Schlagwort-Archiv: Limited Card Pool

Oath of the Gatewatch in my Limited Card Pool

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

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

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

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

I will break down the new inductees systematically:

1. Grey

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

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

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

2. Allies

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

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

3. Support

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

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

4. Surge

I use no cards with surge.

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

5. Artifact synergies

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

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

6. Multicolor replacements

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

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

7. Other replacements

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

The Lantern replaces Darksteel Pendant, offering more versatility.

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

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

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

8. Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

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

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

My updated list

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

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

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

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

LimitedCardPoolOGW

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Commander 2015 Entries into my Limited Card Pool

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

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

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

Bloodspore Thrinax

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

Arjun, the Shifting Flame

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

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

Shielded by Faith

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

AEthersnatch

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

Daxos’s Torment

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

Deadly Tempest

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

Mizzix’s Mastery

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

Great Oak Guardian

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

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

DimirBorosAbzan

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Battle for Zendikar update to my Limited Card Pool

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

Lands

Ally Encampment
Blighted Cataract
Blighted Fen
Blighted Gorge

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

Colorless (non-devoid)

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

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

Artifact synergy

Skitterskin
Nettle Drone
Molten Nursery
Forerunner of Slaughter
Herald of Kozilek

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

Allies

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

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

Landfall

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

My Limited Card Pool in XLS format

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Magic Origins entrants into my Limited Card Pool

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

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

Renown:

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

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

Thopters:

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

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

Spell Mastery:

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

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

Enchantment synergies:

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

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

Multicolor cards:

Bounding Krasis
Blazing Hellhound
Zendikar Incarnate
Iroas’s Champion

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

Auras:

Grasp of the Hieromancer
Infernal Scarring

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

Some existing mechanics and synergies:

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

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

More artifacts:

Bonded Construct
Alchemist’s Vial
War Horn

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

More white cards:

Anointer of Champions
Ampryn Tactician
Hixus, Prison Warden

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

More black cards:

Reave Soul
Deadbridge Shaman
Eyeblight Assassin
Languish

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

More red cards:

Enthralling Victor
Skyraker Giant
Prickleboar
Seismic Elemental

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

More green cards:

Somberwald Alpha
Skysnare Spider
Elemental Bond
Joraga Invocation

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

And finally, another blue card:

Mizzium Meddler

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

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

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

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

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

So, here we go:

Two-Thirds Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Level Cube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Limited Card Pool

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

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

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

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