Posted tagged ‘environment’

My First Draft Experience with Greenhouse Effect

August 20, 2012

I finally got to draft with Greenhouse Effect for the first time, and I couldn’t be prouder! The draft was a rousing success. Everybody was having fun, and everyone got reasonable decks, while I could use my somehow tighter drafting/deckbuilding & playing skills to achieve an earned victory.

The draft itself was full of interesting and meaningful decisions, and even though in the end each player only had a few excessive cards, deck-building still wasn’t possible on autopilot. On the other hand, although my fellow drafters were more or less casual players (two of them actually only playing my cube drafts, which happen no more often than once in a couple of weeks), everyone was able to assemble a smooth-running deck (meaning that mana distribution, mana curve, creature ratio and access to interactive cards all worked out, and that the decks’ power levels weren’t too disparate) – it really helps a lot if a cube is already using a distribution akin to that of properly constructed limited decks, and if overall card quality is high enough that drafting isn’t about worrying how to get enough playables, but those more subtle things.

Deciding on your color combination was hard work, but everyone managed to find their niche (we had a heavily green Naya deck with excellent manafixing, a Gruul deck, a Dimir Deck, and a G/b deck comfortably splashing White for Oblivion Ring). Some, but not all of the possible archetypes I wove into this cube manifested, just like it should be.

Actual play was also great. I need to tell you, though, that we did another experiment: It was an idea of mine that limited play (I can not stress enough that I am NOT talking about constructed!) would be vastly more enjoyable if your starting handsize (and thus also your maximum handsize) was eight instead of seven. (Note that I do not use cards specifically referring to the number of cards in hand in my cubes – the only exception is Skullcage, I believe – although I do not think it would be much of a problem if I did.) This did exactly what I hoped it would do: We needed fewer mulligans, the ones we took didn’t hurt as much, and the early turns went much smoother for everyone in general. I couldn’t spot any real potential for abuse – it was just a lot more FUN!

Speaking of fun: There were very few games decided on opening hands plus the first few draw steps – players got to PLAY their decks. At the same time, the early game and tempo overall were very important, but strong, expensive cards also routinely got to shine. I am convinced I hit the sweet spot between efficiency and power, with games revolving around tempo advantage and card advantage by roughly the same amount. Two-drops mattered as much as 6-mana “bombs” did, and even the strongest cards could still be interacted with and be beaten. A high percentage of games was actually decided on play decisions (and I don’t just mean DUMB ones), gamestates were reasonable complicated (but seldom stalled), lots of interesting synergies manifested, and comebacks from strongly disadvantaged positions happened several times – but NOT due to the topdecking of unbeatable bombs. All decks played noticeably different from each other, and the power level span between single cards was perfect, with the strongest cards having the high impact they deserved, but blending seamlessly into game dynamics instead of making earlier plays irrelevant.

I am not overstating this: Drafting and playing Greenhouse Effect was the most fun experience I ever had drafting or playing Magic (followed closely by my experiences with Crusade) – a cube focussing on good gameplay DOES deliver!

The one thing I can’t be sure about yet is if the long-term play value of Greenhouse effect will match that of Crusade. After all, it is just 240 cards instead of 384, and each common will be present in every draft – maybe the critical mass to avoid the impression of repetition is just not there. Time will tell. In any case, this observation is part of the experiment: 240 cards is already the lowest number I would try out for a cube designed to be in use for a long while. Right now, I’m toying with the thought of new specifications for my cubes: Three rarities (common, uncommon, rare), with each booster containing 2 rares, 5 uncommons and 6 commons (for a total of 13 instead of 12 – there will still be 4 cards left undrafted in each booster, though, meaning that you will get three picks from the boosters you open, and have access to 36 instead of 32 drafted cards to build your deck from). Commons will show up in boosters with a chance of 2/3 each; uncommons with 1/2; and rares with 1/3, which means that the cube contains 144 commons, 160 uncommons and 96 rares, for a total of 400 (a little more than in Crusade even!). While you wouldn’t be guaranteed that any specific common existed in the draft pool (like with Greenhouse Effect), the chances for given cards to show up will be significantly different, depending on the cards’ rarity; themes can be supported by comparably few cards by putting those into common slots; but at the same time there is room for a lot of different things (cutting down Greenhouse Effect to just 240 cards was really painful – there was so much which had to fall to the wayside!) without single cards showing up too rarely. I also believe I could make use of a third rarity as a slot (well, actually two per booster) for stuff you cannot expect with any regularity, but might want to take as a lead for the direction your draft will take – the only good rares really do for drafting (other than hiding cards which are not fit for limited at all). Actually, my greatest worry here is that 36 cards will prove just too much for deck-building, and that too many cards will be forced to the sidelines – but then again, maybe players will spend those extra picks on a longer orientation phase when drafting before they settle on their colors. Well, it’s something to try out!

…okay,  it seems I got sidetracked, but I was mostly done with praising my own creation anyway. Just one more thing: I noted that I was using the Planeshift version of Thornscape Battlemage, which really, REALLY should have been the Time Spiral version, because that one says clearly the card is an elf! That is incredibly important, but I just overlooked it. I have to get that newer version ASAP.

