Archiv für den Monat: August 2015

Lands in Next Level Cubes – Part 2

This is the second part of a series where I talk about lands in Next Level Cubes. You can find the first part here.

In this part, I will look at „two-colored“ lands – and boy, is there a lot! Not only took it Wizards endlessly to get those just right (instead of way too weak or too strong); they also consciously print new cycles every few sets, so that constructed (mostly, standard) players are forced to spend money again and again just to have competitive manabases. With a few exceptions, this means that constructed-level non-basic lands are rare and expensive, which is, of course, also a concern for cube-builders. That will be glaringly obvious from the very beginning of the lists in this entry.

Remember: I mark cards I use in my Limited Card Pool with an asterisk (*). Oh, and „couples“ are friendly color pairs, while „crosses“ are enemy pairs.

Good manafixing cycles entering the battlefield (potentially) untapped

The Badlands cycle (couples and crosses)
The Blood Crypt cycle (couples and crosses)
The Clifftop Retreat cycle (couples and crosses) *
The Adarkar Wastes cycle (couples and crosses) *
The Cascade Bluffs cycle (couples and crosses)
The Arid Mesa cycle (couples and crosses) *
The Blackcleave Cliffs cycle (only couples)

(For the sake of this entry, a land „cycle“ is one where it is immediately obvious from looking at one card what exactly the other members of this cycle do. There are a couple other, clearly recognizable cycles I will adress separately.)

The members of this group all provide good manafixing, some even TOO good. Almost all of these cycles span both couples and crosses – only the Cliffs cycle is incomplete. Also, these lands are all at least moderately up to incredibly expensive.

The Badlands cycle doesn’t belong in a cube, but in a museum… err, I mean, you simply shouldn’t tie up that much money in a few cube cards unless you’re a millionaire! Apart from that, they are actually too powerful for any Next Level Cube (remember, these are supposed to play like limited, not constructed, in contrast to MTGO cubes and their ilk). While I always stress the importance of giving drafters access to good manafixing, there still needs to be some real (gameplay) cost involved to prevent draft decks from degenerating into multicolor goodstuff. The original duallands impose no such cost whatsoever, apart from a possible slightly enhanced vulnerability as non-basic lands.

Even the Blood Crypt cycle is still a bit on the strong side – each of its disadvantages by itself would make it weak, albeit still playable manafixing, but giving players the option to choose between them goes a long way towards cancelling their cost completely! They might still have made my Limited Card Pool, but they’re also a bit expensive, and – the dealbreaker for me – they possess basic land types, which means they have a lot of unwanted interactions with other cards (mainly with the Blood Crypt cycle, but there are many others). If players want, for example, to run a nominally Azorius-affiliated land to get access to black mana, this defeats the very purpose of using „two-colored“ manafixing in your cube in the first place! Whenever I see a cube where fetchlands can get duallands, I know that I won’t enjoy drafting that cube too much.

As for the Clifftop Retreat cycle: That’s much more like it! With their disadvantage being cancelled by the presence of basic lands, these cards disencourage players from going too deeply into multicolor-land. They’re not too cheap either, but I recommend them as default duallands for a cube.

The Adarkar Wastes cycle is significantly more affordable, and it is also completely fine. The damage once again disencourages drafters from cramming too many of them into a deck. While they are somehow similar to the fetchlands, always providing you with the choice of mana makes them different enough that I am happy to run both at the same time (probably not the full cycles though, but I often design cubes where a few color pairs feature especially prominently and need deeper manafixing support).

For a while I used to have the Cascade Bluffs cycle in my pool, and it played reasonably well. I especially liked that those lands didn’t fix your mana if you didn’t already have at least one of their types. I wasn’t too happy that they provided you with double-colored mana in one card, though, and I also didn’t like their price tag, which is why I gave the nod to the painlands I just described. However, if you want to use them, there isn’t really anything wrong with them!

And then, the fetchlands (Arid Mesa and its ilk): To be honest, a major reason that I use them is that I already possess them – this is another expensive land cycle, testament to the greed of a soulless company hypocritically pretending that they care for their gaming customers! However, these lands are just PERFECT (if they cannot fetch duallands): Their disadvantage is minor, they require you to run basic lands to get (making it difficult to get too greedy with your colors), and they provide so many synergies (landfall, shuffling, filling your graveyard…) Okay, sometimes you might explicitly not want to support these synergies with your lands (which is why, technically, the painlands are my default dual cycle number two, although I tend to use the fetchlands way more often). If you would need to buy them in the first place, you can do without them – but if you already have them (or feel rich), you really should use them! Just make sure they can only get basic lands.

The Blackcleave Cliffs cycle leaves out the crosses, which is a major strike against it – I really like my manafixing symmetrical. I’m also not sure how I feel about that disadvantage – entering the battlefield tapped DOES always cost you in my cubes, since I make sure that there is a relevant early game in most matches, but once you have three untapped lands out, you’re usually out of the rough, and for this disadvantage to matter, you have to draw such a land after your first three land drops. I think these lands make multicolored decks slightly too attractive, but anyway I will not consider them before there isn’t a complement cross cycle.

Bad manafixing cycles entering the battlefield untapped

The Darkwater Catacombs cycle (only couples)
The Cinder Marsh cycle (only couples)
The Cloudcrest Lake cycle (only couples)
The Lava Tubes cycle (only couples)

Alright, the Catacombs cycle is just weak (always a bit clunky to be forced to keep an additional mana open when you need just one), but the rest ranges from terrible to incredibly terrible. (Yes, back then Wizards obviously thought that the painlands and the Lava Tubes cycle were roughly equally powerful!) With so many strong options in both couples and crosses, there is no need to take a second look at those.

Manafixing cycles entering the battlefield tapped

The Temple of Abandon cycle (couples and crosses) *
The Bloodfell Caves cycle (couples and crosses)
The Akoum Refuge cycle (only couples)
The Bad River cycle (only couples)
The Azorius Chancery cycle (couples and crosses)
The Azorius Guildgate cycle (couples and crosses)
The Arctic Flats cycle (only couples)
The Coastal Tower cycle (only couples)
The Caldera Lake cycle (only crosses)

In any environment with a relevant tempo element (this should include every well-built Next Level Cube!), entering the battlefield tapped is a major disadvantage and a strong incentive to draft decks with manabases which do not rely on such lands. Gaining one life does too little to offset this disadvantage, and thus the only one of these cycles which is attractive enough for Next Level Cubes is the Temple of Abandon cycle. Note, though, that if putting non-fixing Temples (if they only give you one color of mana you need) into your draft decks just for the scry seems attractive, there is some issue with your cube! (Some people advocated this in Theros draft, but they were dead wrong.)

The Bloodfell Caves cycle seems to be a budget alternative to the Temples, but the latter will rotate out of standard soon and probably become nearly worthless, so this shouldn’t be too pressing a concern. With their lifegain bonus they might just be at the edge of playable, but I want to offer drafters more attractive manafixing.

The Akoum Refuge cycle is, of course, the same, just without the crosses. I see absolutely no reason to mix those cycles up, and I certainly do not want more of those cards.

The Bad River cycle offers a few of the same synergies the „real“ fetchlands do, but other than that, they are strictly worse than many other cycles. Even if you do not want to invest into their rare successors, you should be able to do without them.

Now to the elephant in the room: The Azorius Chancery cycle (the bouncelands)! I have explained in detail several times why these lands are incredibly overrated. Even in the MTGO cubes, players have noticed in the meantime that their advantage is not worth the tempo loss. When I still used them in my cubes, even novice players soon hated them for their clunkiness. I didn’t just stop using them because _I_ didn’t like them, but because NOONE I played with liked them! They were nothing more than traps, and I have no use for such cards. In addition, the reason people think they’re good has very little to do with manafixing – it’s about (really, really slow) ramp, so they won’t even end up with the drafters who want them to fix their mana. I advise you against using them in your cubes, and if you have cubes where they seem actually useful, I advise you to rebuild your cubes so that tempo matters.

