It’s Hip to Be… Cubing!

A Discussion on Cubing and Using Tabletop Simulator
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Not just an early-20th-century art movement.

Hey everyone! It’s been a hot minute since my last article, as I took the last month off and didn’t play much Pokémon. I’ve spent my time doing other hobbies such as playing chess, learning some Python, and now… cubing! Michael Slutsky piqued my interest when he uploaded the contents of his and Omar Field-Ridley’s cube to Tabletop Simulator, a downloadable game on Steam. From what I understand, it was originally used for classic board games, but people have uploaded other games to it such as DC Deck-Building, Pokémon, and others. These can be found in various Workshops in the Steam community. Workshops can be downloaded and edited by people, allowing them to create and save decks. It’s really a wonderful tool.

Big props to RomyKing for creating the PTCG Workshop.

None of this would be possible without contributions by a user named RomyKing. They’ve uploaded scans of every Pokémon TCG card ever printed. From there, it’s possible to pull out specific cards from sets in order to make decks; simply clone as much as you need and then save the deck as an object. I’ll get more into that in a second, as learning the basics of Tabletop Simulator isn’t entirely easy, even with the tutorial.

My plan for this article is to talk about setting up Tabletop Simulator for anyone interested in creating their own decks, cubes, etc. within the application. Next, I’ll talk about my experience with Michael and Omar’s cube and developing my own.

Perhaps a good precursor to this article is this one here, written by Michael Slutsky himself a few years ago. The contents of his cube listed at the end are drastically different than his current version, but it should give you a start to what one looks like. Also, if you do some searching, you can surely find lists for more cubes.

One example is this one, made by Kyle Renfield:

There’s also a Discord server (https://discord.gg/SteWsDw) which hosts monthly cube tournaments and has set lists from previous cubes.

Using Tabletop Simulator

If you haven’t downloaded Tabletop Simulator yet, now’s your chance. It’s $20 on Steam, which is entirely worth it if anyone else you know owns it—the fun is in playing with friends. Now, whether it’s creating a deck, cube, or simply messing with cards, the first task is subscribing to RomyKing’s Steam Workshop with all of the card information. Then, when you boot up Tabletop Simulator and create a lobby, you can load it under your list of “Workshops.” If it doesn’t pop up immediately, there’s a tab called “Game” on the upper bar.

Once you’ve loaded in, you’ll see bags of every era with sets inside of them. I recommend only meddling with one color of bag so that there’s always a backup if needed. Searching the bag is the cleanest way of finding exactly what you want, as you can drag specific sets out from the side. Each box contains multiple copies of the set in case you accidentally delete one. When you’ve dragged a set and have a stack of cards, simply search it again to find the specific card you want. Then, the easiest thing is to clone that card using the drop-down menu after right-clicking it. Rinse and repeat until your deck is finished.

Now, you want to save this deck by right-clicking on it and selecting “Save Object.” Rename it whatever you like and let it save. You can then spawn in additional copies by selecting “Objects” and “Saved Objects.” It’s also possible to save lobbies. For example, you might want a lobby dedicated to 2010 (DP–UL) decks, so you create a copy of the original lobby with all of the cards, layout your 2010 decks, then delete all of the unnecessary cards. Saving that creates a playing area that doesn’t require the loading time of every card.

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Pram’s drafting table.

Lastly, Michael Pramawat created a drafting table that automates the process of drafting. (Previously, we would group the cards in our hand and set them down beside the next person.) This automates the process. I saved my cube as an object so that I can spawn a copy into that lobby when I want to play, rather than creating my own lobby. That way, whenever I update the cube I don’t have to update two lobbies. My only gripe is that it doesn’t contain Y Energy, which can easily be solved by saving some alongside the cube.

The Quarantine Cubing Craze

The spike in popularity of cubing among many is a direct result of quarantining. Playing online with friends replicates some aspects of in-person tournaments, mainly that of community and seeing friends. I’ve reconnected with Pokémon players I haven’t talked to since the last tournament, and it’s been refreshing to play some casual-yet-competitive games for a few hours. I enjoy drafting as much as playing, and running the same cube multiple times allows for different experiences each time. There’s always a new deck to try, and at the very least different card counts due to drafting variance.

Playing Michael and Omar’s Cube

For a few weeks in a row, I cubed nonstop, usually running it at least three times per day. Sometimes I’d squeeze in a fourth. People were always excited to play, as this was the start of the Tabletop Simulator hype. It wasn’t terribly difficult to find 4–6 people to play, but downtime was good for doing other things anyway.

Their cube is based around a 2010 power level, mainly utilizing Pokémon and Trainers from that era. However, the 2010 theme is merely a guideline, as there are older and newer cards alike that fit that power level. For example, Capture Energy is a recent card that fits perfectly. It’s more resourceful throughout the game than Call Energy, which is almost only good on turn one because it passes the turn. Capture Energy has a weaker effect, but is useful on every turn of the game.

