Friday, 26 February 2021

Eight Man Drafting with Four


As the title suggest, I recently did a conventional 8 man booster draft with just four players, each of course making two decks. It sounds like madness both logistically and in terms of game complexity. In practice it worked smoothly and without issue and is absolutely something I will do again. 

Normally drafting with fewer than 8 is fine, especially if you reduce booster size and chuck in some extra packs. I have done plenty of drafts with five people and had 5 packs of 9 cards per player. Sure, you end up with 54 cards instead of 45 but you see fewer cards overall so the quality is roughly the same. When reducing pack size too much you start to get awkward variance in packs which leads to more non-picks than is ideal. You can combat this by increasing pack size but discarding the final few, so say packs of 12 but still only picking 9 of them total. This does also increase the quality of the decks but mostly just helps to stop getting that all white pack when you are not in white... You can seed packs to have a colour spread if you like to fix this instead but it that takes a lot longer and has never felt worth the effort to me. As a general rule things get trickier the fewer drafters you have. Seven is fine and needs no tweaking. Six is fine but you do notice that it is a small table. Five is workable but needs some extreme tinkering to get the right feel. Four has always been tough and always results in some form of exotic draft rather than the conventional booster method.

When faced with four people wanting to draft someone bravely suggested a method of doing so as if 8 and it was great. We made up 24 packs of 15 cards as if a normal 8 man. We then allocated the deck numbers to each person. Seat one would draft decks 1 and 5. Seat two taking 2 and 6 and so on and so forth ensuring you were always sat opposite your other deck as it were. We then took two pieces of A5 paper each. On the first we simply had our two decks, say 3 and 7 in my case. This is where I would place my picks so as to not get confused. The other bit of paper was labelled for the passes and would read 3 - 4 and 7 - 8 on my left and 2 -3 and 6 - 7 on my right. This is where we would pick up and put down packs so as to keep track of where they would be going. We would then draft a pick for our lower numbered deck first and then the higher numbered deck. For me the sequence would be pick up the pack in the 2 - 3 pile, place my pick in the deck 3 pile and place the rest of the pack in the 3 - 4 pile. Then pick up the pack in the 6 -7 pile, place my pick in the deck 7 pile and the rest of the pack in the 7 - 8 spot (when passing left). Everything simply reverses when you pass right. Then you just draft as normal but being two people at the table and thus winding up with two separate pools from which to make two decks.

As for the games doing a round robin would mean 6 matches per deck and 12 per person we elected to do an elimination bracket. This can be single or double as you desire. You want to have all decks 1-4 in one half of the bracket and decks 5-6 in the other half so that you can only meet yourself in the finals. 

There were some added complexities within the draft as you might expect. You obviously had a lot more information to work with and a lot more relevant information you want to retain. You see packs sooner, twice as often, and will be considering picks for two separate pools! Pretty mental to try and do to high standard where you can remember everything but none the less it worked surprisingly well. Everyone had good decks and were in good seats for those colours. Going a bit more on intuition and feel seems like the best approach, certainly for someone with decent draft experience. Comfortably the best way I have found to do a normal (as possible) booster draft with just four players. Well worth a try. A lot less confusing and extreme that it appears at first glance. Quickly it felt quite natural to draft that way and there were no mistakes with passing or packs either.  

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Strixhaven Preliminary Review: Part I

Pavarti Command 7.5

A very similar beast to Kolaghan's Command with two of the same modes and the same costing. While this is a slightly weaker card overall than the Rakdos version it is in more diverse colours that see more play and have more archetypes. In those decks Prismari Command offers higher synergy potential with looting and treasure production. Kolaghan's is a more midrange and rounded affair almost always getting a two for one, usually with decent tempo too. Prismari is much more likely to go one for one but it is also more likely to empower other cards in your list while doing so. A double loot or putting treasure into play are not card advantage nor are they doing a great deal for tempo but they will support a lot of synergies and empower a lot of things commonly found in cubes. This is a solid supporting utility card that will see a lot of play. It might well be an 8/10 card but I have marked it a little conservatively based on the wealth of alternatives available in these colours. Izzet has access to Dack Fayden, The Royal Scions, Abrade, Cryptic Command, and a wealth of other high utility low mana cards, all in addition to things like Snapcaster Mage, Vryn's Prodigy, and that sort of thing that allow you to find and reuse your key spells, all adding to the overall utility and options in the guild. This exact same card in Boros colours, or really any other colours, would be looking at an 8 rating and could perhaps even perform at an 8.5/10 level if all went well for it.

