Schlagwort-Archiv: limited

Battle for Zendikar update to my Limited Card Pool

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

Lands

Ally Encampment
Blighted Cataract
Blighted Fen
Blighted Gorge

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

Colorless (non-devoid)

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

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

Artifact synergy

Skitterskin
Nettle Drone
Molten Nursery
Forerunner of Slaughter
Herald of Kozilek

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

Allies

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

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

Landfall

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

My Limited Card Pool in XLS format

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Lands in Next Level Cubes – 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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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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My Limited Card Pool: Born of the Gods 2nd Update

If you can read German: I have written a three-part preview of Born of the Gods for draft which is being published on Magic Universe. The first part is already up, and I hope the other two will follow soon.

While analyzing that set and pondering its cards, I have changed my mind on a few decisions I had made earlier in regard to my limited card pool, and those made a few ripples concerning other cards:

Firstly, while I don’t like inspired in general, a very specific use of that mechanic caught my attention as promising to play interestingly. Two of those designs will enter my pool as uncommons: Aerie Worshippers and Pheres-Band Raiders (obviously, tagged with „inspired“).

While deciding for those, I obviously also reconsidered Springleaf Drum, which I had just cut from my pool for being superfluous, although it is a perfectly usable card overall. I decided it was still superfluous (and certainly not needed to provide a synergy with only two uncommons), but in the process of redoing the crunch for my colorless manafixers and rampers I felt that I had reduced the number of the latter too much: If I wanted an environment where expensive spells where viable, players should get a little more help. Thus, Temple of the False God and Everflowing Chalice made a return at uncommon and common, respectively (both tagged with „ramp“)

Then, I took a liking to Flitterstep Eidolon. It fits so much better with the rest of my bestow cycle than Thassa’s Emissary, which is especially powerful. Nimbus Naiad had the issue of being too close to Leafcrown Dryad – and also, of being too powerful – but the blue Eidolon complements the Dryad much better. So, it replaces the Emissary at uncommon, adopting its „ench (is)“ and „bestow“ tags.

I also realized again how disappointed I was with most scry designs, especially in those colors where I wanted that mechanic, so I returned to my plan of just using cantrips and cycling instead, which fulfill a similar role. This means that Magma Jet, Titan’s Strength, Ferocious Charge and Artisan’s Sorrow are out, and that I retired the „scry“ tag. A couple excellent designs in Journey into Nyx might make me go back on this, but I’ve lost hope.

While Red didn’t urgently need replacements for those cards with scry, Green did, being a bit short on spells in general, a bit more short on non-creatures, and most specifically wanting more card draw and card flow. With Ferocious Charge out, the excellent Primal Boost could return (albeit as common, tagged with „cycling“), but to that card, Aggressive Urge was a bit too close, so I replaced that slot with an old favorite of mine, Sudden Strength (also common and tagged „cantrip“).

I now had lost a generically useful Green non-creature uncommon, and I felt I needed a replacement. Realizing there was some kind of gap between the common Symbiosis and the rare Incremental Growth, I embraced Mischief and Mayhem, a simple, elegant design on a good power level, which plays noticeably different from Might of Oaks.

Lastly, I opted for Courser of Kruphix to fulfill the role of a strong spell helping with card flow (I hope it won’t turn out too expensive). It is not quite as unpredictably broken as Oracle of Mul Daya, and its lifegain ability is minor enough that it can coexist with Grazing Gladehart. With Into the Wilds being a splashable uncommon, the Courser makes sense at rare.

I will post an updated complete list of my card pool after I make more changes – so far, I guess just listing them in text form will suffice.

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My Limited Card Pool: Born of the Gods Update

Born of the Gods has been spoiled completely a bit earlier than I expected, and I made up my mind about which cards I wanted a bit faster than I would have guessed, so here comes the update for my limited card pool!

But first, the obligatory barrage of links:

Here I introduce and explain the concept and use of my limited card pool, and also how my list is set up. In that entry is a link to an older version of my list. (If my admittedly sometimes strange shortcuts in that list confuse you, here’s a list with explanations of them.)