Please let me encourage you to follow my example to build cubes not by throwing together cards which you like, but by focussing on good gameplay – I guarantee you that it is worth it!

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Limited Card Pool Update: Yeva’s Forcemage & Giant Scorpion, (no) Hunting Cheetah & Daggerback Basilisk

July 29, 2012

Just when my limited card pool is finally complete, I already see the need to further improve it. This came about after drafting Magic 2013: I realized that Yeva’s Forcemage actually played better than I had expected – I had experienced that both Kinsbaile Skirmisher and Venerable Monk, which I had compared the Forcemage to, were just boring and their abilities inconsequential. However, it turns out that +2/+2 is a bonus which is completely different in tactical terms from +1/+1, allowing additional attacks and creating additional pressure in a way which the Skirmisher, even though he seems more mana-efficient at first glance, never was able to do. I decided the Forcemage is a nice, generic creature on a low power level strongly encouraging you to put it into an aggressive deck and looked through my card pool to see if there was space for it.

It turned out that there was; and I also stumbled over Hunting Cheetah, which I believed I had already sorted out, since it doesn’t play too well. (Extra forests, while useful, are just not as important as the extra draws which Scroll Thief provides, and as a 2/3, it will often rack up considerable damage if it actually gets through repeatedly before the extra lands matter or after they don’t anymore, so its ability feels tacked on – it is certainly not a bad card to have in a cube, but I realized it would just never make the cut.) Then I remembered that I had kept the Cheetah when I took Elite Cat Warrior out (which I had done, in turn, when Sombald Dryad became available) because of the lack of a simple 2/3 creature costing 2G – there are several options, of course, but none I really liked (Pincer Spider has a clumsy kicker, Elder of Laurels is too powerful, Lurker to quaint…), and the Cheetah still looked the most interesting. Also, I remembered that it hadn’t been too easy to acquire this card at all, which was an additional incentive to keep it.

But in the end, if I do not use it (and I don’t and won’t), it has to go. So, Green does not have that 2/3 creature for 2G with a simple additional ability, but it has Nessian Courser, which somehow also fits that slot, and the Forcemage is a wonderful generic, aggressive option on a slightly lower power level.

When playing with Magic 2013, I also was reminded of the existence of Giant Scorpion – a card I really didn’t like too much back in Zendikar draft (since I really wanted to attack with all my creatures every turn, and the Scorpion was just an inefficient attacker), but somehow still assumed I had put into my pool. I just found out that I didn’t: I guess it has something to do with the return of Moonglove Changeling when I reorganized the changelings – I may have decided those two were too similar. But of course they aren’t; the Scorpion is much better on defense and much worse on offense than a Daggerback Basilisk (what the Changeling becomes when activated) and plays completely differently. Since I had taken out Wall of Bone (because I felt regeneration on a low-power wall was somehow redundant – I would always use a small regenerating black creature instead), Black totally lacked a clearly defensive creature on 3 mana, and of the Scorpion is the best choice here!

Funnily, I even missed it when I constructed Greenhouse Effect, although I DID notice that I had a common black creature with shadow too many, but wanted another deathtouch effect in Black! I will remedy this mistake by taking out Trespasser il-Vec and replacing it with the Scorpion (only in that cube, the Trespasser stays in my limited pool).

I also realized that, even though deathtouch was an explicit theme in that cube for GB, Daggerback Basilisk hadn’t made the cut. This was partly for very cube-specific reasons (Wren’s Run Vanquisher intersected with the tribal elf theme, and the 3-mana slot for green common creatures was already full with important creatures supporting other themes), but partly because I preferred Deadly Recluse and especially Ambush Viper in that funcion. I realized this when I decided to bring Giant Scorpion back (I really think it has been in my pool before), and I accepted that the more generic feeling deathtouch creatures resided in Black, and that the Basilisk, while certainly the most generic implementation of that mechanic (okay, after Typhoid Rats), just didn’t play as well as the Viper did – it is more powerful, but a staple green creature should possess that power level. (The correct mana cost for a green 2/2 with deathtouch is probably 1G, by the way.)

Hunting Cheetah and Daggerback Basilisk are most certainly examples of cards you CAN use in a cube, actually in almost any cube – but there will always be more interesting or better fitting other options, while I am certain that Yeva’s Forcemage and Giant Scorpion will actually get used by me. This is what limited pool trimming is about: Reducing the number of cards you work with to those you actually NEED. If your pool contains over 2000 cards like mine does, you really should do this – it is easier than maintaining a larger pool and not being able to find the cards you really want for a cube in it!

My Limited Card Pool, updated and in xls format

July 18, 2012

It seems that it is preferrable if I provide downloadable lists in xls-format (ods isn’t possible, alas) instead of pdf. Thus, here is the link to my up-to-date (as of 18.07.2012) limited card pool for Next Level Cubes:

Limited Card Pool

Greenhouse Effect – a Next Level Cube

July 17, 2012

After quite a while, I have finally finished a new Next Level Cube! Just yesterday I got the final cards I was missing for my pool (I’m now up to date including Magic 2013) and immediately went to construction. As always, this cube is an experiment, and obviously I haven’t tested it yet. These were some of my goals when designing it:

1. I wanted the cube to be much smaller this time and see if it was still possible to create a complex, multi-faceted environment with lots of cross-synergies like with my extraordinary success, Crusade.

