Kategorie-Archiv: Next Level Cube

Oath of the Gatewatch in my Limited Card Pool

Eleven days into the new year, and MagicBlogs has yet to show any signs of life. That’s not an auspicious start into 2016…

Well, I’ll have to go ahead again, I guess. It may have become something of a tradition for me to completely overhaul my Limited Card Pool during the „days between the years“, and I did that before the official spoiler for Oath of the Gatewatch came out. That meant re-evaluating what was in my pool, but just as importantly, also all the stuff that was not – sometimes cards got lost in earlier crunchs for reasons which no longer applied, and sometimes I might have simply changed my opinion on cards in the meantime. Going over a little more than 2000 cards in my pool is already quite a lot of work, but closely looking at all cards ever printed just isn’t something I can do more often than once a year.

This is not to say that my main goal was adding stuff I had overlooked – to the contrary, I obviously had to concentrate on trimming down my pool to make room for new cards instead. I really don’t know which number of cards is ideal as an upper limit, but there needs to be one. It’s hard to cut perfectly serviceable cards, though. It’s even harder to say goodbye to complete mechanics, even if they never really worked out, like spiritcraft. Interestingly, I cut the precursor cards to surge – Skyshroud Condor and Illusory Angel – just before Oath of the Gatewatch would introduce that mechanic, because I realized that they didn’t play especially well.

I will not talk in more detail about the changes I made then – for the (very) few interested, there is an XLS document at the end of this entry with my complete, up-to-date Limited Card Pool list. Instead, I will focus on the influence which Oath of the Gatewatch had. Turns out that is quite a lot of influence, which is astonishing, given that I consider three of the four major mechanics from this set mostly a failure! However, the fourth delivers in spades, and there are just a lot of really interesting designs in this set – mostly at common and uncommon, so I was pleasantly surprised with the official spoiler after all those boring rares and mythic rares previewed before.

I will break down the new inductees systematically:

1. Grey

(„Grey“ is how I refer to cards requiring colorless mana.)

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I am really disappointed with the way Wizards are treating Grey. Mark Rosewater has made it clear that it will be a very rare occurence going forward, and since there will be no more of it in the foreseeable future, they made sure it will have an impact coming from a single expansion only. That, of course, means that nearly all of these designs are just too powerful for Next Level Cubes. There just aren’t enough usable cards – if any at all – requiring colorless mana to cast to make it worth including specific colorlessfixing in a cube. That is why I concentrated on cards which can be played somehow reasonably without colorless mana, but have activated abilities requiring it. Even here, there aren’t a lot of usable designs (and most annoyingly, not a single white one). So this is all I got from the most groundbreaking innovation in Magic design since Alpha: A couple of uncommons (I intend to use all of these cards at that rarity) which might encourage drafters to use a little more colorless mana producers than usual. This is nowhere near to creating a desire to draft Wastes, and nowhere near to necessitate the inclusion of additional land cycles producing colorless mana (okay, I’m not too unhappy with that – filterlands are terribly expensive, after all!)

My only concessions to Gray thus were adding Blasted Landscape to my cycle of cycling lands, and replacing Mana Confluence with Grand Coliseum. Other than that, I will just throw these cards into my cubes if I feel like it and have players figure out if their decks support the Grey-Splash without too much trouble, and how bad it would be to play those cards without getting it. The reward is certainly there, and drafters may be encouraged to pick up that Crystal Vein or Pristine Talisman they might otherwise not have been interested in, but their main decision is not if it makes sense to „go grey“ in draft, but if the potential upside of those cards is worth the risks of not reliably getting colorless mana to use their abilities.

2. Allies

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So this is the main retribution from Oath of the Gatewatch to my pool! Allies were still a rather underdeveloped theme before, but got a major boost now. One thing got even more obvious: Unlike with slivers, there is no hope to achieve even the semblance of a balance between colors with them. (And I really don’t get why Blue almost completely refuses to participate, when even Black does its part.) It’s important to note, though, that (like with slivers) just having the creature type „ally“ must be considered to be mechanically relevant. To a certain extent, that is true for all creature types with tribal cards, but allies and slivers take this to another level. Nonetheless, „passive“ allies still have to be useful without tribal support (Stonework Puma being an exception which works because any player can pick it up to enhance their ally theme), and thus compete in the crunch with other generically useful cards.

Cohort as a counterpoint to the aggressive rally might actually be a good idea, by the way – I’m not clear yet how this will work in the official draft environment, but it seems like a great tool to round out the ally theme in Next Level Cubes at the least.

3. Support

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Support seems mightily lame for a keyword – it could just have been spelled out on a few cards which wanted that effect. However, it turns out that this mechanic originally could also put loyalty counters on planeswalkers and was then crippled by development. In its intended form, I admittedly would have liked it even less, but at least it would have merited a keyword.

There are plenty more interesting mechanics putting counters on creatures, so I really wasn’t interested in support as a keyword. I like the white common as a cantrip and the green as a smaller version of Stand Together, while the uncommon is mainly another badly needed green removal spell.

4. Surge

I use no cards with surge.

While I’m not against the basic idea of this mechanic, its execution failed to convince me, just like converge did. The challenge is to meet standards of elegance, playing interestingly and hitting the right power level; and with a mechanic as specific as this, there should be several cards using it to help set the tone of a draft environment, so even if I liked a single one a lot (I don’t) it would be a poor choice for my pool.