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

I explain and comment on my choices in detail in the following 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

Red Lands & Creatures

Red Non-Creature Spells

Multicolor with White

Multicolor without White

And here it is  – my updated list as an xls file:

Limited-Pool (BNG update)

In future articles about my limited card pool, I will link just to this entry here, which lists all important links in one place.

So, about Born of the Gods (mouseover on cards from that set will probably start working in the very near future):

Overall, I’m rather disappointed by that set’s design. These are the things it mainly offers:

1. more heroic

That’s a nice mechanic, but not one I want to sculpt an environment around, like WotC did, because it lends itself too much towards all-or-nothing plays. I only want it as a mini theme for that reason, and am thus not interested in too many different designs (which, by the way, aren’t the pinnacle of originality anyway). Still, the set delivered what I needed here, two good replacements for cards from Theros I wasn’t too happy with in the first place, so I consider this actually one of the stronger points.

2. more bestow

Bestow was meant to premiere in this set, before Theros stole it. Thus, there’s not much interesting left here: All the cool designs have already been used. Some of the new bestow cards would be usable, if somehow boring, if I wanted bestow to play a major part in a cube, but I don’t – it is just another interesting way to spice up auras, and it has a lot of competition here.

3. more enchantrips

(That’s my term for auras which draw you a card when they enter the battlefield.)

The new designs just aren’t better than the older, with the exception of Karametra’s Favor, which is cool, but unfortunately provides green manafixing – if it just added G, I would have embraced it.

4. more scry

I had high expectations here, and was deeply disappointed. Glimpse the Sun God is a strong design, but I am not looking for a white scry card: What I need is a good green option, or maybe a black one, but what Born of the Gods provides here is terrible. Well, I have to hope for Journey into Nyx, it seems…

5. more cross-color creatures

Some of these designs are reasonable – Akroan Phalanx, for example – but none is better than what I already use.

6. inspired

With bestow already an old hat, this is the set’s poster mechanic, but I do not like it at all. I have a pretty good idea how unwieldy any applications of it other than just attacking with creatures will play out (I well remember WotC’s earlier experiments with the untap symbol, and with the merfolk tribe in Lorwyn), and I do not intend to warp one of my cubes to the point where this could become a major element. So, what’s left is essentially another mechanic which rewards you for attacking, and there are more elegant and less confusing options.

The designs I thought the most about were those in the vein of Aerie Worshippers, but I’m afraid they will not turn out as cool as they look, simply because, once an opponent is vulnerable enough to get hit by them, it is likely a better use of mana to cast another creature instead of paying for the trigger, which offers card advantage, but less pressure – or you will want to use a removal spell to ensure the creature can get through for damage again. Yes, I know there’s the lategame option of comboing these creatures with stuff like Springleaf Drum, but I neither believe in the validity of building your decks with this in mind (at least not in my interactive cubes), nor that this is a desirable goal to enable at all (it’s certainly not less repetitive than buyback). I also do not want to include dedicated tap enablers in my pool. I just took the Drum out, because I didn’t like it, and it is by far the best candidate. Admittedly, there’s a small chance that playing with these cards in „normal“ draft might sway me, but you shouldn’t hold your breath.

7. tribute

Just like monstrosity, tribute is a mechanic with great potential, which WotC wasted with mostly terrible designs. I suppose the idea of REALLY BIG NO BIGGER THAN THAT I MEAN REALLY REALLY BIG creatures appeals to many casual players, but it just doesn’t lead to good gameplay.  The only design with monstrosity I really liked was Ill-Tempered Cyclops: Reasonable, but not too strong before going monstrous; and getting reasonably big for a reasonable cost later. However, monstrosity is a bit too specific for my taste that I would use only one card with it, and there isn’t a single other design with it I can stand.

