Friday 24 November 2023

An Ode to Cycling


I would always have put cycling as a top five or ten mechanic if asked about the subject. I suspect on many occasions I will have proffered such opinions unsolicited! I would likely have put more exciting mechanics like flashback or escape above it. I would certainly have slapped the additive mechanics of scry and some kicker style mechanics above it as well. I have held these loose opinions for as long as these mechanics have been things (Just realising I predate cycling in Magic, not just in age, but actually playing, has made me feel real old). It took just one summer of being a Magic designer rather than a Magic player to rate cycling as the clear champion of mechanics. Head and shoulders above the rest. It just does it all. I am now somewhat of the opinion that Magic would be a better game if every single card has cycling 3 or 4 as a basic attribute. Fluctuator would likely need banning but beyond that I think it would be all good! It would do more to help limited and singleton formats than it would constructed formats. It would also do more to help lower powered formats on the whole where the negative implications on spending mana to tread water are that much less. Simply put, two mana lost in standard hurts a lot less than it would in modern. As ever I mostly speak from a cube perspective, which as a limited and singleton format, the addition of more cycling would be greatly received. You could even just slap it on the basic lands and have a significantly improved game. 

So why is cycling so good? Simply put, it fixes any card as far as I can tell. Some kind of cycling can be employed to turn any underpowered, narrow, or conditional card into something you might play. Cycling does this without really adding any power. Indeed, the act of cycling is almost always detrimental in that you gain no net resources while consuming some. Cycling never adds to the ceiling of a card, it never makes it broken. I guess it easily could on some madness cards but in general all you are doing with cycling (assuming some actual cost to do so) is raising the floor of a card. When you cycle a card you effectively forgo the potential power of that card to improve the performance of the deck as a whole. It is like in Star Trek when they divert power to the engine room! It is when colony insects sacrifice themselves for the hive. Cycling a card feels like a sacrifice for the greater good! Pay some small cost and get a reroll on the random. That card is gone but the deck is in better shape going forwards.

Another reason cycling is great is simply that it is tapping into one of the most fun aspects of magic - that is drawing cards. It is that lottery feeling, that potential gain of fresh new power. I love to draw cards, even when that is costing me cards. Everyone loves drawing cards, it is a big part of where the fun is found in Magic, without it you would be looking at a much drier chess like game. More drawing is roughly translating into more fun!

So what are you actually doing to a card when you slap cycling on it? For the sake of argument, lets say a generic two colourless mana to cycle, as was the standard in Urza's block where we first met the mechanic. Basically we have made it a modal card. Our card now has at least two things that it does, one of which is almost always useful. Rare is the game where drawing a card isn't desirable! This addition of a card draw mode makes our card wildly more option dense. We have an extra thing we can do with the card, that we can do at any time. Often cycling is cheaper than casting the card too which further increases the option density of the card simply by making it relevant to consider sooner than it otherwise would. 

There is also some tension to be had with cycling. Once cycled, your card is gone. You can cycle at any time but once you decide to do so that is final. This tension combined with the ongoing option to cycle and the ever changing context of the game at hand results in a nice dynamic and involved feeling. You can't just work out what is right and then shelve it and not reconsider. Continual evaluation is required to play correctly with cycling cards.

So how does one evaluate cycling on a card? How to tell how much is being added to a card? There are a couple of rules of thumb you can go with. Broadly speaking you want cycling costs at odds with the cost of the spell. Big expensive spells want cheap cycling costs, and while cheap spells don't want expensive cycling costs over small ones, they can afford the larger costs. This is just getting a cards range covered. The drawback of big spells is being useless prior to having the mana for them, and cheap cycling mitigates this perfectly. In a screw you can cycle and dig for land, in a flood you have a big expansive spell to sink a bunch of mana into. 

The issue with cheaper spells tends to be low nominal power as the game goes on. Being able to cycle off that ramp card or 2/1 dork is well worth it if you have sufficient average power in your other cards. Late game, when the cheaper spell isn't looking so hot you are far less constrained by mana and far more constrained by nominal power and cards. You are more than happy to pay one or two more mana to cycle away that low impact, low value card in the hope of finding something meaty.

Cycling is worth more on polar cards. This can be, as discussed, the very expensive and the very cheap cards. It can also be, as only mentioned in passing, those that are narrow in some way, be that conditional, or situational. You want contrast in a modal card for that modal card to really shine. Cycling is a super average ability. It is the average card in your deck! A little worse in fact thanks to having paid the cycling cost to get there. A good contrast is something conditional or situational and their inherent high potential ceiling of power. Your bread and butter cards are not ideal candidates for cycling, you just want to be casting those as much as possible. Cycling on a Searing Spear isn't a very enticing prospect to give the ability to, you are mostly just wanting to cast such things. On a combat trick, or a removal spell with a limited range of targets however, these more conditional and situational cards, they really appreciate the cycling.

As far as your basic cyclers go I really like either two colourless mana or one coloured mana. One generic mana is a bit much, the card you put that on has to be really useless else the cost of inclusion is simply not enough. Colourless cyclers are incredibly easy cards to splash for as you are never punished too hard for not having the coloured mana available. If you reduce the cycling cost to a single mana it halves the tempo loss on such cards. I do like the single mana cyclers in cube but I like them to be coloured mana to keep things rather more reasonable and contained. Cube is such a powerful format that you cannot afford two mana to cycle until relatively late in the game. This makes a lot of the cycling cards unplayable if you are expecting to have to cycle them more often than not. You just can't afford to be getting clogged up. Ultimately the most rounded cycling cost I found was that shown below. It allowed a card to be a very cheap include in a deck firmly of those colours while remaining a much fairer option to safely act as a splash card. That was a perfect balance for awkward cards like Naturalize. Cards you always want access to in cube, but that often do too little at any given time. I have designed a lot of Disenchants and the only ones I have made playable without making over powered are those, like this, with cycling. If this were just cycling 2 it would mostly see play as a splash card, not having the power or convenience to appeal enough to heavy green players. With cycling of just a green mana this card loses the appeal of being a splashable answer but does start to look great in any green deck due to the low cost of inclusion and high utility. Make it just 1 to cycle and you break the card, you play it anywhere that can find green mana to play it, why wouldn't you? The split cost feels like it opens up the card as much as possible to maximize the overall playability without crossing over that line of being overly convenient. 

