The Three Kingdom’s Dilemma

This guest post is written by Reuben Bresler. For those wishing to contribute to, contact eerwin at gmail dot com.

By Reuben Bresler

Hello there everyone. My name is Reuben Bresler. Some of you may have heard of me, but for those of you who haven’t let me quickly introduce myself. I have been playing Magic since I was ten years old and playing competitively at PTQs and Grand Prix since I was twelve. I have also been a writer for various other Magic web sites, including TCGplayer and Star City Games.

When it comes to the Cube, I consider myself to have a decent amount of expertise, having played with well over a dozen different Cubes of varying designs and sizes. With that in mind, I know that there are many issues you must face when building a Cube of your own, from the practical (how can I afford all these expensive cards?) to the theoretical (which X spells should I cut?) to the mundane (should I really spring for the double sleeves?).

One of the more controvertial topics in my experience when building a Cube is the inclusion or denial of cards from sets that weren’t as widely released as the other major sets and cards only available through promotional materials, making the cards much more difficult to find and often more expensive to attain. I call this ‘The Three Kingdoms Dilemma.’ The sets I typically refer to having this problem are the three Portal expansions, the two years of Starter (1999 and 2000) and the two Un-Sets, Unglued and Unhinged. I also include those few Magic promotional cards with limited release.

Most people have decided that it simply isn’t worth the trouble to try to get the twenty or so cards from these sets, regardless of how powerful they might be. The problem with this is that I often see these very same Cube owners with very expensive and very rare cards like Judge foils or Mishra’s Workshop, cards that are at least as expensive as the ‘difficult to attain’ cards in question.

A bigger issue here, in my opinion, is to the regular Joe Q. Cube Master who simply can’t shell out the dough for luxuries at 50-plus dollars a pop for maybe a dozen cards. The cost outweighs the possible benefit of these inclusions and for those of you in this boat, I feel you, brothers.

The third problem with these cards is that some people, let’s call them “parade rainers,” simply don’t want to play with the cards because they aren’t from legal or at least one-time Standard legal sets. And to them I say this: it’s my Cube, I can Unglued if I want to. Also, it’s a poor excuse to be complaining about those few cards when also included in the Cube are cards like Skullclamp and Strip Mine.

Whether or not you wish to include these cards in your Cube is up to you, but if you do decide to include cards that have the ‘Dilemma,’ here is the list of cards in this category that I at least have on my Cube watch list that should at the very least be considered for inclusion in your Cube, along with an estimate price for your information.

White: Ravages of War ($100-$150)

Ravages of War

Ravages of War

There’s only one card in white we have to deal with, but it’s a doozy. Ravages of War is an exact reprint of Armageddon from Portal Three Kingdoms. For those of you with larger Cubes (500+ cards), adding a second copy of ‘Geddon is probably a good include.

However, at a cost of at least 100 bucks and likely closer to 150, it’s probably not in most Cube owners’ funds to spring for “just another Armageddon.” If you’re really hankering for a cheaper replacement, Catastrophe is a fine budget option.

Blue: Gifts Given ($50), Personal Tutor ($15), Lu Xun, Scholar General ($10), Sun Ce, Young Conquerer ($15), Sun Quan Lord of Wu (15$)

Blue has the highest density of cards with this problem of ours, but perhaps surprisingly most or them are actually creatures. Our first blue card is the one that I consider to be the single most powerful card in the Cube, even more powerful than Sol Ring, Gifts Given. I mean, it’s combination Bribery-Gifts Ungiven-Jester’s Cap. At instant speed. For four mana. Three of which is colorless, making it extremely splashable. Well worth it, in my opinion. If you get one card for your collection from this list that you should sleeve up, it’s this one.

Personal Tutor

Personal Tutor

Next up we have Personal Tutor. Basically it grabs you Wrath of God or Invoke the Firemind or whatever. Not the most exciting spell in the world, but it streamlines any deck it’s included in and your Cube-mates will think you’re the bee’s knees when you throw stuff they’ve never seen before in their packs. Did I mention it searches up Wrath of God?

The three blue Portal: Three Kingdoms creatures are all very good and are certainly worthy of spots on the All-Star team that is the Cube format, mostly because they abuse the oft-forgotten step-brother of Flying, Horsemanship. Lu Xun is Thieving Magpie with Horsemanship and therefore is easily replaced by the Urza’s Destiny Uncommon if you’re not looking to dole out the asking price.