As for tribute, WotC just has dropped the ball on it. A strictly worse Air Elemental (Siren of the Fanged Coast)? Really? Or a 4/4 for 5 mana which gives you 4 life (Snake of the Golden Grove)… unless you really need that life, in which case you very probably will not get it? Still, there are three useful designs, but one doesn’t fit with the other two: Pharagax Giant is a nice design (in my mind, it’s mainly a simplified version of Menacing Ogre), but the ones I use are on a different power level, and one is already red. Still, two cards ain’t too bad, but tribute should have had more to offer, just like monstrosity.

8. devotion on non-creature spells

I’m already not a big fan of devotion, which is rather swingy and unwieldy, and using it to scale basic effects appeals even less to me. That whole „harder-to-cast creatures are now better just because they’re harder to cast“ theme reeks of „design space used because they could, not because it’s good“ to me.

9. multicolor gods

Oh yes, gods. Making devotion even more swingy, and indestructible to boot. I shouldn’t waste any more words on this.

10. tap-activated auras

I guess there ARE some players who will suddenly realize one day that these are meant to combo with the inspired mechanic, and feel clever that they figured this out on their own. Other than that, there is no excuse for such terribly playing cards: All the downsides of creature enchantments, and to make use of them, you can not even attack with the creature anymore? There are very few designs where this works out (Quicksilver Dagger is an example), and WotC didn’t find new ones.

11. other tap enablers

Blue has a couple of those, with Crypsis being the new design here. (Yes, it untaps the creature instead of tapping it, but it allows you to attack with it with impunity.) That card is actually generically useful, though, providing a surprise invulnerable blocker or allowing to attack unblocked without leaving your defenses open.

12. archetypes

While their power level vastly varies with their casting cost, their effect is always too much.

13. enchantment theme cards

Astonishingly enough, Theros lacked those. Now Born of the Gods provides a few, but their designs mostly fail to convince me, either being too narrow, just referencing auras or enchantment creatures, or being less elegant than older cards. There’s one exception, though.

14. silly tribal

I guess that’s WotC’s shortcut to flavor. I can’t make use of cards referencing octopuses or cyclops, though.

So, what did make it?

1. Gorgon’s Head replaces Gorgon Flail. (So happy the card doesn’t have a stupid „non-gorgon“ rider!) I prefer the purer effect.

2. Akroan Skyguard replaces Favored Hoplite. Simpler and not quite as powerful as Wingsteed Rider – just what I had hoped for!

3. Ornitharch replaces Geist-Honored Monk. The Monk never served a particularly important role – I just wanted another white 5-drop. This is an example of a tribute design done right, and I embraced it.

4. Dawn to Dusk replaces Aven Cloudchaser. This one’s a bit tricky: The sorcery obviously is both pro and anti enchantments, but the anti part plays a bigger role in making it playable. I like the idea of this card a lot! Concerning the Cloudchaser: When it’s good, it’s a little too good. This kind of combined tempo and card advantage should not cost less than 5 mana. I mainly kept it around to mirror Batterhorn somehow, but the time has come to move on.

5. Ashiok’s Adept replaces Tormented Hero. A creature with a meaningful heroic trigger replaces one where it seemed just tacked on, and it somehow mirrors Triton Fortune Hunter.

6. Crypsis is a new common. It is a somehow unique and interesting trick, and I believe it will play well.

7. Thunder Brute is a new rare. Another well-done tribute design, and Red can do with this kind of card at 6 mana.

8. Fearsome Temper is a new uncommon. Now that Maniacal Rage is gone, there is room for such a card at three mana. I guess it will play as a powered-down Shiv’s Embrace, which is a good thing.

9. Pinnacle of Rage is a new uncommon. Jagged Lightning was a bit too strong, but this is perfect and closes a gap in the otherwise quite tightly woven web of red burn spells.

10. Kiora’s Follower replaces Coiling Oracle. The snake was somehow original, and I liked it for nostalgic reasons, but in the end it was a harder-to cast, slightly souped-up Elvish Visionary with a random upside. The merfolk, however, is probably the coolest design in the whole set!

