Schlagwort-Archiv: Magic

My Limited Card Pool: Lands and Artifact Creatures (Without Color Affiliation)

This is the first entry in a series where I comment on and explain my choices for my limited card pool in detail.

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:

Lands & Artifact Creatures

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

If a land or artifact is affiliated to one or two colors, I list it in that place instead, because it will be part of the color ratio of a cube. These cards here are unaffiliated, meaning that they either have no connection to any specific color at all, or equally to all colors.

About the lands:

City of Brass and Transguild Promenade are reasonable choices, but I hope WotC will print something I like a bit better – I don’t think a Grand Coliseum which doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped would be too strong, for example. Evolving Wilds is fine, but I won’t cheat on my singleton guideline by including Terramorphic Expanse as well. Generally, I want all cards in my pool to play noticeably differently – that’s the whole point of using only one copy of each card for me.

Tectonic Edge would be just Wasteland if that card weren’t so absurdly expensive, but I can live with the Edge. (I had Strip Mine before, but it was a bit too suppressive.)

Note that all the color fixing is common to make sure drafters have access to enough of it, and the same goes for basic interactive cards like Quicksand, and elementary theme enablers like Darksteel Citadel.

This is why Mutavault is a common – an exemplary case of a card which is rare simply for constructed reasons (in other words, it is kept scarce because all competitive players need it, and WotC thus can sell more booster packs). It provides a really important function as a generic manland, and the fact it supports tribal themes makes it even more valuable. I would take it out, if there was an adequate, cheaper alternative, since it is one of the most expensive cards in my pool, but there isn’t. (Mishra’s Factory is too complicated and confusing.)

I hope there will be a few more simple lands printed in the future which provide moderate extra value, like Rogue’s Passage – that is exactly the kind of card working greatly in a land themed cube.

Urza’s Factory showcases my policy of making cards which ask for a heavy mana investment rare (I really hate those 7-mana uncommons which WotC so often include in their sets). In my opinion, highend cards are a reward for players who successfully managed to get the game to the stage where they can be used, not an omnipresent feature because they are „more fun“ – they are much cooler (and fairer) if you have to put work into them. Thus, I do not need too many of this kind of card in any cube – they are there if a player wants to commit to a lategame strategy, but there is no overabundance of them.

About the artifact creatures:

They mainly fall into two camps: Generic cards which alleviate color distribution issues (especially important in Zweidritteldraft, since there isn’t much time until you have to commit to your colors, so players should not find themselves with too few playables after a few less than ideal choices in the beginning), or provide interaction with certain card types for colors which struggle with that; and cards supporting a pronounced artifact theme.

As I also did with colored creatures, I made sure there is a minimum number of very generic creatures, often even vanilla creatures, all over the mana curve. Colorless artifact creatures are overall the most generic of these, providing cards all drafters can use to fill up mana curve slots in their decks, but which are usually not especially desirable, so that you can concentrate on getting your synergy cards without having to worry too much about the fundamentals of your deck. I cut a number of less convincing redundancy cards here after re-assessing how large I wanted my cubes to be, like Glass Golem or Obsianus Golem. When building a Next Level Cube, you might be tempted to leave „boring“ generic artifact creatures out: Do not make that mistake! They are the pizza base of an environment. Also, they help making sure artifact removal is useful, which is important to showcase some colors‘ strengths. (For the same reason, there should also always be enough enchantments worthy of being removed in a cube.)

Something I miss in this list is a well-designed 8-drop. For a while, I used Ulamog’s Crusher in that spot, but an 8-drop really should not come with a downside, and the Crusher would also have been my only non-land, non-artifact colorless card in my pool, which isn’t aesthetically pleasing, and confuses some players. The only other reasonable choice would be Sundering Titan, whose ability is rather silly in limited (and, again, constitutes a downside). That slot isn’t important enough for me to put up with cards which don’t make sense to me, so I’ll leave it vacant for the time being (with Aladdin’s Ring being able to sub in if necessary). A simple 8/8 trampling artifact creature would be perfect here (colorless creatures are supposed to be a bit on the weak side in exchange for being usable by everyone), and I really don’t understand why WotC hasn’t printed that card yet (it would probably be an uncommon, I guess).

A high-profile card I dropped from my list is Duplicant, which proved too strong for a colorless 6-drop (it would be fine at 7 mana, though).

Overall, there’s not much to say about lands and artifact creatures; they tend to fulfill the most basic roles and present the easiest decisions. I’ll probably write a lot more about colored cards. Let me again remind you: If you have any question about a specific card (or group of cards) I did or did not include, feel free to ask in the comments – I WILL have an answer ready, since I considered them all!

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My Limited Card Pool: Explanation of Shortcuts

I realized I had to explain the shortcuts I used in my limited card pool list all in one place which I can link to.  If they don’t make sense to you, that’s fine; I mostly just wrote what came into my head first, but in general, they should be quite intuitive. They have been of enormous help to me when compiling my card pool, although they’re far from perfect, especially since I’m too lazy to write down all applicable tags – Ring of Thune, for example, should list „art (is)“, „mark“ & „equip“ in addition to „color (pro)“ and „ring“.

So here we go:

Column C:

„Klar“ signifies color-unaffiliated cards. The other words are German for the colors or name the guilds and shouldn’t need an explanation. A reminder: L marks lands, K creatures, J non-creature permanent spells, and I instants and sorceries.

Column D:

Yup, „C“ means „common“; „U“ „uncommon“ and „R“ „rare“, as defined in my default rarities for Next Level Cubes. (These rarities differ a lot from print rarities.)

Column E:

„art“ marks cards which support an artifact theme, „land“ a land theme, „mark“ a +1/+1 and -1/-1 counter theme, „yard“ a graveyard theme, „ench“ an enchantment theme, „instery“ an instant and sorcery theme, „sold“
a soldier tribal theme, „color“ a color matters theme, „gob“ a goblin tribal theme, „zomb“ a zombie tribal theme, „elf“ a elf tribal theme and „wiz“ a wizard tribal theme.

„hyb“ denotes a hybrid card, and „cross“ a monocolored card which is actually mostly a dualcolored card in disguise, since it needs another color to be desirable. Technically, dualcolored cards should get a tag, too, but since Column C already got this covered, I didn’t need it and could use that space for another tag.

I also use some qualifiers in brackets here:

„pro“ means the card is mainly intended to work with other cards of  that theme, while „anti“ shows that it is especially good against them, and „spare“ denotes a weakness against such cards.

„is“ signifies that the card supports a theme simply by belonging to that category. That is, of course, only useful in special cases – no need to tag all artifacts as „art (is) – for example, when the primary type of an artifact is land, or the artifact is colored; or when a land does something beyond providing mana, thus being integral to a theme of lands which do things.

„critter“, „instery“, „aura“, „double“ and „extra“ separate 5 ten-card cycles of hybrid cards: „critter“ are creatures needing only one colored mana; „instery“ are instants or sorceries only requiring one colored mana, „aura“ are the auras from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block rewarding you for playing two specific colors (like Shield of the Oversoul), „double“ are cards requiring two colored mana intended to be uncommons, and „extra“ is an addition cycle of commons with no further common denominator which fulfill the necessary quota of hybrid cards.

