The Train Station

Discussion in 'Cube Blogs' started by TrainmasterGT, Feb 4, 2019.

  1. I have decided to start a new thread to discuss random cube and non-cube related magic things. I'm going to discuss the process of constructing new cubes here, as well as talking about single cards I have been enjoying. I also plan to discuss Cube Theory and deckbuilding. I thought it would make sense to have a thread to help me organize my thoughts for new projects without haphazardly posting random things about what simply amounts to a string of ideas across the forums. Please feel free to leave any comments you like; I'm really just making this thread so that I'm not spamming other threads.

    To start things off, I would like to discuss a topic which has been getting to me for a while. I've spent about 2/3rds of my cube career up until this point on the same main cube- I wrote a thread about it here. I think that cube had a lot of good elements, and I would like to discuss them further in the future. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that some of the residual structural issues from my "I have only a limited idea of what I'm doing" phase of cube design are really hindering further development on the list. The list was fun to play, although certain synergy decks were way more powerful than others, and in many color combinations, it made more sense to build a general good stuff deck than an archetype strategy. I think the problems with that list can be summarized as such: I had too large of a power band, the powerful cards were concentrated in the wrong areas, and White had no proper identity. I'll go over these issues in further detail later, but let's just put it like this: I was running Umezawa's Jitte in the same cube as Grim Guardian. Those cards should probably never be seen with one-another in a balanced cube environment.

    So, I've decided that I am going to re-build my 360 list "from scratch." I use air quotes because I want to use the same general archetypes from my previous attempt (with some fairly sizeable changes, but I'll get to that later). I want gameplay of my new list to feel how I originally intended my previous version to play: synergy-based decks in a medium-high powered environment.

    In my next post, I will be discussing how I plan on going about balancing and evaluating the cards of my new 360 cube.

    Feel free to leave any comments you like, this thread is just for me to discuss random things without spamming the forums elsewhere.
    Kirblinx likes this.
  2. The Thanos Approach to Cube
    "Perfectly balanced, as all things should be..."
    [IMG]
    Ever since I started cubing, I've found myself caught between two differing design ideologies. On one hand, you have the power-maxed cubers of MTGS and, to a lesser extent, the r/MTGCube. Those communities are more interested in building lists designed specifically with raw power in mind, ignoring synergies between cards. For them, "archetypes" are met in the broadest sense of the word: Control, Aggro, Midrange, etc. When these cubers do use synergy-driven archetypes, they usually involve broken combo pieces such as Metalworker and blightsteel collossus. They are more interested in individual cards than the decks in which the cards are played.

    On the other hand, you have the Riptiders. Riptide cubes are generally one-of-a-kind. The common theme amongst these cubes is that the power of a collective archetype usually outweighs the playability of a single card. Other than that, Riptide lists vary wildly, with very low-powered environments and high-powered environments made using similar design philosophies. In general, Riptide cubes are the breeding grounds of cube innovation. Probably some of the best cube designs on the internet were born here, such as the Penny-Pincher cubes and the Graveyard Combo Cube.

    In general, I find the Riptidan "Decks not Cards" philosophy to be superior to the powermax "Cards not Decks" philosophy. However, I think Riptide cubes have one major flaw. In a number of riptide cubes, I see people running cards that are far from optimal choices for that slot, considering the power level of the cubes. One example of this I see in a few lists is Court Hommunculus. CH is a decent card in an aggro artifact deck, but it is totally unplayable otherwise. Worse still, it seems to play a very similar role to Isamaru, Hound of Konda, except it's only useful in artifact decks. This isn't an atrocious offense, but Court Hommunculus just ends up being not very good outside of its specific archetype. If you're playing a more traditional White Weenie deck, you probably don't want Court Hommunculus. There are a few other examples of this paradigm, but this is probably the most frequent.

    So, what am I trying to get at? Well, although the riptide philosophy is generally more well-suited to most environments, I think the powermax philosophy has some merit to it. For smaller cubes, if one wants to increase the playability of all of their card inclusions, then they should be choosing the most playable at their power level. The idea of a "9th best red 1 drop" or a "3rd best Azorius card" is useful for organizing ideas at any power level. This doesn't mean abandoning Decks not Cards, but it does mean is looking at cards from both perspectives. And hence, we have the Thanos Approach.
    [IMG]

    Between two Philosophies.

    The Thanos approach to cube seeks balance between the Powermax philosophy of "it needs to be the best" and the DNC philosophy of "what does it do for my decks." Essentially, the idea is to look at a card for its own merit while also examining how it fits into the larger picture of the cube.

    We're trying to make our cubes perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

    I'm going to be using the Thanos Approach in my rebuild to try to create a more balanced environment. This approach is not without its caveats.

    Now, I think most people already try to examine a card in terms of it's overall playability. I think power band discussion often times boils down to a more simplistic version of what I've been preaching. So what's the difference?

    The Concept of Playability Ratings (PRs)

    With the Thanos approach, you want to assign every card one or two numbers: the cards Supported Playability (SP) and the card's Unsupported Playability (UP). Some cards only need a UP, other cards need a UP and an SP or are similar on both accounts. For example, Polukranos, World Eater has a UP of around 7 and no SP. This number is working under the assumption that Polukranos is going to be played in a deck which can make use of the card, such as a ramp shell or a stompy shell. Drake Haven, on the other hand, has a UP of 0 and an SP of 7. Drake haven is completely useless in a deck without discard outlets, but it can win the game by itself with proper support. Usually, however, it falls somewhere in between.

    A good roadmap for PRs would be as follows:
    10- Wins the game by itself or accelerates the game to the point of a win, sometimes on the turn its played. (Examples: Black Lotus, Pack Rat)
    9- Can win the game by itself most of the time, or at least must be removed for the opponent to have a chance. (Examples: Umezawa's Jitte, Wurmcoil Engine)
    8- Can win the game by itself, but is expensive to play or slow. Top-tier removal also falls here. (Examples: Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Path to Exile)
    7- Potentially able to win the game unassisted, but easily beatable without some form of support. Premium Removal also falls here. (Examples: Polukranos, World Eater, Hero's Downfall, Counterspell)
    6- Solid cards, although not necessarily able to win a game. Decent and Conditional Removal falls here. (Examples: Llanowar Elves, Lightning Bolt)
    5- Middle of the Pack. Good, not great, still playable in most situations. (Examples: Savannah Lions, Satyr Wayfinder)
    4- Situationally good, although probably nothing to write home about. (Examples: Thrummingbird, Manic Vandal)
    3- Low-Power finishers, situational removal, unimpressive stats with an interesting ability. (Examples: Colossal Dreadmaw, Crushing Canopy, Tiana, Ship's Caretaker)
    2- Narrow Niche cards, unimpressive filler. (Examples: Plummet, Parhelion Patrol)
    1- Not Playable 99% of the time. (Examples: Concordia Pegasus, Boulderfall)
    0- Probably won't be in a deck... (Examples: Isolate, Scornful Egoist)

    Now, at first glance, this is a fairly simple card power ranking system. And, in fact, it was based on a number of discussions I've had with people both here on the forums and in my local MTG community. However, there are 3 things we must think about here.
    #1 UP and SP ratings allow us to be more accurate in our card evaluations. Instead of saying "Drake Haven is a 5," we say "Drake haven has a UP rating 0 (it's a 3-mana do nothing, what do you expect), while it has an SP rating of 7."
    #2 a card's UP rating can change depending upon the power band of a format. If we're making a lower powered cube; say only cards from a 3-6 range on this list, than a card's playability is changed. Colossal Dreadmaw, for example, goes from being a crappy 6 drop to a good finisher for green decks. In numbered terms, it's UP goes from 3 to 5.
    #3 a card's SP can also change depending upon the format. Earlier, I said Drake Haven has an SP of 7. If a format heavily supports discard decks, I believe this to be true. However, if the only way to trigger it is one Merfolk Looter and a handful of cycling cards, Haven's SP can drop down to a 3 or 4.

    With this information in mind, there is one more key concept to this approach.

