Schlagwort-Archiv: Lands

Fixing Old Cards: Arabian Nights Lands

(This is a link to the previous installment of this series. Chain clicks to find them all.)

Like with Beta, I will only look at those cards which have not been properly reprinted in the meantime.

A note about the scope of my redesigns: I will always keep the name and the color affiliations of the original card. Obviously, some old card names are problematic – especially the real world references in Arabian Nights – and would be out of bounds for a real redesign. However, I consider the name as one of the defining aspects of the cards I redesign. Also, many card concepts work best (or only) if colorshifted, and some already have been. I’d rather change the card’s concept to fit its color affiliation, though.

 

Bazaar of Baghdad

Bazaar of Baghdad Original

Nearly unplayable in fair decks, broken in unfair decks – just the kind of card I despise the most! In this case, however, fixing the power level (and adding a mana ability) should suffice.

My design:

Bazaar of Baghdad

 

Desert

Desert Original

Power level in constructed isn’t the issue here, but I take exception to the role this card plays in limited, crippling small attackers (and also effectively enhancing blockers) for way too little cost. Additionally, I am not happy with the timing restriction for reasons of elegance and grokkability, and I also do not really get what it means that you need to tap this land for its effect – either your opponent has to cross the desert to get to you or not. I thus went for the flavor of retreating to a stronghold surrounded by desert(s) protecting you without the need to get active.

My design:

Desert

 

Diamond Valley

Diamond Valley Original

Wizards have already printed a fixed version of that card. I’m not a fan of legendary lands (actually, not a fan of the legendary concept at all), I believe that activation cost could be a mana cheaper, and there is no need to make this a rare, but this design is close enough for me.

Miren, the Moaning Well Original

 

Elephant Graveyard

Elephant Graveyard Original

This ability would be majorly annoying in any limited environment featuring elephants, even with a reasonably high mana cost attached (it’s definitely undercosted with tapping the land as the only cost). I do not think repeated regeneration on a land is a great idea at all. Also, I’m not sure why a graveyard should allow you to regenerate your creatures in the first place! I decided to go with a different concept fitting the flavor better. I do not think my design is less powerful, but it requires a heavier commitment to an elephant tribal theme to pay off.

My design:

Elephant Graveyard

 

Island of Wak-Wak

Island of Wak-Wak Original

Apart from the unacceptable name (an island which isn’t an island!) and the unclear concept, this card is fine if it gets the usual treatment of adding a mana ability and increasing the cost for its activated ability. Oh, and maybe a quote, rephrased from the original story, which actually relates at least somehow to what the card does.

My design:

Island of Wak-Wak

 

Library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria Original

Lastly, we have the most overpowered land from Magic’s early history – isn’t it funny how the Library even possesses a mana ability, when Diamond Valley and Oasis don’t? Making this ability more expensive can solve the power level issue, but the whole concept seems wrong to me, making the rich even richer – Sea Gate Wreckage makes so much more sense!

So, the basic idea here is that knowledge begets knowledge, which is of course true, but really problematic in game terms. An abundance of hand cards enabling you to draw additional cards is worse than the already dangerous ramp concept of spending a lot of mana to gain access to even more mana. While people habitually use card draw to draw into more card draw, there should not be a bonus for already having a full grip.

I could just have designed a generic card-drawing land (costing a boatload of mana to activate), but I wanted to use a concept related to the flavor of a library as a place where you search for knowledge instead.

My design:

Library of Alexandria

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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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My Limited Card Pool: Red Lands & Creatures

This is the 11th entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. Here are my previous entries:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

Green Lands & Creatures

Green Non-Creature Spells

Blue Lands & Creatures

Blue Non-Creature Spells

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

Red Lands & Creatures (Hellion Crucible should be uncommon.)