The Azorius Guildgate cycle, the Arctic Flats cycle and the Coastal Tower cycle are all essentially inferior to the already weak Bloodfell Caves cycle, unless you consciously weave gate or snow synergies into your cube. Well, the existing gate synergies are few and unattractive, so I see no point in using gates; and snow is both an underdeveloped and problematic theme. I once designed a mini-cube with the goal of making snow work (article is in German), and I believe I succeeded, but I just don’t think it’s worth the trouble, especially since you need to have players draft snow-covered basic lands, which is tough to implement giving the small wiggle room Next Level Cubes offer for allocating booster slots. (Also, there is no snow dual cross cycle). I consider the cards from this group useless.

Finally, the Caldera Lake cycle serves crosses, but no couples – and boy, are those lands bad! That level of cost is already almost to high for the circle-fixing Grand Coliseum, making it ridiculously excessive for duallands.

Manafixing outside of strict cycles

Ancient Amphitheater
Auntie’s Hovel
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Secluded Glen
Wanderwine Hub

Let’s start with those: I said before that I don’t like giving manafixing only to certain synergies. That is just not the point of it.

Grove of the Burnwillows
Horizon Canopy
Krosan Verge
Nimbus Maze
River of Tears

Even if I like some of these designs, they do nothing for me without a complete cycle. Grove is too strong anyway; Canopy is nice, but very close to the painlands – I would have to consider if I preferred the more elegant option or the one which has more play to it; and Maze is fine, like a „fixed“ version of the Cascade Bluffs cycle, but somehow close to the Clifftop Retreat cycle, which I feel is the superior choice. The River is out of consideration since it is not symmetrical, and the Verge is inferior to the colorless Myriad Landscape (well, unless it can fetch duallands, which it shouldn’t).

Tainted Field
Tainted Isle
Tainted Peak
Tainted Wood

These lands are leftover gimmicks from Torment. I don’t think they really make sense even in a heavily black cube, since I see no reason why I shouldn’t just use the corresponding duals from a cycle, with a Vivid Marsh and an Absorb Vis thrown in. They’re certainly usable, but not exciting from any point of view.

Manafixing not the primary function

The Calciform Pools cycle (only couples)

Not only is there little need for this kind of slow ramp in limited (demonstrated by Mage-Ring Network in Magic Origins draft right now) – tying it needlessly to two colors is silly.

Celestial Colonnade
Creeping Tar Pit
Lavaclaw Reaches
Raging Ravine
Stirring Wildwood

These manlands are no bad designs, but they run into two issues: For one thing, they lack the symmetry I want in my manaxifing (and they’re still manafixers, even if that isn’t their main strength). The other is that lands are comparably hard to deal with (and you usually can deal with them as creatures only at instant speed), and thus the ceiling for their power level should be somehow lower than for other types of cards. Oh, and of course there are no cross versions here, but that wouldn’t be necessary if I treated them just as two-colored cards. Well, I used them in my cubes for a while, and they were okay, although noticeably a bit on the strong side. I think they are a good opportunity to demonstrate the principle that your cube shouldn’t include cards just because they don’t ruin it, but because you really want them in there, and that is just not the case here for me.

No manafixing

Alchemist’s Refuge
Desolate Lighthouse
Duskmantle, House of Shadow
Gavony Township
Grim Backwoods
Grove of the Guardian
Kessig Wolf Run
Moorland Haunt
Nephalia Drownyard
Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind
Novijen, Heart of Progress
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Prahv, Spires of Order
Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
Skarrg, the Rage Pits
Slayers‘ Stronghold
Stensia Bloodhall
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Vault of the Archangel
Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

These are essentially two 10-land cycles from two blocks – the original Ravnica, and Innistrad – plus Grove of the Guardian. This kind of card is in a bad place in general: While it encourages (actually, requires) you to play at least two colors, it also worsens your manabase unless you count it as a spell (which, in turn, means it needs to be quite powerful and is thus problematic for the reasons I just mentioned in the paragraph above). Zooming in on the spot where the card is interesting enough to warrant inclusion in a cube, but not so strong so that it causes problems isn’t easy. Some designs might fit, but I decided that I either wanted a complete 10-card-cycle or nothing, and at the very least Dimir doesn’t have a suitable candidate (oh, how much I hate these stupid, boring mill designs!) If you want to include some of these lands in your cube, be aware that they take the place of a multicolor card, and ask yourself if you cannot find a better use for that slot.

Theme-bound

Contested Cliffs
Nantuko Monastery
Riftstone Portal
Seaside Haven
Starlit Sanctum

While Cliffs, Haven and Sanctum support tribal themes, I am still not convinced that such lands help a cube. Also, the Cliffs are too oppressive, I actually do not have a bird theme for a lack of fitting tribal cards, and the Sanctum would just double up on an effect Cabal Archon already provides. The Portal does nothing like manafixing and requires the player to make a very difficult jump through a hoop for that – that’s just silly. The Monastery, however, plays okay, but I still don’t like that it requires a player to both play a certain color pair and use a certain synergy to really want that land. Also, right now I avoid this kind of land (requiring two colors of mana, but providing only colorless mana itself) on principle. That might change if a cycle gets printed which I really like, but I won’t include a single outlier in my pool.

 

In the next part, unsurprisingly, I will get to the „monocolored“ lands!

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Lands in Next Level Cubes – Part 1

It is possible (although not at all certain) that my blogging frequency on 00zero will drop sharply during the next months, so I want to at least make sure that I’m talking about something Magic again before (and if) that happens.

As a consequence from the latest arguments here, I will upgrade the strictness of my comment moderation to match the direness of the situation. „Arguing“ with me without actually adressing the points I bring up is no longer accepted. Defending obvious trolls will be treated as trolling. As before, attacking me for things I didn’t actually say (unless there’s reasonable room for a misunderstanding) will also be treated as the clear trolling that it is. I will also no longer allow comments which deny my (or anyone’s) right to criticize or satirize in general, or argue that such entries would for people who feel offended constitute the right to troll or do worse things. If you cannot stand what I write, the best solution still is NOT TO READ IT. For that reason, telling me you don’t like EVERYTHING I write – as well as any kind of explicit ad hominem – will also be dealt with as trolling.

Enough of that! Now, to Magic: Lands are the basics of every deck (excluding only the most extreme constructed builds), and therefore they are of similar fundamental importance for Next Level Cubes. In this entry – and the one(s) following it – I want to discuss the lands which made the newest version of my Limited Card Pool, as well as those who didn’t, and talk about the reasons for that.

First, let me explain my philosophy regarding manafixing in Next Level Cubes: There needs to be plenty of it, so that players always have the option to consciously spend a few picks on improving their manabase. At the same time, it is important to avoid making it too easy for drafters to support decks with more colors than that specific cube is meant to produce with regularity. An environment where everyone spends their first picks on manafixing, and afterwards grabs the best cards from all colors, plays out rather poorly, circumventing the challenges of finding your colors, reading and giving signals, and many more decisions which make draft interesting and demanding.

Two-Thirds Draft avoids that issue because the number of choices players have during the draft does not correspond to the number of cards they draft (remember, four cards from each booster get removed). Depending on if you use 12- or 13-card boosters, every player gets 32 to 36 picks. That does not leave too much room for cards which will not end up as maindecked spells (compare to the 42 to 45 cards drafted in conventional booster drafts). Assuming you want 23 spells in your deck on average, those 9 to 13 additional picks contain any lands (or cards which take the place of lands) you drafted, as well as a few early speculative picks in colors you didn’t end up playing, cards you might want to bring in from your sideboard, „duds“ from later boosters which held no viable choices for you (although those should be far and few between in Two-Thirds Draft, especially using well-built cubes), and possibly hatepicks.

