Land Ahoy - Realms of the Cube
Hoist the sails and raise the flag! It's time for another installment of Cube for Squares, our beginner’s guide to Cube-building. Today, we venture on a path to discover lands to conquer and shiny cards to fill your coffers – or what other storage solution you use to house your treasured Limited environment.
Pirate speak aside, since this article applies to any budding Cube-builder and not only to those that Opt for an Ixalan-themed Draft environment, there are many land-related decisions to be made when you build and maintain a Cube. There are questions related to the choice of basic lands and there are questions related to the choice of lands within the Draft pool for mana fixing and utility. Let’s Walk the Plank and dive straight in.
Back to Basics – Lands Matter
The decision on which basic lands to put in your Cube depends on host of factors: Is your Cube themed and perhaps tied to a specific plane within the Multiverse of Magic? Is it more important for you to be able to have an all-glittering and shiny foiled-out Cube? Is the border style and color important to you? Even the competitiveness of your playgroup should be factored in when choosing you basic lands.
Let's begin with the last-mentioned factor. If your playgroup is very casual, they will probably enjoy the diversity of having a great variety of basic lands to look at while playing the game. If your playgroup is spikier, more focused on winning, and looking for a highly competitive level of play, all basic lands of each type should be identical, both in illustration and set symbol. The reason for this is that having only one illustration for your basics (and other cards in a non-singleton Cube) lets players give away the minimal amount of information about what they have drawn after, for example, being targeted by a Thoughtseize or another discard spell, which reveals their hand to the opponent.
Going for only one specific illustration for each basic land also puts some serious restraints on which cards to choose. No matter how many doubloons you have stashed away to pay the 210 € to 975 € a piece for basic lands from Summer Magic, the legendary retracted reprint of Revised Edition, there simply are not enough of any of those lands available to use for your Cube. Anyway, the same illustrations with black borders, rather than the white borders of Summer Magic, can be bought at more reasonable prices if you go for using Beta lands in your Cube. And with a little work, it should be possible to get enough of them for your Cube – prices do begin at 16,95 € for the cheapest version of Plains in Near Mint condition and other versions and land types begin somewhat above that.
You will probably want somewhere between 25 and 45 of each of the five basic land types for your Cube, depending on the size of the Cube and how many friends you draft it with. Acquiring that amount of the costly Terese Nielsen Guru Lands will thus take some time (given that there's only between 19 (Forest) and 32 (Island and Mountain) up for sale on Cardmarket at the time of writing). If your Cube is themed to a specific plane, such as Innistrad or Kaladesh, an obvious choice is to pick basics from an expansion from that plane. If you want all your lands to foils, it is naturally cheaper to acquire them from a more recent set. Foil versions of basic lands from Dominaria can be found for between 0,04 € and 0,10 € although you more realistically will have to pay around 0,25 € per land if you want English versions in Near Mint condition plus avoid the added costs of ordering from too many different sellers. With basic lands being easy to recognize, you could also make the more exotic choice of using versions in languages that you and the members of your playgroup do not necessarily master. No one needs a translator to understand how a basic land in Russian, Chinese, or Korean works – or an English one for that matter, if your Cube and playgroup is in French, German, Italian, or Spanish.
Besides the five basic land types, your Cube can also provide players with the option to use the type-less basic lands, Wastes, for deck construction which makes sense for flavor and playability in a Limited environment that has a heavy presence of Eldrazi.
All the Fixings
When it comes to using lands for mana fixing in your Cube, the options are legions and the opinions are divided. Your choice of lands for making it possible to play two or more colors in your Cube may depend on the power level of your Cube and the budget you have set aside to build and fine tune it. A high-power Cube – even if it is not as such powered (that is, containing the Power 9) – will optimally want then ten original duals, also known as the ABUR duals. (ABUR means that they were only ever printed in Alpha Limited Edition, Beta Limited Edition, Unlimited Edition, and Revised Edition). These are the "true" dual lands that have two land types each and come into play untapped without any conditions or additional costs. Power at that level comes at a price however, and the price for the coveted Underground Sea begins at 350 € for a beat-up Revised with fold marks and a lot of wear and love. A crisp Near Mint black border Beta version will easily cost you 5.000 € – if you can find one. You can further double that price if you are looking for the Summer Magic edition.
