MTGO Cube – I couldn’t care less
Okay, if you read this entry’s title and your brain works similar to mine, you might ask yourself: Then why does he write about it? Well, I do not care about MTGO Cube, but I do care about the trend in the Magic community which lead to its implementation – oh, and I was also asked on twitter to give my opinion. So here goes:
This cube is a perfect example for everything I have always been criticizing about cubes, and the reason I hesitated long before I adopted the term “cube” for my Next Level Cubes. Interestingly, that MTGO Cube has been criticized a lot by many people for the obvious fact that it wasn’t implemented in a way to allow players to design and use their own cubes, but I believe that most persons voicing this criticism are overreacting, because the typical cube-builder (you may take Usman the Rad as a prime example) does NOT design a cube – he is just assembling the most powerful and spectacular cards (see Usman’s embarrassing tweets asking people to “rank” cards for cubes). Those cubes may differ a little in their card selection, but in the end they play mostly the same, to the point where you find references to general cube drafting strategies (like forcing mono-red) acknowledging this. So I don’t see a real issue here – individual design is emphatically NOT a defining feature of these high-powered cubes.
That, however IS the issue: MTGO Cube reinforces the stereotypical view of cubes as collections of the “best” cards from the history of Magic! Individual design, distinctive gameplay, a skill-rewarding environment – these are not aspects of typical cubes. They are constructed and used by players who are unable to comprehend that stronger cards do not mean better designed cards, and that Magic does not become a better game the higher its power level is. The typical cuber, while he might think of himself as a Johnny, and ideally should be a Spike, is actually a Timmy (read here) – he’s just in it for the passive experience without really understanding what he is doing.
And this is exactly what I’m fiercely opposed to! For me, designing a cube is a creative intellectual endeavour with the goal of generating distinguishable, enjoyable environments enabling games decided in large part by the players’ decisions. I really don’t think there is a need to push just another Magic variant based on overpowered, swingy cards.
MTGO Cube now brings that generic cube drafting environment to Magic Online. It allows players to draft with some of the most powerful cards from Magic’s history (well, the lack of the power nine has already be bemoaned), but they don’t get to keep them (should be obvious, but only to those with half of a clue, so that was criticized a lot as well). It will no doubt be popular with a subsection of players – namely those whose playing skills do not suffice to succeed in regular drafts – for its enhanced potential to have its games decided by good draws and spectacular topdecks levelling the playing field a little more. It seems that Wizards themselves are afraid that, with this format readily accessible and its novelty value wearing off, players might find it boring soon. That explains why they chose to limit its availability. (Another explanation is, of course, that they do not want to push phantom events too much – they want people to buy cards, after all.)
In the end, its novelty value and its nature as a phantom event make it attractive enough to try it out a few times, even if you don’t usually prefer typical cube drafting. Then again, I doubt anyone will really miss that MTGO Cube once it goes offline again. The feature itself isn’t nearly worth all the hype about it, it’s the expectations it doesn’t fulfill which make it such a hot discussion topic.
I doubt Wizards will ever allow people to design and use their own cubes on MTGO, because their popularity would come largely at the expense of regular drafting. In RL, I have already reached the point where I prefer drafting with my own cubes to official draft formats, although designing and actually building them is a lot of work. On MTGO, there would be MUCH less work involved. I believe Wizards are keenly aware that self-hosted drafts not using their virtual boosters are a major threat to their sales. That is why the MTGO Cube is not a beginning or stepping stone to introduce real cubing on MTGO, but just some kind of appeasement.