    Format Barometers

    Format Barometers are cards that have been chosen to "set the tone" of a cube. These are the cards you compare your other cards against. Format Barometers are cards chosen for their high power, low power, or general playability of a chosen slot.

    For example, I might decide that I want Bolrac-clan Crusher to be my most powerful 5 drop creature. When making my other card choices, I compare it to Borlac. Is this card better than Borlac? If so, then I probably wouldn't include it without a very good reason (remember- the card's place in a deck is more important than power alone). If the card is laughable in comparison, then I might avoid its inclusion. If I decide I want Thrummingbird to be my worst creature, then I would want to make sure my other creatures are better than that. If I want my black 1-drops to be comparable in power to cryptbreaker, then I would make sure that nothing in that slot is unplayable or more powerful than it in comparison. It is a good idea to make sure the barometers are all within the same general power range as well. If my white 4-drop barometer is Hero of Bladehold, and my white 6-drop barometer is Light of the Legion, then a problem exists.

    Applying the Thanos approach to my rebuild.

    The last thing I would like to touch on in this post is how I plan to use the Thanos Approach in my rebuild. For my upper power-level creature I plan on using this beefy hydra boy:


    Polukranos, World Eater is a good creature to make my most powerful. I would give him a UP rating of 7. He is more than capable of winning a game by himself, but he's not particularly difficult to remove. His monstrosity ability can also do a decent amount of work, but only ramp decks can take full advantage of it. I am going to design the rest of my list so that Polukranos, World Eater is a strong P1/P1 card. I'm going to make sure that my other green 4s are similarly powerful to Polukranos, however, they will probably be high 6s instead of 7s (think Ripjaw Raptor).

    I'm planning on setting my power band between 4 and 7 rating. I am hoping to err more on the high side of my power band for this list. I am only giving myself permission to include 4-rating cards for the purposes of archetype support, but these cards will be few and far between. I'll need a really good reason to include something that isn't as good as the other cards in its CMC and color slot. For example, I might run Thrummingbird if I have enough counters synergy for it to be worthwhile.

    Last but not least, I plan on giving some power level leeway to combo pieces. I would say an unsupported Molten Vortex is like a 4 at best, but with a lands matter theme, it could be a solid 7.

    That's all I have to say on this topic. Thank you for reading. Please leave your thoughts on my new approach, I would like to hear what you guys have to say.

    [IMG]
    Bye!
  3. I like this a lot. A 10-point scale is good; granular but not excessive. There's already an existing 10-point scale for talking about cards' power levels in Limited that a lot of Magic players are familiar with, though - the half-point rankings up to 5.0 that are attached to LSV's set review articles. The current scale, with lots of good examples at every point:

    Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa's Jitte. The Scarab God.
    5.0: The best of the best. (Glorybringer. The Scorpion God. The Locust God.)
    4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Archfiend of Ifnir. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. God-Pharaoh's Gift.)
    4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Sunset Pyramid. Angler Drake. Sand Strangler.)
    3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Open Fire. Ambuscade. Gravedigger.)
    3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Desert of the Mindful. Oasis Ritualist. Oketra’s Avenger.)
    2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Unsummon. Puncturing Blow. Naga Vitalist.)
    2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Tah-Crop Skirmisher. Harrier Naga. Counterveiling Winds.)
    1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Moaning Wall. Khenra Eternal. Without Weakness.)
    1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Defiant Khenra. Disposal Mummy. Djeru's Renunciation.)
    0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Forsake the Worldly. Chandra's Defeat.)
    0.0: Completely unplayable. (Solemnity. Luxa River Shrine. One with Nothing.)

    ---

    I also really like the split rating idea, which can be contextualized to our own environments. There's a lot of meat here.
    TrainmasterGT and Onderzeeboot like this.
  4. Yeah, I like Safra's suggestion. It also shows how relative these rankings are, because Forsake the Worldly isn't a 0.5 in my environment. I think it's closer to a 1.5, maybe even a 2.0. By the way, he regularly updates his examples. Here's the list from his recent Ravnica Allegiance Rakdos limited review.

    Retired and inducted into the Limited Hall of Fame: Pack Rat. Umezawa’s Jitte. The Scarab God.
    5.0: The best of the best. (Bolas’s Clutches. Icy Manipulator. Lyra Dawnbringer.)
    4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Josu Vess, Lich Knight. Tatyova, Benthic Druid. Slimefoot the Stowaway.)
    4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Cast Down. Time of Ice. Adeliz, the Cinder Wind.)
    3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Vicious Offering. Blessed Light. Shivan Fire.)
    3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Cloudreader Sphinx. Caligo Skin-Witch. Grow from the Ashes.)
    2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Fungal Infection. Academy Journeymage. Mammoth Spider.)
    2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Krosan Druid. Soul Salvage. Ghitu Journeymage.)
    1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Relic Runner. Ancient Animus. Deep Freeze.)
    1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Divest. Homarid Explorer. Arbor Armament.)
    0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Rescue. Cabal Evangel. Drudge Sentinel.)
    0.0: Completely unplayable. (Kamahl’s Druidic Vow. One with Nothing.)

    Edit: Some of the labels do kinda fall apart in a cube. I mean, top-tier common has no meaning in cube. Part of this chart is based on the fact that a common typically appears multiple times in a draft and is, on average, of a lower power level than a typical card of a higher rarity. So even if it's really good, a really good uncommon should always trump it and is therefore a higher pick. I think the list can be adapted though, and a 0.0 to 5.0 rating just has a nice familiarity for anyone familiar with e.g. LSV's limited reviews.
    TrainmasterGT likes this.
  5. TrainmasterGT and vennythekid like this.
  6. Thank you both for your kind words! LSV's ranking system was partially an inspiration for my list.

    I spelled out this ranking system so that people would have a better idea of what I was trying to say when a card was, for example, a 5. The biggest thing I want people to take away from this post is my strategy of making UP and SP ratings, using Format Barometers, and examining cards from both the Decks not Cards and the Cards not Decks philosophies simultaneously.

    Will the Thanos approach work? Maybe, I really hope it does. However, I think it will be an interesting experiment in cube design and will hopefully help me become better at designing cubes and evaluating cards.
  7. The Sinister Situation of Shadowborn Demon


    Shadowborn Demon is one of those cards which straddles the line between completely busted and absolutely unplayable. Even during an era when Mono-Black decks dominated standard, one would be hard pressed to find a deck giving the demon a home. This is a huge shame, since Shadowborn Demon is truly awesome. It has badass art, an above-curve body, and a great ETB trigger. It seems that the only thing actually holding the card back was its built-in downside.

    Shadowborn Demon was the first foil mythic rare I ever opened. I remember being incredibly excited to find such a cool card in my pack. I wasn't playing a black deck at the time, so I put it in with my foil cards, and proceded to do absolutely nothing with it for the next 5 years.

    As I'm beginning the process of rebuilding my cube, I thought it might be worth taking a minute to reexamine Shadowborn Demon. Does this card have any inherent risks attached to it which pose potential problems? Do the risks outweigh the rewards, or is this card just inherently interesting and as such deserves a chance. Is this the type of card I want in my format, or is it ultimately something I should avoid?

    What does this card actually do? First, it's a Ravenous Chupacabra. It comes into play and kills a thing. It can't kill other demons, but the chance that there are more than 3 or so of those in my rebuild is fairly low (right now, the only other demons I'm considering are Archfiend of Ifnir and Herald of Torment). Second, it's a finisher. This thing ends the game by itself in 4 turns if left unchecked, and it's flying ability makes it hard to block. Third, it can be a stabilizer. Shadowborn Demon can block and kill basically everything that a cube could throw at it, save for some big green beasties and some larger reanimator targets. It should be noted that Shadowborn Demon is not a control card. The "if there are fewer than six creature cards in your graveyard, sacrifice a creature' upkeep trigger makes Shadowborn a little bit unrealistic for control decks to use as anything other than a 5-cost eviscerate that can potentially stop some damage. This isn't really a problem though. The previously mentioned Archfiend of Ifnir will already be able to fill the "big black flying control finisher" niche. Shadowborn Demon will probably end up being a card used mostly in W/B and R/B aggro shells along with G/B dredge/graveyard shells. Aristocrats style decks will enjoy having a "free" sacrifice outlet, and dredge decks will usually just have 6 dudes in the graveyard already. I think Shadowborn Demon would be extremely good in these decks.