This means that it is essentially never correct to pick manafixing first, then decide on the direction your deck will take – maybe with the rare exception of a cube which explicitly offers the tools and motivation for a deck with 4 to 5 colors. (I, at least, will never construct a Next Level Cube where the projected frequency of such decks per draft is closer to 2 than to 1.) On the flipside, there is no need to do so, since you should always be able to pick up manafixing for the colors you know you will be playing later – because, as I mentioned, manafixing should be plenty. This means especially that dual or triple lands need to be commons, or even staples. (Staple is a rarity below common which makes sure that these cards will always be in the draft pool, even if commons show up with a frequency of less than 100%.)

 

Colors

 

For practical reasons, I group cards in my Limited Card Pool not strictly by their „official“ color, but by the color(s) they explicitly enable or encourage you to play. This means that lands fall into the categories monocolored (obviously, actually 5 categories), dualcolored (10), triplecolored (5) or „clear“. Clear means that a card is not tied to any single color or combination of colors specifically, which means it contains lands producing colorless mana as well as lands allowing you to access ANY color of mana. (This makes sense from a cube-building point of view, because both kinds of lands can be picked up for any deck.) For the purpose of this overview, though, I will consider the latter kind as all-colored (or „circle“, as I like to call this) and start with them, while ending with the colorless ones. Ah yes: There are no „four-colored“ lands yet (and hopefully never), and I will not consider lands which neither produce nor give you access to mana – not only because they are not part of the manafixing in your cube in any way (colorless lands, on the other hand, influence players‘ mana bases by challenging their consistency), but more importantly because I avoid them for general reasons.

Cards I use in my Limited Card Pool are marked by an asterisk (*).

 

Circlecolored:

It’s impressive how many lands of this kind have piled up during the years! However, most of them aren’t actually good choices for cubes. I’ll sort them into groups for clarity.

Terrible (in Next Level Cubes, at least)

Archaeological Dig
Command Tower
Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
Forbidden Orchard
Forsaken City
Henge of Ramos
Meteor Crater
Opal Palace
Paliano, the High City
Rhystic Cave
School of the Unseen
Tarnished Citadel
Tendo Ice Bridge
Thran Quarry

Some of these flat-out don’t work in Next Level Cubes. The others are mostly testament of times when Wizards R&D were scared as hell by the thought of printing playable manafixing, and work in very specific constructed contexts at best. There is no place in my cubes for outright terrible cards, and there shouldn’t be in yours either.

Not really reliable manafixing

Exotic Orchard
Gemstone Caverns
Maze’s End
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Reflecting Pool
Thespian’s Stage
Vesuva *

Orchard and Pool are not unplayable, but I prefer to provide drafters with reliable manafixing. Also, I’m not really that interested in doubling up existing mana. The other cards actually serve other primary functions and have to be considered on that grounds. Caverns aren’t that attractive, the End would be too weak even if I ever used the gates cycle (spoiler: I don’t), and Nykthos is a bit too narrow and not rewarding enough in limited for my taste, but I could see it in certain cubes. Vesuva is great for land-themed cubes, but I don’t need to double up on that effect with the more clumsy Stage.

Theme-Bound

Glimmervoid
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Pillar of the Paruns
Primal Beyond
Sliver Hive *

I’m not a fan of giving manafixing only to certain synergies unless the card does more for that synergy than just fixing. The Haven would qualify, but I do not run dragon tribal cards in other colors than Red and do not want to encourage multicolor dragon decks. Slivers, however, are per definition a circle tribe, so the Hive fits perfectly.

Too awkward

Ancient Ziggurat
Cavern of Souls
Crystal Quarry
Gemstone Mine
Lotus Vale
Mirrodin’s Core
Myriad Landscape
Rainbow Vale
Shimmering Grotto
Terminal Moraine
Thawing Glaciers
Unknown Shores
Unstable Frontier

This is a group of cards which barely meets the definition of „playable“ in a Next Level Cubes, but plays unsatisfactorily.

In limited, running creatures doesn’t mean that you exploit a specific synergy, so the Ziggurat didn’t show up further above. Hoewever, that is still too narrow manafixing to deserve a slot. Cavern is even narrower, and its additional ability not desirable. Quarry is exceedingly clumsy. Mine lacks longevity, where Core is again too clumsy. Lotus Vale is both clumsy and risky. Landscape looks attractive on first glance, but is just too slow. Rainbow Vale is too unreliable. Grotto, Shores and Frontier are (minor synergies with the Frontier aside) the same card which imposes too high a cost on manafixing. Moraine is strictly inferior to two cards from the next group. Glaciers are a bit slow, but can actually be really strong in longer games. However, they just play terribly due to both timing issues and repeated shuffling.

Reasonable to good manafixing

City of Brass *
Evolving Wilds *
Grand Coliseum
Mana Confluence
Rupture Spire
Terramorphic Expanse
Transguild Promenade *
Undiscovered Paradise *

I don’t like doubling up on too similar or even identical effects – otherwise I would certainly run both Wilds and Expanse. Confluence is actually the cleaner design compared to City, and if you happen to possess it, I recommend you use it instead of City, but they are close enough that I cannot justify acquiring the considerably more expensive card. Promenade / Spire is a bit weaker than I like, but usable. Paradise is not just fine manafixing, it goes also very nicely with landfall. If I needed another circle-fixing land for my pool, my choice would be the Coliseum, which is reasonably different from the City; but I don’t. It’s also a bit on the weak side, very close at the line between this group of cards and the former.

 

Also arguably belonging in the category“circlecolored“ are the Abandoned Outpost cycle and the
Vivid Crag cycle, but I count them among „monocolered“ lands and will discuss them there.

 

Note that manafixing lands differentiate not only by their obvious disadvantages (life loss versus speed loss versus setup cost), but also by being able to stand alone or not – Evolving Wilds can get you any color of mana, but it requires you to actually run a basic land of each type for that, while Transguild Promenade does not. If you are an experienced limited deck-builder, you’ll know how much cramming those additional lands into your manabase hurts your deck’s consistency. Another thing to keep in mind is if a land gives you a choice of colored mana once which you have to stick with then (like Evolving Wilds), or if it actually allows you to choose each time (like City of Brass). The more colorful a deck is, the more turns it will have where that difference matters.

In general, cards which make you choose once and include basic lands in your deck are better suited to providing general mana stability in a cube, while explicitly colorful cubes need more cards which stand on their own and let players choose each time. Still, my default starting point when building a Next Level Cube are Evolving Wilds and City of Brass, since these are just the two best designs.

 

Triplecolored:

These cards are few in number, which is why I decided to add them to this entry, although it is already quite long.

The An-Havva Township cycle (only shards)
The Ancient Spring cycle (only shards)
The Arcane Sanctum cycle (shards and wedges) *
The Bant Panorama cycle (only shards)
The Crosis’s Catacombs cycle (only shards)
Murmuring Bosk

The basic issue here is easily recognizable at first glance: There is only one cycle of wedge lands! Additionally, there is only one wedge cycle of manafixing artifacts, and it sucks, so the wedge triples are undersupplied in that respect.

I would love if the Catacombs cycle were expanded to wedges soon, since it provides well-balanced manafixing noticeably different from the Sanctum cycle (which is, of course, great – entering the battlefield tapped is a major disadvantage, but presenting you with a choice among three different colors of mana each time makes it clearly worth it!) Actually, the only reason that this cycle isn’t in my pool at the moment ist that there is no acceptable second wedge cycle to balance it out, and I’m afraid there won’t be anytime soon.

The Township cycle, in contrast, is obviously absymal. The Panoramy cycle, however, is only terrible – I know people were forced to play those in Alara limited, but that just showcased how terrible they were. The Spring cycle, on the other hand, is playable, but serves less of a manafixing function than a one-shot ramping function, and there are better choices for that.

I already explained why I don’t like cards like the Bosk.

 

A soon as I find the time, I will get to the dualcolored lands, which present a lot more interesting choices!

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Warum kämpfen, wenn man nicht gewinnen kann?