5. Artifact synergies

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I’m of course aware that colorless synergies and artifact synergies are not the same thing, but they overlap enough that it makes sense to use a few of the former to flesh out the latter.

I want to use the Ruins as an uncommon, and Reaver Drone as a common.

6. Multicolor replacements

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I have a fixed number of slots for (more or less) generic multicolor cards, and there is still room for optimization. These cards replace designs I’m less enthused with.

I hope Jori-En does not turn out too powerful. I will try it as an uncommon. If that doesn’t work out, I will probably remove it completely.

7. Other replacements

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The Cloak introduces menace to my equipment selection. It replaces Angelic Armaments, fulfilling their role even a bit better.

The Lantern replaces Darksteel Pendant, offering more versatility.

The Visions replace Clinging Darkness. They are a cool design on a good power level. I will use them at common, since Black should have plenty strong removal.

The Endurance replaces Boon of Erebos. While I’m okay with Black paying life for efficient spells, the Boon does not need that additional cost to be balanced, so I go with the more elegant design.

The Vines replace Shape the Sands simply because they are more likely to do what you want that card to do.

8. Miscellaneous

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The Warden hits a good spot as a generic manaproducing creature. It’s also useable as a staple common (see my explanation at the end).

Linvala looks like a powerful, but fair rare to me – a great comeback card, but less impressive when you’re not behind on board. Maybe I underestimate her, though.

The Caller does something cool for a reasonable price with a reasonable restriction and has unusual stats for a black creature (at least in my pool).

The Strike seemed at first a bit redundant with Murder to me, but at one mana more and at sorcery speed it can work as a common (I now use Murder as an uncommon because it’s so efficient), and both being splashable and exiling the creature set it sufficiently apart – even though my cubes avoid the amount of graveyard recursion which would make such effects necessary, exiling creatures is still useful, and I like to have a few cards which do it.

The red cantrip is exactly what I had always wished Accelerate were, but without the strange rider from Crimson Wisps.

Finally, the Pulse is on one hand a Regrowth variant, and will be mainly used for that – but more importantly to me, it is a playable lifegain card! These are incredibly hard to come by, so I am happy I can use this.

My updated list

I’m at 2063 cards now (not counting the basic lands). As you can see, I use a lot of tags to make it easier to find cards with certain qualities, but obviously that system isn’t perfect (and there may be glaring oversights).

I dropped the „mythic“ rarity again, since I only used it in very strictly defined cases, and those were few enough that it wasn’t necessary to make these cards actually rarer than rare.

„Common“, „uncommon“ and „rare“ are again my default rarities for Next Level Cubes, while I have modified „staple“ to be a subset of the commons instead of a separate rarity: It now means that this is a common which could make sense as a staple (defined as a card guaranteed to be in the draft pool even if not all commons are) if I use that concept in a cube, but doesn’t need to be even if I do, depending on the specific cube. That is different from the three „real“ rarities which, while not set in stone, are (again) intended to be strong guidelines I will only stray from very infrequently, if at all. (The numbers before the letters „S“, „C“, „U“ & „R“ are for sorting purposes, just like the asterisks before the color / card type indicator.)

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

LimitedCardPoolOGW

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How to Support Gray in Next Level Cubes

It seems my motivation to blog about Magic fluctuates more wildly than I anticipated… Well, these are interesting times for cubebuilders, so let’s roll while the momentum persists!

When I talk about „Gray“ as a Magic color, I refer to those early spoilers from Oath of the Gatewatch, which I believe will turn out to be real, and which I already analyzed here, coming to the conclusion that their new mana symbol stands without reasonable doubt for one colorless mana. I used to refer to that symbol as „<>“, because this is how it was written in the original MTGSalvation thread discussing it, but seeing as this is unwieldy (especially so in any editor with HTML tags), I will switch to the simpler „#“ for the time being. It seems possible, though, that the official shorthand for it will be „C“, since that letter has not too long ago been removed from official references to chaos mana, and obviously I would conform to that, but as of now, „#“ will do.

Just as preliminary is my choice of „Gray“ as a pseudo-color word for spells requiring colorless mana, which I will use in contrast to „Clear“ for colorless spells without that requirement – if I’m really unlucky, the „official“ terminology might actually end up the other way around… However, for the moment, „#“ and „Gray“ it is!

With Wastes as a new basic land, I have little doubt that gray cards will not be confined to Oath of the Gatewatch alone, although they will not necessarily show up in every future expansion, and maybe only in small quantities, like multicolor cards in many sets. This means I will likely want to use them in my Next Level Cubes as well, although this certainly depends on how they will be designed – with only two examples to go by so far, the jury is still out on them: Mirrorpool seems decent, albeit not escpecially a bread-and-butter example for this „new color“, while Kozilek, the Great Distortion is far beyond anything I want in my Limited Card Pool. There will probably be a decent number of usable commons and uncommons, though, and I find myself already planning how to integrate those gray spells into my cubes.

You see, this is actually not easy! I’m afraid it would even be outright impossible if Gray turned out to be a full-fledged color featuring #-intensive early drops in the vein of Leonin Skyhunter, but I do not see that happen in limited (a few rares of that kind might be an option for constructed, though) – there are both design space issues and gameplay issues making this unlikely. Instead, I mainly expect a relatively small number of midgame cards costing #, and an even smaller number of ## lategame cards at higher rarities. Gray will thus serve a role as a splash or at most tertiary color, and not enable six extra viable color pairs (Gray-Blue etc.) in draft, because the former is doable with some design effort, while the latter seems impossible to me.