I have of course just been talking about the very basic cycling upto now. That is the spending of mana  to turn your cycling card into the top card of your library. There are plenty of other forms of cycling with their own perks, all of which adding great scope to the mechanic. Simple things like paying life instead of mana as in the case of Street Wraith transforms a card into a whole different beast, one where the cost of doing so can itself be a perk. Then there are those cards that have an effect when cycled, acting like an uncounterable alternate spell. Gempalm incinerator and the like. Then there are those that act like a tutor and cycle for a specific type of thing are also very interesting. Having been around a long time cycling has evolved into many different beasts, most of which are great. I approve of most of these uses provided they are designed well.

By far and away the most interesting in terms of design of these cycling variants are the ones that find a basic land. This is almost the perfect Magic card. Like the MDFC lands, but much cleaner, and generally better. They have been a bit of a game changer. The low low power level a card needs to be playable when you have some form of basic land cycling for a colourless mana on the card I think surprised everyone. You are quite close to turning a card into a land that enters tapped when you put landcycling 1 on it. Better in many ways as you get to fill up the bin and you get to pay your 1 mana tax prior to the laying of the land. Being so purely defined as land or gas you have the perfect card in a screw or flood. They are the perfect consistency tool. They do the job you play card quality spells to do but they do so by cutting out that middle man. I hope we continue to see cheap landcycling cards going forwards. Nice low powered cards that just sit there improving games and consistency for everyone. Below is the only other design for a pure Disenchant effect I have managed to make playable and appealing. Where nothing else seemed to work for the card, cycling proffers multiple solutions!

So there we have it, the best mechanic in magic. Able to solve every problem and fix every card. I respected it as a player, I adore it as a designer. I love it on lands, I love it when it finds lands. I love it on my big spells, on my small spells, and on my cheeky spells. Cycling is doing some real heavy lifting in helping Magic be the best game it can be!

Friday 17 November 2023

Card Reviews

As you can likely tell, I have not done my usual preliminary review for The Lost Caverns of Ixalan nor any of the Doctor Who and Fallout stuff. Nor do I presently plan on doing a little "after the release summary review" as I did for Wilds of Eldraine for any of these releases. I suspect this is the new status quo for other new releases too.

Spoiler season used to be one of my favourite times. I would get all excited about the new cards and doing a full set review was a great way for me to fully absorb the new stuff. While that excitement has been slowly and slightly waning for many years I finally killed it with my homemade cube project. Losing a bit of interest in something is a far cry from finding something to replace it. Now I have a different way to enjoy Magic more fully again I can't keep enough interest to keep my mind focused or even my eyes open when trying to read new cards. As with anything in life, you need to care to provide motivation.

Much as it feels odd to hang up the gloves on something I have been doing over a decade it is absolutely not something one should force. You need the passion and love to be there to make work not seem like work. I tried to force myself to play and test for Magic events back in 2006 when all the heart wanted to do was play the World of Warcraft. That made things worse and had me off all kinds of magic for several years. I nearly killed my hobby by trying to do things I didn't want to.

I've no idea on my future with Magic, I presume I will return to various forms of normal cubing at some point, although I have not touched a real Magic card since September when my homemade cube arrived. And even if I do return there is no guarantee I'll be reviewing cards again. I am quite looking forward to letting others take the lead on pioneering cubes. I suspect if I come to update my cube in a few years with all the cards I have missed in my break it will be quite the novel project. I'll be looking for other versions of me to see what cards they are putting in their cubes, following their lead and taking advice rather than handing it out! 

I have been enjoying documenting my progress on the homemade cube projects but obviously that is of incredibly narrow interest. I had assumed much of the views I had received so far on the project was just curiosity from long time readers. I think if that is all I put out it will not take long for those curiosity clicks to dry up. The home made cube posts are already significantly below other kinds of cube content posts on the blog with a Top X list generally getting the most, a new release review being second, and the rest all being a chunk less (but still higher than my latest offerings). Much as I do some general magic theory and stuff like Top X lists I fear that a lot of that will become increasingly less well informed if I am not keeping up with current releases (obviously if I am not reading and reviewing spoilers I am not buying new cards or updating any cube lists). There is no point releasing content for stuff if I don't know what I am talking about and I won't know what I am talking about if I do not have the play experience to back it up.

With all that said, I have no clue what the long term is going to look like for this blog. The short term will be dominated by my design projects and beyond that only time will tell! Thanks to my readers for the props and civility. The cube community is a good'un. It turns out when you are sufficiently small, and not trying to turn a profit, the internet can still be a lovely place.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Homemade Cube: Solving Problems With Card Design

Long have I been trying to improve the cube meta by adding in cards that I think will best help whatever problem is at hand. Usually this has less than the desired impact because the cards I am using to try and solve problems are inherently low powered cards relative to the cube, else they would likely already be in the cube! When making your own cards for the same situation you can rather more force the issue by making more powerful cards if you so desire. This seems like a bit of a risky endeavour and likely to result in more overall work. I have found a few things I would like to improve in my homemade cube and I have designed a bunch of cards to assist with that. I have not pushed the power but I have tried to ensure the cards will see play, meaning I think they are all above the average power level of the played cards in my homemade cube. 

So what problems am I trying to fix? Planeswalkers were over powered in early testing. Almost all of the ones I designed I have nerfed a little. Further to that I have three direct design strategies aimed at reducing the dominance of planeswalkers, and an indirect general aim that should also help calm them down. The first is simply more evasive cards, especially lower on the curve. Both evasive dorks and those that are already in play make the life of planeswalkers a little trickier.

Next up is simply more direct removal. Removal isn't the best answer to a walker in general as they will have always had one activation out of it making it almost always a two for one in their favour. Sure, you will often net a couple of mana but you would much rather be able to kill the walker in combat. That all being said, you would much rather eat that 2 for 1 and have the walker alive just one turn than lose to it over five turns... As such I designed rather more removal capable of hitting walkers. Removal is great at self balancing and so having a little too much is no bad thing, as it presently stands I think the pricier removal that can hit walkers is going to win out over the cheaper creature only stuff but they may not be the case once the other tweaks take effect.

lastly on the targetted planeswalker containment I have a few "sparkhunter" dorks which are absolutely the most directed of all the solutions. They may well be a little too narrow in that they are little more than fine filler when not facing walkers, but become quite impressive when they are. This polarity might make them unplayable, it might instead just have a poor play pattern. Over this kind of solution feels a little too "on the nose" and is an experiment I am somewhat expecting to see fail, or at least not perform in all the required ways to be fully fit for purpose. Returning to my analogy of Magic metagames as eco-systems, a card like this feels like introducing a foreign and ultimately invasive species to tackle a problem. 

