Posted tagged ‘self-created’

Fundamentals of Next Level Cube Building

January 24, 2013

(You might want to read up what a Next Level Cube actually is.)

After a few months of cube drafting hiatus, I finally got to drafting Greenhouse Effect again, and it continues to amaze me. Once again, we had someone completely new to drafting (and almost new to Magic at all!) at the table, and once again, everyone had lots of fun. My creation succeeded again in reaching all important goals: Drafting, deckbuilding and playing was challenging and thrilling for the newbie as well as for the veteran (me) – and also, of course, the two intermediate players – and  everyone had some success in accordance with his skill (meaning that everyone won a few games, while the better players won more of them, but more importantly, that each game was actually a game, not the massacre of a foregone conclusion). There is a sweet spot in between beginning players being frustrated because they don’t feel they have a chance, and better players being frustrated because they do not feel that their superior skills pay off – yes, that sweet spot (or rather, a zone) actually exists! You do NOT have to choose between an environment which rewards skill and one which is fun for less experienced players. You do NOT need to ruin the game by putting Snitches in it to appeal to idiots – that might be prudent for marketing reasons, but is NOT essential to game design otherwise! Also, I did not succeed in achieving my goals because I’m an off-the-scale genius, but simply, because I – in contrast to the company selling this game – made them my first priority. Since I believe that some of you will be interested in guidelines how to design such cubes, this is exactly what I will do in this entry! So, here come my 10 tips for great cube design:

1. Cull the power level at the top

It’s true that in a game as complicated as Magic, it is impossible to have all cards at the same power level, and that this is not even desirable. However, there must be a limit to how much cards stand out from the average, or they become Snitches, making the rest of the game largely irrelevant. There was a time when Serra Angel, Mahamoti Djinn and Shivan Dragon were considered limited bombs, but they pale in comparison to what players can open nowadays in boosters. Serra and Fat Moti are actually quite fair, provided that the environment overall is constructed correctly, while Shivan is already pushing it, threatening to end a game all by itself too fast. Now compare these cards with Baneslayer Angel, Consecrated Sphinx or Flameblast Dragon… And those are just creatures somehow comparable to the old standouts! Do I even need to mention the Titans? No single card should be able to take a game over so fast if it isn’t dealt with immediately, and especially not even IF it is dealt with (like the Titans). Impact in accordance with mana cost is okay, as is some resistance to generic answers, but even 8-mana-spells shouldn’t just read “I win”, and cards you don’t have to work too hard for to cast (like 6-mana creatures) even less so. Serra Angel, Mahamoti Djinn and Shivan Dragon should give you an idea of what is acceptable, and if a card seems considerably stronger than those, you should omit it.

Note, though, that reactive cards and balancing cards, which do not win the game by themselves, are allowed to have a bit more impact. Wrath of God, another limited bomb from the early days, isn’t even considered a bomb by many today. It is actually important that a few comeback cards exist, as long as they can be played around somewhat reasonably by wary players. Also, sweepers which require a bit of a setup to be really advantagous, are okay – one example is Pernicious Deed, which I understand is a terror (not a Terror, of course!) in some casual formats, but has turned out to be just a very strong card whenever I put it in one of my cubes. In the end, it’s a symmetrical card, and while it is possible to break that symmetry in a cube environment, this isn’t nearly as automatic as in most constructed environments or cubes which are designed to enable constructed strategies. Strong reactive cards reward planning, and sweepers punish overfocussed strategies, so don’t shy away from them. Of course, there can be too much of a good thing: Stuff like Mana Drain or Balance are still far, far out!

