Andrew Colman – The Puzzle Box: Black & Tan & Blue

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Welcome back to The Puzzle Box everyone,

First of all, just in case you thought the title implies that I’m going to cover the blue, black, and artifact sections in this article, sorry to disappoint, I’m not. A Black & Tan is a mixed beer drink, and if you haven’t had one, I recommend it!

This week we’re going to dig into the blue and black sections of our cube as well as talk about the value of a card slot.  Blue is typically recognized as the strongest color and black the weakest color in Cube. Blue is strongest for obvious reasons: Ancestral Recall, Force of Will, Jace the Mind Sculptor, Time Walk, and as we are all very aware, the list goes on an on and on. As of very recently, we even got an affordable (CMC wise) Progenitus in the blue corner. Rumblings are often heard that WOTC hates blue and continues to nerf it. It turns out with True-Name Nemesis that they are still just as much in love with the color as ever.

As for black, the problem became apparent as I was trying to find the core things that the color does. Basically, it kills creatures, trades life for resources, and brings things back to life. This is where I think the small size of this cube is really going to shine! Black will be a worthy aggro color, because the concentration of one and two drops it has is comparable to red. It has a high enough concentration of reanimator spells versus discard outlets that reanimator is going to be very strong. Finally, black control might just be a thing if it splashes for some support from another color.

Before we look at the lists for these sections, I will note that this cube is going to be far more balanced than many other cubes, as the cards that really push blue over the top are so expensive. The cards that we do have access to are still strong, but more in line with the strength of the rest of the colors in the cube. This leads us into how it is that we choose specific cards and why we pick them.

The Value of a Card Slot

One thing that I like about this list is the minimal amount of Control Magic effects. This actually reflects my personal cube list closer than most. In many lists you see Bribery, Treachery, and Control Magic. I personally dislike this type of effect (not to mention the art of the original Control Magic) so much that I’ve decided to run Mind Control instead. In place of extra Mind Controleffects, I run Sakashima’s Student, which is a really fun Clone variant.

As I have said many times, this list is just a starter list that will get you playing a very powerful Limited format consistently. Because we have such a small list it opens the doors for many more archetypes to be considered viable. For instance, if you would like your blue section to be more tempo oriented, it has a much better shot of being competitive in this size of a list over even a 360 because you’ll see more or the same types of cards more often. It’s all about concentration.

This format is meant to let you decide the archetypes and strategies you and your group want to play – if someone in your regular playgroup only ever wants to mill people out, here we have small enough cube that you can get in enough mill cards to make that consistently viable. However, there is a bit of a caveat for those of you who have not really spent a lot of time considering what a card slot in a cube is really worth. A question: how many mill cards do you need in a deck to reliably mill someone out? I don’t know if there’s a “correct” answer, but let’s say it’s eight. We then need to replace at least 12 cards in the list below with mill cards. So here’s your challenge: pick 12 cards you want to replace with mill and then look at them and ask whether having a mill archetype in your cube is really worth not playing with these 12 cards. If the answer is yes, sweet, do it to it! If the answer is no, then you know how I feel. I would love to get mill in here, but all of the mill cards we have access to are just not flexible enough to warrant a slot.

This brings us to the point that is at the nub of cube card selection: let’s talk about the flexibility of a card, or card elasticity, if you like. Each inclusion in your cube should be considered with this question in mind: how many roles does this card fill? If it’s only one, then it bloody well do something seriously powerful (think Tinker). If it is something like Mind Sculpt, which fills its role powerfully but in any other context does absolutely nothing, then you have to ask, is the play experience of this card worth its reduced flexibility?

The Lists


If you take a close look, you’ll see we are firmly rooted in the realm of control. There isn’t much room for a blue tempo deck even though it’s been unlocked for us with True-Name Nemesis and Thassa, God of the Sea. Nor do we get the artifact deck, as its cards are too narrow when you don’t have inherent support like the Moxen.

For finishers, we are reaching a bit into cube past and pulling out Frost Titan and Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Meloku the Clouded Mirror was never too expensive but with the recent MM printing, she is even more affordable and will have a happy home here as one of the best blue cards in the list.

As for counterspells and draw spells, the expensive ones were naturally scaled out with the decrease in size, so again, the concentration is bang on.  As a bit of a glance to future sections, it looks like Izzet is going to be pretty strong in this cube because the concentration of good cheap spells and the cards that interact favorably with them is going to be pretty high.