Column F:

In alphabetic order:

„affi“ = affinity to artifacts

„afficrit“ – the cycle of creatures with affinity to certain basic land types from Darksteel, since changed to „laffi“

„arc“ – an creature with modular and the name component „arcbound“

„banner“ – a couple of color matters cards which permanently give all (or all your) creatures of a certain color +1/+1

„basics“ – a card whose strength scales with the number of lands of a certain basic land type you control

„battal“ = battalion

„bback“ = buyback

„bestow“ – just that

„bomb“ – an artifact with the name component „spellbomb“ from Scars of Mirrodin

„bond“ = soulbond

„cantrip“ – an instant or sorcery drawing you a card in addition to its primary effect

„caps“ – cards with the name component „capsule“ from Shards of Alara

„chief“ – some tribal support cards with that name component from Scourge

„cohort“ – some „color matters“ creatures with that name component from Lorwyn

„courier“ – some tribal support cards with that name component from Onslaught

„craft“ = metalcraft

„cry“ = battle cry

„cycland“  – the common lands with cycling from Onslaught

„cycling“ – just that

„cycrit“ – a cycle of creatures with landcycling from Scourge

„detain“ – just that

„eat“ – a creature with the additional cost of exiling a creature card from your graveyard

„enchtrip“ – a cycle of creature enchanting auras which draw you a card when they enter the battlefield

„enlist“ – some tribal support cards from Apocalypse which reveal the top 4 cards of your library when they enter the battlefield.

„equip“ – an equipment

„etbaura“ – a cycle of common auras with a spell-like triggered ability when they enter the battlefield from Ravnica

„evoke“ – just that

„evolve“ – just that

„exal“ = exalted

„fall“ = landfall, or a mechanic which is effectively the same thing

„fback“ = flashback

„fetch“ – a land which, for the cost of 1 life and sacrificing it, allows you to search a land featuring one of two basic land types from your library and put it onto the battlefield

„fix“ = manafixing

„gate“ – a creature from Planeshift which, upon entering the battlefield, requires you to return a creature featuring one of its colors to owner’s hand

„hero“= heroic

„ini“ – a color matters creature with that name component from Shadowmoor

„inspired“ – just that (will show up in a later update)

„intim“ – a creature with intimidate or fear

„laffi“ – the cycle of creatures with affinity to certain basic land types from Darksteel, formerly „afficrit“

„landact“ – an aura giving the land it enchants an activated ability (Leafdrake Roost was missing this tag in the list)

„leash“ = unleash

„load“ = overload

„mage“ – a 2/1 for two mana with an activated ability with that name component from Magic 2012

„manland“ should be obvious – a land with an activated ability which turns it into a creature

„mentor“ – a color matters creature with that name component from Shadowmoor

„mill“ – a card with the main purpose of putting cards in its controller’s graveyard

„morbid“ – just that

„ordeal“ – an aura with that name component from Theros which puts a +1/+1 counter on the creature it enchants whenever it attacks

„palm“ – the „Gempalm“ tribal support creatures from Legions; formerly „tribcyc“

„persist“ – just that

„pumpart“ – an artifact creature with an activated ability requiring colored mana

„ramp“ = denotes cards which allow you to have more than x mana on turn x. I use it only on color-unaffiliated cards

„replica“  – the cycle of common artifact creatures with that name component from Scars of Mirrodin

„ring“ – colored equipments with that name component from Magic 2013

„rush“ = bloodrush

„scav“ = „scavenge“, formerly spelled out completely

„scavenge“ – just that; „scav“ meanwhile

„scry“ – just that (that tag is out of use now, only showing up in older versions of my list)

„seal“ – a cycle of enchantments with that name component from Nemesis

„shadow“ – just that

„shard“ – some artifacts with that name component, affiliated to a color, from Mirrodin

„signet“ – an artifact with that name component from Ravnica block which, for the cost of 1 mana and tapping it, gives you 1 mana each of two colors

„slith“ – a creature with that name component from Mirrodin, which gets a +1/+1 counter when it deals combat damage to a player

„smith“ – an artifact matters creature with that name component from Scars of Mirrodin

„spike“ – a creature with the name component „spiketail“ which can be sacrificed to counter target spell unless its controller pays some extra mana

„spot“ – a dual land which enters the battlefield tapped unless you control a land featuring one of two basic land types

„thirst“ = bloodthirst

„thresh“ = threshold

„tort“ = extort

„tribcyc“ – the „Gempalm“ tribal support creatures from Legions; changed to „palm“ meanwhile

„tribland“ – a land supporting a specific tribal strategy

„tribrev“ – a tribal matters creature from Lorwyn which cost three mana more to cast if you do not reveal a card with a certain creature type from your hand

„tribute“ – just that

„umbra“ – some auras with that name component from Rise of the Eldrazi

„undy“ = undying

„unearth“ – just that

„vivid“ – the uncommon lands from Lorwyn

„wall“ marks a creature with defender

„wither“ – just that

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My Limited Card Pool: Some General Guidelines

Jashin reminded me that some people already knew my principles of how to build Next Level Cubes and would be more interested in a list of differences instead of a rehearsal. Actually, there’s a lot of differences! For starters, I reduced the size of my limited card pool from 2195 to 1157. Thus, it might seem more fitting to say that I started again from scratch compiling it – that would be a slight exaggeration, but it’s not that far away from the truth.

What made me do this? Well, I gathered a lot of experience with cube building over the last years, and I found myself able to pinpoint my wants and needs much more precisely. One important change is that I started to exactly calculate instead of guess how many cards of a certain type were enough. After a lot of back and forth, I arrived at the formula for cubes I mentioned in my previous entry: 192 commons showing up with a frequency of 2/3; 128 commons and 64 rares each showing up with a frequency of 1/3. (So, obviously that formula is also new, although not too different from earlier formulas.) I especially found that I did not want or need larger cubes, since a larger cube size invariably comes with lower card frequencies, which I do not consider a gain anymore. I am now convinced that cube sizes between 192 and 384 cards overall serve all my needs.

Obviously, if I do not plan to build larger cubes anymore, I need fewer cards to provide redundancy, and I can also get rid of themes which never totally convinced me, but were needed to fill up large cubes. On the other hand, in some areas I actually added cards again after calculating how many slots I needed to fulfill certain functions. To do this, I had to assess which rarities these cards were likely to have, which in turn meant that I had to provide all cards in my pool with provisional rarities to see if they would actually fit in a cube the way I intended them to. That was really a lot of work, and the rarity column in my list is another new (and important) feature. (My slightly changed sorting order, now differentiating between instants/sorceries and other non-creature spells, probably is less important, but still yet another change worth mentioning and looking at – maybe this kind of organization also appeals to other people.)

As to the calculation of how many cards of a certain kind I need: One important thing to keep in mind is that my cubes – for creative as well as practical reasons – often feature a non-traditional color distribution, even to the point of leaving colors out completely. I already built cubes which only featured blue and colorless cards; or only colorless, white, black and black-and-white cards (and yes, these cubes were really a lot of fun to draft)! From this follows that the number of cards I need per color or guild is considerably higher than it would be if I always used all colors equally.