    However, there is one major issue with Shadowborn Demon: It's a Grave Titan. If you haven't already read Dom's recent post about Baneslayers and Mulldrifters in cube, I would highly recommend doing so. Clicking here will take you to the post. The crux of the post revolves around Patrick Chapin's idea of Baneslayers Baneslayers and Mulldrifters. Mulldrifters are value cards you don't want to waste a removal spell on but don't really have to, while Baneslayers are cards that you want to spend a removal spell on, and you need to. There's one more category, Titans. Titans are cards that you need to remove, but really feel bad too because they have already set you behind. Shadowborn Demon is a titan because it's etb trigger sets your opponent behind, usually by quite a bit, while also being able to win the game by itself. The main difference between Shadowborn Demon and Grave Titan is thatShadowborn Demon has a larger up-front advantage, but an actual downside.

    The question Shadowborn Demon poses for my cube is not one of power level. I would say it has a Thanos UP of 6 and an SP of somewhere between 7 and 8. Rather, Shadowborn Demon asks whether or not I want to build a format with Titans. Do I want a format full of hyperefficient ETBs, or do I want a format where decks can be free to durdle and explore minute interactions between cards? I'm not quite sure of the answer to this question yet. Either way, Shadowborn Demon is of the correct power level for me to be comfortable playing in my next list. I'm just not sure I want to deal with its implications.
  8. I think the answer might, in part, depending on the removal you run. If you've got a decent chunk of instant speed removal that can deal with this in your cube, you can make this into a 2 for 2 with the sacrifice trigger on the stack, leading to some clever counterplay. This is a play pattern not offered by the real Titans, who are just all upside. This is an especially satisfying line of play if your opponent played the Demon as a Doom Blade + Fog, intending to sacrifice the Demon itself after it got to be a massive 5/6 on defense for a turn.
    TrainmasterGT likes this.
  9. Isn't the real Titan counterpart in this scenario the
    ?
    The demon's downside is very real, and can be used to great advantage by the opponent in a variety of scenarios (like Onders example).

    BTW, if you want to take someone directly to a post, you can click the little grey "#108" in the bottom right corner of the post, and it brings up a link that takes the clicker straight there.
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  10. That is an interesting line of play. I think you're correct, context is probably going to be an important part of this decision.

    Thanks for the tip! I updated the post use it.

    Noxious Gearhulk is definitely closer to the original titans in design. I'm just using the term "Titan" to mean "big thing with ETB upside" in this context.

    I think in a format without heavy graveyard elements then the downside would be a huge deal. However, if I include a lot of graveyard interaction, the downside could be mitigated, not important, or actually an upside. Consider a deck like:

    W/B Afterlifstocrats









    In this example deck, things are constantly dying and going to the graveyard. In a deck like this, if Shadowborn Demon doesn't have all of the required creatures in the graveyard, the upkeep sacrifice can actually be a boon. This particular deck is a little bit of a "Magical Christmas Land" scenario, although I do not feel an list like this is necessarily unrealistic, even if it is watered down a little more.

    Here's another one:

    Jund Dredge










    This list combines Dredge cards and Shadowborn Demon. This is probably a more solid Life from the Loam build than it is a Shadowborn Demon build, but I think getting to 6 creatures in the graveyard isn't too hard considering the amount of dredging this deck does. This deck might be a better example of the power level on which I want Shadowborn Demon to operate, since the upkeep trigger is more often a downside but there are a lot of fun lines of play available (Like reanimating the Demon a bunch while sacrificing it to it's own trigger for value).

    Maybe these decks are more reasons to run Shadowborn Demon than they are reasons not to run Shadowborn Demon. I'm just not sure I want Ravenous Chupacabra with wings, since that card is just so un-fun to play with and against in my opinion.
    Kirblinx and dbs like this.
  11. You also have to consider the other scenario, where the Demon kills a creature, sacs to itself on upkeep, then gets reanimated to kill another creature. It also seems really strong with cards like Gravecrawler and Reassembling Skeleton, which would be actual "Magical Christmas Land" includes for that WB sample deck.

    So yeah, is it going to be interesting, obnoxious, or broken? That answer can only be answered in context.

    I will say that the Demon compares favorably to Ravenous Chupacabra for me for three reasons. First, the difference between 4 and 5 mana is very relevant. Second, the Demon can actually finish a game by attacking for 5 evasive damage a turn, so the game doesn't drag on after you played it. Third, Ravenous Chupacabra is a boring card, it's literally Murder on legs, that's it. You get all of the nice creature interactions / recursion black is known for of course, at the cost of paying one more and killing things at sorcery speed, but that's it. It doesn't do anything else, and so the card is just plain good, without adding interesting angles to actual play.
    TrainmasterGT likes this.
  12. Archetype Tech: Jeskai Ascendancy Super-Ramp


    Jeskai Ascendancy is one of the most intriguing combo cards ever printed. Since it's first pass through modern in 2014, people have been trying to break the 3-colored enchantment wide open. In early incarnations of the deck, people would try to fill the graveyard using faithless looting type effects, then continue to draw more cards using the delve spells Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. This insane card draw engine would be kept afloat by Noble Heirarch and Birds of Paradise, which would be used to generate even more mana. Even after the Delve Draw spells were banned in modern, the ascendancy deck was still able to be played, existing as a fringe playable list to this day.
    Although the merits of Jeskai Ascendancy are far from being completely explored in modern, I think it has the most untapped potential in cube. My reasoning for this position is simple: Jeskai Ascendancy both enables it's own archetype while acting as it's own engine. Really, all it needs to work are low-cost noncreature spells and mana dorks, both of which are abundant in cube.
    My exploration of Jeskai Ascendancy began with the revelation that Overgrowth, Fertile Ground, Utopia Sprawl, and Wild Growth all cause Jeskai Ascendancy to trigger. In my list, the mana enchantments act as the core of a super-ramp deck, which coincidentally has a very similar core to the Jeskai Ascendancy combo. Both decks abuse untapping as a means to increase spell velocity and generate tons of mana. The only difference between the two decks is that super-ramp is trying to use Arbor Elf and similar untappers to generate a limited amount of mana off an enchanted land, whereas Jeskai Ascendancy decks try to create an infinite amount of mana by casting noncreature spells to untap mana dorks. Each deck sounds different on paper, but trust me when I say that both decks are trying to do the same basic thing: untap their mana sources.
    A marriage between Jeskai Ascendancy and Super Ramp should be fairly successful. The archetypes have compatible goals. Jeskai Ascendancy feeds the Untappers, which feed the mana enchantments, which in turn feed [c]Jeskai Ascendancy all over again.

    The Following is an example decklist to showcase a Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck. Keep in mind that this deck purposely leaves some of the best cards available for the archetype out of the list to showcase that this build can work even without a perfect draft. All of the required components for the deck to work (dorks, Jeskai Ascendancy, and cheap noncreature spells) are all present, but not necessarily optimal.

    Ascendancy











    This build of the deck does all the things I described above. It has plenty of cheap cantrips, some larger "digging" spells, some ramp enchantments, and plenty of untap dorks. Two spicey elements of this deck include the Man Lands like Wandering Fumarole and Temur Battle Rage. The manlands can be used in a pinch in place of the Untap Dorks. Although they require a large up-front mana investment to activate, they should already have a mana enchantment on-board to help with ramp duties. Temur Battle Rage essentially halves the number of required spells to be cast, or depending upon how you look at it, provides extra reach.

    The beauty of this specific list is that it uses only cards that could be put into a cube regardless of the presence of Jeskai Ascendancy. Although this list would be pretty mediocre without the combo kill, the fact that all of the cards here could be reasonably put to use in another archetype really says something about the combo-ability of Jeskai Ascendancy.


    Here's a more "traditional" build of ascendancy decks from the MTG Cube Blog.

    Cubeblog Ascendancy










    This list is super glass-cannony, but I thought it would be worth showing someone else's take on the archetype.