Directly or indirectly, Born of the Gods triggered a few more changes. I will just list any differences to my old list:

With Tormented Hero gone, Diregraf Ghoul can return and replace Vampire Lacerator. Ferocious Charge and Artisan’s Sorrow switched rarities to adjust to their attractiveness in draft. Lust for War and Brimstone Volley became common to make room for the new uncommons (Red still has the lowest ratio of commons among all colors in my pool). Jhoira’s Toolbox and Icy Manipulator, on the other hand, became uncommon since it fits better with their designs, and my pool needed more uncommons overall. (Balance per color has priority. The multicolor cards skew overall balance, though, and colorless cards provide a counterweight here.) Lastly, Air Elemental is common again, to fit in with Water Elemental and Earth Elemental, and because it just feels right.

Oh, and I’ll keep Bee Sting instead of Unyaro Bee Sting, since I have it, am too lazy to look for a replacement, and realized I can’t get rid of dated wordings completely anyway. Also, the Phil Foglio artwork is so much nicer!

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My Limited Card Pool: Multicolor without White

This is the 14th and last 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

Red Lands & Creatures

Red Non-Creature Spells

Multicolor with White

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:

Multicolor without White

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

Golgari is probably the guild giving me the most trouble to find good candidates to fill up its slots (with Izzet a close runner-up). Llanowar Dead is really underwhelming, seeing that Selesnya has Steward of Valeron, while Dreg Mangler is a bit better than I like. (At least that balances itself out a little.) These are already average choices, though: Many other cards are just waiting for me to find a better replacement for them, with the worst offenders being Woodwraith Strangler and Golgari Germination.

Golgari has a mini theme which only shows up here, scavenge. That is because I no longer intended to support these cards as a theme, just used a few because they play well (or, in the case of the Mangler, at least better than the alternatives). They still happen to have some synergy with Rot Farm Skeleton and Grisly Salvage – more cards I mostly use for a lack of better options – and those in turn are justified because they feed a couple other cards which use the graveyard.

Marrow Chomper is my only card with devour in the pool, again because I am not really interested in that mechanic anymore. It just happens to be text on a usable card.

Seeing Pernicious Deed, which is certainly one of the strongest cards in my pool, let me explain that multicolor cards are generally allowed and even supposed to be a bit stronger, for three reasons: 1) They should encourage drafters to commit to a color pair, 2) they need to reward you for such a commitment, and 3) they are meant to be used in a multicolored environment, which tends to have a higher power level with regard to available threats and answers (but usually not with regard to speed and focus) in general.

Also, answers have more leeway when it comes to card strength, because they will not win a game by themselves. This is why a creature like Shivan Dragon, which hasn’t seen the light of constructed play since essentially forever, is too strong for a Next Level Cube, while constructed staples like Thoughtseize or Wrath of God aren’t.

Dimir, while quantitatively supported well as a friendly color combination, surprisingly also has issues, at least in the creature department. This is because WotC, for some reason, always seems to put stupid or unwieldy mechanics in that guild: Milling is the worst (and unfortunately, most persistent) by far, but transmute wasn’t great either, and cipher didn’t even go on creatures. There’s nothing outstandingly terrible here, but my selection doesn’t look like a best-of of card design either.

In Rakdos, the challenge was to not make everything about creature removal. I know I only succeeded partially here. Using nearly unplayable cards as a counterweight, as WotC usually does, isn’t an option for me, though.

Simic, even though an enemy color combination, provides plenty of good choices, now that I decided that I can use evolve as a generic mechanic, with one annoying exception: For some unfathomable reason, its hybrid cards suck. I got quite creative by making Biomass Mutation the uncommon, and Snakeform is fine, but Groundling Pouncer and Trapjaw Kelpie fall squarely into the category „best of the rest“, with the first having a rather silly abilty, and the second being sorely overcosted.

As I write this, Kiora’s Follower (mouseover will probably not work for a while) from Born of the Gods has already been spoiled. While a bit similar to Seeker of Skybreak, this is a really cool, elegant card, and it might replace Coiling Oracle in my pool. I’ll have to think about that for a while, though, because new toys always seem cooler than old ones, and it is possible that after some reflection I’ll keep the more unique Oracle instead. The Follower seems the favorite at the moment, though. Edit: And I’ve decided to use it.

