Rounded Edges

Michael Slutsky on Constructing, Drafting, and Executing a Pokémon TCG Cube Draft

Hey, everyone! Today I’m coming to you with an article outside my usual Underground discussion, and as such, have made this article outside of Underground—period! Due to the entertaining nature of this article, both for me to write and hopefully for you to read, I felt that it wouldn’t be right to hide this behind a paywall. What topic could carry such diplomatic power as to guarantee its free-ness? Why, an article detailing the growing popularity of the Cube Draft! With this article, I’m going to cover everything about Cubes, from the nitty-gritty to detailing my own personal Cube to everything in between; I’ve even included a full setlist (complete with hyperlinks to every card, as well as their coll/set#), for your viewing pleasure. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get started.

What is a Cube Draft?

As I’m sure many in the community have noticed, Cube Drafts have seen a spike in popularity in recent years. Like many concepts, this one is also borrowed from Magic: The Gathering. In layman’s terms, a Cube Draft is literally a custom-made format, with the Cube’s architects in charge of every card choice, drafting procedure, and rule set. They are a collection of specifically chosen cards to be played only against each other, similar to Dominion or other DBGs; players need not input their own cards (other than occasionally Basic Energy), as doing so ruins the point of the Cube.

By design, they are entirely casual (as an enforceable form of a Cube is an official format), meant to be played with friends. However, this does not mean that the work put into them is any less than what a competitive player would put into a tournament deck; in fact, the effort put into setting up a properly functioning and enjoyable Cube is often more intensive than simply testing a regular deck!

No two Cubes are alike, as they are often an expression of some of their designer’s favorite aspects of the Pokémon TCG. Some are built to showcase unique and interesting interactions of cards released a decade apart, while others give underwhelming cards their chance in the sun. A well-designed Cube will push your deckbuilding and in-game play to the limit, while also forcing you to utilize the unused drafting skill to successfully craft a winning deck. Building a competent deck through a Cube draft and even winning it are immensely satisfying, as it is one of the most immediate forms of testing you can do to hone these skills. To illustrate the process of Cube drafting/play, I will do so through the lens of my own Cube. Other Cubes are surely different and I cannot attest to their rules, only my own, but hopefully the explanations of my Cube will give you an understanding of their general operation.

Explaining the Origins of my Cube

Like many veteran players, my teammates and I are quite fond of old formats, especially at a time when our current game suffers from a laundry list of defects. One of my best friends, Omar, had the hindsight to save many of his valuable cards from the 2010 era, which is one that we both share fond memories of. After building many of the top decks from a format considered golden (seriously, 2010 was bomb), we searched elsewhere, for a more interesting way to utilize this trove of oldies. One day, during a group testing session, another friend, Adam, suggested we utilize these cards to form the core of a 2010-era Cube. Having played Adam Vernola’s Base Set Cube at Nationals the year prior, he was infatuated with the idea of a Cube draft, and soon, so were we.

The first draft of the Cube consisted mainly of HGSS-era Primes, a healthy dose of tier 1 DP-era evolutions, and a few current (read: XY-on) underwhelming evolutions (like Ancient Trait Excadrill!). The goal was to put a focus on these older cards, and we felt that some bad cards from today’s game would be of a similar power level to fit right in. Our initial game was promising, and the first few runs of the Cube were enjoyable, though some problems started to emerge.

For those unaware, the HGSS-era Primes were regular evolutions from a mechanical standpoint, though vastly more powerful than their non-Prime counterparts. No better example of this can be seen in Donphan Prime, one of the first Primes ever released and one of the most powerful for years to come. By constructing this Cube format with high counts of these formerly-competitive Primes, we instantly warped the Cube format around them. The very first deck I drafted was literally Donphan Prime/Yanmega Prime, which was actually a tier 1 deck at the start of the HGSS-on format (the deck took 1st in Seniors and 2nd in Masters at US Nationals that year).

In every succeeding Cube run, anyone who drafted healthy counts of either Donphan, Yanmega, or Kingdra Prime was almost guaranteed to win, as few cards could match their power levels. Even players that had started long after these Primes had left the spotlight would draft decks built around them, because it was obvious how powerful they were. For some time, Omar and I were in agreement that the Cube needed a major overhaul, with our goal to have it done by the time the NAIC rolled around. To tackle this overhaul, we went back to the drawing board and discussed many things, but our main focus was on fleshing out our design philosophy. This is arguably the most important step in building a functioning and enjoyable Cube.

Designing the Perfect Philosophy

When creating a Cube, the first thing you must think about is why you’re making it. If the goal is to simply throw in tier 1 cards from a format you enjoy[ed], then you must ask yourself: why is constructing a Cube better than simply building specific decks from that format? If the goal is to simulate interactions of Pokémon and Abilities that were never meant to interact, then you must ask yourself: are these interactions interesting, and if so, why would a Cube work better than building Unlimited format decks?

