Inside the Box

A Guide to Cube Drafting in the Pokémon TCG
No, not that cube!

Today we’re going to dive into a draft format that’s been gaining some traction amongst the Pokémon community as of late: the Cube!

A few years ago, I only knew one player who had built a Cube, and it seems as though the only Pokémon players who cared about Cube drafting or knew what it was were former Magic players. It was hard to find players who understood what a Cube was, or who had any experience with drafting outside of a Prerelease.

That seems to have changed in the past few years, though. I now know multiple players who have Cubes built, and many more that are in the process of building one. There’s a new Facebook thread every few weeks asking for advice on Cube design, and overall it seems as if Cube is gaining in popularity, which I think is great.

This article is going to serve as an introduction to the Cube format, and it’s my hope that this article will not only educate you as to what the format is, but also convince you to build your own.

What is a Cube? provides the following definition:

Simply, the Cube is a draft format where you get to play designer and developer. You get to choose your metagame. You choose all of the cards in it. You designate powerful strategies, archetypes, and you decide which foils to those strategies you would like to include.

What this means, practically, is that a Cube is a set you make out of existing cards and then draft amongst your friends. As the quote above says, the best part about designing a Cube is that you get to choose exactly what goes in it. No longer will you have to deal with drafting bad cards, not getting enough Stage 2’s to finish off your Evolution lines, or having an inconsistent deck because the set lacks useful Supporters. With a Cube, you are in control of all of that, and you can shape the experience exactly how you’d like.

In addition, building and maintaining a Cube can be a great way to be able to play Pokémon with your friends, even if they don’t have cards, have taken a break from the game, or if you are just bored of the current tournament format! Beyond the initial requirements of knowing the basic rules of the game and knowing how to draft, a Cube doesn’t require any knowledge of a format in order to play, and because everyone is drafting their own deck, each player will be able to play whatever type of strategy they desire.

How to Build a Cube

building construction
“A little to the left …”

There are a lot of different ways to build a Cube. I’ll go into some of them later, but for now, here are a handful of general rules and guidelines you’ll want to take into account when putting together your Cube:

  • Every Cube needs to contain a draftable number of cards. The general rule is anywhere from 360, which is enough for eight players to draft three packs of 15 cards, to 720, which is enough for 16 players to do so. I myself prefer larger cubes, either 540 or 720 cards, as I find that with 360, all of the cards are being used in every draft, so each draft feels too similar.
  • You need to establish rules for drafting and deck construction. Generally, I like drafting with eight players, where each player has three packs of 15 cards each. From there, I like building 40-card decks, including basic Energy, with all of the cards you drafted but did not play acting as your “sideboard” (cards that you can switch out on a 1-for-1 basis between games of a match).
  • Some Cubes are singleton, meaning there is only one of each card in the Cube. I personally think that this is very difficult to do in Pokémon, and I prefer to have multiple copies of cards that I feel are important to the game, such as Rare Candy, Professor Juniper, Ultra Ball, and the like. Both ways of building are legitimate and can produce fun Cubes, and it’s up to you to determine which way to go.
  • You should aim for each type to have a similar amount of cards. There are a million different ways that you can take this, but each type being represented in full is important. Note that Dragon and Fairy don’t have enough cards to do this yet, and some players have chosen to leave them out of their Cubes entirely, until more usable cards are printed.
  • In addition to having representation for each type, it is wise to think in archetypes when designing, as it can guide both the creation of your Cube, and your players’ drafts. For instance, I like to have each type have a focus (Darkness’ focus might be disrupting your opponent via discard, for instance) so that each player knows what to expect when drafting that type. It is important, however, that the archetypes aren’t the only thing you can do with each type, as that can make the draft feel too “on-rails,” and can force players into a certain type of strategy after only a few picks.
  • You should have a lot of basic Energy outside of your Cube (not to be drafted) but with the same sleeves as your Cube. A lot of players try to keep basic Energy around, unsleeved, and simple desleeve the cards they draft but aren’t using in their deck. This is technically possible but not something I would recommend. Cubing already has enough headaches insofar as sleeving all of the cards, making sure everyone returns the basic Energy to the right place, and making sure all the cards get back properly, that I recommend against adding another annoyance.

Those are all of the guidelines I would think about when putting together your Cube. Again, your Cube is of your own creation and I encourage you to be creative and think outside of the box, but be aware that there are certain things that have been proven to work in a Cube environment.

Example Cubes

I’ll end this article with a look at a few different types of Cubes that you can choose to build. I would recommend against copying and pasting anyone’s specific Cube list or idea, as Cube is meant to be something that is your own. However, looking over these lists and ideas can be instrumental in helping you figure out what you want to do with your Cube, as designing can be daunting.

Matt Chin’s Regular Cube

This is as basic as a Cube gets. It has a few Stage 2 Pokémon for each type that serve as the archetype Pokémon of that type, and then it has Stage 1’s and Basics that serve in each type to either help with that archetype, or to be splashable for the other types. It includes cards from every era of the game, meaning that regardless of when you played Pokémon, you’re likely to find something you remember.

My Mutant Cube

Unlike Matt’s, my Cube uses the Mutant format, meaning any Pokémon can evolve from any Pokémon of the correct Stage and type. For instance, evolving Pikachu into Eelektrik into Magnezone is legal, because all of those Pokémon are the same type, and they follow the Basic > Stage 1 > Stage 2 Evolution line.

I’ve always wanted my Cube to act as a sort of a “best of” of Pokémon, and I feel that the Mutant format is the best way to accomplish that goal. Without adhering to the Mutant rules, I would be forced to add in previous Evolutions of good Pokémon, meaning that my Cube would mostly be made up of cards that were neither fun nor memorable.

A downside of building a Mutant cube is that, because the focus is so heavy on Evolutions, it is difficult to include the high HP, high damage EX cards of the current format. Cards like Seismitoad-EX and Darkrai-EX could never be included in this Cube, which is unfortunate as it will prevent the Cube from including all eras of the game.

George Nace’s Nostalgia Cube

george nace cube pokemon
george nace cube trainers energy
Trainers and Energy

As you can see, this Cube is different from both of the others listed, as it only includes cards from Base Set, Jungle, and Fossil.

In the same vein, Tyler Ninomura and I have toyed around with the idea of making a Black & White-on Cube, as a way to represent the current era through Cube, where it might not otherwise be possible (as I said, I can’t include much of this era in my Cube, since it would be too overpowered). Neither of us have started on this project, but I believe it would be simple enough to build, and probably a whole lot of fun as well. It is also probably the easiest type of Cube for newer players to build, as you probably already own a lot of the cards!

At the end of the day, there is no limit to the different types of Cubes you can build, and these are just a few examples. I encourage you to go out, build your own Cube, try some new ideas, and have some fun!


I hope you enjoyed this look at the Cube format, and I hope that this article gave all of you the Cube bug. I truly believe this format is some of the most fun you can have playing Pokémon, and I look forward to playing more and more Cubes as time goes on.

If there’s anything I missed, please let me know in the comments!

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