Diese Frage wurde bereits in tausendundeinem Fantasy-Setting thematisiert, wo das Gute das Böse nur aufhalten und vielleicht noch zurückdrängen, jedoch niemals endgültig vernichten kann; aber sie gehört ebenso in unsere mehr oder weniger reale Welt: Welchen Sinn hat es, Mörder zu überführen, wenn doch immer wieder Morde begangen werden? Warum kämpfen Ärzte um Menschenleben, wenn Menschen doch sowieso irgendwann sterben? Wieso sollte man sich für den Frieden einsetzen, wenn es doch immer wieder Krieg gibt?

Die Antwort ist eigentlich offensichtlich: Weil es etwas Schlimmeres gibt als nicht zu gewinnen – man könnte VERLIEREN. Dass die Welt aus fundamentalen metaphysischen Gründen immer im Gleichgewicht zwischen Gut und Böse bestehen muss, bezweifle ich zwar. Eines ist jedoch offensichtlich: Dieses Gleichgewicht erhält sich NICHT von selbst – man muss dafür kämpfen! Es mag sich zwar wie ein Kampf gegen Windmühlenflügel anfühlen, ist aber eher mit dem Abwasch von Geschirr vergleichbar. Es hört niemals auf, und egal, wie gründlich man dabei ist, man hat am nächsten Tag erneut wieder dreckiges Geschirr herumzustehen – doch man kann und will trotzdem nicht einfach damit aufhören, wenn man nicht im Dreck ersticken möchte.

Deswegen lege ich mich immer wieder im Internet mit Leuten an, die der Meinung sind, sie hätten ein Recht darauf, auf sachliche Kritik mit persönlichen Angriffen zu antworten; sie dürften andere für Behauptungen attackieren, die diese gar nicht aufgestellt haben; oder sie dürften Diskussionen mit den Methoden des Trollens und des Mobbens beenden.

Tigris hat auf seinem Blog gerade etwas ganz Furchtbares geschrieben (und damit meine ich jetzt nicht sein „Gedicht“):

Wenn man provoziert auf irgend eine Art, sollte man auch nicht komments “löschen”.

Wenn sich also jemand anders von einem provoziert fühlt, dann muss man sich von demjenigen deswegen alles gefallen lassen? Aber klar doch – so läuft das nun einmal in der Welt!

In der Schule sind gewiss schon Millionen Kinder beleidigt oder verprügelt worden, weil sie dick und hässlich sind. Vermutlich nicht viel weniger Frauen sind weltweit vergewaltigt worden, weil sie sich zu sexy angezogen haben. Zehntausende, vielleicht sogar Hunderttausende Homosexuelle sind krankenhausreif oder totgeschlagen worden, weil sie es gewagt haben, sich in der Öffentlichkeit zu zeigen. Diesen Ausländern, die unaufgefordert zu uns gekommen sind, zündet man natürlich die Bude an. Und wenn jemand gar die Unverschämtheit besitzt, Mohammed-Karikaturen zu veröffentlichen, dann ist doch wohl klar, was passiert!

Oh ja, Menschen fühlen sich rasch und gerne provoziert, denn das gibt ihnen eine willkommene Ausrede, aggressiv und gewalttätig zu werden, wenn ihnen irgendetwas, was jemand anders sagt oder tut, nicht passt! Man muss dann wohl eigentlich sogar froh sein, wenn man nur beleidigt wird, nicht wahr, Tigris? Und aus lauter Dankbarkeit darüber ist man dann also verpflichtet Kommentare stehen zu lassen, die eigentlich gelöscht werden müssten?

Das ist nicht nur gequirlte Scheiße – es ist GEFÄHRLICHE gequirlte Scheiße! Es muss offensichtlich immer mal wieder deutlich gesagt werden: Ob Ihr Euch provoziert fühlt oder nicht; ob Ihr vielleicht tatsächlich provoziert wurdet oder nicht – es ändert NICHTS daran, welches Verhalten inakzeptabel ist! Ich liste es für Euch noch einmal auf:

Sachliche Kritik: Akzeptabel.
Satire: Akzeptabel.
Angriffe auf Grund tatsächlich getroffener inakzeptabler Aussagen: Akzeptabel.
Auf erfundenen oder verdrehten Aussagen beruhende Angriffe: Nicht akzeptabel.
Persönliche Angriffe an Stelle oder zur Verstärkung von sachlicher Kritik: Nicht akzeptabel.

Und diese Kategorien könnr Ihr auch nicht einfach durcheinanderwerfen, nur weil Euch danach ist! Leidet Euer Ego unter einer sachlichen Kritik? Euer Pech! Ihr habt trotzdem nicht das Recht, mit einem persönlichen Angriff zu antworten. Hattet Ihr keine Lust, einen Text tatsächlich zu lesen, wollt aber trotzdem den Verfasser für dessen Inhalt angreifen? Ihr seid nichts als Trolle! Seid Ihr der Ansicht, Parodien gehörten sich nicht? Dann lebt Ihr offenbar in der falschen Gesellschaft!

In seinem Bemühen um Neutralität und Objektivität hat Tigris beschlossen, die Streitigkeiten, die sich zuletzt an meiner Person entzündet haben, als symmetrisch darzustellen. Das sind sie nicht.

Ich habe einen Text (nachdem ich gefragt hatte, ob dies gewünscht war, weil es sich um ein privates Blog handelt, an das ich keinerlei Anspruch auf inhaltliche Qualität stellen kann) ausführlich, sachlich und konstruktiv kritisiert. Theoretisch habe ich dem Autor damit einen großen Gefallen getan, aber praktisch war ich da wieder einmal zu naiv: Ich ging einfach davon aus – wie ich es von mir kenne – dass Menschen sich auch und gerade bei Tätigkeiten, die sie als Hobby betreiben, verbessern wollen, sei es Magic spielen oder Geschichten schreiben. Tja, das war hier wohl ein Irrtum – aber ganz gewiss kein Fehlverhalten von mir! Nachdem ich an der Antwort auf meinen Kommentar unmissverständlich erkennen konnte, dass Feedback von mir hier doch nicht gewünscht war, zog ich mich folgerichtig von jenem Blog zurück.

Ich habe allerdings auch ein eigenes Blog, und hier kann ICH Dinge schreiben, ohne mich von dem Geschmack spezieller Leser oder ihren qualitativen Ansprüchen abhängig machen zu müssen. Dies tat ich dann. Auf MEINEM Blog darf ich selbstverständlich, wenn mir danach ist, auch Texte anderer Blogs nach Lust und Laune zerreißen – die Höflichkeit gebietet es, anderen Bloggern keine unerwünschte Kritik aufzudrängen, aber ein Recht darauf, dass man ihre Unzulänglichkeiten nicht an anderer Stelle aufdeckt, besitzen sie gewiss nicht! Wem dies wiederum nicht passt, der tut genau das, was ich bei Blogs tue, deren Inhalt MIR nicht gefällt: Ich lese sie nicht, oder kommentiere dort zumindest nicht mehr. (Selbstverständlich gälte das nicht mehr in dem Moment, wenn dort falsche Behauptungen über mich aufgestellt werden sollten. Ich erwähne dies nur, weil es früher schon einmal passiert ist.) Dabei bin ICH allerdings durchaus auch offen für sachliche Kritik!

Ich schrieb also eine Parodie, und zwar aus zwei Gründen: Einmal um zu unterhalten. ICH finde meinen Text ziemlich lustig, und es ist recht wahrscheinlich, dass dies auch anderen so geht, aber selbst wenn nicht – MEIN Blog, MEINE Qualitäsansprüche – Ihr erinnert Euch?

Außerdem wollte ich versuchen, die textlichen Schwächen der beiden Beiträge, auf die ich mich offensichtlich bezog, zu demonstrieren, indem ich sie überzeichnete, so wie Parodien und Karikaturen dies üblicherweise tun. (Und jeder, dem nicht von Anfang an klar war, dass er eine Parodie las, sollte DRINGEND an seiner Lesekompetenz arbeiten!) Das würde dann möglicherweise einigen Lesern der Originalgeschichten die Augen öffnen, und vielleicht – aber auch nur vielleicht! – sogar deren Verfassern, die sich möglicherweise beim Lesen denken würden „oje, aber so einen Schmarrn habe ICH doch nicht geschrieben… oder vielleicht doch? Lieber noch einmal genau hinschauen… ups!“

Ob ich meine Ziele, unterhaltsam und lehrreich zu sein, erreicht habe oder nicht: In keinem Fall gibt die Veröffentlichung dieser Parodie irgendjemanden das Recht, ansonsten inakzeptable Kommentare zu verfassen! Marios sachliche (wenn auch weit am Ziel vorbei schießende) Kritik habe ich ja auch durchaus stehen lassen, nur eben den angehängten ad hominem Teil nicht.

