Parnell’s Aggro: Subtractive Design

By: Jason Waddell

Last week, Justin Parnell wrote a nice article on supporting aggro in cube. I must confess, I was prepared not to like this article. The cube community long been over-saturated with articles that emphasize the importance of supporting aggro while simultaneously kind of missing the point.

While there are many tools at a cube designer’s disposal, at an abstract level most of the ways to bolster aggro boil down to:

  1.   Making aggro stronger
  2.   Making anti-aggro weaker

Under many cubers constraints, item 1 isn’t even an option. If you build your cube under the constraints of singleton power-maximization, you’ve likely already hit aggro’s power ceiling, or come close to it. Of course, if you ignore those restrictions other options open up. Andy Cooperfauss famously included a Rebel creature type errata to his cube, and my own approach has been to turn the aggro dial up to 11 (or more) by breaking singleton.

Parnell’s article primarily focuses on the second option, and he identifies well the types of cards that can disrupt the balance of your environment.

He then states:

I’m not suggesting you specifically cut these types of cards from your cube; rather, I want you to learn to manage their numbers so you don’t choke out aggro decks before they can even get off of their feet.

This is a good point. Hard design rules are rarely optimal. In my own cube, I run some of his identified cards, and omit others. Gideon Jura currently sits on my chopping block.

All in all, his article made me feel very optimistic. It was positively received on StarCityGames, and there doesn’t appear to be a vocal backlash against the suggestion that cards like Wurmcoil Engine or Thragtusk could be cut for balance concerns. Simply “pushing aggro” isn’t enough. I’ve played many cubes where all the best aggro cards were there, but the aggro decks simply couldn’t fight through a field of Moats and Walls of Reverence.

At the same time, it’s a little disappointing that it’s taken so long to get to this point. Imagine you were designing a brand-new Magic-like game, and for years playtest information reported that aggro was underpowered. This would be unthinkable. You’d either make aggro stronger, make anti-aggro weaker, or both. Achieving a balanced environment isn’t terribly difficult. Once you get past the basics of how to balance an environment, you can turn your attention towards finding the most fun ways to balance your environment.

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