Next up is a pretty simply problem with an even easier fix. I didn't make enough top end. A cube or format is always going to have a bottleneck. A place either lacking in sufficient numbers or power that creates a kind of false demand on those types of card above and beyond what you would expect for any given power level. Essentially it means things like playing Boreal Elf despite it being pretty rubbish, just because there are not enough 1 drop mana dorks in the format. While I complain about Modern Horizons a lot in various ways, they did at least solve the mana dork bottleneck! As for my homemade cube the bottleneck is at the top end, I simply didn't produce enough meaty cards. Almost all the decent on colour cards at four mana and up get played in almost every event as it stands and this means that not only is there clearly a bottleneck there, but quite a severe one. As such I have made quite a lot of bonus top end meat. As with removal, it is absolutely better to overshoot this kind of problem and then trim back. Indeed you will be better informed overall by doing so.

In a tangential issue we have game length. Not only is my homemade cube lacking in top end power it is deficient in game closing reach. I love a long game but I don't want mostly long games. I also want to win within about three turns of feeling like I am winning. It often is the case that I feel like I am winning and then it takes five or more turns to convert that into an actual win. Just removing the bottleneck on top end meat, threats, and power will do a lot to solve this situation. There is however a type of card that is good at converting advantage into reach or closing power. A card like Overrun for example. These are hard to balance as they have a steep incline from being too narrow to being too generally powerful. Overrun for example wins a lot of games on the spot on the one hand while sitting in hand doing nothing a lot of the time on the other. You want a card less polar in performance than Overrun while retaining its other qualities. And, you want this to be the sort of thing open to all the colours and archetypes. Overrun is both incredibly green and entirely creature focused. That is not a tool we can reasonably use for our blue white control deck! Below is my take on a black card that can do a good job of closing out a game fast when you have established a lead without being a dud when on the back foot. 

Next up we have another simple problem. Mono coloured decks are underperforming. Not a big problem but something I would like to address a little. The more overall balance the better as far as I am concerned and so I would like a mono deck to perform comparably to a 2 or 3 colour one. To give the more single colour based decks a boost I designed two cycles of cards that scale up in potency the more you focus cards and basics from one colour. I think these cards will be playable in relatively even split two colour decks but unexciting. They seem outright bad for 3 or more colours, while importantly, seeming incredibly strong in mono colour decks. Perhaps too strong sadly but this is why we experiment and test! We have a little cycle of cost reducers inspired by the allied colour ones from Invasion block. 

Then we have the meatier four drop cycle of creatures inspired by Vernal Bloom that greatly empower mana production. My suspicion is that these cards will be problematic. Utterly broken when you have a mono coloured deck and the mana sinks to pair with it, but really impotent without both. 

In a calmer attempt to incentivize stacking on type of basic land in a deck I had a cycle of EtB effect four drop dorks that scale in a very colour pie appropriate way.

As far as mono coloured incentives go, you can produce cards that scale with the quantity of cards in that colour or the corresponding lands as have shown in the last few concepts. You can also just make really powerful cards with a really high intensity of coloured mana pips. We are talking Benalish Marsh, Necropotence, Cryptic Command, and Goblin Chain-Whirler. These sorts of cards are well above the curve power wise but cannot just be played. You need to be mono or heavily in that colour. It works but I am not a huge fan. It is prohibitive design, you are just printing narrow cards, balanced with over the top power. It is hard to make those fun for all players. And with cards being narrow you cannot have many at all in a cube before problems arise. I have no more than one per colour in my main cube and I would prefer less for my homemade cube if at all possible! As such I leant on the adamant mechanic and produced cards that were playable without adamant, but really quite good with. I used some design tricks to try and keep this disparity in check. Generally I supplemented tempo with value or value with tempo so as to not overload on one aspect. I also produced more reactive answer cards, which tend to be far less oppressive when a little over tuned. Speaking of over tuned, here is the red adamant card that should perhaps not target players or only investigate. 

Lastly I tried to solve an age old issue in all of magic. Indeed (said smugly), in my homemade cube it seems like far less of an issue than in other formats! That is the advantage gained by going first. You can do a bit to address it with card design but it is somewhat fundamental to the way the game works. As such I went for a more mechanically based approach. I am intrigued to see how it works out but in practice I think the idea is too cumbersome to be a realistic and practical means of improving the game. For my cube and my playgroups, sure, perhaps it will work out and be a good thing but overall it is not a serious suggestion. I do not like the way it breaks the illusion of the game by referring to out of game things. I also don't like how generally wordy these cards are. Certainly worth a little experiment but I am anticipating these not quite being the ticket. I had two main groups, a bunch of cars that get a mana reduction.

Then there is also a cycle of mana producers that enter untapped when you trigger your catch-up. 

That really is just a little teaser. It turns out that I sped up in creativity once the first batch was sent to the printers and then started to actually get tested. An experimentally backed up deficit or problem apparently gets my creativity fired up! There was a little design focus on mana sinks, a focus on some bigger spells, some more cycling just because it is so great, some more disenchant effects, a whole load of playing around with adventures and fortifications, a whole pile of your basic green ramp, red burn, blue counters etc, some bigger energy payoff and supply cards, and just a pile of random stuff made along the way! The bulk is actually just top end meaty threat cards to ease that bottleneck. I have now over 200 new cards ready to send of to the printers along with about the same again in reprints of existing cards for one reason or another. Given how close the alpha test was to what I was aiming at I have fairly high hopes for the resulting format. I was a little worried the format might be way too imbalanced or just dull and not fun to play before we properly started playing it. Now that is not a concern and I am all in on trying to improve and optimize it. The only downside of all this is I haven't even read the spoilers for the latest Ixalan set, nor that Dr Who stuff. I am just having more fun, while retaining more control, doing the homemade stuff. I'll get the full spoilers for the new cards up at some point soon and then try and figure out a good way to get a cube list presented. I think I can do it in cube cobra with custom card art but it might be a chore not worth embarking upon (yet). 