And yet, even this presents me with sizeable issues, because of the differences between Two-Thirds-Drafts and normal draft. Remember, I created this special draft variant for four players after juggling a lot of numbers, since it is impossible to give those four drafters access to the same number of cards as in normal draft without making the majority of their picks irrelevant. If we consider a normal draft using 14-card boosters (assuming there is a basic land slot which does not contribute to players‘ decks), each drafter gets to see 3*(14+13+12+11+10+9+8+7) different cards – that’s 252. (With 15-card packs, it would be 276.) In Two-Thirds-Draft, even using my new standard of 13-card boosters instead of 12-card boosters, they only get to see 4*(13+12+11+10) different cards, for a total of 184! This is already a stark compromise, made possible by completely eliminating downright unplayables and not maindeckable sideboard cards. And note that even with that smaller number it’s only the two-thirds-mechanic which makes sure that all pick decisions are still relevant.

However, this also means that each player drafts only 36 cards, while in a normal draft he would get 42 or 45. This is usually not an issue because in a normal draft those extra cards will be of no consequence – unplayables, almost never used sideboard cards, redundant filler-level maindeck candidates, and hatepicks of minor relevance. The first two categories do not exist in Next Level Cubes, while the latter two hide among the undrafted cards.

All this changes, though, if drafters are suddenly required to draft a high amount of lands (or other mana cards)! We are not talking about the usual 2-5 picks invested in manafixing or utility lands which happen in most draft environments, we’re talking about 6-10 picks required to make running an additional (pseudo-)color possible! While you may still get what you need in only 36 picks, obviously your margin for errors is a LOT smaller, and you might easily end up with too little manafixing, too few spells, or an overall untuned deck.

I expect Gray to be supported in normal draft just like snow was in Coldsnap: A good number of basic lands inserted in the common slot to average out roughly 1 per booster (Wastes actually is denoted as common on the card itself) in addition to a couple of more interesting cards which just happen to also provide that kind of mana. This is, however, exactly what NOT works in Next Level Cubes! Or, to be more precise, it only works in very specialized Next Level Cubes explicitly designed to make it work. I once designed just this kind of cube with a snow theme, so I know what I’m talking about… That cube worked fine, but it really was a one-of-a-kind thing, and more an experiment than a blueprint for future cubes. Normally, I want more variance in my cubes for higher replay value, and including Gray in a cube should not mean that it has to be as dominant as snow was in that one. Also, I do not think anymore it’s a great idea to make players draft uninteresting cards like basic lands, and addiionally I do not like putting several copies of one card in a cube for aesthetic reasons. If you want to take that route, though, I suggest using eight copies of Wastes (together with a generous amount of basic-land-searchers, just as in my snow cube) overall, ideally as a one-per-booster in the third and fourth booster round. Together with a couple of more specialized #-producers, this should easily support two Gray drafters, and with a medium amount of struggling, three.

If I do not want players to draft basic lands, though, I only have one choice: I have to provide a certain number of Wastes to them for free! I already provide 15 copies each of Plains, Swamp, Forest, Island and Mountain to every player, and I can just add a couple of Wastes here (I hope there will be 4 different pictures…) After long deliberation, I have decided that three Wastes per player is the optimal number (and yes, fitting exactly 78 sleeved cards into a deckbox without issues was a minor consideration). That way, drafters still have to invest a few picks into mana cards (which is kinda the point of Gray, I feel), but not so many that the payoff is no longer worth the effort.

Three Wastes are just enough to support a Gray splash without fixing via a 8-7-3 or 9-6-3 mana distribution, but just one or two fixers will noticeably stabilize that mana base and probably allow for cutting a land. On the other hand, you usually do not even want more than three Wastes in your deck, seeing that you probably run a two-color-deck and have the option to pick up more attractive producers of # like utility lands and mana stones. Instead, you will probably be on the lookout for basic land searchers like Evolving Wilds, Traveler’s Amulet or Pilgrim’s Eye, which can either fetch your Wastes or your main colors.

With this setup, I actually do not need many new entries into my Limited Card Pool to support Gray. I already have enough basic land searchers (especially the Gleam of Resistance cycle does excellent work here) and a generous selection of mana stones and utility lands producing #. If Oath of the Gatewatch makes me want to include Gray in my Limited Card Pool, there are only a couple of additional cards I will need (assuming that there won’t be better options in that set itself):

For cubes which focus on certain color pairs, I will need an additional dualland cycle to complement Adarkar Wastes and co. – this will be the filter lands cycle (Mystic Gate etc.). I parted with those lands not too long ago, not because they did not play well, but because I did not see how I would need them in addition to all those other dualland cycles, and because they were kinda expensive. Well, bad luck: They did not get cheaper in the meantime, but their ability to produce colorless mana makes them valuable again to me!

Another cycle I already had considered for different reasons which would go extremely well with Cubes featuring Gray are the original bouncelands, like Karoo – they’re essentially „duallands“ here, but require commitment to a main color, which is good. They will go a long way towards enabling Gray splashes.

Lastly, I will probably acquire Grand Coliseum and Blasted Landscape again. The former suddenly plays consideraby different from City of Brass, while the latter is just what you want if you need to make sure you have a source of #, but are not really interested in drawing multiples of those.

There is a large number of other cards which suddenly may take up a new role in a cube thanks to the introduction of Gray, and it is a lot of fun to look through a card database and identify them, but these are the ones which work especially well with our new „sixth color“.

