Schlagwort-Archiv: Magic

My Limited Card Pool: Red Lands & Creatures

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

Green Lands & Creatures

Green Non-Creature Spells

Blue Lands & Creatures

Blue Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: Blue Non-Creature Spells

This is the 10th 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

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

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

Blue Non-Creature Spells

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

Flight Spellbomb and Panic Spellbomb are the only survivors from one-and-a-half cycles of Spellbombs. I realized I didn’t need nearly as many of those, and found many of their designs not convincing. In the original cycle from Mirrodin, you mostly knew if you’d cycle a bomb or use it for its effect before the game even started – some effects were too weak to be worth a card, some were too good that cycling were a realistic alternative. Also, there was the issue of players using off-color Spellbombs, which was not what I had in mind when I included a whole cycle of them. The new Spellbombs from Scars of Mirrodin, on the other hand, are mostly useless without the right colored mana, which is good. The blue and the red one had the most interesting and elegant effects, so I decided to keep those.

Just like Seal of Strength did with Giant Growth, so has Seal of Removal shoved out the classic Unsummon for being too similar. Not that these cards couldn’t coexist, but the spots for bounce spells are already crowded, and Blue needs only so many of them. Silent Departure, Into the Roil, Rescind and Time Ebb do everything I need, and let us not forget AEther Adept and AEthersnipe

Think Tank and Strategic Planning obviously support graveyard-based strategies, but this is not their main function in my pool: I use them primarily for card selection (and I was really happy that Planning got reprinted, making it affordable!) Therefore they are not tagged „yard“ and „mill“ – unlike Mental Note, which is meant for environments with such a theme. I use Note over Thought Scour on principle, because milling the opponent is one of the biggest no-nos in Next Level Cubes.

Vow of Flight has some unnecessary and annoying text, and I’m not too happy with that card – all I really want is Spectral Flight to cost one mana more. Granted, playing the Vow on an opponent’s creature will seldom lead to a win, and it’s certainly not too strong a „removal“ option for Blue, but sometimes players will be forced to do it and then probably watch a game they would have lost fast otherwise drag on a lot longer – until they still lose it. Still, this kind auf aura really needs to be there, and Vow is the best choice – Zephid’s Embrace giving shroud is too much, and Nimbus Naiad is a different, and very special concept. Of course, there is Drake Umbra, but that is another really special card, and sitting in a clearly different mana slot.

For me, Sleight of Hand is the most basic 1-mana card selection spell, not using scry, and not involving putting cards from your hand back or shuffling your library.

The options for countermagic are overhwelming. In addition to permanent-based stuff (like Daring Apprentice or Lilting Refrain), I have no less than 8 monoblue cards which explicitly say „counter target spell“ on them in my pool, and a couple more which do similar things (Mage’s Guile, Meddle…), and I still left out a good number of perfectly fine candidates, most noteworthy Essence Scatter, Negate and Mana Leak, which lose out to Counterspell and Miscalculation; and Dismal Failure, losing out to Dismiss.

Perilous Research is effectively a much better Altar’s Reap, so I took out the latter – there are still enough sacrifice synergies in Black. Impulse, however, had to go (a pity, since I had made the effort to get a somehow pricey version with correct wording) – it was just a bit too good. Strategic Planning is a better fit, which pushed out the too similar Compulsive Research. With Mulldrifter gone, the elegant Divination could return and fill that slot, but Thirst for Knowledge still sports that kind of mechanic.

There were several options for a strong tempo card affecting more than one creature. I got away from Undo and Into the Void and returned to the slightly fairer Sleep, which can not be used just to remove tokens, counters and auras, and is an honest pure tempo play instead.

I love Mind Control for nostalgic reasons (which go back to Control Magic of course), but turning your opponent’s best creature against him is still too cheap at 5 mana. Confiscate sits in the right spot, though.

