Magic Arena, Cube, and How I learned to playtest my Cube digitally

Since the end of May of 2022, I finally got started on playing Magic: the Gathering Arena (henceforth MTGA). One of the main factors that got me into the game was writing this blog. Cube was one of the formats hit really hard by the pandemic since many play groups were unable to come together due to uncertainty of the pandemic. Aside from the play aspect, testing cards and getting a feel for them became much more difficult, especially since WotC hasn't slowed down their production rate. In addition to all this, cube is such a unique format because it varies from creator to creator, cube to cube, making it one of the most difficult formats to really playtest for. I had to go off on my own judgment on how cards were playing, just based on just the text of the cards. As a result, I underrated and overlooked (and I was a little overwhelmed) a bunch of cards and it wasn't until I started playing in person limited and Arena did I start to appreciate each of these cards. Reddit and other forums were good sources as well, however they had just as much experience with the card as I did. For context, one of the cards I overlooked was The Wandering Emperor. First impressions this reminded me of a lesser Elspeth, Knight Errant, however from actually getting a chance to play with it, this is up there as one of white's premier 4 drops. In this post, I focusing on discussing ways to test your cube digitally to better design and get a better feel for them.

Arena and Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO) have been excellent programs for magic and have been great for testing these cards. The ease of accessibility that both programs provide is undeniable and has some actually complaining about it. With several hundreds and thousands of games played a day, the amount of data gathered from these programs has led the player base to believe the standard format has been solved on a couple of occasions.  For myself, the programs have allowed me to get a better feel for a card and what cards play with them. Cards that are more value oriented and less synergy based are easier to test on these platforms. This is possible because both games are populated and making it possible to find a game of any format, whenever I want. The main problem from this point would be card acquisition. If you are not familiar with either magic programs, MTGO's method of card collection tries to mirror paper magic as much as possible, thus you have to buy/get cards from other people or through opening booster packs. The cards on MTGO are significantly cheaper than they are on in paper, however you still need to put money in. MTGA on the other hand, you need to spend wild cards to get exactly what you want, it's free and as long as you play a fair amount, being able to play what card you want should not be that difficult. 

One of the other nice things about these two platforms is that occasionally WotC will run their own curated cubes. MTGO has their famous Vintage Cube as well as others while MTGA is currently running Chromatic Cube. These are great starting points for learning about cube for experienced Magic players since players only have to worry about playing and not designing. Playing these cubes has helped me get a better feel of the experiences I'm wanting to incorporate in my cube. Vintage Cube has been the inspiration for my traditional cube and the cubes of many others. Having recently played Chromatic Cube on MTGA, a lot of what the cube is trying to achieve are ideas I find myself wanting to incorporate in my commander cube. With how accessible both platforms is to just queue up and play with people, I am also able to experiment with different play and draft styles. I get to see how different decks come together and what cards are really the glue to enable various archetypes. What's better is that WotC is always trying to sell their new cards, they will often update Vintage Cube to incorporate. This is another bonus for cube designers as now we have a chance to test the newest cards in a cube environment, whether we play with them or against them. 

"How can mirrors be real if our eyes aren't real?"
There are some problems with cubing through official digital MTG. It is dependent on how you choose to play but the digital formats have chosen to stray away from pairing you with the people you drafted with. In a traditional in person play session for cube, the players are drafting one cube and playing with one another. In the digital era for the sake of modern convenience, this has been largely done away with in favor of pairing people in a pool. This changes everything as you are now playing with people outside your pod. I am not a fan of this because it discourages hate drafting, which is a legitimate strategy in the drafting phase. I had a moment at my LGS during a draft event, in my pod, I went Rakdos (BR) to get access to a bunch of removal. I decided to mess around and draft a bunch of removal to get it away from my opponents. Because we had an odd number of drafters that day, we ended up mixing the pods together and I got paired with another dude who was stacked on removal. Shame on me for doing that, but it was funny to me. For cube, hate drafting is important as it can shut off certain strategies like Kiki-Twin or Storm, especially when presented with the end of the packs. Aside from this factor, you're more likely to run into others who are playing the same colors, cards, and possibly deck as you. 

Absolute Monster in Cube
I almost forgot about this last problem and it's one of the larger, maybe largest problems: Not every paper card has made it to these platforms. With how complicated Magic is and how streamlined WotC wants to be with their online platforms, some cards just don't make it to the digital platforms until enough people complain. One of the largest examples I remember was Palace Jailer not being MTGO for the longest time. If I remember correctly, Legacy Death and Taxes looked different on paper and MTGO because of this since it was played in that deck. This holds true for many of the draft matters cards from Conspiracy and Conspiracy: Take the Crown. Cards like Arcane Savant are overlooked simply because newer cube designers just haven't seen the card and don't understand its functions. I do want to say these online platforms are still great and their cubes are fun, but they still are unable to replicate accurate cube game play, let alone the social aspect of disrespecting your friends for taking the Storm deck you wanted to play.

Outside of official products, there are still ways to test digitally. On Cube Cobra, you are now able to draft your and other people's cubes with other users/ your friends. This is great since a majority of the cube community has their cube list posted on there. I have yet to test this feature out, so those of us who have leave a comment on how that goes. I believe they announced that this is a new feature with their website and they are still hammering out the kinks. With the ability to be able to draft with others, the part is to play them. Since you have a list of card you drafted, you just need to find a suitable platform to play them on. The most accessible option is Cockatrice, which gives you access to the whole library of Magic and if you can figure it out even custom cards. The problem is that the deck builder is bare minimum and you have to manually go through and acknowledge each of the steps. This method is a hassle to deal with since you need to go through so many hoops, but we cubers don't really have options. I have heard that you can also use Tabletop Simulator to recreate the whole cubing experience. I don't know the process for that, but those who play MTG on it report good things, like how smooth the whole process is.

With all that being said, thanks for taking the time to read. If you appreciate my work, just leave a comment to let me know someone is actually reading these or to say I'm utter trash. Also if you know a better way to play and test your cubes digitally, I'd be more than ecstatic to lend you my eyes and ears if you want to discuss it. If you have questions or corrections you can use the contact form or leave a comment on Reddit. If you want to stay up to date with my stuff, feel free to join my email list at the bottom of the post or click here for the link to join. If you want to support the work, I'm doing, please consider using my affiliate link with TCGplayer if you were already using them to buy cards or going to my Patreon. Your support will go to upgrading this website to become more user friendly and informative.


  1. Nice write-up! I ditched arena a few years back as it wasn't sparking joy, but your framing of it as a way to experience cards more easily is convincing me to give it another go.

  2. It's also really neat for trying formats you would never build a paper deck for. I actually like standard brawl because of mtga, would I ever play it in person? Naw, we got cube.


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