Schließlich existiert da noch ein Vorwurf, ich hätte ja selbst einmal jemanden beleidigt. Es ist jedoch keine Beleidigung, jemanden, der mich in exorbitant dummer und gehässiger Weise angreift, als dumm und gehässig zu bezeichnen! Beides sind real existierende und zumindest zum Teil auch objektiv identifizierbare menschliche Eigenschaften, und derjenige hat diese beiden Eigenschaften unmissverständlich demonstriert und einen Kommentar verfasst, welcher ohne die starke Ausprägung dieser beiden Eigenschaften niemals zustande hätte kommen können. Darauf habe ich hingewiesen (und dies auch nur, weil ich diesen Beitrag aus Beispielgründen nicht kommentarlos löschen wollte, wie er es verdient hätte). Wenn ich schon ausnahmsweise einem Troll Beachtung schenke, dann muss ich ihn auch eindeutig als solchen mit den entsprechenden Eigenschaften identifizieren, und er hat gewiss kein Recht, sich darüber zu beschweren.

So viel dazu. Ich habe unterdessen gelernt, dass es sehr viele Menschen gibt, die an meiner Ehrlichkeit und Offenheit, aber auch an meiner Intelligenz und meiner Kompetenz in denjenigen wenigen Dingen, in denen ich wirklich gut bin, Anstoß nehmen. Damit muss ich halt leben. Und ich werde auch weiterhin kämpfen, je nachdem, wie schlimm die Situation gerade wieder einmal ist, und wie viel Kraft ich gerade habe.

Trotzdem hoffe ich, dass mein nächster Eintrag hier sich doch mal wieder mit Magic befasst…

(Aber ein Gutes zumindest haben solche Streitigkeiten: Sie zeigen, dass hier auf MagicBlogs zumindest so etwas wie eine Mini-Community besteht!)

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Ich bin ein Werwolf, verdammt!

(Erratet Ihr die Karte, um die es in dieser Kurzgeschichte geht? Bestimmt nicht! Aber nur keine Angst, ich zeige sie Euch natürlich am Ende.)

 

Mein Blick ist stechend, mein Gürtel ist aus Hirschleder, und die verängstigten Dorfbewohner weichen panisch in Furcht und Terror vor meinen unbarmherzigen, messerscharfen Krallen zurück. Dabei ist dies, abgesehen von den bereits verwandelten Fingernägeln, noch mein gewohnter, schwacher, menschlicher Körper… Doch jeden Moment wird die Sonne vollständig über diesem götterverlassenen Ort des Grauens untergehen, und sie wissen, was dann passieren wird… wissen es ganz genau…

… SIE WISSEN ES! Sie wissen es so sicher, wie bestialisches Blut bereits angestrengt in meinen Adern pumpt und pulsiert. So sicher, wie meine noch normale Nase – die sich jedoch, woran kein vernünftiger Zweifel mehr bestehen kann, schon binnen weniger Sekunden in die schreckliche Schnauze eines widerwärtigen Wolfswesens umformen wird – den süßlich-bitterscharfen Geruch ihres Schweißes mit einer leichten Note von verrottender Muskatnuss gierig in sich aufsaugt und an mein von Wildheit, Hunger und Blutlust überwältigtes Gehirn weiterleitet.

Töten! Morden! Verstümmeln! In mir haben die niedrigsten Instinkte das Kommando übernommen, und daher kenne ich keine Verwandten oder Freunde mehr. Der kleine Jalen, dem ich einst das Jagen beigebracht habe; die dunkelhaarige Glira, die wie keine andere meine Socken zu stopfen vermochte; und die uralten Zwillinge Barselin und Parselin, die seit dem Tod ihrer Mutter niemand mehr auseinander zu halten vermocht hat: Sie alle sind diese Nacht Opfer, sind meine Beute, sind Nahrung. Dabei kommt es mir noch wie gestern vor, dass wir gemeinsam vor dem Gasthaus um das große Lagerfeuer gesessen und unanständige Lieder gesungen haben, aber in jenem winzigen mir noch verbliebenen rationalen Teil meines Bewusstseins weiß ich, dass es in Wahrheit vorgestern gewesen ist.

Einerlei – die Transformation vollzieht sich, und das Unheil ist nicht mehr aufzuhalten! Das Schicksal der unglücklichen Dorfbewohner ist beschlossene Sache. Ihr Ende ist gekommen. Bald schon wird es vorbei sein. Es gibt keine Hoffnung mehr – gar keine! Absolut gar keine! Vielleicht wünschte ich ja tief in mir, dass es einen anderen Weg gäbe, aber die Dinge sind nun einmal so, wie sie sind, und niemand vermag sich dem Lauf der Welt in den Weg zu stellen. Mache Geschehnisse sind einfach unvermeidbar. Der Fluch muss sich erfüllen. Es passiert, was passieren muss. Jeden Augenblick wird es so weit sein…

Talbor der Tollkühne rafft noch einmal den letzten Rest seines dahinschwindenden Mutes zusammen und zückt sein Messer, aber ach! – es ist aus Stoff, aus einem feinen Gewebe in dem sich kett- und schusssichtige Partien miteinander abwechseln. Dafür trägt er ein Hemd aus mehrlagigem Schweißverbundstahl – ein Irrtum, der in dieser abgeschiedenen Gegend jedem passieren kann, vor allem, da sowohl Stoff als auch Metall nahezu wertlos sind, weil das Dorf sie in den letzten Jahren tonnenweise importiert und deswegen für Großabnehmerpreise erhalten hat. Ich lache ein letztes hämisches, boshaftes Lachen, bevor die Sonne widerwillig endgültig hinter dem Horizont verschwindet und das mondsilberne Licht des Silbermondes den letzten, den wirklich allerletzten verbliebenen Rest meiner Menschlichkeit mit Lichtgeschwindigkeit vertreibt. Jetzt kann es endlich losgehen!

Von einem nicht allzu weit enferntem Baumast beobachtet ein kleiner Waldvogel das mordsmäßige Massaker, welches sich nun entspinnt. Obwohl sein Gehirn nicht größer ist als eine heranreifende Haselnuss, weiß er doch, dass solche Tragödien nur allzu oft in diesem Teil der Welt vor sich gehen. Keck legt er das kleine Köpfchen auf die Seite und versucht, einen Gedanken zu fassen, doch rasch gibt er es auf und schüttelt sein Gefieder – eine Geste, die dem Schulterzucken eines von der Situation überforderten Menschen entspricht. Es ist Nacht in Innistrad, und das bedeutet für den kleinen Vogel ebenso wie für den Werwolf Jagdzeit! Hungrig fliegt er davon, obwohl er das eigentlich gar nicht kann.

 

 

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Magic Origins entrants into my Limited Card Pool

Before it becomes a running gag: Here is finally the list of Magic Origins cards which made it into my Limited Card Pool. It’s really a long list, even for a core set: 61 out of 181 new cards made it – that is over a third! There are really a lot of good designs here, although I am so far not too happy about the overall composition of that set. Note that the ratio of cards reprinted in Magic Origins which I use in my pool is even higher (close to 50%), and that many other cards didn’t make it for minor reasons only. Ah, as a Next Level Cube designer I am going to miss core sets…

I’ll try to include an explanation at least for each group of cards, but I won’t write a paragraph for each and every one. If you have any questions why a specific card did or did not make it, just ask in the comments – I actually have all the answers!