2. I wanted to use rarities both for booster collation and individual card frequency this time. (In Crusade, individual cards from both rarities had the same chance of being in a draft, 50%.)

3. I wanted all commons to be in the draft every time to see how this changes draft dynamics – it should make a difference that you are guaranteed now certain cards will actually be in the boosters when sculpting your deck during draft, allowing you to be more proactive and less reactive.

4. I wanted to try out yet another model of asymmetrical color distribution. Crusade had White and Rakdos as equally strong main elements with Blue and Green squeezed in between them. This time, the environment is all about Green dominating it and growing into all other colors, with a clearly smaller Dimir putting up resistance.

5. I wanted to force players to commit to certain color combinations even more, just to see if this works (I’m optimistic that it will, but only actual drafting and playing will tell). Thus I used mostly manafixing which is specific to a color combination and reduced the amount of colorless cards a bit.

Greenhouse Effect is a 240-card cube, with 144 commons and 96 rares. The actual draft pool for each draft will contain all the commons and half of the rares. The distribution of the cards is as follows (as always, I prefer actual usage of a card to technical definitions when assigning it to a color or color combination, and I have come to include cards tied to all five colors with the colorless ones):

Commons:

15 Colorless
15 White
15 Black
30 Green
15 Blue
15 Red
6 Selesnya
6 Golgari
9 Dimir
6 Simic
6 Gruul
6 Naya

Rares:

6 Colorless
9 White
12 Black
24 Green
12 Blue
9 Red
3 Selesnya
3 Golgari
6 Dimir
3 Simic
3 Gruul
6 Naya

So clearly, Green gets the lion’s share this time, and encroaches on all the other colors, with a slight preference for its friends, White and Red, leading to all 2-color combinations including Green, and Naya as the only supported 3-color-combination. Blue and Black try to resist, thus making up the strongest non-Green colors in the environment and working together as Dimir.

I believe that this setup will lead to a default distribution of colors between players: 1 Naya, 1 Golgari, 1 Simic and 1 Dimir. However, I also expect that following card distribution in boosters and players’ draft decisions, this pattern will be shifting or even completely broken up more often than not.

Green is the only color which can be reasonably drafted on its own, and the abundance of colorless removal can help shore up its main weakness as a mono-color. However, while Green is the only single color drawing you into making it your main color with several double-green cheap creatures, it does not actually specifically reward you to go mono – in this environment, Green wants to play with (and encompass) the other colors, and multicolor cards are just a tad stronger overall to lure players into drafting additional colors. With a high preference for manafixing, a player might even be able to go 4-color-Green (I don’t believe there is a realistic chance of getting a decently consistent 5-color-Green deck, but a player might try anyway)!

Green in itself offers you – in addition to the usual solid, efficient creatures in general – the tribal synergies of elves and beasts. If you go Selesnya, you will find a well-supported enchantment theme and token synergies. If you prefer Gruul, you will have a plethora of creatures with haste and trample at your disposal, allowing for very aggressive builds. In both these pairs you will also have access to a theme tied to all Naya colors, landfall. Of course, White still excels at having answers for all kinds of threats, and Red still offers a lot of burn.

Going Simic will get you many creatures with +1/+1 counters and additional beasts, while in Golgari, Black shares with Green the themes deathtouch and recursion. If you look at Blue and Black from a Dimir perspective, however, these colors share the aspects of graveyard abuse (with Blue contributing the graveyard stocking, Black being keener on resurrection, and both colors using flashback), shadow, a strong zombie tribal theme, and a smidge of hating on Green. Blue additionally uses its tried and true strengths of countermagic and card draw, and Black of course still knows how to do discard and kill creatures.

I suggest to prepare a draft with this cube as follows: Seperate the commons into three piles of 48 cards each: one containing Green, Selesnya, Gruul and Naya; one with Blue, Black, Dimir, Golgari and Simic (minus the three fetchlands Misty Rainforest, Verdant Catacombs and Polluted Delta); and one with Colorless, White and Red (plus the fetchlands). Separate the Rares into two piles: one with Colorless, Green, Selesnya, Gruul, Golgari, Simic and Naya; and one with White, Black, Blue, Red and Dimir. Shuffle each of these piles seperately and thoroughly. Then remove half of each rare pile and set it aside (these are the rares which will not be used in this draft), then shuffle the two rare piles together (once again, thoroughly). You have now three common piles and a rare pile with 48 cards each. Prepare the 16 boosters with three cards from each pile. This should make for a reasonably balanced booster collation.

Now, here is the card list:

GREENHOUSE EFFECT

Edit: Since someone asked – here is the source file with the list of Greenhouse Effect.

Second Edit: Trespasser il-Vec has since been replaced with Giant Scorpion.