashes will freeze, so I don't remember anything from this year.

Lucky Paper publishes its first articles, on the perils of tracking data in Cube. The first Lucky Paper Set Prospective survey is published with the release of Throne of Eldraine. Prior “Cube set reviews” typically encoded the author’s assumptions, not to mention their approach of Curator, Grinder, and/or Playtester. Community Set Reviews are the first time Cube owners had access to quantitative, Cube-focused, community-driven data about the group’s collective perceptions. I’ll break the fourth wall here and give a hearty shout-out to our founding contributors for bringing that tool to the community.

SCG Con returns with its $10K Powered Cube event, organized largely by Justin Parnell and ultimately won by the Cube streamer Team JBro. The qualifier cube for this event was created partly by the Cube community, using social-media polls to fill cube slots. This is yet another way that Cube’s visibility as a format increased, while also inverting the core assumption of Cube that the design process must be solitary.

“Hatchi matchi! ABT, baby: Always Be Thraben!”

Also in 2019, Gwen Dekker releases the first open-source cube management website, Cube Cobra. This tool ensures that CubeTutor’s benefits to the Cube format will survive with greater collaboration and transparency. Several quality-of-life improvements make Cobra the de facto Cube design site in a matter of months.


The Companion mechanic is given a functional erratum two months after the mechanic's debut, which makes it safe to unban Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Vintage.

Human drafting, including Cube, debuts on MTG Arena. The first-ever CubeCon, a convention solely focused on Cube, plans to play draft formats provided by the attendees themselves, a surefire way to highlight the diversity and potential of the Cube format. To celebrate, Magic Online debuts The Cultic Cube and Dekkaru Cube, and even makes some Cube gameplay data available to the public for the first time. Unfortunately, CubeCon is delayed due to a breakout of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The world is optimistic that things will return to normal after two weeks of quarantine (three weeks, tops).

Andy Mangold releases The Degenerate Micro Cube, merging Hero & Murphy’s Fifteen Card Singularity with Constructed Vintage, another example of Cube becoming home to projects that reinvent fundamental elements of the Magic game engine. It quickly becomes the 5th-most followed list on Cube Cobra, evidence of the powerful role online spaces play in shaping the Cube community.


Brainstorm is legal in the Historic format just long enough for people to complain that their Blue opponent didn't miss any land drops and barely won — again!

Due to hosting costs and years of outages due to malicious actors, Cube Tutor went permanently offline. Thanks, internet.

Ryan Overturf and Justin Parnell discuss two-player cubes on The 540. Though two-player cubes had existed long before Overturf coined the intentionally cryptic sobriquet “twobert” (Urza forfend that Magic names be self-explanatory!), this was a timely reintroduction to Cube design for small groups, given that large sanctioned events were still on hiatus.

Jett Crowdis and Anthony Mattox of Lucky Paper build The Cube Map, a tool to visualize all the cube lists hosted on Cube Cobra. The map highlights the breadth of the community and the astounding creativity of its members. Many of the cubes on the Map honor the tapestry threads we inherited, but just as many weave those strands into something new entirely.


After two weeks years of pandemic, CubeCon debuts in October 2022, showcasing 16 unique cubes from the community. Over 200 international attendees engage in friendly cube competition, with the final Vintage Cube draft won by the streamer Caleb Durward. CubeCon organizer Cultic Cube designs the Cartographia Cube to coincide with CubeCon on MTGO. The Magic: Arena Cube is drafted during the December Arena Open, marking the first time that an everyday Magic player can win cash prizes by playing Cube.

2023 and Beyond

Cube’s possibilities are endless. Twenty-five years of innovation from the curators, grinders, playtesters, designers, and abstractionists who came before have shaped Cube into an oasis of creativity and community. The Cube landscape today is something unique within Magic, a space where players’ goals of game mastery or self-expression lead to wilder territories yet unexplored.

Cube is an opportunity to craft an ideal play experience, recreate a favorite format of yore, test one’s mettle as designer, pioneer challenging or flavorful puzzles for drafters, and so much more.

Cube is what we make of it, because it is the format where we make what we wish of Magic. Cube is for everyone — so find some friends and start shuffling!

A big thanks to Anthony Avitollo and Justin Parnell for their contributions to this article. Merci beaucoup to Guillaume Matignon and the French pro players who provided insight on the origins of Wagic. All errors, omissions, or oversights are mine alone.

Thanks to Discord users kactuus and TrainmasterGT for compiling some of these historical cube lists.

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