Magic Online has a fantastic tradition. There’s usually a couple weeks between the physical prerelease of a new set and the set arriving on Magic Online. During this lame-duck period where Standard and Limited are outdated, Magic Online has special events like flashback drafts or cube. This year, we’re lucky enough to have both, which is a delightful embarrassment of riches. However, there was a small hiccup this time around.
As I recall, the Legendary Cube was supposed to be around for a few weeks alongside flashback formats such as Ravnica-Guildpact-Dissension and triple Coldsnap. On this I could be in error, as the article announcing it says it was only scheduled to be around for one week (it may have been retroactively changed to alleviate confusion), or my faulty memory is acting as expected. Regardless of whether it was planned in advance, Legendary Cube was taken offline after one week and was replaced by the most recent Legacy Cube, unchanged from its last iteration (which suggests a hasty, unplanned swap).
Regardless of whether Legendary Cube was replaced or merely intended to be around for a week, it wasn’t around long, suggesting a lack of success or faith. And it wasn’t received terribly well, as said by Lee Sharpe:
While the Legendary Cube has its fans, it’s clear from our data as well as feedback we’ve received from players that the Legendary Cube isn’t resonating with many of you in the way that we had hoped.
What happened? Was Legendary Cube doomed to fail, or did it suffer from a bumpy start? Let’s crack some clues and get to the bottom of it.
Shadows over Legendary Cube
Legendary Cube has some big shoes to fill. Cube is an exceptionally popular way to play Magic and the highest-powered Limited format in existence. Legendary Cube’s forebears—Legacy Cube and Holiday Cube—are incredibly popular, drawing large crowds whenever they’re on Magic Online. Legendary Cube needs to be comparably exciting in order to justify being available rather than its elder siblings.
I can’t say how popular Legendary Cube is compared to Legacy or Vintage cube; I don’t have access to Wizards’ data (though it being cancelled and less commonly available does suggest it was played less). My anecdotal evidence is inconclusive: its events seemed to be firing quite often while I was online, but the vast majority of Magic Online players I know played it once and decided never to try it again.
Even if Legendary Cube is less popular than its siblings, the doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. Magic Online should experiment and create products that cater to more than just the majority of players.
With both Legacy and Holiday cubes, you more or less know what you’re getting: exceptionally powerful cards and staple cube archetypes like red aggro, blue control, green ramp, white aggro and control, and black removal and reanimator (plus or minus archetypes like storm, artifacts, and…vampires?). They’re what most people think of when they think of cubes.
Legendary Cube isn’t so straightforward; it’s a gimmick cube. What I mean by this is that it’s not a usual cube—a lot of the usual interactions don’t exist and players are encouraged, if not required, to care about mechanics or archetypes which they might normally not. Gimmick cubes usually require some amount of explanation, such as “This is a tribal cube, and the tribes are…” or “this is an artifact cube where each color works really differently than normal,” or “this is a Ravnica blocks cube, where you’ll only find cards from Ravnica and there are multiple copies of commons and uncommons.” Gimmick cube players generally need to have some idea of what they’re getting into in advance (particularly an unfamiliar and highly unusual cube), otherwise they risk looking to draft cards and archetypes that don’t exist, drafting a train wreck, and having no fun. I recognize that there’s joy in playing with unfamiliar cards, discovering new archetypes, and learning on the fly, but in general, some explanation goes a long way.
Legendary Cube has three explanatory problems, all of which make it harder for people to know what they’ll be drafting in advance:
- It’s online, not in person, so there’s no cube owner to explain the format. Many people aren’t going to read the description on Wizards website, so they won’t know what to expect. (One could counter that people not reading the website isn’t Wizards’ fault, and would be partly correct, but the medium is less conducive to players being forewarned and players are still trusting Wizards to craft an enjoyable and comprehensible experience.)
- Legendary isn’t descriptive of what kinds of archetypes can exist. This furthers muddles expectations.
- Legendary Cube is no longer all-legendary, so the name isn’t terribly descriptive. Many cubes already have a high percentage of legendary creatures, since they’re often powerful and legendary isn’t a downside in singleton formats (which most cubes are).