The key archetypes in black we’re going to support are reanimator, control, and black aggro, the last of which is enabled by the smaller cube, giving us the ability to have a higher concentration of low-cost creatures.

As a little aside, I’d like to point out a brand new card, Curse of Shallow Graves. Because we are missing cards like Bitter Blossom, the power level of our cube will inevitably be lower, so taking things that are close analogues to the high-powered missing cards will garner us some serious advantage. Curse goes well with creatures. The same could be said about the Mirrodin swords! Yes, I’ve just compared Curse of Shallow Gravesto Bitter Blossom and the swords, which could get someone kicked out of the MTG community. But this card has been doing some work, so I say take it high and play it often.

With reanimator decks, we will often have to reach into other colors for our bombs because Griselbrand is on his way up in price and would eat up half of our budget. However, Massacre Wurm should shine in this list due to a high concentration of aggro creatures.


Well, that’s that. I think there are some serious talking points regarding these two lists. If you think I am totally out to lunch on card selections or observations I’ve made please leave a comment! I think these will be the most debatable sections in this cube, so let’s get the debate started.

And as always, thanks for hangin’.

Andrew (@awcolman on Twitter)

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Andrew Colman

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    • Sean on December 6, 2013 at 12:16 am
    • Reply

    Hey Andrew,

    Just wanted to let you know that after the last article/my comments then I sortof went full speed ahead on this cube idea, though with some slightly bigger budget pieces here and there/taking advantage of my personal collection etc. My white section was heavily based on yours and the suggestions you made in the last article (e.g. Entreat the Angels, etc), but I was in the dark with black and blue and still ended up <7 cards off from each of your sections. Once again thanks for doing this and I will surely keep checking back for the next installment.

    1. Hey Sean,

      That is awesome, Mission accomplished! Inspire people get building their cubes! Also its perfect that you are using your own cards that are more powerful than the ones I am recommending. My first cube was basically just my trade binder and some other stuff I had to fill out the curve.

      I am curious to know that the 7 card differences are.

      And lastly, use to keep your cube in order. It has become the standard for cube managers because it is so easy to update! You’ll find that you’re making a lot of changes as you’ll listening to the podcast and making tonnes of money from the picks of the week. Oh and you can draft your cube on cube tutor, so thats awesome. Post the link up here once you’ve got it uploaded so we can all take a look.

      This cube is being built on cube tutor and when its completed I’ll supply a link to it as well.

      Thanks again for the comment


        • Sean on December 8, 2013 at 11:33 pm
        • Reply

        Thanks for cubetutor tip! I changed some more stuff around today so its a few more cards off than your list, although there are spots that definitely need work (3-4cc Blue creatures, a couple more fatties, needs Dismember, Gideon vs Ajani, replacing one of those with Entreat, # of reanimators vs # of enablers, etc). Here’s the list:

    • Andyroo on December 12, 2013 at 6:40 am
    • Reply

    Fantastic series.

    We have a regular Sunday draft at my closest shop and we like to do something different afterwards each week.
    Backdraft, 2HG draft etc etc

    Obviously cube came up as a good format that would save people from shelling out for two drafts a week. This series has been a great inspiration and I appreciate how you gave a good example of mana curves to make substitutions based on collections really easy.

    Really pumped to start work on it this weekend :)

    1. Yeah! More cubes! It’s so much fun!

      If you have a regular play group there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to cough up a decent list for close to nothing! print off the list and pass it around and have people put their names a card that they would mind pitching in. For anything that’s left see, there shouldn’t be much, ask everyone for a buck and I’m sure you LGS will help you out.

      The biggest expense will be the sleeves.

      One thing If this is an LGS group consider leaving it there, that way it’s available during the week for individuals n your play group to bring other people and you might be able to grow your play group this way. To make sure no cards go missing always make sure you get each person to lay out their 45 cards before they leave and take a count. If trust is at all an issue have a sign out sheet at the store where you need to confirm the card count when it’s handed in. It takes a little time but it will be well worth the accessibility and accountability for everyone using it. This goes especially for when the cards start getting upgraded.

      There’s a lot I could write on this topic, so maybe i’ll leave the rest for another time

      Thanks for the comment and encouragement!