Renown:

Consul’s Lieutenant
Topan Freeblade
Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road
Stalwart Aven
War Oracle
Goblin Glory Chaser
Acolyte of the Inferno
Akroan Sergeant
Firefiend Elemental
Undercity Troll
Pharika’s Disciple
Rhox Maulers
Citadel Castellan

I really like this mechanic, and most of the designs for it are elegant and balanced. However, I will make sure that all of my cubes which use it contain enough efficient removal that getting a creature renowned doesn’t create a tempo swing which equals game over.

Thopters:

Foundry of the Consuls
Ghirapur Gearcrafter
Thopter Engineer
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Aspiring Aeronaut
Whirler Rogue
Thopter Spy Network

This mechanic does so much: It gives Red badly needed evasion, supports artifact and token synergies, and provides another good utility land. The rares are admittedly on the stronger side for Next Level Cubes, but I think they’re not out of line.

Spell Mastery:

Swift Reckoning
Kytheon’s Tactics
Gideon’s Phalanx
Necromantic Summons
Ravaging Blaze

I wasn’t thrilled by this mechanic at first, and I still think the designs using it are mostly very underwhelming, but I found that I really wanted a couple more instery („instant“ + „sorcery“) synergy cards for my pool. So I scrounged for a few specimen I was okay with. Note that I actually chose Gideon’s Phalanx for another reason: I needed a white non-creature 7-mana spell to round of my Mythics, and I was unhappy with my former choice of Mass Calcify.

Enchantment synergies:

Helm of the Gods
Blessed Spirits
Herald of the Pantheon
Blood-Cursed Knight

Theros block was a big disappointment in that area, and I’m still looking for usable cards supporting an enchantment theme. Helm of the Gods might possible prove a little too powerful if put into an environment with enchantment creatures (which is the whole point of recruiting it for my pool), so I’ll have to watch out for that.

Multicolor cards:

Bounding Krasis
Blazing Hellhound
Zendikar Incarnate
Iroas’s Champion

I have a contingent of multicolored cards for each pair. Many of my cubes feature consciously asymmetric color distributions, and to make those work, I need multicolor cards which do not mention too specific synergies (like Blood-Cursed Knight, or Shaman of the Pack). There is still room to improve my choices here, and Magic Origins offers a few good candidates.

Auras:

Grasp of the Hieromancer
Infernal Scarring

Playable auras which are not too swingy are a somehow rare commodity in Magic. I believe weakening removal as much as WotC has done lately to make auras more attractive does more harm than good, but that means usable auras have to zoom in on the exactly right power level to be candidates for my pool. These two qualify in my opinion.

Some existing mechanics and synergies:

Patron of the Valiant
Abbot of Keral Keep
Boggart Brute
Dwynen’s Elite
Zendikar’s Roil
Deep-Sea Terror
Hydrolash

Counters, prowess, menace, elf tribal, landfall, threshold, cantrips: Magic Origins presented me with one good candidate for each of these themes. (And yes, Goblin Glory Chaser can get menace, but renown is far more important on that creature.)

More artifacts:

Bonded Construct
Alchemist’s Vial
War Horn

Bonded Construct replaces Jackal Familiar – Red still has Mogg Flunkies. The other two artifacts are just elegant, universally usable designs.

More white cards:

Anointer of Champions
Ampryn Tactician
Hixus, Prison Warden

Anointer of Champions replaces Infantry Veteran, because clerics need that effect much more than soldiers. Ampryn Tactician replaces Leonin Armorguard, since Selesnya was a bit crammed on 4-drops. Hixus, Prison Warden is a strong, but not too strong rare.

More black cards:

Reave Soul
Deadbridge Shaman
Eyeblight Assassin
Languish

These are all well-executed, elegant designs which many Next Level Cube can put to good use.

More red cards:

Enthralling Victor
Skyraker Giant
Prickleboar
Seismic Elemental

WotC has put more effort into designing interesting red creatures lately, and these cards show it.

More green cards:

Somberwald Alpha
Skysnare Spider
Elemental Bond
Joraga Invocation

I do not like expensive defensive creatures, but vigilance prevents Skysnare Spider from staying back on defense. Elemental Bond is well-designed green card draw, and Joraga Invocation is hopefully an Overrun that’s toned down enough that my cubes can handle it.

And finally, another blue card:

Mizzium Meddler

Just a cool, elegant and quite original (although not completely new) design. These are the bread-and-butter cards for my Limited Card Pool!

Note that the printed rarities of the cards which made it break down as follows: 6 Rares, 31 Uncommons and 21 Commons. That is rather typical: Uncommons usually hold the most good new designs, while Commons tend to contain a large percentage of reprints and too weak cards. Rares – and especially Mythics – however tend to be terrible designs for limited play. It’s really annoying that limited players have to put up with all that casual and constructed trash: Those player groups can easily avoid cards designed for limited, but that isn’t possible the other way around!

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Updating info about Two-Thirds Draft, Next Level Cubes and my Limited Card Pool

I did it – I’m finally through with rebuilding my Limited Card Pool! Well, minus the actual physical rebuilding, that is. But that is, of course, trivial – I finished updating my master list, which is the hard part. Oh, and I will never again make the mistake to cut the number of cards down too far! Updates to my pool always take a lot of time, but I usually do not have to look at every single card existing in the game anew, like I did this time.

Initially, I intended to start this series of blog entries by presenting the new inductees from Magic Origins, but I will push this back just one more time, because I believe I first need to update basic information on my Limited Card Pool, Next Level Cubes and Two-Thirds Draft, and thus create a new entry I can reference in the future.

So, here we go:

Two-Thirds Draft

Two-Thirds Draft is my solution to the issues which drafting with only four players presents – in short, either the draft pool is too small (meaning that players have an overall selection that is too narrow), or the number of cards which doesn’t get used is too high. My solution actually has three parts:

1. Eliminating too weak and too situational cards from the card pool. Real draft sets usually have a buffer consisting of a number of cards which are rarely needed for deckbuilding. I do not believe in general that those cards serve a useful purpose, and I certainly do not have room for them in my boosters.

2. Juggling the numbers very carefully. There are actually many knobs one can adjust (but which are interrelated): Total cube size, total draft pool size, number of cards per booster, number of specific rarity slots in boosters, frequency with which cards from different rarities show up in those slots, number of boosters each player opens, number of picks each player makes per booster round, number of different cards each players gets to choose from overall, number of cards drafted by each player. Oh, and at least one more that I didn’t want to touch: Minimum deck size. With only half the number of players compared to normal drafts, something has to give here, and I was looking for the best compromise.

3. Removing cards in boosters from the draft pool after players had the opportunity to draft them. These „additional“ cards – compared to the alternative of using boosters with fewer cards in them – present players with more options, and also prevent that drafters stuck with slightly overdrafted colors cannot fill up their decks, while not wasting time with the mechanical selection of latepicks which won’t get played anyway. (Also, since only one player gets to see which cards are removed from a booster, there is some welcome ambiguity about the cards players might face, even if they know for certain that these were in the draft pool.)

This is how Two-Thirds Draft works: First, you prepare 16 boosters of either 12 or 13 cards each. (I tend to prefer the latter lately, but 12-card-boosters work perfectly fine). Should your cube consist of two „subcubes“ – the equivalent of two different sets drafted in succession – you obviously prepare 8 boosters for each subcube. If your total cube/subcube size is larger than the total number of cards in the corresponding boosters, select the cards used in this draft randomly (but according to projected rarity, and taking heed of color balance).

For example, let’s say your cube is made of 128 commons and 128 uncommons, and you intend the uncommons to show up at half the frequency of that of the commons, so you prepare 16 12-card boosters each containing 8 commons and 4 commons.