If the goal is to provide underpowered cards a chance to finally compete, one must ask: are/were these cards underpowered because they were overshadowed by clearly stronger cards, or are they just bad cards, period? These are only a few examples of design challenges/questions, but they all illustrate the fundamental point one must understand when tackling a Cube. Cubes can be expensive (not just for the cards – you still have to sleeve the entire thing!), and going into one without having this aspect nailed down completely will cause problems every step of the way as you struggle to figure out which cards make a good fit.

When Omar and I had initially constructed it, we did not put much thought into the design aspect of it, and truthfully, our first draft was more an exhibition in the power of Primes than anything else; an avenue to play weaker versions of decks these strong cards were normally used to. We paid lip service to the idea of highlighting weaker cards from today’s game (we even discussed Vikavolt SUM as a bad card that should be included!), though the ones we included were mostly just taking space in our binder and this was a merciful way of bulking them. The first thing we did in our overhaul was lock down the central tenant of our design philosophy: highlight cool cards that saw very limited play, and creatively limit the cards that saw widespread play alongside them. This way, we felt we had evened the playing field for all of these cards to exist alongside one another.

To ensure a diverse Cube that actually highlighted this nascent philosophy we were theorizing, we started by identifying the problem cards: Primes, and the extremely competitive cards from formats past. Donphan, Kingdra and Yanmega were the most obvious offenders, but cards like Flygon had this same centralizing effect – in each case, these cards were dominant in their respective eras, which meant that they realistically had no place here. This purging process ended up gutting the Cube, and we sought to fill the holes with weaker/more interesting Pokémon. Further, we really took a hard look at exactly why the Primes were that powerful. Primes are supercharged versions of regular evolutions, and while we liked that concept of innate card strength, there wasn’t an effective way to cut down on the counts of the cards, as each Prime was generally the core of their own deck.

The solution? LV.X Pokémon! LV.X Pokémon are mechanically identical to the newer Pokémon BREAK (or, rather, the inverse is how this should be phrased), but they were generally far more complex in their interactions, as the game was more intricate back then. LV.X Pokémon were, on average, at a parity with Primes in terms of power level, yet they did not require multiple copies to function. LV.X Pokémon are different from BREAKs in that they are considered the same card as their lower form (so you can have a max of four copies between a Flygon and Flygon LV.X), which meant that players would often only run a single copy of the LV.X for their attackers, and then comfortable amounts of recovery.

By switching the most powerful cards in the Cube to LV.X Pokémon, we were granted a few new philosophical options to explore, primarily that there were many LV.X Pokémon that saw little to no play whatsoever, with many of these Pokémon surely unique in some way. In addition, we’d only be including one copy of these LV.X Pokémon for balance purposes, requiring a player to draft it and the Pokémon it leveled-up from.

The Pokémon that had a LV.X were generally moderately strong cards, but not overpowering enough to not dominate the Cube in the same way that Primes could, and the singleton copy of these LV.Xs and their naming mechanic meant that there’d never be a time when a LV.X could choke the Cube’s diversity. In the beginning, you only needed to evolve a Phanpy on the second turn to have access to arguably the strongest Pokémon in the Cube; now, to have a Pokémon of comparable power, you’d most likely need to evolve up to a Stage Two and then level it up the next turn (essentially a Stage Three Pokémon). Balanced, right?

A less important design tenant we were interested in was the idea of type replacement: when Donphan went out, some other fighting Stage One had to come in. We looked at the full lineup of Pokémon we had, and noticed some pretty stark type imbalances, which meant type reshuffling to create a more universal experience. Some of these type imbalances existed because we were struggling to find cards that could occupy slots just to get the Cube up and running. A great example of this is Exploud, which is a card more bad than interesting. When we were first building it, we saw Exploud as a card that was so bad that it had to fit in with the DP and HGSS-era cards. The fault here was that while the card may have been weak enough to play with the older cards, it wasn’t fun to play at all, and to my knowledge, the card saw no play for the entirety of its time in the Cube. While power cards like Flygon were a major issue, so too was finding suitable and interesting replacements for cards like Exploud.

pokemon-paradijs.comIn Exploud’s case, we stayed within the Colorless typing, opting to instead look at Porygon-Z LV.X, a LV.X that never saw real play but had two very cool Poké-Powers we could use. There was a Porygon-Z that did see fringe play in a fun rogue deck way back, but that card didn’t necessarily fit with what we wanted to do with the Cube (specifically, TMs were a card we didn’t want to include in the draft). Luckily, other Porygon-Z cards (Exhibit A and Exhibit B) existed that themselves possessed unique abilities deemed unworthy back in their respective eras, but could make for interesting drafting choices in this format. The replacement of Exploud for Porygon-Z doesn’t seem that monumental, as the cards themselves are still pretty weak; why would we replace a weak card with another weak card? There is a distinction between cards, and it’s an important one worth noting in any space:

Not all cards are created equal. Some cards in the Cube are naturally weaker than others, and this is due to the fact that the cards themselves are weaker. However, this is not a bad thing, as every card in a format can’t possibly be good. The difference between Exploud and Porygon-Z, then, is in the fact that while the likelihood of getting drafted may be similar, one card is actually interesting. If you see Porygon-Z LV.X, you may be inclined to draft it because you find the Decode Poké-Power to be useful along with something like Noctowl; if you see Dimension Transfer, the value of something like Tools could increase, giving you an idea of what to draft.

In both cases (and with the other Porygon-Z as well), you’re looking at a card that you likely won’t draft given that there are naturally stronger cards, but one that could be useful; the same cannot be said for Exploud, which was just a bleh card. A well-built Cube should be filled with these cards that each hold merit in their own way, and have the potential to see play. Including bad cards like Exploud just as filler is doing a disservice to your Cube and is quite lazy – you get to choose literally every card that will exist in your format, so why cut corners?

How do Cubes Work?

What You’ll Need:
Cubes can be quite expensive to create and maintain, so be prepared for a significant financial investment. Invite some close friends to join in and help even the cost, while expanding the creative minds involved. To get started, you’ll need a few things:

  • Sleeves: You’ll need lots of sleeves! Literally hundreds, both to sleeve all the Pokémon/Energy/Basics/whatever, but also plenty of spares.
  • A box: You’ll need a single box large enough to carry it all. A Cube is essentially a Pokémon TCG Deck Building Game, and you want it all in one place so you can play it whenever, with whomever.
  • An active imagination: Seriously, the most important part! You’re designing your own format, so you’ll need to be really attentive and mindful of every card you put into your Cube. Be aware of all the potential interactions, and make sure you’re willing to search through years worth of sets to find the cards you want.
  • The ability to take criticism: This one’s also important! Ultimately, the goal is to play this Cube with your friends, for the enjoyment of all. If they end up playing it and some of the cards inside create for really boring/oppressive interactions, or the cards themselves aren’t interesting enough, people may voice legitimate criticism! While the Cube is your gift to the Pokémon world, you must be open-minded in accepting criticism to change it and make it better. Not every suggestion may hold merit, but every suggestion should be accepted openly. Nobody wants to sit down and play a boring Cube!
  • Access to Basic Energy/Basics (optional, preferred): I don’t know how others do it with their Cubes, but in my Cube, I provide Basic Energy and the Basic Pokémon. Basic Pokémon should come as a no-brainer, but often times it’s smart to provide your own Basic Energy as well, so that people aren’t required to foot the bill themselves for each playthrough. This makes everything go much smoother and allows for playthroughs with anyone. It’s not required, but it makes for a better logistical experience!

With those things in mind, it’s time to get into the Cube!

The Draft:

So you’re sitting down, ready to play my Cube. The optimal number for this draft should be four people, and this is a fairly common number I’ve seen for various Cubes. Four people is the perfect number to allow each player multiple options for the kind of deck they want to build post-draft. By playing with only four people, you take the pressure off of needing to take consistency cards early (for fear that you won’t see any later), which can also allow you to explore options for a main attacker/strategy early on. After ensuring the piles are sufficiently shuffled, drafting begins. For my Cube, drafting is simple:

1) Everyone takes a stack of 10 cards off the top (this is the “pack” that you draft).
2) Everyone chooses one card in that stack, then places that stack (now nine cards instead of 10) face down and passes it clockwise. This process of selecting a single card and passing the pack repeats until all 40 cards are drafted from the four initial “packs.”
3) Everyone takes a new pack off the top and repeats this process.
4) This repeats until the entire stack is depleted, and every card in the Cube has been drafted.

Simple enough, right? The physical act of drafting is the easiest in the Cube, but ensuring your draft choices are smart will make or break you before play even begins. In order to build a successful deck, you must have a comfortable amount of an attacker or a specific strategy you want to execute, and then the proper number of consistency cards to execute this. Instead of talking in the abstract, I’m going to use a random pack I’ve drawn off the top to walk you through it. I’ll analyze every card choice, detail which card I’d personally choose, and offer some guidelines for drafting in general. Here’s the pack I’ve drawn (all the cards are hyperlinked, and be sure to check out the full setlist at the end of the article):

The Pack:

Dusknoir LV.X, Salamence, Jirachi, Lucario, Professor Oak’s New Theory, Felicity’s Drawing, Luxury Ball, Shrine of Memories, Upper Energy, and Rainbow Energy.