I am a bit wary of any spell which draws more than 3 cards, but since my cubes never are as slow as Magic 2014 was, costing 6 mana makes Opportunity not too unfair.

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My Limited Card Pool: Blue Lands & Creatures

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

Green Lands & Creatures

Green Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: Green Non-Creature Spells

This is the 8th 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

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

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

Green Non-Creature Spells

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

Frog Tongue allows me to complete this cycle, since Nylea’s Presence doesn’t work for me on any level: Not an enchant creature, and green mana fixing.

There’s Keen Sense instead of Curiosity, because Green needed that effect more – Blue has all the card draw in the world, and especially creatures with that ability inbuilt.

After trying out a lot of similar cards, most of which were more powerful, I decided that the simplest execution was the best: Oakenform is a terribly fine limited card and really needs no additional power-up.

Into the Wilds is a bit slower than I like – I’d prefer an alternative creating card advantage a little faster and more reliable. But Oracle of Mul Daya, which I had before, is just too good; and all other choices are either also too powerful or not generic enough.

It may seem strange that, of all things, Giant Growth is missing among Green’s very numerous pump spells, but it makes more sense to have Brute Force in Red instead, which is happy to have an instant which does not directly do damage, and Green wants Seal of Strength and Predator’s Strike more.

Fog is too weak to get played, but its effect is something Green should have. Lull makes it maindeckable via cycling; Moment’s Peace is strong enough because it can be used twice; and Terrifying Presence can act as creature removal.

Lead the Stampede is another of those spells which is waiting for a better replacement. Honestly, why can Green not simply have a Divination? Something like that is needed on three mana – there’s kind of a gap here. Gift of the Gargantuan has the same randomness issues, but provides less value on average. I don’t like that Lead can possibly draw three or more creatures, but the chance not to get anything worthwhile out of Gift is too high and makes it unusable. If it looked at five cards, I’d prefer it over Lead (I really was agonizing over that decision). You know what would work? A Nature’s Lore for one mana more with scry 2 (Born of the Gods is only partly spoiled as I write this, so there is some hope)! Edit: Meanwhile, Peregrination (mouseover isn’t working yet) has been spoiled, which is a Cultivate for one mana more with scry 1. Close, and yet so far!

Talking about the Lore: It’s useful, but not excellent. Explore is a bit stronger, which is fine, requires no shuffling, and fills a cantrip slot.

Green has Naturalize, which means White has no Disenchant – but it gets Seal of Cleansing and Revoke Existence instead, which seems fair.

After trying out Red and Black, I now have scry in Red and Green. Red desperately needs it both for variety and card flow, Blue has enough card draw and card selection, and White is filled to the brim with interesting spells of all kinds and really doesn’t need an extra mechanic. Black has some card draw in addition to card advantage via discard, and its selection of scry spells didn’t impress me too much, while Green still isn’t quite where I want it to be with regard to card flow.

I’m not using scry in all colors, because cycling and cantrips already do a pretty similar thing, and I want scry to show up in cubes where those other mechanics don’t have too much of a presence, as a special element of Red and Green. I won’t be unhappy, though, if Born of the Gods gives me a superior option to Artisan’s Sorrow, which is quite similar to Creeping Mold. Something with scry 1 would be nice for symmetry (Red has one scry 1 and one scry 2 spell), if I do not get my wish above. (But not that manafixing spell.)

Unyaro Bee Sting finally replaces Bee Sting: I’m a fan of the more generic name, but it is silly not to use the up-to-date wording when one plans to draft with less experienced players.

Dosan’s Oldest Chant is the only acceptable green lifegain spell, although its power level is in Unhinge territory. I don’t think anything would break if it cost a mana less, though.

Incremental Growth replaces Stand Together, which has too much competition and too much of a blowout potential. Growth is baseline more powerful, but allows the opponent better to deal with it. It also serves as my version of Overrun, which is a good green effect to have, but way overpowered. A closer variant wouldn’t do here – Growth is considerably weaker, and still about as powerful as I like to go.

