Highball: Legacy of the Rails

Agree to disagree on Linarch Veteran, I guess--its performance in MID was definitely not because of the lifegain deck--and agreed on Covetous Castaway not quite getting there. I really wish that card had an ETB trigger rather than a death trigger. Time for customs, right? As for the Hermit, I haven't had the same issues do to it being an occasional and fairly telegraphed, but you're absolutely right that it's obnoxious in Standard, lol.
 
Agree to disagree on Linarch Veteran, I guess--its performance in MID was definitely not because of the lifegain deck--and agreed on Covetous Castaway not quite getting there. I really wish that card had an ETB trigger rather than a death trigger. Time for customs, right? As for the Hermit, I haven't had the same issues do to it being an occasional and fairly telegraphed, but you're absolutely right that it's obnoxious in Standard, lol.
Oh I totally agree that Lunarch Veteran was a nice roleplayer in Midnight Hunt limited. I just don't think the price structure is really conducive to where my white creatures want to be. 1/1 creatures in this format need to have some relevant synergies or else they just get left behind in this format, unfortunately.
 
Theorycrafting some Improvements.
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Before we begin, It's important to note that the version of the cube I will be discussing can be found at the link below:

So, first I want to go over several things that have worked well.

What Worked
1) The Uneven Gold Section and Asymmetrical Land Cycles have been a Huge Success
I purposefully added 2 more cards per enemy-color gold section compared to their allied color counterparts to help push Wedge-color decks without completely invalidating ally-focused strategies. This has let me maintain an experience that is still essentially color-balanced while effectively doubling the number of possible cards per enemy color deck. Sultai, Abzan, and Golgari players won't have to fight tooth and nail for the efficient GB spells that are important to these decks. Likewise, it lets me play cool enemy-colored cards such as Bring to Light without having to worry as much about "wasting" a slot that could be spent on interaction or signposts.

As for the lands, I decided to not include full cycles for certain land types because some cycles are not complete or are fundamentally imbalanced. For example, I run the Horizon Lands, which are only available in the enemy colors and GW. Instead of excluding these cards for perfect balance, I chose to include the enemy horizon lands only and add the ally checklands to balance things out. Likewise, I wanted to run the manlands, but the UR and RW members of this cycle don't mesh with what those color pairs want to be doing. So, I replaced those two cards with more checklands. This seems to work pretty well, as it gives players access to better mana for what they need.

2) Increased Consistency is Great
A main focus of this version of the Cube was trying to enable the most consistent play patterns for my main archetypes. This has worked very well. Multiple versions of key effects and high redundancy for cantrips and filter spells has really helped to streamline the experience. This leads decks to operate like their specific constructed counterparts, which was a huge priority. Likewise, players can skip on less interesting key effects earlier in the draft in favor of more unique "cool" cards and not be punished because there is enough redundancy to let everything even out. Obviously skipping a Ponder for Soulflayer will probably make your deck worse, but skipping Serum Visions for Hooting Mandrills won't

3) The Tight, High Power Band is Wonderful
I was worried that raising the power level of the Cube would make the gameplay become too bomb-oriented. I've been finding the opposite to be true. Games seem very focused on interaction and efficient resource usage and not who can slam the better 6-drop, something which has actually been an issue in some of my previous Cubes. I'm partially chalking this up to the high density of roughly similar removal and the overall tempo orientation of the format. Even some cards which are often considered to be GRBS by many have been perfectly healthy here. I really like the way the format is currently balanced.

Obviously, there are still some Power Outliers, but they're not cards that "ruin the game" in a way a bomb permanent can. They're mostly just cards that fuel other cool cards and make decks run at maximum efficiency, which I view as a net positive.

4) The Gameplay Feels Right
Above all else, the gameplay feels right! I remember sitting down for my first game with this variant of the Cube and feeling like I was playing through a match at the Standard FNM when I was 12. "Feel" is maybe a bit subjective, but I still think I got it right.

All that having been said, there's a reason why the Cubecobra link refers to this as a "sketch," and that's because the Cube is still heavily unpolished. There are still several imperfections that I wish to work out at some point in the near future.

What needs to Change
1) Early Draft Picks are too Hard
As I stated in a discussion in Landofmordor's Cube Thread, I think early picks in my Cube are too difficult right now. The power level of the cards is very consistent. This leads to great gameplay, but it can lead to situations where players will think "every card in this pack is roughly the same quality and I don't know what to pick." While having packs full of good cards is usually a good thing, in this case, it's just making it harder to draft the Cube. If a pack doesn't have a fetchland or Ponder, it can be tough to choose a first card.