A development concurrent to slimming down my card pool was finding a lot of things I will not use on principle – too many to make a comprehensive list, I’m afraid. (If you wonder why a certain kind of card or even a single card did not make my list, you can just ask in the comments – I actually have answers for every single card, because I considered each and every one of them!) I will still, from the top of my head, mention the things which seem the most important. Some of these had still been featured in my cubes as recently as right before this latest uphaul. Others had never been a consideration for me since the very beginning. Without any particluar order:

1. Planeswalkers

I honestly tried to stay open-minded when these came out, but still came to hate them soon. For one thing, almost all of them are overpowered in limited play. Then, they change the play dynamic in a way I don’t like even if they aren’t. They are another kind of threat which needs to be answered, and it’s not exactly easy to provide enough answers for all the other card types already. Finally, they come with some complicated rules baggage which shouldn’t be necessary for cards which would at best make up a few rares in a cube (don’t forget that my cubes are designed to be played by people on all skill levels and with all kinds of Magic backgrounds, including those who stopped playing before Lorwyn). Limited simply plays better without that card type (I think this is also true for constructed, but I cannot say that with final authority).

2. Cards with (or referring to) 3 colors

This is not a decision on principle; I am just not satisfied with the available selection, but this is an all-or-nothing kind of thing. While, at least for the shards, the quantity of candidates is sufficient, very few cards actually play well, and I always really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fulfill the necessary quota, which also resulted in gross imbalances in power level between cards which made up cycles connected to the shards. And don’t get me started on the wedges! No manafixing (the only thing which really works well in the shards), practically no useful commons, and the truly 3-colored cards mostly either barely playable or completely bonkers. WotC has to deliver a LOT more (and better designed!) stuff before I consider 3-colored cards for my cubes again.

3. 5-colored cards, domain & sunburst

Since these can be implemented nicely as a mini theme, there is enough material for me to use them, but it is not nearly convincing enough that I feel compelled to do so. More importantly, truly multicolored decks are a bit too much of a stretch in limited, and they serve mainly as skill testers for unexperienced players, who will brew up unplayable concotions while trying to make these mechanics work. While it is certainly not impossible to implement them correctly in a draft deck, it would way too rarely be correct to try.  There is no place in a beginner-friendly cube for that kind of card, and they are not a big loss: Combining two neighboring guilds into a three-color deck, maybe even splashing a fourth color, feels multicolored enough and already allows players who know how to build complicated mana bases to shine. The guilds offer all the tools one needs, as both Ravnica blocks proved.

4. Coinflip cards and cards which have random effects

These mostly suck anyways (okay, Hymn to Tourach doesn’t). I really don’t want extra randomness added to an already quite random game like Magic. I make allowances for some borderline cases, though, like Into the Wilds or Blast of Genius, which make use of the random order of the library in a similar way as the draw step, although I will replace the latter as soon as I find a better alternative.

5. Cards requiring to keep track of correct graveyard order

Not at all worth the hassle.

6. Cards asking for the number of cards in hand

I actually banned those from my pool even before I tried out the larger hand size. Cards which specifically punish players for emptying their hands (or worse, not being able to do so) just aren’t fun, while cards which encourage you to keep cards in hand promote a gameplay dynamic which isn’t healthy. I do not miss any of those cards, other than maybe for nostalgic reasons.

7. Un-cards

They might be funny to read, but they’re not at all fun to play. Funny and silly is NOT the same thing. Also, they are a rules nightmare.

8. Morphs

I always knew I didn’t like that mechanic (it’s clumsy, adds randomness and eats too much cube space in order to actually play the way it is intended to), but it is maybe the best-supported theme in all five colors, and it helps against color screw somehow.  With larger cubes and thus a larger card pool, I couldn’t do without it. Now I can.

9. Arcane

While splice onto arcane is just a bad idea in general, the combined arcane/spiritcraft theme is something I wish had been implemented better. However, there is just not enough good stuff – I used that theme in some of my cubes, but I always had to put up with a number of near unplayables then. Maybe, if WotC one day revisits that theme, I’ll give it another try, but until then I am glad I cut it. To not confuse beginning players with a useless supertype, I replaced all arcane spells (even those without the mechanic) with non-arcane counterparts, which was really easy.

10. Snow

While my very first cube experiment featured snow (and worked out astonishingly well), the implementation of that mechanic just doesn’t cut it, and requires fiddling around with snow-covered lands (obviously). Once I killed the mechanic, I decided to remove all cards with the snow supertype (for the same reasons as with arcane). I only miss Karplusan Wolverine, Ohran Viper and Coldsteel Heart somehow; but I found I could do without them.

11. Tribal cards except for soldiers, zombies, goblins, elves and wizards

I found that poorly supported mini-tribal themes simply didn’t work, and only a few tribes possess enough quantity and quality to be worth keeping. Wizards are already a bit thinly supported for my taste, but I really wanted at least one tribe in each color. I also cut tribes which could only be reasonably supported in two colors (essentially clerics), because they led to archetype drafting instead of synergy drafting – the decision to go for clerics left too little room for further meaningful decisions. The same is even more true for multicolor tribes like allies and slivers. I never considered humans, even though their support is steadily growing, since that tribe is a pain in the ass with older cards. I’m not going to use a theme which requires players to look up oracle wordings every five minutes or so to see what is a human and what isn’t. For similar reasons, cards which do not clearly specify which tribes they boost (like Adaptive Automaton) are out. I really miss merfolk, though, and I wish I had been able to make beasts work, but there were just not enough good choices for those tribes.

12. Color-specific hate cards, including landwalk

There is no room in Zweidritteldraft for dedicated sideboard cards, and maindeckable hate cards are just too random in a 4-player draft and serve no desirable function.

13. Off-color flashback

These cards just do not fulfill either of the roles I’d want them to: For a graveyard theme, the requirement of using another color is besides the point. For a guild theme, there are simply better choices. Also, their power level is really too different to make a useful cycle.

14. Graveyard hate

Mostly too specific to be maindeckable; not fairly distributed over the colors; not actually needed unless graveyard themes are too strong (and then still too narow).

15. Triple-colored cards costing less than 5 mana

(This means stuff like Ball Lightning, Mystic Snake or Nightveil Specter.) Too hard to cast, restricting deck-building options too much. A normal draft can get away with a couple of such cards, but in Zweidritteldraft, every cards must pull its weight in usefulness. A smooth drafting experience is something you have to actively work for as a cube designer.

16. Alternate win conditions

This means especially poisoning and milling your opponent. They reduce interaction and promote archetype drafting.

17. Banding, phasing & cumulative upkeep

Way too complicated while not offering enough.

18. Creatures using other counters than +1/+1 or -1/-1

Too confusing and mostly uninteresting anyways.

19. Cards producing 0/1 Tokens.

Okay, mostly I just don’t like those. Also, they don’t do anything which 1/1 tokens don’t do better (with the exception of eldrazi spawn tokens, which are a bit too complicated and ramp too randomly for my taste), and I just don’t really miss them.

20. Cards costing more than 8 mana.

Way too rarely castable to deserve slots in a Next Level Cube.

21. Cards with superfluous tacked-on text

Ash Zealot is an excellent example. It needlessly confuses drafters.

22. Color-affiliated lands which would be „splashed“

Like Soaring Seacliff. If I included such a card, it would be in a blue slot, but any deck might want to use it as if it was a colorless land.

23. Legendary lands

They’re just unnecessarily confusing, especially with Vesuva, which is a great design serving an important role in the very kind of cube where legendary lands would be guaranteed to show up if I used them. (I would accept them, though, if I really wanted some of them, but that is not the case.)

24. Aura- or equipment-themed cards

Too narrow, and thus not supported well enough overall. Mixing those with broader-themed cards referring to enchantments or artifacts doesn’t work too well either, so I just use the broader-themed cards.