Sun Ce is tougher to replicate, as there isn’t an analog to a 3/3 Man-‘o-War with Horsemanship around so you’re going to either skimp out on him or bite the bullet and spend the15 or so bucks for him. However, at the 5-drop spot he’s a good solid role player and worth inclusion.

Lastly is the big kahuna of Horemanship idiots, Sun Quan. As a 4/4 that grants your entire team horsemanhip for only 6 mana, Sun Quan is a must if you’re going to include the Portal sets in your Cube mix. It’s a small price to pay for a big blue finisher, particularly if it grants your other fatties evasion as well.

A quick note: If your Cube does not have power and your Time Walk replacement is Time Warp, perhaps going out and finding a nice Temporal Manipulation ($10) or Capture of Jingzhou ($40) instead to pimp out your Cube would be in order as well.

Black: Booster Tutor (2-4$), Evil Presents ($50), Wei Night Raiders ($10), Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed ($30)

Booster Tutor

Booster Tutor

Black has a decent density of ‘problem’ cards as well. The first one I’ll discuss is Booster Tutor, which has been a ton of fun whenever I’ve seen it played. In the interest of full disclosure, the way that I have seen Booster Tutor house-ruled is that you take 15 cards (or 11 or 9; however many cards were in the packs used to draft in that particular game) from the Cube itself and chose one of those cards, Making Booster Tutor a much more powerful spell than simply cracking the nearest pack of whatever’s handy. Either way, it’s still a fun and exciting card to include.

I’m not entirely sure that Evil Presents belongs in the Cube, as it’s somewhere in between the power level of its Holiday Promo brethren Gifts Given and Fruitcake Elemental (which got cut a long time ago). However, right now it’s in there and it has a pretty big impact on the game when it’s cast, with the combination Word of Command-Control Magic effect. Probably not worth the 50 bucks, but decide for yourself.

Wei Night Raiders is, luckily for you budget Cubers, another easily replaceable card since it’s so very close to Order of Yawgmoth. However, I prefer the East Asian flavor of the Raiders so the asking price doesn’t phase me much.

Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed has Horsemanship. Are you sensing a theme with these Three Kingdoms creatures? Xiahou Dun has another neat ability in being able to Regrow a black card in a pinch, but mostly it’s a 3-power dude with evasion in Black. Xiahou is pricey but is probably worth it.

Red: Blast from the Past ($1), Burning of Xinye ($45), Rolling Earthquake ($90-100), Imperial Recruiter ($90-150)

Burning of Xinye

Burning of Xinye

Red has the honor of having my personal favorite of the ‘Dilemma’ cards in Blast from the Past. Flavorful, fun and increasingly powerful the longer the game goes on… and only a dollar at most. What more could you want in a Cube card?

Burning of Xinye is another Portal: Three Kingdoms exact reprint, this time of Wildfire. Just like with Ravages of War, it’s probably worth putting in if your Cube is big and you still want to support some major archetypes but it’s probably not worth having ‘two Wildfires’ in just 400 cards.

Similarly, Rolling Earthquake is basically a reprint of Earthquake… except that Rolling Earthquake deals damage to fliers as well, instead sparing those darned horse riders with Horsemanship. If you’ve got a Benjamin laying around burning a hole in your pocket this one’s probably the most important of the Three Kingdoms cards to get a hold of for your collection.

Lastly in red is the only non-Horsemanship creature from Three Kingdoms on the list, Imperial Recruiter. Though tough to find and expensive to buy, Imperial Recruiter is a wonderful addition to many different Cube archetypes and is therefore a great addition to any Cube. If you have the bankroll to shell out for it, I’d suggest doing so. You’d be happy you did. Especially if you drafted the Reveillark.

Sylvan Tutor

Sylvan Tutor

Green: Sylvan Tutor ($6), Uktabi Kong ($1)

As a glorified sorcery-speed Worldly Tutor, it’s probably not worth cutting something important to put in your Cube, but if you find yourself yearning for a card that has the phrase, “search your deck for a summon card,” in it then it’s a small price to pay for happiness on cardboard.

Uktabi Kong is not necessary, as giant green Fatty McFatfats are a dime a dozen, but with the ability to Shatterstorm upon entry into play, beat for eight trampling damage and occasionally create a mini-army of tiny Monkeys for the relatively low cost of eight mana I think that it’s well worth including.