Take a look at this pack:
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Is there really a clear pick here? Every one of these cards are good role players in multiple decks. However, none of them really jump off the page as "I want to draft in a certain direction because of this card." I think the best P1P1 here is probably Waterlogged Grove, which isn't exactly providing a great direction other than "vaguely simic." I think this is a problem. While many of my players can correctly identify the "obvious" picks (Fixing),

The same issue can be seen with this pack:
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There are a ton of really good cards in here that I'm happy to play in many decks. But the only thing that jumps out is Sinister Sabatoge, and that's only because it's kind of mediocre compared to the rest of the cards here. I do not like how difficult choosing a first pick can be, because it makes the draft harder and more stressful.

This brings me to a philosophical point that I think is important to discuss that I have not yet had a good place to mention. When you're building a Cube that feels like playing constructed, it is important to have a reason to justify drafting. Otherwise, you'd likely be able to get better results by simply building a deck library/gauntlet. While there are a few reasons why I think a draftable Cube is most amicable to my goals, above all else, Drafting is fun! It's a cool experience to get to sit down and build a deck on the fly without knowing what you'll be getting in the first place. That element of discovery is really unique in 2022 Magic. Cubes are a great way to facilitate this medium of the game because they can usually provide a more balanced and more interesting experience than simply using the latest retail limited set. However, if the draft portion isn't fun, then it kind of undermines the rest of the experience. I don't want players sitting down and having to make anxiety-inducing decisions in what is ultimately a casual format. While I'm ok with people saying "every card in this pack is good!," I don't want them following that up with "I don't know what to take." If packs look like the two examples above on average, where everything is ok but nothing stands out, the draft experience can be cheapened. The worst experience in the world is to draft a deck and be unsatisfied with the results when there were several other viable options you could have picked.

"Hard packs" isn't a universal problem, though, as packs can and do have cool first pickable cards quite often. Take this pack:
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Stoneforge Mystic and to a slightly lesser extent Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver are both extremely cool and powerful cards that make me want to take my deck in a certain direction and heavily reward me for playing certain colors. Cards like these give players a direction to aspire towards and can assist in making later picks. If I have a Stoneforge Mystic, I'm going to want to continue to take the good White cards and any powerful equipment I see. This helps to limit the number of interesting cards for players who are trying to have a more casual draft experience and aren't focused on spiking out over every pick.

A recurring theme of these packs is that there is an awful blue card that just doesn't mesh well with the power level of the Cube. This brings me to my next point...

2) The Blue section is a Mess

I'll be honest, I think I did a poor job constructing my Blue section here. Blue isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a bunch of individually bad cards. As a result, Blue has ended up being the most powerful supporting color in the entire Cube, but isn't an inspiring base color in it's own right. I guess this is kind of true to Theros-Khans Standard, where all of the "blue" decks were basically just excuses to play Dig Through Time (until Dragons of Tarkir released and printed some toys for Mono-Blue devotion again and Magic Origins gave us the Thopter deck, but I wouldn't exactly call either of those decks defining features of the era). However, some of the "Gen X Modern" influences I'm hoping to capture really should have blue as a main component. Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise were running amok in Delver and Scapshift decks, Infect and Splinter Twin were both powerful archetypes abusing blue, control was popular, and even a version of Affinity that still ran actual cards with the affinity for artifacts keyword were all tearing up tables. I think my Blue section could play into this diversity better.

I didn't have a clear vision for my Blue section when I was constructing the Cube, and I was dealing with some medical issues when I was finishing the first version to be drafted. As such, my Blue section feels very under-developed compared to the other colors. While my Cantrip, Card Draw, and Countermagic Suites are all pretty well-rounded (there are some weird cantrips but as a whole it works), the rest of the section is not. I ported a lot of cards into this version of the Cube from previous iterations. Things like Nightveil Sprite and Champion of Wits were perfectly good cards in my older Cubes, but they aren't particularly competitive here. About 25-30 of the Mono-Blue Cards are good fits, another 10-15 are decent but not great, and the rest are bad and simply shouldn't be here. Even a couple of the thematically appropriate "nostalgia plants" like Pearl Lake Ancient and Sinister Sabatoge (which is a second copy of Dissolve) are just not working. While leaning into nostalgia a bit is fine when building a cube that is supposed to invoke the feeling of an era, the Blue section has essentially proven that gameplay still needs to come first. Even if something is a good thematic fit or has good gameplay elsewhere, that doesn't mean it's good here. That leads me to my next point...