25. Mechanics-based „tribal“

Those are cards which give bonuses to creatures with defender or flying, for instance. Right now I see no need for them, and I do not want to use them as mini-themes (mini-themes, in contrast to fully-fledged themes, tend to encourage beginning drafters to shape their whole deck around a single card, which is bad). If such a theme grows (and I like it, which will probably never be the case with defender), I might reconsider my stance. Flying is the most likely candidate here.

26. Color-affiliated cards fixing mana

Essentially, I did not want Green to be a support color for spells in other colors (which is often the case in official draft environments), but instead stand on its own. Thus, I decided to keep all mana fixing colorless. That symmetry also makes for better draft environments, because it gives me more control over color balance. I miss some kind of Civic Wayfinder for forests only, though (putting the land on the battlefield in exchange would be fine) – Wood Elves just don’t cut it, and Cartographer is a different concept.

27. Clearly defensive cards for more than 4 mana

They simply play badly. Expensive cards should not serve to prolong the game, but actively help to win it.

28. „Free“ instants

I would just say „free spells“, but I have to make allowances for stuff like Salvage Titan. Most of those don’t play well in limited, but I also want beginning players to focus on mana management, which is good gameplay. Tapped out opponents should not be able to do anything with the cards in their hands.

29. Uncounterable cards and those which explicitly punish discard

There’s no need, and it’s even counterproductive to specifically punish basic interaction like counterspells or discard in limited. If countering spells were a thing which several colors in Magic did with some regularity, being uncounterable would make more sense, just like shroud does. Split second is actually an acceptable compromise, but not developed well enough to justify its inclusion. (Once again, remember I want to cube with Magic players on all skill levels. Every mechanic I use makes things harder for them, so its play value must be worth it.)

30. Cards which do not let your opponent play the game

In contrast to interactive cards like removal, counterspells and discard spells, these stop the action and single-handedly shut down parts of an opponent’s deck: Armageddon, Winter Orb, Gaddock Teeg, Null Rod, Privileged Position, Stigma Lasher… (That last one is another example of annoying tacked-on text on an otherwise well-designed card.)

31. Hexproof

Do you really need to ask? Shroud is fine, though, if used with care. (A pinger with shroud would NOT be fine, as would a card-drawer.)

32. Creatures which must attack

They take an important decision away and create feel-bad moments. („Cannot block“ isn’t nearly as bad.)

33. Non-basic lands with basic land types

Needlessly confusing, and the ones everybody thinks about here are too strong anyways, especially with the fetch lands, which are absolutely perfect if they can only search for basic lands. The rest falls squarely into the camp of „I don’t miss them at all.“

34. Flanking

I actually like the fundamental concept of flanking a bit more than that of its brother, bushido, which is featured on a few cards in my pool, but exempting other creatures with flanking makes the machanic a bit too unwieldy.

35. Cards naming cards or requiring card naming

Requiring card naming from players is obviously out in any beginner-friendly cube. I do not like cards naming other cards at all – this is such a crude way to forcefeed intended synergies to players, and it does not work well in an environment where there is only one copy of each card. (Also, it effectively forces me to include both cards in the cube, which I do not like.) Cards naming themselves (not just referring to themselves, of course – I mean stuff like Flame Burst) are usually at least silly, if not downright awkward if there is no other copy of them around, and again confusing.

36. Phyrexian mana

Other than providing „colorless“ removal, for which I found better ways to integrate it into my cubes, I’m not sure what role these cards are supposed to play in a limited environment. Especially, I don’t like that, even if played on-color, they will usually get cast by paying life, so the colored mana option seems mostly unnecessary.

37. Cards which mention a tribe, but do not support it

Once again, these are unwieldy for unexperienced drafters: Imagine they pass an Eyeblight’s Ending, and now they consider with each creature pick if that card is an elf, because they know it might be less vulnerable to removal and thus more desirable. That eats up too much mental processing power – or creates feel-bad moments, when they ignore this, but know they shouldn’t to draft optimally. Looking for more elves when you drafted an Elvish Archdruid, on the other hand, is way easier and more rewarding.

38. Cards which are strictly better than others in my pool

This is a pet peeve of mine, but I find strictly better cards terribly inelegant (and, once again, confusing for some players). I know they are a tool to vary power level, but I am convinced that this can also be done in a more creative way. I do, of course, keep cards on different power levels in my pool, and I sometimes go for a weaker version even if I don’t feel the stronger one would be overpowered.

I’ll stop here, although there’s probably still more I can’t think of right now. If some of these criteria seem needlessly strict to you, remember one thing: I really do not need good reasons to exclude a card from my pool – I need good reasons to include it! Magic has so many cards in existence right now that one can and should be picky. If I do not like a card for any reason, no matter how irrelevant, it needs something important going for it. Otherwise, there is a better alternative.

Sometimes, I need to grudgingly accept a somehow flawed card to fulfill an important function. Overall, though, I can cherry-pick from a plethora of choices, and even flawless designs might not make the cut due to crunch reasons. It was kind of a slow process for me not to ask myself „why should I not use this card?“ instead of „why do I want/need to use it?“, since I relish the magnitude of options Magic offers, but I believe I’m almost there now!

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My Card Pool for Next Level Cubes; pre Born of the Gods Update

Since there was always some interest in my self-designed cubes, as well as in my thoughts about them (a little interest, but quite constant), I’ll keep writing about them on 00zero – or more precise: I’ll start anew to write about them. If you’re also interested in designing your own cubes (please note the vast difference between actually designing a cube and simply throwing a bunch of favorite cards together), you might want to follow my entries about this topic.

Instead of linking to my old entries on Zeromagic, I’ll give you an overview here about what exactly I’m doing (a few things have changed in the meanwhile). (If you can read German, however, you might want to look up an old PlanetMTG article of mine, where I explain the specifics of and my motivation for my self-designed limited environments in great detail: Selbstgemachte Limitedumgebungen. While not all what’s in there is still up to date, you will find a lot food for thought, and a couple of cubes I designed back then.)

Let me start with the play format I design my cubes for:

Zweidritteldraft (Two-Thirds Draft)

I never found the idea of organizing private cube drafts for 8 players appealing. Apart from space and time considerations, I wanted my cube drafts to be a gaming afternoon/evening with some friends, while 8 people felt more like a party. 4 people seems the perfect number to me for all kinds of reasons, with one important exception: Normal drafting does not work with 4 people. I had to tailor a draft variant which works well with that number, and that meant balancing a lot of factors: The size of the cube; the frequency of cards showing up, the number of cards players would end up with after drafting, how often a person would see the same booster… I won’t go into details here, but this is the best solution I came up with (and it works pretty well):

The size of my draft pools is 192 cards, making up 16 12-card boosters. The size of my cubes is obviously at least 192, but usually bigger, so that cards show up with different frequencies. My default right now is 384 cards, of which 192 are commons, of which 2/3 will be used each draft; 128 are uncommons, of which 1/3 will be used; and 64 are rares, of which also 1/3 will be used. (The difference between uncommons and rares is for booster collation only.) That means each booster contains 8 commons, 3 uncommons and 1 rare.

There are 4 booster rounds, 2 in each direction, alternating. Boosters are passed and cards are picked as usual, with an important exception: Once every player has picked two cards from a booster, the 4 remaining cards are set aside facedown (hence the term „two-thirds-draft“). Thus, at the end of the draft each player will have 32 drafted cards at their disposition. Of course, they may use basic lands in addition to construct their decks (I hand each player a box with 15 of each basic land, but there is no important reason for that restriction). As in normal drafts, minimum deck size is 40, and cards not in the maindeck constitute the player’s sideboard. In three rounds of play everyone is paired against everyone else once in best-of-three matches.

