Building a Vs. System Cube

Cube drafting has become one of the most popular Magic formats ever, with blogs, websites, columns and podcasts entirely devoted to the fine art of the Cube. The Cube format doesn’t have to be limited to Magic: the Gathering – it’s a perfect way to enjoy defunct CCGs, and the Vs. system is a perfect candidate.

If you’re not familiar with Cube drafting, we talked about it last year. In a nutshell, it’s a custom draft set made from the best cards ever printed for a particular game (usually Magic). You can play using any draft format, including sealed, Winston, Rochester, booster draft and our new favorite two-player format, split-Cube (each player gets half of the shuffled Cube to build a 60-card deck from).

Building a Vs. Cube presents some special challenges. Where Magic has five colors, Vs. has something like two dozen team affiliations. Because resources in Vs. aren’t specific to the teams, you can freely build a deck with characters from as many different teams as you like – it’s much easier than building a functional five-color Magic deck. On the other hand, there are lots of Vs. cards that depend heavily on having a lot of one team in your deck. Many characters have the Loyalty keyword, which requires a teammate to play. Other in-game actions like team attacks and reinforcing also depend on having multiples teammates in play.

One way to help is by using Team-Up cards like World’s Finest. These cards allow you to name two team affiliations among those you control, and as long as the Team-Up remains in play, all cards of the chosen affiliations are considered to have the other affiliation as well. All your X-Men are also Avengers, and your Avengers are X-Men, for example. We decided to make Team-ups easier by keeping a stack of them separate from the Cube. You don’t have to draft them, you can just take them freely when you build your deck (they’re cheap, so you can buy a big stack with no problem).

Team-ups don’t totally solve the problem, however, so to some extent you have to cut away some teams and pick a few teams to focus your Cube on. Sadly, the JLA does not make for a good Cube team because their primary team interaction involves having multiples of the same character card. That doesn’t pan out using traditional Cube format, where only one of a given card is included. There are a lot of lesser teams that just don’t have the numbers to ever approach the critical mass of characters needed to be reliably draftable. Kree, Skrull, Heralds of Galactus, Shield, and Injustice Gang can be difficult to build around. You don’t need to cut those teams completely, but you need to be more careful with card selection. There might be room in your Vs. Cube for almost every Avengers card they printed, but with, say, the JSA you’ll want to use only the best cards that stand on their own as powerful, useful cards.

Another important thing to consider about Vs. is the game’s tempo. Because Vs. uses a perfect resource curve (that is, any card can be used as a resource, so you never miss a “land drop” the way you might in Magic), games can be very linear and predictable. Whoever has a character costing 6 resource points on turn six will probably win if his opponent only had a three and a two to play. In fact, that linear curve was a major problem through the game’s lifetime, with several attempts made to rectify it, and it is one of the factors that lead to the game’s demise. With that in mind, cards that reduce your opponent’s ability to attack, allow you to KO opponent’s characters at an advantage or save one of your characters from the KO pile are very powerful.

Card advantage is a staple of Magic. Experienced Magic players can evaluate the efficacy of a card fairly quickly if it gives you two creatures for one card, or kills two of your opponent’s creatures (or lets you draw two cards, obviously). Card advantage is still important in Vs., but it is less important. The main reason it doesn’t affect the game as much is that, in Vs., you draw two cards every turn. That makes every extra card drawn a smaller percentage of the total cards you draw in a given game as compared to a game of Magic (with only one draw per turn). Card advantage on the board, however, is much more important. A character that can single-handedly stun two of your opponent’s characters is huge. Also, a low-cost character than can eliminate or hinder higher cost characters is very powerful. This is what makes Puppet Master so good.

One last thing to note – toss all those super expensive cards. The 8s, 9s and 10s sure are powerful, but we’ve never had a game go beyond turn seven. You’ll never play them, and Vs. doesn’t feature many ways to “cheat” out big characters early.

If you have piles of old Vs. cards lying around and wondered what to do with them, here are some quick steps to building them into a draftable Cube.

1). Sort your cards and see which teams you have a lot of.

2). Decide if you want an optimized Cube or a more random Cube. If you want optimized, you’re going to run fewer teams, probably six, depending on Cube size. A random Cube lets you use more of the comic book characters that you like, but running more teams means jumbled decks without strong team affiliations. There’s no right or wrong answer here, it just depends on your play style. Mine is leaning toward the random side, with about a dozen teams plus a bunch of unaffiliated characters and strays from non-supported teams in a Cube with about 425 cards.

3). Your overall mix of characters, plot twists, equipment and locations is going to be roughly 66 percent characters, 20 percent plot twists, the rest split between equipment and locations. That’s very rough – I’ve started running more plot twists because they play a big role in breaking up the game’s tempo.

4). Assume you’ll be drafting with two players a lot of the time. It’s hard enough for people to get a full Magic Cube draft going, so your chances of getting a table of eight for a defunct game are slim. Plan on lots of Winston drafts. Split Cube is another good way to work things (it’s much easier to draft teams in a split Cube, even in a random Cube like mine).

5). Find a cool box to store your Vs. Cube in! I found this Superman lunch box at Old Navy of all places, and gave it the same treatment I gave my Magic Cube.

6). Buy better cards to improve your Cube. Believe it or not, there are several online stores that still sell Vs. singles. The best part is, most of the cards are dirt cheap, and you can get foils very easily. In a lot of cases, I found the foils were even less expensive than the regular versions. Vs. foils always looked particularly excellent, and there are plenty of promo and extended art versions of cards available too. If you’re looking to add the absolute best cards ever printed to your Cube, you might have to shell out as much as $10 for a single card. Compare that to Magic, where high-powered out of print cards cost hundreds of dollars. There are maybe ten cards in all of Vs. that are going for more than $5 right now, and most of them cost about $0.25.

7). Play! For all its flaws, Vs. is a fast-paced game that lets you pit your favorite heroes against your favorite villains, or even team them up together.

I’m already looking around for other games to apply the Cube concept to. I plan to build what I strongly suspect will be the world’s first and only Hecatomb Cube.


3 Responses to Building a Vs. System Cube

  1. Yay for dead games! Would you like a few reviews of other dead games? I got a few up my sleeves. Dead Games, not the reviews yet.

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