In Gruul, I have considered another change: Hunting Kavu, whose ability is really a strange fit in this guild, could make room for Fanatic of Xenagos (as with the Follower, mouseover will take a while) from Born of the Gods. Gruul has, overall, a rather boring selection of creatures, which is why I decided to use the „gating“ cards from Planeshift to give that guild a more unique feel, and why I ended up with that Kavu. While that is a bit of a strange Gruul creature, the Fanatic would yet be another haste guy, using a mechanic (tribute) I do not see tied to Gruul, and a bit more powerful than I like. Edit: I decided to keep the Kavu.

It’s a pity that the Gruul bloodrush creatures play so similarly (okay, Ghor-Clan Rampager stands out by being insanely pushed), so I can only use one. I’m happy I stumbled about the arcane (no, not in that sense, obviously) Sunastian Falconer, which does something quite unique. Now, I’m not a fan of mana acceleration which costs more than 4 mana, but here this is just a bonus ability on a 4/4, so it’s fine.

In Izzet, which is possibly the worst supported guild overall (so much weird, crappy, „fun“ cards!), I had no choice than to wholeheartedly embrace the instery theme, and also use overload. Still, I always watch out for possible improvements. Especially Blistercoil Weird and Noggle Bridgebreaker (really, does that card need a disadvantage?) annoy me, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Blast of Genius, although at least not a coinflip card – all of R&D should receive a sound flogging whenever they create such an abomination! –  is still too random for my taste, but I’ll have to put up with it, because a guild with an instery theme cannot just have Teleportal as a sorcery.

Okay, that was it! 20 or so entries overall, and I still only touched the surface of my considerations. Next up will be my overview of Born of the Gods updates to my pool. Then, it will be time to phsyically acquire the missing cards and start building Next Level Cubes again!

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My Limited Card Pool: Multicolor with White

This is the 13th 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

Red Lands & Creatures

Red 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:

Multicolor with White

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

My multicolor cards are structured extremely symmetrically, because color combinations are a theme which needs to be balanced out carefully. There is one odd card here: Femeref Enchantress. She doesn’t belong to any of the cycles and groups which all color combinations share, but is instead a dedicated support card for an enchantment theme. Since this happens to manifest in White and Green only (and you probably want both colors, if possible), she’s a perfect fit. The reason she is in such a solitary position is simply that there is no other theme requiring and offering that kind of additional support.

Disregarding that exception, each guild has 27 cards in my pool. I’ll use Orzhov as an example to break them down:

Isolated Chapel, Marsh Flats and Orzhov Signet make up my guild-affiliated color fixers of choice (which are, of course, common). I do not want any non-basics with basic land types in my pool, and those duals are too strong anyway, making decks with three or more colors too easy to come by. Of course, if a cube is meant to support 3-color-decks, my manafixing is absolutely sufficient, but you better have a clear idea in which colors you want to end up instead of just wildly grabbing duals and seeing where this leads you. There are two more cycles of manafixers which would also work for me, the ones represented by Fetid Heath and Caves of Koilos, but I do not need more of those cards anymore.

While hybrid cards will usually also be present in a multicolor-themed cube, they are even a bit more important supporting cubes which encourage (nearly) monocolored decks, increasing options for players of two colors at the same time, and thus helping to make the math work out. (Colorless cards are another big help here.) There is a common hybrid creature requiring only one colored mana (Mourning Thrull), a common instant or sorcery requiring only one colored mana (Cauldron Haze), and a third common without fast rules to supply the needed density (Harvest Gwyllion). Then, there is an uncommon requring two colored mana (Gift of Orzhova), and offering a bit more power. Lastly, I use the complete cycle of hybrid auras from Shadowmoor and EventideEdge of the Divinity in this case – as uncommons, but although these are technically hybrid spells, they are obviously intended to be used as dualcolored cards.