Sunday 5 November 2023

Top Down Design - The Art Set

I have referenced a mysterious new design project a couple of times recently in posts. While this project was inspired by the homemade cube, conceptually it predates it. This project is a cube or set that is based on real life artwork, and is is about as opposite as can be from the homemade cube. When I was first gifted the fine art set of lands in 2020 or so my friend and I looked at trying to put art to the nonland cards as well. It was off somehow. We accepted it didn't work, enjoyed the lands that did work, and moved on with our lives. Move on a few years and I am doing the homemade cube in which I learned much, and one of those things was about what makes a card design work. When a card is right it just clicks into place somehow. Like a well engineered plastic gizmo. It goes from being just an idea in your head to a reality, as if it had always existed. A card needs more than good mechanics, it needs to feel right. You get this by having the right harmony between name, mechanics, and art. You sort of want a lead from one of those three and the others to support it without over complicating matters. When done well by the designer a player can pre-empt what the card is all about at a glance because everything is where it should be. It is a kind of ergonomics of design. When done badly it creates a kind of unsettling dissonance instead. This is where the attempt to use classic art on existing magic cards failed so hard. It was like forcing square pegs into round holes. The art was so strong it had to lead but you can't lead anything when it is already fixed. The key to working with external artworks is to let them lead the way in design. This is where the top down design aspect is coming in. You look at the picture and then try to frame what it is saying or evoking, but in the language of Magic mechanics. It is really fun and leads to some wacky cards. 

This is a stark contrast in approach to how I did the homemade cube. As I had several parameters I was trying to adhere to I was very directed in my design choices. I had a clearly defined and mapped out blueprint for what I was aiming at thanks to my years honing of my existing cube. I was simply trying to recreate that while trying to solve what I saw as issues with it, but doing so with clean and simple cards, in as true a tribute to magic as possible. I knew all my ratios well, both in terms of mana curve and card/effect types. I knew how much ramp and burn and countermagic I wanted. I also knew what kind of power level to be pegging this all at. Much of the design process was knowing what I needed more of, and then looking for the gaps in the design space for that, and then filling them. The art and names were then selected to work for the mechanics. It was a mechanic lead process for the most part. It felt like a construction project. I laid the foundations, I built up a structure or framework, then I fixed things around that framework, and finally finished it all off smoothing over the dodgy bits and filling in the gaps! It was build up and built to specification. There are a lot of perks to this bottom up style of design but I suspect it is a bit drier and stagnant in end product. It was at the engineering end of the creative spectrum rather than the pure artistic. The most interesting cards, those that are most liked by the players, tended to be those few in the homemade cube that were designed top down, as inspired by something non-mechanic based, be it a name I thought of, an artwork I stumbled upon and liked (the most common of the routes to a top down design in the homemade cube project), a tribute I wanted to make, or just some random concept I had. If the cards people like most are those that are top down rather than bottom up then perhaps it is a good idea to design a cube with that method taking the lead.

Letting fancy and the creative inspiration lead the way results in a very wonky looking set of cards. The curves are off, the ratios are off. It might be fine, it might be the most fun way to play it, but that seems unlikely. It seems like the further you stray from sensible and established balance the more likely things are to becomes unplayable. Our solution to this problem is to wildly overdesign cards for the set and then be somewhat ruthless in culling down to a smaller number of cards with sensible looking card balances. This can be done from a gameplay and mechanical point of view and serve the role that having top down design did in the homemade cube, but without getting in the way of the design process on an individual card level. This will mean a lot of beloved cards, and mechanical groupings will likely not make the final release, but that is the cost of having ones cake and eating it. Creating a set out of a much greater pool of cards feels more like a sculpture. The set is already in there somewhere, you just have to slowly chip away at the right bits to reveal the set contained within. The engineering project building from the ground up for the homemade cube, and the slowly revealing sculpture that is the art set. 

The plan is to make around 1000 cards and then start the chipping away process. Plans are all well and good but I expect to wildly over shoot on the front end while also jumping the gun on the back end too! In the back of my mind I am already earmarking a bunch of the cards for things I expect to cut or that I expect will be retained. We are also over 500 cards made already and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what the art world has to offer! 

One of my goals with the homemade cube was for simple, clean, and elegant cards. This affected a lot of design choices. I was aiming to keep text down. I wanted cards doing fewer things by themselves and so I set a limit of three things per card maximum. There were several cards I let stray outside of the power level I would have liked simply because it let me keep the text on the card that much shorter and simpler. This was a good choice and a really good discipline to get into that I would fully recommend to anyone on their first design project. If nothing else, it means you have more card space to work with when it comes to the inevitable re-tuning of cards required once some testing gets underway. 

Not only was I being as clean and simple as possible mechanically with my Homemade Cube, I was also being as canon as possible. I highly respected colour pie mechanically and in flavour terms. I represented creatures as they are to be found represented in Magic. This was mostly for tribute based reasons but in practice it worked out really really well for helping people appraise what the cards did quickly and effortlessly. Despite seeming just like a flavour thing it was a real restriction on design. This card should have flying, a dork of this type should be at least this size, etc. Limits are good for expediting the process. All the shut off routes somewhat lead you to the "correct" or "optimal design a bit faster, but these terms are just within the contexts I had set. Remove these constraints and there are many more potential correct and optimal designs out there. One could certainly posit that there are no bad magic cards, only inappropriate meta games! 

For the Art Set I felt I had earned the right to let my hair down rather more. I had earned my wings and I was going to fly. No longer was I bound by convention. If I wanted to slap on 5 abilities I would. If I wanted to write a mini essay of text on a minor card I would allow myself. I let my types, sizes, and colour pies all go a bit loosey goosey. I was just trying to match the weird and wonderful art as best I could and in order to do that I really wanted the full range of what magic mechanics have to offer. I wasn't being verbose, different, controversial, or convoluted for the sake of it. Any time I was any of those it is because I thought the artwork portrayed was best depicted as such. Indeed I found some artwork where the minimalist approach of limited text/effects to best help the art stand out on the card. 

I am in no great rush to get this project out and done. I am very much enjoying the journey and relaxed pacing of this project. I will likely do the odd teaser article before I do a full spoiler drop of the Art Set but that full spoiler drop is at least a year away what with other more time critical projects also in progress. It also seems as if rushing creative projects has the adverse affect while also diminishing their fun. A big plus this Art Set project has over the Homemade Cube is that I am not only having a blast with my favourite hobby and enjoying a creative outlet, but also I am learning about art and culture and a lot of non-Magic stuff and I am really enjoying that as well! All the more reason to keep it ongoing.

Sunday 22 October 2023

The Gold Cube

The Gold Cube was the most recent of my novelty cube ideas that I built up and tested. I am sure it is an idea that has been done many times before, I am not trying to claim any originality here, just going to talk about my findings and experience a little. I only really did this project because, unlike me, my play group love a gold card. As a cube curator I think gold cards clog up space by being all narrow and I generally resent them for it! I keep my gold sections to a minimum which apparently means my playgroup is starved of attention from gold cards. Further to that I have a huge swathe of gold cards that have had very little play time as I collect new cards, test them out, then quickly cull them for ever more. Being typically more powerful that a similar card of fewer colours a lot of gold cards get tried out in cube, but being inherently narrow, very few last. To make some better use out of this huge pile of gold stuff and to appease my mates I designed this cube. Below is a list of where my list started but it fairly quickly evolved as I learned about the format.