You sort your commons into four piles: One contains colorless artifacts and white cards, one black and green cards, one blue and red cards, and one multicolored cards and lands (assuming those piles are of at least roughly similar size – if they aren’t, find a better distribution). You shuffle each of these piles separately, starting with those which contain more than 32 cards. Then you remove the excess cards (over 32) from those larger piles, shuffle those together and add them to the smaller piles until those also contain 32 cards each. You then shuffle those, too. You have now four randomized 32-card piles mostly containing cards of different colors. Put two cards from each pile into each booster (creating these boosters in the first place, unless you use some kind of actual wrapping or container). Then you repeat that process with the uncommons, but here you only put one card from each 32-card pile into each booster. The others won’t get drafted this time.

Of course, if you do not use different rarities / card frequencies, and if you don’t mind bad booster collation with clumps of cards from one color, you can just create a cube with 192 or 208 cards, shuffle everything together, then deal out your boosters and save time. However, more careful preparation rewards you with much better play value, which, in my opinion, is worth the extra time, and is also what Next Level Cubes are about in the first place! I actually use much more complex rarity schemes now, which I will talk about a bit later.

Once you have those 16 boosters prepared, you draft normally, with the following small changes: Obviously, with 4 boosters per player, you add an additional drafting round. So you alternate between one round passing to the left, one to the right, another to the left, and a final round to the right again. Also, when players get boosters with exactly five cards in them, they draft one of those cards as usual, but remove the rest from the draft facedown – that is the „third“ which doesn’t get drafted. (That procedure is the same for 12- and 13-card-boosters, mathematical inexactness aside.) At the end of the draft, each player now has 32-36 cards in his pool to build his deck from, as always being allowed to add non-snow basic lands as he wishes. (Actually, I hand each player a box with 15 of each basic land, but while I consider that practical, and it almost never makes a difference, there is no really important reason for that.)

After deckbuilding, players play best-of-three-matches round-robin style. And after that, your players will certainly help you to prepare your cube for the next draft by sorting the cards… right?

Next Level Cube

I used to call these „selfmade limited environments“ once, but have relented in the meanwhile, now that the term „cube“ is no longer restricted to haphazard collections of powerful cards. Still, I call my cubes Next Level Cubes to underscore that they adhere to certain guidelines:

1. The cube should resemble a typical limited environment – not constructed! – in both power level and draft approach.

2. The environment must be beginner-friendly, yet reward superior play and draft skills.

3. Gameplay should be interactive, and there must be no nearly impossibly to beat bombs.

4. There need to be many relevant draft decisions, and they should go beyond simply selecting your colors and choosing between an overall aggressive or defensive approach.

To achieve these goals, I developed certain tools and follow certain restrictions. Among the most important of those are the following:

1. I use a distribution of cards in my cubes which closely resembles the structure of a generic draft deck. This means well over 50% creatures, with ratios of mana slots akin to those of a good mana curve; enough good answers to strong threats; few situational cards; and no real unplayables at all. It also means there needs to be plenty manafixing.

2. I avoid cards exceeding a certain power level. I also make sure there are enough answers for all kinds of threats, while at the same time making sure that these answers are overall useful enough that they can reasonably be maindecked.

3. I weave a couple of themes into my cubes to allow players to find synergies. I’m conscious of the necessary density minimum of cards with such themes in the cube.

4. My cubes should possess enough variety that drafting doesn’t get stale after a couple of drafts. They’re not supposed to last for eternity, but should be fun for a dozen times or so.

5. As is customary for cubes, I do not want more than a single copy of each card in it to promote variety.

To build my cubes, I draw from a reservoir of cards I keep for this purpose: My Limited Card Pool.

As for gameplay, I adhere to the current rules of Magic: the Gathering, with two exceptions:

– Starting hand and maximum hand size is 8 instead of 7. While this would obviously be a problematic change for constructed, as well as for certain kinds of cubes, I found that on the typical limited power level this is an all-upside change, reducing the number and impact of mulligans, and thus vastly reducing the number of non-games, while having no adverse effect on gameplay or deckbuilding whatsoever (specifically, it’s no reasonable incentive to change your mana distribution). Note, though, that my cubes on principle neither allow for combo decks, nor contain single cards in search for which you’d want to mulligan. Also, they contain no cards which refer to the number of cards in a player’s hand, although I don’t think this would be too big an issue.

I will, additionally, adopt the new Vancouver mulligan rule, no matter if it becomes standard tournament procedure or not (although I am quite sure it will), since that is also all-upside in limited.

– Players are not required to keep their graveyard in the correct order. I do not use cards which care about graveyard order, and thus there is just no need.

As for the underlying skeleton of Next Level Cubes, I have experimented with a large number of configurations. While I can still think of simple cubes which do not need different rarities, and where all cards show up in the draft pool (meaning they consist of only 192-208 cards), I usually want more variety, with a total card number at least twice as high. I also want to take advantage of the rarity structure, which does many good things for limited – I might go into more detail here in a later entry. Just now I have also again begun to think about splitting my cubes into two subcubes to take advantage of the set structure – mixing two sets together is just not the same thing as drafting them in succession.

As an example, I plan to design my next cube in the following way:

Subcube A contains 264 cards: 8 Staples, 96 Commons, 96 Uncommons, 32 Rares and 32 Mythics, showing up with the respective frequencies of 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 and 1/4. That means that each of its boosters will contain 1 Staple, 6 Commons, 4 Uncommons, 1 Rare und 1 Mythic.

Subcube B contains 248 cards: 16 Staples, 96 Commons, 72 Uncommons and 64 Rares (no Mythics), showing up with the respective frequencies of 1, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4. That means that each of its boosters will contain 2 Staples, 6 Commons, 3 Uncommons, and 2 Rares.

Overall the cube will thus have 512 cards. Now what do I gain by dividing my cube up?

1. I can give each subset a different feel by choosing different themes, maybe even different color distributions. This would, of course, also influence draft dynamics.

2. I can finetune rarity distribution without having to split booster slots. For example, my overall 24 Staples take up 1.5 slots per booster on average. That’s certainly manageable, but I prefer whole numbers here.

3. I can mold the boosters to better go with typical draft flow. Subcube A offers Mythics and more Uncommons for players who like to draft around tempting cards. Subcube B offers more Staples to provide a foundation for the decks players now have committed to.

4. Players have a bit more information regarding which cards they can still expect to show up in the draft (providing they bothered to learn about the cube’s contents in advance).

I’ll have to see how this plays out in reality (which may take a while, given that I’ll first have to design that cube – and also acquire the cards I do not possess yet!) In any case it will be a challenging creative endeavour!

My Limited Card Pool

Right now, my master list for this pool contains 2076 cards, obviously not including basic lands. I will present that pool in future entries. The cards in it were chosen to allow for a variety of differently-playing cubes, just like real expansion sets, while at the same time avoiding too much redundancy. They are sorted by color, type, mana cost and name (although I have adapted those categories to my needs – for example, an artifact requiring red mana is listed as a red card). I also assign each card a rarity which often does not match its printed rarity. This used to be the projected rarity that card would most likely have in one of my cubes, but to reflect the higher fluidity in rarity distribution which my newer designs show, it is now the lowest possible rarity which makes sense to me – I can usually upgrade the rarity of a card to fit the needs of a cube, but there are good reasons why certain cards should not show up too frequently. I will probably write about that topic someday.

Because of my latest experience when I tried to restrict the number of cards in my Limited Card Pool to a set maximum, I’ll avoid that for the time being, but it should be obvious that I cannot forever add cards without removing others – after all, the point of this pool is to keep my collection manageable both in the physical and mental sense.

Alright – next time I talk about those Magic Origins cards which made it – I promise!

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What is a „drop“?

Still working on that „shorter, but more frequent updates“ thingie. Now, this entry here should actually BE shorter than usual. I hope…

BTW, if you are waiting for more Next Level Cube content, especially my Magic Origins choices for my Limited Card Pool: It’s coming soonish, and it will be a LOT, with the latter being the reason that I’m not quite there yet. Keep your breath (if you can hold it for another week or so!)

Today, I want to talk about some Magic terminology: The „X-drop“ (usually used with a specific number, like „2-drop“).  I’ve seen this term being in misuse for quite a while now.  Admittedly, I cannot expect that the whole world will base their use of terminology on my Magic University series (which most of the world never got to know, and the majority of those who did probably only dimly remembers), but I strongly believe that usage of a term should make sense – and in this case, it often doesn’t!

