Saturday 25 February 2023

Card Scaling up the Mana Curve


Fundamentally there are two relevant resources in magic, that of mana and cards. Life is certainly a resource of sorts and many cards allow you to spend it like the others but without those cards life is more the objective than a resource, you are spending your cards and mana so as to take away all of the opponents life. With that in mind we can structure our thinking and evalutation of cards in terms of cost in mana and in terms of cost in cards. Obviously most cards cost "one cards worth of card" to play! As such it makes rather more sense to consider power in terms relating to cost rather than to the card but you cannot ignore the card cost of cards altogether as we shall see. 

The cost of a magic card determines how powerful you expect it to be. The more expensive it is the more powerful it is, fairly simple stuff. There are however several factors that scale differently which affect the power per mana one can expect from a card. The first is the simpler idea of power per card. It would be nice if we could just convert the power one might expect from what a card actually does per mana and see if it adds up and compares to other cards with other similar effects. This would only work in a very boring and linear game. Magic is much more dynamic and so our power per mana scales with a couple of things as the mana cost changes. This means we cannot expect a simple clean relationship up and down the curve of what returns we will get for our mana. A 4 mana card is not twice as good as a two mana one etc. This can make card evaluation not so intuitive.

Power per card scales up the more expensive card gets. To reflect this the power per mana we get goes down. If we take a simple Shock to be the going rate, the balanced benchmark, for both power per mana and card, i.e. 2 damage per 1 mana and 1 card, then why is Lightening Blast a four mana spell and not a two mana spell? Several things go into this. A notable one is simply that Lightning Blast is rather less good of a card than Shock! The main factor however is that power per card. Purely on power per mana the Lightning Blast should cost 2 however both only cost the player one card. To attain four damage the player using Shocks will need to spend another card. Thus, to properly cost up a Lightning Blast you have to pay for the fact that you kind of drew a card over the going rate. Two mana is a not unreasonable rate to cost a card draw at and so the four mana price tag of Lightning Blast seems more reasonable and why the likes of Char have been deemed as good in their time. 

There is the coloured mana cost to consider. If Lightning Blast was 2RR to play, or even just RR then you would have a totally dead card until you found a second source of red mana. This is not the case with the pair of Shocks. Yes, certainly you still couldn't kill a 4/4 with a pair of Shocks and a single red source but direct damage is just a small part of it. Perhaps we are talking dorks or card draw or something else where splitting it up does stop it working. Essentially a double of mana cost in colour intensity alone reduces the ability to play the card. We are really just considering total mana costs in this essay although I am sure the reader can appreciate how and why the colour intensity is used as another way to balance cards along this scale. It is worth noting here that the most colour intense cards are typically the cheaper ones with the likes of Counterspell functionally being more colour intense than Cryptic Command. 

Just working with total mana let us examine the relationship between power and card cost a bitm ore closely. Lets call power P and mana cost C and the cost of drawing a card to be D then down to just the factor of power per card we can arbitrarily say that when C = P a card is appropriately balanced. Then as we look at more powerful iterations of that card we can assume it retains card to power balance if it lines up with the following progression sequence. Obviously I find it most useful defining C and P with a one drop which is ideal for this aspect of scaling but a little more awkward when we start to consider coverage - which is our other scaling factor.

C = P  

2C = 2P + D

3C = 3P + 2D


As a designer as you increase the power (P) of the card you have to increase the mana cost at a higher rate to account for the increasing value of D, which in this case is representing the pseudo gain in card value as you play more expensive powerful spells over cheaper less powerful ones. Failure to do so would result in things like three mana spells dealing six damage!

So just in terms of power per mana and power per card we should expect to see our power per mana at a maximum on cheapest cards and slowly decrease as you increase in mana cost up the curve. Luckily the other scaling factor works in reverse and leads to an interesting (and changeable) curve of expected power per mana as you move along the mana curve. I have chosen to call this other scaling factor coverage although mostly that is because playability means something else in the magic world. 

There are several factors contained within coverage and none are mathematically clean making it all a bit of an approximation. It is also a factor that is determined a lot by the meta and so a card with a low coverage in modern might have a much higher one in standard and be a lot more powerful as a result. 

There are a couple of factors contributing to coverage which are more related to convenience and risk. Looking back at out Lightning Blast compared to Shock example there are a few in-game things that are not direct relationships about our assumptions. Two Shocks is a lot better than the Blast and a card draw if you are facing a pair of 2/2 dorks. Equally, my opponent only needs one Blue Elemental Blast to counter my Lightning Blast while they would need two in order to answer my Shocks. This is not always relevant as if the Shocks are being used to kill a 4 toughness dork then the single Counterspell will get the job done but the principle does generally hold true that the more power you imbue in a card the more easily answered the power of that card becomes. You up your risk by upping your power per card while often lowering your convenience. 

The main factor in coverage is that convenience I just mentioned. It is simply reducing your ability to play a card early or even at all when you increase your mana cost. A one drop can be played effectively on any turn of the game. A four drop however has to wait until turn four in most cases before it can join the fray. That is three turns of utility lost where the one drop can help and the four drop is a dead card. The higher the mana cost of a card the higher the % of a game it will spend as a dead card in hand offering no utility or options. As this is so meta and context dependant it does not affect cards smoothly as you move up the curve. There is a mana cost in basically all formats that is too much, the meta is too fast and the cards at that price simply do not get enough of a look in to be sufficiently relevant in power level. A card could literally say "you win the game" and it would be unplayable at certain high costs in various metas outside of being something you can cheat the cost on. 

The scaling on coverage is fairly severe as well. Each mana cost is more cost than the last. The difference in cost between a 2 drop and a 3 drop on the one hand and a three drop and a four drop on the other would appear to be the same - one, or one turns worth if you will. In practice however the difference between the three and the four drop is the greater difference. This is the case despite being a relatively smaller increase, going from 2 to 3 is a 50% increase while 3 to 4 is only a 33% jump and yet the 33% always feels like more in game, and for good reason. For basically all decks (for the pedants decks with absurd land counts can bypass this but they are not relevant to this discussion) each subsequent land drop becomes less likely to come on curve than the last. A better way to look at this is the average number of turns taken to reach each point on the curve. It takes a little over three turns to hit three to account for those occasional games you miss on your third land drop. For a lot of cube decks a fourth land is most likely to arrive on turn five. You really want to consider the cost of your card in these terms rather than the printed mana value. You might feel like a 6 drop costs twice that of a 3 drop but in reality a five drop is going to be closer to double the three drop in terms of turns taken to becomes playable. 