All of these combine to make Legendary Cube harder to understand, predict, and draft blind. Now, if you’ve done your research, you know that Legendary cube is a synergy-intensive format with six archetypes: Dragons, Artifacts, “Spells,” Graveyard, Elves, and Enchantments. Of these, only artifacts and graveyard are particularly common archetypes, and it notably lacks strong aggro (the “fun police” which tends to keep formats from degenerating into uninteractive decks racing to throw the first and final haymaker at the opponent). This increases the chances someone drafting blindly is unable to have a deck.
To Learn, You’ve Got To Experiment
Regardless of whether or not Legendary Cube is considered a success, whatever the metrics for that are, I applaud Wizards for giving it two tries. Magic is a richer experience when there are more ways to play (this is part of the reason that I love the year of Modern Flashback Drafts), and Legendary Cube is an experience that doesn’t look like most cubes. Wizards should continue to experiment with alternative ways to play (’cause hey, it wasn’t all that long ago that Cube itself was a new thing on Magic Online). Given Lee Sharpe’s post, I fully expect them to:
This change doesn’t mean, of course, that we will stop trying new things. We plan to keep doing so, and to keep responding to both data and player feedback as we evaluate our offerings and strive to deliver fun experiences to our players.
What Do I Think? And What Should Come Next?
Personally, I don’t think that Legendary Cube has been or is successful, and expect that it’s unlikely to be successful in the future. Its first iteration seemed to be a mess of mana-fixing with weak interaction, nigh-nonexistent aggro to discourage slow five-color decks, and incredibly powerful spells that were either immediately answered or ended the game. Its second iteration seems more balanced, but more unfocused and still suffering from many of the same problems. I’ve had poor enough experiences that I expect if a cube named Legendary Cube returns, I won’t bother trying it unless it’s given a glowing review.
I think that Legendary is a neat theme, but a very difficult one to base an entire cube around; while a Legendary subtheme where Time of Need, Day of Destiny, and Hero’s Demise are playable is cool and unusual, an entire cube dedicated to it lacks cohesion and aggro. The lack of aggro allows decks to get slower, greedier, and same-y. As much as I love five color control, it can’t be the best thing to do in a cube—you just draft the same deck every time (all the fixing you can find and a bunch of mostly interchangeable win conditions).
Going forward, I’d love to see Wizards try out some different types of cube. They could go ahead with another gimmicky cube, or try out a whole bunch and see what sticks. I’d be happy to see any of the following:
- Modern Cube. Likely the most obvious choice. It’d be lower powered than Legacy Cube (substantially weaker reanimation and counterspells) but still quite strong (perhaps appropriating themes from Modern Masters, such as artifacts, goblins, or spirits). It could be a good contender for alternate cube because folks would have a decent idea of what they’re getting into while also having a very different set of cards from Legacy and Holiday Cube.
- Set Cube. Something like Ravnica blocks, Mirrodin blocks, or Zendikar blocks cube (appropriating cards from Magic Origins where appropriate). Set cubes play with nostalgia and familiar themes. I wouldn’t expect a particular set cube to stick around every year (which makes set cube less likely to exist), but it would be interesting to see one come around every so often.
- Tribal Cube (or any Strict Synergy Cube). Many cubes have tribal subthemes, but few approach Lorwyn levels of linear themes. Such a cube would have the same challenge Lorwyn did (it needs to have archetypes fluid and numerous enough that one isn’t always drafting on rails), but would both reward players for drafting synergistic decks and signal to players that they need to draft synergistic decks.
- Multiplayer Cube. I know that multiplayer isn’t many folks’ cup of tea, but Magic has some very popular multiplayer formats, particular a certain one chock full of Legendary creatures. Perhaps Legendary Cube ought to come back in a form even more representative of Commander. It would be weird, but it would be really, really different, and sometimes different is worth taking a chance on.
That’s all for this week. Let me know in the comments your thoughts on Legendary Cube, either the Magic Online one or another you’ve played, or just your thoughts on cube design in general. Cube is one of my favorite subject and one I’m happy to discuss at length.
And as always, thanks for reading.
Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer (currently going for an MFA in Game Design at NYU). He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.