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

Keldon Megaliths is the only card with hellbent left in my pool. I gave up on that mechanic, which simply didn’t play well. The Megaliths are not meant to specifically encourage players to build a deck which empties its hand fast, but as a land with an upside in the lategame red decks can use, just like Hellion Crucible

I upgraded Jackal Pup to Firedrinker Satyr, because the Pup could do with a little extra oomph in limited.

Jackal Familiar and Mogg Flunkies are meant to encourage a weenie strategy, where they are stronger than Ember Beast, which plays more like a slightly undercosted generic creature with a disadvantage.

Skitter of Lizards is a great way to get a usable haste creature for 1 mana in my pool (Goblin Guide does not really work in limited).

AEtherflame Wall is Red’s concession towards the shadow theme, which is why it’s common, but it also provides a generally useful pumpable defender in the vein of Wall of Fire.

Stormblood Berserker, the 2-drop, being uncommon, and Gorehorn Minotaurs, the 4-drop, common, is just as things were in Magic 2012, but feels a bit unintuitive to me, especially because it is the other way around than the rarities of the black bloodthirst creatures. It makes sense, though, as the Berserker is a little more powerful, and the switched rarities make the mechanic feel a little different in both colors.

Attributing rarities was also an issue with Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe. While the Pyromancer is probably a bit more powerful even in limited (but it’s a lot closer than in constructed), he is more generally useful, while Guttersnipe isn’t too interesting without a strong instery component in the deck. Also, it’s nice if the producer of 1/1 tokens is common, while Talrand, Sky Summoner is rare.

Fire Imp is the smaller variant of Flametongue Kavu, which means it is on an acceptable power level.

Granite Gargoyle, Highland Giant and Earth Elemental are generic creatures helping to balance out Red’s overall very aggressive nature a little, which is of course a defining feature of that color, but makes it play a little too one-dimensional if it is the only strategic option. These creatures still work reasonably well on the attack, though.

Outrage Shaman is one of the few cards with devotion (yes, it doesn’t technically have it) which isn’t too swingy. Thus, I’m not interested in that mechanic for its own sake, but I needed a red color themed uncommon, and this is a great fit.

6 mana is the highest acceptable cost for cards which support a theme. Rustmouth Ogre still is no great choice, but a superior replacement which fits in an uncommon slot and isn’t too similar to other cards in my pool is hard to come by.

Conquering Manticore is overall probably stronger than Shivan Dragon, but it isn’t quite as efficient at winnig a game on its own in short time, which is the problematic part. Also, the Dragon, while one of the most iconic Magic cards, isn’t that unique in my card pool, with Furnace Whelp and Shivan Hellkite doing similar things.

Magmatic Force is the most powerful 8-mana card in my pool. On one hand, that’s strange, since having the best fatty seems to belong into either the green or blue part of the color pie. On the other hand, it is kinda fair, since Red has probably the most trouble supporting a lategame strategy. I still wish there was a slightly weaker alternative, but the only other card in the right power band is Scourge of Kher Ridges, which is too similar to the (much better designed) Shivan Hellkite, and whose abilities effectively clean the board repeatedly, which isn’t a desirable feature.

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My Limited Card Pool: Blue Lands & Creatures

This is the 9th entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. Here are my previous entries:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

Green Lands & Creatures

Green Non-Creature Spells

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

Blue Lands & Creatures (The rarities of Daring Apprentice and Clone were switched inadvertently; the former should be uncommon, the latter common.)

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

I never understood the fascination of many players with the bouncelands from the old Ravnica block. „Card advantage on a land“ is what some pro uttered in awe – well, yes (although an extra mana isn’t even technically card advantage unless you can exchange that mana or another land for a card somehow), but at the same time these lands are so slow that Thawing Glaciers seems to work at hypersonic speed in comparison. They can’t be laid on turn one, need another „normal“ land to be played at all, cost you your second turn (and might even lose you a card when you’re on the draw – so much for card advantage!), and do not provide an extra mana before the turn where you would have run out of land drops otherwise. In addition, they make you extremely vulnerable to land destruction, tapping or bouncing.