Let me give you a few examples, taken from Magic Origins:

Timberpack Wolf is a 2-drop.

Throwing Knife is a 2-drop.

Shadows of the Past is a 2-drop.

Tormenting Voice is a 2-drop.

Call of the Full Moon is NOT a 2-drop.

Reave Soul is NOT a 2-drop.

Macabre Waltz is NOT a 2-drop.

The important difference lies here: An X-drop is something you (almost) always can and will want to do if you have those X mana and no better way to spend them. An X-drop is an INDEPENDENT play. If wanting  – or even being able! – to use it depends on additional, too specific factors (Tormenting Voice is grazing the line here), it is not a „drop“, since the validity of that term comes with its meaning of allowing you to reliably use your mana for that card. If you have an X-drop, and X mana (of the right colors), you do not need that mana to go to waste.

Now, there are reasons certain terms exist and get used. In the case of the „drop“, is is tied to concepts like mana curve and board presence. However, the term „drop“ just gives you a way to talk about these things – you still have to evaluate specific cards in specific contexts! For example, Reave Soul MAY be able to substitute for a 2-drop in certain situations, and if – IF! – it does, it will help you to hit your mana curve in the same way a real 2-drop would do. On the other hand, Throwing Knife, while being a 2-drop, will often not help you to influence board presence immediately, which is another important concept tied to mana curve – while you do get to spend your mana, and even add something to the board (unlike with using Tormenting Voice, for example), the Knife is just not doing anything without interaction with other cards. That makes it often a less desirable 2-drop than a generic creature, but it still is a 2-drop, and you might be happy, for example, that you already played it on turn two, if you follow up with a good creature on turn three, and then can equip it to that creature while leaving 2 mana for a card like Negate open on turn four.

I’ve seen „X-drop“ too often used to refer to any card which costs X mana. That makes it not only a redundant term, it also leaves a gap for a term describing your ability to reliably spend X mana for a card. This is why you shouldn’t use „drop“ in a redundant meaning, but in one which is needed and makes sense, like I explained above.

 

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Is Red-based aggro easier to play than Blue-based control?

I have a bad habit to put off writing blog entries if I do not have the time for writing long ones. I also have the bad habit of tending to post very long blog entries which accumulate their length during my blogging pauses because things I want to write about are piling up. It’s a vicious circle, and I’m tentatively working on breaking those habits and that circle by posting shorter entries more often.

This is supposed to be one of those shorter entries. You often read or hear the sentiment that red aggro is easier to play than blue control, and you also often find that claim refuted. So, what’s the deal?

It depends on how you define „easy to play“. The typical red aggro deck is usually every bit as hard to play perfectly as the typical blue control deck. (Both deck types are actually not among the hardest to play – that honor goes to toolbox style decks which can tutor for a lot of different cards and have to plan ahead many turns while adapting to their opponent’s deck.) However, with a practical definition red aggro IS certainly easier to play. For the sake of explanation, let’s make a few simplifying assumptions:

1. There are only red aggro decks and blue control decks in the metagame. To take simplification even further, let’s assume that there is only one definite version of each of those deck types. These versions are meant to be „typical“ specimens of those archetypes in the context of this discussion.

2. The skill level of a deck’s pilot is assumed to be the same no matter which of those two decks he plays, and it can be expressed on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 meaning „having no clue at all“ and 100 playing perfectly (with available information). But wait – „no clue at all“ is actually not easily defined: You could interpret it as making legal game decisions at random, but that wouldn’t be helpful because some cards offer you a lot more options to make really stupid decisions – for example, you have to decide if you attack with a creature or not each time. For that reason, let us move this „no clue at all“ level somewhere into the negatives and define 0 instead as the minimum skill level of 99% of all players who have ever entered a tournament (at the time they entered it), whatever that may be. Okay, and now that we’ve let reality in a bit, let’s also redefine 100 as the maximum skill level of any player who ever played in a tournament, which moves playing perfectly to an unknown score probably quite far above 100.

3. The red deck and the blue deck in this hypothetical metagame are exactly on the same power level, meaning that they will on average split their matches 50/50 if both are piloted by players with a skill level of 100. (This is why it would have been an issue to define 100 by perfect play – we need a realistic definition of „the same power level“.)

Now I can express what I mean by saying that red aggro is easier to play than blue control: The closer a player’s skill level is to 0, the more successful he will be with red aggro compared to piloting blue control. Red aggro is the more forgiving deck to play – if both players make similarly „stupid“ mistakes, the blue deck will punish its pilot harsher for those on average. (Note that this only applies for mistakes which will reasonably be made – see the definition of skill level 0.) This is not dependant on the matchup: Playing the aggro mirror, the control mirror, and the aggro vs. control matchup might require slightly different skill subsets, but I don’t believe that any of those matchups makes a deck noticeably less or more forgiving.

Let me put this hypothesis in a slightly different, possibly a bit more intuitive context: We will modify assumption 3 from above by saying that decks are of similar power level if they split their matches 50/50 on average if piloted by players on average skill level. It is obviously not trivial to define what „average skill level“ actually means, and it is certainly not mathematically correct to assume that this level ca be expressed with 50 on our scale (at least not without being ready to warp that scale to work in a non-linear way), but once again, let’s just do this for the sake of simplification. The thing is: Most players DO have a subjective idea what average skill level means, and they usually tie their view of the power level of decks to that skill level instead of some however defined maximum skill level.

With this defintion, my hypothesis now means that players with a skill level between 0 and 50 (just meaning „below average“) will be more successful with red aggro than with blue control, while players with skill levels between 50 and 100 („above average“) will be more successful with blue control. This corresponds with the general (if unreflected) perception that red aggro is a deck for scrubs, while masters prefer blue control. Note that this perception actually influences players‘ deck choices: Players who consider themselves good will often choose Blue for that reason, while players not confident in their play skills will often fall back on the „easy deck“. Thus, this stereotype reinforces itself.

However, this means that in low level play like FNMs it is actually describing reality more or less correctly. This is because perception of decks‘ power levels is tied to average player skill. This doesn’t translate to high level play, though, since the win percentage of those two deck types changes with overall higher skill level. Depending on a player’s delta to the average skill level in the low level play environment, this might either mean that continuing to play red aggro is a mistake for a less competent player, because blue control just possesses a higher power level than it if played competently; or it might mean that continuing to run blue control is a mistake for a very competent player, since his wins in the low level play environment weren’t due to a superior deck choice, but due to leveraging the extra advantage which blue decks give to a vastly superior pilot – and in the high level play envvíronment, where other players are comparably competent, it might turn out that red aggro is actually on a higher power level in this specific metagame.

Essentially, it comes down to this: You need to judge the power level of decks in relation to both your play skills and those of the players you expect to face. It doesn’t matter how good, for example, Doomsday combo theoretically is in Vintage, if noone at the store where you play the format  – including you – has a clue how to pilot it correctly. In the same vein, if your goal is to do as well as possible at a single event, it makes no sense to choose a blue control deck you suspect to be stronger than red aggro if piloted by a more competent pilot than you, but giving you specifically a lower win rate than if you were running red aggro. (If your goal is to IMPROVE at Magic, though, that may be a good reason to leave your comfort zone, accept a lower win expectancy for that event, and use the opportunity to learn!)

To finish this entry, let me summarize: Blue control is certainly not generally better than red aggro in high level play – that depends on the specific metagame. It also isn’t easier to play if your goal is to play really well. But it is natural for inexperienced players that their learning curve takes them from aggro to control for the reasons I stated. (This makes a lot of sense considering that it’s of course easier to learn how to play proactively than reactively, which is the underlying reason for aggro decks being more forgiving). However, it’s a big fallacy to assume that simply choosing to play Blue over Red makes you a better player; or that control is always a better choice for good players than aggro.

(Okay, that entry didn’t turn out too short, I know. Working on it!)

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