    I think this archetype could be really fun and interesting to play if implemented correctly. In this quick piece, I don't think I have even mentioned half of the cards on could actually include to support the Jeskai Ascendancy Archetype. I think the one biggest issue one would have in implementing this deck into a cube is the simple act of drawing Jeskai Ascendancy. Using cards like Enlightened Tutor would alleviate some of the stress caused to the deck.
    safra, Kirblinx and dbs like this.
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  14. Something I've found very successful is the addition of Academy Rector, who secretly also supports everything else you're doing with enchantments (Bargain, auras, reanimator, enchantress, and then your normal-type fatty cheat stuff with Lay Claim or the Theros gods). I thought I was just adding Rector as a way to tutor up Jeskai Ascendancy but it's turned out to be a versatile all-star for any deck that's willing to invest time in setting something up.
    TrainmasterGT and dbs like this.
  15. I totally forgot Academy Rector existed :p. I think she's a little slow for most ascendancy decks, although she is definitely a great way to find the combo. After all, an ascendency deck without Jeskai Ascendancy is just a bunch of one-drop spells and some mana fixing.

    She's a little expensive for me though... I don't feel great about paying $63 for one card :confused:.
  16. Chris Taylor Contributor

    I am currently posting this from within my local print shop
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  17. Sometimes, cube designers must agonize over cube defining choices that can completely change the dynamic of a draft. Sometimes, we must make the choice between two cards for the same slot, which will ultimately make up less than 1/3rd of 1% of our cubes. Sometimes, we have to make both of those decisions. Sometimes, the same decision is both of those decisions.

    The Quest Begins
    I'm about half-way through my rebuild right now. I have a general idea of the themes I am going for, and have both the Red and Green sections completely built. I was thinking about my U/B Gold cards, and I came upon this trio of cards as a "versus" sort of deal:

    VSVS.
    Initially, I was going to make a fight club post about this- but as I was thinking about it, I realized that the question here wasn't one of "which card is the best," but more "which direction do I want to take my cube design." I'm not sure that's a great debate to be having within a multicolor section selection. Here's why.

    Designer's Bane
    When designing a set, usually it is best to make the big decisions at the beginning of the process. This isn't to say that big changes can't be made later on in the design process. Sometimes, an archetype will need to be added or removed, or a color's identity will need a bit of a late in the process adjustment. Having to make big changes in a cube design is only natural. There are so many moving parts that it's nearly impossible to start and finish a list with a consistent design. Something is almost always going to change, whether it's as simple as a single card or an entire archetype. This is fine, it's natural, even. Problems only arise when a design philosophy shifts mid-design.

    Philosophy Talk
    Cube construction is just as much about design philosophy as it is card choices. The "optimal" card choices for someone building a powermax cube is going to differ from the "optimal" card choices for a riptide cube. This is due to a difference in design philosophy. Designing a cube with a synergy-based ethos is going to require a different set of cards than a cube with a powermax ethos. Card choices are made using the philosophy set out by the designer.

    Deliberately changing the design philosophy for one's cube during the build process is ok. Everyone decides sometimes that the power band they had originally set may be too wide or in the wrong place, that their way of approaching ETB creatures is flawed, or that their ideas about the color pie maybe aren't quite right. If this happens, then making a philosophy change simply isn't a big deal. The problem arises when a philosophy change occurs subconsciously.

    Banned Together
    One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make when building any of my cubes was this:
    VS

    Obviously, these cards do not belong in a cube together. Two lend themselves to powerful, combo-oriented gameplay, while the others lend towards slow, synergy-driven games. I spent the better half of a day toiling over this issue before I recognized the root of my anguish. The problem with having to make this card choice wasn't the cards themselves, but what they represented. Choosing to include Splinter Twin would have made my format more about power, while choosing the Bestow Dudes would have made my cube more about grinding.

    The question here wasn't just "which cards provide better gameplay," but also "which philosophy lends itself to what I want to achieve." By the time I was making this decision in my old list, it was too late to "save" the list without a re-build. I had made too many opposing philosophical choices which lent themselves towards sub-optimal gameplay (It was still somewhat fun, just not really balanced).

    This example illustrates a simple truth. Unintentional philosophical drift can have an adverse effect on cube design. The card choices we make can inadvertently affect our cube's design philosophy.


    An Unexpected Journey
    All of this leads back to my original predicament: Contraband Kingpin VS Baleful Strix VS Enter the God-Eternals. These cards aren't so far apart in power level so that they will define the power band of the cube, but they do pose an interesting question about the role of multicolor cards in my list. I had to decide whether my multicolor section works primarily as support for the main themes of the cube or if it should include bomby cards that still have some relation to the main theme. I decided to gauge the issue using the Thanos Approach, my setout philosophy for building my new cube.

    I realized that Contraband Kingpin's floor as a 1/4 with lifelink for 2 just isn't all that great in my environment. Free of the trigger, it's just not very interesting as a gold card. Turning the kingpin into a scry engine in a deck with a critical mass of artifacts only slightly improved the card's playability. Thus, I decided to give it the axe. This left me with Baleful Strix and Enter the God-Eternals. I decided that, even though Baleful Strix is a fairly balanced card, it just didn't really do what I wanted it to. I don't think I would have even considered the strix if it didn't have to word "artifact" on it's typeline considering what I wanted this slot to do. Enter the God-Eternals played better into my non-artifact U/B themes and was powerful enough in it's own right to warrant inclusion in most lists, and even splashing.

    Fiery Conclusion
    Sticking to your cube's design philosophy is the probably best way to choose the correct choice for a card slot before playtesting. If a decision is proving exceptionally hard to make, stop for a second and consider both options in regards to the overall philosophy of your design. Only then will you find the answer you seek.
    Kirblinx, dbs and Alfonzo Bonzo like this.
  18. I have my New Cube up and running for those of you who have not seen it yet. Some further discussion here will be catalyzed around that list unless otherwise noted until I build another cube.
  19. Mono-Green Artifacts
    [IMG]
    One of the oldest mechanical themes in the history of Magic: The Gathering is that of artifacts matter. Magic's second expansion, Antiquities, was the first set to explore this theme actively. It included such classics as Atog, Hurkyl's Recall, and Mishra's Factory. However, Antiquities set an unfortunate precedent for Magic: Green, as a color, is not allowed to interact with artifacts positively. It took nearly 20 years before the first wave of green cards to synergize with artifacts to be printed en mass, and even these cards were fairly sub-par. By now, there are swaths of cards across the other four colors that can be playable in an artifact deck. For some colors, artifacts are even a defining trait. With all of this support, one would expect artifact subthemes to slide into the majority of cubes with ease. Yet, artifacts as a theme don't fully integrate into cubes as anything other than colorless value cards without explicit support. Every mechanical theme requires some level of support, but artifacts seem to take a lot more than others. The reason for this is pretty simple: green doesn't usually get to play with artifacts. This means that the "artifact deck" goes from a cube-wide theme to something that only about 60% of color combinations get to take advantage of fully. If an artifact theme is to become something that every cube can use to the best extent, then green is going to need to embrace artifacts instead of just blowing them up all of the time.

    The Diagnosis
    The general approach to artifact deck in cube usually falls into one of three categories. The first uses artifacts to make a lot of mana, the second uses artifacts to turn on cool abilities, and the third sacrifices artifacts for value. The first category is commonly seen in vintage cubes. Cards like Metalworker, the Signets, and the Moxes can be used to provide massive amounts of value. The second and third categories are more prevalent amongst riptide cubes and vary greatly between lists. Some play like the Eggs decks of old, others play like midrange decks with artifacts. Whatever the case, none of these themes mesh all that well with Green. Green doesn't have all of the interactive cards to support graveyard and midrange artifact decks, and Green doesn't need help making absurd amounts of mana. In fact, only the Moxes and Black Lotus are better at mana acceleration than the Green ramp cards. What this means is that Green's approach to artifacts matter needs to come from a different mechanical angle than the other colors, while still having some form of synergy with the preexisting forms of the deck.Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast has printed the pieces cubers have needed for Green artifacts over the past 5 or so years. Now it's up to us to design the archetype Richard Garfield never intended: Green Artifacts.