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My Limited Card Pool: Green Lands & Creatures

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

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

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

Green Lands & Creatures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: Black Non-Creature Spells

This is the sixth 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

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

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

Black Non-Creature Spells (Phyrexian Boon should no longer be on that list.)

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

One annoying thing which I cannot get out of my pool, although I wish I could, is that needless „non-black“ rider on black removal spells. It’s fine to have a couple of those specifically for a color themed cube, but that restriction pops up on way too many cards which otherwise are (and should be) generic choices, like Executioner’s Capsule, Seal of Doom or Befoul. I would actually prefer to dispense with all „color (spare)“ tagged cards completely, since that card aspect does not provide much play value in Zweidritteldraft even if I use a color theme, but I simply need them for their main function (Saltblast and Befoul, for example, provide hard-to-come-by maindeckable land destruction; and the aforementioned Capsule and the Seal are members of essential cycles).

WotC has stopped to use that rider on black removal spells lately, providing a couple of truly generic choices, but I will probably never be able to completely get rid of it. Note that removal cards which spare artifact creatures, on the other hand, make perfect sense in an artifact cube, since artifacts will be plentiful enough there that these cards aren’t just randomly weaker against one player. That makes an additional non-black rider, like on Ritual of the Machine – which is a wonderful design otherwise – especially annoying, though.

Black, to a slightly lesser extent Green, and to an even larger extent Red are the colors where a certain uniformity of non-creatures spells is an issue. Both White and Blue have so many noticeably different designs to choose from that cutting that variety down to a manageable level is hard. The other colors, however, provide too much of a few good things, and too little variety overall – at least if we only look at usable limited cards.

For Green, one mostly has to make sure there’s some creature removal present, and a little card draw (which Green should have), then cut down the plethora of pump spells and mana providers to a reasonable level. Green is a fine color to sport an above-average creature ratio, and there’s no dearth of choices in that area, so you do not need to go scavenging for fillers. In Red, however, almost every spell seems to deal damage or destroy something, which is severely limiting that color’s scope in limited, and making it necessary too look pretty hard which versions of these basic effects play noticeable different due to varying numbers in their costs and effects.

With Black it isn’t quite as bad, but you still have to wade through a sea of creature removal. Discard is the second most pronounced theme, but many basic discard spells, like Duress, Ostracize or Coercion don’t really work that well in limited due to being too situational or inefficient. (Discard tacked on creatures, however, plays well and is powerful, which is why I had to make a lot of cuts there and maybe will do even more). Returning creatures from your graveyard to your hand or directly to the battlefield is number three. Overall, Black has less of an issue with variety itself, but with power level: Creature removal is powerful (and it needs to be, to keep the game interactive), so it needs to be supplemented with less powerful (but still playable) stuff. There’s a bit of a gap between „strong“ and „weak“ in Black non-creature, non-removal spells, though, which I haven’t been able to satisfactorily close in all areas.

Unholy Strength is back in my pool over Predator’s Gambit. I wanted the additional rider to raise the power of that aura a little, but I should have realized that wasn’t achieving much, while sacrificing elegance.

I’m happy Scavenged Weaponry exists, since it fits better into that cycle between Chosen by Heliod and Dragon Mantle than Scourgemark; the latter isn’t too exciting unless you have a very pronounced heroic theme (which I won’t); and I wanted this cycle’s mana costs to be less uniform.

Feast of the Unicorn being common and Mark of the Vampire being uncommon has only indirectly to do with power level. The Mark is more generically useful due to its higher power level, and because succesfully attacking just once with it already almost justifies playing it (which, of course, is part of the reason why its power level is rather high). The Feast, on the other hand, is meant to help create the very environment where putting it on a creature is something players want to do, and thus needs to show up at common there.

Auras like Caustic Tar obviously can enhance an enchantment theme by representing an independent, non-creature actor on the board, but they’re actually more important supporting a land theme in the same way, making maindeck land destruction more viable.