You also need to consider expected game length as this turns to get to X mana is also all based on the premise that the game goes on infinite turns which is entirely untrue! If you are dead on turn 5 you are never getting to six mana. The game ends, often quickly. This means that the higher up the curve a card gets the higher the risk of it never becoming playable in a game is. This is obviously a total disaster, a hinderance of a card. The more powerful the format the faster they tend to be and so the cost of cards you can afford to play at all comes down. Unless I am running heavy ramp or control elements in my cube decks these days I do not include cards over five mana, often capping out at four. This is almost entirely for the reason discussed here - I do not want to be lumbered with a card that offers me nothing all game and thus essentially costs me a card. 

There is also all that opportunity cost that is significant with playing more expensive cards. As mentioned, a one drop can be played from turn one. It can also be played most easily alongside other cards. Cheaper cards help you be more mana efficient and curve more smoothly. Rarely is a curve one drop, two drop, three drop, four drop. Often you will not have a good on curve play and in those cases having more cheaper cards really helps, certainly in the early game when mana is the limiting factor and not cards. Cheap cards fill in unused mana around off curve cards or allow you to play double cheap spell instead of curve spell. This is great for mana efficiency and thus tempo. It is also massive for option density. This means that not only do expensive cards have a coverage disadvantage but that cheaper ones have an increased one. Coverage falls of sharply as you go up the curve, far quicker than power is gained through pseudo card gain. 

The coverage of these expensive cards is extremely low, with many games not reaching that point at all. These cards are often the most powerful in the game in terms of power per mana as well, even compared to one drops. The D in our equation has become somewhat negligible compared to the lack of coverage and so really top end cards can be balanced such that they have quite immense power, both nominally as you would expect but also per mana. So power per mana is highest at the extremes of the curve, with one drops and their low nominal power compensated with high power per mana, and very high mana cost cards compensated for their low coverage with high power. The cards in the middle have to pay the highest tax on their pseudo card value elements and this causes their power per mana to suffer. 

The best decks are those than manage to strike a good balance between maximising overall power within a deck and power per mana, without compromising their coverage (i.e. not just running top end). This is a kind of technical and long winded way of saying the player who spends the most mana wins. If your deck is all top end you deploy nothing, waste your early mana and lose. If you deck is all low end you cast everything too quickly and don't have enough actual power. You build a curve not just so that you spend your mana efficiently and thus deploy as much power as you are able to but also because having a curve of cards helps you maximize your power per mana and nominal power. So, there we have it. The factors that allow for an interesting progression of power per mana as you go up the curve. Hopefully also an explanation as to why there is such a wavy and varied line of scaling with magic card costs that is hard to pin down and hard to evaluate. 

Saturday 18 February 2023

Phyrexia All Will Be One Commander Preliminary Review


I normally do these command reviews before I get the conclusion and additions article done for each corresponding set but got a bit behind this time. As such, based on the grading you can assume this is what I will be doing with the cards in regards my cube. 

>7 adding

5-7 testing

<5 constructed uses only

Synthesis Pod 0

Lots of fun to be had here. Potentially some abuses with affinity cards and other cost reducing effects that let you cheat on CMC. Even so, this can't really be a good cube card. You are essentially paying to turn your spell into a random spell. Paying more to get less is a losing strategy. Unless you know the makeup of your opponents deck this is near impossible to abuse reliably. I can't see this in a competitive 1v1 deck. Commander however, weeeeeeeeeee!

Monumental Corruption 2

Powerful card draw or finisher as required. Very easy to get out a massive number of artifacts in a constructed deck built to do so. Less easy to have five mana spare while doing such things however. Mostly this is just a clunky card. The power in the artifact synergies is just so high that you rarely ever see a non-artifact card this expensive in those kinds of builds. Why pay five to hit them for one for each artifact when you can likely have just the same effect with a one mana Disciple of the Vault. 

Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant 2

Immense power here but again a little problematic. This is a big artifact payoff card that is high up the curve and non-artifact. Also very heavy on the coloured mana making it a bit harder to include. Even so, if you are paying RRR for a 5/4 haste and then getting a free artifact cast from your deck with decent selection then you are getting a lot of card! It does exile five at a time so this is not a great midrange grindy tool but then what card with affinity for artifacts is? Narrow but with great power.

Vulshock Factory 0

Neat idea but you need to want a mana rock bad enough to play a three drop one to want this, and not only do you not want that in cube, this isn't even high up the que for three drop mana rocks meaning you would need a lot of them. I am doubtful this is even getting that much love in commander.

Roar of Resistance 6

Bit of a do nothing sort of card sometimes but very cheap and scary. Bone Splitters all round is scaling powerfully and still useful with just a single dork. Tokens getting haste is a little conditional but probably not that far off giving non-token dorks haste! Many of the good red dorks already have haste and there are quite a lot of tokens kicking about. I fear this card is a little bit win more. Like, when you have several dorks and can just batter your opponent a couple of times with big chump attacks. Power wise this is absolutely worth a test but I am not sure if it will get enough play being neither a direct threat or removal. I am not sure that it will play all that well either. Sure, sometimes it will give some really interesting options and a long ongoing grindy game but mostly I suspect it will end people in short order or do nothing. 

Hexplate Wallbreaker 6

So this is a 5 mana 4/4 that gets to double combat if it swings. If the dork part is answered then for a mere four mana it can buff any other dork into a double combat dude as well as a +2/+2 boost. Is this better than Dragon Wing Glider? Power wise I would say yes but in practical terns I am going with no. Wallbreaker seems like overkill and that extra power comes with a speed reduction. By themselves they both attack for 8 over the turn you make them and the following but Glider does so with evasion and does four of it right away. I don't see the cube wanting both of these cards and Glider just seems like it is getting it done more reliably. Wallbreaker is a bit more different so if they are close enough I may play it instead for a bit. 