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Commander 2015 Entries into my Limited Card Pool

Well, if I get asked directly to write about a specific topic, and it isn’t too much work, that is usually already enough to motivate me – in the end, I like to blog about Magic, making it a hard habit to break.

So, Commander 2015! I do not expect too much from this kind of product, which is targeted at an audience valuing very different things in this game than I, consists mainly of cards explicitly designed for multiplayer, and tends to go way overboard with regards to power level. However, there also is a certain degree of extra design freedom noticeable, allowing for cards which could not be printed in a regular set, and thus there might just be something fitting my needs.

This time, though, an unimpressive total of two cards made it into my Limited Card Pool:

Bloodspore Thrinax

While mainly designed to be used in token/sacrifice decks, I want to try this in environments with counter synergies. I thought long and hard if it might be too swingy, but I do not believe so. I think it is even quite weak in draft unless supporting strong synergies, which makes it a good buil-around pick.

Arjun, the Shifting Flame

I had trouble finding a fitting second Izzet rare (besides Prophetic Bolt) for years, and wasn’t entirely happy with my previous solution Dack’s Duplicate. This is much better. Its strange ability might look very strong from a casual deckbuilder’s perspective, but should be merely good and interesting in draft.

Now, this would be a really short entry if I stopped here, so I will additionally mention a few cards I at least thought about for a while:

Shielded by Faith

This card would work, but it does not lead to especially great gameplay, and I just see no need for it.

AEthersnatch

I almost replaced Desertion with this, since it is a cleaner design, but it lost out in the crunch because Desertion fits better in between Dismiss and Draining Whelk.

Daxos’s Torment

I would have loved to add an effect like this to my black enchanment synergies, but this is just way too powerful.

Deadly Tempest

This would have fitted my crunch as an alternative to Barter in Blood and Languish, but I realized I do not really need a black Wrath of God.

Mizzix’s Mastery

An interesting option among red instery synergy cards, but Black needed Sins of the Past more, which is also a cleaner version.

Great Oak Guardian

I tried to convince myself way too long that this weren’t overpowered, but rightly failed. It just does too many great things at once.

Unrelated, I will keep up my tradition of posting winning draft decks. After my latest post, there were three more, bringing my draft win ratio to 16/70 so far:

DimirBorosAbzan

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A few Snippets about This and That

I will continue my series about CML’s eye-opening blog post when I have a little more time, and just keep this blog going with a few things on my mind right now.

But let me at least address a few remarks from the comment section of my latest entry: I have no idea why someone who writes about Magic needs to be compared with Hunter S. Thompson (and it’s actually already saying something good if he is), and I also never claimed CML was a „great writer“ – although, to be fair, if you hold him to reasonable standards pertaining Magic articles, that is a very defensible position. Interestingly, I consciously declined to praise his writing style too much to avoid that very comparison to „serious“ writers, understating his abilities by only saying that he writes „quite well“. That is most certainly true even for „serious“ writing (albeit not necessarily for the highest publishing standards), but there should be nothing left to discuss considering we are talking about Magic articles here!

Regarding „real“ professional sports and the opporunity to make big money there: I admit I was thinking of conventional, physical sports here, like football, basketball or tennis. I have next to none knowledge about the e-sports scene. However, I would still be surprised if the higher payouts and the more professional sponsoring there wouldn’t enable at least a few of the top players to actually make enough money during their active time to set it aside (I’m not talking about „retiring“ afterwards, though, just coming out ahead). Anyway, the comparison between e-sports and Magic is better suited to highlight the value WotC places on their professional tournaments, which will probably be the topic of my next entry in that series. By the way, there seems to be at least some interest for this, judging by the fact that I actually got a few comments. Sadly, this is already remarkable! Just compare with the number of comments which the latest few articles on PlanetMTG – the only left publishing platform for editorial German Magic content – got:

PlanetMTG

In the meanwhile, I have done a couple of Battle for Zendikar drafts – seven, to be precise. I won two of them, went 2-1 in four more and would very probably have gone 2-1 in the seventh as well, if MTGO hadn’t decided to stop me from playing in the last round while I was 1-0 in the lead and in a very strong position in the second game. When I write this, I have been filing for reimbursement over 16 hours ago and not got an answer yet (other than the automatically generated email) – this used to go a lot faster a year or so ago! But alas, even one of the few things MTGO was to be commended for (fast reimbursement) has gone bad now.

These were my two winning decks:

Dimir

Azorius

Most of my other drafts I was more focussed on aggression, with Red and/or White as a foundation, and while I admittedly didn’t face the toughest opposition (and made several really stupid playing mistakes), my match losses were usually to back to back egregious instances of mana issues. Thus, I feel that overall I cannot really judge the format fairly yet, but my impression so far is that drafting it is fun, but playing the games rather annoying. It may be tainted by my frustration with the MTGO shuffler, though, which is having fun colorscrewing my two-color decks every second game (not even including the ones where I’m generally manascrewed), while my opponents lay down a third turn 3/4 Tajuru Stalwart off a splashed rare land every second game (alright, that is probably not the frequency that this really happens, but it feels that way). I just absoulutely hate it when I build my deck for consistency and am still struggling to cast my spells, while my opponents seemingly run haphazard mana bases without issues…

Objectively, though, I shouldn’t complain. I have a very decent win ratio so far, and in my very first draft I managed to grab a couple of (then-) money rares and sold them immediately afterwards, when they were still absurdly expensive. I never opened anything really valuable again, though, but I was one of the lucky recipients of the mistakenly awarded Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – those were supposed to be use- and worthless avatars, but some moron at WotC mixed those up, to the delight of some players and the dismay of most traders. I even managed to sell it before its price plummeted!