About land destruction: A focussed LD strategy obviously has no place in a Next Level Cube. Being able to punish players with too greedy mana bases or running too many high-end cards by destroying a land as a tempo play has some merit, but is a sideboard strategy, and cards which cannot be maindecked have no place in Zweidritteldraft. This is why I got rid of all dedicated LD (Sinkhole, Ice Storm, Molten Rain, Ark of Blight…) other than Tectonic Edge, which is maindeckable since it sits in a land slot.

If I want a „lands-which-do-things“ theme, however, I need both a crucial mass of maindeckable cards which interact with lands and of cards which makes running those interactive cards desirable. If I just want a few utility lands (or land auras) for a cube, I still have to make sure players can interact with those. Multiple-purpose cards like Befoul or Pillage are excellent choices here, and they also can serve as tempo plays or to punish shaky mana bases.

Is it a good idea to punish those? Yes, it is! I always make sure that my cubes contain enough mana fixing so that players can assemble a working mana base for the type of decks supported by that cube (which means between one-and-a-half and three colors, unless it is a monocolored cube, obviously) – this is why I use fetchlands, spotlands AND signets at common. In concert with the house rule of starting the game with 8 cards this means players can usually avoid color screw, even if confronted with a stray LD spell. However, sometimes a player decides to go beyond the number of colors which is the norm for decks in a cube. That is fine, and the tools are there to do this, but there needs to be a substantial cost involved, and that cost is the requirement to invest extra picks into mana fixing, but also opening up the opportunity for their opponents to attack a vulnerable mana base. The latter is also just fair towards the other players, since it is frustrating to lose to a multicolor best-of deck which gets lucky with its mana.

Thoughtseize is, at the moment, a much maligned card in standard, since it can deal with any (non-land) card. That it is situational, costs you 2 life, and requires you to spend a mana to remove a spell which your opponent had not to invest any mana in before, is usually left out of consideration. With Counterspell nowadays only a faint memory for many players, and even a blast from the past they never encountered in a competitive setting for many others, that discard spell seems to have inherited the mantle of the bogeyman for those who hate interaction in Magic. The complaints are so similar, as is the reasoning donwplaying or ignoring the card’s inherent disadvantages, and the lack of willingless to simply build more robust decks which do not fall apart if they are forced to trade one or two crucial cards.

Just like countermagic is for blue, discard is essential for Black’s color identity and its ability to interact. In limited, one-for one discard is weaker than in constructed, because decks do not rely on specific key cards to function, and because games tend do go longer on average, and there are fewer reactive cards, so players are in topdeck mode more often, rendering a discard spell a blank. (Discarding multiple cards, on the other hand, is stronger in limited, because there is fewer card draw.) For Black to have a useful, generic discard spell of that kind at all, Thoughtseize needs to be a common.

Unhinge is a candidate for the weakest card in my pool (way weaker than Mind Rot, just as draining a point of damage is weaker than dealing two), and I’m always looking out for a replacement cantrip, but so far there’s nothing better.

Between Doomed Necromancer, Ashen Powder and Phyrexian Delver, but also all those Raise Dead variants, giving Breath of Life to White and leaving out Zombify seems only logical.

Whew, that was long – a lot of general things sprang into my mind this time!

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My Limited Card Pool: Black Lands & Creatures

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: White Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

White Non-Creature Spells

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

Eland Umbra is just more special than Hyena Umbra, being one of very few auras boosting toughness, but not power, and still being playable. (Chosen by Heliod is another.) I use Umbras only in White and Blue, a common and an uncommon in each color, because the green Umbras do not convince me. I like these cards simple and elegant, with the ability to save the creature from destruction being an important feature. Drawing cards or untapping lands distracts too much from that – if I want that effect, I use an aura which focusses on it, like Keen Sense. The more generic green choices do not play well or are too powerful.