    The Idea
    About a year ago, memelord and know degenerate Magic AIDS posted this video:

    With this video, Modern Hardened Scales decks were born. Although the Voltaic Servant origins of the deck have been lost to the annals of history, the idea of combining Hardened Scales with Steel Overseer and the Modular Cards allowed for a new version of the aging Affinity/Robots deck to rise to prevalence amongst Magic's premier eternal format. Although it is impossible to truly port a constructed deck into cube, it is definitely possible to support a constructed archetype in a limited environment.

    First, it is important to identify what the AIDS Hardened Scales affinity list is actually trying to do. Although the deck has many of the trappings of regular Robots decks, such as Mox Opal, in reality, the list is actually a +1/+1 counters deck with an artifact subtheme. This is why Voltaic Servant and Geth's Throne have left the contemporary versions of the deck while Hardened Scales has stuck around. This revelation is important because it reveals the true overlap between Green magic and artifacts: +1/+1 counters.


    They called me a Madman
    Many are reluctant to include overt +1/+1 counters matter support in their lists, and this is largely understandable. A poorly-integrated +1/+1 counters theme is parasitic and hard to make work in draft. Abzan Falconer is either unbeatable or unplayable depending on its level of support. Falconer suffers from the issue that kills many cards - it needs a fair bit of support beyond explicit archetype support to work. Throwing a Travel Preparations and Trollbred Guardian will not make Hardened Scales or Abzan Falconer playable. These cards need incidental support to be good. Many cards have incidental counters, such as Callous Dismissal and Stromkirk Noble. These cards are flexible and are already shoe-ins for many cubes. What this means is that the +1/+1 counters deck is actually easier to support than it initially looks, provided that a designer takes into account the needs of the archetype when making card inclusion decisions. Some of these needs are able to be filled by artifacts, thus making artifacts matter to green based counters decks.

    Artifacts are a good way to support the needs of any deck. Many flexible artifacts have abilities that play nicely into the themes of specific archetypes without taking colored slots. They can go into any deck with vague support cards, and help a theme work. A good example of this paradigm is Hollow One, a card which really helps red-based discard decks without taking a red slot. This is one of the main reasons why +1/+1 counters overlay into the artifact section- there are a lot of powerful artifact cards that synergize with +1/+1 counters. For example, Steel Overseer puts +1/+1 counters on each artifact creature on its controller's team. This means it can be used in both a +1/+1 counters deck and an artifact deck.

    The fundamental argument for Green artifacts involves the mesh of green counters cards and artifacts that like counters. The modular and proliferate mechanics in particular help to bridge the gap between the two sections. Remember- Green does not directly synergize with artifacts. There are just a bunch of powerful artifacts that usually don't get put into cubes because they primarily care about +1/+1 counters, and there are a bunch of green cards that can't make the cut because they are perceived as too narrow. These two categories work very well together, but it's not necessarily a direct correlation in terms of other artifacts matter strategies.

    Card Tricks
    The following cards are the fundamental pieces of the green artifacts decks. These cards can fit within the same power-band, but they aren't necessarily required in a cube list for the archetype to work. Including a number of these enabler cards in a cube is important, but a few can be omitted because of power level or price concerns.


    Hardened Scales spawned the idea of this archetype. Scales is one of the best ways to get additional counters onto creatures since it provides an extra counter each time a creature would get a +1/+1 counter. Scales does its job extremely well. Hardened Scales looks fairly ambiguous, but it fits into more decks than one might initially assume. For example, decks running Rhythm of the Wild or other mass +1/+1 counter adding cards will sometimes play scales to help maximize value. It is also great with Hangarback Walker, and the vast majority of the cards discussed below.

    Hardened Scales is vital for most counters decks to function at peak efficiency.


    Evolution Sage and Contagion Clasp play a similar role in this archetype: they are repeatable proliferate engines. Evolution Sage is great in conjunction with fetchlands, since it will often add two +1/+1 counters to the rest of its controller's team. Although Contagion Clasp has a steep activation cost, it doubles as a removal spell. Picking off an opponent's Dark Confidant before it generates any value is a simple, feel-good situation. These cards also synergize nicely with hardened scales, as it makes them essentially add 2 counters per trigger instead of one.


    Steel Overseer is a great artifact lord. Although it is slow to start, it asks the opponent for an immediate removal spell or else it will usually provide some level of long-lasting value on the board. It's floor as a 2-mana Chronomaton with no mana cost to activate its ability is serviceable, and its ceiling is incredibly good. In addition, Overseer is just insane with Hardened Scales and even the previously mentioned proliferate engines.


    Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista both fill a similar role in the green artifact deck: counter based finishers. Hangarback Walker creates an army of thopters that require an opponent to either have a board wipe or lose the game when it dies. Walking Ballista just hits the opponent's face until they die. Both of these cards play incredibly well with the Steel Overseer[c] and the Proliferate Engines. [c]Hangarback Walker plays better with Hardened Scales as it's activated ability to add counters is less expensive to play. A Walker/Scales draw can look like:
    Turn 1: Play Hardened Scales.
    Turn 2: Play Hangarback Walker. It enters play with 2 +1/+1 counters thanks to Scales.
    Turn 3: Play a Activate Hangarback Walker, adding an additional 2 counters.


    Scrapyard Recombiner was actually the card that prompted me to write this list when it was previewed. Scrapyard Recombiner plays a few roles. For a start, it's just a generally decent card in any artifact, barring any synergies with green. Although the floor of a Gray Ogre isn't something that most decks will want to play, a Gray Ogre that provides a powerful form of card selection is very much welcome in artifact strategies. Some of the most powerful artifact creatures in cube, such as Myr Battlesphere and the Gearhulks, are constructs.

    What makes Scrapyard Recombiner so good in this archetype is that it grabs all of the key creatures for the deck, while also having built-in counters. Hardened Scales makes Recombiner enter play as a 3/3. The proliferate engines can grow it into infinity. Scrapyard Recombiner grows with Steel Overseer[c], and can then sacrifice itself to add additional counters to [c]Walking Ballista. Somtimes, just helps set up a deck's engine, which is respectable in of itself. Recombiner might not seem like all that much, but it has so much synergy with the rest of the Green Artifacts deck that it would be wrong not to mention its strengths.


    Tireless Tracker is probably the last card some would expect to see on a list of mostly Modern Hardened Scales affinity cards. Tireless Tracker is usually played in midrange or Death and Taxes style strategies, even in cube. The card advantage it provides along with its ever-increasing size means that "fair" grindy decks love the tracker. However, a quick read of the card indicates that is actually quite good in a deck that cares about artifacts and +1/+1 counters.

    Tireless Tracker creates clue tokens, which are small artifacts that can be sacrificed to draw a card. The tracker gets a +1/+1 counter whenever it's controller sacrifices a clue. This means that Tireless Tracker both gains value from Hardened Scales and friends, while providing artifact fodder for the cards like Kuldotha Forgemaster and the previously mentioned Scrapyard Recombiner.


    Verdurous Gearhulk is a beefy boy that can enter play as an 8/8 for five, act as a one-time Steel Overseer activation, or work as some combination of the two. Gearhulk has pristine synergies with Hardened Scales, allowing for up to 8 +1/+1 counters to be thrown onto the board when it comes into play. It also works quite well with the Proliferate Engines. In addition, Verdurous Gearhulk is a construct, meaning it can be tutored up with Scrapyard Recombiner. The flexibility of this card cannot be denied, and anyone attempting to make Green Artifacts work in a higher-powered environment should make sure to include a Verdurous Gearhulk.

    Although the above cards are among the essential pieces for a Green Artifacts deck to function, they are far from the only pieces that help the archetype. In fact, just adding these cards alone wouldn't allow a Green Artifacts deck to manifest during a draft. The below list includes many of the best cards to include when trying to support the archetype. At least some of them should be considered when designing a Green Artifacts archetype.

    Primary Options


    Additional Support
    Show Spoiler
    Please note, these are just some stand out extras that I wanted to bring to attention for this specific deck. These are far from all of the additional support cards one could include in a cube list for the Green Artifacts deck.