    • Martin coppersmith on December 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm
    • Reply

    Please provide a break down for each color as in the article for white where you provide card counts by cmc and deckarchetype. Calculating how many of which style of card at what cmc is what has wrecked my last 3 cubes. I want to build with 2-3archetype per color and 2-3 colors contributing cards to each archetype.

    1. You bet, do you think you can describe what you mean by wrecked you last three cubes? And then when you talk about archetypes across colours mighty you be able to share an example and the size of cube. I could be able to help you out better if there I had a little more information.

      Are you aiming for more of a modern masters style cube that is more focused on synergies and interactions rather than a standard ‘cube full of cube worth cards’ ?

        • Martin Coppersmith on December 16, 2013 at 4:58 am
        • Reply

        By wrecked I mean that I did not approach card selection in a sufficiently orgnized fashion. So aggro draft was balls out the best in one cube to the point where there was no reason to even consider control or ‘tricksy/combo’ builds. I tried revamping for a better spread of viable deck builds but failed repeatedly.

        I don’t want to just stack my best cards together as a Powered Cube, and I actually have been trying to build something akin to what MM ended up being for a couple years now. Problem being I am one easily distracted mind and never got one completed before release of MM product. I got my hands on a box of MM and when we opened for draft the store owner of our FLAG was kind enough to walk the table and photograph each booster. So my box can be reconstituted and redrafted. It’s been a fave of our casual players and has built people’s confidence in drafting such that several now actual pay $ to the store for legit draft events.

        I would like to achieve something similar with different cards chosen to allow different synergies.

        The plan would be for a cube of 720 cards, but not highlander. I have an old jewelers equipment box set aside to hold the cube and it will allow for rares/mythics in one bin with common/uncommon in a seperate bin. I would like to split them into two ‘rarities’ so that ‘boosters’ could be built by grabbing 2 cards from the ‘high rarity’ and 13 card from the ‘low rarity’.

        This would allow for 48 “packs” and allow a full 8 man pod to play while leaving 12 ‘boosers’ for johnny-come-lately-players to do 2-man 6-pack faux sealed or for a 3-man group to try 4-pack faux sealed.

        So far all I have settled on is intended usage and a few of the archetypes I want to involve.

        96 – ‘high’ cards
        624 – ‘low’ cards
        combo A
        combo B
        tempo / control

        I feel like these archetypes can use cards selected from multiple colors, so you can build a functional deck even if you have to ‘share’ a color with a couple other drafters. The spreadsheet you showed in the White Article seemed like a useful tool for providing a structure of intent which a cube designer could then adhere to for card selection. With 8 archetypes supported this allows the 96 ‘high rarity’ cards to be assigned at 12 total cards per archetype….. or 8 ‘rare’ cards per archetype (maybe 4 different card names, 2 copies of each) and 32 total ‘rare’ cards for general purpose ‘utility’ effects?? you don’t want the haymakers for each archetype to be TOO reliably pulled… but often enough that the games feel epic.

        This is where my brain starts to melt and my buddies stare at me and say I am thinking too much. (which is how the the modern masters ‘repacked’ cube came to life)

        • Martin Coppersmith on December 16, 2013 at 5:06 am
        • Reply

        As an aside:
        I would like to assist new drafters by assisting with color fix… say 2 each of all the ravnica bounce lands and all of the Shards of Alara Tri-lands. That eats 30 of the ‘low rarity’ cards, leaving only 594 cards to assign as ‘low rarity’ archetype-activating-cards. . . 74.25 cards per archetype. Ok, I have a headache again.

          • Martin Coppersmith on December 16, 2013 at 9:19 am
          • Reply

          I really should try sleep to fix a headach not coffee.

          Let me restate the math for this bad boy.
          Facilitate an 8-man pod, with 18 remaining ‘packs’
          .. remainng ‘packs available to allow 2-player or 3-player “sealed” concurrent to the draft
          = 42 packs of 15 cards (with 2 ‘rare’ and 13 ‘commonesque’)
          = 630 individual cards
          Of this 630 total cards :: 84 total ‘rare’ cards:: 546 total ‘commonesque’ cards
          84 Rares- 2 of each cardname
          14 total cards per color (incl arti/multi)
          —> 7 cardnames per color (incl arti/multi)
          —-> 4 cardnames dedicated each of 8 archetypes
          30 Color fixation allocated from the ‘commonesque’
          2 of each ravnica bounceland and each alara tri-land = 30 total cards
          516 Remainng Commonesque- 4 of each cardname
          88 total cards per color (76 total cards to arti/multi)
          —> 22 cardnames per color, (19 cardnames for arti/multi)