Goldwarden's Gambit 1

Quite the combo kill potential card. You can fire this off very quickly if you want to pack a list full of cheap equips. You can one shot people with this and the previous Hexplate Wallbreaker. This is a lot of card and a unique one at that but it is beyond narrow. Build around constructed only and likely not even viable to do so in singleton in any sort of competitive guise, not as the main plan at any rate. 

Staff of the Storey Teller 8

This is great. It is somewhere between a Thraben Inspector and an Inspiring Overseer (one of the most played one drops in cube and one of the best booster draft cards of all time so off to a good start). You get a useful 1/1 flying body for a nice bargain two mana. Then, or at a later you date you get to draw a card for just a single mana. Amazing. That alone is enough for cube. It might not work with flicker effects for dorks but I am not so bothered by that. Absolutely I will take that minor hit for all the other perks this toy comes with. What tips this over the edge is being able to draw a card there after each time you make creature tokens. Making token dorks in white is run of the mill. Everything does it. Drawing cards is not. And doing so for one mana, and not even having to spend that mana at the time of token generation, is a total bargain. If you make this on turn two of a game that you don't just utterly overrun I can easily see it drawing an average of three cards. This will win a lot of games. It will do so in a very slow and subtle way but make no mistake at the raw power of this little stick. 

Glimmer Lens 7

Here we have another white means to draw cards. This is fairly poor by itself but offers a proactive play that doesn't harm your tempo, which at least keeps the floor of the card higher than some. Then, all you need to pair with it is another attacker to become good, which is fairly easy to achieve in white and lines up with the strategy of any deck looking to play this card. One drop dork, Glimmer Lens, turn three attack and draw is a reasonable and powerful line that sets you up nicely. You also get to happily chump attack thanks to keeping the equipment. This is fairly cheap ongoing value when you are ahead, and can usually let you cash in low value dorks for card draw even when you are behind. This is a card with a lot of options. It has a high ceiling and a high floor without acting quickly enough to be broken or abused. All round fairly nice clean card. Really helping Stoneforge Mystic to have a wealth of targets too. 

Clever Concealment 2

A riff on Teferi's Protection. Likely better against most mass removal but the inability to protect the player (or your lands) as well makes this worse overall. Not that it matters all that much to me is this is an EDH card not a cube one. This isn't unplayable by any means, just not the sort of card I look to include, more of a solution sideboard sort of card. It is cute protection in an aggressive deck rife with vigilance! 

Otharri, Suns' Glory 8

Well this is absolutely one of those insane power cards. This kind of ticks all the boxes you want from a top end threat, most of them in more than one way which is remarkably impressive. That box ticking exercise is more important for cube than actual power and so I expect that Otharri and it's bucket loads of both power and suitability to be a bit of a bomb. So what are these boxes that Otharri ticks? Otharri acts immediately thanks to the haste and does some work to stabilize thanks to the production of tokens and lifelink. Otharri productes value in the form of the tokens but also in the threat of then recurring from the bin. The card offers a whole lot of reach as well being an evasive dork and a recursive dork. The card offers some "having access to a threat" security in the recursion as well. I can see a nice safe Mutavault getting this back often and feeling utterly unreasonable in doing so! As far as closing the game out Otharri is brutally fast as well, smacking for five on hit one, nine on the second, and seventeen on the third assuming all the rebels survive and connect. Super Rabblemaster! Even when the rebels are getting slaughtered in blocking there is no real racing this card over more than a couple of turns, it needs a proper answer. While I have no bad words to say about this it still a reasonably fair cube card thanks to being not just gold but Boros gold - one of the less played combinations. It is also a card you can answer with most things. All you have to do is take out the first rebel which can be done in combat pretty easily, and then find a way to handle a three toughness dork before it can attack again. You need a good blocker and a removal spell, two removal spells, or a mass removal spell. Equally a good exile spot removal spell will answer it as well. Even so I generally think the Otharri player is going to be feeling ahead most of the times it is properly answered. It will generally be a Lightning Helix to the face or a planewalker as well as a 2/2, for no card cost and probably only a couple of mana at worst. Even if the 2/2 is a chump attacker it ties down a blocker. This is probably about as good and rounded as you can make a card before it gets oppressive. With a Mutavault this does however start to feel pretty oppressive! 

Neyali, Sun's Vanguard 3

Lovely top end threat attacking on the board and with card value if you have tokens to attack with. Too narrow for drafting cube being all of a Hill Giant without support but something I would absolutely look at for an Intangible Virtue deck. Even as far as a splash. 


Glistening Sphere 1

Proliferate on a mana rock with some scaling. Obviously a constructed card only for several reasons but I am not sure this is even quite there for that. It is just too slow for either proliferate or poison decks. The cool Dice Factory decks are those that seem best suited to this what with wanting both proliferate and mana rocks but it is a long way less impressive than another Astral Cornucopia or Everflowing Challice would be! Mostly this just seems like a great EDH card for a selection of different strategies that this supports. 

The rest of the poison cards are just not getting a look in for cube, poison decks are low to the ground so even though there is plenty of power in the cards there is not the suitability to go with it. It is all the Boros colours that are gaining from this set of commander decks, the white half of the Boros most. Some very strong cards in their own right but also some very interesting new toys to play with in both tokens and equipment decks. 

Friday 17 February 2023

Everything is Midrange Now

When I first started to describe my cube as a midrange cube I did so to distinguish it from a combo cube, or at least a cube that contained the ability to draft combo decks. I cut all the combo archetypes out of my cube a while back as I felt it drafted and played better with my rock / paper / scissors dynamic being aggro / control / midrange rather than aggro / control / combo. I hold to this being the case however my cube does now just seem to produce differing types of midrange deck. 