As a side order to get the most out of ABUR duals, fetch lands are also needed. These are lands that let you search your library for basic lands and the price of these almost seem civilized compared to the duals. Not all fetches are created equal though. While allied fetches (fetch lands that will get you one of two lands in allied colors – Plains/Island, Island/Swamp, Swamp/Mountain, Mountain/Forest, and Forest/Plains) are friendly priced due to more reprintings, the enemy fetch lands (helping you dig for one of two lands in enemy colors – Plains/Swamp, Swamp/Forest, Forest/Island, Island/Mountain, and Mountain/Plains) will be too expensive to fit the budgets of many Cubes. A Windswept Heath from Khans of Tarkir is available for less than 10 € while a Scalding Tarn will cost you almost 50 € even though it was reprinted in Modern Masters 2017. Even the special Expedition masterpieces from Battle for Zendikar have huge price differences with the two aforementioned cards beginning at respectively 80 € and 225 €.
25 years of Magic: The Gathering and (not quite yet, but sooner than you would expect) 20,000 cards to choose from, there are of course many other choices for providing your playgroup with mana fixing from lands when drafting your Cube. Several other land cycles are able to fetch and several tap for two different colors or even more. However, few provide the convenience and power that fetch lands and dual lands offer when drafted in tandem. If your Cube is on a strict budget, you can go for tapped fetches like the allied cycle from Mirage and the also allied cycle of so-called Bicycle lands from Amonkhet. (These are lands that have two land types and have cycling but come into play tapped). An even stricter budget or other restrictions, such as running a Pauper or Peasant Cube, may have you look elsewhere for mana fixing lands. However, you will still have a wide selection even though your Cube’s duals then won’t have the basic land types… and your fetches will be fetching strictly for basic lands and not just any land sharing a land type with a basic land. In between the two extremes, you will find the so-called shock lands that both have two land types and come into play untapped… well, if you pay 2 life when they enter the battlefield. These cards have been steadily climbing in price due to demand from especially the Modern format. The popular land cycle is, however, now set to take a considerable price dive, since Wizards of the Coast just now (more or less at the moment of writing these words) announced that shock lands will make a return in the coming expansion set on the plane of Ravnica.
Running Aground – Utility Lands
Besides producing and fixing mana, lands are, of course, good for a good number of other uses, which is what utility lands are all about. A portion of utility lands will make it into almost every deck in any Cube, while others have very specialized abilities that will only go with certain archetypes: Not every Cube will have a spot for a Bazaar of Baghdad even if the price tag begins at nearly 1,000 € if you want a nice looking one. This, however, is not enough to disqualify it from your Draft environment. Other special lands, including Gaea’s Cradle and Library of Alexandria, would likely make it into more Cubes if not for their price.
When it comes to choosing the right utility lands for your Cube, you could of course consult various online forums or just copy the lists of other Cube builders. But honestly, nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment from discovering the perfect spot on the map that snuggly fits into your vision of how your Cube should work. My best advice is to create a Wants List on Cardmarket only for your Cube's lands. Then, take the time to comb your way through every existing land while picking the ones you like, and add them to the list along with interesting ideas that pop up during your travels. Just keep those tabs on your phone’s browser open and grind your way through all the many pages on Scryfall, Gatherer, or what have you. You don’t have to spend a month on a deserted island to work your way through the list and suddenly, your time waiting for a Metro, in line at the supermarket, or while your significant other takes forever to get ready to go out won’t feel wasted at all.
Well, that's all for now and all from Cubes for Squares for a while. As always, I look forward to reading what you have to say on the subject and I hope that you will share your thoughts and experiences about lands in Cube in the comments below.
Join me in a couple of weeks when I take a look at one of Magic’s most hated cards, which also happens to be my favorite.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.