The most enjoyable aspect of their cube is that it focuses on older cards. It’s been at least eight years since most of the cube’s cards were legal, meaning that the freshness of playing with them again is inherently enjoyable. Also, stylistically the decks are built differently than they are in recent times. Support Pokémon are incredibly relevant due to the neutered Supporter lines: Roseanne’s Research, Bebe’s Search, Cynthia’s Feelings, etc. There are also draw Supporters like Professor Oak’s New Theory, Copycat, and Judge, but the bread and butter 2010 engine remains true. Claydol GE, the powerhouse of the Diamond & Pearl draw engine, is replaced by Noctowl HS and Slurpuff XY instead. Decks are uniquely crafted, with many questions asked along the way of drafting.

With their cube, you don’t draft the pre-evolutions of cards in the draft. For example, if you draft a Flygon, you’re given a Trapinch and a Vibrava. This promotes the use of Evolution Pokémon, as for any stage Pokémon it only requires four drafted cards to have the full set.

Finally, an important aspect of their cube is the presence of different types of decks. Spread, tanky sweeper, midrange, slow, and combo decks have the resources to succeed. It’s important to have this diversity to make the drafting process feel different. Otherwise, it’ll feel like your choices while drafting aren’t really changing the identity of your deck. Many Pokémon can swing for 2HKOs, and it’s possible to build a cube entirely around that. But that would be boring, wouldn’t it?

These loosely-outlined components are what make a cube enjoyable and repeatable to play. A cube needs a theme, specific dynamics that it wants to promote, and Pokémon that are fun and interesting. These are the criteria that I kept in mind while designing my own cube.

Making My Own: First Failure (HGSS Era Cube)

I originally set out to make a cube focused around cards of the HeartGold & SoulSilver era, such as Yanmega Prime and Magnezone Prime. These cards are inherently interesting because of their unique effects, but I kept running into a single problem when I was brainstorming ideas: some cards are too good to be added. One example is Donphan Prime. It requires zero synergy with anything else, yet it hits for a lot of damage with strong typing. The counter to Donphan Prime would be Kingdra Prime, but then I’m creating a chain of certain cards countering others, and establishing a draft hierarchy based on that. The end result might be fair, but perhaps not very fun in the drafting process. This is actually a problem that I’m struggling with in my modern cube (the one I finished), which I’ll get into later.

The elephant in the HGSS format.

When I thought about including or excluding some of these cards, I realized that it would be difficult to balance this with only HGSS cards. My plan was to make it an HGSS block cube, meaning that only cards from those sets would be included. I quickly realized this would be fairly boring and even more stale than the 2011 (HS–BLW) format, and quickly scrapped it. If I was to go about making it, I would include 2010 cards that matched the power level of the 2011 cards, similar to Michael and Omar’s. Joe Ruettiger also created a cube with this theme, which I played yesterday and enjoyed.

Take Two: The Modern Cube

In talking with Michael Slutsky about my frustrations, I exclaimed that it would be too difficult to make a cube revolving around modern cards. I was worried that it would be impossible to balance because modern cards overshadow anything from previous formats. My other issue was with Pokémon-EX/GX giving up 2 Prize cards, a pace that feels much different than the single-Prize Pokémon battles I enjoyed with the 2010 theme. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and start making a note of interesting cards in an Excel spreadsheet.

Sorry, Zoroark—no DCE in this cube.

After scrolling through the list of every legal Pokémon-EX/GX, I quickly realized the theme I was going for: a nerfed 2017/2018 power level. I primarily focused on cards between Primal Clash and Celestial Storm—basically a merge between the 2017 and 2018 Standard formats. By nerfed, I mean excluding specific strong cards, such as Max Elixir, Double Colorless, Professor Sycamore, and Choice Band. Thinking back, removing these cards quickly dampens the strength of many archetypes. Zoroark-GX without DCE is super weak, and Buzzwole-GX decks without the boost from Choice Band, Strong Energy, and Diancie p lose most of their punch. By omitting these cards, the decks will be weaker than they were in Standard. Every archetype is missing at least one essential component, so it remains fair.

I decided to lean into the idea of using strong cards from these formats rather than weaker ones. Michael and Omar’s cube utilizes some Pokémon that were outshined by others in the format, whereas mine aims to use recognizable Pokémon in a new atmosphere. For example, Incineroar-GX TEU was in the cube. It was probably mid-tier in terms of strength, but no one ever drafted it because it was boring compared to the other cards that have always been competitive. People who’ve played the cube say that it’s enjoyable to play with recent cards in a healthy way, and Incineroar-GX didn’t fit that memo.

A better alternative to Parallel City.

Though some cards I’ve included don’t fit the era, I’ve added them because they make the experience more fun. The best example is including Giant Stump rather than Parallel City. Everyone knows (and hates) Parallel City because you can cripple your opponent without a downside. The other annoying part is that Parallel City directly cripples the three core types, making them slightly worse than everything else. Giant Stump, however, limits both players to three Bench spaces. So far, Giant Stump has been used as a self-Bench clearer and also a counter to slower decks that utilize Stage 2s or full boards. I also have a few interesting HGSS Pokémon like Electrode Prime and Blissey Prime which don’t fit the era, but promote archetypes and are fun to use.