I also use two house rules concerning gameplay in my cube drafts:

1. 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.

2. 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.

Other than that, I follow the official rules of Magic, even though I don’t like several changes which were made over the last years (I especially hate the loss of putting damage on the stack, which ruined a large number of interesting interactions in limited), since they are the only reasonable basis to play Magic with a changing roster of people.

So, this is what I intend my cubes to use for. Now, for my construction guidelines:

Next Level Cubes

Initially, I refused to call my self-designed limited environments „cubes“ at all, because they were so fundamentally different from what most people expected when they heard that term. While the probably most popular cube, the MTGO Cube / Holiday Cube, is still a shining example for everything I do NOT want, usage of the word has broadened somewhat in the meanwhile to the point where it encompasses what I’m doing, and so I adopted it. I call my cubes „next level“, though, to underscore the point that they are consciously designed and meticulously structured, and not just a collection of „interesting“ cards. Here’s a number of things which are important to me:

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 impossible 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 the right amount of 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 this theme 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.

My Limited Card Pool

See, my limited card pool are the last Magic cards I keep around – okay, nearly the last, there’s always a few more – since I stopped playing competitively and gave up on constructing casual decks. To resist any temptation to start playing constructed again, as well as minimizing space requirements and financial resources tied up in cards, but also to keep cube-building manageable without having to dig through needlessly large stacks, I only want cards in this limited pool which I am positive I will actually want to use in a cube someday, avoiding close functional repeats and minimizing the amount of cards in my pool in general.

My card pool is now up-to-date including Theros (at least in theory; I still need to physically acquire a number of cards). You can look at it by opening the xls file at the bottom of this entry. I will explain my selections in a couple further entries for those who are interested in the rationale behind my selections.

About the list: First column lists the name, second the converted mana cost (# for lands; x is considered 0), third color (for practical cube-building purposes) and card category (L = land, K = creature, J = other permanents, I = instants & sorceries) – the stars show the number of colors and are only there for sorting purposes -, fourth projected rarity in a cube (balanced out for density of key cards, and overall at similar ratios to distribution in cubes), fifth affiliation to a major theme (only the most relevant one), sixth affiliation to a minor theme (again, only the most relevant one). The list is ordered alphabetically by columns C (backwards), then B, then A, which is the default view I use to skim it. If you do the same, you might get a feeling for the composition of my card pool, and thus also a bit for how I structure my cubes.

Here is the list

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A Little Magic History: 187 creatures

Another new year, another set of fresh intentions (not lying to myself calling them „resolutions“); among them, as always, the desire to blog just a little more regularly!

I just noticed – again – how estranged the younger Magic generations have become to their hobby’s roots, so I decided that I would write a few words about them whenever I feel like it.

Today’s topic are „187 creatures“, a term I believed to be still generally known, but which seems to have become obscure without me realizing it, especially outside of the US. In short, an 187 creature is a creature with an ability which triggers when that creature enters the battlefield (known later as „CIP“ – „comes into play“ – and nowadays as „ETB“ – „enters the battlefield“), and more specifically a creature whose ability removes something from the battlefield.

The use of this term dates back to 1997, when Visions was released. In earlier Magic sets, very few cards had abilities which were technically ETB triggers by modern definitions (for example, Icatian Moneychanger or Electric Eel), and a couple more would retroactively be made into having those triggers (like Earthbind or Ritual of Steel). The timing of such effects was poorly understood then; they were just supposed to happen.

Visions changed all that, or more precisely: Portal did. That set, designed to be some kind of „Magic light“ for beginning players, was not allowed to feature any card types other than „land“, „creature“ or „sorcery“. Since these restrictions, in combination with others regarding the maximum complexity of cards, made for rather stale gameplay, the designers of Portal stumbled upon the idea to create creatures which produced simple effects when they entered the battlefield (albeit not at all with that modern terminology) to spice things up a bit. Visions, although to be released a little earlier than Portal, acquired this concept gladly, leading to a few immensely popular and iconic cards: Nekrataal, Man-o‘-War, Uktabi Orangutan, and to lesser extent Knight of the Mists. (Others, like Shrieking Drake or Goblin Recruiter, would not yet be seen as belonging to that category.) Magic players soon caught on to the strength of these creatures with added effect, aided by the rise of widespread limited play in that era. (Note that back then triggered abilities were even a bit stronger than today, because under the old rules, they could not be responded to!)

Someone must have noticed that these abilities felt as if the creature itself was „killing“ the permanent, and drawn parallels to human criminals committing murder. „187“ is the section in the Californian Penal Code referencing murder, and that number – pronounced „one-eight-seven“ – had already become a slang term in gang parlance for that crime, and subsequently – promoted by hiphop songs – all over the world. California, at that time, was extremely influential in the Magic scene, not the least because of the existence of the Pacific Coast Legends, the first professional Magic players team, founded by – among others – Mark Chalice, Preston Poulter and Henry Stern, and soon also featuring Mark Justice. If these people started to call those creatures from Visions „187 creatures“, that term was certain to enter the conscience of dedicated Magic players all over the world soon, and once it had been described and explained in The Duelist, the print magazine about Magic WotC used to publish back then, every semi-competitive player could be expected to be familiar with it.

When a growing number of creatures with ETB triggers were printed, many of those not exactly „murdering“ something (like Gravedigger or Venerable Monk), that term gradually fell out of favor and was replaced with „comes into play“. I suppose that another reason might have been WotC realizing that promoting a slang expression for murder might not be the best move with regard to public relations, and thus actively avoiding it and instead using the new term. I guess you might still come upon it from time to time, especially when reading articles from US-based players or watching their streams – so if it used to confuse you: Now you know!

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Thoughts about a winning RW Theros draft deck

This might or might not have been my last Theros-only draft. I am half-heartedly resolved to focus on other things than Magic for a while and return to drafting when the next set enters the environment. Also, the format begins to feel a little worn out to me after several dozen drafts. It’s fascinating, though, that some people allowed to publish on major Magic sites like this clueless guy here still don’t get it after about two months!

See, I have not only been winning a fair share of my matches overall with my drafting philosophy, with a spike in the beginning, when the set was fresh and many people fell for the LSV/Sutcliffe/Görtzen misinformation conspiracy, so that I could „make money“ in 8-4s for a while; and then settling for the slow drain of a ca. 70% win percentage in swiss drafts, which meant I was effectively paying for my drafts again, but very little. I also observed that the decks I lost to looked and played stunningly like the ones I drafted and built. I lost to Traveling Philosopher and Bronze Sable a lot, but almost never to Silent Artisan or Burnished Hart (okay, I’m not sure how often I even saw the former, but the latter I encountered very frequently), and I don’t remember ever forfeiting a match to a three- (or more) colored abomination (although some single games, which I found frustratingly enough), with which I was confronted commonly.

The dynamics I had envisioned for this environment have become reality: It is fast, requires board presence, and rewards actively trying to win the game with big plays, with UB constituting the only archetype being able to somehow comfortably play for the real lategame. Decks which durdle around or clump on generic chaff in the 4-6 mana range like Borderland Minotaur or Vulpine Goliath just do not beat either hyper-aggressive decks, strongly synergistic decks, focussed tempo decks or the UB control deck.

