Friday 29 December 2023

Overpowered or Undersupplied


When a card in a format is getting near ubiquitous play it means one of two things. Most would just go with the assumption that the card is simply high powered, which is often the case. The other possibility however is that there are not enough alternatives for the effect the card offers in the format. The card is undersupplied rather than over powered. Decks need an array of tools. Deck construction is not just a case of putting the most powerful cards together, nor is it even doing that with mana colour and curve considerations taken into account. You need an appropriate amount of interaction and threats, varying in degree based on the type of deck. You may also need other tools to facilitate what is going on in your specific build. In a typical cube deck I will have some space allocated to consistency, that of card selection and ensuring I have enough mana, and of the right colours. I will have some slots dedicated to value generation too, all on top of the classic removal and dork understandings of interaction and threats. I might then also have a deck trying to make use of the graveyard and as such I will be trying to hit a certain number of loot, mill, and discard effects to support that. As you can probably imagine, this need of certain tools is more pronounced in the more constructed settings of Magic but it is still relevant in cube.

As a cube curator over the years I have always tried to provide the options on cards that people seem to like. There was a time, long long ago, where consistently all of the one mana card quality spells on offer would get played. This was when I was just packing the premium ones commonly found in legacy. As such I added in Opt and immediately it saw ubiquitous play. So in went Sleight of Hand and it too was almost never left out. Finally we got to Portent (long long before Consider was printed). Portent got enough play to stay in the cube but it was also to be seen sat in sideboards. Not only was Potent not receiving the near ubiquitous play that had hitherto been seen in all those blue one mana card quality spells, but I was starting to finally see the occasional Sleight of Hand, Serum Visions and Opt left out of lists as well. Prior to the addition of Portent the demand for card quality was not met. Simply by helping to meet the demand the addition of Portent saw more powerful cards than it getting less action. 

This is because in a draft you might pick up that Portent early knowing you will want a couple of cards like that in your deck. Later when offered that slight upgrade you might choose to pick a different card all together, where as if you didn't already have something in that Portent slot you would be snapping up that Sleight of Hand or whatever it happens to be. Going from an OK card to a good card is a minor upgrade to a deck while going from nothing at all to that good card is a rather more significant one. As such, the opportunity cost of not taking that Sleight of Hand is so much reduced that alternatives appeal more. This is the ideal balance point in a format. You want your weakest tool to be playable, if it is too weak to see play then it is adding nothing to the format. Ideally you want your weakest tool to be sufficiently playable so as to reduce the demand on other cards in its class. This then lets you properly assess the demand for a card based on power. All card quality effects looked equally good based on play stats until I actually met demand for them by the addition of Portent. There after the play stats of the various card quality one drops in blue started to reflect those cards potencies within my cube meta. 

This is all well and good as a mere curator of cubes. You do what you can with the cards at your disposal. You can always trim the size of your cube in some areas as a way to inflate numbers on card types without needed more to be printed. The various bottlenecks in cube are interesting, discovering them in each individual cube and then trying to solve those issues, either as a curator or a player, are good fun parts of cubing. 

When designing cards however, as I have been for my custom cube, you control the supply. From the perspective of the designer I am trying to supply the natural demand for these various effects. I want just enough of the effects to supply demand and I want as flat a power gradient on those cards as possible, ideally affected by context much more than raw power. I want players to chose between cards based on how they are for the deck rather than because one is just that much better and more powerful than the other. As a player you only need to learn about the relative power levels of cards within formats, the specific context based power levels. As a format designer you want to be much more aware of the supply and demand side of things as well. You need to know roughly what ingredients and in what ratios the main archetypes and colours want in any meta. If you see cards getting too much play and determine they need nerfing rather than being made more abundant you are going to make matters worse.