The first thing to note is that I started with a base of about 50 odd cards that are very much not gold cards! The idea of a cube without one drops, or at least, without many, initially appalled me! I didn't want a format where Deathrite Shaman and Figure of Destiny were the two best cards simply because they are the only top rate gold one drops.... It turns out that it was worse having a gold cube where all the best cards and important picks were not gold. The best deck in that first meta was a blue red tempo deck with as few gold cards as possible... With that initial design fail handled I got over the one drop situation and cut everything that wasn't a gold card, a land, or an artifact, the latter groups of which were almost exclusively there to assist with fixing. 

It turned out to be a bit of a blessing culling the one drops from the cube as it allows you to play slower mana bases with better fixing, and this is important. You need a lot more fixing and almost all the best lands for doing this enter tapped. The best lands for this cube are the Triomes and the original set of Tri lands. Closely followed by the Vivid and Thriving lands. In sealed deck I would often just play the three colours that I had both the Triomes for. A Savage Lands and a Ziatora's Proving Grounds in my pool and I am looking like a Jund player! The Temple cycle also proved really good as they were one of the few ways you could proactively and relevantly enhance your game on turn one. It was hard to do a better opener than a Temple. 

I found that the Gold Cube somewhat built itself as we started playing it. Things are stretched somewhat so you are forced towards the best build fairly quickly. In essence, fewer options here helps you arrive at or near the optimal quickly. You need a lot of fixing and thus a lot of lands, but equally, you can't dedicate too many slots to fixing and so the sweet spot is much more heavily highlighted that it is in normal cube. You also only have about 300 cards per colour pair significantly reducing your options. Especially when you are trying to have sensible looking curves in your guilds. With so many fewer cards you can obviously expect a much greater degree of separation in power between your best cards and your worst cards. The best being some of the most powerful cards in cube already, and the worst being a long way worse. In many cases I was playing basically every playable card at that spot on the curve in each guild. This also sharpens focus somewhat but it did also reduce variation a little. 

Decks tending towards being three colour midrange good stuff piles and the players who won were those that got the highest density of the good cards and cast them. There felt like there was rather less drafting and play skill involved and rather more luck of the draw. Indeed, we got really bored of the best gold cards almost instantly. The reason I have been doing all these side projects is boredom with more conventional magic. In trying to escape things like The Scarab God and Teferi I had actually made a format where they were more common and more oppressive. As such I cut all the gold cards that appeared in my main cube from the Gold Cube and proceeded to have a lot more fun with it there after.


Although the quality of games was lower than with more traditional cubes this wasn't a big deal. The experience was different and fun enough that it was overall a pretty positive thing. Lots of cards that have never played with or against each other got to do so and lots of quirky cool things happened. Games had a habit of ending quickly. There were certainly some long grindy games as you might expect with a midrange centric meta, but the average game was shorter than with my normal cube. This was for two reasons as far as I could tell. The gold cards are typically quite powerful, reachy, threats. Often quirky ones as well that are awkward to answer or contain. A lot of random cards would just hit the table and end the game in short order. This is exacerbated by the second factor, which is just that there isn't all that much good removal in the gold cube. Gold cards are naturally that bit more expensive on average, not to mention more colour intense. This means that the cheap removal isn't as cheap or easy to cast. When most of your removal is expensive clunk you wind up having to play less of it even if you pick up plenty. A lot of games just turn into players dumping massive haymaker threats into play until one trumps what is going on and takes the game! A very Timmy experience! This shorter game went nicely hand in hand with the more Timmy experience and seemed to be well enjoyed despite the clear flaws of the format.

The worst flaws were actually logistic ones rather than gameplay ones. It is essentially a limited magic set but rather than 5 colours, it is effectively 10 colours. Three colour decks are the norm and the equivalent of a two colour deck in normal limited. A two colour deck is really hard to do in gold cube and somewhat like a mono deck. All this madness meant that sealed deck was a chore. You had to sort everything into a million different piles to assess what you had. This meant loads of space needed, lots of attention required, and a bit more time needed too. This just got a little tedious after a while. Draft wasn't unaffected either. While sorting wasn't an issue there the effective existence of extra colours (10 rather than 5) was. There simply wasn't all that much competition. If you all focus on mainly one guild then there are still some guilds without people in them. It also means that when you drop below 8 drafters the rate at which competition for cards drops is way way faster than for conventional cubes. The Gold Cube does not play well with fewer numbers. Indeed it might be best if drafted with like 12-16 players or something mad! Comically I then tried to design a fully colourless cube, and toyed with designs for cubes with fewer than five colours, to increase the tension in draft. Essentially trying to reverse the problem encountered with the Gold Cube and turn it into a positive. I managed to write that up and post it back in May! It was a much smaller project than the gold cube but it was fully inspired by it. We also did a couple of drafts of the normal cube without white and without blue a few times each when we were light on numbers. The tragedy of that experiment was that no one really cared or noticed or had any comment or observation. That probably means it is a good thing, but equally, we haven't done it since, or talked about it or anything like that...

All in all the Gold Cube was a pretty positive experiment that I am sure will be revisited. It was imperfect but imperfect in all the right sort of ways. If you want that sort of experience then it delivers. One logistical perk of the Gold Cube is that it uses very few cards from my main cube, or did once I cut the mono coloured cards and the gold cards with overlap. It was then just some fixing artifacts and the premium dual lands. This makes it quite easy to have multiple cubes built up and functioning at once. Most of my other cube designs have too much intertwined overlap to be able to easily port between the two. The B Cube was the only other cube I have managed to successfully run alongside my main cube and played interchangeably. The Gold Cube has the added advantage of being fun and different which the B Cube somewhat failed at doing. This means there is actually some benefit to be had from having both playable at the same time! Parting gem of wisdom - Niv-Mizzet Reborn is really rather good in gold cube. While perhaps not the best card in the set it is certainly the card most improved upon its performance in other formats! 

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Homemade Cube: Full Spoilers!


After many months of teasing, here it finally is to see in all it's glory - the Homemade Cube full spoiler list! While this is the exact list of cards I have been testing and playing with, this spoiler list is more like the Beta version, while I have been using the Alpha set. This discrepancy is because I have (digitally) altered some hundred cards or so over the course of 12ish events. While I am still playing with the originals you will be seeing the proposed changes for the reprint. I am sure I will do some articles on the original versions at some point but not until this part of the design and development is complete. It seemed sensible to give the best iterations of the cards rather than the originals.