2. Raise the power level at the bottom

Now, just as there are too strong cards, there are too weak ones. The reasons why such cards, which are unplayable in limited environments (I mean actually unplayable – that term is used WAY too much nowadays to denounce filler or fringe cards), even exist, are debatable, but even if you accept them, they have no bearing on building a good cube. Put only cards in a cube which you can reasonably expect to (justifiably) see play under some circumstances. There is absolutely no reason for blanks to exist in a cube. Also, you do not need any cards which are explicitly underwhelming, but barely usable, like Grizzly Bears, Zombie Goliath, or Wind Drake, when the general standard of your cards is closer to Wild Mongrel, Hyalopterous Lemure and Kathari Screecher (as it should be, so that the gap to your cube’s “bombs” isn’t too wide). The only reason (applicable to cube design) to do so would be to balance colors or draft archetypes out, and you don’t need them for this if you have access to a five-digit number of cards from Magic‘s history. You will already find a spread of varying power levels among your cards when you allocate slots for the themes you want your cube to feature. Do not waste slots in your cube on cards which are weak AND uninteresting, even if they meet the minimum standard of playability; use these slots for stuff like tribal cards, synergy cards and sideboard cards which have a chance to shine for better reasons than filling up a deck after a miscarried draft: A Goblin Turncoat might be just what a goblin deck or a sacrificing-for-profit deck needs; a Defy Gravity might actually be appealing in a self-milling deck or saboteur deck; and Rest for the Weary might actually be what you want against that ultra-aggressive weenie deck which plans to finish you off with stuff like Lava Axe.

If you do it correctly, you will end up with draft pools which contain enough obviously strong cards enticing players to commit to colors or switch them, while overall making sure that even drafters fighting over slightly overdrafted colors will not just be able to get decent decks, but even still have meaningful drafting decisions. The point of using only playable cards (and only a few situational ones among those) is that drafting never happens on autopilot, and there are always decisions to make, other than just identifying the chaff.

3. Weave themes into your cube

Do not just use a collection of cards you happen to like (by the way, using cards you especially like is generally something to be wary of, since we tend to like cards we won games with, which might mean that these cards are just too strong for a balanced environment – to quote Mike Turian on twitter: “Tinker is fun!”…) Make sure that there are interesting interactions and synergies between them. This adds an extra decision level to drafting beyond which colors you take and how aggressive/controlling you want to be, so that you do do not just fall back on taking cards according to their power level, once you reach the point when you know you’re aggressive RG (for example). It also means that all cards in a cube will have their chance to shine sometimes, and that you do not always see the same cards in players’ decks. As to the complexity this adds to drafting, which can be overwhelming to new players: I will address that issue in the next paragraph.

Oh, and do not only create synergies, but cross-synergies – themes will have a hard time to manifest in draft decks unless they are either completely dominant (making for a stale environment), or cards support several of them at once. If you have a token theme as well as an enchantment theme in Green, look for stuff like Fists of Ironwood or Bearscape, and make also sure that the colors you want drafters to combine with Green support these themes a little.

Of course, you cannot leave out the step before this: Allowing for both aggressive and controllish strategies in your cube, and making sure that no color is fixed on one of those paths exclusively (different weighting is fine, of course). This ties into the next paragraph:

4. Construct your cube using ratios of cards akin to those in draft decks

You see, a typical draft deck will run about 15 basic lands (which didn’t need to be drafted), 2 additional mana cards, 15 creatures, and eight other spells. This means that on average, ca. 60% of the cards players wish to draft are creatures. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, it is official policy of R&D to keep the ratio of creatures noticably lower, creating an artificial shortage of them in limited (and an abundance of non-creature “blanks” with little hope to ever make the cut). Do NOT make that mistake. If anything, put a little MORE than 60% creatures in your cube, because, you see, creatures are indispensible in limited decks, and all but the most specialised creatures will always hold at least filler value in a deck, while non-creatures will often prove worthless. Giving drafters enough creatures to choose from maximizes the number of relevant drafting decisions they make, and protects newbies from the cardinal error of running way too few creatures, which leads to useless decks and frustrating gameplay.