Basically the threats are too powerful, slippery, and diverse for the more pure control decks to handle. This means you don't really see control decks that are just answers, control, and card advantage with a few ways to win any more. Control decks have lots of answers but they pack way more threats than ever before. They have to be more proactive or they are just going to die to some random threat they cannot answer and as such they are. Draw go is not a thing really any more. Control doesn't just pass with mana up for long anyway, sooner than not a big scary thing is going to hit the deck and start to pose questions all of its own. Batterskulls, Scarab Gods, Iymriths. Even smaller things too like Monastery Mentor or Sveyalun can really put wind up a deck not poised to handle such things well.  

At the other end of the spectrum there just isn't any reason to go all in. There is so much in the way of value to be found on high tempo cards that you no longer have to chose between tempo or value, you can have both. An all in aggro deck will easily fold to the wrong card. An Ophiomancer when there is no removal, an Arc Trail, whatever it is. The small gains you get from going as all in as possible do not make up for the games you simply can't win when you randomly then walk into the wrong thing. You can still be plenty aggressive while running cards that scale into the late game, be that a Dragon's Rage Channeler, a Recruitment Officer, a Ranger Class, an Evolved Sleeper etc. Aggressive decks are now just low curve midrange decks that can apply a lot of tempo pressure and can reliably continue to do that for all of most games and most of the rest, typically they have more reachy cards at lower costs as well but this is more technical a description than we need! This is also why control decks need more of their own threats, the aggro decks keep coming so you need to put them down before you run out of gas! 

So that is that, how I would define aggro and control decks doesn't really apply to how those things now look in my cube any more. Essentially it is all just semantics and it is easier to call the "midrange" decks I am building now aggro, midrange, and control. It shows how definitions need to change with the times to stay relevant. It is a good thing too that my cube is basically all just midrange decks as they give the best and fairest games with the most option rich drafts. Yes, there is a degree of it being a bit more homogenous and samey than older cubes and combo cubes but that is a trade off I am willing to make for the higher calibre of game. 

Sunday 12 February 2023

Fixed and Restricted Cubes


There are many reasons to want to fix and/or restricted your cube. Hasbro themselves have advised that players skip any sets and releases that they do not feel are for them, and with the rate of release we are at that is very good advice. Beyond there being too many cards you may want to fix or restrict your cube to try and evoke the feel of a certain period of time. You may want to do it so as to reduce the cost of building a cube. It may be for time reasons and not wanting to spend as much or even any time on maintaining your cube. It may simply be to try something different out. 

There are three main ways I have seen cubes fixed or limited. The first is card based (rather than time based) and has the most potential variation. There is no real hard and fast line between this and what you might just call cube design. I have seen and/or built ones that omit colours, ones that are a select range of CMC, those that are entirely gold focused, those that are entirely artifact focused, those that are based on cards monetary value or card rarity, tribal ones etc. I have even started to see cubes restricted to planes, or at least a Ravnica sets only cube. I am sure a Mirrodin one will come soon and there after whenever we visit a place for the third time. These various and infinite options allow for the most creativity and variation in cubes. You can really put your own stamp on a format by restricting the cards it in some way. This is by far the biggest group and this is the last I will mention it in this article as typically each different way of doing things merits an article to itself, indeed I have a couple of these in the pipelines myself! 

The second two are both just time based restrictions. A from-then-till-now idea and a from-then-till-then idea. From-then-till-now is typically done with allowed cards from formats like modern or pioneer or even just standard. It is a good way to lower costs in building a cube and a great way to get started. It is also a good way to become familiar with a card pool. Modern legal cubes are great, they just have a good range and power level while remaining pretty balanced. Pioneer cubes do have quite a different feel with minimal redundancy and undersubscribed low end support. They are none the less a fun experience that have a lot of perks and conveniences. One of the best way to start a cube is just to take one of each of your best cards from your own collection and use that as your starting point. This, particularly for newer players, often winds up inadvertently looking a lot like a from-then-till-now type of cube. If you wanted to maintain cohesion as you expand and add to your cube you could simply go back a release at a time chronologically. That way when asked you can say it is a from whichever set till now cube and people will know well what to expect. 

If from-then-till-now cubes are good starting places for cubes the from-then-till-then ones are more like retirement cubes. A from-then-till-then cube is typically just cards from the pre-modern time period. They used to be fairly uncommon but I have heard increasing murmurs of people doing them or wanting to, and with far more varied time ranges. This I fear is a sign of the times. People can't keep up, or have had enough, or simply yearn for a time when they remember loving the game more. As such they want an end date. The critically different thing about a from-then-till-then restriction is that it locks the card pool in place. It means you need not worry about new releases, replacing or getting new cards. Your cube remains relevant and upto date regardless of what any lunatic companies might do! Obviously most from-then-till-then cubes start where magic stats with Alpha in 1993 but I can certainly good argument for other periods as well.   

Due to this increased demand for card pool locked formats I am going to list off the various good or obvious options for "from alpha till" periods and appraise them each in turn. You can usually lop off Legends/Revised and earlier if you want to cull the really foolish power cards without having bans instead of just starting at Alpha. If you are planning on going to some of the later sets you can lop off the pre-modern stuff and not lose all that much. I can very much see the appeal of a modern till Kaladesh or a Modern until Theros or something and why one might do a locked cube in that sort of midrange period. A way to capture a period of magic they had most nostalgia for etc. I can also see a good argument for lopping off Urza's block and earlier in much the same way as Legends/Revised. This will reduce costs a lot, remove a lot of the most egregious and over powered cards, and yet still have quite and old school feeling. Mostly the from then till then cubes are going to just go from alpha and ban/cut things they don't want to bother with. Here is my take on distinct periods and their perks. 

Old School (93/94)

Ill advised sadly. If you want to play with cards this old exclusively cube is not the way to do so. Certainly not singleton at least. There simply isn't a deep enough card pool nor enough real cohesion between cards and plans to make this much of a format. It is going to be a case of culling the absolutely unplayable stuff from what you have rather than building a cube. Not only is your cube going to play pretty horribly, it is going to cost the earth! 