I was still a somehow active player at the time of Ravnica / Time Spiral block, and I remember two things clearly: 1. Unlike practically everyone else, I picked signets over bouncelands in Ravnica block draft (meaning I got very few of the latter, since some people took to actually firstpicking them), and my win ratio in that format was the highest ever. 2. I playtested standard a lot back then, and whenever I came upon a deck using bouncelands, I very soon tuned them out of the deck, vastly improving that deck’s strength.

That seemed to be a lot off-topic text, didn’t it? Yet I wanted to explain why I got rid of those bouncelands in my pool: They simply sucked. I used them as an additional cycle of manafixers, but noone, including myself, was ever happy drawing them, and when I realized that I didn’t need that much manafixing in my pool anymore after committing to reasonably sized cubes, I gladly threw them out.

However, the idea of a land which would provide mana advantage in a long game for the cost of slowing down your early game wasn’t that bad in itself, if that was the expressive purpose of that land. So, when I was looking for a special blue-affiliated land beyond the fundamental cycles of manlands and cycling lands (every color should have at least one of those), I decided that I could include Coral Atoll from the Visions predecessor cycle of the bouncelands. Blue is the color most likely to want this effect, since it is usually best equipped for the endgame, so that fitted.

Giant Tortoise is cool, because it is a vanilla 1/4 for 1U. (Well, almost.) There’s a million 1/3 creatures for 1U, but a 1/4 is just what’s needed, and there’s no good reason it has to cost 3 mana, unless it has a significant upside. (Armored Skaab brings that upside, if an environment has a strong graveyard theme.) Making a 1/4 cost UU, like Plated Seastrider, is also silly, as Frostburn Weird shows.

Void Stalker as a common highlights again how much value I place on available creature removal as the most important form of interaction in limited.

Latch Seeker edges out Phantom Warrior for crunch reasons – if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a dozen 2/1 or 2/2 flying creatures for 3 mana in Blue when assembling your limited card pool (but you certainly want a few of those).

Scroll Thief is a bit closer to Thieving Magpie than I like, but Stealer of Secrets isn’t too unique either (see Dimir Cutpurse or Augury Adept), and the slow, accumulating advantage this creature threatens to grind out goes better with only a single point of power. (Having it deal combat damage, unlike Ophidian, is still a good idea, because you want to reward players who power this creature up.)

The archetypal pinger, Prodigal Sorcerer, shows that I still see that ability in Blue, where it once belonged (although Red gets to join the party, of course, like with Vulshok Sorcerer), and his big sister, Reveka, Wizard Savant, underscores that.

Clone is common, not only because Blue is a bit short on creatures which makes sense at common, but also because, nonewithstanding its rather complex underlying rules, it represents a really basic version of a typical blue effect, and it isn’t powerful in itself – just playing it on curve, for example, will usually result in a not too impressive effect.

Tower Geist is a hybrid between the acceptable, but not too exciting Screeching Drake and the overpowered Mulldrifter.

From a flavor-based aesthetic perspective, it sucks that I use Air Elemental, Water Elemental and Earth Elemental, but not Fire Elemental – but that is just one vanilla creature too many, and too similar to the others. The blue flyer is listed as uncommon, but I already reversed my stance on that, and it is common again, to fall into line with the other elementals, and to show that Blue can get big flyers at common, but they are not as strong as the rarer creatures of other colors (see White’s Serra Angel).

Ephemeron is the best companion I found as a generic 6-drop creature for Mahamoti Djinn, it being nearly unkillable and all, but I keep my eyes open for a better solution, which feels more generic, and differs more from the Djinn (and Air Elemental).

Tidal Force replaced Tidespout Tyrant, because an 8-drop shouldn’t require additional spells to be worth its mana.