Here we have a fairly normal pack in terms of quality. Some packs you will draft will contain 10 incredible cards (phrases like “wait, what did you possibly take out of this pack?!” are quite common), while others are 10 extremely poor cards. This pack has four Pokémon, four trainers, and two energy. Let’s say that this is your very first pack, and you are about to take your first card. This draft choice can often define your entire draft experience going forward (though isn’t necessarily the case). You see Dusknoir LV.X and Salamence, two strong Stage Two cards. Dusknoir LV.X is a library on its own, but for this card to even work, you’ll need to draft other Dusknoir later. Taking this card at this point means that you’re interested in building a deck around Dusknoir, which means the Pokémon you draft will need to be in support of Dusknoir, to make sure you can get a situation where the LV.X drops every game.

Let’s say you’re looking at Salamence instead, which is a relatively strong evolution on its own. You don’t know what any of the other Salamence do in the Cube (if this is a singleton copy or if there are multiple), or if there’s a LV.X to boost the power level. In this cube, there are other versions of Salamence and a LV.X, but you can’t guarantee you’ll ever see them—someone else might find the LV.X first and snap to take it, hoping they themselves will see Salamence later. Still, this Salamence is a beast on its own, and the dual type cost of its attacks really opens up your drafting options later, a flexibility that something like Dusknoir does not offer. Synergy for Salamence can be found in Pokémon that accelerate energy, or even strong secondary attackers that are either Fire or Water.

Lucario is the third Pokémon we can choose from that can form the core of its own deck. Lucario is a much weaker card than both Salamence and Dusknoir (given that there’s a LV.X, we can assume that the Dusknoir themselves are powerful) in terms of power, but given that it is a Stage One, it is far more consistent. Many strategies have found success throughout the years in Pokémon, and “Brown Beatstick” is a mildly recurring theme – it existed with Donphan Prime! Lucario being a Stage One instantly qualifies it for that style of archetype: a collection of neutrally powerful Stage Ones that can cover their weaknesses to create a resilient and consistent deck. Lucario may not be strong on his own, but there are other Lucario in this Cube (possibly more of the same or singleton), and there are sure to be some other Stage Ones it can combo with.

pokemon-paradijs.comJirachi is the last Pokémon for us to choose. In today’s game, we’re just starting to see the return of starter Pokémon, thanks to cards like Alolan Vulpix and the new Diancie. For veteran players, this should come as no surprise. For the sake of some mild secrecy to those who’ve yet to play my Cube with me or for those who want to explore the setlist below, I won’t spoil what the others are, but there are two copies each of four different starter Pokémon, for a total of eight designated starters. Jirachi is an interesting pick to make, then.

To maximize the utility of Jirachi, you’d need to have a strong main attacker, like Dusknoir or Salamence, that you actually want to set up every game. Taking a starter Pokémon before you even know what your deck will be built around can be risky, as you may never again see a strong attacker that can take advantage of Jirachi’s strengths. However, you know that there are only eight total dedicating starter Pokémon, so taking the consistency option early can give you the flexibility to branch out with more obtuse evolution pairings later. Even if you didn’t know the details of the Cube specifically, you would understand what Jirachi’s purpose was and probably surmise that there aren’t too many copies floating around to be drafted.

Professor Oak’s New Theory (abbreviated as ‘PONT’ going forward) is the first supporter we can choose. Anyone who has any inclination of supporter-based consistency cards should understand how strong this card is. It’s so strong that they printed a slightly weaker version of the card a few years later that totally sucked and saw extremely limited play. Anyway, yeah. If you want to set up your deck, you’re going to have to have ample consistency cards. PONT is arguably the best consistency card in the Cube, in a vacuum. This should be the obvious pick then, right? Well, not exactly. While PONT may be the best consistency card here, it is not the only consistency card in the Cube. At this point, you don’t even know what your deck is going to be, so is it worth investing in consistency cards with your overall first round pick?

Felicity’s Drawing is the second supporter we can choose from. Felicity is less powerful than PONT, but it can be more beneficial to specific decks. Aside from the value in using Felicity to pitch weak cards you no longer need, Felicity is a central part in decks that take advantage of the discard in executing their strategy. The most prominent of these cards in the Cube is probably Infernape LV.X, and the synergy should be obvious to everyone. Felicity’s is great for these strategies and is a strong consistency card in general, but the same arguments against PONT should be used here, to a greater degree: as Felicity’s has more specific use, is it worthwhile to take it immediately, when you don’t even know if your strategy can take advantage of it?

Luxury Ball is the first search card we encounter in our drafts. The card is a reliable form of search that saw play in every deck from the moment of its release to its rotation: it’s literally just a free Pokémon! Luxury Ball is cool, but you don’t even have a Pokémon to search for it yet. There’s likely to be more search later, do you really need search this early?