Pre Urzas (-98)

For those that want that real old card nostaligia of 93/94 and want to avoid some of the more cartoony later sets of the pre-modern era I would advise going to the end of Tempest block. You get enough cards to be playing with, all be it a very small cube, that does feel aesthetically different from the pre-modern stuff and much closer to the old school style. It is the most natural of break points as far as within the pre-modern period goes. This will still be a clunky and restrictive cube but it will look lovely, play OK, and importantly look and feel like playing Magic from way back in the day. 

Pre-Modern (Alpha through Onslaught block in 2003)

A nice clear break point where the cards change border. I have a lot of experience with this type of cube as it is when I first got into cubing, first built mine, and consequently did an absolute boat load of cubing! It was technically Mirrodin and not Onslaught where my cube adventure kicked off but it is fairly easy to appreciate how that environment would look without the Mirrodin cards. Your cube will likely be rather more combo and control with both midrange and aggressive strategies not really having the tools to fight off the other strategies very well. They do exist in this format and can be quite fun but they are a bit more needy on the likes of Tanglewire to compete and are often a bit tier two! Comically goblins tribal was the best beatdown strategy you could draft! Generally a good fun format and the best way to maximize that old border look if that is what you are going for. Cube at this time certainly had that whacky, anything can happen, sort of vibe. Lots of power but not quite so much cohesion. You just played cards because they were good, not because they were all that well suited to your plan! 

Pre-Walkers (upto Lorwyn in 2007 )

A lot of people really don't like planeswalkers or how they play. You can obviously just do cubes without them although you are increasingly reminded of their absence in the wording of newer cards. To avoid this you want to be stopping your cube by Lorwyn which is actually still very much a pre-modern feeling cube and dominated by those cards and strategies. It is nice to have some more capable creatures in the pool from the last four years worth of card and those first four modern legal sets did bring some very cool cards to play with. For the most part this is a better format than a purely pre-modern one from a play perspective if not an aesthetic one. It is also rather better than any for quite some years to come as planeswalkers had far too few answers for too long and dominated the cube environment in an undesirable way. That is the case for powered cubes at least. Any game where fast mana got out a half decent planeswalker before the other player had anything relevant on the board was invariably game over. That meant all the fast mana kind of had to go and so it was around this time that cube morphed from a rock paper scissors dynamic from being between aggro, combo, and control, to more of an aggro, control, and midrange situation. If you like combo stop here or sooner. If you like midrange go for later than this point. Obviously you can use design to force whatever you want in cube but if you let your cube evolve more naturally you will find this is around the tipping point.   


I really struggle to see any obvious or sensible break point from Lorwyn all the way to 2015 beyond some personal sentiment you may have. Magic was very consistent through this period and while some sets were better than others I think that both Tarkir block and Origins were great sets and brought some lovely tools to cube. It would be a shame to leave them out and they do a lovely job of seeing off the period of consistency. I can see an argument for not including Origins in this cube but I absolutely would as I like the set so much. This 2015 era is a point I feel as if Magic started to steer away from the consistent course it had followed closely for so many years previous. With those people that I have discussed this fixed cube idea with this 2015 period seemed to resonate. It seems like it gave a huge depth of cards, cube was healthy and fun, and diverse and the balance was decent. It was very easy to get to this point and ignore all the sillyness. You can skip commander cards if you like here and that lets things be a lot cleaner too. I can absolutely see this as being a pretty optimal to fix a cube while retaining a great overview of the game and a wealth of cards and history. For those that dislike the current  situation in magic but still want as much untarnished magic as possible this is probably starting to be your sort of ballpark.

Upto Kaladesh

This was another strong suggestion from those interested in a 2015 era end point, for those wanting to cut and run before the magic journey started to get bumpy! Kaladesh marks two points, firstly it is where power creep starts to gather more pace. Not the sprint of post War of the Spark but not quite the gentle meander previously seen. Each set from here on in starts to have more impact that those before until things get a bit silly. Kaladesh is a more obvious start point as it is when vehicles are introduced but they are quite a nice new card type that plays pretty well. I have no real problem going a good way beyond Kaladesh until the power creep gets messy. This is cube after all. There is always going to be some oppressive cards and Scarab God, Glorybringer, Smuggler's Copter are set to be that for you if this is your end point. Seems like a pretty reasonable upper power level to me but each to their own. I quite like the way vehicles play. Indeed, there is a much greater adoption of things like clues and treasure from this point onwards and that opens up some really interesting and important design space in the game.  

War of the Spark

This is really the last port of call to remain sane. This is the point at which power creep really took off. You can include War or not as you chose, there are some nice cards from there and not too many utterly bonkers ones. It is the following sets Modern Horizons and Throne of Eldraine where the ball for sensible design is dropped and each set is riddled with bombs so powerful they are oppressive in cube. If you want a fixed cube I don't see why you would want to go beyond this point for now. Absolutely next time magic makes a change of direction another good cut off point will be created. Due to how much power the last few years brought there is likely a bit of catch up needed at this new, higher power level so as to get a few more competitive options. You will be getting a bit bored of the same old modern horizons cards otherwise... There is some degree of finality about the Phyrexian story arc ongoing at present. I understood it is five sets, of which the freshly out Phyrexia, All will become One is the third? Assuming so, there could be an argument for wrapping it up there if near now is an end point that appeals. Symbolically if nothing else! 

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Phyrexia: All Will Be One Conclusions and Additions


I like this set a lot. Great aesthetic. Good match with the art styles to the themes. Cool cards. The right sort of cards and power. Nothing egregious. Hasbro do a lot of dumb shit at the moment but the the teams involved in the set design, the bread and butter of the game, have been pretty on top of their game for a good while now and deserve some recognition. They also deserve to be managed rather better but that is not what we are here to discuss! 

I might have to do some limited with this set as I am curious to see if they managed to solve the issue of having poison as a main mechanic in a set. They look to have addressed it and improved upon it but that does not mean it is going to be good in a limited setting. I hope they have. I am very impressed overall with the power level of the commons but it did seem particularly pushed on the white toxic cards. 

As far as cube goes this set seems to buff Jund most overall with white getting the odd new interesting toy. Blue gets like one card and some standard good stuff with a bit of near free proliferate bolted on. Obviously being a bit more considered and sensible on the power and power creep this set is not overly remarkable as far as changes to the cube meta go. Even so, this is absolutely the sort of thing I want to see as a cube player and it looks to be very much along the right lines for limited, standard, and EDH as well so hopefully a hit. 

