Pai Gow Cube

April 1, 2020

6 minute read

Eric Vergo

As I have gotten older, I have suffered the same fate as many other Magic players: I don't have as much free time to spend on Magic as I used to. Gone are the days where I would spend most weekends traveling to events and gaming. This means that the time I do get to devote to the game now is much more precious. In order to squeeze every possible ounce of gaming out of my 'Magic' weekends I have gotten into the habit of playing games in-between rounds. Mental Magic, Judge's tower, Type 4, I have played them all. But last year I was introduced to Pai Gow and it quickly became my favorite magic mini-game.

Pai Gow is played by opening a booster pack and building 5 three card decks from the cards opened. Players play 5 mini games of magic starting at 5 life, where mana doesn't matter and you don;t have a library. Frank Karsten has a great introduction article about it here.

This led me to building a cube, with cards specifically selected to be interesting in the context of Pai Gow. Because Pai Gow now uses a slightly different rules set than normal magic, cards contextually become more more and less powerful. In Pai Gow, is effectively a dead card while Lava Axe is unbelievably broken; quite the change of pace. In addition to choosing cards that were good for games of Pai Gow, I wanted to build it specifically to play in-between rounds at magic events. When designing the stack, I set the following restrictions for myself:

  • No graveyard interactions

  • No cards that require counters

  • No token producers

All of these restrictions are in service of making the gameplay as fast-paced as possible. The idea is that you can “just sit down and play”. You'll also notice that the Cube is 90 cards, so it can fit in a regular sized deck box -- great for carrying around an event hall. In addition, I have a slightly modified rules set from what Frank Karsten laid out. My modified rules are as follows:

Setup: The stack is shuffled and each player makes a 15 card 'pack' from the stack. Each player makes five three card decks from their pack. Play five games, one with each deck. Decks are selected at random by your opponent. Repeat until you go through the entire stack.

Gameplay Rules

  • Normal magic rules apply unless otherwise noted

  • Starting life totals of five

  • You begin the game with all three cards from your deck in your hand

  • You don't draw a card during your draw phase

  • Mana pools don't empty at the end of each phase

  • At the beginning of the game each player gets two mana of each color. This mana refreshes at the beginning of your untap phase. Note that even when you are on the draw you can play instants during your opponents turn.

  • Players can offer a draw at any time (sometimes the game can stall out)

The List

Availble here in CubeCobra form, thanks to MinMax user Sky!

Fun Piles

In general, the cube is designed around creature combat, but there are a couple of oddball cards to build decks around. Here are some of the more fun piles I have made. I'm sure there are many more to find!

Storm Combo

You can combo kill and create a great storm deck with . , and .

Reverse the Sands Kill

, combined with and is also lethal!


This cube also contains and veritable equipment like .

Light Strategy

  • Having only two of each color of mana at a time is a real restriction that you have to consider when building your decks. The games are very compressed and tend to only last a few turns; playing a critical spell a turn late may cost you the game.

  • Creatures are the core part of the gameplay and should be spread out over all of your five decks. But be careful, there is an answer to every creature. Some of the stronger decks are a good threat plus a way to protect it.

  • When deckbuilding you have to choose whether you want to concentrate your powerful spells into the same deck or spread them out. It's a delicate balance and can make a big difference in how many games you win. Do you want five decks that are all a six out of ten, or three decks that are a nine and two decks that are a two?

Other Ways to Play

This is my own personal spin on a Pai Gow Cube. In the course of designing it I came up with tons of other ideas related to it that feel like they are worth exploring. Here is my list of ideas in the hopes that someone else goes out and builds them. I want to see someone take these ideas and run with it!

  • Play around with the numbers. Right now my rules set has you build five three card decks from fifteen cards. What if you get 20 cards to choose from and build two five card decks? What if the starting life total is ten? What cards could you include if you got three mana of each color total over the course of the game?

  • Remove the 'no graveyard' restriction and play with a shared graveyard. Include lots of cards with flashback, escape, and other weird graveyard interactions like .

  • Try to make the worst decks possible and play games with your opponents decks

  • Modal cards only cube. I love decision dense games of magic, and I think It would be fun to build a cube that only included charms, kicker cards, and the like. Be careful with the mana here though because it's not interesting when you are always able to kick a card.

  • Actually draft the packs with six people. This stack is 90 cards, so each player can get fifteen cards to make five three card decks. Play Round robin after.