I’d love to simply mirror Bad Moon, but Crusade is a little worse, and Honor of the Pure a little better. So, having to choose, I give the stronger pump spell to White, which tends to be a lot friendlier to creatures than Black overall.

Selecting enchantments which are strong enough to matter, but not too strong if an opponent can not remove them is tricky, but especially important, since only White and Green are really well suited to deal with enchantments, and Red and Black have practically no way. Auras, obviously, can be dealt with indirectly, but global enchantments can not. One of those which makes sense to me as a high-end play is Martyr’s Bond. It obviously has a large impact, but is not an auto-win, and there might be ways to play around it.

Auras which aren’t very cheap need to be powerful to offset their inherent disadvantage, but still should not win a game too fast on their own. That’s why I got rid of Armored Ascension, which is somehow acceptable in a two-color deck (but less interesting and balanced than Serra’s Embrace) – in a monocolored deck, however, it will often kill an opponent in two swings out of nowhere. Since the whole point of such a card is to reward a player for being as monocolored as possible, it makes no sense to keep it around for other environments.

Buyback has been cited by WotC as causing repetitive play issues, but is essentially a variant of a permanent with an activated ability which sits in a player’s hand. That makes it harder to interact with, but certainly not more repetitive. I have one or two buyback spells in each color, because they are both useful as normal, cheap spells, or mana sinks in the lategame, and are thus excellent fits for some environments (they go very nicely with landfall, for example).

I already explained in my former entry how cantrips and cards with cycling help to thin out decks and fill the graveyard. Instants and sorceries with these mechanics can also serve to increase the ratio of these card types in decks while providing compensation for a lower creature count – there’s always some tension here with an instery theme, and these cards help to alleviate it.

While reliable removal is important in a cube, I cut the most efficient versions from my pool (among more general reasons, to help auras a little), especially outside of Black, which is supposed to be the strongest in that aspect to compensate for its deficiencies in others. So, no Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt or Flame Slash. White, however, still has a lot of conditional (like Condemn) or undoable (like Journey to Nowhere) removal.

Flashback is another mechanic supporting a graveyard theme. Since there are several of those, I do not need high numbers in each.

There are roughly a million Wrath of God variants, but the original is still the best – I do not at all like the idea that regenerating should save a creature from the ultimate creature removal spell, and four mana is fine in limited, since breaking that card’s symmetry needs a lot more work here than in constructed. Planar Cleansing is a good companion/alternative, sitting in a clearly distinct mana slot, and having a clearly broader effect (although, unfortunately, it allows for regeneration).

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My Limited Card Pool: White Lands and Creatures

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

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

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

White Lands & Creatures

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

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

About the lands:

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

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

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

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

About the creatures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: Non-Creature Artifacts (Unaffiliated)

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

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:

Non-Creature Artifacts

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

The generic cards in this list are mostly made up of mana artifacts and removal. Because interaction is essential to good gameplay, stuff like Brittle Effigy or Icy Manipulator is common, and Ratchet Bomb and Nevinyrral’s Disk will almost always make my cubes (remember that single rares show up with the same frequency as uncommons in my cubes, 1/3). I really wish there were a few more, reasonable designs of colorless cards which can deal with enchantments (for artifacts, there are at least a few options), but there aren’t, so I will always have to be extremely careful with enchantments in my cubes – they must be a relevant part of it, but cannot be too poweful, since they’re so hard to get rid of for some colors. Since Theros block has enchantments as a major theme, there’s a small chance that will change with the next two expansions, but I’m not holding my breath.

I trimmed my equipment selection to mostly include only very basic effects, because I found those to play best – equipment is already offering a lot in its most basic form, and I wouldn’t want to use more complicated equipment instead of simple stuff, but there’s not enough space in a cube for too much equipment. Even very simple equipments, like [Trusty Machete[/card], already became a victim of the crunch, since I only need so many choices.