As for the dynamics of Battle for Zendikar draft: The format seems medium fast. You probably do not want to put some of its really expensive spells in your deck if you do not have a good plan how to support them, but you are also not required to run mediocre 2-drops if you do not intend to be aggressive, and most 2-drops are actually actively bad if you do not specifically focus on ending the game fast and being able to break through a solid defense. The colors seem reasonably balanced to me so far, but unfortunately the booster packs aren’t – some drafters are going to end up with five or more bomb-level picks, while others stare at empty packs each firstpick which do not even contain a good common. On the bright side, though, reading signals seems to work well, and thus you should usually get access to enough picks in your colors that you can finetune your deck for focus, curve and synergies, while still being able to snatch up a few useful sideboard cards and extra full-art lands.

Finally, an addendum to my Battle for Zendikar Limited Pool update: I decided to give Swarm Surge a chance as a black card synergizing with artifacts. Without eldrazi scion tokens, it will not be too exciting, but Black really needs it.

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Battle for Zendikar update to my Limited Card Pool

If you do not know what this is about, click here!

Lands

Ally Encampment
Blighted Cataract
Blighted Fen
Blighted Gorge

I already talked about those lands here. I decided to remove Tolaria West now that I have the Cataract, since I never really liked the tutoring, but keep Soldevi Excavations.

Colorless (non-devoid)

Kozilek’s Channeler
Bane of Bala Ged
Eldrazi Devastator
Hedron Archive
Gruesome Slaughter

The Channeler will replace Stone Golem, the Bane Triskelavus and the Devastator Sundering Titan: One interesting and reasonable upgrade, and two replacements of cards which were always second-rate solutions. I didn’t like the Archive at first, with both modes being overcosted, but every deck that wants Thran Dynamo will also not be too unhappy with the Archive, and its two uses make it playable. The Slaughter is a nice artifact synergy card to me, even though colorless cards and artifact cards are of course not the same, but the overlap is large enough that this makes sense. I chose a couple more colorless synergy cards for the same reasons.

Artifact synergy

Skitterskin
Nettle Drone
Molten Nursery
Forerunner of Slaughter
Herald of Kozilek

I was happy to get another artifact synergy card in Black with Skitterskin, and the Drone and the Nursery replaced the lackluster Rustmouth Ogre and the awkward Forge Armor I also decided to extend artifact synergies to two-colored cards, adding not only Forerunner and Herald, but also Ethersworn Shieldmage and Reclusive Artificer, and hoping that Oath of the Gatewatch will have a few more.

Allies

Expedition Envoy
Kor Bladewhirl
Lantern Scout
Makindi Patrol
Hero of Goma Fada
Kor Entanglers
Kalastria Healer
Zulaport Cutthroat
Hagra Sharpshooter
Tajuru Warcaller
Tajuru Beastmaster
Coralhelm Guide
Firemantle Mage
Chasm Guide
Ondu Champion

I don’t like that the new allies work differently from the old ones, but I will make the best of it. I removed all allies with abilities which affected only allies (unless they were putting +1/+1 counters on allies) and replaced them with rally variants, but kept those which counted allies for an effect. I also now include a few cards specifically because they are allies – even without an ally-related ability – in addition to Stonework Puma. All of those – the Envoy (taking over from Elite Vanguard), the Cutthroat, the Sharpshooter and the Guide – make also sense in cubes without ally synergies, but would probably not have made the crunch without that creature type. I also used the opportunity to get rid of Bojuka Brigand and Nimana Sell-Sword, which are strictly inferior versions of green allies.

Landfall

Ondu Greathorn
Retreat to Emeria
Retreat to Hagra
Scythe Leopard
Snapping Gnarlid
Retreat to Kazandu
Wave-Wing Elemental
Retreat to Coralhelm
Valakut Predator
Retreat to Valakut

Landfall isn’t a theme which needs too much density, so I could be rather picky here – at least in Red and Green. I decided to use all five Retreats to make sure I have enough landfall on non-creatures, to support the colors with fewer attractive options, and because their abilities are not all focussed on attacking. However, that meant that Grazing Gladehart and Zendikar’s Roil had to go for being too similar with some Retreats. I also took out Zektar Shrine Expedition, which I never liked too much because I wanted my landfall-enchantments to do non-creature stuff. As for the creatures, I preferred very simple abilities not requiring additional mana. Hedron Rover got the boot for being too similar (and vastly inferior) to the Predator.

Miscellaneous

Quarantine Field
Roil’s Retribution
Seek the Wilds
Vestige of Emrakul
Turn Against

There is room in my pool for the Field because I use Journey to Nowhere instead of Oblivion Ring or Banishing Light, and the scalable version should play interestingly. The Retribution is fairly unique (at least in White, where this effect belongs), and the Seek weakly supports a land theme and might serve as a kind of green Impulse in general. The Vestige replaces the vanilla Highland Giant which is just too far below the curve nowadays, and Turn Against shoves out Ray of Command which Blue neither needs nor deserves (but the effect was too cool to go unused).

As usual, I will not explain why I NOT chose cards unless specifically asked – so, if you are curious why some cards didn’t make the cut, just ask me in the comments!