The following winning list is somehow symptomatic for this environment:

The deck showcases very nicely how weak single cards can be you get away playing with if you have a clear focus, a low curve, the right amount of creature enhancers (WAY more than Simon Görtzen would have you believe) and strong synergies. See those two copies each of Priest of Iroas and Bronze Sable, two of the most-maligned commons? If you tried your hands at RW aggro and never quite got it to work, maybe it was because you played Lagonna-Band Elder, Borderland Minotaur, Setessan Griffin and an extra land instead. (I know some people would.)

This deck also shows the progression from the all-in RW heroic design Caleb Durward once described. Just as I predicted, that style didn’t last long once it became known, because its key cards came into higher demand, and people learned to have answers for single big heroic threats ready. There are still heroic elements in here, but it’s only four creatures: Akroan Crusader (which did a good job), Arena Athlete (which did a great job), Phalanx Leader (which did a stellar job) and Labyrinth Champion (which I failed to draw even a single time). Instead, I have more generic creatures, encasing my heroic synergies in a traditional beatdown approach instead of solely focussing on them. A crucial pick in my draft demonstrates this nicely, when I took Coordinated Assault over Wingsteed Rider at the beginning of the second booster round, since at that time I already knew that my deck was heading into a direction where it needed the instant more. (In a vacuum, I would pick the Rider instead.) I could often simply overrun my opponent with lightning-fast starts backed up by enhancers, and if they managed to stem the early bleeding, that cost them the resources to deal with the big play I could follow my early offense up with.

To conclude this entry, let me describe how the final game of this draft went: My BW opponent started with Asphodel Wanderer into Ordeal of Erebos. My 2nd turn Akroan Hoplite on the draw looked glacially slow in comparison, and was even stopped by his follow-up of Baleful Eidolon, with which it traded when it attacked. Things looked really grim for me then. On my next turn, I put Satyr Rambler and Priest of Iroas into play and braced for the impact of the Wanderer and the sacrificed Ordeal, to which I discarded Mountain and Bronze Sable and was now down to two cards in hand.

On my next turn, I drew a second Plains and could now play my Phalanx Leader. I also got my first damge in with Rambler and Priest, putting my opponent to 17. Of course, he hit me back with his Wanderer, and I was now at 7 life, facing a 4/4 regenerator. However, my opponent was stuck on three lands, and either could not play anything else (not too unlikely, since I guess his deck was rather slow overall and just had a lucky godly start) or did not want to tap out to preserve the option of regenerating the Wanderer (although there are very few scenarios where this would come up after his attack).

I then drew the Last Breath I had sided in and which I had hoped to draw before his Wanderer spiralled out of control. It may seem useless at that time – but it was actually a superb draw, since the other card in my hand was Ordeal of Heliod! So, I put the Ordeal on my Leader, then targetted it with the Breath, which got countered on resolution. Then I attacked with everything. The Ordeal triggered, and suddenly I was back at 17 life, beating my opponent down to 6 with a 3/3 Priest, a 4/3 Rambler and a 4/4 Leader! My opponent conceded here – a bit prematurely, but I can see his point…

Just in case that this is my last entry this year, let me raise my imaginary glass and bring out a toast: Here’s to Bronze Sable!

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Winning a Theros draft with WB Aggro

Well, obviously posting a pictured walkthrough was not worth the effort, since it generated very little interest, so I’m back to just showing you a winning deck. I’m not doing this with every deck which wins an event; but only when I think that the deck in question is particularly interesting, or if I happen to feel like it (actually, the former condition serves mostly to make the latter more likely).

BW aggro is one of the less common archetypes in Theros draft, since Black lends itself more to controllish builds; aggressive White works better with all other colors; and BW in particular gives you cards which work best in control (Scholar of Athreos , Sentry of the Underworld). However, there are a couple of black cards which support this strategy, and sometimes you just happen to pair White with them.

I started my draft with Phalanx Leader over Shipbreaker Kraken (since the Leader is simply stronger), and was rewarded with a second pick Wingsteed Rider. Third pick it was decision time: My options were Voyage’s End and Ordeal of Erebos. The instant is the stronger card in a vacuum, but my first two picks already gave me a clear direction I wanted to take, and in this kind of deck, the aura is simply stellar. Other factors which influenced my decision were – if I remember correctly – a Boon of Erebos in that pack, which I believed could wheel (I think it did), my experiences with aggressive black cards often going quite late in a draft, and my desire to try out something new instead of WU heroic. This worked out exceptionally well: I got an unbelievable amount of playables, although I started hatepicking as early as in the middle of the second booster, because I knew that I didn’t need mediocre cards in my colors, or cards which did not fit my strategy (I passed two Scholar of Athreos that way). In the end, my sideboard contained quite a number of cards I would not have minded at all to maindeck, and even a BW rare some people consider to be an easy firstpick, but which would have been little more than an unexciting vanilla creature in my deck. Take a look:

Unfortunately, I never drew Fabled Hero in any of my eight games, and I also never landed a 2nd turn Ordeal, but obviously I cannot complain overall. I sideboarded Cavern Lampad against RG, Dark Betrayal against BRw minotaur tribal, and Viper’s Kiss against UW (featuring Master of Waves), each time replacing Fleshmad Steed.

Remarkable situations included an epic board stall aginst RG, which finally culminated in a turn when my opponent killed my bestowed Erebos’s Emissary with Destructive Revelry, used Boulderfall on me (bringing me down to 3 life), and finally attacked with Nessian Courser, Nylea’s Disciple, a monstrous Ill-Tempered Cyclops, a monstrous Polis Crusher with Fleetfeather Sandals, and a monstrous Nemesis of Mortals with Leafcrown Dryad bestowed on it. I blocked each of his creatures with one of mine, killed everything but the Nemesis, lost only one creature myself, took no damage from the attack and killed him from 21 life on the backswing. If you wonder how that happened, I’ll just tell you I had Phalanx Leader in play…

The last game in the finals was really close. My opponent was screwed during his first turns, and I was flooded all game. After I got a few hits in with double Tormented Hero, he piled auras and bestow creatures on his Wavecrash Triton, while I went to attacking with a pair of Sentry of the Underworld in the air whenever they happened to be untapped. Finally, he had stopped my assault, but was only on two life. My second-last card in hand was Viper’s Kiss, which I put on my Tormented Hero bestowed with Erebos’s Emissary. When my opponent responded with Griptide, I used my last card, Battlewise Valor, to win the game, the match, and the tournament.

The fundamental lesson is still this: The strength of a deck is not just the sum of the (perceived) strength of its cards. Fleshmad Steed was way stronger in this deck than Triad of Fates could have been. Theros draft is, like Zendikar draft was, a deckbuilder’s paradise: The most important things are a good curve, the right mix of functional elements, and strong synergies. However, just like Zendikar, it’s a bit of hell for good players, since games between good decks come down to drawing your cards in the perfect order much more often than in other environments. Naturally, this means that I quite like Theros draft – just as I liked Zendikar!

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I found a new tool: A pictured draft walkthrough

I just asked Ormus about a tool to convert the text-based Magic Online draft files into a pictured walkthrough, and he sent me this link. Had I known such a thing existed, I would’ve used it a lot already!

For a test ballot, I will cover a draft I did yesterday. Tell me how you like this format, and if you’re interested in lowly Swiss-winning decks at all!