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My Limited Card Pool: Green Lands & Creatures

This is the 7th entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. Here are my previous entries:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

Green Lands & Creatures

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

Arbor Elf and Leaf Gilder are my choices for green creature-based mana acceleration on one or two mana, respectively. (Their non-creature counterparts are Wild Growth and Explore.) The Elf edges out creatures which directly produce mana, partly because it can provide extra value with the Growth and some other land-enchanting auras, but also because it ties the acceleration to the need of actually having a Forest, which I like – you really have to make sure you are into Green if you want to use it, without cheating too much with nonbasic lands or artifact mana.

The Gilder provides just a little more extra value than its competitor, Vine Trellis, which also is a bit too similar to Wall of Blossoms. Gyre Sage and Werebear also play around in that territory, but are different enough and serve more special purposes. I found I liked the Gilder a lot more than the cycle of mana myrs, which are a design failure for me, since people tend to pick them up almost regardless of the color of mana they produce, which is because they only get used in cubes where several of their aspects (mana acceleration, being creatures, being artifacts) are important. The signets don’t have that issue in my cubes, since their a little unwieldy acceleration alone isn’t attractive enough if you do not want them for the fixing. Millikin and Mind Stone are there to help those drafters valuing acceleration, so the myrs aren’t needed, and the Gilder is a reasonable creature on top of providing mana, but needs you to be green to use him.

Greenweaver Druid is out, just as Cultivate is, but for another reason: I decided to keep mana multiplication (cards which provide more than 1 mana) colorless – Coral Atoll is a special exception – because dedicated ramp isn’t a strategy which needs to support more than one drafter, or even has to be present at all in every cube, but certainly has to be available in other colors as well. Green is still special by providing high quality cheap ramp, while Palladium Myr, Coalition Relic and Thran Dynamo provide more expensive ramp options to anyone.

Dryad Sophisticate is technically a landwalker, but unlike „real“ landwalkers does not punish players for using a certain color. It’s also a nice evasive green creature in the spot between Treetop Scout and Treetop Rangers.

Elvish Visionary, Wall of Blossoms and Kavu Climber give Green a nice little card advantage theme. Striped Bears look like they would fit in, but are a bit underwhelming, comparing unfavorably to Black’s standard Phyrexian Rager.

It took WotC some time, but efficiently costed vanilla creatures finally are now found in monogreen. Kalonian Tusker and Rumbling Baloth thus replaced Watchwolf and Rhox Brute.

Sporecap Spider is my concession to the insight that Wall of Air just isn’t special enough to deserve a slot in my card pool, especially with Fog Bank around. Between this very defensive Spider and the solid stats sporting Cloudcrown Oak, there is no place for the classic Giant Spider, which I never really liked – it specifically hoses flyers too efficiently, while not being a great defensive card overall, and an inefficient attacker.

I moved evoke completely out of Green and Black, with no acceptable candidate in Black, and Briarhorn, the only reasonable choice in Green, a bit too strong, and contributing to the glut of green combat tricks. Briarpack Alpha is strong enough in limited, and without the Giant Growth option.

Cudgel Troll was too squeezed in between Wolfir Avenger, Rumbling Baloth and Charging Troll, although it is a very nice design.

Green is the only color where a generic common 6-drop creature makes sense, and that is what Vastwood Gorger provides. (I would be fine with it being a 6/6, though.) Vorstclaw is a bit too strong for a common and had to make room for Ruination Wurm. Other possible choices were too close to Kodama of the North Tree, which is an important powerful 5-drop in a color which, astonishingly enough, has few good options here. Plated Rootwalla is my second generic green common 5-drop, complementing Kavu Climber.

I feel Verdant Force, while acceptable in the 8-mana-slot, is a bit underwhelming for Green – after all, that color is supposed to have the strongest creatures! – but among the available options, it comes the closest.