    Example Decks
    Please note that these example decks do not necessarily contain only cards I mentioned here and may not fit in the same power band. They simply examples of what one may wish to do with this archetype.


    Mono-Green Hardened Scales Affinity













    Green-White Counters











    Green Blue Go-Wide Overseer












    Green Black Aristofacts












    Green Red Welding











    Conclusion
    Despite its overall lack of support from Wizards of the Coast over the years, Green +1/+1 Counters Artifacts decks are poised to be potent competators in cube lists. Green Artifacts allows for a fun, fresh take on a pair of fan-favorite archetypes which don't always get the level of play in cube they deserve. The best part of implementing the archetype is that it requires very little space commitment within a given cube list. Cube designers can have an easy time implementing an artifact theme into green without polluting the draft environment at large. Although Green Artifacts won't necessarily break their way into a Vintage cube, it will almost certainly make artifact strategies better in cubes at the Legacy power level and below. I anticipate that the Green +1/+1 Counters Artifacts Archetype will eventually become a staple of medium and high power formats given enough time.
  20. Funny you should post this as it's something I've been struggling to formulate something coherent about green artifacts (and more) for a while.
    Your green +1/+1 counter post was spot on and better than anything I could have posted. What I wanted to expand on is how to make some of the cards you listed less narrow.

    Critical Mass

    Arcbound Ravager, Scrapyard Recombiner, Scrap Trawler, Kuldotha Forgemaster all need fodder. The classic Chromatic Star and Ichor Wellspring are great, but they have two issues:
    1) They are used in other decks. Which means they are going to be tough to pick up and you really depend on them more than other drafters to fuel your synergies.
    2) They aren't creatures. The above cards don't care about your fodder being non-creature or creature. However most of the other cards in cube do! I will try expanding on this later on in the post, but essentially to diversify your artifact archetypes having creatures allows you to go down an aristocrats route and an ETB/cast route.

    I think one key to making this deck work is a huge amount of versatile colorless creatures as fodder. Things like



    These guys are playable everywhere and make sure you have the density to make these otherwise narrow cards work.
    This is essentially dbs' post on artifacts Artifacts in Cube - Yes, but how?, but it's such an important factor that I think it bears repeating.

    Narrowness

    Arcbound Ravager works well in the green +1/+1 counter deck, but I think we need to be able to include it in more archetypes to justify it's place in cube. I'm trying to see if the following package works:



    Arcbound Ravager pulls it's weight as a sacrifice outlet for these guys, allowing to generate a lot of death and cast triggers. You can tie these back into green or colorless with (notice the +1/+1 counters!)




    You can tie this into other colors with Marionette Master, Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle, Sai, Master Thopterist and of course your classic Braids and Welder archetypes.
    The Foundry Inspector might be too much, but it really lets you go off (or Ugin, the Ineffable, Cloud Key).

    Additional Support



    is another Ravager type card that can give some sweet redundancy to your lists. The downside is that it's gold...

    Tl;dr
    +1/+1 counters is a great way to push artifacts into green and TrainmasterGT's post is great. However, some cards are pretty narrow and it might be worth it to explore those cards in other archetypes like aristocrats and ETB/cast.
    Alfonzo Bonzo and dbs like this.
  21. Jason Waddell Administrator

  22. Jason Waddell likes this.

  23. Magic's Corset: The Core Set
    For centuries, the undergarment of choice for women was the corset. Corsets were used to artificially give women an "hourglass" figure, as well as provide support for the breasts. Unfortunately, corsets had some issues. They were expensive, impractical, and downright uncomfortable. In fact, corsets were so restrictive that they would literally cause a woman's body to become deformed, pushing vital organs out of their normal position. Despite this, people still thought that corsets were the only real option in terms of undergarments for women. Even the poor would have at least some sort of makeshift corset if they could afford it.

    [IMG]

    By the 1800s, Corsets were starting to phase out a little bit. They restricted the range of body motion of women working in factories. This caused a decrease in productivity. Some members of the labor movement even called for people to stop wearing corsets. Indeed, some did turn on the corset, but the garment didn't completely die. The limitations of the corset did not hinder the trendsetting aristocratic and capitalistic elites of an imperial Europe and the Eastern United States. As such, the corset didn't die.

    Then World War I happened.

    [IMG]

    During the war to end all wars, most countries had to strictly ration metal. Since most corsets contained at least some amount of metal, their production all but ceased to support the war effort. As such, women started wearing bras during the war. Even after the war was over, people stuck to bras. Some women tried to go back to the corset after the war, but they quickly abandoned the practice. The more simplistic and less restrictive comfort bras provided meant that one could still have the major functional benefit of the corset without the negative aspects. Although the change to the bra cost the aesthetic positives of the corset, the functional benefits heralded by the bra won the day in the end.

    The Core Set: Magic's Corset
    Magic has its own corset, conveniently and somewhat confusingly known as the Core Set. Core Sets were meant as a means to introduce new players to the game using a smattering of simple reprints. In 2009, core sets were allowed for the first time since Limited Edition Alpha to include new cards, and in 2010, Core Sets were allowed to use up to 1 non-evergreen mechanic in their designs. Like the corset, core sets were accepted by most as the defacto product for new players. Some of the sets, such as 10th edition and M11, were decent, providing interesting new cards and simple reprints to the game. Others, such as 8th Edition and M13 were far more trouble than they were worth. Overall, the Core Set was fine, but not great. They were not always very elegant, despite the stated goal of simplicity.

    Then, in 2015, Wizards of the Coast announced that magic would be switching from a "One 3 set block and One Core Set" per year system to a "Two 2 set blocks" system going forwards. As such, the Core Set was abandoned. Recent Core Sets hadn't been selling as well as hoped. The money was in the block sets. After all, the Return to Ravnica, Theros, and Khans of Tarkir sets were all some of the highest-selling sets of their time.

    In a way, the Two-Block system was to the Core Set what World War 1 was to the corset. Both were pretty disastrous events to the world as a whole, but they allowed for the re-evaluation of antiquated practices. Losing the Core Set didn't cause Magic to crumble.

    Wizards eventually realized that blocks, in general, were not helpful for the game. Simply put, the heavy organization blocks required restricted WOTC's design choices and were a net negative for the game. Now that Wizards didn't need to use the summer release space for a block set, they decided to bring back the Core Set. This decision made sense on paper. The two-set blocks proved that magic needs some form of neutral standard set in which any card from any plane can be printed. Since the game had lost a fair number of standard players during the disastrous Battle for Zendikar and Kaladesh standard seasons, bringing in some sort of on-ramp to the game for new player also made sense. As such, the Core Set was brought out of its retirement.

    Unfortunately, Wizards learned some of the wrong lessons from their Two-Block and old Core Set mistakes.

    Wizard's first new core set, M19, was fine. It had a number of interesting and playable designs, as well as a pretty decent base of cards for players new and old alike to build with. Cards such as Demanding Dragon and Remorseful Cleric were simple and elegant, yet had some power behind them. The cycle of Elder Dragons were both interesting and Resonant with players.

    However, M19 was not perfect. Its limited environment was objectively pretty bad, including a number of parasitic themes that simply didn't mesh with the rest of the format, such as G/W auras. In addition, M19 set the precedent that new core sets going forwards wouldn't be allowed to use non-evergreen mechanics. Luckily, neither of these factors sunk the set. Although M19 didn't sell quite as well as the sets that surrounded its release, it still managed to make a profit.

    When M20 rolled around, things got worse. The positive simplicity of M19 was largely lost. Although simple designs do exist in M20, there is very little resonance. There are a ton of weird, wordy cards, such as Embodyment of Agonies and Agent of Treachery. In addition, the Protection Mechanic, formerly retired for being too complicated and hard to understand, was brought back to "help new players understand the concept of enemy colors."