Of these hundred or so cards that were changed about 20% to 25% have been for aesthetic reasons. Either I misaligned the picture in the frame, spelled something wrong, or got some templating grammar off. There are still a bunch of these lurking about to iron out so if anyone spots any please stick it in the comments so I can keep the number of reprints I end up doing to a minimum! There were a couple of cards tweaked for flavour reasons. I called a card a forest and it wasn't which was irksome. I also had a card with wings but no flying so that needed a bit of a rework. Everything else was a change made for balance reasons. Mostly these have been slight nerfs, a stat off here, a mana cost on an activation added there, etc. About 5% of the changes have been buffs, and all pretty minor ones. It is not at all surprising that the over powered cards stick out first while the underpowered stuff takes a while to make itself known. I suspect there will be relatively more balancing with buffs going forwards. There were of course some more serious nerfs, usually in the form of having a mana added, there have been about 5% of those too. Further to that I managed to get all the artists credited on this "Beta" version of the Cube. 

There will be more balance changes to come as testing continues but the most egregious stuff has been calmed. I have a bunch of new designs to print alongside those (so far) hundred odd corrections from the Alpha printing. Some of these new cards are aimed at solving issues presenting so far in testing such as being a bit thin on top end or planeswalkers being a bit sticky. Then there are just a bunch of cards that are more like an expansion, a bit more complex or exotic! Those I plan to be added drip feed over time to spice things up as required, unlike the changes to existing cards which I want actioned asap really. I have a bunch of adventure cards and fortifications and this sort of jazz in the expansion half of the new designs. I doubt I will ever finish this product in my eyes and similarly I doubt I will ever think it is perfect. I would advise holding off a little if you wanted a copy, as I am confident I will improve it significantly within a couple of print iterations and a year or so of playtesting them. Beyond that it should have flatlined rather in terms of improving but I am happy to help anyone who might want to get a copy printed for themselves, then or sooner! It is certainly a lot of fun now, despite having those clear areas in which I feel I can improve it.

Right, enough pre-amble. Enjoy my love of the old school aesthetic and my generally basic and poor ability to name cards! Here is the spoiler broken down into colours, gold, artifacts and land.

Here are some green cards:


Here are some red cards:


Here are some black cards:


Here are some blue cards:


Here are some white cards:


Here are some gold cards:


Here are some artifact cards:


Here are some land cards:


While there are many cards I am tweaking so as to make more suitable for the cube meta there are also plenty I am not bothering with. So far I have cut 74 cards from the cube, which is a little over 10%. I am expecting to cut nearly the same again over the next few months. There are a range of reasons for why these cards are getting cut from the cube and not tweaked or reworked. Usually they are fine on power and trying to increase or reduce the power level is going to make the card worse overall for the cube. 

Some cards were cut because they were logistically not that fun to play with, too much fiddling around and maintenance. Some were cut because they were mechanically not that fun. Some were cut because they were overly narrow in what they were offering. Mostly the cards got cut because they were too fluffy. I love a cheap do nothing cantrip sort of card and made a few too many of them! A lot of these were cards I rather forced because I wanted to represent that kind of ability in set somehow. Like, a set without a Fog didn't feel it could go round calling itself a tribute to Magic. This is where my project having several goals didn't line up neatly. A tribute to Magic has slightly different attributes to a set of cards to play as a cube and the cut cards are shining a light on what those differences are. 

There is a last set of 10 cards I cut because they take up more room than they are worth. I thought I would be clever and try and make a cycle of ten extra playable pseudo-gold cards that were playable in mono colour but offered something more to a player in the right two colours. These stealth gold cards were supposed to be more playable than a normal gold card but in practice they were just messy and a bit feel bad if you didn't support them. To quote one of the main helpers on this project "Why can't your gold cards just be gold cards?" And for this project he seems to have hit the nail on the head. Gold slots are precious, use them for juice, don't fill them with diluted down standard mono colour stuff. I liked the design on the cycle, the power level and interest were good, and I would like to see that sort of card for constructed play, but for taking up slots in a cube, it is not an optimal direction to go. These cut cards will be like my "constructed reserves" are now. I will keep them and allow them for events like rotisserie and anything else on the more constructed and larger pool side of the cube spectrum. For limited and draft however they are just clogging up the works. 

Here are the cards I have cut so far:



Sunday 1 October 2023

1998 Nostaliga

Prior to the home made cube project that has consumed all my magic energy since the spring, this was the project I was working on. As with most other magic things since then I have not really touched it. It exists as the penultimate in a long strong of projects aimed at rekindling the joy of magic and finding a creative outlet. Mostly these have been novel ways of constructing cubes, combo cubes, gold cubes, budgets cubes, that sort of thing, including of course the homemade cube project! This nostalgia project however is one of the only ones not directly cube focused, only being cube adjacent. For those not familiar with the first time I did this it is simply a set of deck lists in the style of cube decks (40 card singleton) that are paying tribute to a specific, and thus far old, time period. It is essentially my equivalent of the old school format. Here is a link to the original article, complete with what prompted the project and the first decks I made for it.

The builds in this so called 1998 version are somewhat dotted over the following three or so years from the 1996 period I celebrated last time, finishing in Urza's block. Broadly they are still based upon decks released in the gold bordered worlds precon decks, or at least a selection of the more interesting, distinct, and portable to singleton ones. They are the 2nd generation in the evolution of competitive decks, they start to have focus and be classifiable into our current vernacular of control, aggro etc, unlike the first batch which were all just piles of cards! So many of these are the progenitors of core archetypes we still use and play today. Any long time readers of the blog will see that this is where my pining for Stompy comes from, it is the only deck in this set of 8 that has never really had a line of succession. Like, sure, there have been periods when white weenie is not a good archetype to play in any format, but that is a meta thing, it is always back at some point. Stompy however seems to have been more of an anomaly at this time and has fundamentally struggled since. There is so much nostalgia here I am getting side tracked in the introduction....

