Schlagwort-Archiv: pool

My Limited Card Pool: Born of the Gods 2nd Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: Born of the Gods Update

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

But first, the obligatory barrage of links:

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

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

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

Black Non-Creature Spells

Green Lands & Creatures

Green Non-Creature Spells

Blue Lands & Creatures

Blue Non-Creature Spells

Red Lands & Creatures

Red Non-Creature Spells

Multicolor with White

Multicolor without White

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

Limited-Pool (BNG update)

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

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

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

1. more heroic

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

2. more bestow

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

3. more enchantrips

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

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

4. more scry

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

5. more cross-color creatures

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

6. inspired

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

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

7. tribute

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

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

8. devotion on non-creature spells

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

9. multicolor gods

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

10. tap-activated auras

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

11. other tap enablers

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

12. archetypes

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

13. enchantment theme cards

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

14. silly tribal

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

So, what did make it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: 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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