3) Sphinx's Tutelage isn't Sparking Joy Anymore

I was really excited to finally make the Sphinx's Tutelage deck work. After being impressed with Teferi's Tutelage in the MTG Arena holiday Cube and crunching the numbers, I thought I would be able to make this deck work. There are enough redundant copies of Sphinx's Tutelage or similar cards to let players have a deck with roughly similar ratios to the original Standard variant. A significant portion of the work I did on my Blue section before my health issues was to ensure Tutelage could work as a turbo-mill deck. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball a bit. While Tutelage+Raw Card Draw is a good way to win the game, it needs to be backed up by board wipes to stop it from dying to aggro and midrange. This wasn't an issue in the Arena Cube because Teferi's Tutelage was a control card through and through. Here, though, the Tutelages are meant to be played more as engines instead of pillowfort wincons. I purposefully didn't include any Red or Blue board wipes as I thought they were too parasitic to be good. As such, the Tutelage deck ended up falling flat. While it still can do its thing, the singleton version of this deck really can't compete without getting a lucky faithless looting opener and drawing well into removal. After realizing my error, I've come to the conclusion that I should probably cut the deck. As much as it pains me, I don't think I can justify taking the steps to make this deck fully functional. I would have to play super parasitic cards like Dictate of Kruphix and Monastery Siege or niche effects like Anger of the Gods which don't mesh well with many decks in order to pull this off. While going non-singleton on Faithless Looting would absolutely help, I still don't think it's going to get me where I want to be with this deck. With this change, I'm unfortunately eliminating an archetype that was really cool and unique to this Cube. This leads me to my next issue...

4) Certain Archetypes feel too Generic.

Some decks just don't feel all that closely tied to the theme of the Cube. Some of the archetypes which were designed as broader versions of semi-specialized constructed decks don't quite hit the mark. For example, the Esper Dragons archetype has a similar play pattern to the deck that inspired it, but it doesn't "feel" like a Dragons deck. It has the correct gameplay loop (stall in the early game, wipe the board, and then refuel with Dig Through Time), but it doesn't feel like a Dragon deck. Many of the dragon-specific cards are just not good at this power level, and I don't currently have enough good dragons for people to win with dragons consistently. So even though playing Esper control feels like a deck that could have existed in 14/15, it doesn't feel like the deck it's supposed to emulate, Esper Dragons. The biggest offender is Mono-White, which saw fringe Standard play and was decent in Modern in 2014/15, but doesn't look like the version in the Cube. While the White deck is fun, it doesn't quite feel like anything specific. While this isn't an issue for every deck, I would like more decks to mirror their past counterparts a little bit closer. I'm ok with decks like Mono-White being a bit off the beaten trail as long as most of the other decks feel right, but I don't think that's entirely the case right now. I know achieving this goal is possible, because decks like Abzan Midrange and Sultai Whip feel perfect, and Red Aggro is very close to being right. I simply must continue the refining process until I can get the archetypes to a position I'm satisfied with.

5) White needs more Three Drops.
This point is exactly what it says on the tin. White is supposed to be a very proactive aggressive color, but there's a noticeable hole in "things that can punch through damage" portion of the 3 mana value slot. Right now, the best cards to this are Ranger-Captain of Eos and Flickerwisp, neither of which are exactly damage powerhouses. This is an easy fix, but still something I wanted to note.

With that, we're on to the changes that could help the Cube.

Improvement Strategy
1) Include more Aspirational Picks
I want to include some more cool flashy cards that can serve as solid first picks that provide easy direction for drafters. As @landofMordor called them in the previously mentioned discussion in his Cube thread, "aspirational picks" seem to be exactly what I need to get the ball rolling in more drafts. I want my players to be confident in their first couple picks, and including some splashier early picks can help. While some of these cards may be bombs, the format can probably handle it because of the aforementioned high removal density and similar card quality. Likewise, some of the potential aspirational picks are aspirational not because they're more powerful than existing options, but instead because they're simply cool cards. Here are some of the options I'm considering right now:

This specific group of cards also works to address one of the "too generic archetypes" as well, because they're all cool dragons! This change is a bit of a double-edged sword. Some of these "cool" cards I'm picking do seem to be a little bit lower in the power band. I don't think they're bad early picks because they're decent finishers, but I think taking some of these Pack 1 Pick 1 isn't great. However, I feel these cards are good enough that if someone takes a "cool dragon" as their first pick, they're going to be able to have a decent deck. These cards are here to help give players who don't know what to do a direction, even if that's not the most competitive direction. I don't know if this line of reasoning is overly contradictory or not, but I'm still interested in giving it a try.

2) More Theros-Khans era Staples
This one is pretty simple, but I would like to acquire some more cards that were popular in 2014/15. The main pickups I'm looking to get are Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. As with the aspirational dragons above, these cards help to make some errant archetypes feel a little bit closer to the originals because more of the card pool overlaps. I'm also looking at some cards that were Modern staples at the time such as Snapcaster Mage (if I can ever afford one :mad:) and cards with similar function to old cards, such as Soul Transfer and Borrowed Time. I'd love to hear any ideas you may have on this front, such as other cool removal that used to see play that I'm not running, or cards that can be functionally similar to other cards I'm running.

3) Nonsingleton
I was theorycrafting how to make Mono-Blue devotion work in my Cube the other day, and I came to the realization that I could do in singleton... if there was another card that could fill the role of Master of Waves. Between my cheap interaction and the wealth of potentially playable small Blue creatures with multiple mana pips, it would not be hard to make a "mono blue deck" work... provided there was a redundant copy of Master of Waves. There are a ton of great cards that lend themselves nicely to a blue-heavy tempo-deck. There just aren't a ton of great rewards for doing that in a way that still feels like mono-blue devotion outside of Master of Waves. If I had two copies of Master, the deck would probably work! Without it, though? I don't think so.