I am glad to see the sensible return of Phyrexian mana, it was a good idea, just used with too much abandon first time round. They could have been even more adventurous with its use than they were but best to err on the side of caution, especially given Gitaxian Probe eta al. It always feels so wrong when a set is done right to be as brief as I am. It just seems redundant to go on saying it is good and better to let it speak for itself. Flaws and noticeable differences are easier to discuss than on the mark successes! 

To Add

Thrunn, Breaker of Silence

Contagious Vorrac

Slophim, Mayhem Dominus

Sheoldred's Edict 

Glissa, Sunslayer 

Rustvine Cultivator 

Armored Scrapgorger 

To Test (With High Hopes)

Tyvar's Resistance

Exuberant Fuseling 

Vrann, Executioner Thane 

Nissa, Ascended Animist 

Capricious Hellraiser 

Nahiri, the Unforgiving 

Mondrak, Glory Dominus 


Vraska, Betrayal's Sting 

Skrelv, Defector Mite 

Black Sun's Twilight 

Vindictive Flamestoker 

Blue Sun's Twilight

Eternal Wanderer 

Dragonwing Glider 

Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines 


To Test (With Low Hopes)

Annihilating Gaze

Drivnod, Carnage Dominus

Green Sun's Twilight  

Planar Disruption 

Phyrexian Vindicator 

Tyrannax Rex 

Experimental Augury 

Bladehold War-Whip 

Kaya, Intangible Slayer 

Melira, the Living Cure

Bloated Contaminator 

Skrelv's Hive 

Urabrask's Forge 

Conduit of Worlds 

Koth, Fire of Resistance 

Singleton Constructed Only Reserves

Gleeful Demolition 

Ichormoon Gauntlet! 

Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus 

Minor Misstep

Atraxa, Grand Unifier  

Swooping Lookout 

Jawbone Duelist 

Bilious Skulldweller 

Jace, the Perfect Mind 

Venerated Rotpriest 

Monday 6 February 2023

Phyrexia: All Will Be One Preliminary Review Part IX

0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb

Voidwing Hybrid 2

Fine. Cheap filler and support card in the right decks. I can imagine frankly quite oppressive in standard.

Charforger 2

The kind of card I love to play with and have in cube. Really this is just a limp Breya's Apprentice which itself is a fairly fair card in cube. This sort of thing at the very least has to be mono to be a consideration for drafting cubes these days. 

Tainted Observer 2

This has mild support applications as both an evasive toxic dork and an ongoing source of proliferate. It isn't great in any of these camps but they are at least under populated camps which gives this a glimmer of hope. 

Thrunn, Breaker of Silence 8

Non-green eh? That might as well be hexproof. I suspect in a decades time I will be able to count on one finger the number of times this gets fought and killed in my cube. So this is a five mana 5/5 uncounterable, trample, hexproof, with the not so minor perk of also being indestructible on my turn. This is basically a big green True-Name Nemesis. This attacks very very well. It blocks pretty well if you need it too. This card is an absolute monster and provides swathes of threat and reach at a nice cheap price. This card has just one weakness and that is to mass removal. You are probably down in resources even if this is the only thing a Wrath kills! When you get this and any other dorks Wrathed it is going to be brutal. Your big secure threat and mana investment gone without doing anything at all and along with everything else. True Name was polar and as such quite tedious. Thrun seems much the same. Although he is green which is a more suitable place for such a card at least. While I am not a big fan of the design I think power wise this is going to make it in cube. You pretty much have to race this and that will not be easy. Most decks do not play any mass removal and those that do are somewhat obvious. This is a threat they have to use mass removal on as there is nothing else for it so you can exploit that in how you play. I feel as if this will play a little like The Scarab God. It will flop out and become the focus of the game. And then generally win it. 

Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus 2

Not a massive fan of this one, it is too many different angles at too high a cost. On his own he is reasonable defensively but can still only block one dork so isn't exactly holding down the fort. Sure, little is getting past an 8/12, indestructible or otherwise, but again, at seven mana, I want a bit more. Titan of Industry comes with life and buddies and does a much better job of stabilizing. Zopandrel has an overrun effect which is great, that is a reasonable amount of threat but it requires you to have other dorks, and, at that point, are we not better off with an actual Overrun for two mana less? Or even just a Craterhoof for that assured kill at just one mana more. On its own Zopandrel is very poor lacking the evasion to deal any impressive damage by itself, and indeed, being intensely vulnerable to spot removal. Big old pass for me on this one. Give me God-Eternal Rhonas over this every day of the week (a card I don't have in my cube). 

All Will Be One 4

Too narrow just to play making it a build around card. Very powerful effect that is easy to abuse (and indeed has a simple (effectively) two card infinite damage combo already in Quest for Pure Flame). Not quite enough support in cube to justify inclusion. Could be nuts but is mostly going to be a do nothing or over cost Rift Bolt in limited formats. 

Serum Snare 2

Proliferate still too niche of an effect to be enough to push these close to the mark card. Nice to see this low costing of proliferate slapped on a card with tempo. 

Annihilating Gaze 2

Somewhere between Bone Shards and Bloodchief's Thirst. Ultimately rather worse than both as you have no real "cheap" mode on this one. 

Armored Scrapgorger 7

Thought I reviewed this already but now can't find it if I did! Anywho, there are lots of decent two drop mana dorks now but this is all round more than enough to be cube playable even if you don't end up running it. Good fixing, reasonable resilience, some nice scaling, and a bonus bit of disruption added into the mix. A kind of more consistent and fairer iteration of a Deathrite Shaman! Solid and healthy cube card. 

Evolved Adaptation 2

Another Experiment One style dork. Useful redundancy in the one slot if you are doing that sort of thing, but this power and style of dork is not all that any more. 