Shrine of Memories is the last trainer for us to choose, and many of the same arguments as above can be made here. Shrine creates some interesting strategies with the lower evolutions, but the way my Cube is set up, you can’t know what those are until you finish the draft (more on this later), and also, you don’t even have Pokémon to take advantage of this yet!

Upper Energy is the first of two Special Energy we can draft. In this Cube, everyone has free access to any Basic Energy required, but Specials must be drafted. Upper is perhaps the most balanced Energy to provide multiple C Energy attachments. The card is strong, and compliments slower, come-from-behind strategies. As is the case with the trainers, is it viable to draft this early?

Rainbow Energy is the final card of the pack. Rainbow is an Energy almost every player should be familiar with, for good reason! The card is a strong Special Energy that opens up creative deckbuilding and can make otherwise incompatible attackers work together. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but if you don’t even have Pokémon to attach this card to, is it worth to take so early?

What’s the pick?

You’ve studied each of the 10 cards, and are struggling to figure out which to take. How can you possibly make the right decision, without knowing what’s in the packs of your fellow drafters, or hidden in the hundreds of cards yet to be drafted? Truthfully, in drafting, not every draft choice you make will be the most optimal, and that’s okay. You may take something from your pack, only to learn that a card within someone else’s pack synergized with a different card, and now you’re stuck regretting your choice. The best piece of advice I can give you here is to try and hone in on a strategy, attacker, or goal early, and stick to it throughout the entire draft. This may mean passing on some tantalizing cards, but it will keep you focused on reduce the variance that comes from the drafting process.

If it wasn’t apparent from my analysis of the cards in the packs, the answer can be boiled down to, in my opinion, three (or four) cards: Dusknoir LV.X, Salamence, PONT, and if it interests you, Lucario. For starters, you’re playing a Cube, which is purely for entertainment. I don’t think there’s a card in the current formats – either Standard or Expanded – that has as much text on it as Dusknoir LV.X! When are you going to have a chance to play Dusknoir LV.X again, especially against all the other zany cards that could be hidden within? Dusknoir LV.X is a great card to build around, and once other players start honing in on their preferred strategies, you’ll be able to scoop up Dusknoir that they hopefully pass over. Salamence falls under this same argument, for the most part, though is more susceptible to getting stolen for a number of reasons: the LV.X, other Salemence in general, and the ‘cool factor’.

One of the more interesting aspects to Cubes as opposed to regular formats is their subjective nature. Some people want to play Salamence not because it’s necessarily broken or anything, but because it’s cool! Salamence-EX might be the closest a Salamence has come to holding a spot in the tier 1 meta, and even then, it was an outlier, so people often jump at the chance to play a competitive Salamence. While you take Salamence because it’s a cool card and you’re excited to try it out, someone else may have the exact same logic, and now you’re competing for Salamence! This logic applies to Dusknoir, or Porygon-Z, or any of the other cool evolutions I’ve mentioned or that are in the Cube. Lucario is included here as well if you’re a fan of the Pokémon: I personally don’t care for the card (it’s not terribly exciting), but some people really like Lucario, so all the power to them.

pokemon-paradijs.comThe other card that makes a draft-worthy argument is PONT. The reason for this is twofold: PONT is far and away the strongest natural consistency supporter in this Cube, and there aren’t too many copies of it. PONT is so good that it’s often taken immediately and very rarely will it make it the full draft circle without being taken. While Dusknoir LV.X and Salamence are both really cool Pokémon, there are still a lot of other creative strategies waiting to be discovered, while there’s only a set amount of PONT. There are other consistency cards, more than enough to build a functioning deck, but PONT is really good, good enough to force a decision.

I’ve been in situations similar to this one many times in my draft, and truthfully, I’ve gone both ways. Having played the Cube enough to know the different ways to consistently build within its limitations, I know that decks can function without PONT, no matter how strong it is. We’re here in this specific pack, though, so a decision must be made. As I mentioned, Cubes are subjective, and as I’ve never built a deck centered around Dusknoir in any of my drafts before, I’m going to take Dusknoir LV.X. The card is big, it’s got a strong effect, and I can think of a lot of cool cards to combo with it to build a strong Dusknoir deck.

Drafting Like the NFL

So you’ve staked your claim on Dusknoir LV.X, which will inform many of your draft decisions throughout the rest of the draft. This is only the start of the process, though! Having a coherent draft vision will allow you to stay focused and not fall for every shiny new card that comes your way (this is especially difficult for players who’ve never seen a majority of these cards, as you want to explore them all!). Seeing as Dusknoir LV.X is the core of our deck, we’ll need to take cards that combo with it. Many of the Dusknoir deal with some form of control or disruption (check them out below!), so drafting cards that fit with this mindset is important. Pokémon like Zangoose, Blaziken FB, Luxray GL LV.X, and Jirachi all have some disruptive element to them and that don’t conflict heavily with Dusknoir’s Psychic-intensive attack costs (with cheap attack costs that can be activated through Blend, Rainbow, or Colorless attachments).