–>  Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

This was a choice between the rare and the two Emissaries. I guess many will value the bestow creatures higher, but these two are actually the ones I like least. This is because, if bestow costs more than five mana, I treat it merely as a bonus on the creature. 4 mana for a 3/3 with trample is fine, but not spectacular, while the black Emissary, on the other hand, is not a worse card than Anthousa, but doesn’t synergize too well with the cards which I want to see the most if trying to get into black (short version: I want my creatures on the board, not in hand; and I want the game to go a little longer, not to end it faster). Triggering Anthousa for profit is actually not too easy to do, but the card’s stats are pretty solid by itself, and the threat alone can change the dynamics of a game completely.

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

Simply the best card.

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:

My choices in U/G are Aqueous Form and Vulpine Goliath – a solid card, and a somehow playable one (the aura is the solid one, if you wonder), but I’m certainly not set in either color yet, and I will not miss the opportunity to try out a much stronger third pick. The Oread and the Disciple are both a bit stronger, but not strong enough to be really appealing as picks in a new color, so I go for a multicolor card. Here, the Singer is probably the strongest, and it goes at least with the Naiad I already have, so I’ll have an eye out on U/B.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:

Not a good pack to choose from in my situation. Best single-colored card is Battlewise Valor, but it is not so good that I will now take my first white card. I had to decide if I wanted the Horse, which actually not many decks really want, or take another double-colored card and see if I’ll end up playing it. If I already had had something of a clue which colors I wanted to end up in, I might have just taken the Harpy or the Form, but since these are in the end replacable, I preferred to commit to keeping my options open a little longer.

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:

This might not have been the best choice. I looked at the contents of this booster, saw several cards which a U/B deck would want, subconsciously decided I had to go for these colors, and took the best card for that type of deck. However, both the Cure and Omenspeaker are nearly as good in U/B, but a lot stronger in other decks, so Phalanx is actually only the third-best pick here. (Triton Tactics would be another contender in a vacuum, but it makes sense to priorize options for Dimir when you see such a booster, and the Tactics are at their worst in that guild, although still quite useful.) In hindsight, Omenspeaker would have been correct.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:

Since I was clearly not on track for a deck where Boon of Erebos shines, this is the logical pick.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:

I already debated Scourgemark vs Coastline Chimera when I realized I was about to make the mistake of deciding on my colors too early. If I take the Warrior here, I miss out on a card which in the end may or may not make a U/B deck; but if I don’t, I miss out on the option to craft a synergetic U/G deck if the following boosters allow for it. Theros boosters are usually deep enough in quality that I can afford to postpone the decision which colors I want for another pack.

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:

Aaaaaaaaand here comes the pick which makes me look like a genius! So maybe I SHOULD be in Green. At this point, a good enabler was a tad more important than another strong, but clumsy creature which needed to be enabled. Also, Feral Invocation is great with 2-drops, and I always try to run enough of those.

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:

So why did I take the Hoplite here? Because I could see there wasn’t a single card in this pack I’d end up playing, not only because they were unexciting, but because they did not even fit the direction my decks were going. I have enough experience drafting Theros that I can usually judge if I desperately need cards to fill out my decks, and that was not yet the case here. Hoplite, however, can be instrumental in beating me if I have a slow draw, so I hate it.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:

If you followed the flow of the packs in this booster round, you might have noticed how each color seemed to be open at different times. Here, it’s Red’s turn. This is a good lesson in not interpreting too much into weak signals. Now, I know I will play some combination of Blue, Green and Black, so the Minotaur is the easy pick. It’s not much more exciting than my on-color options in the previous pack, but I know I might actually play it if I end up Dimir, since it fits in there.

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

Same logic again, but this time looking at U/G. I’m not a big fan of the fox at all, but in this deck it can have a place.

Pack 1 pick 12:

My Pick:

Although it is unlikely to make the cut in Dimir, in Simic the Form is better than the Minotaur is in U/B, and it actually has strong synergy with my former picks in that guild.

Pack 1 pick 13:

My Pick:

The instant goes better with the picks I already have, but it is unlikely to make the cut, and I might pick up a couple Nemesis of Mortals later.

Pack 1 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 1:

My Pick:

If I’d already had a good number of cheaper creatures in my pool, I would have grabbed the Revenge, but the opposite was the case. Also, the Dryad really goes excellently with my other U/G picks so far, both as a bestow creature and as a creature to be enhanced with an aura. Finally, in a vacuum, it is a simply a better pick than the Revenge. Yes, it is. No, I’m not kidding. Oh, and both cards are better than a second Singer for a Dimir deck would be, and Chimera and Read the Bones follow a little further behind.

Pack 2 pick 2:

My Pick:

I’d LOVED to pick up Vaporkin here, but the only thing my U/G deck is missing more than good 2-drops is good bounce. (No, Sea God’s Revenge is NOT „bounce“ in deckbuilding terms – it’s a lategame card.) Also, at this point I no longer doubt that I’m drafting the U/G tempo deck.

Pack 2 pick 3:

My Pick:

I nearly despaired when I saw that pack. The only cards here which I really like to maindeck need red or white mana. I didn’t need another expensive creature, I didn’t want the Piper, which is just not good, and I did not want Dissolve, which just doesn’t go well with building up board presence, which is crucial in Theros draft, and especially in U/G tempo. I would’ve snapdrafted Bronze Sable over everything in this pack, but it wasn’t in there. Just a second before time ran out, I took the Centaurs, which were most likely (read: least unlikely) to make my deck.

Pack 2 pick 4:

My Pick:

Seeing that I only have one bounce spell so far to deal with opposing creatures, that my curve is rather high, and that Time to Feed can profitably target Staunch-Hearted Warrior or Anthousa, this is an easy pick. Wavecrash Triton isn’t bad, but not the kind of card I had to be afraid to have too few of. Sable IS that kind of card, but the removal is still more important.

Pack 2 pick 5:

My Pick:

This fits the deck perfectly. At this point, I am mainly concerned about my curve.

Pack 2 pick 6:

My Pick:

Shredding Winds is a solid sideboard card, but I preferred to hate a card which sometimes just wins.

Pack 2 pick 7:

My Pick:

This is about the best card I could have wished for to make my deck tick. I realized, though, that I might miss the Omenspeaker later.

Pack 2 pick 8:

My Pick:

Slam down the 2-drop, obviously!

Pack 2 pick 9:

My Pick:

Now this card is what Pheres-Band Centaurs wish they were.

Pack 2 pick 10:

My Pick:

Okay, I’ll find room in my deck for another one.

Pack 2 pick 11:

My Pick:

Once again, instead of picking something I KNOW I don’t need, I rather hate a strong card.

Pack 2 pick 12:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 13:

My Pick:

Yes, it’s the better card.

Pack 2 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 1:

My Pick:

Can you believe I was actually HAPPY to firstpick that Scorpion? It helped to fill a gaping hole in my deck. Never forget that in draft, you’re building your deck as you go.

Pack 3 pick 2:

My Pick:

I was way more disappointed with my second pick, especially seeing how good cards in other colors were. The Warrior is fine, of course, but a good 2-drop or 3-drop would have helped me more.

Pack 3 pick 3:

My Pick:

Now that a have another Warrior, and those 2 chimeras, a second of these is certainly not too many.

Pack 3 pick 4:

My Pick:

It’s all about not just picking the best cards, but what your deck needs most. Both green creatures are stronger, of course, but Omenspeaker is not just a 2-drop I desperately need; it’s a 2-drop which sets up all those mini-comboes I have, helps against both flood and screw in a deck with a rather high curve, and becomes big enough with Feral Instinct that neither Lash of the Whip nor Rage of Purphoros can kill it. If you do not understand why this pick is crucially correct, you are still struggling with understanding Theros draft, and the fundamentals of good drafting in general.

