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 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!