In the next pack, let’s say we’re fortunate enough to find a Blaziken FB. The idea of a Blaziken FB/Dusknoir deck seems interesting to me: we can use Blaziken FB’s Luring Flame attack in the early game to mess with our opponent’s board, while we set up Dusknoir. Secondly, Blaziken FB’s attack cost can be met with Blend GRPD, which is a Special Energy drafted with lower priority than Rainbow Energy (as it is more specific), which gives us a higher chance of drafting an ample number. Our draft vision is locked down: find Dusknoir, find Blaziken FB and the LV.X, and pick up any stray disruptive Pokémon we can find. As we’re fortunate enough to have this strategy early on, we can focus on consistency much earlier.

pokemon-paradijs.comAs in any game, the coolest strategies are meaningless if we cannot achieve them every game. An evolution line like Dusknoir is massive, both in size and cost, and that means a constant flow of resources to get it up and running. That initial pack we had contained a PONT, and while we passed on it, we’re in a comfortable position to take the next one we find (unless there’s a Dusknoir in the same pack – the decisions!). There are many different kinds of consistency in the Cube, like starter Pokémon, Pokémon like Noctowl, generic supporters, and more. Consistency comes at a premium, but we’ve likely got first dibs on some of the better ones, because we’re not scrambling to find the Pokémon we want to build around. Keep an eye on your consistency cards, because we don’t need to draft all of them.

The other card type we need to be cognizant of is search! Just as there is ample consistency variety, so too is there in search. Pokémon with Call For Family style attacks and supporter/trainer search is how you’ll find the cards you need. Search is often the card type I see overlooked the most often, as people assume it can be picked up at the end. This is a trap I’ve fallen into, especially when compared to the current game: there’s no Ultra Ball in here, so you’re going to need to dedicate far greater deck space to ensuring you get your Pokémon.

As is the case elsewhere in Pokémon, you want to have around 1/4th of your deck be consistency cards, usually not including search. Throw in another generous amount of search cards (let’s say… 10), and you’re almost at 50% of your deck-to-be. This may seem like you’ll be stressed to draft everything you need if this stuff is so important, but you and your drafting partners are all going through literally hundreds of cards, so you’ll have plenty of chances to fill out your decks well. Don’t get too caught up on not getting the specific consistency/search card you wanted! Your friend may have been fortunate enough to get three PONT while you only saw one, but you managed to take full playsets of Roseanne’s Research and Felicity’s Drawing, as well as a grip of other consistency supporters, so you’ll be setting up just fine each game.

Building and Play

Everything’s been drafted, and it’s time to start deck construction. I cannot speak to how other Cubes handle this next process, only my own, so make sure you’re familiar with this aspect of the Cube before you begin drafting. As you’ll notice during the draft, there are no lower evolutions to be picked in any of the packs, and this is intentional. Having to draft an entire Dusknoir line almost guarantees you won’t have all the pieces, and can really limit deck creativity. In my Cube, we grant players an X-X-X line for each card they draft.

If you drafted two Porygon-Z, you have access to a 2-2-2 line. The basic/lower evolutions are set aside in a separate box, which you can take from once the draft is complete. It obviously works on an honor system in that players only take what they actually need, and it has the built-in fail safe of player accountability, in the event someone tries to steal basics from another line just to deprive someone of their basics. This doesn’t happen, because who does that sort of thing in a game purely for entertainment value, but I digress.

While Special Energy need to be drafted, access to Basic Energy is unlimited, and I provide those as well. This means that players only need to focus crafting the important components of their decks and not any of the little details. Other Cubes may require you provide your own Basic Energy, but I usually have enough in mine that it is never a problem. With access to the lower evolutions and your Energy, it’s up to you to build your deck and put this draft theory of yours to the test! Once the deck is built, you can’t change any cards in it, so making sure your counts and theory is sound is most crucial at this final stage.

Once everyone’s constructed their decks, play begins! As my Cube is most optimal at four people, we simply use informal pairings of three rounds until everyone’s played everyone. This is the exciting phase, as it gives everyone a chance to see what zany creations were cooked up in this draft class, and also provide inspiration for future draft ideas. There is only pride and glory to be won after a victorious battle phase, but this is when Pokémon is at its most enjoyable: four friends testing the full range of their skills in a casual and friendly environment.

Assorted Draft Tips

1) Don’t put all your eggs in Dusknoir’s basket: This goes in stark contrast to a lot of what I’ve wrote above, but is very important to keep in mind. Sometimes, you’ll draft a cool card like Dusknoir LV.X early and have a great idea for a deck, and then never see any Dusknoir or Blaziken FB pieces for the rest of the draft. Don’t tunnel yourself into just one deck! It is very common for players in the drafting process (at least in my Cube) to draft the pieces to two completely separate archetypes.