A Description of My Cube

  • Theme: nerfed 2017 + 2018 Standard formats (PRC–CES), modern cards, lack of OP support cards
  • Promoted Dynamics: 1 vs. 2 Prizes per KO, Megas, Tool/Stadium Wars
  • Notable Interesting Pokémon: Many
  • Spirit Links and pre-evolutions are not drafted

It’s important to keep track of the basic goals you want to achieve when designing the cube. It’s like writing an essay; you start out with a base outline that you then flesh out with specific details. The outline is the guideline for your design, and the bulk is the grunt work of checking the card database.

Like Michael and Omar’s, I chose to keep the rule of receiving a copy of each pre-evolution per Evolution Pokémon drafted. I also extended this to Spirit Links. You receive one copy of the respective Spirit Link per Mega drafted. So if you draft a 2-3 line of M Gardevoir-EX, you’ll receive 3 Gardevoir Spirit Links.

Lastly, there are house rules regarding the interactions of Garbotoxin vs. Poké-Powers and Jamming Net + Primal Kyogre-EX. As it stands, Garbotoxin does shut off Poké-Powers. Jamming Net and Primal Kyogre-EX should be played as if their text includes Pokémon-GX as well.

Here’s a Google Sheets with my most recent version: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1MEFflfauZ7cop3_6GfLrTsJpV4unNeormqaYcNrSRKQ/edit?usp=sharing

Problems I Still Face

Drafting Dynamics

Staples are important, but so is variance.

One problem I continue to face is that some cards belong in every deck. These three cards for my cube are Tapu Lele-GX, N, and Lysandre. My cube is built for four players and has 6, 6, and 8 copies of each of these cards, respectively. My rationale behind this is I want people to always get at least 1 Lysandre, 1–2 Tapu Lele-GX, and 1–2 N. The problem that arises is that no matter what is in the rest of the pack, it’s almost always in your best interest to take one of these cards immediately. This leaves the # of copies you get up to chance, and introduces repetition during the drafting process. The ways around this are to (A) give everyone X amounts of each card, or (B) remove them entirely. I don’t want to choose solution 1 because that worsens the problem of repeated deck-building. If everyone is given 2 copies of each, then they’ll throw them in their deck immediately and only be drafting for 54 cards. The second solution isn’t great either because these cards are strong yet healthy, and offer consistency, disruption, and gust, respectively. Without them, the cube would be worse.

Lack of Deck Archetypes

Unlike Michael and Omar’s 2010 cube, this one features worse diversity in this department. One explanation is that their cube is built for six players, while mine is built for four. The main reason is that the other archetypes didn’t exist during those formats. Dedicated spread decks required many cards, most of which aren’t even in the cube. I can’t justify adding in Tapu Koko SM31 among others that would be useless in any deck other than pure spread. Decidueye-GX and Alolan Ninetales-GX are in the cube anyway.

Less Interesting Cards

Simply put, recent cards are much more boring than older ones. Take a look at Stormfront and tell me when you find a boring card. DP era sets had much cooler cards than we do today, making them more fun to play with than recent ones. The most flavorful cards in my cube are Decidueye-GX and Dusknoir BCR, which are uninteresting compared to the second coolest cards from a 2010 cube.

Less Nuance with EX/GX Attackers

One additional thing I like about weaker Pokémon is that chip damage is more relevant. In my cube, you’re almost always playing for a solid 2HKO or 1HKO. Any Bench damage is irrelevant unless manipulated somehow. This problem has to do with running a modern cube that includes 2-Prize Pokémon, as there’s no way around that.

Fewer Combos in Deck-Building

One additional gripe is that combining Pokémon lines is disadvantageous when your opponent can take all of their Prize cards from the first. For example, there’s no reason to combine Metagross-GX with anything other than itself because you can attack with it the entire game. With single-Prize Pokémon, you can reasonably expect to set up 3–4, leaving three free Prize cards to the opponent unless you have lots of recovery or a secondary attacker.

A Summary

Playing and creating cubes has been one of my favorite pastimes in the past month or two. It promotes creativity and allows me to play with a lot of the cards I love over the years. I highly recommend playing them, and if you’re up for it, creating one. Remember to plan your theme before doing anything else, then begin to look for cool Pokémon that you want to add. I started out with Decidueye-GX and Garbodor GRI/BKP. From there, I went down the list and wrote down anything I liked—it isn’t harder than that.

Most importantly, have fun with cubing. I’ve come across some wacky ideas that I never thought I’d like, but end up do because of how crazy they are. Almost any cube can be fun, and the magic in creating it is getting it to that point.

I hope you’re staying healthy and having a good summer. So long and happy cubing!

Xander

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