Contagious Vorrac 8

This is a lot of common. And that is in a set where the commons are closest to the power level of the other rarities of any I have seen. Really impressive commons! Here we have a 3/3 for three that usually finds you a land which puts it in the same sort of camp as Rogue Refiner and Llanowar Visionary. Just good solid tempo plays that are two for ones. The Vorrac is meaty and easily played. It is just such an ideal curve play in limited environments without ever becoming underpowered. Vorrac then goes above and beyond these other great dorks. Vorrac gives you utility, you don't have to take a land, you can always proliferate should you wish. Now this is the kind of card where that utility really is a valuable perk. The card is already great when you don't choose it so the option feels free. You can obviously do some pretty filthy things with it in the right sitaution and so it really adds a lot of late game danger and option density to the card. I look forward to surprise ultimates and all sorts of other cool and sneaky plays to come out of this guy. While hard to call this a bomb it is the kind of card it is hard not to play regardless of your build. I wonder if this redeems the name Vorrac? The Battlehorns were so very poor. Vorrac will often be fixing without the need of having loads of appropriate basics. In 40 card singleton knowing some of the cards on the bottom of your deck is not useless information and has lead me to different lines on multiple occasions. I just have nothing bad to say about this one, it is all good. I fully expect this to be one of the most highly played cards in my cube. 

Thirsty Roots 4

Much as I love the Lay of the Land plus mode cards we are getting now this does not compete well with what we have. Proliferate is both narrow and situational resulting in a card than leans mostly on the Lay of the Land aspect of the card which results in underwhelming power level and unimpressive utility. Give me fight every time! Roots is still a fine card and it has a home in many places but limited cube settings are not those places. 

Tyvar's Stand 7

This is both flexible and cheap enough to last in the cube. It is somewhat of a toss up between this and Blossoming Defence. Stand is better protection at low costs but far worse of a pump spell. Late game however Resistance can become a Fireball to the face which is quite the tasty mode to have! There is lots of interaction, lots of options, lots of tempo, and lots of reach to be had with this sneaky little card. I expect it to take a whole lot of games in the cube going forwards. Increasingly games seem to be coming down to flopping out some obnoxious card like Sheoldred and then being able to disrupt their removal attempt on that card in some manner. There is precious little removal this doesn't stop at one mana and the fantastic scaling means you are not too sad about having this sat in hand. Equally it is one of those cards that it is really gross to play against. Walking into it feels game ending, leaving it in their hand feels game ending too. All signs of a good card. 

The Fair Basilica (and the rest of the sac sphere cycle) 6

Great lands in principle, the perfect cycling land that is always a land early when you need it and still always a card late when you don't. There is never that choice or opportunity cost. These compare very favourably against the various mono coloured cycling lands but they have to compete with Triomes these days as well as the Horizon Canopy style lands. The former are obviously wildly better fixing and the latter, while not useable in all archetypes due to the life cost, do have both fixing and tempo perks all over these. Even so, the relatively small cost of EtB tapped for painless colour that you can cash in for gas further down the line is very tempting indeed. A lot of cube decks would run these. There has been a shift towards cards with good mana sinks on them meaning you are less eager to cash in lands than once was the case. There also isn't really the space to justify these quality of life cards. Sure, you might always consider playing them and sometimes you will and they will be nice to have but it will not make lots of difference overall. I would absolutely run these in budget cubes to help smooth things out but in others these will be too slow and too low impact to merit the cost in space. 

Drivnod, Carnage Dominus 6

The body is a little cumbersome and the passive is on the narrow side. In an aristocrats build this can be utterly batty. You can turn sac outlet, Orzhov Enforcer, Blood Artist into six drain instead of two! You will often be able to give Drivnod Indestructible but not always and at that point the high cost to low toughness ratio is an issue. The cost is also typically going to hurt in some way, many of your dorks recur or want to use the bin in some way. I suspect there is a little too much in the way of exile and bounce removal for Drivnod to excel in cube. He is fine but just a little too narrow. If you are pushing synergies then he is a nice tool. 

Slophim, Dominus of Mayhem 8

Torbran meets Hazoret. The cost to make this indestructible is high and the ability to do so in response to things a little hampered by the part of the mana cost you cannot substitute life for. Even so, this card is a house. High stats, scary passive, and the capacity to add indestructibility into the mix if needed. Some decks will fold to this on the spot, there will be enough sources of damage that can be instantly deployed that it is all over there and then. The old Fireblast for 8 etc. Others will just fold to this over a few turns just down to lack of answer and red cards being red. 

Friday 3 February 2023

Phyrexia: All Will Be One Preliminary Review Part VIII


0 - unplayable in 40 card singleton

1 - effectively unplayable

2 - has low tier constructed decks it might go in

3 - has mid tier constructed decks it does go in

4 - pretty powerful stuff with several potential homes, able to perform well in lower powered cubes

5 - powerful stuff that is either just too narrow or has too many superior alternatives

6 - fringe cube worthy

7 - cube worthy

8 - cube staple

9 - unpowered cube bomb

10 - powered cube bomb


Feed the Infection 0

Ancient Craving etc. Lots of these around and none getting much love or doing much work. The card is fine but you can do better in black. The corrupted perk is a joke. I am unlikely to care much about life loss and poison counters, it will be one or tother...

Unnatural Restoration 2

Clearly proliferate is getting quite a push in this set. They really seem to have dropped the mana-price on having it on a card compered to any previous time we have seen the mechanic. Most notably on cards that do not provide tempo which makes sense. It is a lot easier to power creep those when the general meta trend is doing a good job of making them worse relatively speaking. Anywho, is this card good? No, Regrowth isn't and while I of course like this I struggle to think of a place I would want it. Redundancy is just better than getting a thing back to reuse. I guess if you need a draw card proliferate effect and you are not blue this has some game. 


Expand the Sphere 1

I like this more than most big ramp spells as you are not beholden to running basic lands sufficient to support them. This can hit duals, manlands and other utility lands, all while not being an imposition on your mana base. Where this comes unstuck is that you simply don't want proliferate as the if you miss compensation. Draw a card might get it done, but this doesn't. Six isn't deep enough to ensure you hit two consistently enough and the proliferate ensures you are pretty unhappy when you miss. I don't see this with much build around potential either as the kinds of deck wanting to proliferate are not often those looking to flop loads of lands out.  