My revelation about Master of Waves got me thinking about other cards that would make sense in multiples. Right now, I run a bunch of cards like Tormenting Voice and Cathartic Reunion as red card selection and enablers for Rakdos/Mardu builds of reanimator. These cards always felt worse than Faithless Looting, which is a legitimately great card even outside of archetypes that are specifically interesting in shifting cards between zones. Playing extra lootings would open up doors for Red which having bad filtration currently blocks. From now on, if a card makes me think "wow, I wish I could play more of this card" or "this deck would work if I had one more copy of that card," I'm going to go ahead and simply add another copy. I had been resistant to the idea of removing the singleton restriction on the Cube since one of my initial goals was to write an article series about the design of this Cube, where the final result would be a "platonic ideal" 360 Cube. The fact is though, that I've been working on this project for over a year and I am still not to a place where I'm ready to write an article series. I think I'm close to a place where I can begin the series, but until then, I don't need to restrict my gameplay so people on the internet won't complain about design choices I made for articles I haven't even written.

As for mono-blue devotion, I'm not completely certain it's a deck implement, but I the theorycrafting has lead me to an interesting place.

4) Artifact and Enchantment Pile Testing
I purposefully avoided adding artifact and enchantment decks to my Cube this time around. I had spent a lot of time trying to make these decks work in the past, and I wasn't too pleased with the results. The things that made these decks good in constructed didn't translate into my Cube, so I was left with sub-par cards taking up space without actually improving the formats. This is actually the first Cube I've had in years where either "artifacts" or "enchantments" is not a major theme. However, I think the winds may be shifting back towards those archetypes.

Recently, some of my friends throughout the community have been testing "artifact pile" and "enchantment pile" archetypes in their Cubes. This has led me to re-evaluate my decision to exclude artifacts and enchantments matter themes from my Cube. Artifact pile uses powerful engine pieces like Urza, Lord High Artificer and Emry, Lurker of the Loch to generate absurd amounts of value in conjunction with good glue artifacts like Chromatic Star and the Spellbombs that are playable in other decks. Some people have even built configurations where super niche and normally uncubable cards like Thought Monitor are powerful additions. These decks would benefit from a non-singleton world because of the ability to play multiple copies of key enablers. I think it would be cool to have 3x Chromatic Stars powering an Oni-Cult Anvil, or Emry looping Mishra's Baubles. These turbocharged new cards are a little off-theme (although both Modern Affinity and Standard Thopter Scissors were actual decks at the time), but I think they look like enough fun to test out.

Enchantment pile, on the other hand, tends to be a cross between Modern/Legacy Enchantress and Enigmatic Incarnation combo decks that have seen play in Pioneer recently. I swore off enchantress after being thoroughly unimpressed by the new additions offered by Theros: Beyond Death, but honestly, I think it could work in non-singleton. Sethis, Harvest's Hand is a good card, and even though she's multicolor and not mono-green like I would have hoped, I think doubling up on her and adding a few other enchantresses might get the deck across the finish line. I'm thinking of using Argothian Enchantress, Setessan Champion, Enchantress's Presence, Eidolon of Blossoms, 2x Sethis, and the new Jukai Naturalist as the core of a potent enchantments archetype. A ton of the good 2014/15 creatures that I already play are enchantments, as are some of the Theros: Beyond Death additions and about a third of the cards from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. While I'm not particularly interested in the Enigmatic Incarnation stuff, I think "play a bunch of enchantments and draw cards with them" could be a good archetype for G/W or Abzan. I certainly like the sound of it more than the Counters deck I have in those colors right now. The only thing I don't like about enchantress is that the majority of the cards just feel super parasitic. Urza, Lord High Artificer is a card that begs you to draft an artifact deck, and something you might still play even if you don't have a ton of artifacts simply because of his rate. Eidolon of Blossoms is a four mana half-sized Owl Bear. Enchantress sort of feels like a "get in this lane because all of the enchantress cards are being passed to me" sort of deck than a "I will start building this direction from pack 1" plan. However, I still want to try it because I love enchantments, it's thematically appropriate, and people I trust have had good experiences with the new enchantress cards.

5) Bridges lands in the basic box?
Many of the successful artifact pile builds I have seen put the Bridges in the basic land box as a way to help decks reach the density of necessary artifacts to make stuff like Thought Monitor actually good. Since my Cube already has an emphasis on multicolor Midrange and Control decks, I think adding the bridges could help these decks run more smoothly in addition to making the artifact pile decks stronger.