These lists are not the finished article or anything. There are plenty of ways to be building these decks both in terms of power level and aesthetic. You could also go tighter on the period from which cards were taken from. Further to that I am still in the process of collecting cards for these decks and so some are missing things or have an incorrect version. I simply figured I would never get this out if I didn't write it when enthusiasm was still high. It is not like I am picking up cards for these decks with any real urgency or significant budget! That latter aspect has resulted in the purchase of many non-English language cards. Normally I avoid this as it really reduces accessibility to the cube but in the case of these old decks most people know the cards, they are simpler to remember, the English wording on old stuff is often less than helpful anyway, they are much more a thing to look at than to play with, and those who are unlikely to know what these cards already do are not the sort of people I would bust these decks out for expecting them to get that enjoyable nostalgia hit with. It also means we get some really good names for some classic old cards to nicely liven things up. As I suspect the pictures do not allow for actual reading of the cards I will offer some of the best; Rengenbogen Ifreet, Disco di Nevyniraal, and Killer Beenen! They are fun things to say. I find the german cards to be particularly onomatopoeic and roll of the tongue well. Being me I have also obviously tried to give a basic land suite appropriate for the era. And with that let us look at the decks themselves. 

Survival Rock

This deck looks like a midrange deck and is likely remembered as one but in actuality it was closer to both combo and control, at least for the time period. Certainly it plays a lot more like current midrange decks, a lot due to being one of the first "creatures as spells" sort of builds. This was how it generated value but given how poor dorks were back in the day it was not much value and all very slow making this one hell of a grindy deck. A lot of mana ramp is used to compensate but this also reduces power level further. This list is actually much closer to extended rock decks than it is sthe uccessful standard Survival decks of the time. The worlds list was a four colour mess I had no intention of trying to copy in singleton. Given that this archetype had the most range of any of the archetypes on how I built it I was happy to streamline it and play just black green. If I were building this differently I would either lean away from the combo and remove the two big dorks or into the combo and play Duress, Buried Alive, Pattern of Rebirth, Phyrexian Ghoul, and Living Death. Playing it really highlighted some quirks of the era. In one game against the blue white deck we had to do a mid-game "sideboard" swapping in an answer to Volrath's Stronghold upon drawing it and realizing it was completely unbeatable. It just represented infinite value due to how slow the games were. For reference, earlier that game a 6 mana 1/1 flying Bone Shredder was deployed purely to apply pressure!

Big Red

When I was a teen I had the gold bordered version of this deck that Kai Budde piloted to success, and it was a joy to play. Absolutely I played it on the kitchen table and without sleeves. I dread to think of the value I personally removed from it and the full set of Monoliths, Tombs, and City of Traitors it contained! If Magic decks were vehicles this was some kind of muscle car, a juicy old Mustang Shelby or something. It purred along at great pace and did disgusting powerful things. This singleton iteration manages to capture the deck quite well both aesthetically and in how it plays. In my haste I forgot to put in Wastelands and Phyrexian Processor, the latter of which a fairly key component in the original. Another missing key card from the deck is Covetous Dragon who always felt like the poster-boy for the build, the red artifact theme dragon that was very efficiently costed. This is really a big mana deck and plays a lot like modern Tron decks. It has somewhat more build options that a lot of the other decks I built for this project. Being artifact themed is what does this, there was a lot of power to be milked from artifacts around this time, especially if you were packing big mana effects and synergies like Goblin Welder.

Draw Go

Much as lists like this are some of the most nostalgia inducing it is rather a wonder how they ever won anything. This list seems to get bodied by everything else here. It is slow with relatively few answers to specific things. I think it might be one of those things where by these decks were good at beating bad people and bad decks and back then we were all bad! The slightly less bad could prey on the awful and make this kind of sorry excuse for a control deck look good and gain a reputation. Even if this list were ever capable of stabilizing I fear it would then fail to win in time due to low power and density of threats. I should jam a few more manlands in the list but it isn't going to do enough. The millstone plan of the 1996 lists is a lot more legit, however that last list was mostly doing better than this one thanks to the competition it faced. The 1996 decks were not good! They are the sort of thing a wise control player can prey upon. In the few years following blue draw-go control decks gained little while other strategies gained lots. In very few games this was borne out quite clearly in these tribute games.


It is still quite remarkable how thin on the ground it was for low cost dorks of any sensibly efficiency around this time period in Magic. I was really close to getting me some Ironclaw Orcs... In order to sensibly fill out a 40 card singleton list I had to really stretch the cards used and thus this doesn't really resemble any of the various red aggressive decks of those era. I would say that the first red deck "Sleigh" was first to understand and abuse the concept of mana curve. Like a Zerg rush, you are not necessarily trying to be more powerful than the opponent, just faster while powerful enough to get over the line before said opponent is really up and online. As we moved from Sleigh to Ponza the focus shifted a little towards low economy games and mana denial. If your deck is full of cheap cards you can deploy them and then spend some time attacking mana bases and thus get a lot more mileage out of your cheaper cards. Lastly in the evolution of red aggressive decks from this era we have the more RDW notion of inevitability. You are cheap but you have reach and redundancy. So long as they don't kill you then eventually you will kill them. This list pictured below is a mix of all three elements. Everything is damage focused and with a low cost focus. There is a smattering of the more freely included mana disruption as well as a selection of ongoing or repeatable damage sources that scale well with this disruption and provide for that inevitability alongside the burn. Despite relatively few good low end card options there is still plenty of ways to play around with this, making it as low to the ground as possible. Making it more burn, or more creature focused. Packing the likes of Stone Rain and Pillage and trying to go full Ponza, that sort of thing. 


This is one of my favourites. In part is it seems so pure, like, what you are supposed to do in Magic - make dorks and attack with them for the win. Also I think because this is the elusive list that didn't go on to becomes an all time staple as I mentioned at the start. Forests are my favourite IRL land and green stuff just looks great. Plains may typically wind up looking nicer than Forests when it comes to land art but Forests are still delightful and in combination with green cards it is hard to be anything other than delightful. Mirage happens to be one of my absolute favourite blocks in terms of art style and so this deck is really the nexus of where my favourite border, time period, set, and colour meet. The flavour is spot on too, elves, cats, dogs, birds, insects (back then we got to enjoy bees and swarms rather than getting all biologically accurate with our type nomenclature), centaur, monkeys, treefolk, trolls, snakes, and of course, bears. When this deck comes out it comes out very impressively and looks utterly unbeatable. This deck can really get stats on the board and that'll beat most decks without strong mass removal. This deck is the least interactive of all the lists with a couple of pump spells to ensure combat is always on your side, the two creatures that are so above the curve you have to play them, and that happen to disrupt, and the mana denial artifact that works so well with mana dorks and Cradle that it seemed wrong to leave out. I think Stompy is the perfect name for this list, that is exactly what it does. High statted, often trampling dorks, stomping on your face. Rogue Elephant feels like the most "stompy" of all the creatures and I left it out of this list, just not a good magic card. When you have just the one copy of Harvest Wurm on offer those synergies are not cutting it and your cards are risky and underpowerd. It is obviously wrong not playing Cursed Scroll in a list with so much mana and so little removal and reach but then the same cards in all the decks gets a little waring, tedious too when you have just the one copy! Proxies rather ruin the vibe of this experience and so I was opting for sub par decks instead! I felt like I should also be playing the original Tarmogoyf - Ernham Djinn. Sadly even these couple of years on from 1996 the card had been power crept out of things. Another thing I loved about this kind of deck was the raw power of Cradle, which felt fair at the time. Tolarian Academy never felt fair and it never has been. Being forced into playing with creatures and their low power and high vulnerability made Cradle relatively contained for a surprisingly long time. This deck is calming and fun to just goldfish. That is likely the best thing to do with it. The games it gives are fine but they are usually over quickly one way or another, being quite one sided, and offering relatively little choices or interaction. This deck feels very green. I can clearly see where my inspiration for green card design has come from!    

