Conquering the Commander Cube: Deciding the Rules of Your Cube

Justin Fanzo • May 11, 2023

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV by Zoltan Boros

Hello, Commander players! Today we return with another edition of Conquering the Commander Cube. Our topic today is deciding the rules of your cube, and some of you might be confused by that title. After all, both Magic: the Gathering and the Commander format already have predefined rules, right?

Of course, but the Cube format is unsanctioned, meaning that there aren't official rules governing Cube construction or drafts, and thus it's up to us as cube designers to decide our own rules and mechanics for Commander Cube. One hopes that Cube will become sanctioned one day, but in the meantime, let's talk about some of the key rules considerations to make when building and drafting cubes.

Building a Cube

Number of Cards in the Cube

As mentioned in my first CCC article, one of the first determinations you'll need to make is how big you want your cube to be. The number of cards in your cube is important not only for construction purposes, but also for drafting, as your cube's size will impact the number of packs that you draft. As a quick reminder, here are the standard cube sizes:

  • Small Cube = 360 cards
  • Medium Cube = 540 cards
  • Large Cube = 720 cards
  • X-Large Cube = 900+ cards

Banned Cards

Another important consideration to make is whether you want to include banned cards in your cube. Given that Cube is unsanctioned, it's a bit of a Wild West when it comes to determining what's legitimate for a cube. Many cube designers will just use the regular Commander ban list when determining which cards are not allowed for cubes, but this is not a requirement. If you prefer to include a card such as Biorhythm or Coalition Victory, that is your prerogative.

Ultimately, it is up to you as a cube designer to decide whether any banned cards are conducive to a fun draft experience. Recall the analogy I made in the original CCC article about cube creators as game designers. This consideration is one where you will have to put your game designer hat on and think critically about player experience and use that determination to help you decide which cards to include in your cube.

Cards from Illegal Sets and Formats

This is a similar consideration to the previous one, though I will say that there is more of a taboo around including cards from illegal sets in cubes, unless you are constructing a cube dedicated to those sets. For instance, Un- set cubes are a thing (and there will be a Conquering the Commander Cube article about constructing them at some point in the future!), so players are expecting those kinds of cards going into the experience. You just want to avoid including cards that fit best in different formats within the same cube.

Toxic Cards

This one is incredibly subjective and meta- and playgroup-contingent, so you'll have to interpret this advice within your own individual context. After playing with your friends or people from your local game store long enough, you'll start to get an idea of which commanders and which Commander cards are frustrating to see on the table because they inhibit fun and which cards are more conducive to fun.

As noted above, this one is subjective, and while some cards, like Tergrid, God of Fright and Sen Triplets, are more ubiquitously hated, other cards are less clear-cut. They may be accepted in some circles but shunned in others, so you'll likely have to do some playtesting to see which cards are the most conducive to fun. As a general rule, if you're on the fence about including a card in your cube, try leaving it out and finding a better alternative. There are more than enough cards throughout MTG history to replace them.

Drafting a Cube

When and How to Draft Commanders

Another important question to consider is when and how you want to draft commanders. One way to do it is to have separate packs of commanders that players can draft a number of commanders from and then choose one at the end of the draft to be their commander; this is my preferred method, as it allows for more deliberate deckbuilding on the part of players, since they will know going into the rest of the draft what their commander options are and will be cognizant of which cards they choose accordingly.

Another way to do it is to just have legendary creatures mixed in with the rest of the cards in your cube and simply have players draft their commanders along with other cards during the draft. This method makes Commander Cube drafts more similar to other draft formats, though there is always a risk that less observant players could either draft no legendary creatures or legendary creatures that don't jive well with the pool of cards they draft (this is where having cards like The Prismatic Piper in an external draft pool comes in handy; more on that later).

Another question, if choosing the first option, is when you want players to draft their commanders. Again, I would advocate for drafting commanders before the rest of the draft, as it allows for more deliberate deckbuilding on the part of players, and thus will generally lead to more synergistic decks in the end. The choice is ultimately yours, however. Experiment and see what works best for you and your playgroup.

Number of Cards Per Deck

The typical Commander deck has exactly 100 cards in it, but it can be rather arduous to draft 100 cards--technically less because of lands, though you'll also want to give players selection, so it could end up being a lot more--so many cubes will opt for smaller decks, usually something like 50 or 60 cards. I've found 60 cards to be a good number, as it generally gives players enough pieces to play with without running out of cards while also being a reasonable number of cards to draft.

Something else to keep in mind is that draft decks aren't nearly as well-tuned as constructed decks, so it's very unlikely that players will develop a card draw/filtering engine that will cause them to mill out. This is also something that comes down to cube balancing as well, though, so be thinking about card throughput as you are putting a cube together.

Swaps and Trades

One practice implemented to allow for greater deck fixing is permitting a certain number of swaps or trades after the draft. Usually swaps and trades, if permitted at all, are limited to only a handful. If you do want to allow them, then I would suggest setting a hard number of swaps/trades (I recommend 3). When it comes to swaps, usually you'll want to include a predesignated pool of swap cards for players to draft from, instead of allowing them to sift through hundreds of cube cards, as that will take way too long and needlessly draw out the draft process.


This one is something that I like to do personally, as it helps in creating a more balanced gameplay experience. Including freebies entails allotting a certain number of cards to be included in every player's deck (unless they choose to omit them). Cards that make good candidates for this category include Sol Ring, Mind Stone, Arcane Signet, and Jayemdae Tome. Colorless cards that help fix mana and draw cards for all players make good candidates for this category.

Final Thoughts

I hope that the rules considerations discussed in this article prove useful in helping you decide the rules for your own cube. Don't fret too much about finding the perfect ruleset if you are new to building cubes, as rule-tuning will come with playtesting your cube. Best of luck in building your cubes, and feel free to post links to your own cube decklists, rules, and gameplay videos in the comments. Happy gathering!

Categories: Opinion

More From Justin Fanzo

I'm an avid gamer with a passion for game design and both critical and creative writing. I've been playing Magic: the Gathering for over 15 years, and I've been playing the Commander format since its official adoption by Wizards of the Coast in 2011. My articles focus on vorthos deck building, designing decks for overlooked commanders, and designing commander cubes.