Two more common cards are not strictly dualcolored, but obviously not too useful otherwise: Mournful Zombie and Scholar of Athreos. One is a black card needing white support to be decent, the second the other way around. Each of those cards only needs one colored mana to be cast. As for the support color, I made sure it works in a variety of ways: Sometimes the card asks if color of that mana was spend to cast it, sometimes there’s a kicker cost requiring that color of mana, and sometimes an activation cost. Sometimes the card looks for another permanant of that color, and sometimes for a basic land with the corresponding type.

For a while, I also used split cards (later the newer fuse cards), and cards with off-color flashback here. I gave up on that because of wildly varying power levels, and because the flashback cards always had players look out for self-milling effects even if a cube didn’t have a graveyard theme. Lately, I realized that even without those mechanics I still had more cross-color cards than I needed, so I’m probably not going back. Enough excellent new split-card designs in all color combinations might sway me, but this is really unlikely to happen anytime soon.

That leaves 17 „real“ 2-colored cards: 8 commons, 7 uncommons and two rares. (In Orzhov, these feature a minor theme of extort. Naturally, I can also use those cards to enhance a cube without a pronounced multicolor theme, but with an extort theme.) Not all my choices are perfect yet, especially in the enemy colored pairs, which have less support overall. Here, Putrid Warrior is a bit close to Tithe Drinker, Sin Collector feels a bit specialized, Alms Beast isn’t an especially elegant design, Agent of Masks feels like a misdesigned extort card, and Maw of the Obzedat encourages alpha strikes a bit too much. These are rather minor complaints, but after so many years, I wish there was a better selection available.

I’m back to Pillory of the Sleepless over One Thousand Lashes, since the latter is too close to Faith’s Fetters, while there is no card too similar to Pillory anymore in my pool.

I neither like convoke nor populate, but Selesnya still shows traces of a token theme in Selesnya Evangel, Pollenbright Wings and Seed Spark.

Azorius features a bit detain with Lyev Skyknight and Archon of the Triumvirate. Its selection of non-creatures is overall a bit weak – mostly, because it does not offer decent removal. Shield of the Righteous and Demonspine Whip in Rakdos are a bit an experiment, but they should work out.

Boros offers the combination of White and Red another battalion creature in Wojek Halberdiers. It has the most 2-drop creatures of all guilds in my pool, because WotC seems to concentrate most of its cool designs here.

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My Limited Card Pool: Red Non-Creature Spells

This is the 12th 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

Red Lands & Creatures

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 Non-Creature Spells (Claws of Valakut and Lightning Cloud should be rare, while Slagstorm should be uncommon.)

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

I consider Maniacal Rage to be a superior design to Furor of the Bitten, but Furor sits in a better mana slot – on two mana Madcap Skills and Ordeal of Purphoros give me enough options.

Claws of Valakut is not quite as powerful as Armored Ascension or even Blanchwood Armor, but still at the top of the power level spectrum for my cubes. I need it as a companion to Spitting Earth, just as Nightmare is a companion to Tendrils of Corruption, but I don’t like how it threatens to kill out of nowhere.

Disintegrate is my burn x-spell of choice. I do not think Fireball is as overpowered in limited as it once was – games go a lot faster today – but it’s unnecessarily complicated. Rolling Thunder was the bogeyman of Tempest limited, but what’s true about Fireball is also true about the Thunder: Games go faster, creatures are bigger, and that spell isn’t terribly mana-efficient. Since Red has few ways to attain card advantage, it is a good option. Back to Disintegrate: It is a way to deal with regenerating creatures (Red has a few more, but that is a good thing) of any size, and it also makes sure they do not come back, although that isn’t quite as important anymore, since I removed most self-recurring creatures from my pool.

It is probably telling that I already run out of things I want to say about my red non-creature spells here: Red really lacks variance a bit. Then again, since this is the last entry about monocolored cards, I already said everything which pertains to colorspanning cycles, making this entry especially short.

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