Don’t stop at the creature ratio, though. Make sure your cube contains everything draft decks need in the right numbers (of course, you need to figure in the rarity of cards). Spread your creatures along the mana curve in a sensible way – do not create a shortage of cheap drops and an abundance of creatures for 4+ mana, which is often the case in Magic sets. Balance aggressive and defensive cards out (okay, at least this R&D usually does). Put enough removal in the set (this they often do NOT), give players as much useful manafixing as they need (the only reason why dual lands are rare is to maximize profit!), and cut situational cards of the kind which are usually run in numbers of 0-2 per deck to a corresponding ratio, so that they’re there if someone wants them, but do not clog up the boosters. This achieves three things: It makes for more interesting draft decisions (since you’re not just struggling to fulfill quotas of important stuff, but can actually decide between alternatives), helps newbies get playable decks (in the sense that they can actually participate in games, even if their decks aren’t quite competitive) even if they know little more than the most basic deck-building principles and draft without a deeper understanding of Magic strategy, and improves gameplay. About the latter:

5. Keep your environment dynamic

Make sure that both tempo and card advantage play a role in games. There need to be fast, aggressive decks which stop players from durdling around too much while setting up an invincible endgame, and which punish too high mana curves. At the same time, give control-oriented decks the tools to stop these early onslaughts and some reward if they manage to do so (a strong endgame, that is). Then again, to avoid long-drawn-out games with a foregone conclusion, give aggressive decks a little “reach” – some way to close out a game even after the momentum has begun to shift away from them, typically direct damage or mass evasion effects – so that the control player is kept on his toes.

6. Provide plenty creature removal

Interactive gameplay is good gameplay. Non-interactive gameplay is bad gameplay. Avoid games which come down to catching the Snitch. Let players react to what their opponent does. Make gameplay go back and fourth.

The most important tool to guarantee interaction is removal. Give creature removal to all colors (yes, even Green – you can use stuff like Roots, Unyaro Bee Sting, Desert Twister and Prey Upon), and to make really sure that every player has access to it, include colorless removal. Ignore the taboos of the color pie which, essentially, just mean that some colors are not meant to interact with certain strategies, and thus lead to frustrating gameplay. Don’t worry, the colors will still feel distinct enough from each other by the way their removal is implemented, by the power level of it – and of course by their other cards.

7. Balance threats and answers

Do not just include enough answers to creatures, but to all kinds of cards. At the same time, put enough of these cards in the cube that it actually pays to run these answers! You cannot expect players to sideboard Smelt if their opponent offers only one or two good targets for it, but they should have a sensible option to deal with those problematic artifacts. It’s not hard to get enough artifacts into an environment, but you will need to consciously monitor the number of enchantments. Since enchantments are nearly impossible to deal with in both Red and Black, you need to make sure that some or all of the following are true:

  • there are colorless ways to deal with enchantments in your cube (probably only stuff like Nevinyrral’s Disk or Spine of Ish Sah, which are likely not common, though)

  • there are splashable ways to deal with those enchantments, AND there is enough manafixing that it is actually feasible to splash them (not an option in many cubes which do not propagate multi-colored decks)

  • the most powerful enchantments are slow enough that it is possible to beat them via speed (which isn’t exactly great gameplay, if it is the only way to deal with them)

  • the most powerful enchantments can be dealt with indirectly (auras can be removed by removing the enchanted creature, for example)

  • enchantments are not so powerful that they need to be removed (which is the default – you can get away with pretty strong creatures and artifacts, but you really have to be careful with enchantments)

Non-basic lands are another issue. At least, all colors have somehow reasonable ways to deal with them, and there are Strip Mine, Wasteland and Arc of Blight, but once again, you need to avoid too powerful lands (Volrath’s Stronghold or Academy Ruins qualify), AND need to make sure that, once lands are strong enough to require removal, there are enough good targets for that removal around (manlands help, as do utility lands like Quicksand or Rogue’s Passage).

With sorceries and instants, while you can work with counterspells and discard, there is only one safe way to go about them: Avoid “I win” cards like Living Death, Bonfire or Sphinx’s Relevation. Oh, and talking about Living Death: Keep graveyard abuse to a reasonable level, and provide ways to deal with graveyards which are maindeckable, but not overly suppressive (Relic of Progenitus is too much against threshold, but acceptable against flashback) – Vessel of Endless Rest is helpful, as is Junktroller and in some environments Heap Doll (in a cube with a metalcraft theme, for example).

