Saturday 12 August 2023

Homemade Cube Part 6


In this instalment we are simply going to take a look at some of the many cards I have "designed" that are just slightly tweaked versions of another card. Perhaps they cost a mana less or they have a stat or two more. Perhaps they got a scry bolted on or something like that. Turns out a lot of the best design space is just where cards missed the mark. Plenty of good ideas have been squandered by lack of power, or rendered useless by power creep, and I am here to clean up on those missed opportunities! 

As this cube design is a tribute to Magic I have been trying hard to evoke a lot of the classic cards. Bringing classic cards up in power level to where they need to be to compete with modern cards can be simple but it can also be quite a shift. Retaining the essence of the original card is the most important aspect of the transition. The more a card moves the harder it is to keep a resemblance of the starting point. This is a bit of a trade off with the fact that you do have more design space the further away you get from a muse. 

Giant Spider is a card that I think is emblematic and is one of the more extreme examples. We had already needed to power creep to Punumbra Spider before the halfway point between alpha and now! That and the last few years have been the most intense for power creep. All in all a Giant Spider needs to be a lot more card to have a chance of seeing play. Keeping the body and basic frame of the card the same is the best way to evoke a classic creature. Just one simple ability however is the cleanest from a design point of view. Finding the right ability that feels spidery and green, while also being able to do one massive but precise power jump in a perfect neat step was not immediately easy or obvious but I am happy with my shot at it. 

Where possible I like to add interest to a card. If I can not add complexity to the design but add interest or option density to a card somehow then that feels like a win. The classic tapper is a fine card in white but it needs a bit of a push to get cube attention these days. This slight tweak on the cost is clean, i.e. adding no real complexity. The card is just as busy as before and the change feels like it adds at least enough power. And it does so while offering an extra dimension of choice in how one uses the card. I even feel like I managed to pull off the flavour somehow. That was generally the hardest part of designing with Phyrexian mana.  The flavour felt quite tied in but the mechanic actually gives a lot of freedom and design space. Obviously also super dangerous if used inconsiderately but hopefuly that has been avoided here!

I have always kindof resented Adventurous Impulse for being the clean flagship green card quality spell in terms of neat design, but also sucking a bit and not seeing much play. While that role in green has now probably been filled by Abundant Harvest I still want to see the Impulse at cube power level. It even has Impulse in the name! Anywho, a simple tweak for looking at 3 card to looking 4 deep really removes the risk and general narrowness of the card. It makes it a lot more than a third better! It is still card neutral and tempo negative and so a long long wat off being too powerful, just nice and fair. The kind of card I want to see in my hand and in my cube. 

Cube, as with every different Magic format, has slightly different values for things. I harp on a lot about gold cards and their specific nuances to cube. This card is that born out in design. There are almost no "generic" cards that see play in Modern but not in cube. Terminate is basically it. It is a solid and dependable removal spell, the best for two mana, and being gold has perks for being used as a pitch card. In cube however the loss of playability it gets from being tied to two colours does way more damage to the card than the amount it is better than things like Go for the Throat. Gold cards need to be more of a step up from mono coloured cards than you might expect. With that in mind I took a card that was already "best in class" and felt more than happy improving its power level. I can get away with this in cube not just because it is gold but also because it is a removal spell. A one for one removal spell at that and in a singleton format that really isn't causing any problems or breaking the format. You are generally at much lower risk dumping a bit more power into certain types of card, and spot removal like Exterminate, for a limited only environment is one such situation. Further to that there are different ways you can empower a card. There are direct ways that will relate to cost and effect in terms of card economy and those will have pronounced effects and can be dangerous business. In this case I have simply broadened the card, it is more powerful in that it will perform better overall but the ceiling of any instance of performance is basically unchanged. 

There is also adding power to a card without adding anything but choice. I like Storm's Wrath in cube, it suits some decks very nicely but it is a bit narrow and it certainly isn't a bomb or anything. Simply by making it modal we not only add a lot of interest to the card, we also add power and playability. Same effective output but the refined control results in a lot more card. I am not even sure this version will be anything more than an average spell. I could probably make it even more option rich, interesting, and powerful with a third mode that deals four to both players so as to try and reel in those aggro players as well!

I also did a lot of converting cards into "energy" cards. By that I mean the cards are as good as identical to a fine existing card in function assuming you have no other sources or uses for energy. Below is a Giant Growth in isolation which is pretty sub par as far as cube goes. Given the energy mechanic however you get to add in other energy if you want more pump or save some for the next thing if you need less. It is exactly why Harnessed Lightening wound up being so much better than basically all other red "3 damage for 2 mana" spells. It could kill big things and was efficient at killing small stuff. Hopefully this Giant Growth homage will prove equally empowered on the original! Hopefully it will not result in too many one shot kill combo decks getting drafted.

Savannah Lion is a card that I have added to a lot in a variety of ways. There must be over ten white one mana 2/1 dorks and at least the same again in the other colours combined as well. This is nothing new though, Wizards have been printing direct upgrades to the Lions for near two decades themselves. I was going to showcase some Savannah Lions upgrades that were also direct upgrades to other cards simultaneously but that isn't too hard to imagine when you take a 1/1 like Icatian Javelineer or Goblin Balloon Brigade and make it a 2/1. The best Lion however is simply the one I gave cycling to. It provides interesting choices in the midgame when you need to work out if it is tempo you need or more gas in your card. It helps you get out of screws and it has ideal scaling being a high tempo turn one play you can fight early with or a card you can cash in for more juice later when it isn't packing the punch you want anymore. Simple is best and that is very much the case here. From a game theory point of view this is likely one of the best Lions in the set even though there are some that have seemingly more going on.

So there we have it, a little overview of a couple of cards and ways in which I have adjusted existing things to suit my needs. This is absolutely one of the larger areas in which I could have pulled example cards from but that is rather unsurprising. In the same way there is supposedly only seven types of storey you can tell, there are likely few distinct forms a magic card can take and everything is just a tweaking of  that! That being said, I have in many cases tried to make it clear what cards we are pulling inspiration from or trying to emulate.

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