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My Limited Card Pool: Black Lands & Creatures

This is the fifth entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. Here are my previous entries:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

Black Lands & Creatures  (Gluttonous Zombie is missing in that list. It should be a common, tagged with „intim“. Disciple of Phenax, however, shouldn’t be there anymore.)

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

I once had a kinda lopsided cycle of threshold lands in my pool, consisting of 4 cards, with Nantuko Monastery filling both the green and the whte slot. (The reason for that was that Nomad Stadium is completely unplayable.) I have in the meantime thrown all lands which need two colors of mana out of my pool – they’re too unwieldy, and also seldom well balanced. I also didn’t like how Barbarian Ring is essentially a weaker version of Cabal Pit (in limited, obviously), and Cephalid Coliseum just did more of what Blue was already doing in that environment, and probably already had done to turn the land’s ability on. It came down to the black member of the cycle being the only one I really stood behind, so I left it in, both as a special land and support for Black’s threshold theme.

Tormented Hero is very likely to leave my pool soon to make room for a replacement from Born of the Gods, Ashiok’s Adept (the mouseover here won’t work for a while, since that set isn’t out yet.). The issue with the Hero is that its stats are more remarkable than its heroic ability. If that switch happens, Vampire Lacerator will have to go as well, because Diregraf Ghoul returns. Those cards are quite similar. The Ghoul is the slightly better choice (and I got rid of the 10-life-mechanic in my pool otherwise), but was too similar to the Hero. With that gone, it can come back.

Nezumi Cutthroat has already made a similar comeback, formerly edged out by Vampire Interloper, because it was too close to Surrakar Marauder. That card now has become a victim of my trimming down the landfall theme (and pulling it away a bit from dedicated aggression), and so the Cutthroat, which fits better into Black, has returned.

Painsmith, like the other three Smiths I use, has to be common for theme density reasons. Without that concern, I would certainly make them common.

Goblin Turncoat and Weirding Shaman are not exactly the most exciting tribal support cards, but they are still the best choices available, and in an important mana slot. There’s also a card which only made my pool due to my need of a black 3-mana goblin for that tribe: Spiderwig Boggart. (Yup, I misspelled that card in my list.) It is also useful as a generic creature, but would not have made the cut otherwise.

Typhoid Rats and Giant Scorpion were selected in concert with my choice of green deathtouch creatures, which means they pushed out Sedge Scorpion and Daggerback Basilisk for being too similar.

Liliana’s Specter freed up space for Scholar of Athreos by pushing out Shrieking Grotesque. It also killed one of my favorite commons, Chittering Rats, but if fits better with Ravenous Rats. Also, being denied a draw step can be really annoying if you are in a place where you cannot play a card at the moment.

There’s a certain glut of black 4-mana creatures involved in discard, although they all do it in different ways: Abyssal Specter, Cunning Advisor and Disciple of Phenax. I’d like to get rid of the latter for that reason, but right now I need it to fill a slot among the Black matters cards, and it makes more sense than any other option (Gray Merchant of Asphodel is too swingy, thanks for aksing).

Edit: I didn’t realize that the Disciple and Phyrexian Boon were already out of my list (or should have been), so that problem is solved!

Marsh Flitter is another creature which feels strange at common, but needs to be there for theme density reasons. It also provides important extra goblins for all those tribal support cards asking for sacrifices.

Phyrexian Scuta, while a fine design, would be Juzam Djinn if it wasn’t for RL reasons (hint: Look its price up).

Gluttonous Zombie is my choice of a black 5-mana common creature. I just noticed it is missing in my list.

For a while I had Fallen Angel in the 5-mana black flying creature slot, but that card could win a bit too fast out of nowhere. Skyshroud Vampire is a very reasonable replacement. (Sengir Vampire, on the other hand, is just a black Air Elemental with mostly superfluous extra text.)