You see, there is quite a lot to juggle to keep an environment interactive. Your best options are to keep the power level reasonable, and to include flexible answers, like Vindicate, Oblivion Ring, Aftershock and, of course, Counterspell.

Oh, and do NOT use planeswalkers! Ever. Most of them are already out due to being overpowered, but they do also put an additional stress on your selection of answers in a cube (and they are notorious for needing an immediate answer much more than any other type of permanent). Also, they’re Snitches. This card type simply worsens limited gameplay.

8. Avoid cards which suppress interaction

A trap you must not fall into, though, is to provide answers which are themselves non-interactive. Answering a threat, and even gaining tempo or card advantage through doing so, is acceptable. Shutting down major parts of your opponent’s deck unless he finds an answer to your answer is not! Grafdigger’s Cage, Stony Silence, Gaddock Teeg, City of Solitude – none of these belong in a cube.

There are other explicitly non-interactive cards. Avoid anything which has hexproof for more than one turn, for obvious reasons. Shroud is fine in moderate doses, as long as it is restricted to one creature, and that creature only impacts the game via attacking and blocking (and isn’t unblockable). Protection has to be carefully monitored, and protection from more than one color is a no-go, unless an environment is extremely multicolored and/or features an enormous amount of colorless ways to deal with creatures (even then, why not just let it be?) Single cards which cannot be countered are fine (unless they’re Obliterate), but AEther Vial or Cavern of Souls are not. Land Destruction can play the role of point removal, sideboard against greedy manabases or the odd tempo play, but it must never become a strategy onto itself. For the same reason, Armageddon is not acceptable (Catastrophe might be fine – if someone invests six mana to blow up all lands, he has to work for it, and there is a game happening before then.)

And then there’s alternate win conditions. They’re bad, because they make players play different games, leading to missing interaction. Milling is the main offender here, but poison is not much better, even if it works mainly through the combat phase. Single cards, even if their conditions are hard to fulfill (like Coalition Victory), and true combos are Snitches of the worst kind – synergies between already useful cards, which make a combination stronger than the sum of its parts are fine, because they foster interesting draft decisions as well as interesting gameplay, but outright winning a game is not.

9. Avoid undeserved hate

Hate punishes players for strategic choices. This makes sense when that player overfocusses to gain an advantage. It doesn’t make sense when a player just plays the game, or if he builds up critical mass to exploit a synergy seeded in a cube. You do not want players to randomly lose to a Karma or Anarchy just before they happen to play a certain color, and you do not want them to get totally blown out by Shatterstorm because they employ the metalcraft theme of your cube. (Shatterstorm is, however, okay if artifacts are either rare enough that it will usually only kill one or two cards; or ubiquitous enough that it is basically symmetrical, like Wrath of God.) In a limited environment, hate only makes sense when the opponent can reasonably be expected to play around the hate by not overcommitting to the thing hated. Note that pure value cards are not necessarily hate: Ingot Chewer or Execute are reasonable. (Then again, Execute is probably too narrow a sideboard card to warrant inclusion in a cube, unless in that cube White is especially dominant.)

10. Use colorless cards

Providing enough manafixing is one thing, but you can do more to ensure that players can build decks with smooth draws. Colorless cards help both with giving drafters enough deck-building material even if they end up in overdrafted colors, and with their actual draws. (They usually also constitute targets for artifact removal and shore up weaknesses of colors, as I mentioned before.) In two-third drafts, colorless cards are especially important, because with only four players it is important that each drafter can use a higher percentage of cards in each booster than in eight-player drafts (that is because boosters circulate faster between drafters, allowing for less diffusion of selection patterns). For all these reasons, in cube design, artifacts are your friend.

Bonus tip:

We always change the starting and maximum hand size to eight cards now when we draft. This smooths out draws, requires players to mulligan less and makes mulligans less disadvantageous. We encountered no negative effects whatsoever. (My cubes contain no cards which explicitly care about handsize, though.) I strongly encourage you to try this out!