You can download my complete updated Limited Card Pool below as a spreadsheet in XLS format. The columns show card name, converted mana cost, a card type code I use for easier sorting, an abbreviation for card rarity, and some tags I use to facilitate cube-building. My type code uses „Klar“ for colorless cards and those affiliated with all five colors, and otherwise the German names for single-colored cards and the established names for color pairs and triples. The color function of cards in a cube trumps technically correct color definition here. „L“ denotes lands, „K“ creatures, „J“ other permanent types, and „I“ instants and sorceries. The asterisks are only there for sorting purposes. The rarities are (ordered from high to low frequency) „S“ for staple, „C“ for commons, „U“ for uncommon, „R“ for rare and „M“ for mythic. That there are five rarity categories does not mean that every cube I build will use them all. Note that I changed the concept for the rarity I give in that spreadsheet: It is no longer defined as the projected most likely rarity of a card in a cube (although it will often happen to be), but the lowest rarity which I believe could make sense in a cube I build. The exception here are mythics, which can always be downgraded to rare. I will always use at least three rarities, maybe not for single card frequencies, but for collation purposes.

My Limited Card Pool in XLS format

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Lands in Next Level Cubes – Battle for Zendikar addendum

Links to card pictures from that set should work finally, so here is the Battle for Zendikar addendum to my series.

(part 1part 2part 3 part 4)

As usual, an asterisk (*) denotes lands I want for my Limited Card Pool.

The lands with too many names

Canopy Vista
Cinder Glade
Prairie Stream
Smoldering Marsh
Sunken Hollow

(I will not join the discussion what the nickname of that cycle should be, at least not here and now.)

They are not a full cycle yet, but it seems very likely that the missing cross members will appear in Oath of the Gatewatch. Their power level is fine, but I’d prefer the Clifftop Retreat cycle due to its ties to specific colors even if the basic land types weren’t a taboo for me.

The blighted cycle

Blighted Cataract *
Blighted Fen *
Blighted Gorge *
Blighted Steppe
Blighted Woodland

I hate it when WotC introduce a promising cycle and then ruin it with unusable members. Cataract, Fen, and Gorge are perfectly fine, but Steppe is terrible, and Woodland actually does something I actively do not want (green manafixing), and also only makes sense in very specific environments. Only using parts of a cycle is something I do sometimes, but here it is really sad that the cycle isn’t complete. The Cataract will probably replace Tolaria West in my pool, since that is just a second-rate solution to the issue of Blue not having enough affiliated lands.

The spell land cycle

Fertile Thicket
Looming Spires
Mortuary Mire
Sandstone Bridge
Skyline Cascade

This is the third incarnation of such a cycle after Zendikar and Worldwake (I have a hunch there might be a fourth one in Oath of the Gatewatch), and if I wanted to construct my own cycle, I would now finally have enough material, with the Mire being actually good in contrast to its predecessors, and the Cascade providing an alternative for the blue member which has a more unique effect. However, the issue that those will be played off-color too often is obviously still there.

The manlands

Lumbering Falls
Shambling Vent

Here, it has officially been announced that this cycle will be completed with the next set, so one issue I had with it will disappear then. The members of this cycle being quite different from each other still bugs me, though – their main role in a cube would still be to provide manafixing, and I want this to be as uniform as possible. I might still use them, if it weren’t for their power level which is just too high – not so high that I COULD not use them, but so high that I do not WANT to. I have been second-guessing that decision a lot, because their design is very appealing, and I really love complete cycles of duallands, but in the end I know better – they are just too strong to play well.

The rest

Ally Encampment *
Sanctum of Ugin
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spawning Bed

Allies are one of two circle tribes which my pool supports (the other, obviously, being slivers), and the Encampment does a fine job here. The Sanctum does nothing useful for me: I consciously include very few spells with comverted mana cost of more than 6 in my pool, because any draft environment where more than one (out of four) players could conceivably base his deck around ramping up that far is terrible. (I’m not going into detail here, but the baseline is that you either have no fast decks at all, or that the fast and the slow decks in that environment don’t interact much. And yes, that means that I anticipate I will not like Battle for Zendikar draft, just like I hated Rise of the Eldrazi draft.) Shrine is out for essentially the same reason – while I love that it always taps for mana unlike Temple of the False God, it is important that the ramp effect happens much earlier. The Bed is a variant of Foundry of the Consuls which once again only really makes sense if you want to ramp up super high, and also I will not use cards which produce scion tokens in general, because of that very reason.

An aside: Hangarback Walker

You know, I am very disappointed with Battle for Zendikar so far, just like a lot of people, but unlike most of those the reason is not that I consider that set to be too weak. For one thing, I do not really care for the constructed viability of cards a lot. Another reason, though, is that I just do not believe that it is possible for anyone who isn’t both really competent in Magic strategy (ruling out over 99% of all players) AND took the time to actually think about the potential of a card (ruling out at least 50% of the rest) to assess a card’s potential for constructed formats reliably, unless that card is really obviously overpowered, or obviously underpowered AND boring (underpowered, but strange cards have a habit of showing up unexpectedly in very specific roles in very unusual decks sometimes).