UR Tempo

Tempo is the awkward offspring of aggro and control. Midrange is named in such a way to give the impression that it is the midpoint between aggro and control and in some capacities it is. Midrange tends to sit between aggro and midrange in terms of both threats and answers but midrange is defined more by it's lack of specific plan or direction, or position in a meta. It is generally looking to overpower players by having the most power per mana and the most generally useful cards. Aggro decks have a lot of low powered cards and control decks have a lot of cards that are reactive and thus don't always do something. Midrange decks avoid these problems. Tempo decks on the other hand keep the lower powered cheaper threats of the aggro decks and the more situational reactive spells of the control decks. They deploy stuff to go under but then rather than rushing down from that point they try and control the game such that those threats do more work. Tempo decks are typically a lot less powerful than midrange decks, and a lot more fragile. The trade off is that you get rather more control over the game. You get to dictate things a bit more and can outplay people as if a control deck can while also getting some of those free wins against opponents that stumble off the blocks. This is the first example of a tempo deck I have found putting out results in Magic's history. Despite looking like a janky pile of disparate and weak cards it manages to show incredible understanding of the game well ahead of its time. No disrespect to Sleigh and the abuse of mana curve but it is a fairly basic aspect of magic game theory and would have been uncovered very quickly by someone. The notion of a tempo deck is a lot more nuanced and complicated. It is still not really well understood by the whole community a quarter century later. I do think quite enough credit is given to Janosch Kuhn for his 1997 worlds top 8 "speed control" and Paul McCabe's "agro control" deck. I do not know who was the first to design a tempo deck but theses guys seems the first to have understood and played it well enough to post big results and major events. Even more impressive given there is nothing cheap you could really call a threat, thus further hiding the tempo archetypes plan!

Academy (unchanged)

We had a little picture of this one in the last article. Unchanged since then and still just as abusive. This was the first properly broken deck that put many off the game. It is still broken now and comfortably beats a lot of archetypes from a lot of formats. Absolutely it rubs its dick in the face of all the other decks here. Basically it has to misfire and lose rather than other decks really being capable of beating it when both running as intended. I had to stretch the cantrip and artifact mana a bit at the low end because of the singleton but it didn't seem to hurt the deck that much. When you have that much raw power at your fingertips a few less Grim Monolith / Academy and a few more Sky Diamond didn't seem to be holding it back or bringing it into contention. The utilitarian way to play decks like this is the goldfish, just as fun for you racing that turn clock, without being an exercise in tedium for someone else. This was the first time that over powered cards had lined up so well as to have synergy as well. Previously over powered cards were not that much of a problem because they were more isolated. Random variation and all having access to them evened it out. With this Academy list it was all just stupidly streamlined. Draw cards, make mana, win. The ease this archetype can win when it doesn't even see Academy is foolish. And it has so much dig and draw that you almost always see it. The only reason I know this is because I win so often on the same turn I find the Academy but had already made my land drop for that turn. Considering how small the card pool is for this list, and that it is a mono coloured, singleton, combo deck. It is unreal how consistent it is. And how quick. And yes, to any who haven't, or wont be looking at the list too hard, the win condition is aiming a draw X spell at your opponent. And no, there are no infinite mana combos in this list, just a whole lot of capacity to generate mana.

White Weenie 

This just oozes flavour, knights, angels, some soldiers, a cleric and a lion. It was as if this deck was submitted by C. S. Lewis himself. If Sleigh is to be credited with being the first deck to realize the mana curve white weenie is arguably the first realization of the "go wide" strategy. There was not much in the way of tokens back in the day but there were plenty of cheap under powered dorks and the odd Anthem you could stick with them. Having the best aggressive one drop in the game for over a decade also rather helps your cause. Equally the few great white spells like Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares, and Land Tax helped to up the power level. All nicely rounded off with your expected "right, no more magic playing today" cards that are to be found in basically all the decks of this era. Having anything in play and casting an Armageddon had been winning games since long before white weenie but it did rather neatly slot into this more focused strategy. I remember when it was considered that white weenie decks often had the inevitability due to being able to pull all of the basic lands out of their deck fairly reliably with Land Tax, thus ensuring they would draw action every turn. Some reasonable logic in the day but the idea of playing a 2/2 or something every turn and winning with that now is laughable. Sure, have all the lands you want too! Not going to help much. This list is basically every playable dork costing two or less printed in white in the first five years of magic. Put with that all the Anthems, few generically good white cards and disruption, and hey presto, a deck.

The 1996 Stuff

Black felt under represented here in the 1998 time period and so here is this lovely Necropotence deck again, despite it being a couple of years prior to the era represented in this post. The list still with a stanky new-bordered Sinkhole but otherwise an aesthetic delight. Much as it is a famed deck of the era it doesn't match up all that well against anything. Like the blue white control decks, that situation didn't improve over the following couple of years! That however doesn't stop it being a whole lot of fun clearing the board with a Disk, flopping out a turn one Hippy, or drawing upto seven cards every turn! With decks as pleasing as these you do not need to be winning to be having a good time.

While playing with these cards is a great laugh it is also comical. Comically bad, and random, and clueless. It is more unlike Magic that playing Unfinity was recently, and yet it is Magic, it is how the game started out and so has far more right to call itself "proper magic" or whatever. It looks and feels so different, and without those rose tinted googles and awe it would likely be a bad experience. Certainly compared to the modern game. Sure we don't have these clean, simple, iconic, and lovely cards now. But we have better things like well designed cards and consistency in the games. Quality of life changes that really improve on this great game. So, much as I very much enjoyed this trip to the past, I am also very grateful that it is the past. I may miss much of these older cards and I might complain a lot about plenty Wizards are doing over the last couple of years, but there is no denying that the quality of games has improved drastically.