Since I last talked about the cube back in September, my brother and I have been hard at work trying to improve it. It has been an extremely enlightening experience into the world of both game development and MTG set design.
Due to the way my brothers cube is built, it exudes much more of a limited set draft flavor than it otherwise would if it was constructed in the standard method of a singleton set. The interactions of the conspiracies with multiple copies of a card have really defined the way the draft is played, and its been a main focus of the cube since the start. I was extremely interested in how building a cube worked, and was thrilled when he wanted my input here and there. It is always going to be his cube, but I was glad to be of help wherever I could.
After our first few drafts, including a Saturday where my brother and I tried out a number of two player draft formats, it became clear that there were some problems with the cube. There were some cards that were consistently being left behind in favor of others, and there were cards that were completely dominating the set.
My brother had built the cube around some pretty solid archetypes, but even that wasn’t enough to topple a set of very good decks that were dominating the format: Allies and Graveyard Goodstuff. Both of those decks were nasty to play against because red had a ton of burn and white had awesome value in addition to the fantastic tribal and on the other side black had some really good graveyard manipulation and some big, giant, value fatties in green.
In addition to the two really good decks, the rest of the set seemed to develop into stalemates. early game would see one or two people break get some early damage in with aggro creatures, but after that it devolved into a massive wall of creatures set to lay into each other, but with few ways to break the deadlock, and most of them were in the two strong decks to begin with. had both [mt_card]Typhoid Rats[/mt_card] and [mt_card]Deadly Recluse[/mt_card]. This would lead to people avoiding going after the player because the trades were unfavorable, giving the deck time to pull out nasty big dudes and pull away. In contrast, had enough cheap, solid dudes that with its allies bonus and its body count it could eventually overwhelm an opponent. This was (is) further buffered by the [mt_card]Ondu Cleric[/mt_card], which, if played right, could net tons of life. Vigilance, which white has in abundance, is also extremely good when it comes to creature showdowns, as it allows you to have both offense and defense.
We could have tried to tone down the power of the two big powerhouses, but my brother felt it was a better path to go down increasing the synergy and power of the other decks, and I agreed heartily. I love crazy, insane, absurd games. There also was a decision to focus on building themes among the cube, archetypes that would be fairly obvious, build around type of decks.
Thankfully, Mark Rosewater is a very lucid, clear and explanatory MTG designer and has put out tons of fantastic articles on design, development and color concept. These principles gave us a starting point to kinda kick off from.
One of the things that he explained was the concept of “as fan” which is the amount of cards with certain features that will, on average, appear in a pack. its a simple formula that is based on the quantity of type of theme and rarity of that theme within a set. The article is here if you need/want more information, its very interesting to me.
We looked at a number of different themes, but quickly settled on enemy color pairs. This was a fairly easy choice because it allowed us to keep both of the powerful decks and gave us only three themes to build from the ground up.
We wanted fun, powerful cards that allowed us to have the same type of insanity that both Allies and Graveyard pulled off, but also fit the flavor of the card colors. Being an Izzet fan, I gravitated immediately to . From here it gets a little sketchy because we tried a multitude of different concepts. Suspend, Flashback and Slivers made brief appearances but were eventually rejected for a fun, simple and very Izzet theme: Spells Matter. In the mix with the good, solid spells that were offered in the spectrum, we added creatures like [mt_card]Jeskai Windscout[/mt_card], [mt_card]Goblin Electromancer[/mt_card] and [mt_card]Guttersnipe[/mt_card]. Not only were you going to be able to play awesome limited spells like [mt_card]Lightning Bolt[/mt_card], [mt_card]Think Twice[/mt_card] and [mt_card]Assault Strobe[/mt_card], but you were going to get rewarded for it.
While we rejected Slivers for Izzet, I really liked the concept in . It really felt like the type of synergistic, evolving, growing beast that would be represented by the Simic colors. The original problem that I’d posed with the slivers was that they have inherently low toughness. Both colors supporsed some fantastic slivers, but they were easy to kill and never would be able to break through the wall of creatures the other side would definitely be building up. Don’t get me wrong, Red has some Slivers that are just massive, but only on the power side. Green, though, was the Sliver beef machine, and I argued that it better fit the design. Thus, we tackled the Sliver deck. In addition to the slivers in the primary green and blue colors, there were also going to be Slivers of other colors, and even a 5 color sliver hiding in there for good measure. This did mean that Slivers were going to be highly prolific, but it felt right, and I couldn’t argue with it. As that guy who loved playing M14 slivers, I just had to back the concept. The big problem that we are facing now is that the blue slivers just seem like too much. They have some fantastic abilities and are game changers, but are they going to blow out the games, we don’t know. Its definitely a place for playtesting.
Finally, we come to , the colors we struggled with for the longest time and simply ignored. While the other two color combinations took a ton of time to has out what cards were desired, what direction the theme should go, and what cards should be at what rarity, Orzhov took the longest so simply come up with a theme. It would have been easy to try and use extort or outlast, but we really wanted to come up with something that was a slightly different take on the standard bent of the color pair. What my brother ended up striking on was an enchantment matters theme, which allowed for us to branch out in a number of different ways, much like spells mattering. Interestingly, it also allowed us to seep tendrils of overlap into as well, with cards like [mt_card]Nighthowler[/mt_card] and [mt_card]Sadistic Glee[/mt_card]. Constellation looked like it would be a natural fit, but there were only a pair of cards that looked good at the end of the day, and they easily slid into the cube: [mt_card]Underworld Coinsmith[/mt_card] and [mt_card]Grim Guardian[/mt_card]. One thing I really wanted to press into the mold here that my brother had come up with was the prevention of the 2 for 1 in the vast majority of cases. Cards like [mt_card]Necromancer’s Magemark[/mt_card] were high on my list to posit for consideration.
Now, with all the color pairs we were considering up and built, all we had to do was re-vamp the cube and get playing. Last night was the first time we were able to sit down and start card swapping, and we even got a pair of rounds in. 2 player drafting is a little strange, but we’ve started to get used to it. Each draft felt different, and we each won a round. He took the cake with a mean stuff deck, and I took the round with a 5 color [mt_card]Worldknit[/mt_card]
What was different this time around was that we felt that we were concerned about the cards the other person was getting, and that every choice felt valid. Instead of just getting what you wanted and passing whatever else you didn’t like, it was a massive undertaking to pass up some of those cards.
I will say, I am looking forward to getting more games in with this cube and testing it out. It feels shockingly fun.
If you feel like giving it a go, draft it on Cubetutor and leave me any suggestions about the setup, execution and design. I don’t promise to heed them, but I will read them!