    As Peter LaCara states:
    To M20's credit, the set tried to fix the limited issues faced in M19 by trying to build limited archetypes that worked in 3-color pairs and 2-color pairs instead of simply focusing on 2-color pairs only. This system, however, appears to be more of a novelty for one set than a sustainable model going forward. It already seems like the designers were scraping the barrel looking for good limited archetypes. For example, Temur's limited theme for the set is Tribal Elementals. No, that's not a joke. Yes, this is only the second new core set.

    M20 made it very clear that core sets, in their current form, won't be able to last much longer. The rigid, highly structured design requirements Wizards is putting on its design team is hurting the sets that are literally supposed to be the core of the game. To put it lightly, they don't entirely seem to understand how to manage complexity in a set for newbies. Basically, these new Core Sets have the same issue as the corset, they're restrictive, and they can quite possible deform the user, or in this case, game.

    However, this doesn't mean Wizards needs to axe the Core Set again. If M19 taught us anything, it's that Core Sets can be good. In fact, I would argue that getting rid of the Core Set again is an actively bad idea. Having a regular set primarily for new players without polluting other products is genuinely important. Core Sets allow the opportunity to print bread and butter type cards like Llanowar Elves and Lightning Strike without needing to visit a setting where those cards make sense. They can jump-start collections by providing the building blocks of the game to new players.

    Basically, M19 and M20 are corsets. Magic needs a Bra.

    An Examination of Corset Core Sets.

    To understand what a Magic Bra looks like, we must first examine a the Magic Corsets.

    These are the five things Mark Rosewater states that M19 did well. Presumably, these things are going to be tenants of future Core Set designs, so it's important to examine what they are:
    -Accessibility
    -Introductory Product Integration
    -No Non-Evergreen Keywords
    -Small Flavor Theme
    -Five Monocolored Planeswalkers

    I think all but two of these points are incorrect to varying degrees.

    Let's start with accessibility. Core 2019 was simple enough as to not be confusing. It had some weird rare artifacts that made little sense, and a few overly-wordy cards, but overall, the set did fine in this department.

    I don't have enough experience with the Introductory Products to fully comment on their usability. From what I've seen the M19, the Introductory Products from M19 were quite good. However, it appears that M20's Introductory Products are very weird. One of the decks has a vampire theme for some reason, and many of the "made for noobs" cards seem a little more complex than they maybe should be.

    No Non-Evergreen Keywords in core sets is not good. This is not to say that every core set should have Non-Evergreen Keywords. M19 didn't need any. However, let's say a future core set would benefit from having a Non-Evergreen Keyword for constructed or limited purposes. The set should be allowed to have what it needs in that case.

    Small Flavor Themes are fun, but they're not always necessary. M19 did it's flavor theme very well. It felt like a Bolas origin set, containing Elder Dragons, a Dragon Subtheme, and Walkers specifically chosen because they had a direct connection with the face character. M20, however, showed that it is very possible to botch a flavor theme. The set feels almost nothing like a Chandra set, save for the fact that has 3 Chandra cards. Even Nissa, Chandra's apparent girlfriend, isn't in the set. It feels weird. M20 would have been better off trying to be generic.

    Five Monocolored Planeswalkers are not necessary. There should be 5, color balanced planeswalkers in a set, but they don't need to always be mono-colored. Magic Origins was actually going to be a villian-themed core set using 5 allied-colored walkers as it's face. This was changed to the Origins of the Gatewatch later in design when the decision to switch to two-set blocks was made. The point here is not that 5 walkers is wrong, but rather that they should not always be mono-colored if the set would be better otherwise.

    Now Watch, and Learn, Here's the Deal

    Some are probably wondering what I think a Core Set should contain. After all, it is a pretty audacious claim to say that the literal head designer of Magic is wrong about Magic. Mark, like M19 is on the right path. He's just not correct in the nitty-gritty details.

    Core Sets need to excel in 5 areas, in this order:
    -Simplicity
    -Applicability in Constructed
    -Usage of Non-Evergreen Keywords
    -Introductory Product Integration
    -Limited Gameplay

    Above all else, a core set needs to be simple. Simplicity is not the same thing as accessibility. An accessible set only does things to avoid driving away new players. Simple sets invite them. Let's take a look at two cards:
    [IMG][IMG]
    Goblin Grenade is a very simple card. You chuck a goblin at something, it explodes, and damages a thing. The flavor of the card is clear. Reckless Air Strike, on the other hand, isn't that clear. It has two disjointed abilities that aren't flavourfully bound in any meaningful manner. An Air Strike that only hits things in the air seems a bit contradictory to the point of the term "Air Strike." Although this could be intended as a pun, Reckless Air Strike also destroys artifacts, which just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's wordy and confusing.

    Grenade is resonant. Air Strike is Dissonant.

    Core sets need to apply in constructed. Under the new 3 and 1 system of Standard set organizations, Core Sets end up as the glue holding the standard environment together. Core Sets must contain cards that support and expand upon set-specific themes that may not have had the space to breathe in their respective set. Core Sets also need to provide the most support for the most recent Expansion sets. M20 included a bunch of random cards with the tribal subtypes from the Ixalan block. Although these cards could impact standard, they are coming far too late to really matter. Ixalan leaves standard just 3 months after M20 is released. I'm not saying that Core Sets shouldn't look to provide support to the exiting Standard sets, but they should focus on the most recent sets.

    In this regard, Core Sets also should be the home of specific reprints. Although M20 did a lot wrong, it did manage to reprint both Thrashing Brontodon and Steel Overseer. Neither of these cards make sense in every Expansion. Brontodon would need to be on a world with Dinosaurs. Steel Overseer would need to be in an expansion with an artifact theme to make sense. I would also argue that oddball reprints for eternal formats should be allowed in the Core Set. Stifle, for example, probably won't warp standard, but would be useful to the eternal formats where it sees play.

    Core Sets should be allowed to use Non-Evergreen keywords when they make sense. The key words here are: "when they make sense." M12 and M13 picked terrible non-evergreen returning mechanics. Bloodthirst and Exalted are simple, but they aren't elegant. These specific non-evergreen mechanics made little sense as inclusions. However, this does not mean that non-evergreen mechanics should never be in core sets. Certain mechanics like Flashback, Convoke, and Cycling have more relevant purposes in a set than even some evergreen mechanics. I would argue that the average cycling does better work than the average card with protection from a color. If it makes sense to put a few cycling cards into a Core Set to help support constructed, then, by all means, cycling should be allowed to be in the set.

    Cards with non-evergreen mechanics are not inherently complex. Take a look at a card like Firebolt. Even though it uses a non-evergreen mechanic, the point of this card is clear. It's a burn spell that you can play twice. Compare this to a card like Inferno Hellion. Hellion isn't simple. New players don't always grasp why they would want to play a card with such a major perceived downside. I would argue that this card is more complex than the previously mentioned Firebolt or something like Rebuild.

    Introductory Product Integration is important for the reasons Mark Rosewater states in his recent "Core to the Point" article. I'm not going to re-tread that here, but just know he's correct.

    Last, but not least, core sets need to have a good limited environment. Core Set Limited should be simple enough that new players can grasp the basic concepts of how to draft without voiding the decision-making skills one needs in an expansion-set limited environment. This can be done primarily by making the role of each card clear. Murder kills a creature. Colossal Dreadmaw has a big butt and can do a lot of damage. These cards are very simple, and as such serve a single generic role rather than a highly specialized specific for a specific deck. Cards that only go into one or two limited archetypes should be at uncommon and above. Any gold cards in a set should only be playable in a specific 2-color archetype, so that players have a clear understanding of what that color pair wants to be doing.

    That said, the limited environment should not completely be "on rails." One of M19's big limited issues was that many of the archetypes didn't mesh very well. G/W Auras and W/B lifegain had very few pieces in common, save for premium removal. Core set limited cards, especially at common, need to be playable in every deck. Any green deck can play Colossal Dreadmaw and every black deck wants a Murder. These cards may get better in a specific deck, but they aren't unplayable anywhere.

    If Wizards were to take these tenants presented here to heart, I think they would be far more successful in their Core Set designs. M19 was close to being amazing, and M20 could have been a lot better without needing to change too much.