A few card-specific notes:

Chimeric Mass is a bit annoying, since it will often be a creature with charge counters on it (instead of simply using +1/+1 counters), and I wish there were a cleaner version, but it will do.

It always annoys me when a colorless card needlessly (for flavor reasons) produces colored tokens, like Orochi Hatchery, because in some environments, this makes it color-affiliated (if there’s Kaysa in it, for example), but usually it isn’t. There’s no better choice, though.

I consciously chose Neurok Hoversail over Cobbled Wings, because re-equipping from an attacker to a blocker shouldn’t be too cheap.

Aeolipile is superior to Moonglove Extract, because it is one one hand less clumsy (the point of such cards is to be put on the board pre-emptively for secureness, so cheaper is better), but on the other hand creates what R&D calls „shields-down moments“, allowing the opponent to avoid its effect when you’re completely tapped out.

I avoid indestructible whenever possible (it prevents interaction and is slightly confusing), but it’s not too big a deal on Darksteel Pendant, which provides an important basic function.

Mind Stone clearly edges out Guardian Idol, since drawing a card is better flood protection than providing a clumsy 2/2. Prophetic Prism teams up with it and Millikin for my choice of two-mana artifacts. Coldsteel Heart had for some time been the only snow card in my cube, but I finally got rid of it after I realized I actualy preferred to separate acceleration and mana fixing.

Titan Forge and Lux Cannon are newcomers in my pool. I was looking for a couple more high-end cards for control decks and found these, which play differently from simply expensive cards, because they’re not as attractive for ramp strategies, and specifically reward you for dragging the game out. That’s a pretty small niche in my cubes, but I feel two rares are just right to potentially fill it.

Medicine Bag is the last survivor of a couple cards which I had previously used specifically as discard outlets. See, I knew I forgot something when I listed my guidelines: I got rid of madness, all hellbent cards except Keldon Megaliths, spellshapers, and most discard outlets. Mechanics which specifically encourage you to empty your hand are nearly as bad as those which encourage you to keep it full, madness is rather complicated and confusing, and spellshapers make for repetitive play (and are usually extremely annoying to play against). The whole complex of these mechanics didn’t convince me anymore, and thus I only kept a few select cards which could stand on their own. (The Bag still somehow supports threshold, obviously, but that is not important.)

Seer’s Sundial, although featuring landfall, is now my „generic“ card-drawing artifact. I finally got rid of Jayemdae Tome, which no one, including me, ever used. In the really early limited days, there was a time when the Tome was quite useful, but nowadays, and especially in my cubes, paying 12 mana for an Inspiration is just beyond awful. Cannon and Forge seem to have similar egregious initial investments, but at least produce an impressive effect impacting the board; helping you to win where the Tome might just have gotten you closer to decking yourself.

I wasn’t too happy with my overall selection of high-end colorless creatures, so I included a couple more high-end non-creature artifacts instead. Minion Reflector, Mirari, Mindslaver, Staff of Nin and Aladdin’s Ring are my toys of choice for lategame or ramp decks here, with Mindslaver intended for cubes in the top segment of the power level spectrum.

Some important cards I removed are Serrated Arrows, which are overpowered, and Spine of Ish Sah, which is too expensive to fulfill the role I wanted it to (a catch-all colorless removal spell), and at the same time lends itself to silly combo plays recurring it every turn. Though the Arrows are an excellent design, they need to cast at least one mana more to be fair. It’s funny how strong they are, yet how weak [cast]Dragon Blood[/card] is – a design I’d gladly include in my pool if its activation cost were just tapping it.

Another card which finally got kicked out is Disrupting Scepter, which is essentially a sideboard card in my cubes (reason enough not to use it), and for the rare control-on-control matchup to boot, because it is too clumsy otherwise. I kept it so long because there is just no alternative to it – but then again, in contrast to card drawing, discard probably isn’t an effect which is really needed on a colorless card.

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