Pack 3 pick 5:

My Pick:

In a deck with the perfect curve, I would have taken the Ordeal, but I was far from that. I wasn’t unhappy at all to take one of the best commons in the set, though.

Pack 3 pick 6:

My Pick:

Nessian Asp! Time to Feed! Two excellent cards I’d love to run in my deck. But once again, I take the card I NEED instead.

Pack 3 pick 7:

My Pick:

Same here.

Pack 3 pick 8:

My Pick:

At this point, I realize that I will actually manage to complete a focussed deck, albeit barely.

Pack 3 pick 9:

My Pick:

When I saw this aura, I knew it would make the cut.

Pack 3 pick 10:

My Pick:

No, I will NOT run another fox, thank you.

Pack 3 pick 11:

My Pick:

Nothing in here for me.

Pack 3 pick 12:

My Pick:

Nice to get a late copy of that sideboard card.

Pack 3 pick 13:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 15:

My Pick:

(This draft converter was created by Benjamin Peebles-Mundy.)

 

This led to the following deck:

I ran the fox as an impact card, since I realized that I wanted 16 lands to go with my Voyaging Satyrs. In a better world, the fox would have been a Nessian Asp, and the Annul sitting in the sideboard and replaced by, say, a Voyage’s End, but seeing how late I settled in my colors, and how many picks I spent on off-color cards, I cannot complain.

Strangely, I never encountered a deck where Gainsay or Shredding Winds would have helped me, so I never sideboarded anything.

My matches went mostly as planned. I got on the board early and relentlessly, creating huge threats and tempo swings with my auras and bestow creatures. One game, I used Triton Tactics to ambush a 5/5 Nessian Courser by untapping two Staunch-Hearted Warrior – that was fun! Omenspeaker really helped me out in almost any situation. The fox was okay, but unnervingly slow. I’ll never understand why so many drafters immediately hide any Bronze Sable in their card pool, but treat the clumsy 6-drop like something precious.

So, I won a tournament – although only a swiss – with a rather mediocre deck. Two lessons can be learned here:

1) Theros offers enough playables that you do not need to panic if you go into the second booster round without a clear direction.

2) Don’t just pick cards, DRAFT A DECK. It cannot be said often enough. A heap of impressive-looking, expensive cards is not a deck. A deck has a curve. Bronze Sable is your friend.

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Three new winning Theros draft decklists

I’m no longer recording my drafts – probably until the next set comes out – but I guess you might like to see my winning deck lists. Posting those is certainly a lot less effort, and MagicBlogs gives me the tools to display them easily in a very nice way, so here we go!

I did five more drafts since my last published draft. In my fifth draft, I lost in the semis with a very nice B/g deck when I was screwed on B with 11 Swamp in the deck twice against GW heroic. I then took down my sixth draft with my most controllish build so far:

I left two Vaporkin and a Prescient Chimera in my sideboard to streamline this deck. This won’t happen often, but it was the correct choice here.

For my seventh draft, I got an excellent WR heroic deck, but once again fell in the semis, this time to a strong UG tempo deck when I had slower starts twice. But in my eighth draft luck was with me again, when I didn’t have more than one bad draw per match with the following deck:

I drew Purphoros only once. He did his job then.

In my ninth draft, I managed another win with this beauty (note that it is not nearly as strong as my other RW heroic deck which didn’t make it to the finals – draw skills still matter):

Note that I switched from W/g to W/r as late as in the third booster round (guess which card I opened!), which was possible because I had few green cards so far, already picked up a couple red, and could be sure that White was underdrafted. Another point of interest may be that I cast my Hopeful Eidolon for one mana roughly as often as I bestowed it.

For those among you who judge the validity of my theories by my results only (which is wrong, but I know some still do), this is my complete track record in Theros draft so far:

Release queues:
2-1 in a Swiss
2-1 in a 4-3-2-2

Published videos (all 8-4):
0-1
3-0
2-1
3-0

Later drafts (all 8-4):
1-1
3-0
1-1
3-0
3-0

That’s 23-6 overall, 19-4 in 8-4 queues, and winning 48 boosters in eleven drafts (44 in eight 8-4s). Also, my rating has gone up roughly 100 points during that time (I’d been in a ditch of ca. 1760 since Modern Masters). If such numbers are the thing that convinces you, here you go!

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Watching Drafts vs Watching the Matches Afterwards

The numbers are pretty clear: Among my draft videos, the drafts themselves get twice as many clicks as my matches with the drafted decks afterwards. While different explanations are possible (watchers returning to the drafts more often for analysis purposes, for example), it makes most sense to assume that people just aren’t as interested in seeing me play those decks as in following my draft decisions, and those few voices which gave me feedback on my question hereabout support this, even if they say they clicked all my videos once.

Now, I can see where that is coming from! For one thing, I wholeheartedly agree that the drafting process itself is the most interesting part. Also, I said myself that I am not that great a player – thus it follows that there is less to learn by watching me play than watching me draft. There’s a caveat here, though: I do actually not play worse than most other players publishing draft videos – at least not worse than they do in their published games – and even clearly better than several of them, even with all my deficiencies. But then again, this isn’t about grading on a curve. If my gameplay isn’t exemplary, then it may not be instructive enough to justify spending time watching me play. It that was my only reason to do so, I certainly would not take the time to produce and upload those videos!

However, my gameplay is not why you should watch my matches after watching my drafts. Just as Jörn said in his comment: The point of the match videos is to validate my drafts! See, of course I want you to believe my theories about Theros draft; but I want to convince you, not have you blindly trust me. You should take the trouble to examine if my ideas are in concordance with reality, and to do that, you need to watch the games I play with the decks I draft.

Validation is not about my results only. Certainly, it says something that I was able to win two of my four 8-4 drafts so far and reach the finals of another. This is especially true because I am not that great a player, pointing towards my decks being strong enough to carry me to victory without overly clever input from me. But variance is still going strong in Magic, and the sample size of my published drafts is obviously rather small. (Also, you might not trust me when I assure you that I published all drafts I recorded instead of selecting those where I did better.)

To be really able to judge the advisability of my draft strategy – and, more importantly, to fully understand it, so that you can implement it yourself! – you need to see for yourself how my games shaped up; how I won, and how I lost. Were the perceived strengths of my decks responsible for carrying me to victory? Did they sport weaknesses which caused their downfall?

Assessing how lucky I was when I won, and how unlucky when I lost, puts my results in perspective. (Also, if a clear misplay might have decided a game, as in my first game first round first draft, when I overlooked on my last turn that my Fanatic of Mogis could have attacked for the possible win, you need to seperate a player’s shortcomings from those of their deck.) Still, even if you find that the validity of my ideas has been confirmed, this should not be enough for you: Only seeing how and why they work imparts the necessary understanding to put them into practice yourself, adjust them to specific situations, and improve on them.

That is why I took the time and effort to upload all matches in addition to the drafts, and why I will not go on publishing only the drafts themselves, even though this would go a LOT faster: Seeing how my decks actually play gives my draft analysis the necessary context. You can fast-forward those videos, if you like, which also has the merit of saving you from my blathering, but you should make sure to understand how these games unfold, or you aren’t taking away as much from my drafts as you should.

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