6) Possible 384 Cube Size?
I think I would like to go up to 384 cards in the Cube with 16 card draft boosters so that packs wheel twice per round. This also gives me an extra 24 card slots to work with while not meaningfully changing the card ratios I need to be running in the Cube. This seems like a win-win for the near future.


The Path Forwards
I have a draft coming up this weekend so I would appreciate some feedback now. I don't have all the cards I want out of Neon Dynasty or pieces to make the version of the Enchantment Pile deck I'm looking at work, so I'm going to be making these changes in a couple of stages. First, my update for this weekend is going to be including mostly Midnight Hunt and Neon Dynasty cards I acquired (I do not have any Crimson Vow cards right now because I did not draft that set in paper due to Covid) and removing the problem cards addressed above. I don't have all of the new "aspirational" cards I mentioned above other than Kiari, the Swirling Sky, but I do have some other cards I can test to fill the spot. The bigger changes (nonsingleton and the pile archetypes) will be coming once I'm done with school and have a better idea of how I want to implement them.

Until then, thank you for reading, and I appreciate any feedback you may provide!
-GT
 

landofMordor

Administrator
Sick post, Train. I have some thoughts about Blue.

Tempest Djinn is a "devotion for blue" payoff just as much as Master of Waves. You get paid off for having blue pips because that's the only way you can afford to cast the thing. And it's really quite strong. Archmage's Charm, Coralhelm Commander, Tidebinder Mage, Tempted by the Oriq are all in this vein of "implied" Devotion just because mono-blue is required to cast them consistently.

The bigger tension for me is that blue aggro is a critical-mass, proactive creature deck, and even if you manage to draft every blue creature in your current list, that's not going to yield the ability to be consistently proactive. But mostly I think blue aggro-control just needs more warm bodies in the 1-2 mana slots whose power is contained in their ability to get into the red zone -- and the design cost here is the squeeze it puts on cube slots.

You express hesitancy about red board wipes for supporting Tutelage, and I think there might be some overcaution here. Yes, Radiant Flames is not usable by red aggro decks (or midrange to some extent), but Control really will use it (Jeskai control, e.g.) and so will Tutelage. So it's parasitic, but not any more than Tutelage itself, or any other board wipe in White or Black. I'd suggest just jamming Flames, Pyroclasm (maybe), Storm's Wrath for a couple drafts, if you think Tutelage could still fit your goals. Because really, 3 red board wipe slots that open up one of your pillar archetypes seems like it could be worthwhile.

Otherwise, I'm totally on board with these changes. Love the aspirational picks, as you might have guessed. I am interested to see how Enchantress goes. And best of luck with your upcoming drafts!
 
Looking at your list I noticed you have a lot of of enchantment based ramp. I imagine these are there as resilient sources of ramp. However, looking at your Temur colors, I notice you have

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Stormwing Entity
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler
Dragonsguard Elite
Quandrix Apprentice

The 1 mana value ones are too efficient to be replaced, but I am thinking the 2 mana ones could probably be some sorceries to help trigger these cards more reliably.



are my favorite, since they they let you get either an untapped Forest to play something else or a Triome/shockland for fixing. They have the bonus of triggering your Landfall cards as well.

That's it for now, list looks super cool. Have fun drafting!
 
Change (For the Better?)
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It's been about four months since my last post here and two months since my last draft. I've drafted a couple of times and made some pretty major structural changes that I think have improved the environment.

So, let's go over what's new.

Snow Duals in the Basic Land Box.
This is probably the biggest and most important change for right now. I wanted to increase the amount of fixing available to the drafters without significantly increasing the number of slots dedicated to land cards. When drafting with six players, the amount of fixing in the cube felt about right, meaning that to adequately fix every player in an eight-player pod I would have needed to add roughly 25% more lands. Since I was already running 49 lands before, I would have needed to add at least 13 more lands to reach the numbers I truly desired, probably more like 20 when accounting for full cycles. The fact is, I just didn't want to dedicate that much extra space to lands, even if it would have improved my Cube on the occasions that I had a full pod. There is a very simple reason for this: whatever lands I would have added could not have been as good as the lands I was already playing. Let's say I chose to add fast lands. Not only would I have been out about 100 bucks (this Cube is partially a way for me to play with my collection, so I use real cards except for when I'm using customs), but they would never have been as good as the Shocklands and Fetchlands. Sure, low curve decks would enjoy early game untapped lands, but the lack of fetchability just makes them worse than almost everything else in the Cube right now. While I could have added more shocklands or fetchlands, that would have been even more expensive and still eat into space for spells. Likewise, it wouldn't alleviate the biggest issue I'm having right now: the high pick priority of lands. I feel like it is almost never correct to pass a Fetchland or on-color shockland right now. This is a problem because I don't want to be forcing people to take lands over spells they may want to play. The fact is, fixing is a premium in this format, and that will often mean having to sacrifice the thing you want to do in order to make sure the thing you end up doing actually works. Also, even in the event that a player is taking the fixing as they should, they still may not end up with lands matching their colors. If the Abzan Midrange player is at the same table as someone playing Sultai Graveyard and someone playing Esper Control, they may not get any of the {B/G} or {W/B} fixing they need despite the fact that their Abzan cards are likely flowing.