The thing that brought all this to the foreground of my attention was the basic land cyclers. With the likes of Lorien Revealed performing incredibly well in constructed formats as well as the others getting a fair old pile of action in one way or another. Power wise all of that cycle are low. I made my own cycles of low power generic land cyclers and they were comfortably my most played spells. To me this really shines a spotlight on an area wildly undersupplied in magic in general. These cards are very useful and do a great job of solving the main inconsistency in magic. They are a long long way off powerful. They are getting play due to a real deficiency of tools that afford consistency without too much cost. 

I moved to five cycles of one mana land cyclers per colour in my 700odd card sized cube with my second printing of cards and finally got to the point where land cyclers were not always making lists. The play rate is still high and the power level is still low, lower than before with most of the original bunch getting a slight nerf, but at least I am meeting demand. One very marked effect of having this wealth of land cyclers in my format is the drop off in demand for other card quality cards, be that looting and scry effects bolted onto cards or dedicated card quality spells. Not a shock, just impressive how noticeable it is and feels. 

Partly in cube this is down to the cardboard problem I spoke of in a recent article. If I play a Preordain in my deck then one of my cards has no direct affect on my winning of the game. If we just take our whole deck and put all the pieces out on the table and all the cards in our hand, the pure card quality spell does nothing while the Giant Spider forest cycler adds a Giant Spider's worth of power to the proceedings. As the cardboard problem isn't really a problem outside of cube it wasn't adding to the downward pressure on things like Preordain in those places. In cube this double hit of proper land cycler supply and ability to mitigate the cardboard problem has therefor changed the meta rather more significantly. This is always the case when you have two affects both scaling in the same direction, the rate it that much more pronounced and rapid than with the single scaling effect. 

So the main takeaway here is simply that if a card isn't getting play it might be over supply not under powered, and equally, a card getting all the play might be undersupplied and not over powered. It tends to be healthier and safer testing, tinkering and probing the supply side of the issue before going in on the power side of things. Dilution of a problem is my go to  first port of call both as a cube curator, and now as a designer too. There is also the case of being able to create demand with power, much akin to the ability to generate demand for things in economics by sufficiently reducing cost. This however is already a plenty long enough article to we will look at the effects on increasing demand with power another time. 

Saturday 16 December 2023

The Cardboard Problem


Most players think of power just in relation to what a card does and how much it costs to play, and for the most part this is the relevant way to consider the power of a card. We all know intuitively that a Lightning Bolt is a far more powerful card than a Lightning Blast despite the Blast actually being a direct upgrade in effect. Once you disregard mana cost there is only nominal power, which isn't often that useful of a sole measure in magic. What you are in fact dealing with when disregarding costs, is power per card. Power per card is the unit by which we understand the cardboard problem and it could be defined as simply having insufficient power per card within your deck and nothing to do with power per mana, which might well be high. 

Most players will not really have encountered the cardboard problem, or at least not to any sufficient degree to notice it. Three factors contribute to it, library size, format power, and format balance/game length. For constructed and EDH the library size is too big to be relevant, and in limited the power level is too low for it to be relevant. It is only really in some kinds of cube and in 15 card highlander that you can appreciate it. It was also a pretty big deal in Hearthstone where balance was pretty good and deck size was only 30 cards. This is all well and good, but what actually is the cardboard problem? How is it relevant?

Simply put, the cardboard problem is where you are running out of cards, not in hand, but in your deck, and that is what is deciding the game. It is not even really a decking problem. If you play any of these formats where the cardboard problem can be seen while adding the rule where you don't lose by trying to draw from an empty library, the result is much the same. There becomes a point in many games where you just know you don't have enough gas left in your deck to get the job done. You didn't run out of life, you didn't run out of things to do, you didn't lose to screw, you just didn't have enough overall power to get the job done. 