Aphetto Vulture (yeah, another misspelt card in my list) is, once again, not exactly my idea of a common, and I’m not really a fan of that kind of recursion, but this time, the zombie tribal theme needs it, and the alternatives play worse or are too similar too other cards (Vengeful Dead would be the FOURTH zombie tribal support card at 4 mana, and is kinda similar to Shepherd of Rot).

Kokusho, the Evening Star marks the very highend of 6-mana creatures I use. (Luckily, there’s a lot of ways to deal with it all over my card pool which do not send it to the graveyard.)

Chancellor of the Dross would be a cleaner design without the Chancellor ability, which I do not like at all, but isn’t too annoying ( I hope). A 6/6 flyer with lifelink, however, is perfect for a 7-mana creature.

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My Limited Card Pool: White Lands and Creatures

This is the second entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail. (Here’s the first, and here’s the second.)

In this entry I listed a number of guidelines I follow when deciding which cards I want in my cubes.

Here’s a PDF you can open in a new window to look at the part of my list I’m taking about while reading:

White Lands & Creatures

And here’s a link to an explanation of the shortcuts I use in that list, if you need it.

This entry might be especially long, since I’ll say something about many cycles spanning several colors.

About the lands:

Daru Encampment is part of a small cycle of tribal supporting lands I use. They’re especially useful because they’re of little interest to drafters not going for that theme, but also not worthless if that theme fails to manifest fully. A general note about tribal: Each tribe has 6 supporting commons and 3 supporting uncommons/rares, so that the average number of these cards showing up in the draft pool of a typical cube is five (6* 2/3 + 3* 1/3). (I treat red and black goblins as different tribes, so that I can use them either separately or together.)

Kjeldoran Outpost is a nice card for a land theme, but it is also the closest thing I found for a generic token producer.

The cycle featuring Secluded Steppe fulfills several roles: For one thing, they are a great option for advanced drafters to subtly improve their deck by taking a land which gives them a little flood protection instead of a redundant spell. They also lend some support to a threshold theme, as well as to cards like Cartographer or Grim Discovery. Then there’s the effect of thinning one’s deck (of course, you need a couple more cycling cards and/or cheap cantrips for it to become noticeable), which might become important in a cube where you want to give drafters a little extra help to find synergy cards.

Vivid Meadow and its ilk are a cycle of mana fixers intended for environments encouraging players to draft mostly monocolored decks (but with the option for a few splashes), in contrast to mana fixers for „normal“ environments, where two-colored decks are the norm; or for pronouncedly multicolored environments.

About the creatures:

Exalted is just a mini theme now, centered in White, with one card each in the other colors except Red, where there isn’t one, and Cathedral of War. There’s still room for another card in White, but only if the design convinces me completely.

The amount and rarity distribution, as well as the nature of support cards for an artifact theme differs from color to color. After Blue, White is supposed to lend itself the best towards a heavily artifact themed deck.

White and Green are the only colors which are able to support an enchantment theme. (White playing well with – and also against – both artifacts and enchantments might be one reason the amount of White cards in my pool is slightly higher.) Blue offers some aura-themed stuff, but as I already mentioned, that doesn’t really play that well. I still hope that Theros block will offer something usable in Blue, Red and Black (other than enchantments themselves, which are already plenty). Actually, even the selection in White and Green isn’t THAT great so far, but enough to work with (barely).

I’m not too happy with Favored Hoplite as the white representative of heroic (a bit too explosive and too hard to kill), but was even less happy with Wingsteed Rider, which was the only double-colored card in the cycle, and also the only one which was both decent without ever triggering and impressive when triggering a few times (and thus overpowered overall). Here, the next two sets will likely present a better option, though.

I use Soul’s Attendant over Soul Warden, because that trigger is forgotten so often, and in casual, neither having to always remind your opponent, nor NOT having to remind him of a mandatory trigger seems a good solution (one is incredibly annoying, one feels too much like rules-lawyering).

Landfall is another smaller theme, and I took care to somehow balance it out, so that it is not nearly completely about aggression, as it was in Zendikar, but in White, the only acceptable candidates clearly tend towards offense.

