The Standard Cube
If you're unfamiliar with Cube Drafting, then check out our Cube Introduction article
The building of a draft cube is rarely approached as pure science or pure art, but as a mixture of the two. How predominant intellect or intuition is going into the building is dependent on the builder, so there's already a challenge here in what the objectively best way to draft a cube is simply because there probably isn't one. What there is, however, is a diverse body of experimentation and experience from the past couple of years that anyone interested in learning how to cube draft can benefit from. As such, this article is more of an overview of drafting in general from which the reader can, hopefully, start a cube that is enjoyable in both creation and in play.
Just in case your eyes happened to fall upon this article and you just decided to roll with it, the Cube is a variant way of playing Magic: the Gathering where the card pool is completely chosen beforehand and all the players chose their decks from the pool. An advisable pool is 460 cards, as this allows eight players to each put together a 45 card deck while still leaving enough left over for a couple extra friends. If you want to go lean and mean, go with 360 cards. At the other end of the spectrum you can go with one of those giganto pools that run into over a thousand cards simply because you add in every new overpowered superbeast that comes out with every expansion.
Balance can actually wind up being one of your worst enemies in cube construction. While the creation of a cube that consists of all the powerful cards that MtG has created since the dawn of time can be fun, the law of averages practically demands that someone gets a bad hand followed by mana drought while everyone else is getting all the Black Lotuses. We’ve probably all gotten a hand like this, but when you're in a high powered game, the end results are more painful and end the game quickly for at least one person. If you have aspirations of creating high-powered cubes you might as well start off there, just consider cutting the gang a few breaks here and there. Say someone gets either 1 mana, no mana, or all mana in their draw. Let them have a free mulligan. It doesn't do much to save them if things get unlucky in the draw later, but a fighting chance at the beginning would be appreciated.
Maintaining a consistent power level in your cube is a necessity for everyone to have fun. There are cubes that have all the overpowered cards known in the game, then there the Pauper cubes that have nothing but commons. Both offer different play styles and challenges, but I would not under any circumstances try a mixture of these two cubes. What happens when you have one player with the high powered hand and the other with all the commons? Take a look at History. Only one side ever has any real fun in History.
One of the things that can also cool your jets in terms of the cards you use is the simple fact that these things cost money, sometimes a lot of it. Your dream cube looks great until you do some price checking. You can avoid this by taking a land card and writing "Library of Alexandria" (or another rare you want to use) on it.
Are some cubes going to be better than others? Personally, I think that’s dependent on how tight your pool is. A 1080 card pool does have more outward potential for variation than a 460 card pool, but size doesn’t count a lot past there. Another good consideration is what deck Archetypes you can gear towards building. Creating a cube that gravitates towards Discord, Sligh, and Storm deck construction gives a good, basic structure to build from if you’re a first time builder, and allows the players a greater level of control over the decks they construct. In terms of colors you’re going to want to have everything, but odds are that advantage is going to be based on the cards with lowest casting costs. As such, people are going to more than likely be grabbing for blue and red cards consistently in their draft. Between blue’s low cost interrupts and discards, and red’s low cost direct damage spells, there is not a lot in the other three colors that can gain advantage as efficiently as those two colors, so be ready to see seasoned players grabbing for those two colors first. Beyond that, consider structuring your deck around being 54% monochrome spells and creatures, 14% lands of various types, 12% artifacts, 10% multi- colored, and 10% hybrid. This gives you a good bet against imbalanced hands at the beginning of the game that requires everyone mulliganing until the end of time.
Now, the moment of truth: Playtesting. If your cube leaves everyone singing your praises first game around, congratulations! Now stop playing Magic and go get a job as a statistician, because you have a mutant-level gift and should make big money. Seriously, though, this is where all the bugs will come out and it will help if your players know that they’re going to be part of that experience if this is your first time with a cube. Pay attention to what archetypes are and are not working, what color or color combos are dominating or failing, and also which cards just aren’t getting played at all, and tune your cube accordingly. While how these factors play out may just be isolated to your particular group of players at the time, they may also indicate where a more objective tweak is necessary. Pay attention to these trends, and alter accordingly.
Again, this is just a basic overview of a substantially complex subject, but should be enough to get you going towards a challenging and fun element of Magic you haven’t explored before. Enjoy!