So why is this a problem? Surely just add more powerful cards into your deck? Certainly this works to a point, but you start to get all a bit clunky. You need those cyclers and cantrips to smooth out a draw so you don't stumble to a screw or flood early. You need cheaper cards to be involved in the early game, and you really want some sources of card advantage so that as you develop your mana in the mid and late game you are able to cast multiple cheaper spells in a turn. This is all good basic magic. So yes, if you cut out the cheaper cards and draw cards too much it stops being a problem because you lose well before it would come up! Build your cube deck properly, or optimally, however and things can start to get a bit sketchy in a closer longer game. You are now straddling a fine line between early game consistency and keeping pace, without burning through resources recklessly and overly churning through your deck such that you will have enough gas to compete in the long game. In other words consistency and raw nominal power start to compete with each other in your build.

It is easy to see why library size affects this cardboard problem. A more powerful format tends to have more effective means of drawing cards and churning through a deck, it will do these things more quickly, and it will also tend towards having cheaper cards overall, thus commanding more draw effects so as to keep the tap running. Deck size, as with life, only starts to be relevant when it is running out which is why the balance of the meta is relevant. More balance translates to longer games. I avoided saying slower formats as these are more typically corelated with less powerful formats. It is this general lack of balance that I attribute to masking this problem in most cube settings. Relatively few cubes are built primarily for balance and as such the number of games you see that are still close as either player nears the end of their deck is low. And fewer still where both players hit the final quarters of their decks in the same match. 

I was only starting to notice this problem in the last few years of cube. I was opting to play threats instead of value generation. I was cutting down on the filler cards that I was playing but it was minor. Not worth worrying about and easily countered with minor draft and deck building adjustments. Along comes my homemade cube project which is incredibly balanced and full of value and filler cards but deficient in finishers. Something like a quarter of the games are getting to the point where both players have libraries in the single figures size wise. We have been doing a lot of best one one to give you an idea of quite how balanced and long games are! 

I thought this might be an issue while designing it and so had a bunch of cards that put things from your graveyard on the bottom of your library but it was a terrible fix in practice. It is like lifegain, you just don't want to invest in it ever. It is not a relevant thing until right at the end of the game and as such you are just way better off spending any resources on being in a better position prior to that. With things like escape and delve kicking about putting cards back into your library is often a drawback as well! The only way to include reshuffle effects is to slap them on for free but this is messy and a bit random. I think I would argue for playing with 50 card decks before relying on that "Wheel of Sun and Moon" strategy to try and solve the problem. So the problem I envisaged is real, and the fix I included for it failed.  

The other way to approach the problem in a design sense is to speed up the game. You do this with power in a general sense but ideally directed power. Power up the tempo effects, threats, and things that provide reach (or the capacity to close out a game) within your meta. Comically it is exactly that which I have been complaining about WotC doing for a while. But then their formats are not really suffering the cardboard problem so I can still argue that they are over doing it! Regardless, I under did it in my powerful cards and reachy cards that can end games. As such, I designed a whole bunch of extra tempo threats, high nominal power cards, and things that end games, I printed them off and things have improved a bit, but only a bit. Turns out it doesn't change all that much if you do it for both sides. The issue is that my card design overall follows a pattern of avoiding being win more or polar or random and so that inherent balance of card is the problem, not so much the lack of threats or power of them etc. You need wayward, random cards apparently! Blood Moon style hosers, protection and landwalk abilities which are blank in some matchups and unbeatable in others. What I am getting at is that what I think of as "bad design" is a large part of what has kept the cardboard problem away from cube until recently.

So, what is the upshot of all this? What is the takeaway? I think the big one is that Magic has a cap on it. You cannot infinitely improve in any one area without ultimately starting to incur costs in others. This should obviously be no shock, this is exactly how things work in the real world. As you iron out any perceived flaws (such as inconsistency) you incur new challenges (in this case both game length and the cardboard problem). 