Maybe, in the search for Dusknoir and Blaziken FB pieces, we picked up a bunch of Torterra. The draft concludes, and it turns out we only managed to pick up one additional Dusknoir and a 1-1 Blaziken FB LV.X line, but we picked up a 3-1 Torterra LV.X line and a healthy amount of Porygon-Z, too. While it sucks that we can’t build Dusknoir like we wanted, Torterra is still a beast in his own right and this will make a fine deck.

2) Know the basics and lower evolutions: Before any Cube draft begins, take a bit to familiarize yourself with all the cards inside. This will be useful because you won’t necessarily be learning cards on the fly, but it can also be fun just to look at cards someone deemed worthy for their Cube that you didn’t know existed. In the case of my Cube specifically, also familiarize yourself with the basics and lower evolutions, as there may be hidden gems worth investigating!

The best example of this is Porygon2. Some may be familiar with this card from its time in the Unlimited Format OTK Porydonk deck, or having loosely been aware of its existence back in the time it was legal (this card actually released in the same set as Claydol, the single best form of consistency the game has ever seen). In a Cube format like this, Download is insane, and would be invaluable to any deck. You may think Porygon-Z is bad, but drafting it is the only way you’ll have access to Porygon2, making the pick a much stronger one worth considering.

There are other lower evolutions that may have useful search or draw attacks/abilities; while not in the Cube, cards like Misdreavus (Jason actually ran max copies of this in his Nationals 2012 deck, to ensure he could start with it and have ample early draw!) and most recently Alolan Vulpix come to mind as valuable reasons to pick what could be bad evolutions. While I still need to search through every basic and see if more optimal versions exist (Porygon2 is truthfully the only lower evolution that fulfills this role currently), it is something I plan on finishing soon, which should bring that much more depth to the Cube.

3) Drafting defensively: One of the more commonly known “advanced” concepts of drafting is the art of Defensive Drafting. In a sense, this is the idea that you are drafting cards with the explicit purpose of depriving someone else of a possibly crucial piece to their strategy, or taking cards you know can counter their strategy. For example, let’s take our pack up there, and the fact that we drafted Dusknoir LV.X. We pass our pack, and by the time it gets back to us, we notice that Salamence has also been taken.

Seeing as it is still at the very beginning of the draft, we know that someone else has locked in on a Salamence-focused strategy. We keep this fact in mind for future packs, and a little while later, as we’re successfully moving through the draft, we notice a Salamence LV.X among the 10 cards in a fresh pack we’ve opened. This pack contains some useful supporters or consistency cards, but we remember that someone is trying to build a Salamence deck. By taking Salamence LV.X, we remove their ability to draft the top-end of their deck. We don’t use the Salamence LV.X, obviously, but we are depriving them from having a chance to use it! This may force them off the Salamence idea entirely, and possibly onto a weaker/less ideal strategy, improving our chances of winning the draft.

To complement this, there is also the idea of soft-countering someone’s draft. Let’s say that from that initial pack, we decided to take Salamence instead. The pack comes back to us, and we notice that somebody else has taken Dusknoir LV.X. Given that Dusknoir LV.X works best in a deck that spreads damage, and many of the other Dusknoir deal with spreading/damage manipulation, we can guess that someone is working toward building this sort of archetype. Cards that block the spread of damage, or that heal, could become quite useful. In future packs, taking cards like Jynx, Leftovers, and Life Herb could give our Salamence a lot of bulk, helping him outlast Dusknoir’s spread.

In this instance, we aren’t outright stealing cards from an opposing line that we know we won’t use, we’re merely taking very defensive-natured cards should we feel our deck isn’t strong enough to beat Dusknoir. While this scenario is specific to our pack and Dusknoir, this idea is not. Just as you should make smart decisions with the draft choices out of the packs you see, you should keep tabs on the cards inside them; when the pack comes back to you, paying attention to power cards now absent from the pack can provide information on which cards could be useful in future drafts.

A Finished Product

Perhaps my favorite part of any Cube is the fact that they are never finished! While Omar and I made a pretty serious overhaul of our entire Cube, it is by no means done! In many respects, each playthrough of our Cube actually pushes it farther away from completion! New strategies come forward with each draft and teach us about interesting interactions, letting us know if some cards are too strong or if they’re not seeing play at all. There’s always someone new drafting with me each time, and they often have their own suggestions for cards worth trying, giving us an evolving pool of future cards to explore. Sometimes, it’s fun to put new cards into the pool just for the sake of doing so, for creativity’s sake! You own the Cube, you make the rules.