I decided to make all double-colored creatures for two or three mana at least uncommon: not all of them – like Chapel Geist – really feel uncommon, but most do, and I needed more uncommons overall (because most designs I really like are printed as commons). Bumping all color-intensive creatures up to uncommon is another piece of the puzzle of making sure beginning players will end up with an at least playable deck.

Let me talk about Leonin Skyhunter as a prime example of an absolutely perfect design which still did not make the cut anymore: Mistral Charger isn’t any less perfect, but more important, and Skyhunter is too similar to it. The Charger and Spectral Rider together cover all of the spectrum where the Skyhunter fits in.

Soulbond is another of those mini themes which simply does not need large numbers. It is also, like exalted, one of those themes which manifests in 4 colors, which is terribly unaesthetic. I used to avoid that on principle, but came around when I realized that this forced me to leave out too many interesting cards. By the way, I really don’t think it would be too hard to find a flavor for a black soulbond card, but this is unlikely to ever happen.

While I like shadow, I reduced that theme continually until it only featured three uncommons each in White, Black and Blue, which is enough because shadow works better on just a couple of cards instead of constituting an omnipresent theme. Since Soltari Foot Soldier really only makes sense as a common, I replaced it with Lantern Kami.

Wall of Essence showcases that I do not reject creatures with defender in general, but want to make sure that they play a very specific role. The generic defenders are colorless, to be useful to any drafters who find themselves wanting such a card, but I chose the colored ones to be high profile (and thus uncommon or even rare).

Another theme, which is the strongest in White and Black (and thus maybe also responsible for those two colors featuring the most cards in my cube), is color matters. Since I do not use hate cards, this means all those cards only refer to their own color, which makes them generically useful, but especially interesting in mulicolor environments, and especially powerful in (near) monocolor environments, where they serve to draw players into such a strategy in the first place.

Azorius Justiciar is the sole white representative with detain. As much as I love Azorius Arrester (which was, for reasons I still do not fully understand, one of the most undervalued cards in Return to Ravnica draft): Between the Justiciar, Niblis of the Urn and Red’s Goblin Shortcutter, there is just not enough space in the crunch for the Arrester. White has access to a rather large part of the color pie, and I had to fight hard against myself not to include each interesting design in my pool, leaving too little room for the other colors. The Shortcutter is an excellent limited card on its own, so White shouldn’t one-up (more like two-up, actually) it.

I had to be careful with my selection of threshold cards. I do not use graveyard hate anymore (not the least because there is no good way to do that), and thus have to make sure I avoid cards which take over a game too easily, like Nomad Decoy or Cabal Torturer. I wonder if WotC will ever revisit threshold and improve the selection available to me…

A word about Indomitable Ancients: This is what a dedicated high-toughness aggro stopper should look like! So, if you feel you would miss one of those horrible Siege Mastodon / Thraben Purebloods / Silent Artisan type creatures, which WotC seems to be so fond of, in a cube: Here’s for you.

Knight of Obligation is a common for frequency reasons. Extort is a theme which should show up often enough that it makes sense for players to tune their deck with it in mind sometimes.

Loxodon Partisan wasn’t my first choice for the white battle cry creature, but Accorder Paladin was too similar (and in my opinion, inferior) to Daring Skyjek, which is very likely to show up in the same cube. It also has the same mana cost as Goblin Wardriver, so I decided to mix things up a bit. I ended up happier with the card after thinking a bit about it than I had expected at first, because White now has a somehow generic 5-mana creature, which is both useful on defense and offense, and not nearly as boring as WotC’s standard 3/5 for 5 mana.

Luminous Angel is a bit weak for my taste in the 7-mana slot – it really should be 5/5 – but it will do until a better design comes around. (Job description: A bit stronger, but not too strong; generically useful; and not too similar too other, more important cards in my card pool.)

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