Next Level Cube: Cube Parameters – A Reminder for Myself

November 14, 2012

Maybe (but maybe not) some of you noticed that I didn’t review Return to Ravnica so far for my limited card pool, which I use to build Next Level Cubes. There’s a couple of reasons for this: Firstly, when the card list became known, I busied myself with writing an extensive German limited preview for that set, and wasn’t exactly keen on doing another review on my blog soon after. Secondly, I realized that for a lot of cards I couldn’t make a decision before I saw the next expansion, Guildcrash, because I need certain multicolor and especially hybrid cards in cycles to construct the delicate color balance in complicated environments. Thirdly, I am right now spending a lot of time designing my own cards to free myself from the restriction of only being able to use officially released cards (and, while I’m at it, improving a few things which have always bugged me), and thus am less inclined to think about improving my card pool when that matter isn’t too pressing right now.

One thing I put a lot of thought into at the moment are cube parameters: How many cards, how many rarities, exact distribution – it’s really hard to get those numbers right for four-player-drafts. Actually, you have to compromise at all ends, because it is simply impossible to meet the following three goals at once: Give players access too as many cards as in normal drafts, have single cards come up with comparable frequencies, and set the bar for cards which actually get played at roughly the same height. The mechanism of two-thirds-draft helps, as does careful construction of cubes, but in the end everything has to give a little.

After reiterating my wish list and the resulting calculations for the umptieth time, I finally set on the following numbers: Four 13-card-boosters for each player, still setting the last four cards from each booster aside (making it 9/13th draft now instead of two-thirds, but I guess I’ll keep the name); each booster containing six commons, six uncommons and one rare; overall 448 cards split into 160 commons, 224 uncommons and 64 rares. Thus, the chance that any single card will be in the draft pool is 3/5 for a common, 3/7 for an uncommon and 1/4 for a rare. I hope this will enable me to create a draft experience as close as possible to that of drafting a typical block in the regular way for four players.

Limited Card Pool Update: Under the Influence of M13

September 2, 2012

I am still constantly looking to improve my limited card pool. Having drafted a lot M13 (at least for my standards), I found that I now appreciate a few things I didn’t think I’d like as much when I first saw the cards – a normal process. That will lead to a number of changes (as soon as I get my hands on those cards):

1. exalted

Most of the black exalted cards still do not convince me, but I decided I do not need to flesh out that theme fully in that color. To the contrary, I will remove the Bant affiliation from that mechanic and instead only use multiple exalted cards in White, but additionally keep single cards in other colors. That means:


Servant of Nefarox – the only black exalted creature that feels completely right to me. As the only other non-white exalted creature, Rhox Charger is still in. If a convincing red exalted creature is printed, I will complete the cycle with Frontline Sage again, but I do not want it so badly on its own.


Frontline Sage – if a card is the only example of exalted in its color, I prefer it to be one which you want to attack with.

Outrider of Jhess – just not interesting enough, and horribly inferior to Rhox Charger.

Court Archers – never really convinced me, was only there to support exalted’s Bant affiliation.

Ethercaste Knight – boring, weak, and an artifact for no good reason outside the set it originates from.  A filler just like Court Archers.

Qasali Pridemage – this one, on the other hand, was always a little stronger than I was comfortable with. Since the 2-slot in Selesnya is already loaded, I’m happy to be able to trim this card.

2. Rings

I do not want the rings from M13 as a cycle – partly, because I don’t like some of their designs, but partly because they take up so much space with similar effects. I realized, however, that I do not need the complete cycle, but can instead cherry-pick the ones I really like. I hate the blue and black one, because they feature activated abilities costing mana, making them even more clumsy, and because those abilities remove options to interact with the creatures they equip. I’m also not impressed with the green one, because trample is a somehow lackluster ability. On the other hand, I appreciate cards which reward you for focussing strongly on one color.


Ring of Valkas – giving haste cheaply is almost already worth it. In practice, this ring will often help you make an additional attack each round, while in the meanwhile distributing +1/+1 counters among your team. That plays really well.

Ring of Thune – astonishingly, plays completely different from the red ring, because here you will tend to put it on one creature and keep it there as long as possible, getting double use from the equipped creature’s growing strength by attacking and blocking with it.