    Conclusion
    Like the corset, Core Sets have become outdated. Even though their return could herald good things for Magic, Wizards of the Coast does not seem to understand how to correctly use what might be the best tool in their Standard arsenal. The support Core Sets provide to the game can be instrumental to facilitating a healthy flow of new players and a decent environment in Standard. However, some of the restrictions the design team has placed upon Core Set development could crush the Core Set's sustainability, just as a corset might crush a woman's internal organs. The entire reason for moving away from the old block model was to provide Magic design with more options. Taking away options from Core Set design seems to be antithetical to the reason for which they were brought back in the first place.

    Magic does not need a Corset.

    It needs a Bra.
    safra, ravnic, vennythekid and 5 others like this.
  24. Fat Bois and How to Use Them
    The Role of Fatties in Cubes

    Recently, there has been a thread here on Riptidelab.com discussing "fatties," or large creatures. This thread has sparked a conversation about fatties and how to use them in cube. However, the original thread (and many of the subsequent posts) kind of missed the point of fatties as they apply to cube. The original post was talking about a very specific group of fatties in the context of a very specific power level. The author of said post even went as far to say that Eternal Dragon is a "Low-Rank Control Finisher" and Pelakka Wurm is "too small and boring to be a good ramp and reanimation target." The problem with this line of thinking is that it isn't intrinsically true with either of these cards in every environment. Pelakka Wurm and Eternal Dragon don't necessarily belong in a powered cube, but they can be quite good in a low or medium power format like the Penny-Pincher cubes. In addition, many other fabulous fatties were just completely ignored by the original poster.

    As such, I believe that it makes sense to have an honest conversation about what a fatty is and how they should be used in cube, regardless of power level. Fatties are a broad enough concept so that they can be discussed in general terms without needing to delve into specific cards. The truth is, every environment needs some amount of beefy creatures. Due to every cube being of a different power level, the optimal fatties for one cube may be over or under powered in another.

    A Definition of Thickness
    I will be defining a fatty as the following:
    With that out of the way, it is essential to understand what a fatty intrinsically wants to do. Fatties are finishers. They're meant to be the beef that can help push through that last bit of damage needed to end a game of Magic. Sometimes, fatties are even the only way a deck can reliably damage the opponent. Their size means that they must Ebe answered by an opponent or else they can end the game by themselves.

    Fatties usually reside at the top of a deck's mana curve. Sometimes, if a deck's given curve ends at a low cmc, then that deck's fatty is going to be smaller than it's counterparts. For example, the largest creature a Mono-Red aggro deck may run is a Thunderbreak Regent or Charging Monstrosaur. Even though these cards might not have the raw power of a Pelakka Wurm, they still can act as fatties. Remember, a fatty is simply a creature with a higher than average combined power toughness. If the average size of a creature in a given format is a 3/3, then a Charging Monstrosaur qualifies as a fatty. That said, I would generally argue that a fatty has to be a 4/4 at a bare minimum to count. Even then a 4/4 creature needs to have some sort of additional evasive or damage-output ability to be considered a fatty. Thunderbreak Regent has flying and deals damage to the opponent when it becomes the target of one of their spells. As such, the regent can be considered a fatty. Meanwhile, Ferocious Zheng is just a vanilla 4/4, and as such, probably won't be able to act as a finisher in a cube environment. As such, the Zheng is not a fatty.

    It is important to remember that not all fatties need to act as direct, damage-dealing finishers to count as fatties. For example, Torrential Gearhulk is, by most metrics, a fatty. However, the primary use of the card is to allow it's owner to re-cast a spell from their graveyard. The fact that the gearhulk is a 5/6 is just gravy. Despite this, since gearhulk is a far larger than most creatures in most cube formats, it can still be considered a fatty. It can indeed win the game by itself, despite the fact that it's not always going to be used for that specific reason.

    Fatties in the context of design
    With the basic definition of a fatty out of the way, it is now important to understand how to use fatties in the context of cube design. There are four major points that we must be conscious about when choosing fatties for our environments:

    1: Fat is Relative. Not every big creature is always going to count as a fatty in every environment. If the average power/toughness of a creature in a given cube is 4/4, then the aforementioned Thunderbreak Regent isn't a fatty. In this case, the regent would just an evasive threat akin to a Wind Drake. Meanwhile, cards like Havoc Devils and Arcanis the Omnipotent could be considered fatties in a format where the average creature is a 2/1. Remember, there was a point in time when Craw Wurm was one of the largest fatties in the game. Today, Craw Wurm is actively outclassed by most green creatures costing more than {3}.

    2: Not every color needs (or wants) the same type and mass of fatties. White does not need fatties of the same size or in the same quantity as green. For white, a copy of Baneslayer Angel, Sun Titan, and Elesh Norn is often times going to be enough (at 360, with a high power level). Meanwhile, green may want at least 6 or 7 big boys to round out a ramp or reanimator package. It is important to remember that what colors want what fatties and in numbers are cube dependant. Different archetypes have different demands. If black is mostly an aggro color in a given cube, then it is going to need comparatively fewer fatties than if it were a control color.

    3: Fatties have the narrowest applicable power band of any card type. Lightning Bolt is a card that sees more play in cubes than almost any other card. People play bolt in Pauper and Powered cubes alike. Although bolt is a better card in lower powered formats, to the point where some opt to cut it, people will still play bolt alongside cards like Black Lotus. The reason for this is simple: bolt is universally a good card for it's cost, but it's never too good. 3 Damage for 1 mana is a good rate, but it is rarely backbreaking. After all, 3 damage just isn't a ton in the grand scheme of a magic game. Yet, 3 damage can still dispatch a creature or finish a game.

    Now compare Lightning Bolt to a card like Consecrated Sphinx. Like Lightning Bolt, Consecrated Sphinx sees a fair amount of play in powered environments. Unlike Lightning Bolt, Consecrated Sphinx completely breaks in low or medium-powered environments. The reason is simple: Consecrated Sphinx gives its controller so much card advantage that the opponent simply can't win the game in many instances. In addition, Sphinx has a huge evasive body which ends the game by itself after just a few turns. It just completely breaks a format where the average card is on the power level of a Stormfront Pegasus.

    Colossal Dreadmaw, on the other hand is quite a fair card in comparison to a Stormfront Pegasus. Although the dreadmaw has the same CMC and a very similar combined power/toughness as Consecrated Sphinx, it lacks the card draw power which makes Sphinx too good in most cubes. That said, Colossal Dreadmaw isn't a good card in most cubes. No one would consider adding a Colossal Dreadmaw to the same deck as a Black Lotus, or even a Ripjaw Raptor for that matter. That doesn't mean that no one would play Dreadmaw anywhere. It just means that it isn't good in higher powered environments. The point here is that the power of a fatty is very relative to the rest of an environment.



    4: Fatties are top end cards for most archetypes, but certain archetypes need them to function. Almost deck can make use of one or two fatties. Red Burn, G/W Death and Taxes, and U/B control can all benefit greatly from having a big creature to help finish the game. Despite this, none of these archetypes actually need fatties to win. As a general rule, most decks do not require fatties to win, provided they have enough synergy to make up for the loss of raw stats. However, there are two archetypes which almost always need fatties: Ramp and Reanimator. Ramp decks need big things to ramp in to, such as Carnage Tyrant, Polukranos, World Eater, and yes, even Pelakka Wurm. Although some ramp decks can win by simply Expansion // Explosion or Fireballing the opponent in the face, most ramp decks need some sort of big creature to finish things off. Reanimator decks are almost universally built on the premise of returning a fatty from the graveyard to play. These decks need some beef to bring back or else they probably can't win. If ramp and reanimator are archetypes you wish to support in your cube, it is imperative to include at least a few fatties in every color for these decks to bring back. In the absence of these archetypes, the required mass of fatties becomes a fair bit lower.

    Conclusion
    Fatties are vital to the construction of a cube. They play an integral role as finishers and general value cards in player's decks. Picking the right fatties is imperative to creating a fun and interesting cube environment. Understanding how and why to use fatties is the best way to properly integrate fun and unique cards into your cube.

    Thanks for reading!
    Brad, safra, Latro and 3 others like this.
  25. these are some good-ass posts my dude

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