Quidditch Command 6.5

This is the weakest of the cycle for cube play. This is down to ease of use than power level. Not only does this have some fairly situational effects, they are the more powerful ones you want to be using and they are very hard to line up well with each other. We have a bounce effect, a permanent pump, an Annul, and a Memory's Journey. Really you want to save something from removal or win a combat with the pump while also getting value with the Annul counterspell. This is maximum tempo and value but near impossible to pull off. You probably need to exactly hit Embercleave with this to do so which would be a huge and impressive blowout but uncommon to say the least. Realistically you are either getting a pump and a bounce or an Annul and a bounce. Still good but not insane. A reasonable tempo play but rarely a value one. Also still somewhat on the situational and even reactive side of things. Bounce is usually good because you get to time it perfectly. To do that with the Command means you are possibly just getting a buff. Giant Strength my guy... I'll take Repulse or Man-O-War over that every day thanks. While the reshuffle is the least powerful and useful it is actually the exact sort of thing that can really push a card like this up the power levels. As it isn't playable by itself you don't have access to this kind of thing in cube play very often and so that puts a bit of a premium on it. On the few occasions it is useful it is unexpected and very powerful. You can win a long game either with getting bomb threats back or just increasing the time till you deck yourself. You can counter recursion effects with it too, perhaps turning off a Phoenix of Ash or preventing a Vryn's Prodigy -3 ability. Useful stuff now and again. If only the other three modes had given us more consistently useful effects. This is certainly not a bad card, it kind of reminds me of Jilt. It is just very much not an Oko or an Uro and is perhaps too gold for what it brings. Inscription of Abundance appeals more just for being in a single colour.

Slytherin Command 7

Not a very exciting card but a pretty potent one. This is pretty reliably a two for one with high tempo. It has removal, recursion, and direct draw for value. The pump is also a tried and tested means of taking out planeswalkers. Most game states allow for that kind of buff to take out a walker when you otherwise couldn't. It is a nice hidden removal tool. Equally "hidden" is the reach this card offers when you send 3 plus the power of a dork to the sky and force them to draw a card for Lava Axe style game closing. The ceiling is getting to recur a nice two drop while making them sac something good. If you hit a four drop then you are two mana up on your two for one. Arguably the ceiling is a good Edict plus taking out a big scary walker. You get a bit more mana return but you likely lose some face damage and whatever the planeswalker did while it was in play could be taken off that upside. Regardless, all good for those two combinations of mode. Pretty common in most midrangy cubes. Draw a card is likely the worst mode as it is no real tempo.  It does however ensure the card is always pretty playable. You only ever need one of the other modes to be worth doing which is not a difficult place to find yourself in. If this mode was narrower, even if also more powerful, the card might struggle a bit as the Simic Command does. This is probably the 2nd weakest of this cycle which really just showcases the impressive power these cards will have in cube. It is a much more proactive and well suited Ojutai's Command. You play this, you affect the board and you pull ahead a bit. It doesn't break the game but it helps and that seems to be a good thing! A lot of people I have discussed this with seem to dislike it but that is because they are classing this as a removal spell for which it is a little unreliable. In practice this is more of a modern day Divination. You are just playing it for the value but it is good because it comes with interaction, disruption, and most importantly of all tempo. This just pulls you ahead on all the metrics the game is won by and that alone makes it good. 

Witherwings Command 8.5

The best of the cycle and quite the exceptional little card. This sits somewhere in the company of Arc Trail and Collective Brutality as far as how they can affect games which is a great place to be. There was a time Arc Trail was one of the scariest cards in my cube! This is a nice cheap utility spell that can get a two for one while having positive tempo. That is how you win games with ease in cube. A two drop that pulls you ahead on all metrics, even if only slightly, it is still utterly game breaking. So much more so than three drops that do so and they are also great cube cards. Luckily the removal modes are narrow enough that getting the ceiling will be somewhat rare. The ceiling incidentally is something like killing a Talisman / Jitte / Search for Azcanta type card while also swatting a relatively high cost dork such as a Brazen Borrower or Vendilion Clique. Three mana and a card up in that exchange! Arc Trail rarely does better than a mana and a card up and it almost always wins when it does that. There are about 40 targets in my cube (or 540-600 size) for the destroy removal, of which a good half are things you do really want to kill. There are then about 70 things in my cube that the -3/-1 kills outright, 20% of those things you don't care all that much about killing and another 20% or so will likely be able to grow out of range much of the time. That is about 60 solid targets total with another 40 or so things it will handle, not to mention tokens on top of that, which actually makes this reasonable just on removal grounds. Hit a relevant card and have a bit of a life swing or a land? Great, I'm in. The -3/-1 can also be used with other effects to finish something off or indeed just stop something doing damage as a blocker too. Hitting both removal modes will be rare but hitting one thing for removal will be common. Getting to pair that with drain or land based card advantage is lovely. Satyr Wayfinder is one of the most commonly played support cards. Mostly played for the self mill and land finding, the body is fine but it the bonus free bit. This Command puts as much in the bin as Wayfinder and is nearly as good at finding lands. It then does something else which will most of the time be better than a 1/1 body. Whenever you hit a relevant target with removal and get a land into hand you will feel pretty ahead. Whenever you mill in such a way that it gets you something you want or some extra value then you will feel even better. Sometimes you will mill them and go on to deck them! Drain is always a nice perk to have too. It turns out it seems to be correct to drain with Brutality 99% of the time against red in cube! It is the lowest value so to speak but it is a great mode to have on a card and really helps push the limits of what it can do and rounds the card out. The floor on this is mill 3, get a land and drain and that is totally fine for the cost too. Very cheap, very diverse, likely very positive outcomes for you when playing. 

Dumbledore Command 7.5

This seems incredibly on point and powerful despite no one else seeming to like this beast. The only Boros colours 5 drop I would rather have is a Glorybringer. This Command just seems to do everything I could want from a card in a cube setting as a Boros player. It can push for loads of damage with a variety of options. You can setup a big attack with an EoT 3/2 and Lightning Helix on a blocker then untap, flop a haste dork or some other relevant sorcery speed card and swing for the win. Alternatively you can use the +1 power mode and pair it with the 3/2 for a super Bushwhacker card or with the Helix to clear something out the way and have a huge attack. Not even needing to be an alpha strike as the indestructible stops you having any chump attackers and the potential life gain helps against swingbacks, as if anyone is doing that vs Boros! The indestructible can also just counter a removal effect. That is a pretty strong place to be sat. Lastly the Perilous Research mode allows you to actually draw some cards, a tricky thing to do in Boros colours. Great use of lands in a flood, perhaps a way to cash in a Hallowed Spiritkeeper or a chump attacking goblin token. Helix plus draw two sounds lovely, a flash 3/2 and draw two also sounds very appealing. This card lets you plot a course to victory pretty effectively. It helps when behind as well as being a strong means to close a game. It offers interaction, removal, value, and most importantly of all - options, to colours very much wanting of them. This doesn't look great at a glance but I suspect this will impress highly when it comes to actual play. It might event be good enough to sneak into control decks. The draw 2 is a bit harder to pull off there and would need some supporting to be viable. Even if this wasn't quite there for control decks midrange and aggro will still be all over it should it be as good as I think. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Top 8 One Man Armies

Creature cards that bring token armies with them are great. They lower risk and increase your options. They also scale really well with a wide selection of things. They afford pseudo evasion in that they go wide making it harder to stop all the damage coming through. You often get a reasonable return for stats on your mana spent too as they don't have that single big stat that trumps the board effect. While more bodies is a good thing, being the biggest thing is worth something. This is increasingly less relevant given the context of modern magic and cube but back in the day, if you had the biggest dork no one could really attack into you sensibly and you could often attack with impunity. The bigger reason however that you get a discount on stats is that a lot of your stats will be on tokens and tokens are inherently less valuable than actual cards for loads of reasons. One man army cards have some of the highest success rate in cube. The first proper such cards is still viable to this day - the classic Deranged Hermit. Almost all of these types of cards within reason are viable for cube and the better ones account for some of the best cards in the cube.

I am not going to look at non-creature cards that act like one man armies. There are plenty of token producing things that do a load right away from Wraths to planeswalkers to lands. They often have merit but they also typically gain value indirectly from synergies not applicable to creatures. Straying too far in scope for these lists reduces objectivity quickly and so we are just looking at dorks, specifically ones that produce at least two token creatures immediately. This is a rare list in that all the cards in it are in my cube presently. Not only that but they are all strong cards that get a lot of action as well.

8. Cloudgoat Ranger

This last slot could have gone to a number of cards including Angel of Invention (vulnerable), Trostani Discordant (gold), Ishkanah, Grafwidow (needs support), Mezmermizing Benthid (mostly defensive), Deep-Forest Hermit (not as good as Biogenic Ooze but that didn't qualify for this list), Sling-Gang Leutenant (low stats), or Mry Battlesphere (more of a card you cheat with than play fairly). They are all strong cards and all share a similar power level but all had a foible warding me of chosing them. Ultimately I went with the Ranger as it is one of the oldest and has thus seen some of the most action. It was premium back in it's day and still holds up well. It is less powerful of a card than Angel of Invention but it is rather safer in the face of removal. A Forked Bolt can typically deal with most of an Angel while it does fairly little against Ranger. Four bodies is nicer than three as well thanks to better scaling with the abundant Anthem effects in white. Cloudgoat goes wide and tall which is great. The evasion is outstanding too. Being able to trade into a 5/5 flier and still have three 1/1 dorks left over is impressive too. The card is by no means oppressive by current standards but it remains a solid card without any real drawbacks and that in itself is a big achievement for an uncommon over a decade old. Cards like Baneslayer Angel came after it, rose to the top of the pile and then faded out of relevance in that time. Five years ago the idea of playing Cloudgoat over Baneslayer in any deck was laughable, now it is pretty much the reverse. 

7. Avenger of Zendikar

The most expensive army in a can card on this list by a decent margin but well worth that price tag. Green has relatively little trouble reaching 7 mana quicker that most other colours can get to five. Avenger then goes a lot wider and affords a far greater total stats than all the rest in fairly short order. You need to answer Avenger before any landfall triggers can take place or have a suitable mass removal spell else the game is pretty over. A fairly typical Avenger makes five plants and gets them to 2/3 pretty sharply. That is 15/20 worth of stats for seven mana with the promise of more. Pretty devastating. A premium top end payoff finisher for green.

6. Seige-Gang Commander

This is the oldest tempo or board presence based creature (as opposed to a utility creature like Llanowar Elves or Mother of Runes) still in my cube. The power creep on dorks has made basically all older threats near worthless but the Gang is holding up well. It has all the usual trimmings of a nice EtB effect, reasonable total stats, good board coverage etc that you expect from a one man army card. It then goes above and beyond with the sac a goblin to Shock giving the card loads of reach, utility, synergy, threat level, and option density. It often means that the 2/2 body is a high priority to remove and will often eat a removal spell on sight. If you Vindicate my Gang I have gained a two mana Hordeling Outburst at no card cost which is a pretty big win. If you don't I can apply a huge amount of pressure to either blockers, walkers or just your face. A Gang against no blockers and just six mana is 11 damage after one attack. Eight mana and an Anthem and that is 17 damage. The Gang put in a lot of direct work.

5. Pia and Kiran Nalaar

The budget Siege-Gang. Pay one less mana and get one less token. The tokens fly which is great but they cost more to use as Shock fuel which is less great. Overall this is reasonably balanced and evens out however there is more at play that increases the value of the Nalaar parents over Siege Gang. The increase in power to mana cost is not linear when it comes to creatures and so if you scale back a creature in power by the same ratio as you scale back the cost you get a better card at the end of it. Further to this there are lots of artifact synergies on the go where by having more in play to empower things like Galvanic Blast or Daretti is a win. This works both ways as well and Pia and Kiran can throw servo tokens, Talisman past their usefulness, or best of all a Chromatic Star instead or as well as the Thopters. The existence of Retrofitter Foundry makes the Thopters rather more valuable than basically any other type of token too. Getting a free chump blocker that turns into a 4/4 at no extra mana cost is pretty filthy and happens a fair old amount. Overall Pia and Kiran cover a lot of bases with high synergies, high utility, decent power level, good board control, and lots of options. 

4. Breya, Etherium Shaper

A card powerful enough not only to get away with being horrendously gold but also have a namesake archetype. Breya good stuff just runs a pile of Signets and Talisman along with a lot of premium other gold cards within her colours. It is a decent cube archetype that was significantly improved when Fires of Invention and Kenrith joined the fray. Breya is a lot of stats for the mana with a huge pile of utility slapped on top. Flying tokens makes for a better token than most other keywords allowing all parts of her to shine. She is a bit like a Jitte too in that her utility covers such a wide range of tempo based elements of the game. It might not charge up in combat as a Jitte does but it is certainly a much safer way of having access to those kinds of abilities. Breya also has strong artifact synergies and is great at turning no longer needed Chromatic Star / Talisman / Signet types of cards into more useful things. What makes Breya so good is that she manages to go wide with her EtB but also generally go tall as well all by herself thanks to the impressive stat line.  

3. Whirler Rogue 

A bit of a surprise card here but absolutely deserving of this high ranking. A lot of that is down to this being a blue card and blue dorks generally being so bad at controlling the board. Rogue has good stats, provides air cover, offers artifact synergy, and can break a stalemate or force through damage with ease. One of the really big wins this has other than it's colour is that it has an immediate effect on the game. So often my opponents play a planeswalker with sufficient defences to keep it safe from my attack only to have it fall to the evasion this grants by tapping down thopters. Usually you get your immediate effect on the game from one man army cards thanks to the board presence of the token generating EtB effect. Rogue goes one better and lets you punch with an unblockable right away too if the situation calls for it. 

2. Seasoned Pyromancer

The cheapest card on the list and probably the most played. There is no red deck that doesn't want this as it just does everything at such a good rate. The tempo is good, the utility is great, the options are top notch. It has graveyard synergy both as a recipient and a provider. It can be card draw too, There is nothing to dislike about this card except perhaps that it is too good. Maybe not in terms of nominal power but just in terms of having no downside and thus just being an auto include in every deck that is decently red. 

1. Grave Titan

A pretty comfortable top spot here for the Titan. He brings a lot of stats and threatens rather more to come. A very quick clock. None of the drawbacks of not having the biggest dork in play. Grave Titan has ended more cube games than most and recovered even more. Comfortably one of the most played top end cards and with good reason. He is cheap enough to be the top end in most decks yet still powerful enough to get used in combination with cheat out effects like Sneak Attack or Reanimate. Just an incredibly high quantity of tempo, threat, and value all in one card without much in the way of risk or downside. There are very few top end threats you are happy to just throw away in combat because they have done enough. While you can't really chump attack with Grave Titan thanks to the deathtouch you can easily trade down by attacking into a couple of 3/3 tokens or other low value and relevance stuff. Almost any trade with Titan is bad in that the Titan is better than what it traded for but it is still good in that you have four 2/2 zombies while they have six power less stuff! 

Here are the cards that missed off making the list, all of which are decent in their own way. 

Angel of Invention

Trostani Discordant


Mezmerizing Benthid

Deep-Forest Hermit

Sling-Gang Leuitenant

Drowner of Hope

Mry Battlesphere

Hornet Queen

Regal Caracal

Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Captain of the Watch

Geist-Honored Monk

Maverick Thopterist

Patagia Viper

Phylath, World Sculptor

Precursor Golem

Squad Commander


Master of the Waves

Marsh Flitter

Beetleback Chief