I decided the best solution for me would be to take the route some of my discord friends like Zolthux have used and simply hand out some free fixing at the end of the draft. The Snow Dual Lands are perfect for this, because they have a real drawback to being played in that they enter the battlefield tapped, but they can fill any holes in the mana base left open from the draft. The hypothetical Abzan player from the previous example could grab a Snowfield Sinkhole and a Woodland Chasm to complement the Windswept Heath and Temple Garden they picked up during the draft. These lands aren't better than a basic for people that were able to get enough fixing, but for the people who need them, they're a great way to keep decks consistent while providing more choices during the draft. The best part is that these lands still require aggressive decks to draft the untapped fixing they need. Aggro decks can get a lot of their low-cost cards very easily, since those cards often only go into aggro strategies. Outside of Powerful Interaction or Synergy Peices, other players aren't going to be fighting for common aggro staples. By making aggro decks still need to draft their fixing, it helps to ensure that players can't always build amazing aggressive decks that hate out the slower archetypes in the format. The choice between the Sacred Foundary that lets the red/white player cast their Lightning Helix and the Dragon's Rage Channeler that is going to turbo-fuel their early game is a lot more interesting than the choice between Temple Garden and the Siege Rhino it would need to help cast. In essence, players will be offered more interesting choices no matter what kind of deck they are playing simply because the demand for cards with the "land" type is decreased.

The only thing that won't change based on this update is the high priority of fetchlands. People are still going to want to take fetches highly, perhaps even more highly than before, because the Snow Duals are fetchable. I could see myself adding another set of the enemy fetches in the future to account for the still-high demand for fetchlands, but as of right now, I am going to bide my time for a little longer. I want to see how this change pans out first.

384 Size
I added an extra 24 cards to the Cube so every pack wheels twice during a full 8-player draft. I think this makes the draft experience a little smoother because it removes the "will this pack wheel" mental gymnastics players sometimes have to go through. Likewise, it gives me an extra 24 slots to work with for my design, making it a little easier to offer the redundancy I desire while still allowing for a wide variety of cards and effects. A little bit of extra real estate goes a long way!

Nonsingleton.
This Cube was always supposed to feel like constructed. The use of advanced techniques to reduce negative variance and a heavy focus on redundancy for key effects has been useful in creating gameplay with a constructed feel. So far, everything has worked pretty well. Heavy redundancy for important effects has meant that skilled drafters can consistently get the right number of the right cards they need to work. Likewise, decks like the delve and reanimation strategies don't feel like traps because it's easy to get enough enablers to prevent fizzling often. When coupled with the Cube's generally tight power band, the net result is a more balanced and healthy environment compared to other Cubes I've worked on.

However, my strategy isn't perfect. I keep finding myself in a position where there simply aren't enough cards of a certain type of effect at the correct power level to make a deck I want to include actually work. This was most apparent with the various Faithless Looting decks that I have been trying to incorporate into the format. Pretty much every Riptider worth their salt at this point knows the value of Faithless Looting as a glue card. It goes into every red deck that cares about draw triggers, discard, the graveyard, and even spellcasting. The problem is, in an environment with a singleton restriction, you can only use one copy of Faithless Looting. Decks that I wanted to make work, such as the Prowess decks, R/B reanimator shells, and the now-defunct Sphinx's Tutelage deck, really wanted Faithless Looting, and multiple copies at that. While I tried to fill the gaps with cards such as Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice, they aren't nearly as effective due to their increased cost and lack of flashback. The fact is: nothing could fill the holes at the cost and power level I needed other than more copies of Faithless Looting.

Originally I was apprehensive about dropping the singleton restriction for this Cube. One of my initial goals was to write an article series about the design process for this Cube, culminating in a "platonic 360" list that people could copy and play. I desperately want to teach aspiring Cubers strategies to build better Cubes without falling into the same 2007 era traps that most Cube names in the broader Magic world still seem to pedal as good design. I think using advanced design tactics like eschewing singleton and adding Snow Duals to the basic land box is somewhat against that goal, as some random person who doesn't know a Baron deck from a Brushwagg might not understand why these strategies can lead to superior outcomes. The thing is, I'm nowhere near a position where I'm ready to write these articles. Even if I were, that platonic ideal of a 360 Cube just doesn't do what I need it to do anymore. I like the extra fixing from the snow lands, the packs wheeling twice from 384, and the new design opportunities opened up by including nonsingleton cards. Nonsingleton lets me do things like include several faithless looting decks, power a blink strategy with multiple Ephemerates, or cut down the power band of the Cube's cantrips without having to sacrifice density. Even though I still want to write those articles and try to make a difference in the world, for now, I'm going to do what gives me the most fulfillment as a designer. When I eventually write the articles, I'll make a "platonic 360" version of the cube (and probably a platonic 384 version as well) to tide over people who think two copies of a card with the same English name can't be in the same Cube. But until then, I'm just going to make the best design possible.