3. RW aggro

Playing this archetype has led me to re-evaluate a few cards.


Roar of the Kha – I found I missed a cheap (less than three mana) mass-pump spell which goes well with token armies and very fast aggro (like Glorious Charge in M13) – I thought I could do with Fortify and Guardian’s Pledge, but the smaller, cheaper bonus plays significantly different, and I like it. So I will re-establish the good ol’ Roar.

Relentless Brute – to be clear: I still don’t like that this creature bereaves you of a decision. But just like with Bloodcrazed Neonate, I found that that disadvantage isn’t quite as severe as it looks at first glance, and that it is possible, skill-testing and rewarding to draft and build a deck which maximizes the card’s effectiveness and minimizes its weakness. A few such cards can do an environment good.

Hulking Ogre – Bloodrock Cyclops had to go, because it was a little too similar to Relentless Brute, and because the Brute plays more notiecable different from a normal creature. This opneed up a slot for the return of the Ogre, lining it up with Goblin Raider.

Bladetusk Boar – for a while I was enamored with Heirs of Stromkirk, but the Boar actually plays better (and it’s fine that it’s splashable) and better complements Skirk Shaman. Thus it returns.

Rummaging Goblin – I still hate that the Goblin ist just twice worse than Merfolk Looter, but I have to live with a color gaining inferior versions of other colors’ cards (see, as an example, Sentinel Spider in Green vs Serra Angel in White), even if it is a little overdone (really wouldn’t have hurt to give the Goblin at least Reckless Scholar stats), and the Goblin just plays well and significantly differently from Mad Prophet.

Attended Knight – My experiences with Ambassador Oak defined my expectations towards this card: I thought it would feel just like a 1/1 token tacked onto a mediocre creature. The lower mana cost makes a heck of a difference, though, as does the smaller gap between the creature and the token – this feels a lot more like growing your army, and gives you a lot more value relative to its cost.


Shield Wall – I know this card is more useful than most players think, but it still just never ends up in consideration for my cubes. With Roar of the Kha, Safe Passage and Wrap in Vigor, I have enough similar options.

Bloodrock Cyclops – I once explained why I initially decided for the Cyclops and against the Ogre (links to a German entry), but as I already said, Relentless Brute just does it better, and Hulking Ogre is less annoying while still clearly encouraging you to be aggressive. (Also, over the years 3/3 for three mana has just become less impressive – when you were happy about each Hill Giant you could lay your hands upon, you were willing to play cheap 3/3s with significant disadvantages, but nowadays, when Hill Giants often not even make your deck, a mana off isn’t reason enough to take such risks.)

Heirs of Stromkirk – just don’t play as well as I thought, needing to connect three times just to get on par with the easier-to-cast Bladetusk Boar.

4. The instant/sorcery theme

I still don’t want Archaeomancer, but I realize I also do not want its narrower, clumsier predecessors anymore. Since I want that theme to be in Izzet anyway, Izzet Chronarch does what I want it to do (and there’s also Mystic Retrieval), and Return to Ravnica will bring new interesting creatures supporting that theme.


Scrivener – why so narrow and expensive?

Anarchist – why so narrow and expensive?

5. strong flyers


Faerie Invaders – well, the 5-slot in Blue certainly knows no lack of 3/3 flyers, but this one has convinced me with its unique gameplay. It is also an interesting card to splash – environments should have a few of these to present players with options. This could also have been Spire Monitor, but chances are better that Faerie Rogue becomes relevant in my limited pool again than that Drake ever will.


Vampire Nighthawk – I love that card, but it is just too good, especially in Black. Chapel Geist is already strong – why does Black get TWO very significant improvements over it? Giant Scorpion is a completely fine card – why does exchanging a generic mana for a black one give you +1/+0 (doubly relevant with Deathtouch), flying, AND lifelink? With one of those abilities less; with a point less power, or even with a point less toughness (so that most flyers can trade 1:1 with it), it would be acceptable, but as it stands, it is just too strong by itself and too strong when compared to other three-drops. Heck, it would still be a clear firstpick if it cost one mana more!

That’s it so far.

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!