Other: My First Tome ($1), Rare-B-Gone ($1), Who/What/When/Where/Why ($1)

I recently cut My First Tome from my Cube list, but it was fun while it lasted. If you’re looking for another good card-drawing artifact then maybe a copy of My First Tome isn’t out of the question, particularly if you have some foreign cards with really long flavor texts. German Isamaru, anyone?



I have twelve cards of each dual-colored combination in my Cube and Rare-B-Gone is, in my opinion, the best Red-Black card there for this format, and like most other Un-cards it’s only a buck. Scoop one up.

Who/What/When/Where/Why is the only 5-color card in my Cube but it proves its worth every time I get it. God help your opponent if you get this thing on an Isochron Scepter (because ‘Who’ has a converted mana cost of one).

Making a Cube can be a daunting task, particularly when faced with the cost of some of the game’s costlier cards and the work it may take to get some of the rarer treasures, and that task gets even more daunting when faced with collecting card from Magic’s rarest sets and promotional materials. But you shouldn’t be afraid to test out the waters and try to get your hands on some cards with The Three Kingdom’s Dilemma because the price might just be worth the reward.



7 Comment(s)

  1. Don’t forget Imperial Seal!

    Sleazor | Apr 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. Heya.
    I have a cube that has lets say arround 600 cards and I had some of the cards u mentioned in my cube.
    The main problem is the unglued ones simply kill the fun. I remember once playing vs a friend who had everything on board and i just played rare b gone—> killed all his dudes half of his lands and discarded some cards.
    The cards are way to sick for their mana cost and my opinion is they should never be included in the cube.

    As for the 3 kingdom cards its up to the ppl. If u want a exact copy of a card but with a different name go ahead.

    Nice article,

    Kontramagija | Apr 1, 2009 | Reply

  3. we really dig Rare-B-Gone in the cube as a powerful effect in a color that needs one.

    i’d also like to include Gifts Given in my cube…

    not too hot on the horsemanship creatures, it is a bit unfair since most of them blue and practically unblockable. blue doesn’t need that good creatures

    argus | Apr 1, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hey Reubs, nice piece!
    Very recognisable dilemma, I’m struggling with it myself, because I feel I must have cards from every corner of the magic universe in my Cube. All sets, FNM, DCI, judge, JSS, textless, EA, etc.
    I agree Kontramagija wholehartedly however as I just don’t feel that exact reprints are worth the effort. Cards that do different things are fair game. My Cube includes Lu Xun and Overwhelming Forces.
    On a different note: on the forums there’s been talk of dropping Gifts Given from Cubes, since it’s clearly too strong, leaning on unfun… | Apr 1, 2009 | Reply

  5. Hey,

    Great post!
    It helped me finding some better red card.


    Kroelai | Apr 3, 2009 | Reply

  6. Good article. I play in a cube that uses many of the Three Kingdom cards. They are pretty fun, none of them seem too broken.

    I know from experience that Gifts Given is way waaaay to broken in the cube. Its too powerful for its cost and the fact that its an instant just makes it backbreaking and completely kills the fun of the game IMO. I would caution players that are interested in the card to at least proxy it for awhile and see for yourself before spending 50 bucks for a completely broken card.

    Electrohead | Apr 3, 2009 | Reply

  7. I have run into the classic “$50+ brick wall” problem myself. Unfortunately all the expensive cards are really good. The box always wants more Wraths/Tutors/”Interesting” Spells.

    My own cube/big box is attempting to contain one each named, including promos, and un-sets.
    Its currently at -57, mostly P3K and power nine. I was lucky enough to pick up some cards back when they were cheap. I got my Bazaar at $17, Workshop at $40 and Recruiter at $1.50. Someday I hope to add another set of cards to the box, the Astral cards. I’ve worked out how to make them work in paper, but I have yet to figure out a way to proxy them well. Ante cards just say “Exile a card.”

    Oddly enough, My box has only been drafted once or twice. Usually we play a sort of hybrid version of Mental Magic with anything as a Utopia Land, and cards being what they are actually printed. Tutoring also only nets you a “deck sized” pile of cards or the first card that meets the criteria.It tries to eliminate color screw and mana screw.

    As with most formats this way has its problems, turn 5 Bringers/etc come to mind. Since the Utopias are snowlands the Rimefeather Owl is a beating.

    ArtsyWumpus | Aug 26, 2009 | Reply

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