Assorted Issues (and things I may need to change).

Blue.

People have an odd aversion to Blue in this Cube, and I can't figure out why. Other than control decks drafted by @kactuus and me, there really haven't been any people drafting heavily Blue decks. I can't understand. The only cards in my Cube which are remotely broken as of right now are Cantrips. Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm are often broken in Constructed because of the raw card filtering they provide. Their powers of filtration have proven themselves to be strong here, too, and the increased consistency they provide helps make the Cube feel the way I want it to. None of this even mentions the Counterspells, Big Draw, Planeswalkers, and other Finishers. I have literally no idea why Blue is going so under drafted. The only thing I can think of is Blue's light creature count: 14 out of 53 cards. But that shouldn't be enough to tank a whole color. When I have drafted Blue, it felt extremely powerful. When I have played against blue, it has felt above average. Even people who have never played this Cube think the blue is good. As @Grace said, "I beleive this may be a Blube." I do not know why people don't want blue. It might be a small sample size; it might be the low creatures, it might just be that my regular drafters would prefer to be playing Green.

On the other end of the spectrum in Blue, I think Counterspell may be too good. Two mana counters are generally where I think I need to be in this format. Dissolve and friends just felt a little below the line in terms of power level. A lot of the things you need to counter are cheap, and spending more mana to stop a spell than the cost of that spell usually isn't worth it. Because of this, I thought Counterspell would be fine. But then, after my last post, I received this comment on discord that kind of got under my skin.

Theopolist said:
Maybe you shouldn't have counterspell and manaleak if you want people to build around dragons.

This person was referring to my lack of "dragons matter" cards for the Esper Dragons archetype. Other than Crux of Fate, the support cards that made the Dragon synergy package worthwhile in Standard aren't good enough for this format. Foul-Tongue Invocation is a bad cruel edict that sometimes gains life, and Silumgar's Scorn is sometimes counterspell, except when you don't have a dragon, in which case it's Force Spike but 100% more expensive. Because the additional dragon support is so bad, I opted to design the section so that it would have similar play patterns to Esper Dragons but without the junky tribal cards. A dragons player will still be casting Dig Through Time and winning with Dragonlord Ojutai; they just won't be killing goblin tokens with Foul-Tongue Invocation. I still needed spells that could do the things that Scorn and Invocation could do, but I needed them to be more consistent, so I included interaction like Counterspell in order to keep control competitive without forcing players to draft a critical mass of dragons.

The problem here isn't that two mana to counter a spell is too good. Mana Leak, Lose Focus, and Miscalculation have all been absolutely fine so far. The big issue is that counterspell is hard to play around even if you suspect it's coming. With the Mana Leak and Quench variants, you can wait until you have the extra mana to cast your spell. But with counterspell? All you can do is not cast your spell until they're tapped out or try to bait out the counter with something worse.

I think while Blue is having play rate issues cutting counterspell probably isn't the best idea. Even if I suspect it may be too good for the Cube, I would be cutting from the color that "needs" the power spike the most. Likewise, I think may literally just be reeling from some random discord comment from some random person who I don't even know. As I said, the other two-mana counters seem reasonable in this format. In fact, stuff like Make Dissapear and Jwari Disruption has felt a little below the power curve. I guess the perfect power level for Counterspells in this format is Lose Focus, but that's really the only card that fits that bill. I suppose I could go nonsingleton there, but an obscure counterspell isn't necessarily what I want to be doubling or tripling up on. Only time will tell, but I felt it was worth saying.

More Aggressive Nonsingleton
Speaking of Nonsingleton, I want to try adding duplicate cards more aggressively. Right now, I only added the three copies of Faithless Looting to the Cube. When I made that change, I didn't have the time or mental bandwith to fully explore every other nonsingleton option– I simply added the lootings because I knew they were cards I wanted to play in multiples. However, I've been a bit unsure about what else to play. I'm thinking I mostly want my nonsingleton choices to either be flexible cards that a wide range of decks will demand, or be engine peices that don't have enough redundancy to support a given deck I want to play. Right now, I'm looking at the following options to run in multples. The creatures would receive two total copies while the spells would receive three.


I plan to discuss the Young Pyromancer-Unearth-Inquisition of Kozilek shell in another post in the coming days, but I figured I'd get a head start and post about some duplicate choices here.

No More Mono White
I don't like Mono-White aggro anymore. I really wanted to make a Death and Taxes style deck work in this Cube, but honestly I have not been able to put together a combination of cards that felt right here. Unlike Mono-Red, which has powerful reach and is complemented by good gold cards with splash minimal requirements, Mono-White all but requires a heavy splash of a second color to make up for the shortage of in-house reach. The lack of Aether Vial and some key lock peices enjoyed by Modern and Legacy Death and Taxes builds means that my White decks end up being simple curve out aggro decks. While there isn't inherently a problem with the White decks being curve out, the fact that the majority the Cube is midrange archetypes means that small creature decks are at a pretty big disadvantage. Likewise, since I don't run high-drop murderes like Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares, it can be very hard for low curve white decks to stay ahead. As a result, Mono-White feels like the odd deck out.

There are a few ways I could remedy the situation. First, I could try constructing Mono-White more like the midrangy White Weenie decks in current Standard. These decks tend to run fewer one drops per-capita than the decks my current White archetype is supposed to emulate (8 instead of 12, or 6 instead of 8 at Cube deck size), and have a focus on Banisher Priest higher up the curve. Specifically, these decks make use of Brutal Cathar, Skyclave Apparation, and Elite Spellbinder to shut down expensive creatures, backed up by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben making removal more difficult to cast. The issue with this road is that I don't like the play patterns of Elite Spellbinder or Skyclave Apparation all that much, and I don't want to introduce day/night into the cube for Brutal Cathar. Even if I did go that route, I would still need to be nonsingleton on at least one of these cards and find additional support from other cards. This doesn't mean I can't go bigger on white. Adeline, Resplendant Cathar and my newly acquired Brimaz, King of Oreskos could help to make a white-based midrange deck a viable option.

I could also consider taking White a blink-based direction. Three copies of Ephemerate coupled with an extra Thraben Inspector or two and two copies of Inspiring Overseer could drown White in value if I so desire. The problem here is the insularity and lack of damage output of the blink cards. This deck would have to out-value Abzan and Sultai decks reanimating massive mulldrifters and Siege Rhinos, which may not be feasable, at least without re-working the mono-white removal. Finally, I could try a post-Neon Dynasty version of the Artifact Aggro deck. I've been meaning to try the artifact pile deck for a little while now, and this would help me solve both White Aggro's shortcomings along with giving Blue some more interesting pickups. The only trouble here is that the White Artifact Aggro cards aren't all that much better than the generic White Weenies, and still want to be in at least one other color to work. I won't say never, but it does seem like an uphill battle for white.

Conclusions...?
I like the direction the Cube is going, but it still feels unpolished. While I feel there is a lot of room for improvement, I can safely say these variations of the Cube have been the best limited formats I have designed so far. The balance is close to correct, I'm just working on making sure every deck is up to scratch.

Thanks for reading and talk to you soon!
–GT
 

landofMordor

Administrator
The fact is: nothing could fill the holes at the cost and power level I needed other than more copies of Faithless Looting.
Hey, that's a great reason to break singleton!
Originally I was apprehensive about dropping the singleton restriction for this Cube. One of my initial goals was to write an article series about the design process for this Cube, culminating in a "platonic 360" list that people could copy and play.
Setting the bar high, wow! But I'm glad to read your realization that this goal may not be attainable -- at least, not at the same time that you're fulfilling your design goals and satisfying your own creative instinct.

If I just had to muse aloud about a "platonic ideal" cube, I'd say 1) the funny thing about platonic ideals is that Plato was wrong about nearly every mathematical/scientific theory he put forth, 2) probably most people would consider their own list as near-platonic for their own goals, or else they'd change their list, and 3) the only time people agreed about the platonic ideal cube was in the short interval between the invention of the Cube format and the creation of the second cube.

Actually, I've been doing some research, and it seems like back in the 2000s people talked about updating "The Cube" as if it were a single entity. Maybe that's one reason the cube community seems so fractious today: the originators of the format popularized the idea that they were optimizing a single platonic list, and therefore any disagreement about that list was tantamount to a disagreement about Magic's platonic nature. Maybe there are some OGs around here with a better perspective on that.

But like, on another level, who cares? because you've got some cool changes to be discussed.

I like the 8/9 cards you've chosen to break singleton on. No comments there.

Regarding Blue, I think low sample size definitely has a lot to do with it. It may also be playgroup preference -- I know people in my LGS who will never not draft 3-color piles in Retail Limited, even when it's a terrible idea. And I know even very good players who will draft 2 of 3 Mardu colors in 80% of their drafts. So, y'know, maybe it's nothing, or maybe it will come out in the wash after 1000 drafts, or maybe it won't ever change because you can't change your players. The only thing I noticed was a high density of blue gold cards that are "Rewards" more than "Reasons" (I'd first-pick Sprite Dragon, Expressive Iteration, or like maybe Ashiok) but that's endemic to all your gold sections, not just BlueX ones. So... I think it's probably a quirk.

Can you explain a little more about Mono-W? It looks like there's still a healthy density of 1-drops -- maybe you meant that you'll cut W in the future? or maybe I misread things, haha. Edit: You explained this on discord!

Cool post! Good luck with this update :)
 
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