Gleeful Demolition 4

Not really a cube card as it needs too much supporting however this will do some good work in those cute one hit go wide combo decks like 8-whack. This is better than Rebirth by a good margin and provides some really juicy redundancy for it. Easily the sort of card that either births a new archetype in a format like modern or indeed just one to make an existing archetype the hot shit for a bit. 

Hexgold Halbard 6

This is another For Mirrodin card that is real close to the mark. A two mana 2/2 with first strike and trample is decent. It works very well with any kind of buff and is fairly awkward in combat. Just an annoying little curve play. Being able to give those abilities to dorks further down the line for a mere three mana is an impressive amount of reach and utility. Overall I suspect the late game aspect is a little low power and situational to make up for a fairly low power and unexciting front end. Strong card and sufficiently so that I will test it. My expectation of this to fail to make it in most non-budget cubes is just testament to the depth and power of magic cards these days and no slight on this card. 

Vraan, Executioner Thane 7

Super Zulaport Cutthroat. Essentially both power/toughness and effect magnitude doubled. Imagine Sheoldred for 2BB that was an 8/10 and affected a 4 point life loss/gain on card draw! How much would you care about that only triggering once a turn? That isn't really a fair comparison as Sheoldred is already well statted and Cuttrhroat really isn't. Even so, with Cutthroat being a fine cube card and cube leaning more on grindy games than big one turn one shot kill you combos I reckon this guy will do fine. Not exciting, mostly a filler sort of card for the aristocrats builds. Being a vanilla 2/2 makes this pretty unimpressive in combat and thus the board in general. Equally being able to just die to basically any removal and do nothing is a bit of a turn off. I can absolutely imagine some Aristocract builds where I would just rather play a Lazotep Reaver than this.. If you support a lot of life costs in black and aristocrats this probably works in your cube, if not then it is probably not enough card. 

Planar Disruption 6

This is the boost Arrest and Pacifism needed to properly come in line with modern removal standards. This is not a bomb at all, it is fairly close to Ossification in power level. They are both two mana sorcery speed enchantment based broad removal tools. Both can be undone with enchantment removal. Disruption can deal with artifacts which is a perk for sure. It can also avoid retriggering EtB effects should it be removed which is minor. What Disruption cannot do is anything about passive effects. You are still just going to die to a Sheoldred if this is your answer. And for me, that probably rules this out for cube. Unless you have a real aura synergy thing going on this is probably a bit too dodgy for non-budget cubes. Good to see old staples getting modernized as far as power level goes though. 

Surgical Spellbomb 2

Repulse meets Aether Spellbomb and likely worse than both. This is not tricksy nor is it mana efficient in any mode. It is cheap and has some utility so it may well get some fringe play but it is not a great card. Nor are any of the Spellbombs in this set for that matter. This seems like the most rounded of the lot although the red oil counters one is probably most likely to get any significant play, just not in singleton formats. 

Exuberant Fuseling 7

A 1/1 trample for one that grows whenever you bin dorks or artifacts. Hmm. Very bad on its own or as a late game top deck but as soon as you are throwing synergy anywhere near this card it starts to look good real quick. Red is the colour of treasure and it is also the home of the Goblin Bombardment. Goblins in general love to sacrifice themselves and red dorks have this need of being killed else they kill the opponent. All in all the Fuseling looks like it stands to get fairly big and threatening fairly quickly and consistently in most cubes. It feels a bit like a Stromkirk Noble that has a wider range. Both want to be early plays and both can be lacklustre however both can also offer a lot of value and threat for one mana. Being a card in need of some support may end up hurting Fuseling too much but absolutely a card worthy not only of testing, but also one worthy of revisiting should a meta change in a favourable direction for it. 

Phyrexian Vindicator 6 (7+ really)

Power wise this is obviously there comfortably. It is overstatted for the cost and flying. It then has an ability which just utterly shuts down combat and swathes of removal spells as well. This card asks a question and if there is no answer that is generally just going to be game. It is really whether we want a WWWW card that is so polar in play patters in cube. This is not going to provide interesting options in draft and deck building nor is it going to lead to interesting game play. So, even if this is powerful enough, is it something we should be putting in cubes? Obliterator didn't pose such existential questions as mono black decks have not been so viable over the last decade in cubes. Mono white however has always been viable. I'll give this a little run but I fully expect I will be cutting this once I have had a little play regardless of how well it performs. Even takign the WWWW cost into account this is still realistically at least a 7/10 as far as cubes go, it is just the wrong sort of thing to encourage. I used to excusively balance my cube on performance as pertained to win percentage. The more I play the more I lean towards cards that encourage good games. There band of cards that are good enough for cube and not too good for cube is not only fairly thin these days, it is also fairly well padded out. Meaning, the worst card in my cube is not a lot worse than the best card, further more, there are still plenty of cards just outside that range, and also within it, that I do not have in my cube for one reason or another. It makes it increasingly easy to just skip cards like this and not feel like any disservice is being done. If this came out 10 or so years ago and I rocked up with my cube people would simply expect this card to be there and be bemused or annoyed if it wasn't. That is very much not the case any more and so I am fairly happy to not give this too much time to impose on things!

Ichormoon Gauntlet 3

This is one of those cards that gets my creative juices flowing. I want to theorize and brew with this. I want to build around it and have fun with it! Too narrow for cube but always glad to see a card that gets me excited about the game. Such cards are fewer and fewer in number these days. 

Tekuthal, Inquiry Dominus 4

Looks like one of the weaker Dominus cards. A narrow passive, a relatively low impact body, and an awkward means to make it indestructible. I don't think blue wants this nor do I think it is sufficiently powerful even if it was wanted. Good fun in a proliferate deck I imagine however! This does make me want to make a commander deck that focuses on proliferate. That in itself is good design. It is doing a good job with the fundamentals that will grow the game and thus profits not messing about with slash and burn business tactics. This set has some risky and scary cards but it is also doing really well as far as being exciting and alluring and that feels like another win in general. If a card can get me playing commander that has to count for a lot!