Really now we are getting to the nub of it, because it is not really a problem, it is just a facet of the game. I am just calling it a problem because I have a bias at play. My favourite thing to do in magic is draw cards. Beyond that I like to be doing stuff. I am happy as Larry spinning wheels. Lots of moving parts with little going on is where I am at. These decks are packed full of things like Chromatic Star and Mishra's Bauble, full of cyclers, Preordains, tutors, and raw draw. It all works together in harmony but the power per cards is low. These decks often struggle to win despite getting to do their thing and this is usually due to the cardboard problem. Another solid reason why EDH is so popular! Basically I find increasingly I am having to cut down on these types of cards I enjoy in my decks and consequently in my cubes and this makes me a bit sad. Card design helps a little but I cannot have it all! I think the 50 card library size might be the best fix on offer but as with any fix, it is just extending your buffer, you are not removing a cap. 

A large takeaway from this principle, and one all 15 card highlander players are only too aware of, is that card draw spells and effects are themselves capped and have diminishing returns prior to their cap. Over draw is a common mistake players make in cube. Value tools only generate consistent power returns in an infinite library. As with any real library, a finite library yields diminishing returns on value generation.

It is one of those things you can have some fun applying a bit of maths to. In a 40 card deck you have roughly 32 draws available to you before you have to have achieved a win assuming you have no effects that can recycle used cards back into your deck. Assuming you have no card draw cards, no cyclers, and nothing that thins or mills the deck, then bam, you have a bit over 30 turns to win, lots of time, should be plenty. Start to throw in those other effects however and the potential game length you can fight for quickly shortens. Each sac land is two cards. Each time you cycle it is two cards. A Night's Whisper is three cards down. Each one of these that thins or reduces down the deck brings you closer to the other ones that do it as well. They all scale up with each other. You can directly over do it and mathematically demonstrate that fact. If you know you ideally need 14 turns to win but your average card is actually 2.5 cards from your deck then you simply won't have the stuff to get you there too much of the time. You will be out of stuff before you can win, that or, much more likely, you will be sat slowly losing with stuff in hand you cannot afford to use or that has been somehow already rendered useless. 2.5 might sound like a lot but it really isn't in cube. Many cards wind up being two, and plenty can be a lot more. A Faithless Looting is five, a Fact or Fiction is six. Sure, most decks will win by turn 14 and most won't quite hit the 2.5 cards average but that is just for the average game. You can have well under those numbers but just happen to have a long game and the cardboard problem will scupper you. You really want to minimize the chance of it happening which means shifting the whole centre of the bell curve away from this point, which means being incredibly conservative with "do nothings", card draw and filler in the slower decks.  

One little aside that I find somewhat mindboggling is that the cardboard problem is sufficiently noticeable in my homemade cube that a one mana Merfolk Looter does not get play. The above card but jsut a blue mana to deploy! The power level in my homemade cube is absolutely lower than unpowered cubes, there is plenty of (non-combo) graveyard synergy, and yet a one mana Looter cannot get play time. A card that is a fine card, but then halved in price! Imagine a Concentrate or a Rampant Growth at half price! A Wrath of God? You get the idea... This means essentially you are saying that committing to a sufficient number of loots to make the Looter worth it in card quality and support terms, incurs too much of a cost in terms of unused card resources to be a wise play. It is a direct casualty of the cardboard problem. I come from a background in magic where the idea that an unanswered turn one Looter not providing ample consistency to reliably win the game hard to comprehend. It is good that we have now reached a point where the game is balanced sufficiently that I don't need to comprehend it, I can experience it first hand!

Saturday 2 December 2023

Fine Art Lands III


A while back a mate of mine put a whole load of fine and classic art to a variety of magic lands, basics and commonly used duals. These have proven lovely to use and so he more got done. Now I have near 80 of each of the basics and most of the commonly used cube dual lands, more than enough to support any cube draft. The link below is to the blog post containing the first set of images done a couple of years ago. After that are the Imgur galleries of the various new ones.

The Islands;


The Forests;


The Mountains;


The Plains;


The Swamps;


The Sacs and Triomes;


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: