Schlagwort-Archiv: Zweidritteldraft

My Limited Card Pool: Black Non-Creature Spells

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

Black Lands & Creatures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: Black Lands & Creatures

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

Lands & Artifact Creatures

Non-Creature Artifacts

White Lands & Creatures

White Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: White Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

White Non-Creature Spells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Limited Card Pool: White Lands and Creatures

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

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

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

White Lands & Creatures

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

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

About the lands:

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

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

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

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

About the creatures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-Creature Artifacts

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

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

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

A few card-specific notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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