To illustrate my point, here are some highlights from snap evaluations of Hangarback Walker:

From MTGSalvation:

„Definitely not constructed playable“

„It’s too behind the curve. Obviously broken at X but it’s bad at XX.“

„it needs a lot of support to be good[…]Then again, a card that requires this much support for no real payoff is not where you want to be „

„What a bad card.“

Fireball is outstanding in Limited because efficiency is less important there, but Constructed it’s bad because it’s bad value for any given value of X. This is kind of the same thing, except it’s XX so it’s even worse.“

„it’s one of those cards where a single X would be way too good, and double X makes it trash.“

From MythicSpoiler:

„This card seems like it would be fine in limited.“

„Without Overseer, this is far too expensive.“

„If this shows up on any top 8 lists i’ll eat my hat.“

„It requires an onboard ravager to be any good.“

„I just can recognize a bad card.“

„This is the shizz“

You might want to keep that in mind!

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Lands in Next Level Cubes – Part 3

(Well, I let you wait for this entry a lot longer than I intended. But, you know, there were reasons, and one good thing about blogging is that I am not beholden to any tight schedule unless I impose it on myself. So let’s just pretend this series went on without any noticeable interruption, shall we?)

After discussing lands affiliated with three or more colors, and then with two colors, in this entry I will get to „monocolored“ lands. Technically, this includes Plains, Swamp, Forest, Island and Mountain, but obviously we will only have to talk about the remaining five basic lands.

I didn’t spell it out clearly before, so I’ll do it now: There are a couple of lands I’m not using on principle. First, there are non-basics with basic land types, because of unwanted interactions (also, the existing designs tend to be either too strong or too weak anyway). Let’s get those out of the way right away.

Nonbasics with basic land types

Mistveil Plains
Leechridden Swamp
Dryad Arbor
Sapseep Forest
Moonring Island
Madblind Mountain

Realizing how dangerous this kind of land is, Wizards made the Shadowmoor cycle supremely unattractive. Dryad Arbor actually plays reasonably in limited, but it is certainly not an important element, and even less grounds for an exception to the rule to leave such lands out.

Another kind of land I do not use is the legendary ones. Now, admittedly this is more of a pet quirk of mine than any important principle. However, I found that I did not want most legendary lands on their own anyway; Wizards have consciously been printing a lot less of them lately; and I also noted that most players simply are not aware that lands habe a type line just like other cards.

Now, regarding that last concern, I know it is close to insignificant right now for me, because of no basic land types on nonbasics, and because I do not use any cards specifically referring to legendary permanents (another pet quirk of mine – it comes down to culling unneccessary complexity of card evaluation for little interaction). As far as I am aware, the only card in my pool which specifically interacts with legendary lands is Vesuva. It’s also not impossible that I revise my stance if a couple really well designed legendary lands are printed (with Battle of Zendikar on the horizon, this might happen rather soon…), but so far there are just not enough really attractive candidates that I feel I should.

Let’s take a look at the candidates in this category:

The lands from Legends

Hammerheim
Karakas
Pendelhaven
Tolaria
Urborg

All these cards do rather unique (or, let’s say, strange) things on largely different power levels. While I wouldn’t use the abilities of Karakas and Pendelhaven on principle for rules complexity reasons, the common denominator here is that all five cards are essentially clearly superior to basic lands, and while the very structure of drafts provides a counterbalance here, I believe this is still something to be avoided. Note, though, that I wouldn’t want to use a single of these lands even if that wasn’t a concern (the weaker three have irrelevant abilities in my cubes).

The lands from Champions of Kamigawa

Eiganjo Castle
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

I already mentioned that I do not use legendary-referring cards – the synergies don’t play well enough to justify an additional level of complexity. Even if did want a „legendary tribal“ theme, this cycle isn’t well balanced in itself, and the power level overall would be too high for lands. I might have thought differently a decade or so ago, but nowadays I wish the „legendary“ rider didn’t exist at all in game terms. It’s a crude tool producing strange interactions, and an additional card aspect the game doesn’t need.

The lands from Urza’s Saga

Gaea’s Cradle
Phyrexian Tower
Serra’s Sanctum
Shivan Gorge
Tolarian Academy

Three of these were designed to produce absurd amounts of mana under the right conditions, which isn’t something any limited environment should want. (I’m actually not sure about constructed, either…) The Tower is usable, but unexciting, and tied to Black with an ability which should have been „clear“. The Gorge is actually fine and one of the few legendary lands I might actually use, but I don’t really miss it either, espcially since I have Keldon Megaliths, which play a lot more interestingly.

The „megamegacycle“

Kor Haven
Keldon Necropolis
Teferi’s Isle
Volrath’s Stronghold
Yavimaya Hollow

Yes – these lands were actually meant to be part of a cycle which spanned five blocks! Obviously, they’re unusable as a cycle in a cube, with vastly varying power levels and the Isle using phasing. Also, two of them (Isle and Necropolis) are too weak to be attractive, while the others are way too strong. (Did you notice that you can still block and kill the creature affected by Kor Haven?)

The remaining legendary lands

Academy Ruins
Flagstones of Trokair
Kher Keep
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Tomb of Urami
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

The lands in this group are either too strange for limited play (Flagstones, Oboro, Urborg), or too strong (Ruins), or do something I do not want in my cubes (the Keep). The latter causes no issues powerlevelwise, but I decided against using cards which produce 0/1 tokens in general – yet another pet quirk of mine. Once again, the important thing to keep in mind is that a cube should contain cards you WANT to be in there; not cards which just COULD be in there.