Well, that’s the end of this behemoth of an article! Hopefully after reading this, you have a better understanding of the increasingly popular Cube format! I highly recommend trying out someone’s Cube if you are able, as they are some of the most enjoyable experiences you can have playing Pokémon! Alternatively, if nobody around you has a Cube, I suggest banding together with a couple of close friends and constructing your own! Cubes are an absolute blast and are a great form of Pokémon expression. As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading, let me know what you guys think, and start drafting! See ya!

The Cube Setlist


4-4-2/1/1-1 Salamence LV.X (AR8/SF24/PLB64AR98)
4-4-2/2-1 Porygon-Z LV.X (TM7/GE6MD100)
3-3 Staraptor FB LV.X (SV11SV147)
4-4-1 Noctowl (HS8XYP136)
2 Zangoose (PL66)
2 Chatot (MD55)
1 Bouffalant (BLW91)
1 Smeargle (BKT123)
1 Tornadus (EPO89)


3-3-3 Togekiss (ROS46)


4-4-1/1/1/1-1 Torterra LV.X (UL10/MD30/DP17/SF11DP122)
4-2/2-1 Yanmega BREAK (SV14/PHF4STS8)
4-4-2/2 Dustox (ROS7/PL25)
2 Illumise (PRC18)


4-2/2-1 Golduck BREAK (PL29/TM22BKP18)
4-4-4/2 Poliwrath/Politoed (UL21/LA12)
4-4 Froslass (AR2)
4-4 Whiscash (PRC41)
2 Regice (LA36)
2 Articuno (MD1)


4-4-1/1/2-1 Infernape LV.X (DP5/MD22/SF3DP121)
3-3 Blaziken FB LV.X (SV2SV142)
2 Moltres (MD10)


4-3/1-1 Electivire LV.X (SW25/TM20MT121)
3-3 Luxray GL LV.X (RR9RR109)
2/2 Zapdos (MD14LTR46)
2 Pachirisu (GE5)
2 Thundurus (EPO97)
1 Stunfisk (BKT56)


4-4-1 Hippowdon LV.X (RR25RR107)
4-2/2-1 Lucario LV.X (LA61/PL53MT122)
2/1 Regirock (LA38/XYP49)
2 Lucario GL (RR8)
1 Terrakion (NVI73)

2× Druddigon (FLF70)


4-2/2 Bastiodon (MT21/PL20)
2 Cobalion (NVI84)
2/2/2 Jirachi (RR7/XYP67/UL1)


4-4-1/1/1/1-1 Dusknoir LV.X (DP2/SF1/SF17/DPP33SF96)
3-3 Gallade FB LV.X (RR20RR106)
4 Unown Q (MD49)
2 Jynx (FFI37)
2 Azelf (LA19)
1 Mr.Mime (MT30)


4-4-4 Shiftry (RR13)
4-4-2/2 Hydreigon (NVI79/PHF74)
3/2 Absol (PLF67/ROS40)
2 Sableye (SF48)
1 Spiritomb (STS62)


8 Roseanne’s Research (SW125)
8 Felicity’s Drawing (GE98)
6 Bebe’s Search (SW119)
6 Professor Oak’s New Theory (HS101)
4 Teammates (PRC141)
4 Copycat (HS90)
4 Judge (UL78)
4 Cynthia’s Feelings (LA131)
4 Looker’s Investigation (PL109)
4 Engineer’s Adjustments (UL75)
4 Volkner’s Philosophy (RR98)
4 Seeker (TM88)
2 Palmer’s Contribution (SV139)

4 Broken Time-Space (PL104)
4 Shrine of Memories (PRC139)
3 Galactic HQ (PL106)
2 Miasma Valley (PL111)
2 Frozen City (PLF100)
2 Stark Mountain (LA135)
2 Conductive Quarry (SF82)
2 Lake Boundary (MT112)
2 Pokémon Contest Hall (RR93)
2 Mountain Ring (FFI97)
2 Skyarrow Bridge (NXD91)

8 Pokémon Communication (HS98)
4 Luxury Ball (SF86)
4 Quick Ball (MD86)
4 Level Ball (NXD89)
6 Pokédex (PL114)
4 Junk Arm (TM87)
6 Switch (HS102)
6 Warp Point (MD88)
4 Night Maintenance (SW120)
4 Pokémon Rescue (PL115)
4 Life Herb (PL108)
8 Rare Candy (GE102)
4 EXP. Share (NXD87)
4 Bubble Coat (LA129)
3 Lucky Egg (AR88)
3 Leftovers (GE99)
2 Memory Berry (PL110)
2 Weakness Policy (PRC142)

Special Energy:
8 Call Energy
6 Upper Energy
6 Rainbow Energy
4 Rescue Energy
4 Blend GFPD
4 Blend WLFM
2 Cyclone Energy
2 Warp Energy

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