The Puzzle Box: User’s Manual

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the Puzzle Box!

I have been showered with compliments these last few weeks since my final reflections on our little project were published. Maybe showered is a bit strong of a word, but it is certainly how I feel. People have been asking about the process of building the Puzzle Box and there could be no larger compliment paid. But as for the nature of my column and the ever-rising level of readership on this website, articles that are in the archive are all but lost. This is the internet of course, and this is largely a Magic finance website where articles may be outdated before they are published.

I feel grateful that this column is only slightly susceptible to the sustained uptick of the Magic market wrath. All of this is to say that some people who are reading this now may not have been here when this party started, and therefore may not have the clearest concept of what this column aimed to do. I’ll add a link to this article to my ever-lengthening signature at the bottom of all of my future articles.  I’ll be repeating some of the things from the whole of this series with intent of this being a timeless summary of the project that will explain its concept, purpose, and method.

The comment that was posed to me a few times these last two weeks was this: when all of these cards were added to a shopping cart for any given card retailer, the total value was well over $200. This is something I had known was going to happen almost from the beginning of the project.

I originally took a vote on how much people would like this list to cost, and the result was $200. At the time, I was skeptical if this was even possible. I established then that this was going to be a theoretical $200, based on the TCGplayer shop optimizer’s final cart total. I also chose not to take shipping into consideration.The point of this list is to give everyone an idea of which cards you should be looking to pick up as the best value and the cards you should target as thow-ins. For example, if you had an option to trade for a [card]Giselbrand[/card] at $23 or five other cards of the same value, if you were trading with the intent of building this list, then the five cards would hold greater value for you in the trade. It will also help when you pass the collection plate around to your friends to know which cards are worthless or worth less than 15 cents on TCGplayer.

I started off by breaking the mold a little bit—360 cards seems to the the smallest build considered by most managers. This is because 360 cards is how many you need to support an eight-man draft. A few things led me to think that a 360-card “budget” cube—I really dislike that word, I prefer “starter”—cube is excessive for a few reasons.

Chances are that someone who is concerned with budget while trying to build a cube probably does not have eight people to draft with right away. If one proceeds prudently, he or she ought to be able to produce this list for its projected price. Furthermore, the chances are pretty good that one may not even have a regular play group of six, so the size of this list will still produce a little variance. If you are a person with eight people to draft with on a regular basis and the budget aspect is still of paramount importance, I apologize. But if you are like I was when I started cubing, you probably only have two people to draft with. To help out, I’ll show you an awesome two-man Draft format in the near future.

If, in fact, one does have a full pod to draft with, then the budget aspect is likely to be less of an issue. Someone with an eight-person playgroup likely already has a good amount of cards, so this list will probably cost much less than $200 to put together. More people in a playgroup means more opportunities to accept donations of more common cards, too. If you do have eight people in your group, you’ll need to start looking into expanding this list. is a great place to start.

There is no way that one could add this entire list to the shopping cart for a single retail store and get it all for $200. Each common would be at least 25 cents, and some of the pricier cards will blow the budget out of the water. Another caveat to the pricing of this list was that I was just as happy picking up a white-bordered, heavily-played, nasty-arted, and poorly-altered version of a card as I was getting the crimped, foil, miscut, baddest-of-the-bad version of it. As a little aside, I still run a white-bordered Fourth Edition [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] because it’s such an easy card to get a decent copy of that I want my copy to be rubbish or exactly the one I want. No compromise of the [card]Llanowar Elves[/card]!

I just added the whole list to the TCGplayer cart optimizer to find that the final total came to $212.68. Once a month, I’ll go ahead and check where the value is, adding and removing cards as appropriate. In the last Puzzle Box, I recklessly cut all of the jankiest cards in the list. I then hastily replaced them with strict upgrades for their slots. Riddle me this: which is the first card to get swapped back?

Right, I hope that this makes clear what this project’s goals are, and how to go about accomplishing them. If you have any more questions or critiques, you can find me here in the comment section—I always try to reply. Or you’ll catch me for sure on Twitter @awcolman.

As always, thanks for hangin’.



Here you’ll find the list of cards that were in the list at one point but were moved to the on deck binder for one reason or another.

Here is a link to the article importance of an on deck binder found here.

And the other great cube resources – The Magic Box with TSG and Kyle Eck – The Third Power with Usman Jamil and Anthony Avitollo


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