 

„Splashable“ lands are yet another kind of lands I avoid – I already touched upon this when talking about Phyrexian Tower: These are lands which are, by design, color-affiliated, but might get played for their special abilities in decks not using that color. I like lands to either be completely clear (without an additional bonus for certain colors, like producing their mana) or „colored“.

There are a couple of strict cycles which may fall into this group, but right here I will address only the following cards:

Splashable lands

Kabira Crossroads
New Benalia
Sejiri Steppe
Bojuka Bog
Dakmor Salvage
Piranha Marsh
Khalni Garden
Llanowar Reborn
Turntimber Grove
Halimar Depths
Soaring Seacliff
Smoldering Spires
Teetering Peaks

These are mostly the two cycles from Zendikar and Worldwake, with three Future Sight lands added. Theoretically, there might be a power level zone where entering the battlefield tapped is too much of a disadvantage to splash these lands, but not big enough to exclude them from decks which can use the colored mana, but if that zone really exists, it is way too narrow to be useful, and these lands are either too weak or too easily splashed.

Strict cycles

The Snow-Covered Forest cycle
The Abandoned Outpost cycle
The Ancient Den cycle
The Barren Moor cycle *
The Bottomless Vault cycle
The Coral Atoll cycle
The Drifting Meadow cycle
The Dwarven Ruins cycle
The Fountain of Cho cycle
The Hickory Woodlot cycle
The Vivid Crag cycle *

(Once again, I use the term „cycle“ in this context to denote cycles where seeing one card makes it clear what exactly its other cards do.)

I already talked about snow: That theme would be underdeveloped even disregarding the difficulty of introducing snow basics into a draft environment. Doubling the number of basic lands in the game was one of the most stupid and shortsighted mistakes in Magic’s early era.

The Abandon Outpost cycle is obviously just a lot weaker than the Vivid Crag cycle, which is on the right power level to support small splashes in an environment encouraging mostly monocolored decks. Of course, it helps you get cards into your graveyard for purposes like threshold, but there are many more attrractive alternatives for this.

The Ancient Den cycle is another case of color-affiliated lands which would get played off-color, in this case for their card type. Running one Darksteel Citadel in your cube should be enough to offer this function to drafters.

The Barren Moor and Drifting Meadow cycle are obviously similar, but the first one is more efficient while requiring you to be solidly in a certain color, while the other is less efficient, but encourages you to use its members off-color or for optional splashes. I strongly prefer the first.

The Bottomless Vault cycle is inferior to the Fountain of Cho cycle, which is still very unattractive in limited environments (and once again very likely to be used off-color, if at all).

I like the Coral Atoll cycle more than the Ravnica block bouncelands (like Azorius Chancery) because they are not splashable, but they are still too clumsy.

The Dwarven Ruins cycle plays a lot better in limited than the Hickory Woodlot cycle, but there is once again the off-color issue, and Crystal Vein already does this job in a cleaner version.

The manlands

Forbidding Watchtower *
Spawning Pool *
Treetop Village *
Faerie Conclave *
Ghitu Encampment *

The members of this cycle are powerlevelwise a bit further apart than I’d like, but they are still an excellent option to provide drafters with lands which do more than just make mana, and a solid basis for any land-centric theme in a cube.

The hideaway lands

Windbrisk Heights
Howltooth Hollow
Mosswort Bridge
Shelldock Isle
Spinerock Knoll

Some of these are more appropriate for limited environments than others, but their mechanic is in general too swingy and too much buildaround in lands for my taste.

The threshold cycle

Nomad Stadium
Cabal Pit *
Centaur Garden
Cephalid Coliseum
Barbarian Ring

Except for the terrible white one, all of these lands are usable in cubes. However, I found that I cared less for having a cycle of them and more for supporting the threshold theme. Here, Green certainly didn’t need help. In Limited, Cabal Pit is mostly a more interesting variant of Barbarian Ring, and Cephalid Coliseum is both too close to Cephalid Sage, and taboo because it can mill an opponent (something I strictly forbid because it is an alternate win condition).

The sacrifice cycle

Kjeldoran Outpost *
Lake of the Dead
Heart of Yavimaya *
Soldevi Excavations *
Balduvian Trading Post

Again, I am not interested in a whole cycle of these lands, just in their utility. The Lake is too specialized for limited, while the Trading Post just didn’t make my crunch – I already have a couple red-affiliated lands in my pool, and the Trading Post’s ability is neiher feeling Red nor needed in that color. The others are fine, albeit a bit disparate in power level – the Heart makes a good common a green player can pick up late, while the Outpost is almost a bit too oppressive for a land.

The tribal lands

Daru Encampment *
Rustic Clachan
Unholy Grotto
Wirewood Lodge
Riptide Laboratory
Flamekin Village
Goblin Burrows *

The issue with the Clachan and the Village is that they are not really tribal cards – you might get a bonus from their synergy, but will probably gladly play them „off-tribal“ for their real ability. That is very bad design. The Grotto and the Laboratory are too powerful and annoying for lands in limited, while the Lodge on the other hand just doesn’t do enough to be worth a slot in a cube.

The miscellaneous rest

Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Cabal Coffers
Crypt of Agadeem
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Magosi, the Waterveil
Tolaria West *
Hellion Crucible *
Keldon Megaliths *
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Coffers, Crypt and Magosi do not do things too relevant in limited. Emeria and Valakut are too swingy, while Oran-Rief is just way too powerful for a land. Tolaria West helps a land theme, while Megaliths and Crucible are just interesting options for red players in general.

 

Let’s see when I will get to finish this series, shall we?

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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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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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