          1. Alright, sweet!

            A couple of things to start with. What you are trying to do is to build Modern Master 2.0. So you need to set up a reasonable expectation that it is going to take a while to put it together. Imagine how long it might have taken the whole dev team at Wizards to build MMA and then tune it. Secondly the spread sheets that I am using are built for one particular style of cube, now that doesn’t mean I’m not going to help, it just means that it is not going to be as straight forward as you think. The style of cube that I am building is a very classic feeling cube, a kind where some one who is familiar with cube will sit down, look at the cards, and feel mostly comfortable with what’s going on.

            There is a good way I can think of on doing this. And the first one you are already uniquely ahead of the game already.
            You have a whole box of MMA mapped out already. If I were you I would actually just use that box as a template. Break each card down as a function(s) and power level figure. For instance break down

            Pepper Smoke as a Faerie Card (Arch.a) (Removal.) (PowerLevel.2/5)
            Scion of Oona (Arch.a) (Creature) (PowerLevel.4/5)

            And actually do this for every card, once you have everything mapped you’ll know exactly: Number of cards Archetype, Number of function cards (removal, creature, mill spell, draw spell ect. ect.), distribution of power level across archetypes and function, you have cards with multiple archetypes so you’ll know how much broad cross format cards you’ll need to make it all stick together ect ect.

            Once all of this is done you can see how many have gone into a box and then you double it or scale it at will. Again once you have all of these number you’ll be able to turn the dial of how powerful you want each archetype to be, which could just mean turning it up across the board.

            Once this is done, you’ll be able to knock off MMA style formats faster than Wizards because you’ll have the map.

            Upon thinking this through, I realize that this is a very different format than cube, you are building a draft set. Unfortunalty this is outside my immediate knowledge and the math you have pretty figured out already, it’s really just getting down and grinding the cards out.

            I will in the next couple of week put up a google doc that is kind of a scaler for how many cards of each type you need to build a classic style cube. You can feel free to download it and change all of the archetypes and such if you think that will help you in you final project. But again, what you are doing is much more complex than what we have going on here.

            If you do go ahead and map out your MMA box and come up with this key to their format… and feel like sharing it I would LOVE to see it!

            I hope that this has been helpful and you don’t feel like I’m blowing you off, and I will have those spreadsheet available for download in the next couple of weeks.

            Sounds like an awesome project! Thanks for the comment and keep us abreast of this progress on this project!


              • Martin Coppersmith on December 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm
              • Reply

              Ok, that is a fair assement of expected time dedication. I think having a forum to express insight and progres will help me maintian focus and approach this with a long-term mindset.

              I like the concept of analyzing MM box for each cards breadth (# of archetypes applicable) and depth (how impactful they are in that archetype). Combining rate of occurance for each card with the breadth of each card AND the depth of each card would provide you with a clear picture of the relative strength and reliability of a given strategy in your box/cube. You could as well identify the impact of changing any single card in a box/cube.

              Did they release a set list for MM like they do for normal sets? With the # of different card names at each rarity. I’ve seen some investment sites that break down Expected Value for boxes of packs – telling you how many units of a given card you could expect in an average box. I would need to do something similar for ANY GIVEN card name based on the # of packs in a box, # of cards in the rarity, # of that rarity in a pack… which would give you a predictive measure of what a given box/’cube’ would contain.

              semi-predictive information on the contents of a release set
              an analysis filter to convert the ‘contents by name’ into the ‘contents by breadth/depth of deck style’
              you could in theory preview the entire draft life in aggragate of a release set by analyzing the indivudual cards as they are spoiled.

              This of course ignores:
              a) the effect of the other 7 people drafting causing a shift in functional card availability
              B) margin of error in evaluating all cards in a set

              So yeah, analyzing the actual content of a single instance of MM box first would be a better place to start with. We know that any given box of MM will provide a differnet range of card content making each deck style more or less viable as you open sequntial boxes. But if every box were the same….. how would that change card selection/rarity assignment. I think I can smell a new limited release product on the horizon. Gold bordered pre-fab ‘cubes’.

              Maybe I should start an article myself following the motivationand process for analyzing a box of boosters as a cube substitute/roadmap?

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